Saturday, 8 September 2018

BLIND SPOT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2018 - Real Time Devastation from Norway

A parent's worst nightmare comes to life in real time.

Blind Spot (2018)
Dir. Tuva Novotny
Starring: Pia Tjelta, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Nora Mathea Øien

Review By Greg Klymkiw
'
One trick pony movies, those pictures built upon a "gimmick" of execution (Christopher "One Idea" Nolan's 2000 neo-noir Memento, with its lugubrious, humourless "let's tell the story backwards" approach being the most egregious example for me) are seldom works that can live beyond their silly little stunts. Alexander Sokurov's impressive one-take 2002 feature Russian Ark, however, lives well beyond its clever conceit and yields considerable richness on repeated viewings (unlike the aforementioned Memento which gets more infuriating with subsequent helpings).

Actress Tuva Novotny's debut feature Blind Spot is certainly a dazzling feat of technical wizardry, but its emotional core is so solid that the real time with which the story unfolds never feels like a masturbatory imposture, but a valid dramatic approach to a narrative that is, to use a perfectly apt cliché, every parent's worst nightmare. The film wends its way through events in the life of a Norwegian family in a 102-minute running time that takes us, second by second on a journey that is always harrowing.

The story begins with a fixed camera upon a high school gym class and we watch as a group of young women go through their rigorous activities. Soon enough we settle on Tea (Nora Mathea Øien) as she and a friend make their way into the change room, go about the business of towelling-off, showering, changing etc. and eventually walk out together into the hallways of the school. The friends walk home, casually and naturally talking about the day's events, homework and focusing primarily on an upcoming mathematics assignment. They eventually part and it's here where I realized that there has yet to be a single cut.

The long take continues. We follow Tea as she walks up several flights of stairs to her family's flat. Once inside, we observe her mother Maria (Pia Tjelta in an intense, bravura performance) rushing about with Tea's little brother. The teenager leaves a friendly voicemail for her father Anders (Anders Baasmo Christiansen), jots an entry in her journal and eventually, leaves the frame.

And then, off-camera, IT happens.

Novotny's mise-en-scene creates a sense of portent throughout. We know something is going to happen and we sense it's not going to be good. Yet, when it does happen, we are as much in the dark as Maria until she discovers the unthinkable. From this point we experience the mother's desperation, the long wait for an ambulance, the trip to a nearby hospital (though it never feels "nearby" enough). The long take never lets up, but it is to the film's credit that we're ultimately more focused on the drama rather than the conceit.

Once in the hospital we follow the events as they would naturally unfold, the POV focusing on characters such as a compassionate nurse, the emergency room team leader and the family. Novotny's deft screenplay parcels out information which naturally provides context for the tragic events, but most astoundingly, creates a realistic dramatic arc for the 102 minutes that doesn't in any way, shape or form give us false closure nor, like life, does it provide any easy, pat answers.

Life is drama and Blind Spot brilliantly proves this.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***** 5-Stars

Blind Spot has its International Premiere in the Discovery Series at TIFF 2018.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

GLITTER'S WILD WOMEN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2018 - Women Making Movies


A film festival with no viewers? It's the wilderness out there.
Glitter's Wild Women (2018)
Dir. Roney
Starring: Grace Glowicki, Cotey Pope

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Suppose you make a movie. Well, obviously you want people to see it and maybe, just maybe, you decide to launch the film by hosting your very own film festival. You make your own flyers, post them around, set up a makeshift theatre in your front yard and then, wait for the crowds to pour in.

This is, in a nutshell, what the two young women (Grace Glowicki, Cotey Pope) at the centre of Roney's debut film do. It is, however, a bit more complicated than that. Their lives and, by extension Roney's film itself become infused with magic. Inspiration is all around them, to be sure. They live in an isolated country house surrounded by peace and natural beauty. They spend inordinate amounts of time watching 70s movies with tough, kick-butt female heroines, they drive along the empty highways and byways of the rural municipality they find themselves in, emulating the poses and dialogue of the movies, but using that inspiration as a springboard for their own imaginations.

And of course, they harvest the mysterious glitter infusing their bucolic surroundings. Glitter, you see, especially in the world of magic realism (which Roney's film has in spades) has oh-so mysterious ways. However, magic will only get you so far and these two women have a lot more going for them. They mine the gold with sheer determination.

This is one fine debut. The Vancouver-born Roney, who studied at Ryerson University, displays an assured hand behind the camera. She guides this tale with a talent that seems natural. She feels like someone with filmmaking hard-wired into her DNA. Her compositions are rich, she has a natural propensity for hitting the proper dramatic beats to drive the film forward (with plenty of cinematic poetry) and she elicits fine performances from her two leads.

There is, as it turns out, a strange melancholy to the fun proceedings. These women, these friends, these artists, are working in the wilderness and I can't help but think of the patriarchal nature of the film industry itself. They're on their own and it shouldn't have to be that way. So while Glitter's Wild Women offers plenty of entertainment value, it also delivers plenty of food for thought.

As it should be, really.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***1/2 Three and a Half Stars

Glitter's Wild Women premieres in the Short Cuts program at TIFF 2018.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

ENDZEIT (Ever After) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2018 - Original Zombie Apocalypse Film

All female filmmakers yield original zombie apocalypse.

Endzeit - Ever After (2018)
Dir. Carolina Hellsgård
Scr. Olivia Vieweg
Starring: Gro Swantje Kohlhof, Maja Lehrer, Trine Dyrholm

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A plague has descended upon the Earth and as per usual, the zombies outnumber the living. Only two plague-free cities exist, in Germany, of course. They stand alone as fortresses against the hordes of slavering, flesh-eating creatures. Life within in them is, however, anything but normal. The citizens must slave constantly to keep the zombies out and every so often, if someone working along the fences isn't careful, the claws and jaws of a monster reach through to tear out a chunk or two of living flesh. Inevitably, the victim must be dispensed with - a bullet or blow to the head or, on occasion, a simple decapitation is the only solution.

And life, such as it is, goes on.

Sound familiar so far? Sure, why not? We've seen movie upon movie with similar situations and themes, but happily, Endzeit (Ever After) is unlike any of them. In fact, this is one of the most original apocalyptic zombie movies ever made.

Our story begins in the city of Weimar where young Vivi (Gro Swantje Kohlhof) spends her days in a huge old house, reflecting upon the tragedies which befell her family. Eventually, she finds herself outside on the perimeters of the city, assisting other plague survivors to reinforce the walls. Here she meets the tough-minded Eva (Maja Lehrer) and the two of them eventually escape Weimar together aboard an unmanned supply train headed for the city of Jena which, word has it, might provide more hope and humanity. Opposites not only attract, but compliment each other perfectly. When the train breaks down, the two women must wend their way across the harsh dangerous landscape on foot.

Yes, there are the usual challenges - bloodthirsty zombies at every turn - but eventually, they face something altogether new and mysterious. This is where Endzeit creeps into territory of the most original kind. Not only is emphasis placed on their burgeoning friendship and growing love, but it's what they discover that plunges the film into miraculously fresh territory. Nature, you see, has its own plans for the world and it is this biological shift that's truly surprising.

Surprise is the key word here - not in any typical genre film fashion. In spite of the traditional apocalyptic coat hanger with which the film adorns itself with all manner of deep philosophical rumination, we find ourselves always compelled to stay with these women on their journey in what proves to be a very brave, bold new world.

Olivia Vieweg's rich screenplay, based upon her graphic novel, takes us on roads seldom travelled in horror films and Carolina Hellsgård's direction manages to keep the forward thrust of the narrative taut whilst allowing for plenty of deep, slow-burn atmosphere. (And make no mistake, the slow-burn eventually yields an absolutely terrifying and thrilling series of climactic moments that elicit plenty of nail biting.)

Endzeit is creepy and scary, but it's also deeply and profoundly moving. One hesitates to reveal to much more. My own viewing was blessed by knowing very little about the film and the ride it took me on was equally dazzling and thought-provoking.

As the end credits unspooled, I discovered that every major key creative element of this zombie film was created by women. I'd still like to think that this is a work created by film artists of the highest order, no matter what their gender. However, another part of me thinks that women can and do see the world differently and in the case of a post-apocalyptic zombie movie, they have yielded a film that focuses upon that which truly haunts humanity in times of great tragedy - how our own actions to maintain survival at any cost creates that which haunts us the most - the ghosts and memories of those left to die. Finally, Endzeit is a horror film that is happy to scare us, but does so by being less interested in viscera and far more concerned with regeneration and love.

This is a good thing, a very good thing and I, for one, want to see more of this in the movies.

FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4-Stars

Endzeit - Ever After has its World Premiere in the TIFF 2018 Discovery Series.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

LET ME FALL (Lof mer ad falla) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Great new Baldvin Z @ TIFF 2018

The love, pain and confusion of teen years lasts a lifetime.

Let Me Fall - Lof mer ad falla (2018)
Dir. Baldvin Z (Zophoníasson)
Scr. Birgir Örn Steinarsson, Baldvin Z
Starring: Elín Sif Halldórsdóttir, Eyrún Björk Jakobsdóttir, Kristín þóra Haraldsdóttir, Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir, Þorsteinn Bachmann

Review By Greg Klymkiw

And it ain’t gonna rain anymore
Now my baby’s gone
And it ain’t gonna rain anymore
Now my baby’s gone

Now the storm has passed over me
I’m left to drift on a dead calm sea
And watch her forever through the cracks in the beams
Nailed across the doorways of the bedrooms of my dreams


- Nick Cave "Ain't Gonna Rain Anymore" (covered in the film by Zoe-Ruth Erwin)

High school student Magnea (Elín Sif Halldórsdóttir) is armed with a wad of cash she's secured up-front from a burly, bearded miscreant looking for jailbait sex in his suburban Reykjavik home (adorned, no less, with photos of his wife and kids). She has no intention of delivering the foul goods he's after. She produces a blood-filled hypodermic needle and threatens to stick the sweaty corpulent pig if he doesn't let her leave untouched.

After beating a hasty retreat with her collaborators-in-duping-pathetic-slobs, Magnea sits in the back seat with her best friend Stella (Eyrún Björk Jakobsdóttir) and their pimp-like beau in front. As the opening credits for Let Me Fall unspool, the camera holds close on Magnea's face as she stares out the window of the fast-moving car. To the casual observer, her face might seem blank, but as the lens remains fixed upon her visage, it's a picture that tells a story of deep pain, pain that's going to become more acute as the next 136-minutes of the new film by the gifted director Baldvin Z unfolds.

Based on interviews with the families of drug-addicted teens, the screenplay by Birgir Örn Steinarsson and Baldvin Z, yields one of the most shocking, compelling and profoundly moving films ever made about addiction. It's a story that spans from late childhood to young adulthood (the older Magnea and Stella are respectively played by Kristín þóra Haraldsdóttir and Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir), charting a friendship rooted in love, co-dependency and finally, the sort of betrayal that enslavement to the needle can lead to, a betrayal that changes the lives of both women forever - horrifyingly and sadly irrevocable.

The four actresses playing these two women over several decades provide work that is nothing less than stellar. Running the gamut of emotions and actions, this is extraordinary work. As presented in the film, the friendship between Magnea and Stella is so rich and complex. Though Magnea feels like a "follower" to the "tutelage" of Stella, one eventually gets a sense that Magnea is, indeed the stronger force and as such, this is what leaves her open and vulnerable to both Stella's base needs to fulfil her own addiction and, in a sense, her desire to have an upper hand. This all said, love and friendships are never simple and the power dynamic between the two women is handled so deftly and intelligently - like all great drama, we are constantly surprised by the roads the characters travel - together and individually.

And yes, though the film focuses primarily on these two young women, it also touches upon the struggles endured by Magnea's parents and in particular her loving father (Þorsteinn Bachmann). At first shocked that his academically gifted daughter succumbs to behaviour that hardly seems commensurate with her huge potential, he attempts to provide as much love and support as he can. Addiction, however, proves to be a greater lure than parental love. Some of the most wrenching, heartbreaking scenes in the film come from Bachmann's performance, the quiet sadness on his face, the desperation in his eyes and eventually, the explosive anger he emits when confronting a man who has sexually enslaved his daughter. At one one in the film, when the Father comes to the realization that there is nothing more he can do, it's impossible not to be moved to tears by Bachmann's performance.

Then again, it's impossible not to be moved to tears throughout the entire film. From the opening shots of Magnea's youthful face, so full of portent, to the final images of her older, drug-ravaged face as we hear Zoe-Ruth Erwin's evocative cover of Nick Cave's "Ain't Gonna Rain Anymore", this is a film that never flinches, never hides from the veracity of life. Let Me Fall is a rollercoaster ride of despair, desperation and deceit. It's about avoiding hard truth and then, once facing the truth, not even knowing what it is anymore.

This is a great movie! Baldwin Z's direction is masterful and uncompromising. As a sidenote, I watched the movie with my 17-year-old daughter. She was utterly transfixed and when it was over, she declared: "Dad, I've never seen a movie about kids like this in my whole life that was so true." For me, I can think of no higher praise.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***** 5-Stars

Let Me Fall (Lof mer ad falla) has its World Premiere at TIFF 2018