September 12, 2018

TIFF18: Another Zhang Yimou Martial Arts Masterpiece, and More

Capsule reviews and notes from day six of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Her Smell (US, Alex Ross Perry, 4) Fading rocker (Elizabeth Moss) rides a wave of cocaine and megalomania to an epic flame-out. Rock ‘n’ roll drama amped up by stylized dialogue, roving handheld camera, strong performances from a great cast and a score that bubbles with unease. With Eric Stoltz, Virginia Madsen, Dan Stevens and Cara Delavigne.

Shadow (China, Zhang Yimou, 5) In defiance of his king, a commoner trained to pose as a secretly wounded general prepares for deadly and politically destabilizing duel. Stately court intrigue lays the groundwork for stunningly executed, outlandish action.

Shot in color, but with grayscale sets and costumes. Which is to say that eventually it becomes black and white and red all over.

Absolutely on a par with Zhang’s previous martial arts masterpieces Hero and House of Flying Daggers.

Jinpa (Tibet, Pema Tseden, 2) Truck driver on the bleak high plateau of Tibet picks up a man with the same name, who is going to town to kill the man who murdered his father. Though this inexplicably won a best screenplay award at Venice, there’s only enough incident here for a short.

Vision (Japan, Naomi Kawase, 4) Forester (Masatoshi Nagase) working a pristine mountainside receives a visit from a French writer (Juliet Binoche) searching for Vision, a herb that cures human pain. Gorgeous and deeply enigmatic exploration of the director’s key theme of mystical communion with nature.

Usually when you think of deeply challenging films you call to mind something harsh or hard-hitting, but this is easily the calmest, loveliest mindfuck ever screened.

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, streaming platforms and DVD 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.