TIFF 2023

Son Hasat The Reeds (2023)

There’s always a weird pressure on the first film of TIFF for me. I haven’t seen anything else, so my baseline for quality is a bit undefined, and I’m also encouraged to convince myself that these expensive films are worth it.

This was fine. Some lovely long lens photography, particularly when the pollen from the reeds is choking the air around the workers at the merchant’s shop.

Might have benefited narratively from leaning more into the mysticism around the lake. The stories of boiling surfaces and men swallowed up are compelling, and a missed opportunity when treated as just stories.

Sira 2023

Needlessly makes one of the villains gay, and really agonizes over it.

This was almost structured like a rape-revenge film, but it trades away any cathartic thrills for a “the police are doing a great job” conclusion in which Sira is saved by a man rather than saving herself.

君たちはどう生きるか The Boy and the Heron (2023)

What a sudden ending!

Ultimately just didn’t work for me. Teleportation and parallel universes are challenging, and without consistent locations to really grasp on to to ground the rest of the action, I’m just pelted with spectacle after spectacle. Probably better on a rewatch, but I’m just not compelled to revisit it.

Dispararon Al Pianista They Shot the Piano Player (2023)

To see this immediately after The Boy And The Heron unflatteringly highlights the unrefined animation.

This was repetitive in a way that became easier to forgive as the film concluded, and the director spoke of all the figures who’d died before the film was released, many of whom were speaking publicly about this for the first time. Less a film than an elegy, and so I forgive the overstuffed nature.

Trueba also demonstrated a verbal aikido in throwing great answers out in response to poor questions.

Nu Aștepta Prea Mult de la Sfârșitul Lumii Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World (2023)

Hilarious, but I wondered if my audience didn’t understand the gallows humor at play, as there was far less laughing than I expected. It produced a number of quotable vignettes that my friends and I kept recalling throughout the festival.

To what extent will the humor continue to feel fresh as the years pass, I don’t know. But now, no longer festival-drunk, I can say this was one of the best of the year.

Dream Scenario 2023

A fun, light first half gives way to overbroad swipes at cancel culture or zoomer sensitivity lacking any real novel insight. I guess the kids are too soft or something? Squanders an otherwise interesting premise and an excellent Cage performance.

Dear Jassi 2023

I am fascinated by "“accented cinema”":accent, so the film, and Jassi’s character, drew me to this.

I wasn’t sold by the intensity of their love when they first parted, but everything after that was enthralling until the very end, which felt self-consciously provocative. I’m left wondering: How can one be a good steward of a stranger’s tragedy? Is it disrespectful to the victim of a shocking act to shock the audience with their tale?

Four Daughters would later show me how to approach this in a more convincingly considerate way.

怪物 Monster (2023)

I’m sitting in my seat, sobbing. The credits begin to roll. My neighbor turns and shouts. SO WHAT’D YOU THINK?

The degree of polish and palatability almost threatens the film’s memorability. We see what Koreeda is doing. We understand the “shrewd attentiveness” conversation, and the structural implementation thereof. It lacks the rough edges of a Return To Seoul, that help lodge itself into my brain, still there a year later.

And yet, these images! A teary-eyed Ando obscured behind the backs of faceless apologizers. Mud closing over an up-facing window faster than it can be peeled away.

The Zone of Interest 2023

Ugly. Not thematically, but in terms of image quality. I thought it was a projection issue until I read similar judgments during NYFF.

Few aesthetic maneuvers worked for me. The one that did, where powerful montage implies the future haunting the past, was excellent. But, solid blocks of color drawn from the German flag? Uhh, ok. Disconnected infrared vignettes of food smuggling? So what? The film operates too much in a cerebral register, where I comprehended what was being done, but leaving me feeling nothing. And that’s a dangerous place be when thinking about Auschwitz.

Aggro Dr1ft 2023

A bad time at the movies. Punishingly boring. One and a half ideas, wasted on a bunch of guys standing around with toy guns.

Left me thinking of Belly, another movie featuring rappers, which is even connected to Korine in invoking Gummo, which has a stellar sequence using UV light. We live in a world where Hype William’s couldn’t make another film after Belly, but Korine is out here getting festival mileage out of a fart.

La Bête The Beast (2024)

I love formal playfulness. The green screen at the beginning was promising! The visual glitches were promising! Unfortunately, these gestures never managed to evoke feelings that complemented the drama. Even so, I liked this walking out the theater, and feel warmer about it as time passes.

It does feel like there was a missed opportunity in visually conveying the past lives/repeated encounters, maybe by decoupling the actors from the (green screened) background. But ultimately, I have to admire a beautiful swing, even when it doesn’t make contact. There’s enough here that does work that I can forgive, or even grow fond of, those parts that don’t.

ほかげ Shadow of Fire (2023)

Writing two months after the screening, I can remember very few details about this, other than holding the emotional equivalent of a shrug. I turned to my notes from the day after the screening to review how I felt then:

“…Ultimately, I’m left struggling to remember anything of consequence.”

بنات ألفة Four Daughters (2023)

An exorcism on film. Not long after I thought that, it featured a reenacted, play-acted, one too.

I love blending of documentary and fiction, and while this is far more documentary than I like in my blends, the fact that there’s effectively no visual (or temporal) distinctions between the two help strengthen both. The highlight probably being Eya, holding a knife over an uncomfortable actor standing in for her sexual abuser. The actor leaves the set, unconvinced that Eya is able to keep the worlds separate, as her younger sister watches the reenactment and sobs.

Kuru Otlar Üstüne About Dry Grasses (2023)

Making an enjoyable 3+ hour film about an unpleasant man is a challenge. This ultimately doesn’t succeed, but there are moments where I reconsidered. Contrasting Samet’s miserableness with all those around him works, because we enjoy spending time with Nuray and Kenan together, just as we enjoy contrasting almost anyone else with him. The opening paints a delightful world that we don’t get to inhabit.

But the central accusation of the film causes it to drag, and gives us no distraction from Samet’s self-centeredness, and I got nothing from it.

Great photography, though.

Laberint Sequences 2023

Gemini Man taught me that 3D could be incredible in the hands of someone who understood its possibilities, and this reinforces my stance. The treatment of water by Williams and Lee is similar, prompting the comparison.

The second and third sequences have a videogame logic (the camera turns to a location and then moves via a cut to that location) that once I understood it, made the escape sequence exhilirating.

I don’t know how the escape sequence really pairs with the later edited film, and the expression that there is no escape. But kudos for engaging with, and quoting, a historical stereoscopic 3D film.

He Thought He Died 2023

The Q&A helped crystallize my issues. The film’s dialogue repeats that reality has “an excess of meaning” and that art exists to whittle it down into comprehendable units. The film, too, seems to be burdened with an excess of meaning, unavailable to the audience due to poor communication.

This poor communication was echoed in the Q&A, such as when Medina takes a shot (I think) at Aggro Dr1ft. The fact that I don’t know for certain exemplifies the problem. The presence of ideas, without a mechanism for their effective conveyance, is indistinguishable from a work with no ideas.

The Dead Don't Hurt 2023

I added this to my list after seeing Viggo in another screening, sitting in bad seats, chatting with his neighbors, and eating popcorn like an absolute mad man. I was charmed.

The movie was fine! But what was far better was listening to him, able to speak during the SAG strikes because he’s there as director, discuss the making of the film. Listening to an artist talk passionately about their craft will never not be compelling, and his dissection of casting issues, dialogue rewrites, and location scouting was somehow riveting.

Music 2023

Can one tell a story near exclusively through montage? I have a selfish interest in the answer being “yes”, and while Music does quite a lot with that tool, I don’t know that it was successful for me.

An additional challenge was that I started to develop knee pain around this time (18 movies deep in a week), and watched half the movie standing up near the exit for comfort. But even before that, I found my mind wandering.

보통의 가족 A Normal Family (2023)

An unmotivated change of heart by one character really soured me on the whole thing.

A question I considered in the following days: was this film only compelling enough to check out due to its setting? If this took place in the Netherlands (like its source material), would I have even bothered to see it?

Here 2023

I was nodding off at the start, and that precipitously counscious state was perfect for the early portion concerned with insomnia and dreams.

A lovely ode to attention (both the characters’ and ours) and migration. The wind carries lots of seeds, we need to plant them to see what they are.

Even as an understated meet-cute romance it’s great. And short! Remarkable that all these little sequences and conversations occur in under 90 minutes.

Incredible shots of reflections of trains at night.

Bên trong vỏ kén vàng Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (2023)

Felt very Kaili Blues. When Thien started his bike and rode down a ditch, with the camera following, my heart fluttered as influence became homage. But there was plenty that was distinct. The buffalo! The magic! Reminiscing in the brick building!

From the Q&A, learning that the director is a cinephile, and filmed this in his home town with people who lived there, I returned to a quote of Spike Lee’s. He said that everyone has one story in them: their own. And what really differentiates artists is their ability to tell a second story. I’m curious to see if the director’s able to clear that chasm.

American Fiction 2023

Jeffrey Wright is incredible here, and if nothing else, it’s great to see him lead.

I still struggle with what this wants to say, and specifically, what to do about Issa Rae’s character. It all feel too conciliatory. And inevitably, I have to think about Bamboozled. What does this say about affected “blackness” for white audiences that Bamboozled didn’t say better, more forcefully, and 23 years earlier?

Riddle of Fire 2023

Nostalgia is a strange thing. The qualities that we associate with a moment are typically only so in hindsight. The reproduction of those qualities, later, intentionally, divorced from their original causes, can produce something interesting. But can it present something interesting enough that forty years later an artist might want to draw inspiration from it?

悪は存在しない Evil Does Not Exist (2023)

The opening scene reveals the film’s origins as a visual accompaniment to music. And the music suffuses the runtime with ill omens. This place is haunted, but we don’t know how.

For a foreign (or American) audience, the rural setting casts a curious spell. This mountain town is idyllic. Taste that udon! Of course people would want to visit. But as I consider comparable remote towns in the US, I can’t imagine wanting to venture there. US rural spaces carry the cinematic aura of Deliverance. Perhaps we city folk expect things to go awry when we intrude.