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Toronto International Film Festival 2015 - UPDATE #5

Bang Gang [A Modern Love Story]
Directed by Eva Husson

Bang Gang [A Modern Love Story] follows several aimless teenagers as they spontaneously decide to create the title club, with the gang's fun-loving, sex-fueled exploits eventually (and predictably) screeching to a disastrous halt. In its early stages, Bang Gang [A Modern Love Story] essentially plays like a French riff on Larry Clarke's Kids, as the movie, for the most part, boasts an assortment of unlikable figures and details their hedonistic, rule-breaking shenanigans (and there's even a Virgin Surgeon-like figure in the midst!) It's equally clear, however, that the movie improves considerably as it progresses, with filmmaker Eva Husson's growing emphasis on two increasingly compelling girls (Marilyn Lima's George and Daisy Broom's Laetitia) ensures that the viewer slowly-but-surely becomes engrossed in the thin narrative. There's little doubt, too, that Gang Bang [A Modern Love Story] benefits from Husson's enthusiastic and energetic directorial choices, as the filmmaker, working from her own screenplay, employs a Scorsese-like rise-and-fall structure that contributes heavily to the progressively absorbing vibe. It's ultimately the familiarity of the storyline that prevents Gang Bang [A Modern Love Story] from reaching the heights one might've expected, as the plot, stripped of its "scandalous" aspects, doesn't contain a single element that hasn't been employed in countless other movies (and mostly to better effect). Still, Gang Bang [A Modern Love Story] seems to herald the arrival of an exciting new talent in Husson and it should be interesting to see where she goes from here.

out of

Directed by by Osgood Perkins

A truly misguided and tedious piece of work, February details the increasingly sinister happenings within an elite girls school over a bleak winter holiday. It's clear right from the get-go that February just doesn't work on any level, as filmmaker Osgood Perkins has infused the proceedings with an off-puttingly weird sensibility that only grows more and more problematic as time slowly progresses - with all of the film's characters stripped of anything resembling human attributes and forced instead to behave in a manner best described as unusual. The infuriatingly cryptic vibe persists for the duration of the movie's often interminable running time, and Perkins, at no point whatsoever, demonstrates any interest in exposition or clarification (ie the whole thing is just relentlessly baffling). February's moody visuals and ominous score seem to indicate that the whole thing is heading somewhere, although it does become increasingly clear that Perkins has absolutely no interest in employing any even partially conventional elements (ie the one-hour mark comes and goes and the narrative remains as perplexing as ever). And while there's a little bit of clarity in the movie's final minutes (not enough to make sense of what's been occurring, of course), February is ultimately a complete trainwreck of a movie that has straight-to-VOD written all over it.

out of

Directed by Alice Winocour

Directed by Alice Winocour, Disorder follows soldier Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts) as he arrives home and immediately experiences difficulties adjusting to a life without war, with the narrative detailing Vincent's experiences protecting a woman (Diane Kruger's Jessie) and her small child. Disorder, at the outset, comes off as a fairly typically veteran-comes-home drama that's elevated by Schoenaerts' absolutely mesmerizing performance, as the actor delivers a seriously intense turn that remains completely transfixing from start to finish. Filmmaker Winocour has employed a decidedly deliberate pace that absolutely works, with a large chunk of the movie's early goings devoted to Vincent's experiences patrolling Jessie's palatial home during an important gathering. There's an underlying tension due to Vincent's tightly coiled persona, as the viewer can't help but wonder if he's about to snap and hurt one of Jessie's dinner guests. That vibe of suspense is perpetuated by an increasingly prominent mystery involving Vincent's conviction that Jessie is being targeted, with this atmosphere of doubt coming to a head with an almost astonishingly gripping sequence at around the film's halfway mark. Beyond that point, Disorder morphs into an unexpectedly enthralling home-invasion picture - with the shift from low-key drama to high-stakes thriller far more seamless than one might've anticipated. It's ultimately impossible not to admire what Winocour has pulled off here, as the film manages to captivate in both its attempted genres - with Schoenaerts' stellar work only heightening the movie's above-average atmosphere.

out of

Directed by Ilya Naishuller

A decidedly erratic yet sporadically engrossing cinematic experiment, Hardcore details the first-person exploits of a speechless man as he fights his way through a horde of thugs to take down a sinister supervillain. There's little doubt that Hardcore's POV-perspective requires a fair bit of acclimation time for the viewer, as filmmaker Ilya Naishuller essentially dives right into the action with a series of kinetic action sequences that unfold through the eyes of our protagonist - with the off-kilter atmosphere heightened and perpetuated by Naishuller's somewhat regrettable decision to employ fish-eye visuals. It's equally clear, however, that Hardcore benefits substantially from the inclusion of several hilariously over-the-top and completely captivating fight scenes, as Naishuller has infused such moments with a creative and thoroughly propulsive feel that's generally impossible to resist. But it's hard to deny that the movie's full-length running time is just too much for such a gimmicky execution; fatigue does settle in throughout the proceedings, with the narrative's absurdly complicated bent only compounding the less-than-engrossing storyline. It certainly doesn't help that costar Sharlto Copley, cast as a series of expendable clones, delivers an excessively broad turn that's alternatingly amusing and grating, which does ensure that Hardcore is distinctly lacking into compelling, sympathetic supporting characters (ie aside from our hero, there's really nobody to root for here). The end result is a dizzying technical achievement that likely would've been better off as a segment in the V/H/S series, although there's little doubt that viewers in search of absurd, broadly-conceived action (and lots of it) will find plenty to embrace within Hardcore.

out of

From Afar
Directed by Lorenzo Vigas

A seriously oddball little drama, From Afar details the unlikely friendship that forms between a quiet middle-aged man (Alfredo Castro's Armando) and a tough, explosive street hustler (Luis Silva's Elder). Filmmaker Lorenzo Vigas has infused From Afar with an exceedingly deliberate pace that works better than one might've expected, with the slow atmosphere ensuring that both protagonists become almost extraordinarily well developed - which effectively paves the way for a narrative that grows more and more absorbing as time progresses. Vigas' penchant for withholding critical information from the viewer contributes to the film's enigmatic (and subdued) atmosphere, although, by that same token, there's little doubt that certain unanswered questions become awfully difficult to ignore - with the most obvious example of this the hatred that Armando feels towards his father (ie why). Castro's stunning performance as the mild-mannered central character proves instrumental in From Afar's success, as the actor, armed with as distinctive a face as one can recall, steps into the shoes of this pathetic yet sympathetic figure with an ease that's generally transfixing. And while Vigas does push the understated thing just a little too far at times (eg the ending is a bit of a headscratcher, to put it mildly), From Afar is, for the most part, a well conceived and executed character study that fares better than most similarly-themed efforts.

out of

© David Nusair