Toronto International Film Festival 2017 - UPDATE #2
Directed by Grayson Moore and Aidan Shipley
Cardinals follows Sheila McCarthy's Valerie as she returns home after a three-year prison stint for vehicular homicide while drunk, with the character's efforts at readjusting to life back home stymied by the recurring appearances of the victim's suspicious son (Noah Reid's Mark). First-time filmmakers Grayson Moore and Aidan Shipley have infused Cardinals with a striking visual sensibility that's apparent right from the opening shot, with the movie, written by Moore, otherwise boasting few elements designed to capture and sustain one's interest throughout the brief (yet padded-out) running time. Moore and Shipley's decision to delay the reveal of several key pieces of information, coupled with an often unbearably deliberate pace, proves disastrous, as the film suffers from a hands-off atmosphere that prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly (or even partially) connecting to the characters' plight (ie it feels like, in the first half, every single figure here is hiding some hugely important piece of information). And although Moore and Shipley deliver an admittedly (and impressively) tense sequence towards the end, Cardinals closes on an anticlimactic note that's rather emblematic of the narrative's half-baked nature. (The decision to keep a key bit of data away from a central character is nothing short of baffling, to be sure.)
Directed by Egle Vertelyte
Written and directed by Egle Vertelyte, Miracle follows small-town farm manager Irena (Egle Mikulionyte) as her dreary, financially-strapped existence seems to take a turn for the better with the arrival of a wealthy American (Vyto Ruginis' Bernardas) - although, as soon becomes clear, the stranger's intentions might not be quite as honorable as Irena (and the rest of the town) may have thought. First-time filmmaker Vertelyte does an effective job of initially drawing the viewer into this often alien world, as Miracle transpires within a cash-strapped community where, it seems, virtually everything is a struggle (eg even a trip to the bank requires waiting in an intimidatingly long lineup). The intriguing atmosphere is certainly heightened by Mikulionyte's tremendously appealing lead performance, as the actress effectively transforms her at-first off-putting figure into a wholeheartedly sympathetic character - which ensures that the viewer has plenty invested in Irena's ongoing efforts at overcoming her personal and professional issues. It's the increasingly meandering story that winds up triggering Miracle's shift from entertaining to tedious, with Vertelyte's efforts at inflating the running time growing more and more desperate and effectively paving the way for a series of ill-conceived third-act sequences - which ultimately ensures that the movie peters out to a demonstrably and exceedingly disappointing extent.
Directed by Peter Schønau Fog
DENMARK/SWEDEN/118 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Exceedingly well made yet palpably overlong, You Disappear follows married couple Frederik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and (Mia) Trine Dyrholm as their lives are thrown into disarray after Frederik is diagnosed with a non-cancerous (but behavior-altering) brain tumor. It's fairly engrossing subject matter that's employed to consistently uneven effect by filmmaker Peter Schønau Fog, as the director, working from his own screenplay, suffuses the narrative with an often excessive amount of dry, technical dialogue (and voice-over narration) relating to the science of brain injuries and chemistry - with the preponderance of such often threatening to cancel out the movie's positive attributes. Fortunately, though, You Disappear boasts an otherwise stirring narrative that's heightened by some seriously impressive performances and a smattering of emotionally resonant sequences - with the latter represented most keenly in a subplot involving Frederik's lawyer's (Michael Nyqvist) relationship with his brain-injured wife. By the time the admittedly unexpected twist ending rolls around - which raises far more questions than it answers, to be sure - You Disappear has confirmed its place as a stirring drama that could (and should) have been so much better.
Directed by Urszula Antoniak
NETHERLANDS/POLAND/85 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
A decidedly interminable mess, Beyond Words follows smug, Patrick Bateman-like lawyer Michael (Jakub Gierszal) as he attempts to reconcile with his estranged father over the course of one weekend. Filmmaker Urszula Antoniak has infused Beyond Words with an aggressive art-house sensibility that often threatens to devolve into parody, as the writer/director indulges in many of the cinematic tricks one generally associates with pretentious European dramas - including black-and-white photography, excessively deliberate pacing, and a sporadic emphasis on entirely nonsensical happenings. There is, as such, little doubt that Antoniak efforts at engendering sympathy for the two central characters fall hopelessly flat, which is a shame, really, given that Gierszal and his costar deliver performances that are much, much better than the movie deserves. It's perhaps not surprising to discover, too, that Beyond Words ends with a frustratingly surreal closing stretch and a laughably abrupt conclusion (because of course it does), and it's ultimately impossible not to wish film festivals would stop picking pointless movies like this for their lineup (ie the inclusion only encourages filmmakers like Antoniak to keep cranking out similarly meaningless, masturbatory endeavors).
Directed by Juraj Lehotsky
SLOVAKIA/CZECH REPUBLIC/82 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Nina details the low-key exploits of Bibiana Nováková's title character, a bright, athletic 12-year-old who winds up caught in the middle of her parents' increasingly acrimonious separation. There's certainly nothing terribly groundbreaking contained within Marek Lescak and Juraj Lehotsky's familiar screenplay, and yet Nina is, for a while, a compelling little drama that benefits substantially from Nováková's remarkably natural performance - with the first-time actress immediately transforming her put-upon character into an intriguing and utterly sympathetic figure. It is, however, increasingly clear that the narrative suffers from a palpable lack of forward momentum, which does ensure that the movie, particularly in its episodic midsection, is really only able to hold one's interest in fits and starts. Lehotsky's kitchen-sink aesthetic paves the way for a progressively grim second half that does grow more intriguing, admittedly, although one's enthusiasm for the material is dampened considerably by a random and completely unnecessary instance of animal cruelty. The inclusion of a weird bit of suspense in the movie's closing minutes seems unnecessary and desperate, and it is, in the end, clear that Nina simply doesn't possess enough substance to sustain a full-length feature.