Toronto International Film Festival 2018 - UPDATE #1
The Most Beautiful Couple
Directed by Sven Taddicken
GERMANY/FRANCE/97 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
The Most Beautiful Couple follows Malte (Maximilian Brückner) and Liv (Luise Heyer) as their vacation takes a disturbing turn after they're attacked by Sascha (Leonard Kunz) and his goons, with the remainder of the film detailing the married pair's subsequent efforts at moving on with their lives. Filmmaker Sven Taddicken undeniably does an effective job of initially capturing the viewer's interest and attention, as The Most Beautiful Couple kicks off with a fairly harrowing stretch detailing the aforementioned violent assault - with the visceral impact of this sequence heightened by the actors' stirring work. (Heyer is especially and frequently heartbreaking here.) The movie, past that point, segues into a deliberately-paced and somewhat erratic narrative focused mostly on Malte's growing obsession with catching Sascha, with the movie benefiting substantially from the suspense stemming from Malte's surreptitious pursuit of their attacker (eg there's a rather riveting sequence in which Malte and Liv, having been drawn into her husband's illicit activities, follow Sascha to his workplace). The somewhat hit-and-miss nature of the picture's second half ultimately dulls the impact of its finale (ie the whole thing doesn't really seem to add up to much), and yet there's ultimately no denying that The Most Beautiful Couple generally succeeds as a portrait of a couple attempting to recover from a traumatic event.
What They Had
Directed by Elizabeth Chomko
A well-acted yet erratic drama, What They Had follows siblings Bridget (Hilary Swank) and Nicky (Michael Shannon) as they come together after their Alzheimer's-afflicted mother (Blythe Danner's Ruth) goes missing during a snowstorm - with the movie detailing Bridget and Nicky's subsequent efforts at convincing their father (Robert Forster's Burt) to move Ruth into a nursing home. First-time filmmaker Elizabeth Chomko does an effective job of initially establishing the characters and the situation in which they find themselves, and it's clear, too, that the writer/director has suffused the proceedings with an authenticity that generally proves difficult to resist - with this especially true of the impressively believable chemistry between Swank and Shannon's respective figures (ie they feel like genuine siblings). There's little doubt that the filmed-play-like bent of Chomko's screenplay - the movie does, after all, transpire mostly within Burt and Ruth's apartment - never quite becomes as problematic as one might've feared, as Chomko manages to avoid the staginess associated with stories of this ilk and instead cultivates an intimacy that's awfully tough to resist. What They Had's overall impact is, however, dulled by a third act that doesn't entirely work, with Chomko's emphasis on late-in-the-game story elements paving the way for a final stretch that drags to a distressing extent (and also mutes the emotional resonance of a few key revelations) - which ultimately confirms the picture's place as a decent debut that could've been so much better.
One Last Deal
Directed by Klaus Härö
FINLAND/95 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
One Last Deal follows Heikki Nousiainen's Olavi, an aging art dealer, as he becomes convinced that a painting up for auction is actually the work of a major Russian artist, with the movie detailing Olavi's ongoing efforts at proving the piece's provenance as well his attempts at reconciling with his estranged daughter and grandson. It's a fairly familiar premise that's employed to perfectly watchable effect by filmmaker Klaus Härö, as the picture, which ultimately feels long even at 95 minutes, benefiting substantially from Nousiainen's consistently magnetic turn as the well-intentioned yet perpetually oblivious central character - with the chemistry between Nousiainen and Amos Brotherus, cast as Otto's grandson, certainly infusing certain sequences with a jolt of crowdpleasing energy. The agreeable atmosphere is heightened by the inherently compelling narrative and the smattering of surprisingly engrossing sequences, with, in terms of the latter, a scene involving a tense auction certainly standing as a highlight within the entire proceedings. It's disappointing to note, then, that One Last Deal is unable to sustain the entertaining vibe through to its conclusion, as the movie's second half suffers from a hit-and-miss quality that's compounded by a continuing inclusion of needless elements (ie this doesn't really feel like a film that requires a human villain). The script's progressively erratic bent thwarts Härö's climactic attempts at wringing tears from the viewer, with the end result is a decent drama that could've used a little more tightening at the editing stage.
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
POLAND/90 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War details the tempestuous relationship between a seasoned musical director (Tomasz Kot's Wiktor) and a fledgling singer (Joanna Kulig's Zula) - with the film charting the couple's on-again-off-again exploits over the course of more than a decade. It's clear immediately that Cold War's greatest asset is Lukasz Zal's striking and often stunning cinematography, as the movie's black-and-white visuals, heightened by Pawlikowski's use of a 4:3 frame, immediately draw the viewer into the stark, spare proceedings and certainly remain a consistent (and, eventually, sole) highlight. Pawlikowski's exceedingly, excessively deliberate approach is, right from the outset, awfully tough to stomach, however, with the meandering atmosphere exacerbated by the filmmaker's inability to transform the scarcely-developed central characters into wholeheartedly (or even partially) compelling figures. Far more problematic, ultimately, is the total lack of chemistry or heat between Kot and Kulig's respective protagonists, as so much of the narrative is predicated upon the will-they-or-won't-they bent of the pair's comings and goings - which ensures that the movie, stripped of any compelling material revolving around Wiktor and Zula's tedious coupling, predominantly comes off as a pervasively (and profoundly) uninteresting exercise in pointlessness. And although Pawlikowski does manage to infuse the proceedings with a very small handful of almost incongruously electrifying moments - eg Zula rocks out to a high-energy '50s tune - Cold War is a self-indulgent and mostly lifeless endeavor that could only exist within the context of a film festival.