September 09, 2017

#TIFF17: Zombies of the Quebec Wilds

If it’s early fall in Toronto I must be attending the Toronto International Film Festival. This year sees a somewhat pared (but still mammoth) number of films, the retirement of a couple of further-flung venues, and a focus on women filmmakers. The notoriously truculent escalators at one of the main houses are allegedly repaired and ready to face the throng of reviewers, industry types, and civilian filmgoers like your humble correspondent. Let’s all get in line, breathe in the popcorn dust, and prepare ourselves for 2017’s cinematic deluge.

The Summit (Argentina, Santiago Mitre, 3.5) High-stakes oil summit becomes additionally fraught for the Argentinean president (Ricardo Darin) when his daughter suffers a breakdown. What seems like a sober-minded political procedural takes a surprising turn into Marnie-style style psychological mystery.

The Number (South Africa, Khalo Matabane, 3.5) Longtime member of dreaded prison gang the 28s feels the pull of a reformist warden’s guidance. Based on a memoir, this neorealist drama conveys the local cultural detail overlying the universals of life behind bars.

Les Affamés (Canada, Robin Aubert, 4.5) Survivors of a zombie outbreak try to remain uneaten in the quiet vastness of rural Quebec. Depending on the handling, films in the tightly constrained zombie sub-genre can be about everything or nothing. With its assured use of stillness and an empathy for both the living and undead, Les Affamés falls magisterially into the second category.

I’m hedging my bets with that rating.  This has the potential to creep up to a 5, but it’s early days and you can’t go around handing those out like dinner mints. Or it could drift down to a 4. Films that conjure an elusive mood take a while to fully settle in. Will I still be thinking about the shot with the girl in the tunnel after 42 more movies?

Now for the zombie taxonomy. Speed: fast. Distinguishing characteristics: pack behavior, including hunting coordination; retention of simple emotions.

The subtitles translate the title as Ravenous. I’m betting they’ll change that if it gets distribution beyond Quebec (as well it should.) The 1999 cannibal Western with Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle of that name is still a bit too recent, and the name doesn’t carry quite the right connotation for this one. The Famished? The Hungry? Think it over, Seville Pictures.

1% (Australia, Stephen McAllum, 2.5) The return from prison of a brutal motorcycle gang president (Matt Nable) puts him on a collision course with the protege who has been running it more effectively in his absence. Populated pretty much exclusively by charmless, malignant half-wits eminently deserving of failure and doom, without the layer of black comedy that makes that setup work.

Euthanizer (Finland, Teemu Nikki, 4) Judgmental eccentric who puts pets to sleep cut-rate prices attracts an admirer and runs afoul of a wannabe neo-Nazi. Twisted, but never amoral, morality tale of karma and retribution.

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.