Toronto International Film Festival 2018 - UPDATE #4
Directed by Yury Bykov
RUSSIA/FRANCE/ARMENIA/109 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
The degree to which The Factory fizzles out is ultimately nothing short of devastating, as filmmaker Yury Bykov delivers a striking, engrossing opening stretch that seems to promise a violent and gripping thriller - with the spare narrative following a group of blue-collar workers that conspire to hold their boss for ransom after he announces plans to shut their workplace down. (It’s not long, naturally, before things go terribly awry.) Writer/director Bykov has infused the early part of The Factory with a lean, propulsive feel that's certainly not lacking for style, as the picture boasts a decidedly larger-than-life sensibility that's perpetuated, at the outset, by a blistering pace and a series of hard-as-nails performances - with the lamentable shift from captivating to progressively tedious triggered by a stagnant, filmed-play-like midsection (ie virtually nothing of interest occurs once the inevitable standoff between the protagonists and the boss' men ensues). Bykov's decision to bog the movie's second act down with a virtually non-stop emphasis on the characters' in-fighting and arguing obliterates the previously-established good, and there's little doubt that The Factory essentially limps towards its underwhelming and hopelessly anticlimactic third act. It's a shame, really, given that Bykov does manage to pepper the film's second half with a very small handful of effective moments (eg one of the workers carefully opens a duffle bag that may or may not contain a bomb), and yet by the time the dimly-lit third-act shootout rolls around, The Factory has certainly confirmed its place as a serious misfire that has absolutely no business running a minute longer than an hour and a half (ie there's just so much padding).
That Time of Year
Directed by Paprika Steen
DENMARK/101 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Paprika Steen's third film, That Time of Year follows Steen's Katrine as she and her husband (Jacob Lohmann's Mads) prepare for a large Christmas gathering of both their respective families - with the narrative detailing the arguments and revelations that crop up over the course of one very long night. Filmmaker Steen, working from Jakob Weis' screenplay, certainly does an effective job of capturing the chaos of a boisterous family gathering, as the movie boasts a series of characters and performances that, for the most part, feel authentic and real (although Weis and Steen do have a sporadic penchant for emphasizing sitcom-like, cartoonish behavior). Steen's winning, warm turn as the movie's beleaguered central character goes a long way towards perpetuating That Time of Year's agreeable atmosphere, and yet it's just as apparent that the unapologetically plotless narrative does result in a hit-and-miss, wheel-spinning midsection - with the filmed-play-like bent of Weis' script certainly compounding the picture's repetitive and somewhat claustrophobic vibe. And although there are certainly several high points sprinkled throughout (eg an impassioned confrontation between Katrine and her mother), That Time of Year ultimately can't help but come off as an earnest yet perpetually erratic drama that's unable to make the emotional impact that Steen is clearly striving for.
Directed by Michal Aviad
ISRAEL/93 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Working Woman follows wife and mother-of-three Orna (Liron Ben Shlush) as she begins working as a personal assistant to a successful real estate developer (Menashe Noy's Benny), with Orna's initial success in the position eventually (and persistently) threatened by Benny's entirely unwanted advances. There's ultimately not much more to the story aside from that brief synopsis, as director Michal Aviad, working from a script written with Sharon Azulay Eyal and Michal Vinik, delivers a kitchen-sink slice-of-life story that relies mostly on small, character-based events to propel the thin narrative forward - with the down-to-earth vibe certainly heightened and perpetuated by Shlush's often engrossing turn as the beleaguered protagonist. And while the movie's subject matter is certainly quite topical, Working Woman's exceedingly (and often excessively) deliberate pace prevents it from making the impact that Aviad has obviously intended - with the ongoing emphasis on mundane happenings exacerbating the movie's hands-off atmosphere. It's fairly apparent, then, that Working Woman does manage to grow more and more interesting as it progresses, with the increasingly strained relationship between Shlush and Noy's respective characters providing the movie's second half with some much-needed dramatic tension. The solid closing stretch ensures, in the end, that the film ends on a satisfyingly empowering note, and yet it's difficult not to wish Aviad had infused Working Woman with a slightly more propulsive feel.
Directed by Tuva Novotny
Told in a single, unbroken take, Blind Spot follows several characters, including Pia Tjelta's Maria and Nora Mathea Øien's Tea, as they attempt to cope with a very sudden and potentially life-altering catastrophe. First-time filmmaker Tuva Novotny certainly doesn't shy away from capturing the rather mundane nature of her characters' lives, with this especially true of an opening stretch detailing teenager Tea's afterschool exploits (including a rather long walk back home with a friend). It's striking stuff that straddles a very thin line between fascination and tedium, with any thoughts towards the latter essentially (and effectively) obliterated by an utterly unexpected twist at around the half-hour mark - with the movie, past that point, segueing into a wrenching and engrossing midsection that benefits substantially from Tjelta's hypnotic, searing performance (ie Tjelta is completely up for the task of portraying the extreme emotional distress her character is put through). The vibe of heightened intensity is made all-the-more palpable by the real-time, one-shot atmosphere, although it's equally apparent that Novotny isn't quite able to sustain the electrifying feel right through to the end - as the picture closes with a fairly anticlimactic stretch that isn't as satisfying as one might've hoped. There's nevertheless little doubt that Blind Spot stands as a thoroughly impressive accomplishment and debut feature, with the movie's triumph on a purely technical level ultimately overshadowed by the powerful work from all its actors (some of whom, evidently, aren't even professional performers!)
Light as Feathers
Directed by Rosanne Pel
Utterly, hopelessly amateurish from start to finish, Light as Feathers follows Polish teenager Eryk (Eryk Walny) as he spends his days tormenting animals and raping his exceedingly young neighbor - with the plotless narrative weaving in the exploits of Eryk's well-meaning yet utterly clueless mother (who seems to want to be Eryk's friend more than his parent). It's clear immediately that first-time filmmaker Rosanne Pel has absolutely no business behind the camera, as Light as Feathers suffers from a pervasively incompetent sensibility that's compounded by Pel's inability to even fleetingly catch the viewer's interest - with the movie's documentary-like atmosphere immediately rendered moot by an emphasis on aggravating and frequently unpleasant happenings. (There is, for example, an ongoing emphasis on the mistreatment of the family cat, as Eryk manhandles it for his own amusement and an older relative slaps it fairly hard to shoo it away.) The perpetually objectionable vibe is certainly reflected quite keenly in the portrayal of the worthless central character, and it's impossible not to wonder just what Pel was thinking crafting an entire movie around so obnoxious and hateful a protagonist (and it certainly doesn't help that Walny delivers as flat and emotionless a performance as one could imagine). By the time the bizarre, incestuous ending rolls around, Light as Feathers has certainly confirmed its place as a misfire and trainwreck of epic proportions and it's impossible not to wonder what programmer Michèle Maheux was thinking when she incorporated it into this year's lineup.