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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.

Fantasia Festival: Ghosting Gloria

30-something bookseller Gloria (Stefania Tortorella) hasn’t experienced an orgasm yet. Tired of sleepless nights caused by her very vocal and very horny upstairs neighbors, Gloria moves into a new place for some peace and quiet. However, it’s occupied by the ghost of the man who died there weeks earlier. And he wants to give Gloria what she’s been missing. When Gloria’s best friend and coworker Sandra (Nena Pelenur) gets curious about Gloria’s newfound glow, Gloria can’t bring herself to explain that she’s hooking up with a ghost. Gloria finds herself at a crossroads when the ghost actually ghosts her, leaving her wondering if satisfaction, both emotional and sexual, can be found in the world of the living or the dead.

“The best player is not the one with the best cards but the one who knows how to best play the cards that were dealt to her.”

Written and directed by husband-and-wife filmmaking team Marcela Matta and Mauro Sarser, the Uruguayan film Ghosting Gloria/Muertos con Gloria is a paranormal delight. I love the film’s bookish vibe and the supernatural cunnilingus scenes are quite inventive and fun to watch.  The story does drag on a lot longer than it should. There is a point about an hour in that feels like a natural ending point yet the film continues for another 30 minutes. It felt like 3 television episodes stitched together and I wonder if this would have worked better as a mini-series. I’m glad I kept watching because the actual ending is quite satisfying and solves a visual clue that was presented throughout the film. Definitely check this one out if you can!

Ghosting Gloria/Muertos con Gloria had its world premiere at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival.

Fantasia Festival: Glasshouse

It’s important that you keep wearing your mask.”

The women of the Glasshouse shield themselves from The Shred, a toxin that permeates the air and robs humans of memories when they breathe it in. The Shred turns its victims into a shade of their former selves. The younger the victim and the fewer memories they have attained, the more they are affected by the toxin.

Bee (Jess Alexander), Evie (Anja Taljaard), Daisy (Kitty Harris) and Mother (Adrienne Pearce) maintain the Glasshouse and its grounds. They work to protect themselves with hooded masks, they seal the Glasshouse from the toxic air, they grown their own fruits and vegetables and they kill, eat, and bury male intruders. The four women are tasked with taking care of young Gabe (Brent Vermeulen), a victim of The Shred who is prone to lashing out.

When The Stranger (Hilton Pelser) arrives on the grounds with a leg wound, Bee takes him in which goes against Mother’s strict rules. The Stranger wins her trust and her desire and takes advantage of this in order to further infiltrate himself into the small world the women have created. He’s as dangerous as The Shred, threatening their livelihoods and sanity. While Bee fails to see this, sharp eyed Evie knows something is not quite right.

Truth isn’t everything.”

Someone has to carry it. Otherwise nothing means anything at all.”

There is a lot to unpack with Kelsey Egan’s dreamy science fiction drama Glasshouse. It’s The Beguiled for the pandemic era taking the concept of strong women who must protect themselves from dangerous men during chaotic. The Beguiled takes place in the Civil War era South and Glasshouse appears to depict the same era but in an alternate world where a pandemic instead of a war keeps the women isolated. The film is introspective with lots of thought put into the importance of memory, the concept of truth, and how replaceable individuals are in a society. It’s difficult to come away from this film and not find yourself deep in thought. I enjoyed the fact that the film offers the right balance of story, character development and information about the pandemic.

Glasshouse is not a remake of The Beguiled, although it does seem to be inspired by it, but rather an original story by South African filmmaker Kelsey Egan and co-writer and associate producer Emma Lungiswa de Wet. According to Egan’s director’s statement:

“the South African philosophy of Ubuntu holds that identity is collective and that ancestral memory shapes the present.  As thought-provoking as it is entertaining, we believe that Glasshouse is a timely film, meeting a societal and market need for challenging, female-driven stories… Glasshouse explores two opposing coping mechanisms to trauma: holding tightly to the past as a form of preservation, and wilful forgetting…”

The film was shot on location at the Pearson Conservatory in St. Georges Park in South Africa and features a South African cast and crew.

Note: only white characters appear in the film.

Glasshouse had its world premiere at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival.

Check out my reviews for two film adaptations of The Beguiled  (1971) and (2017).

Note to add: Glasshouse will be available on digital July 12th, 2022.

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