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Toronto International Film Festival 2014 - UPDATE #4

Directed by Mélanie Laurent

Mélanie Laurent's second directorial effort, Breathe follows typical French teenager Charlie (Joséphine Japy) as she befriends a new girl in class (Lou de Laâge's Sarah) - with the movie subsequently detailing the ups and downs of said friendship. Filmmaker Laurent has infused Breathe with a gritty, slice-of-life feel that's heightened by a series of natural performances, with the various actors effectively transforming their characters into believable, three-dimensional figures worth rooting for - with the movie's watchable atmosphere perpetuated by Laurent's admittedly impressive sense of style (eg there's a captivating montage of the aforementioned protagonists' bond developing). It's perhaps not surprising to note that Breathe inevitably segues into a fairly meandering midsection, as Laurent, along with coscripter Julien Lambroschini, devotes just a little too much time to the characters' uneventful exploits at a countryside cottage. The lack of forward momentum during this stretch is regrettable, to say the least, and yet it's clear that Breathe picks up with a vengeance as it enters its engrossing third act - with the movie adopting a much darker tone as Laurent essentially offers up a trenchant portrait of teen bullying. By the time the shocking (yet not entirely unexpected) conclusion rolls around, Breathe has established itself as a promising effort from an exciting new filmmaker - with Laurent's stylish sensibilities setting her apart from many of her contemporaries (ie it's impossible not to be captivated by an outdoor tracking shot that follows a character through the rooms of her small apartment).

out of

Directed by Yann Demange

'71 follows a green British soldier (Jack O'Connell's Gary) as he's caught in the middle of a skirmish without any backup, with the movie detailing Gary's efforts at evading various nefarious forces and making his way to safety. It's a fairly compelling premise that's squandered on an ongoing basis by filmmaker Yann Demange, as the director proves absolutely unable to draw the viewer into the proceedings at any point - with the movie suffering from a bland, underdeveloped protagonist that one couldn't possibly care less about. Far more problematic is Demange's decision to suffuse the film's action sequences with jittery, shaky camerawork, with this technique draining such moments of their effectiveness and, worse still, ensuring that they're almost uniformly incoherent. (This proves especially frustrating with an early footchase, as it seems as though it should be rather engrossing.) '71's uninvolving atmosphere only grows more pronounced as it saunters into its meandering midsection, as the bulk of the movie is either incoherent or just unreasonably spare (ie in terms of the latter, there are too many scenes of Gary wandering around his dimly-lit environs.) The repetitive nature of the narrative - Gary evades, his pursuers get closer, etc - paves the way for a nigh interminable final half hour, and it goes without saying that Demange's many, many attempts to generate tension fall completely and hopelessly flat. It's worth noting, as well, that the thick accents make it awfully difficult to discern what the characters are saying most of the time, which is ultimately the final nail in the coffin for what could (and should) have been a taut little thriller.

out of

Directed by Szabolcs Hajdu

Directed by Szabolcs Hajdu, Mirage follows Isaach De Bankolé's mysterious, nameless character as he arrives at a country farm and subsequently begins to stir up trouble. There's ultimately something oddly hypnotic about Mirage, as filmmaker Hajdu has infused the proceedings with a deliberate and visually sumptuous feel that's heightened by the mystery surrounding the central character's very existence (ie who is he? what's he up to? where's he going? etc, etc). And although much of the movie's opening hour revolves around the protagonists' encounters with a variety of folks, Mirage's plot eventually does begin to take shape - as De Bankolé's character is drawn into the affairs of a nasty figure and his henchmen. It's interesting stuff that generally manages to sustain the viewer's interest, although Hajdu does push the film's spare vibe almost to its breaking point. It's ultimately clear, though, that Hajdu is looking to riff on the Western genre, as the film boasts many of the beats and developments one expects from such an endeavor. (There's little doubt, however, that Hajdu is looking to boil the Western down to its very basic essence.) Of course, Mirage culminates with a violent showdown - by which point the movie has lived up to its place as a creative, inventive genre exercise.

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The Voices
Directed by Marjane Satrapi

A seriously quirky piece of work, The Voices follows Ryan Reynolds' Jerry as his mental problems, which are highlighted by his conversations with his devious cat and lovable dog, worsen as he begins dating a pair of attractive coworkers (Gemma Arterton's Fiona and Anna Kendrick's Lisa). Filmmaker Marjane Satrapi, working from a script by Michael R. Perry, has infused The Voices with an almost excessively off-kilter feel, with the director perpetuating this vibe through virtually every facet of the production - from the performances to the set design to the score. And although the pervasive atmosphere of quirkiness often threatens to become overwhelming, it does become increasingly clear that Satrapi intends for the film's style to represent the central character's less-than-sane mindset - with the heightened reality of the movie's environment going a long way towards fleshing out the protagonist and his deranged psyche. It's worth noting, however, that The Voices does suffer from a rather erratic sense of pacing that's especially problematic during the padded-out midsection, with the sporadically hands-off feel compounded by a stagy second half set almost entirely within the cramped confines of Jerry's apartment. The talk-heavy bent of Perry's script admittedly diminishes the impact of the film's climactic sequences, and yet it's impossible to deny the effectiveness of many of the movie's late-in-the-game twists and turns (most of which are much, much darker than one might've anticipated). Reynolds' superb turn as unhinged central character goes a long way towards smoothing over The Voices' various faults, which finally does confirm the film's place as a distinctive black comedy that is, in essence, an instant cult classic.

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High Society
Directed by Julie Lopes Curval

High Society details the relationship that unfolds between a struggling fashion designer (Ana Girardot's Alice) and a well-to-do artist (Bastien Bouillon's Antoine), with problems ensuing as Alice grows more and more impatient with Antoine's snobby demeanor and attitude. It's a low-key premise that's employed to almost prototypically deliberate effect by director Julie Lopes Curval, as the filmmaker, working from a script cowritten with Sophie Hiet, offers up an uneventful narrative revolving around the central character's subdued exploits (eg Alice goes to school, Alice deals with her mother, etc, etc). The less-than-engrossing atmosphere is compounded by a heavy emphasis on Alice's fashion-centric comings and goings, with Curval's odd refusal to provide down-to-earth elements consistently preventing the viewer from connecting to Girardot's character on an emotional level. It goes without saying, then, that the viewer begins to crave anything even resembling a plot development, and there's little doubt that the strong performances and well-developed characters are simply, to an increasingly palpable degree, unable to compensate for the aimlessness that's been hard-wired into Curval and Hiet's screenplay. And although the presence of some conflict within the film's final half hour perks one's attention (albeit briefly and fleetingly), High Society is ultimately nothing more than a typically French drama that wears out its welcome almost immediately.

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The Narrow Frame of Midnight
Directed by Tala Hadid

Written and directed by Tala Hadid, The Narrow Frame of Midnight follows Khalid Abdalla's Zacaria as he embarks on a quest to track down his missing brother - with the character's efforts complicated by his ongoing interactions with a young orphan (Fadwa Boujouane's Aicha) sold to a petty criminal (Hocine Choutri's Abbas). It's a fairly by-the-numbers premise that's employed to consistently underwhelming effect by Hadid, as the movie's been infused with an almost excessively slow and subdued feel that exacerbates the intense atmosphere of familiarity. There's little doubt, too, that the film's hands-off vibe is perpetuated by Abdalla's sleepy, far-from-charismatic turn as the one-note central character, and it's clear that The Narrow Frame of Midnight's few moments of electricity are thanks entirely to Choutri's captivating, Vincent Cassel-like performance. Hadid's continuing attempts at imbuing the proceedings with a lyrical, poetic feel fall hopelessly flat, to be sure, with the viewer eventually wishing that the filmmaker would just cut to the chase already. And although there are a few compelling moments sprinkled into the narrative - eg Zacaria walks through a warehouse filled with dead bodies - The Narrow Frame of Midnight grows more and more uninvolving as it slowly progresses and ultimately concludes with a head-scratching finale that couldn't possibly be less satisfying. The end result is an art-house disaster that holds one at arms-length virtually from beginning to end, which is a shame, certainly, given that Hadid has included a few elements of some promise.

out of

© David Nusair