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Toronto International Film Festival 2016 - UPDATE #4

In the Blood
Directed by Rasmus Heisterberg

Screenwriter Rasmus Heisterberg's directorial debut, In the Blood follows medical student Simon (Kristoffer Bech) as his partying lifestyle eventually threatens his various friendships and success at school. It's bizarre, to say the least, that Heisterberg would choose In the Blood as his initial foray into filmmaking, as the movie, which is admittedly quite well made, remains unable to wholeheartedly capture the viewer's interest from start to finish - with the meandering, plot-free narrative certainly playing a key role in perpetuating the less-than-engrossing atmosphere. The emphasis on Simon's fun-loving exploits, predictably, grows less and less interesting as time progresses, and the viewer's ability to sympathize with the character's slow-but-steady downfall eventually dwindles to non-existence. (The early inclusion of a scene in which Simon and his friends feed a mouse to a snake does little to humanize them, to be sure.) It's clear, then, that In the Blood's fairly tolerable vibe is due to both the strength of Heisterberg's visuals and the impressively strong performances, with, in terms of the latter, Bech's stirring turn as the self-destructive protagonist often much, much better than the film deserves. There's little doubt, ultimately, that In the Blood's failure is exacerbated by a palpably overlong running time, and it goes without saying that Heisterberg probably should've kicked off his directorial career with a different project (or at least transformed this one into a short film).

out of

Clair Obscur
Directed by Yesim Ustaoglu

Clair Obscur tracks the trajectories of two vastly different Turkish women: Chenaz (Funda Eryigit) is a successful, seemingly well-adjusted psychiatrist whose relationship with Cem (Mehmet Kurtulus) is perhaps not as happy and equal as it seems, while Elmas (Ecem Uzun) is a meek teenager trapped in the confines of an abusive marriage to a much older man. Though filmmaker Yesim Ustaoglu has infused it with a punishingly deliberate pace, Clair Obscur nevertheless, at the outset, comes off as a fairly fascinating portrait of well-defined (and starkly opposite) figures - although it's clear immediately that the Chenaz storyline is more interesting and promising than Elmas'. (This is due mostly to Eryigit's impressively nuanced turn as a seriously conflicted individual.) It's apparent, too, that the film improves considerably once the two storylines converge, and yet, by that same token, Clair Obscur begins its slow-but-steady decline into mediocrity shortly after the characters meet - with the inclusion of long, drawn-out therapy sessions wreaking havoc on the movie's already tenuous momentum. The increasingly arms-length atmosphere prevents the third act's emotional revelations from packing much of a punch, which ultimately cements Clair Obscur's place as a passable endeavor that could (and should) have been much better.

out of

The Animal's Wife
Directed by Víctor Gaviria

The worst of the festival (one hopes), The Animal's Wife follows a Colombian teenager (Natalia Polo's Amparo) as she's abducted from her ramshackle home and forced to become the wife of a local criminal named Libardo (Tito Alexander Gómez). It's a rather unpleasant premise that's employed to consistently irritating effect by filmmaker Víctor Gaviria, with the director's extreme incompetence paving the way for a production that's riddled with inept, amateurish elements - including, especially, a series of performances that would hardly cut muster at a local community theater. (It really does feel, by and large, that Gaviria just plucked folks from the rough-and-tumble neighborhood in which the film is set and asked them to spout his inane, laughably on-the-nose dialogue.) The movie grows more and more aggravating as time slowly progresses, to be sure, and it inevitably becomes impossible to discern just what Gaviria was attempting to accomplish with this slow-moving trainwreck - with much of the movie's ludicrously overlong running time (119 minutes !) devoted to the humiliations and mistreatments suffered by the somewhat sympathetic central character. (But what's the point of it all?) It's clear, too, that the almost astonishing lack of subtlety plays a significant role in cementing The Animal's Wife's downfall, with, for example, Gómez's character painted as a cartoonishly broad, mustache-twirling villain that suffers from a complete lack of depth or plausibility (eg he threatens to rape his newborn daughter and sell her into prostitution!) The attempt at an uplifting finale fails miserably, of course, and it's ultimately impossible to label The Animal's Wife as anything more than a complete disaster of a motion picture - one whose presence within TIFF's lineup is nothing short of incredible.

no stars out of

Directed by Julia Ducournau

An endurance test of a movie, Raw follows Garance Marillier's Justine as she arrives at veterinary school and is immediately subject to unusually brutal hazing - with this concern paling next to her growing appetite for human flesh. Raw does, at the very least, open with a memorably striking pre-credits sequence, with the effectiveness of this interlude hardly indicative of the massively unwatchable mess that follows - as the film, from there, segueing into a colossally misguided first act detailing Justine's rush-week experiences. The nastiness inflicted on the character is just too extreme to accept, and it's impossible to swallow that neither Justine nor her fellow students would go to the authorities over this mistreatment. The massively unpleasant atmosphere is compounded by a nasty bit of business involving a horse, with the viewer subsequently forced to violently fight the temptation to just give up and walk out. It's clear, then, that Raw improves oh-so-slightly as it begins emphasizing Justine's transformation into a bloodthirsty something, with the mystery surrounding just what's happening to her infusing the picture with a little very badly-needed momentum. (Ultimately, however, director Julia Ducournau bungles even this aspect of the proceedings, as the movie ends without a hint of an explanation for Justine's behavior.) And while the performances are fairly good and there are some impressively disgusting gore effects sprinkled throughout, Raw comes off as a hopelessly half-baked endeavor whose few decent scenes are canceled out by a far-from-realized, aggressively incohesive narrative.

out of

Directed by Houda Benyamina

A decent yet erratic debut, Divines follows young Parisian thug Dounia (Oulaya Amamra) as she strives to overcome her hardscrabble existence by agreeing to work for a local drug dealer - with the movie detailing the impact this decision has on the various folks around her (including her best friend and her security guard/dancer love interest). There's little doubt that Divines fares best in its opening stretch, as filmmaker Houda Benyamina does an effective job of establishing the impressively unsympathetic protagonist and the less-than-savory environment in which she resides. It's clear right from the get-go, however, that Romain Compingt, Malik Rumeau, and Benyamina's meandering screenplay is problematic, with the movie, even at its best, unable to wholeheartedly sustain the viewer's interest for more than a few minutes at a time (ie there's just a pervasively lack of momentum here). The sporadic inclusion of compelling visual flourishes proves instrumental in elevating the proceedings on an ongoing basis, while Amamra's solid work as the film's rebellious protagonist goes a long way towards keeping things somewhat interesting throughout. (It remains impossible to work up any interest in Dounia's relationship with the aforementioned security guard/dancer, and each one of their scenes together essentially brings the film to a dead halt.) There reaches a point, though, at which the unfocused narrative becomes an insurmountable obstacle, with Benyamina's meandering direction paving the way for a third act that fizzles out to a progressively disheartening extent. The silly, ineffective (to say the least) fiery climax ensures that Divines ends on as anticlimactic a note as one could envision, which is a shame, certainly, given the potential afforded by the movie's fairly strong opening stretch.

out of

© David Nusair