Toronto Wrap-Up, Part One
Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby is cringe comedy at its finest — heartfelt, authentic, and often hilarious — and nicely taps into the universal feeling of trying to find yourself without disappointing those around you. Seligman’s clever dialogue is delivered rapid-fire by a game cast, including a wonderful Rachel Sennott in the lead and Polly Draper and Fred Melamed as her scene-stealing parents. Despite the heightened nature of much of the humor, the characters feel lived-in and well-rounded, and as incident after incident begins to pile up Seligman deftly steers the film into an appropriately moving and absurd finale befitting of her premise.
Night of the Kings
Riffing on the myth of Scheherazade and her One Thousand and One Nights, Philippe Lacôte’s Night of the Kings transports the storytelling framework into an Ivory Coast prison, following a young man, newly incarcerated, who is forced to become the prison’s storyteller...or else. As the new storyteller weaves his tale, the rest of the prisoners shift between acting as audience members and a sort of chorus, providing the narrative a background of music and dance. Well-shot and well-lit, the film has its ups and downs and spins its wheels at times, but ultimately casts a fascinating spell as it mixes performance art with gritty realism.
Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time
The setup of Lili Horvát’s Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time plays like the dark side of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise: two strangers spend the day together and agree to meet in Budapest in a month, but when the time comes one member of the couple doesn’t — or pretends not to — recognize the other. Horvát plays this out, following Márta (Natasa Stork) a neurosurgeon attempting to understand whether or not her mind is failing her. The film is a slow burn and an intriguing mystery of a character study, though motivations and actions often remain just out of reach. The real draw of the film is Róbert Maly’s dreamy 35mm cinematography, which simultaneously makes the events feel both more real and more ethereal — a fitting aesthetic for a narrative that blurs that same line.
I understand why Argyris Papadimitropoulos’ Monday might not resonate: not only is it steeped in melodrama, its lead characters are almost offensively toxic, creating an undercurrent of harsh cynicism that permeates their romance and can be tough to stomach at times. But if you’re in the right mood, these bugs play more like features, especially when filtered through charismatic performances by both Sebastian Stan and Denise Gough. Yes, these two are horrible for each other, and yes, we’re essentially watching a relationship disintegrate not nearly as fast as it should, but Monday’s subversion of genre tropes and expectations make for an engaging watch that’s worth the pain.
In all honesty, I don’t quite know what to make of Shorta. Written and directed by Frederik Louis Hviid and Anders Ølholm, the movie is an undeniably slick piece of action filmmaking, well staged and well-shot, utilizing a variety of flashy camera tricks without ever seeming amateurish. But as a narrative ostensibly focused on police brutality and racism, the messaging is a little muddled — a little too much sympathy is ultimately given to a pretty despicable character and depictions of rioting and looting feels misguided. But despite this, characterizations are decently nuanced, and the film has some real complexity to it. It may not be the right film for this particular moment, but there’s more interesting ideas here than in your run-of-the-mill cop thriller.
I Care a Lot
J Blakeson’s I Care a Lot attempts to be a timely satire about the predatory nature of the legal guardianship and hospice industries, and early on feels like it might succeed, with a deeply cynical tone and some sharp humor paving the way. But unfortunately Blakeson seems to lose the courage of his convictions as the film starts to take the side of the grifters, replacing edginess with an empathy that never really gels. Despite the change in tone, the film mostly works on the strength of its actors as they manage to overcome the rocky screenplay — Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, and Chris Messina are all clearly having a blast and ultimately their energy is enough to prop up the endeavor.