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AFI Fest: Love, Dad/Milý Tati

Any woman who has grown up in a culture that prizes male heirs over female children know all too well the pain of being a father’s disappointment. Diana had a great relationship with her Vietnamese father during her childhood in the Czech Republic. However, when, after three miscarriages, her mother finally got pregnant again, their relationship came to an abrupt end. Diana’s father left the family, looking to start again in hopes of continuing the bloodline with his name. 

Love, Dad/Milý Tati is a heart-wrenching short film about a young girl who remembers her dad and the bond they had before it was cruelly taken away. It’s beautiful, poetic and deeply melancholic. Directed by Diana Cam Van Nguyen, it tells the story through letters, memories and gorgeous cut paper art.

I was quite moved by this 13 minute film. I’m the third of a string of daughters born to a man who desperately wanted a son. I was lucky that my father never expressed any form of disappointment in only having daughters but I did feel the pang of guilt when the family name died with him. 

Love, Dad/Milý Tati premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of their Shorts Competition.

TIFF: Titane

Something always been a little off about Alexia (Agathe Rousselle). As a child, she did not get along with her emotionally distant father. Their involvement in a terrible car accident sends Alexia to the hospital where doctors treat her skull fracture by adding a titanium plate. Fast forward to more than a decade later and Alexia has developed a lust for metal. She gyrates on top of cars for a living. She’s also the mysterious serial killer who the police are desperate to identify. When one of her victims escapes, Alexia transforms to Adrien, pretending to be firefighter Vincent Legrand’s (Vincent Lindon) long lost son. What Alexia doesn’t realize is that she’s met her match with Vincent. And what Vincent doesn’t realize is that “Adrien” is hiding some terrible secrets.

Directed by Julia Ducournau, Titane is a wild ride. It’s relentlessly brutal, completely bonkers and yet it somehow makes sense even when it doesn’t. Rousselle and Lindon have a raw intensity that is perfect for their messed-up characters. Ducournau explores the father-daughter dynamic in a way I’ve never seen before. There are a few plot holes but you get so sucked into the craziness of the story that they really don’t matter. Titane is not for the faint of heart but if you’re into body horror, this film is for you.

Update: Titane is distributed by Neon and is available to rent on demand.

TIFF: France

Celebrity journalist France de Meurs (Léa Seydoux) is recognized everywhere she goes. She hosts one of France’s top news shows and is known for her provocative interviews and her exceptional war coverage. What folks don’t see is the real woman behind-the-scenes. She’s a master manipulator who will do anything for the best shot. It doesn’t help that her trusted assistant Lou (Blanche Gardin) eggs her on. France’s marriage to Fred (Benjamin Biolay) is in shambles, her son wants nothing to do with her and her celebrity status affords her little by way of privacy. An accident caused by France triggers her emotional breakdown where she must face personal truths amidst all the lies she’s created for herself.

Written and directed by Bruno Dumont, France is a hot mess saved by its brilliant star Léa Seydoux. It feels overly long with scenes that linger long after what seems like their natural end.  And some scenes could have been cut out entirely.

One of the strengths of the film is how the story and its title character gets under your skin. This film is intended to make the audience squirm in their seat and it does that quite effectively.  France de Meurs is an unlikable character and Seydoux adds the intensity and humanity the viewer needs to even be invested in her story. 

Dumont’s story casts a critical eye on the falseness of the media, the dehumanization caused by celebrity culture and the negative perception of women in powerful roles. And Seydoux is the messenger of all of the film’s big messages. I just wish the film was a bit shorter and had more of a focus.

Kudos to costume designer Alexandra Charles. Léa Seydoux’s wardrobe in the film is absolutely stupendous. I wanted to reach through the screen and pluck out each and every outfit to add them to my closet.

France is part of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival’s Special Presentations slate.

TIFF: Petite Maman

Nelly (Josephine Sanz) is playing in the woods by her grandmother’s house when she meets Marion (Gabrielle Sanz). The two eight year olds are the spitting image of each other and instantly bond spending all their free time together. Nelly is visiting the area as her parents clear out the house after her grandmother passed away. Her despondent mother has mysteriously left, leaving Nelly worried that she won’t come back. Nelly and Marion confide in each other, sharing their fears and sparking each other’s imagination. And as it turns out, they have more in common than meets the eye.

I was already thinking of you.”

Marion

It’s difficult to talk about Petite Maman without revealing the twist. However, the title itself is the biggest spoiler. Directed by Celine Sciamma, this gentle  drama is as hopeful as it is melancholic. It explores the complexities of relationships  and the fleeting nature of childhood but in a very subtle way.

It’s only 70 minutes long and while that seems short, it’s really the perfect amount of time to tell Nelly and Marion’s story. I like how Sciamma hints at Nelly’s gender expression  with a few of the scenes. This film reminded me of Sciamma’s Tomboy which also focuses on a child on a journey of self-discovery. Petite Maman might now wow audiences like Portrait of a Lady on Fire but it will  tap into some emotions that lie just beneath the surface.

Petite Maman is part of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival’s Special Presentations slate. 

Update: Petite Maman will be distributed by Neon.

Ema

Reggaeton dancer Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) is in a tumultuous relationship with her choreographer/husband Gaston (Gael García Bernal). The two seem hellbent at destroying their relationship, throwing verbal jabs at each other and pouring salt on emotional wounds. Their adopted son Polo (Cristián Suárez) has been taken away for his destructive behavior and rehomed with a new family. Ema is desperate to get Polo back and will go to great lengths, including targeting the two new parents, to get him back. She embarks on a journey of self-discovery and destruction in order to fulfill her deepest desires.

Ema, you’re going to battle.”

Director Pablo Larraín’s erotically charged Ema sets the screen ablaze with its magnetic star Mariana Di Girolamo. Her unique look, donning bleach blonde shellacked hair and a piercing gaze, is mesmerizing and you can’t help but fall for her like the other characters do in her story. There are some heavy themes including toxic relationships, parenthood, polyamory, self-destruction, sadism and pyromania. Scenes are intercut with dance sequences that feel seamless.

It’s difficult to understand why some of the characters, particularly Gaston, are so hard on Ema. And at one point I was getting We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) vibes but Polo’s mental health struggles are not at all explored. I wish Ema’s story came with more background  and context but that might have taken away from her mystery and charm.

TW: Depictions of fire and the aftermath of a serious burn. This film premiered at TIFF a couple years ago and while I wanted to watch it then I recently had burned my leg and couldn’t deal with any imagery of a burn victim (Ema’s sister after an accident) and fire (Ema sets objects on fire with a flamethrower). I’m glad I waited as I was much more prepared to watch the film this time around.

Ema is a paradigm: she’s a character of characters. Daughter, mother, sister, wife, lover and leader. She’s very powerful and presents a striking, beautiful sort of femininity. She’s motivated by relentless individualism, as she clearly knows what she wants and is capable of seducing those around her in order to line up her destiny. She wants to be a mother and have a family; perhaps what moves and motivates her the most is love.

Pablo Larraín

Music Box Films will be releasing Ema on digital and VOD on September 14th. Visit the official website for more information.

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