September 12, 2020

TIFF Day 2: Tales About Wizards from an African Prison & Zombies in the Taiwanese Parliament

Shiva Baby [US, Emma Seligman, 4] The ambient social pressures of a post-funeral gathering skyrocket for a directionless college student (Rachel Sennott) when attendees include not only the expected ex-girlfriend (Molly Gordon) but also the sex work client she’s caught feelings for. Knife-edge comedy of emotional suffocation uses a plucky suspense score for that extra frisson of social anxiety.

If you've been missing family events during the pandemic, this film is the cure for that. Polly Draper and Fred Melamed appear as the loving but insufferably intrusive parents.

Night of the Kings [Côte d'Ivoire/France , Philippe Lacôte, 4] When the red moon rises over MACA, the Ivory Coast’s toughest prison, its inmate boss appoints the new arrival as storyteller—a post that results in death if the tale ends before sundown. Prison drama with compelling narrative hook widens out to encompass ancient warfare, contemporary politics, and even a wizard duel.

Spring Blossom [France, Suzanne Lindon, 4] Bored with her classmates, an awkward 16 year old (played by the writer-director) pursues her attraction for a ruggedly handsome stage actor (Arnaud Valois.) Character drama sets aside the sexual aspect of this staple French cinema situation to focus on the emotion, periodically breaking from naturalism to have its characters express their feelings through dance.

This year’s Q&As are Zoom interviews between the programmers and filmmakers, which drop on YouTube when the films become available for online viewing. In the Q&A for this one we discover that the director wrote it when she was 15, a year younger than her character. She’s 20 now. Lindon is the daughter of well-known French actors Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain.

Get the Hell Out [Taiwan, I-Fan Wang, 4] Taiwan’s notoriously pugilistic parliament tips into arterial spray when the effluent of a controversial chemical plant triggers a zombie epidemic. Zombie comedy features an eye-searing palette and an onslaught of optical overlays, and is paced like a quarter kilo of crushed Adderall. 

It’s quite an achievement to find the worst hue of every color on the visible spectrum. Fortunately the underlying message, that government officials would respond to a pandemic by idiotically making it worse, has no bearing on anything that comes to mind.

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.

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