Toronto International Film Festival 2017 - UPDATE #1
Directed by Boudewijn Koole
NETHERLANDS/NORWAY/92 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Gorgeously shot yet ultimately hollow, Disappearance follows photojournalist Roos (Rifka Lodeizen) as she returns home to spend time with her piano-teacher mother (Elsie de Brauw's Louise) and precocious half-brother (Marcus Hanssen's Bengt) - with the seemingly routine visit eventually taking on a markedly grim note in the light of certain revelations. Filmmaker Boudewijn Koole has infused Disappearance with an almost excessively lackadaisical pace that is, at the outset, not terribly problematic, as the director does an effective job of establishing the movie's striking locale and trio of central characters - with the underlying mystery behind the mild tension between Roos and Louise perpetuating the somewhat promising atmosphere. It's only as the movie progresses into its aggressively uneventful midsection that one's interest begins to wane; scripter Jolein Laarman takes the spare aesthetic all the way up to its breaking point and then some, which ensures that much of Disappearance's second act revolves around long, somewhat tedious scenes of characters doing little of consequence. And although there's finally some conflict around the one-hour mark - eg there's a pretty great scene in which Louise laments her failings as a parent - Disappearance's climactic emotional impact is, in the end, muted considerably by Koole's all-too-deliberate treatment of Laarman's pared-down screenplay.
Directed by Zaida Bergroth
FINLAND/120 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Miami follows Sonja Kuittinen's shy, hesitant Anna as she seeks out her estranged sister, Angela (Krista Kosonen), with the narrative detailing the problems that ensue as Angela's shady past inevitably catches up with her. Though it boasts a pair of undeniably fantastic lead performances, Miami remains pitched at a level of abject mediocrity for the duration of its often excruciatingly overlong running time - as director Zaida Bergroth, working from a script cowritten with Jan Forsström, suffuses the cookie-cutter narrative with a whole host of run-of-the-mill episodes and digressions. (There's even a montage set to a peppy pop song!) It doesn't help, either, that Bergroth proves hopelessly unable to transform either of the protagonists into three-dimensional, interesting figures, with Kuittinen and Kosonen, despite their palpable chemistry together, subsequently left floundering as their respective characters behave in increasingly irrational and unbelievable ways. (This is especially true of Anna's change from mousy wallflower to cunning criminal.) The effectiveness of dark plot twists within the movie's second half is ultimately diminished by the excessively deliberate pace, while the almost incongruously grim finale isn't able to even remotely make the impact Bergroth is clearly striving for - which ultimately confirms Miami's place as a hopelessly bloated and misbegotten piece of work.
Directed by Sonja Maria Kröner
Written and directed by Sonja Maria Kröner, The Garden follows an extended family of adults and children as they gather in Bavarian cottage country to commemorate a deceased matriarch and celebrate a birthday. It becomes increasingly clear that there's really not much more to The Garden than that simple summary, as Kröner delivers an uneventful narrative that's devoted primarily to the exploits of several woefully underdeveloped characters (ie it never becomes entirely clear what their relationships are to one another). Kröner's novelistic approach does not, as a result, work in the slightest; rather than develop the various protagonists, Kröner instead offers up a series of seemingly random events and activities that transpire over the very long, very lazy afternoon (eg kids play, adults engage in conversations, etc, etc). It's all quite well done, admittedly, but there's absolutely nothing here for the viewer to latch onto, and one does begin to crave a more substantial conflict than the ongoing effort to kill wasps. The Garden finally, in its last 20 minutes, contains a bit of familial discordance that proves a refreshing change from the constant nothingness, and yet this burst of plot comes far too late to compensate for what is otherwise a genial, far-too-inconsequential bit of prosaic filmmaking.
Directed by Seth A. Smith
CANADA/99 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
An often baffling piece of work, The Crescent follows Danika Vandersteen's Beth as she and her young son (Woodrow Graves' Lowen) retreat to a remote coastal estate after a tragedy - with spookiness ensuing as it becomes clear that the two aren't quite as isolated as they thought. It's clear immediately that director Seth A. Smith and scripter Darcy Spidle aren't looking to deliver a conventional horror flick here, as The Crescent, which moves at an often glacial pace, has been infused with a whole host of off-kilter and downright incomprehensible elements - with the avant-garde closing stretch certainly the most obvious example of the movie's art-house tendencies. And yet there's no denying that The Crescent benefits substantially from its slow-burn first half, as Smith does an effective job of cultivating an ominous vibe that's rife with spooky images and interludes (eg the blunt doorbell that keeps going off in the middle of the night). It is, as such, relatively easy to look past the film's rough-around-the-edges feel (eg it's been shot on a low budget and looks it), although Smith's lackadaisical approach slowly-but-surely does begin to test one's patience. The anticlimactic finish confirms The Crescent's place as an atmospheric (if maddeningly uneven) chiller, and it does seem, in the end, that the picture would've been better off as a segment in a horror anthology.
Directed by Govinda Van Maele
The degree to which Gutland eventually peters out is rather disappointing, to put it mildly, as the movie boasts a deliberate yet engaging opening hour that holds a great deal of promise - with the narrative detailing the arrival of a mysterious foreigner (Frederick Lau's Jens) in a small, tightly-knit farming town. It's clear that the movie benefits substantially from Lau's tremendously appealing turn as the taciturn central character, with filmmaker Govinda Van Maele initial emphasis on Jens' fish-out-of-water exploits perpetuating the affable, intriguing atmosphere. There's little doubt, as well, that the undercurrent of mystery within Van Maele's screenplay plays a role in the film's early success, as the various secrets held by Jens and the townspeople are obviously paving the way for a revelation-heavy third act - with the journey to that point, once the fairly uneventful midsection rolls around, becoming more arduous than one might've anticipated. Van Maele's excessively slow aesthetic paves the way for a series of wheel-spinning and somewhat pointless second-act sequences, and the movie does, as such, lose its grip on the viewer long before the admittedly entertaining climactic stretch rolls around. There's still plenty within Gutland worth embracing and recommending, to be sure, and yet it is, given the potential of its first half, difficult not to feel disappointment at its ultimate failure.