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Toronto International Film Festival 2015 - UPDATE #1

Our Little Sister
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda

Saddled with an unconscionable 128 minute running time, Our Little Sister slowly-but-surely morphs from a passable character study into a seriously (and aggressively) interminable cinematic endurance test. The wafer-thin narrative follows three sisters as their father's death brings news of a step-sister named Suzu (Suzu Hirose), with the movie detailing the bond that naturally begins to form between the characters over the course of the next several weeks. Filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda has infused Our Little Sister with exactly the sort of patient, deliberate atmosphere one has come to anticipate, and there's little doubt that it works relatively well in the movie's early stages - as the movie's been hardwired with a decidedly pleasant feel that's reflected in the quaint visuals and naturalistic performances. It's not long, however, before the unabashedly plotless vibe begins to take its toll on the viewer, with Kore-eda's decision to stress a series of unusually humdrum episodes in the characters' lives (eg a soccer game is played, the girls drink too much alcohol, etc) paving the way for a seemingly endless second half. The almost total lack of dramatic conflict only compounds Our Little Sister's inability to even partially hold one's interest, and it goes without saying that the emotional impact of the film's final stretch is hopelessly non-existent - which does, naturally, confirm the picture's place as a complete misfire that might've worked as a short but has no business running over two hours.

out of

The Daughter
Directed by
Simon Stone

Inspired by Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck, The Daughter follows Paul Schneider's Christian as he arrives home on the eve of his father's (Geoffrey Rush's Henry) marriage to a much younger woman (Anna Torv's Anna) - with the film exploring the consequences of Christian's arrival and the long-buried secrets that eventually come to light. First-time filmmaker Simon Stone has infused The Daughter with a grim and portentous vibe that immediately signals his less-than-subtle intentions, and there's little doubt that the movie, which moves at a decidedly deliberate pace, possesses an undercurrent of tension that's heightened by the narrative's mysterious elements (ie it's obvious this is all going somewhere sinister, but where exactly?) Stone's theatrical sensibilities are perpetuated by the histrionic performances and a series of soapy plot twists, which does ensure that the film grows more and more ridiculous as it progresses - and yet it's clear that one's interest is held rapt even through the film's more overtly absurd developments. By the time the Chekov's-gun final stretch rolls around, The Daughter has confirmed its place as a broadly conceived and executed melodrama that concludes on a disappointingly abrupt note.

out of

Directed by Sebastian Schipper

Though it's difficult not to embrace and admire the central gimmick behind it - the entire movie was shot in one long, unbroken take - Victoria ultimately comes off as an excessively erratic and punishingly overlong drama that never quite lives up to its potential. The narrative follows Laia Costa's Victoria as she meets and befriends several men at an underground dance club, with the character eventually agreeing to act as a getaway driver for the guys' spur-of-the-moment (and non-voluntary) heist. Filmmaker Sebastian Schipper's aggressively lackadaisical sensibilities pave the way for an opening hour that seriously tests one's patience, as the writer/director offers up a meandering initial stretch detailing Victoria's inconsequential dealings with the aforementioned fellas - with the less-than-engrossing atmosphere compounded by one's ongoing difficulties in deciphering virtually all of the dialogue (ie Costa delivers the majority of her dialogue through muddled, incoherent broken English). It's clear, then, that Victoria improves substantially as the emphasis is slowly-but-surely placed on the characters' ill-advised heist, with the inclusion of a few admittedly electrifying scenes buoying the viewer's interest on a sporadic basis. (There is, for example, a fantastic sequence in which Victoria and a cohort must evade the advancing police force.) Schipper's inability to pare the narrative down to its essentials effectively drains the proceedings of its tension, however, and it is, in the end, impossible to label Victoria as anything more than a passable exercise in technical wizardry.

out of

Sleeping Giant
Directed by Andrew Cividino

Directed by Andrew Cividino, Sleeping Giant details the uneventful exploits of three teenagers as they attempt to kill time while on vacation in an isolated cottage community. It's immediately clear that Sleeping Giant benefits substantially from Cividino's striking eye for visuals, with the movie possessing a vivid, evocative feel that does, at the outset, prove effective at compensating for its palpably dull stretches. There's little doubt, however, that the film instantly suffers from a lack of compelling characters, as scripters Cividino, Aaron Yeger, and Blain Watters offer up an assortment of characters that are either underdeveloped or aggressively unlikable - with, in terms of the latter, Nick Serino's Nate standing out as one of the most reprehensible individuals to appear onscreen in ages. Serino's admittedly note-perfect performance as the thoroughly disagreeable figure casts a pall over the entirety of Sleeping Giant, as his mere presence inevitably becomes the cinematic equivalent of nails on a chalkboard and it is, as a result, downright laughable that Cividino ultimately asks the viewer to sympathize with Nate's plight. Even if one were willing to overlook Serino's slimy work here, Sleeping Giant's lackadaisical atmosphere ensures that there's just nothing here for the viewer to enthusiastically embrace - although, in fairness, Cividino's obvious talent does manage to shine through every now and then.

out of

The Witch: A New-England Folktale
Directed by Robert Eggers

An absolutely disastrous cinematic experiment, The Witch: A New-England Folktale follows a 17th century family of six as they're expelled from their community and forced to seek a new life in the middle of the woods - with problems ensuing after a witch begins interfering in the clan's life to increasingly menacing effect. It's an almost exceptionally foolproof premise that's squandered from the word go by director Robert Eggers, as the first-time filmmaker has made the almost colossally misguided decision to cull the entirety of the movie's dialogue directly from documents of the time - which naturally ensures that the majority of what's said here remains hopelessly incoherent and abstract. (It doesn't help, either, that Eggers has directed his actors to speak using hushed, muted speech patterns, thus preventing viewers from even understanding what's been said most of the time.) It's a shame, certainly, given that The Witch: A New-England Folktale boasts an admittedly captivating visual sensibility, as Eggers, along with cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, does an effective job of establishing the bleak environs within which the central characters reside - with the inclusion of a few overt bits of creepiness only perpetuating the film's missed-opportunity vibe. By the time the comically baffling finale rolls around, The Witch: A New-England Folktale has managed to thoroughly alienate even the most patient of viewers and it's finally impossible not to wonder if Eggers himself is able to sit through this pretentious trainwreck without checking his watch every few minutes.

out of

© David Nusair