Toronto International Film Festival 2016 - UPDATE #9
We Are Never Alone
Directed by Petr Vaclav
CZECH REPUBLIC/FRANCE/105 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
An almost excessively grim drama, We Are Never Alone follows the inhabitants of a small, seemingly isolated European town as they go about their gloomy everyday lives - with, for example, the movie charting the exploits of a lonely convenience-store clerk (Lenka Vlasakova), a basket-case hypochondriac (Karel Roden), and a tough strip-club bouncer (Zdenek Godla). Filmmaker Petr Vaclav admittedly does an effective job of establishing the movie's primary locale and the characters residing within, and it's worth noting, too, that We Are Never Alone boasts an assortment of impressively authentic performances from a mostly unknown cast. (Roden, the one familiar face here, does an incredible job of stepping completely out of his comfort zone.) It's clear, then, that the film's downfall is due entirely to its absence of compelling elements, as writer/director Vaclav proves unable (or, more likely, unwilling) to infuse We Are Never Alone with anything but scenes of unrelenting, one-note bleakness - which does, in turn, make it awfully difficult to connect to the plight of the characters on an ongoing basis. (The hands-off atmosphere is compounded by the completely arbitrary manner by which Vaclav's switches between color and black and white throughout.) By the time the almost predictably abrupt ending rolls around, We Are Never Alone has lived up to its place as a stereotypically glum and plotless film-festival flick that squanders its above average performances.
All I See is You
Directed by Marc Forster
USA/THAILAND/110 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
All I See is You follows Blake Lively's Gina, blind since adolescence, as she and her husband (Jason Clarke's James) attempt to redefine their relationship after Gina's sight is restored by a talented doctor (Danny Huston). Filmmaker Marc Forster is certainly in no hurry to tell this fairly simple story, as All I See is You progresses at a seriously deliberate pace for most of its overlong running time - with, especially, the viewer's patience tested in the somewhat uneventful first half. Forster, along with coscreenwriter Sean Conway, emphasizes the day-to-day exploits of the central character, both pre- and post-eye surgery, and the movie is, as such, rife with sequences in which Gina and James go about their lives (eg Gina goes swimming, Gina and James travel to Spain, etc). It's clear, then, that All I See is You, particularly in its opening hour, benefits strongly from Forster's solid directorial choices and from Lively and Clarke's strong performances, with, especially, Lively convincingly stepping into the shoes of her thoroughly sympathetic and believable character (ie Gina's actions as both a blind and newly-seeing woman feel authentic). There's little doubt that the movie does improve steadily as it progresses, with the growing gulf between Lively and Clarke's respective characters certainly quite interesting and plausible (ie it's easy to imagine that Gina's personality is reverting to her pre-blindness self, which would undoubtedly be a struggle for James to accept). The film's persistently slow gait stands as a continuing hindrance to one's total enjoyment, however, and it's worth noting, too, that the rushed conclusion leaves certain plot elements both muddled and unresolved. (Why, after taking so much time with everything else, rush the movie's final stretch?) Still, All I See is You generally comes off as a solid, consistently artful drama that lingers well after the credits have rolled.
Directed by Emilie Deleuze
FRANCE/90 MINUTES/TIFF KIDS
Directed by Emilie Deleuze, Miss Impossible follows rebellious 13-year-old Aurore (Léna Magnien) as she begins seventh grade for the second time and, eventually, becomes the lead singer of a fledgling band. It's clear immediately that the biggest impediment to Miss Impossible's success is the central character herself, as scripters Deleuze, Marie Desplechin, and Laurent Guyot infuse Aurore with an almost intensely unlikable personality that grows more and more grating as time progresses - with the screenwriters' refusal to give the figure any redeeming or sympathetic qualities proving utterly disastrous. (This is, after all, a young girl who calls her mother "ugly and a mess" right to her face at one point.) It is, as a result, awfully difficult to work up any interest in the protagonist's low-key exploits, which is problematic, to say the least, given the subdued, slice-of-life bent of the movie's meandering narrative. Miss Impossible does improve a little as Magnien's character begins to come out of her shell, admittedly, with Aurore's connection to the aforementioned band and also to a patient new teacher (Alex Lutz's Sébastien Quest) softening her abrasive nature to a small degree. (It's not quite enough to make the incongruously uplifting finale seem anything but absurd, however.) The end result is a fairly ineffective character study of a rather objectionable figure, with the movie's failure tempered somewhat by Magnien's strong performance and an overall atmosphere of authenticity.
The Day My Father Became a Bush
Directed by Nicole van Kilsdonk
NETHERLANDS/BELGIUM/CROATIA/90 MINUTES/TIFF KIDS
Based on a book by Joke van Leeuwen, The Day My Father Became a Bush follows 10-year-old Toda (Celeste Holsheimer) as she's forced to leave her home after war breaks out in her small, unspecified country - with the movie detailing the affable figure's travels on the way to her mother's house in Germany. Filmmaker Nicole van Kilsdonk, working from a script cowritten with Maureen Versprille, does an effective job of immediately luring the viewer into the briskly-paced and consistently watchable proceedings, with the engaging vibe anchored and perpetuated by Holsheimer's strong turn as the sympathetic, likeable central character (ie Toda immediately comes off as a compelling figure that one can't help but root for and sympathize with). It's clear, then, that The Day My Father Became a Bush does falter somewhat as it progresses into its road-trip midsection, as this stretch suffers from a fairly erratic atmosphere that's more hit-and-miss than one might've preferred. (There is, for example, a sequence in which Toda stays with a wacky general and his wife that's just too broad for a film that's otherwise pretty grounded.) Such concerns become moot once The Day My Father Became a Bush progresses into its palpably (and appropriately) heartwarming third act, which ultimately confirms the movie's place as a solid adaptation that's as charming as it is entertaining.
Directed by Alice Lowe
UNITED KINGDOM/88 MINUTES/VANGUARD
British actress Alice Lowe makes her filmmaking debut with Prevenge, an oddball little movie detailing a pregnant woman's (Lowe's Ruth) killing spree against a seemingly random selection of individuals - with the character's efforts encouraged by her apparently homicidal unborn child. It's a promising and thoroughly unique premise that's employed to middling effect by Lowe, as the writer/director proves unable to transform the movie's vague sketch of an idea into a fully-formed motion picture. There's little doubt, too, that Prevenge's underwhelming vibe is compounded and perpetuated by a repetitive structure that grows increasingly problematic, with the movie's midsection tediously containing one scene after another of Ruth stalking and murdering her victims. The movie's less-than-engrossing atmosphere is alleviated somewhat by Lowe herself, as the actress delivers a striking performance that never devolves into hysteria or exaggeration (ie Ruth, for the most part, comes off as a plausible, believable figure). By the time the fairly anticlimactic final stretch rolls around - the explanation for Ruth's behavior isn't nearly as compelling as one might've hoped - Prevenge has confirmed its place as an unusual first effort from a not-entirely-untalented filmmaker.