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Toronto International Film Festival 2017 - UPDATE #4

The Escape
Directed by Dominic Savage

Featuring a fantastic lead performance by Gemma Arterton, The Escape follows housewife Tara (Arterton) as she becomes increasingly disconnected from her day-to-day life - which obviously proves disturbing to her husband and two small children. There's little doubt that The Escape grows more and more absorbing as it progresses, as the somewhat uneventful nature of Dominic Savage's screenplay effectively (and to a more pronounced extent) captures the protagonist's almost immobilizing malaise - with Arterton's quiet yet frequently devastating work certainly highlighting the character's intense internal turmoil. Director Savage does an effective job of embracing the spare narrative and delivers a series of impressively long, dialogue-free sequences, and it is, as a result, progressively difficult not to become totally wrapped up in this low-key character study. There's admittedly a bit of a misstep past the one-hour mark as the story takes a comparatively conventional turn, with Savage's script becoming unusually blunt during this portion of the proceedings and diminishing the impact of the somewhat satisfying yet awfully neat and tidy conclusion. Still, The Escape ultimately stands as a moving portrait of a woman who's seemingly been coming undone for a while.

out of

La Holandesa
Directed by Marleen Jonkman

Occasionally intriguing but mostly tedious, La Holandesa follows Rifka Lodeizen's Maud as she spontaneously decides to leave her partner and embark on a cross-country journey - with the aimless trek taking on a new dimension after Maud meets and absconds with a scrappy little kid named Messi. There's little doubt that La Holandesa fares best in its low-key opening half hour, as filmmaker Marleen Jonkman delivers an offbeat character study that's brimming with unexpectedly engrossing interludes (eg Maud's ill-fated encounter with a mother and her newborn aboard a ferry). The promising vibe is undoubtedly heightened by Lodeizen's strong, subtle work as the lost central character, and yet the movie does begin to lose its grip on the viewer as it enters its roadtrip midsection - with the episodic nature of this portion of three proceedings compounded by a lack of clarity regarding Maud's motives (ie what is her endgame on this lackadaisical trek?) The less-than-fascinating feel is certainly not helped by the lack of chemistry between Maud and Messi, with the nature of their unusual relationship remaining disastrously muddled and preventing the viewer from working up much sympathy for either of them. By the time the two characters arrive at a bohemian beach party, La Holandesa has clearly gone totally off the rails and squandered its relatively above-average first act.

out of

The Motive
Directed by Manuel Martín Cuenca

A solid idea in search of a better movie, The Motive follows struggling novelist Álvaro (Javier Gutiérrez) as he decides to look for inspiration by spying on (and, eventually, messing with) his various neighbors. The Motive gets off to an admittedly fantastic start, as filmmaker Manuel Martín Cuenca, working from a script cowritten with Alejandro Hernández, delivers a funny, briskly-paced opening stretch that effectively establishes the protagonist's somewhat sad-sack existence - with, especially, the incredibly harsh dressing-down he receives from his hyper-critical writing instructor standing as a clear highlight. The affable atmosphere persists through the initial emphasis on Álvaro's voyeuristic habits, and it's difficult, certainly, not to get a kick out of the early scenes of Álvaro interfering in his neighbors' lives (eg Álvaro cozies up to, and even sleeps with, the building's notorious gossip). It does become increasingly clear, however, that Cuenca hasn't really conceived of anywhere interesting for the story to go past a certain point, with the narrative falling into a one-note trap that only grows more and more problematic as time progresses (ie there's just no momentum here, ultimately). And while the twist that closes the movie is quite nifty (and totally unexpected), The Motive finally can't help but come off as a half-baked interpretation of an exceedingly promising setup.

out of

Directed by Mélanie Laurent

Written and directed by Mélanie Laurent, Plonger details the tumultuous affair, eventual relationship that ensues between a young woman (María Valverde's Paz) and an older man (Gilles Lellouche's César) - with the film eventually following the pair as they attempt to start a life together (and cope with the problems that naturally ensue). Filmmaker Laurent builds on the potential of her last movie, 2014's Breathe, and delivers a story that kicks off with an impressively compelling stretch, with the movie's opening establishing an irresistibly stylish atmosphere that's heightened by a couple of fantastic lead performances. The narrative subsequently segues into a more deliberate midsection devoted primarily to Paz's ongoing efforts at settling into a domestic routine, and there's little doubt that this portion of the proceedings grows increasingly absorbing as it unfolds - with Paz's palpable malaise certainly providing the picture with a palpable dramatic heft. It's clear, too, that Plonger benefits from the unexpected turns of Laurent's screenplay, although it's just as apparent that the movie loses its way rather demonstrably in its uninvolving final stretch - as Laurent places a somewhat tedious emphasis on César's investigation into what really happened to a certain character. The less-than-engrossing nature of these scenes ultimately ensures that Plonger peters out in its closing minutes, and yet this misstep isn't quite enough to mar what is otherwise a strong piece of work from an increasingly reliable filmmaker.

out of

Directed by Mark Raso

Written by Jonathan Tropper, Kodachrome follows jaded music exec Matt Ryder (Jason Sudeikis) as he very reluctantly agrees to accompany estranged (and dying) father Ben (Ed Harris) and his personal support worker (Elizabeth Olsen's Zooey) on a trip to the last facility developing the title brand of film. It's clear immediately that Kodachrome isn't exactly looking to reinvent the wheel here, as Tropper delivers a familiar narrative that's absolutely rife with conventional elements (eg all three central characters have a personal issue to overcome). The less-than-fresh atmosphere isn't even remotely as problematic as one might've feared, however, with the movie, particularly at the outset, benefiting substantially from a trio of incredibly strong, charismatic performances - with, especially, Sudeikis delivering an impressively textured turn that's nothing short of revelatory. (Harris and Olsen are as typically excellent as ever, of course.) And although the film's road-trip midsection is bursting with touching sequences (eg the protagonists arrive at the home of Ben's brother, played by Bruce Greenwood), Kodachrome's transformation from good to great is triggered by a third act that packs an astonishingly powerful and emotional punch, with the resolution of the movie's various plot threads designed, unabashedly to be sure, to leave even the hardiest of viewers stifling tears and sobs - which undoubtedly confirms the film's place as a top-tier contemporary Hollywood melodrama.

out of

© David Nusair