Toronto International Film Festival 2015 - UPDATE #8
Directed by Multiple Directors
USA/89 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
A typically erratic anthology horror film, Southbound follows a series of hapless travelers as they find themselves under attack from forces both human and supernatural within a desolate stretch of desert highway. There's little doubt that Southbound gets off to an impressively engrossing start, as the film opens with a captivating short detailing two criminals' efforts at escaping an isolated gas station and, eventually, creepy, floating skeletons. The compelling vibe is heightened by the appropriately gritty, grimy visuals, although, by that same token, it's clear that the movie's scuzzy aesthetic does grow more and more tedious as time progresses. But really, Southbound's most obvious problem is the lack of quality control within its various episodes - as the film suffers from a midsection comprised almost exclusively of stories that are either hopelessly familiar or palpably overlong. It's not until the final tale that the movie begins to improve once again, although even this segment is drained of its impact by a curious refusal to clarify certain characters' motivations (ie why are these victims being targeted by their assailants?) The pervadingly uneven feel ultimately renders Southbound's positive attributes moot, and while there is some novelty to be had from the cohesive nature of the various stories, the movie is simply unable to hold one's complete attention from start to finish.
Directed by Fabienne Berthaud
A seriously odd little movie, Sky follows Diane Kruger's Romy as she decides to break up with her partner (Gilles Lellouche's Richard) while on vacation in the States - with the narrative subsequently detailing Romy's various misadventures as she attempts to start a new life for herself. (She does, for example, wind up rooming with a grizzled Vegas personality for a while and eventually hooks up with a promiscuous cowboy.) Filmmaker Fabienne Berthaud does an effective job of initially establishing the protagonist and her admittedly unusual situation, with the movie, at the outset, revolving around the dysfunctional nature of the central couple's relationship. The movie benefits substantially from the early inclusion of several impressively engrossing sequences, including an argument that turns violent and Romy's encounter with a sympathetic police officer (Joshua Jackson, making the most of a disappointingly limited role). It's only as Sky moves into its progressively erratic midsection that one's interest begins to flag, as scripters Berthaud and Pascal Arnold slowly-but-surely begin infusing the narrative with segments and interludes of a palpably (and aggressively) off-kilter nature - with the less-than-engrossing vibe compounded by a pace best described as deliberate (ie there's absolutely no reason the film should move at such a slow clip). Berthaud's meandering modus operandi ensures that Sky runs out of steam long before it reaches its anticlimactic conclusion, which is a shame, really, given the promise of the movie's opening stretch.
Louder than Bombs
Directed by Joachim Trier
NORWAY/FRANCE/DENMARK/109 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Joachim Trier's first English-language film, Louder than Bombs follows Gabriel Byrne's Gene as he attempts to reconnect with his two sons (Devin Druid's Conrad and Jesse Eisenberg's Jonah) in the wake of his wife's (Isabelle Huppert's Isabelle) sudden death. Trier, working from a screenplay cowritten with Eskil Vogt, has infused Louder than Bombs with a decidedly deliberate pace that initially holds the viewer at arms length from the material, and yet there's simply no denying that the narrative does grow increasingly absorbing as time progresses - with the increasingly captivating vibe heightened by stellar work from the movie's various performers. (Eisenberg, in particular, steps way out of his comfort zone here.) As was the case with Trier's previous film, 2011's Oslo, August 31st, Louder than Bombs boasts an absolutely showstopping mid-film set-piece that effectively (and instantly) elevates the proceedings from good to great - with Trier transforming a relatively simple sequence, involving a story told by Druid's character, into an audacious and jaw-droppingly singular digression. And while the movie does suffer from a somewhat overlong running time, Louder than Bombs benefits from a surprisingly seamless mix of grim and lighthearted moments - although it's worth noting that the movie's final stretch doesn't quite pack the emotional punch that Trier has obviously intended. This is nevertheless a fine foray into American filmmaker for the immensely talented Trier, and it should be interesting to see where his career goes from here.
Directed by Christian Zübert
GERMANY/110 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
One Breath follows Chara
Mata Giannatou's Elena as she travels from Greece to Germany in search of better opportunities, with the revelation that Elena is pregnant forcing the young woman to jettison her plan to work in a nightclub and instead take on the role of nanny for a wealthy, high-strung executive named Tessa (Jördis Triebel). It's a compelling premise that's executed to engrossing effect by filmmaker Christian Zübert, as the director opens the proceedings with a strong sequence that effectively (and instantly) transforms Giannatou's character into a figure worth rooting for and sympathizing with. The captivating atmosphere is heightened by an undercurrent of tension within the film's first half, with Zübert placing a growing emphasis on the tenuous relationship between Tessa and Elena (which stems from the latter's growing difficulties in caring for the former's young child). It's worth noting, too, that Zübert does an effective job of sustaining the viewer's interest even in the wake of a not-entirely-unexpected mid-movie plot development, although it's just as clear that the absence of Giannatou's character for much of the movie's second half does result in a decidedly uneven atmosphere (ie Elena is just a far more captivating figure than Tessa, ultimately). The twist-of-fate conclusion doesn't quite manage to make the impact that Zübert is likely striving for, and yet One Breath is, for the most part, a searing little drama that benefits substantially from Giannatou's star-making turn as the central character.