September 08, 2019

TIFF Day Four: Shanghai Spies & Larrain Lets His Bunuel Flag Fly

A day that begins with Bunuel lite and ends with Bunuel flamethrower.

The Barefoot Emperor [Belgium, Jessica Woodworth & Peter Brosens, 3.5] After a regrettable incident at a recreation of the Franz Ferdinand assassination, the Belgian king is confined to a sanatorium, formerly Tito’s island retreat whose head (Udo Kier) exudes a sinister solicitude. Absurdist fable of the slow-motion elite bafflement.

Sequel to 2016’s King of the Belgians, which it recaps at the top (not that it really has to.)

Saturday Fiction [China, Lou Ye, 4] Famed actress (Gong Li) returns to occupied Shanghai to run one last op for her French spymaster (Pascal Greggory) aimed at a Japanese cipher officer (Odagiri Jo.) Hazy, shifting identities in deglamorized B&W, culminating in gripping ballistics.

Coming Home Again [US, Wayne Wang, 4] Tightly wound writer (Justin Chen) returns to San Francisco to care for his cancer stricken mom (Jackie Chung), despite her and his dad’s worries over the effect this will have on his career. Contemplative drama of love, resentment, and the emotional weight of getting the food right.

The Good Intentions [Argentina, Ana GarcĂ­a Blaya, 3.5] When her mom and stepdad decide to move to Paraguay, her precociously together young daughter lobbies to stay with her raffish, irresponsible slacker dad. Autobiographical slice-of-life, punctuated by real life home videos, illuminated by the performance of child actor Amanda Minujin.

Ema [Chile, Pablo Larrain, 4] Seductive dancer (Mariana di Girolamo) married to insecure choreographer (Gael Garcia Bernal) tries to regain custody of the boy they returned to the adoption agency after he burned her sister’s face. Unnerving, visually arresting, sex-drenched Bunuelian provocation.

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 perhaps even good old physical media 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.Unless you mean The Color Out of Space, which I’m seeing on the 14th.

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