September 16, 2017

#TIFF17: Saddle Up for Western Day

I didn’t set out to program mostly Westerns / allusions to the Western today, but sometimes that’s just how the schedule shakes out.

Western (Germany/Bulgaria, Valeska Grisebach, 2) German construction worker on a river diversion project tries to fit in with the locals, in contrast to his bullheaded boss. Like too many verité dramas is uninterested in pace or emphasis but fascinated by people performing quotidian tasks.

Five Fingers for Marseilles (South Africa, Michael Matthews, 4) Decades after his Apartheid-era shooting of a police officer, an ex-con returns to his hometown to find gangsters in charge and his former friends divided. Contemporary western where the motif of the old gunfighter again called on to pick up the gun takes on a fresh, distinctly South African resonance.

Sheikh Jackson (Egypt, Amr Salama, 4) When he learns that Michael Jackson has died, a youngish imam undergoes a crisis of faith triggered by memories of his awkward, King of Pop-loving teen self. Wry, compassionate drama of personal and familial reconciliation.

Hostiles (US, Scott Cooper, 3.5) In 1892, a Cavalry Captain (Christian Bale) reluctantly accepts a mission to escort his cancer-stricken foe (Wes Studi) from imprisonment in New Mexico to his peoples’ home in Montana. Though some of the text would be better as subtext, its classical storytelling sense and performances from a cast including Rosamund Pike, Ben Foster, Rory Cochrane, Adam Beach and Scott Wilson is worthy of consideration.

Well, with one day to go this is looking like a lackluster year. Normally by now I’d have logged 2-3 titles that completely blew me away, earning a perfect 5 score. So far, none. It’s no 1988, when everything was actively terrible and the absolute best world cinema could do was Salaam Bombay. I did what I could to program the final Sunday with all killer, no filler. But statistical probability is not on my side here.

Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, disc and/or streaming over the next year plus. If you’ve heard of a film showing at TIFF, I’m probably waiting to see it during its upcoming conventional release, instead favoring choices that don’t have distribution and might not reappear.

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