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TIFF: Mothering Sunday

Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young) is motherless on Mothering Sunday (a UK/Irish holiday celebrating mothers). Abandoned by her mother at a young age, Jane grew up an orphan and has spent most of her life working as a maid for the Nivens (Colin Firth and Olivia Colman). The Nivens and many of the families of the community have suffered a great loss during WWI. The only young man to come back alive was Paul Sheringham (Josh O’Connor), a law student who lives next door to the Nivens. Jane and Paul carry on a clandestine affair. Their steamy romance is fleeting because Paul must marry someone else equal to his social class. He proposes to the Emma (Emma D’Arcy), a young woman adorned in the latest fashions and from a good family but whose blood has run cold due to the tragedy that’s befallen her. Jane must come to terms with love and loss and channel that into her writing.

Directed by Eva Husson and based on the novel by Graham Swift, Mothering Sunday offers viewers a period piece that is both idyllic and cut with tragedy. It’s perfect for Downton Abbey fans looking for something a little more subdued but of the same era.

I wish Colin Firth and Olivia Colman were given more to do in the film. Due to the nature of their characters, Firth is quite reserved and Colman has a few outbursts of anger and frustration. But otherwise they’re  supporting players with small roles, Colman more so than Firth.

The main stars are O’Connor and Young who have great chemistry. Jane’s life is shown in three stages: her affair with Paul, her romance with Donald (Sope Diris), and her later years as a celebrated writer (played by Glenda Jackson).  Her two romantic partners have great respect for her. No toxic relationships here. I found this to be quite refreshing.

Mothering Sunday is part of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival Special Presentations slate.

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 2021 — My Picks

I’m heading to Toronto for TIFF and am excited to be back! It’ll be a very different kind of festival with lots of digital screenings and plenty of social distancing. I’m limiting in person screenings to two a day to minimize health risks and I’ll come armed with masks and hand sanitizer. This trip is very touch-and-go due to complications with the pandemic so any coverage discussed in this post is not guaranteed.

With that said, here are my picks for the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. If you want any additional information about the films featured below, visit the official TIFF website for more details!

Julia
dir. Julie Cohen and Betsy West

RBG directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West present a touching portrait of Julia Child, whose cookbooks and TV shows revolutionized American cuisine.

Nostalgia for icons of recent history is a big thing right now with the recent documentary on Bob Ross and the upcoming one on LeVar Burton. Like many I grew up watching Julia Child on PBS so I can’t wait to watch this new doc on her life and career.

Oscar Peterson: Black + White
dir. Harry Avrich

Director Barry Avrich’s affectionate celebration of Canada’s greatest jazz musician situates the master pianist in the genre’s pantheon.

As a jazz enthusiast and a fan of Barry Avrich’s work, this selection was a no brainer. Avrich’s Blurred Lines and Prosecuting Evil are two of my favorite documentaries so I’m excited to see his latest!

Becoming Cousteau
dir. Liz Garbus

Liz Garbus dives into the archives of the undersea explorer who tried decades ago to warn the world about the climate crisis.

As a young environmentalist, Jacques Cousteau was an icon for me and I’m curious to see just how Garbus demonstrates how he tried to warn us about climate change.

Belfast
dir. Kenneth Branagh
starring Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan, Jude Hill

Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds, Caitríona Balfe, and Jamie Dornan star in Kenneth Branagh’s coming-of-age tale set amid the tumult of late-1960s Northern Ireland.

There’s a lot of buzz behind Branagh’s star-packed historical drama. I hope it delivers! If not, I’ll be happy to watch Judi Dench in a new film.

Benediction
dir. Terence Davies
starring Jack Lowden, Peter Capaldi, Gemma Jones, Ben Daniels, Kate Phillips, Simon Russell Beale, Jeremy Irvine, Geraldine James

Terence Davies’ latest is an equally sombre and sumptuous portrait of 20th-century English poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon.

I enjoyed Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion and am curious about his new historical biopic! 

Last Night in Soho
dir. Egdar Wright
starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Rita Tushingham, Michael Ajao, Synnøve Karlsen, Pauline McLynn, Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg

Edgar Wright wickedly reflects ’60s Swinging London in this kaleidoscopic psycho-thriller about two young artists entwined across time.

This looks like an absolute trip! I love the time travel element and the fact that 1960s stars Diana Rigg, Margaret Nolan and Terence Stamp all make appearances in the film. 

Mothering Sunday 
dir. Eva Husson
starring Odessa Young, Josh O’Connor, Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, Olivia Colman, Colin Firth, Glenda Jackson, Patsy Ferran, Emma D’Arcy

Olivia Colman and Colin Firth star in this deeply affecting adaptation of Graham Swift’s bittersweet novel about secret love in post-WWI England.

You really can’t go wrong with a period piece featuring a great cast. This one is set in post WWI England and may appeal to Downton Abbey fans.

Bergman Island
dir. Mia Hansen-Løve
starring Mia Wasikowska, Tim Roth, Vicky Krieps, Anders Danielsen Lie

A melancholic meditation on love and creativity, French auteur Mia Hansen-Løve’s latest stars Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth as a filmmaking couple who go to the island of Fårö, where Ingmar Bergman spent the end of his life.

Tim Roth is in three films premiering at TIFF and two are on my must-watch list! Bergman Island is inspired by the work of Ingmar Bergman so depending on how much of the film is about the legendary filmmaker, my review may be posted on my classic film blog Out of the Past.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye
dir. Michael Showalter
starring Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio

Jessica Chastain stars as flamboyant televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in this humanizing portrait of the rise and fall of the Bakker network empire.

This biopic on controversial televangelist Jim Bakker and his wife and media personality Tammy Faye Bakker is total Oscar bait. But I’m here for it!

France
dir. Bruno Dumont
starring Léa Seydoux, Benjamin Biolay, Blanche Gardin

Stinging satire meets melodrama in Bruno Dumont’s latest, starring Léa Seydoux as a fame-obsessed TV journalist in crisis.

Media satire with Léa Seydoux? Yes! The trailer looks great so I’m excited to check this one out.

Petit Maman
dir. Céline Sciamma
starring Joséphine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Nina Meurisse, Stéphane Varupenne, Margo Abascal

Following a girl’s journey to her mother’s childhood home, French auteur Céline Sciamma’s latest is a tender tale of intergenerational connection.

I’m a big fan of Céline Sciamma’s work especially Portrait of a Lady on Fire which I had the privilege of watching at TIFF back in 2019. Her new film is an automatic must watch.

Titane 
dir.  Julia Ducournau
starring Vincent Lindon, Agathe Rousselle, Laïs Salameh, Garance Marillier

An automobile accident leaves disturbing consequences in this unflinching foray into human extremity from Julia Ducournau (Raw).

This Midnight Madness feature sounds absolutely wild!

The Girl and the Spider
dir. Ramon Zürcher and Silvan Zürcher
starring Henriette Confurius, Liliane Amuat

Ramon and Silvan Zürcher’s second film is a thrilling roundelay of mystery and sexual intrigue set off by a young woman’s move into a new apartment.

There isn’t much by the way of LGBTQ films on this year’s slate. I spotted this Swiss-German film on the list and am intrigued!

Sundown
dir. Michel Franco
starring Tim Roth, Iazua Larios, Charlotte Gainsbourg

Tim Roth stars in writer-director Michel Franco’s chilling drama about a wealthy Briton attempting to abandon his life while vacationing in Acapulco.

A story about escaping reality is something that will really resonate with audiences right now. I’m curious to see how this compares with Wakefield (2016).

The Starling
dir. Theodore Melfi
starring Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Kline

Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd and Kevin Kline star in Theodore Melfi’s bittersweet tale of a couple working their way toward the other side of grief.

We haven’t had a new Kevin Kline film in a hot minute and TIFF has two premiering. I really enjoyed Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me? so I’m excited to see her in another dramatic role.

The Good House
dir. Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky
starring Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Morena Baccarin

Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline play ex-flames who rekindle their romance, in this drama from directors Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky.

Kevin Kline + Sigourney Weaver + New England setting + rekindled romance = Yes please!

Other selections

Documentary:

Beba (dir. Rebeca Huntt)
Colin in Black and White (dir. Ava DuVernay, Sheldon Candis, Robert Townsend, Angel Kristi Williams, Kenny Leon)

International:

Anatolian Leopard (dir. Emre Kayiş) — Turkey
As in Heaven (dir. Tea Lindeburg) — Denmark
I’m Your Man (dir. Maria Schrader) — Germany
Kicking Blood (dir. Blaine Thurier) — Canada
Learn to Swim (dir. Thyrone Tommy) — Canada
Maria Chapdelaine (dir. Sébastien Pilote) — Canada
Medusa (dir. Anita Rocha da Silveira) — Brazil
The Middle Man (dir. Bent Hamer) — Canada
Silent Land (dir. Aga Woszczyńska) — Poland
The Story of My Wife (dir. Ildikó Enyedi) —Germany, France, Hungary, Italy
The Tsugua Diaries (dir. Maureen Fazendeiro, Miguel Gomes) — Portugal

Feature Film: 

The Humans (dir. Stephen Karam) — starring Steven Yeun, Beanie Feldstein, Amy Schumer, Richard Jenkins

The Way I See It

“I look at myself as a historian with a camera.”

Pete Souza

Director Dawn Porter (John Lewis: Good Trouble) delivers again with another political documentary wrought with emotion. Inspired by the best-selling book, The Way I See It tells the story of Pete Souza, former photographer for the Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama administrations.

On that fateful day in January 2017 when Donald Trump was sworn in as president and Obama left the White House, Souza sensed  that the country had lost something substantial. Having spent four years photographing Obama in moments both historic and intimate, Souza thought he was ready to retire. But he just couldn’t keep quiet as he saw the rapidly changing political climate. He started an Instagram account to share some of his photos and it quickly turned into his form of resistance.

In an age when we are exposed to a constant stream of video content, we forget how powerful a still photograph can be. Souza’s photographs capture a mood, an emotion and offer insight and context. Fleeting moments frozen in time. With his Instagram, Souza delivers biting political commentary with posts that are perfectly timed to respond to whatever is happening in the news. He uses the past throw shade at the present.

The Way I See It may be the most important documentary you’ll see this year. It is heartbreaking and emotional in its nostalgia of an era that is quickly slipping away from our collective memory. Porter offers us not only a biography of a photographer but also of his most captivating subject: Barack Obama. While there is also attention paid to Souza’s work in the Reagan administration, this film is more pointedly political and will appeal more to viewers with liberal points of view rather than conservative ones. Souza’s story will awaken your empathy, no matter how dormant, and will empower you to get out and VOTE.

The Way I See It is available in select cinemas. Visit the Focus Features website for more information.

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