Sunday, September 20, 2020

LevelK Film Film Review - TOVE

The Moomins iconic big snouted hippo-like characters from children's books, comic strips, and toys are known the world over. The big snouted hippos are a regular staple of kids toys on every continent. However not much is known about their creator Tove Jannson (Alma Poysti) a free spirited starving artist who first did the caricatures that would be her life's work as a distraction to fill time.  Her real work was painting  under the watchful eye of her famous father sculptor (Robert Enckel). If she thought differently her father was always present to remind her that she was wasting her time her characters that were not art.  Seeing that she continued to be left off the grant list Tove receives a job offer to create an invite for the Mayors 70th birthday. The provider of the offer was the mayor's daughter Vivica Bandler (Krista Kosonen) another artist whose upper class status and marriage of convivence allows her to pursue all of her wants with little consequence. She runs a local theater spends months on end in Paris where she maintains a flat and soon has Tove under her spell. Tove's other main relationship from the post World War II era of the film is with Socialist Atos Wirtanen (Shanti Roney) a local M.P.  He is married but does not hide his relationship with Tove as his wife will call her flat/studio looking for him if they have an appointment that day. 

Tove's career as a cartoonist begins to blossom due to an act of kindness from each of her lovers. Vivica gets her dad the mayor to commission a fresco at City Hall for Tove to complete. Viciva sees it as a way for Tove to earn the funds to come and see her in Paris oblivious to how much time the project would take. Atos proposes a comic strip in the local socialist paper which gets her noticed by the Evening News at the time the biggest newspaper in the world. 

Director Zaida Bergoth gives a real insight into Tove's life during the pivotal years spanning the film, the lived experience of artists in Finland, and the life philosophy of the title character. Early on Tove declares that she will never get married. She describes Vivica the love of her life as a beautiful Dragon that attacked her but Tove realizes that you cannot hold onto a dragon as they have to go back out into the wild. She also knows that Atmos will do anything for her but she is also not the type of person that would take advantage and hold him to any arrangement. 

Tove brings the audience into the world of writers and artisans in post Second World War Europe. Their freedom of expression, passion for each other and the arts. It will remind the viewer of the more celebrated period of artistic exploration a generation before when the late twenties rolled into the early thirties. At the centre of the film it is an influential creative mind behind a global franchise who spirit is captured beautifully in the film. 

***1/2 Out of 4.

Tove | Zaida Bergroth | Finland/Sweden | 2020 | 100 Minutes.

Tags: Bomb Shelter ,Dancing, Visual Artists, Gallery Exhibition, Grant, Commission, Momintroll, Thingumy & Bob, Paris, Edith Piaf, 

Friday, September 18, 2020

TIFF '20 Film Review - Spring Blossom

Suzanne(Suzanne Lindon) is bored with her friends, her routine and all people her age. She is a sixteen-year-old student who would rather curl up with a book than go out with her sister Marie (Rebecca Marder) or do something with her parents. Her only area of interest is a much older man Raphael (Arnaud Valois) who is performing in the play in the town square. He smiles when he sees her staring at him from a distance on her way to go to school. They strike up a conversation when she is hanging around at the side of the theatre. Raphael is also bored. He doesn't know how to act anymore, does not like the directors' stage direction, and only finds joy in the music of the production so doesn't mind the  attention. 

Lindon wrote directed and stars in the film. much. But it's behind the camera and her imaginative script where she excels. She creates a brilliant coordinated sequence where Raphael passes over his  headphones for Suzanne to listen to music from the play. The pair sitting side by side at café tables begin synchronized movements as Suzanne closes her eyes to absorb the piece. The story she tells is a simple one. A High School girl falls for a guy twice her age. 

Suzanne begins to pay more attention to appearance, makeup, hair and even going as far as to ask her dad if he prefers women in skirts' or pants. When the two of  them are together they are happy to be in each other's presence. Affection consists of gases, hand-holding or a kiss on the neck. Suzanne won't even get on the back of Raphael's scooter forcing him to walk pushing it beside her as they tour around town. 

Spring Blossom is the story of a girls first foray into the world of romance. She awkward, unsure shy and quiet. Suzanne and Raphael are both present when they spend time together. They are interested in what each other has to say and their respective likes and thoughts. Lindon is omniscient in this work not taking the story along any expected or obvious path. It's an undertaking from a first time artist that's worthy of the viewer's attention sparking anticipation this new talent's next project.

*** Out of  4.

Spring Blossom | Suzanne Lindon | France | 2020 | 73 Minutes.

Tags; Boredom, Melancholy, Fantasy, Routine, Theatre, Paris, Montmartre, Rehearsal, Café, VIAN, Grenadine & Lemonade, Red Scooter, Strawberry Jam & Toast

TIFF '20 Film Review - Another Round

Director Thomas Vinterberg and actor Mads Mikkelsen return home to familiar ground and to each other  after international projects with Another Round. Martin (Mikkelsen) is a high school History teacher stuck in a rut along with his three friends also fellow teachers Peter (Lars Ranthe) Tommy (Thomas Bo Larson) and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang). The friends meet for dinner to celebrate Nikolaj's fortieth birthday and decide to put Finn Skarderud theory to the test. Humans are 0.05% below the natural blood alcohol content. The pact is to keep at that level (0.05% BAC) all day long and with it should come self confidence and joy in what they are doing by being more relaxed and posed.

Things start out well, Martin is more focused at class he is giving relevant examples to his history class. Peter finds other ways to connect with his music class trying new ideas to get them to focus on being a part of the collective. Tommy sees gains in his tyke football (soccer) team especially inspiring a fragile player nicknamed specks. The screw begins to turn when the quartet ups their alcohol content. Martin turns up obviously drunk unsteady on his feet. Alcohol is found hidden in the gym storage room and Nikolaj finds himself in constant battles with his wife over his three kids. 

Vinterberg explores a topic that has been broached by many with justifications such as taking the edge off or liquid courage or the more term of functioning alcoholic being used to justify the behaviour. As the four continue their experiment they distinguish themselves from being true alcoholics. Nikolaj proclaims that they decide when they want to drink while an alcoholic can't help themselves. Nikolaj points to pianist Klaus Heerfordt who always performed at that sweet spot between being sober and drunk. As they listen to one of his pieces they decide to push on. 

The four leads all bring something to the production. Mads Mikkelsen the headliner does a lot with his role from being indifferent in the start, to finding his groove in the early phases of the experiment to imploding then getting it back as the friends head towards oblivion. Look for his Baryshnikov type dance routine which is one of the most joyous moments on film this year. Vinterberg regular and serial Mikkelsen co-star Thomas Bo Larsen turns in a strong performance as Tommy. He is the senior member of the crew but appears to be the one that needs this experiment the most. As with other instances of unsupervised extreme experimentation, there's often at least one member of the control group that is not able to pull which can lead to tragic consequences as the grounds are fertile for it to occur here. 

**** Out of 4.

Another Round | Thomas Vinteberg | Denmark | 2020 |115 Minutes. 

Tags :Milestone Birthday, Finn Skarderud, 0.05%, BAC,  High School Teachers, Imperia Vodka, Confidence, Poise, Day Drinking, Sazerac, Oblivion, In Demark I Was Born.

TIFF '20 Film Review True Mothers

Satoko Kurihara (Arata Iula) receives a call from her six-year-old son Asato (Reo Sato) school. Her son was playing in the playground and apparently pushed another kid who fell from the jungle gym and was injured. Satoko rushes to the school to pick up her son who is insistent that he did not push Sora. The incident is followed up by a call from Sora's mother where she demands a settlement  for medical expenses as The Kuriharas's live on the 30th floor and must be loaded. The story shifts to a time before the Kurihara's had Asato. Satoko and her husband Kiyokazu (Arata Iura) getting the results of his test that he may not be able to have kids without a surgery. The couple hear about Baby Baton a nonprofit organization that will house expectant mothers in difficult situations that agree to give their baby up for adoption until they give birth The paid decide to use the service resulting in Asato. They meet the birth mother Hikari (Aju Makita) a young 14-year-old girl and her parents at the exchange. Formal greetings are exchanged and Hikari gives to the Kurihara's hoping that they will read it to Asato one day. 

The non-linear narrative next focuses on Hikari before she became pregnant. She learns that Takumi (Taketo Tanaka) likes her at school. They soon become intimate with Takumi promising that they will always be together only for that to end once Hikari becomes pregnant. Her parents are beside themselves deciding to send her to Baby Baton for the duration of the pregnancy. Thus begins a cycle of promises being broken and people not always having Hikari's best interest at heart. 

Director Naomi Kawase's film based on a novel by Mizuki Tsujimura moves forwards and back in time set up by a key event. First its the incident at school then later a phone call from someone claiming to be Asato's birth mother 6 years after the adoption requesting the child back or money to remain silent. Several pillars of Japanese culture are on display in the production. Respect for others especially your elders, The need to honor your parents, and the importance of formalities that are often lost in other societies these days. 

Aju Makita shines as Hikari. She is a nice young girl when she takes up with Takumi then the pregnancy, adoption process and life afterward hardens her until she is unrecognizable from the 14- year-old girl we first met. Hiromi Nagasaku is gentle and caring as Satoko. She is very patient when teaching her son Asato the right way to do things, stands up for him regarding the incident at school, and stands by her husband who offers her a divorce after hearing about his sperm count issues. Veteran actor Go Riju is also effective in a limited role as Hikari's protective boss Takeshi. He is perhaps the only person that had Hikari's best interest at heart. 

***1/2 Out of 4. 

True Mothers | Naomi Kawase | Japan | 2020 | 140 Minutes.

Tags: Medical Settlement, Azoospermia, Adoption, Adoption Agency, Teen Pregnancy, Kids Playing, Jungle Gym, Blackmail.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

TIFF '20 Film Review - Bandar Band

Khuzestan Province in Iran is underwater. It's difficult to tell where the road ends, the shoulder begins or where is the split between the shoulder and actual waterways. Into this weather event comes Amir (Amir Hossein Tahiri), his almost due wife Mahla (Mahdeih Mousavi), and Navid (Reza Koolghani) are dropped off to collect their van headed to Tehran for a music competition of female singers. Some of the contestants are solo, duo's, or in our protagonists' case a trio. As Amir goes to collect the van and the band gets on the road. The impact of the flood is evident as the van gets moving to push the water aside as they go. We see the inside of the spacious vehicle that is more of a small bus with several rows of seating. The journey is slow with traffic slowing to go around flocks of sheep making progress even more difficult. The plan is to get to Tehran as quickly as possible with two scheduled stops. Mahla has to stop to get a dress for her performance and Navid has to pick up his beloved guitar for the performance. 

As the band travels along the road they encounter many everyday situations alongside the extraordinary ones. They take the wrong turn or the wrong road leading to asking for directions and being forced to turn around. Several roadblocks that require negotiations, washed out roads that require detours, and unexpected events that pop up along the way that the trio has to navigate. 

Director Manijeh Hekmat's story specifically highlights the resilience of the Iranian people. Faced with a flood and the need to evacuate. Friends, acquaintances, and strangers alike are ready and willing to help their fellow citizens. Amir and Navid  don't hesitate to jump out and push when they come across a friend Amed stuck in a deep patch of mud. To get past one roadblock the band thing quickly agreeing to deliver supplies to a refugee camp in place of a vehicle having mechanical problems. The quieter moments are also given their chance to breathe. Mahla's daughter kicks bringing Amid to her to sings lullaby to their soon to be born daughter. When Mahla goes to pick out her dress to find her friends home washed away in a mudslide the two break out into laughter as they stand face to face holding hands knee deep in the mud. 

Bandar Band is an engaging road movie. The participants navigate several scenarios many unexpectedly as they try to meet their 6 P.M. deadline for the show in Tehran. As the van makes its way through the flooded landscape, dirt roads, two way, and on the rare occasion four lane highway the audience peers thought the front windshield trying to get an idea of want is in store up ahead. The film is a window into life in Iran mainly in smaller communities that are not regularly seen on film. 

**** Out of 4.

Bandar Band | Manijeh Hekmat | Iran/Germany | 2020 | 75 Minutes.

Tags: Flood, Musicians, Iran, Khuzestan Province, Pregnancy, Talent Show, Competition, Speed Trap, Lullaby.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

TIFF '20 Special Event Film Review - Mr. Jones

The previously unheralded Welsh political advisor/reporter Gareth Jones gets the star treatment as the titular character in the film. At the open Jones has just returned from Berlin having had the opportunity to interview Adolf Hitler with Goering riding shotgun in a state of the art German plane. Jones had the impression that Hitler was motivated and determined with Goering speaking to the goal of the 1000 year Reich which Jones cannot imagine occurring without German expansion with Poland being the likely first target. The British great minds including his mentor fellow Welshman David Lloyd George laugh him off establishing a pattern of  Jones' intuition  being correct but finding himself alone with that perspective. 

Due to budget cuts Jone loses his position as principal secretary to Lloyd George but asks for one last favour of George's office arranging a trip to Moscow for him  for him to interview Stalin. George who is fluent in Russian thanks to his mother's past history of teaching Ukraine and his studies of the language at Cambridge also saw early the necessity of an alliance with the Soviets to counter the rising German threat.  He also had questions about the Russian Utopia. Where was all the money coming from for the great Russian expansion? The ruble was worthless yet they were building palace-like hotels and the top British Engineers were in the country working on many industrial projects.

Director Agnieszka Holland crafts a tale out of Andrea Chalupa's screenplay the latter's family having roots in the country. She points to the alternative motives that many politicians and businessmen had that gave them problems with the truth. Chief among them was Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard) a Pulitzer prize winning journalist with a fondness for debauchery and suppression of the truth a useful foreign voice for Stalin that kept him in place in the Russian capital for over a decade. The narrative also mixes in an alternate story of George Orwell (Joseph Mawle) at his typewriter penning Animal Farm said to be inspired by Jones with the owner of the farm in the book sporting his name.  

Jones' cunning and curiosity leads him to the Ukraine where he discovers the true nature of events in the territory The people are starving, lying frozen and dead in the streets and outside of farmhouses. Orphaned children  are forced to go to unthinkable levels to keep themselves and siblings nourished as the territories grain is being shipped back to Moscow to keep appearances there. Jones documents and catalogs it all barely escaping the clutches of the secret police with Duranty's help to get back to London naively expecting support to tell the world of his findings. Instead, he is discredited and forced back to Wales where he finds an unexpected ally to get his story out. 

Gareth Jones was another voice that early on saw the future danger of Hitler and Stalin. James Norton is vulnerable yet determined as Jones. Look for Vanessa Kirby as Jones' confidant Moscow based colleague of Durany Ava Brooks and the duality of Kryzysztof Piecyznski as Maxim Litvinov head of Foreign Affairs for Stalin. 

Mr. Jones is a story that again points to the theory that the best and brightest generation of first sons was wiped out during The Great War leaving lesser minds to rule and make decisions in the 1930s. Andrea Chalupa's script can serve as a warning for today as leaders of global powers move to consolidate their positions or take a more nationalist approach in other instances. Seeming to show once again that history not learned from is doomed to be repeated. 

***1/2 Out of Four. 

Mr. Jones | Agnieszka Holland | Poland /U.K. / Ukraine | 2019 | 119 Minutes. 

Tags: Russia, Moscow, Ukraine, Famine, Grain, Starvation, Secret Police, New York Times, Pulitzer Prize, William Randolph Hearst.

Monday, September 14, 2020

TIFF '20 Film Review - New Order

Marianne (Naian Gonzalez Norvid) and Alan (Dario Yazbek Bernal) are having their wedding at Marianne's parents home in the high-end Polanco Mexico City neighbourhood.  All of the beautiful people are in attendance as dignitaries come by to give their wishes and drop off envelopes with cash that the bride's mother Rebeca (Lisa Owen) puts in the family safe. The event is underpinned by working class servants. At the front door appears former beloved employee Ronaldo (Eligio Melendez) who's wife needs surgery at a private clinic looking for funds to assist. The matriarch gives him some money then he gets Marianne's ear. She is willing to help and seeks out her brother Daniel (Diego Boneta) and her husband to be for assistance. Daniel takes the lead gathering some more funds then chasing Renaldo off the property. Beautiful people go back to the party but Marianne wanting to help enlist Cristian (Fernando Cuautle) an employee who knows the former to go with her to pay for the surgery direct. 

One on the road the viewer gets a better picture of what's occurring in the city. The pair are turned back by roadblocks and people chanting in the street. They are eventually surrounded and green paint the tool of the protesters to show their disdain for the rich on the front windshield of the car. They eventually make it to Cristian's home where they can hold up. Back at the house the judge finally arrives to officiate the wedding telling the story of her struggle to get to the home. Now the family realizes that Marianne is not there as they search for her armed protestors show up having scaled the perimeter walls and shots are fired. 

Director Michel Franco's fictional account of a Mexican uprising and over through of the rich pulls no punches and leaves no one unscathed. The wedding is ransacked people are pulled by their hair on the ground, spray paint flies as the terrorized guests get a true sense of the danger that they are in. Franco splits the participants into the rich, the workers, and the army as a third. Some of the latter decide to go off book running their own operation seeing the opportunity to profit from the terror and fear the situation created. 

New Order is an essay on what could occur if the working class truly has had enough and turn on the upper class. The protected class could have nowhere to turn as the ones they rely on could side with their brothers and sisters leading the protest while the military pulls the strings openly and behind the scenes.  There would also likely be the rare few, Marianne and Cristian here who have no entrenched allegiances. But if Franco's narrative is to be believed the good among us will likely find themselves  in the most jeopardy.

***1/2 Out of 4. 

New Order | Michel Franco | Mexico /France | 2020 | 88 Minutes. 

Tags: Wedding, Cash Gifts, Heart Surgery, Servants, Martial Law, Uprising, Home Invasion, Robbery, Looting, Martial Law, Blackmail, Prisoners, Ransom, Videos, Coup d' Etat.