SIFF 2019 Field Notes: Week Two

It’s been hard to keep up with film reviews this year, so my week two field notes are a little later than I had hoped. My experience with this year’s festival has definitely felt a little more rushed and harried than last year – mainly because the moment I get out of one film I hop back into line for the next. Which has been great – I haven’t missed a screening yet!

That does mean that I’m spending every moment of free time trying to scarf down my pre-packed food or catch up on work that has to get done regardless of whether or not I’m on vacation. Still, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There’s nothing like the thrill of getting to see five movies back-to-back, catch up on films I’ve been hearing about from previous festivals, and find those rare discoveries.

So here are my (very) quick reviews from week two of my festival going!

Fritz Lang’s Spies is a masterful silent espionage thriller with a nearly three hour running time that never once feels too long. It’s a delight to see the spy tropes before they were codified, and Lang fills the screen with riveting visuals.

Touch Me Not
Adina Pintilie’s Touch Me Not is a powerful blending of fact and fiction that explores the barriers we put up to intimacy and the difficulties many of us face in truly feeling comfortable in our own skin.

Anthropocine: The Human Epoch
Anthropocine: The Human Epoch is filled with startling and beautiful imagery from beginning to end, creating art out of humanity’s destruction of the world around them. Unfortunately, it’s too esoteric to be informative and too pedantic to work as an experimental film.

Patricia Rozema’s Mouthpiece is an astonishingly moving, highly theatrical exploration of grief, guilt, and the socialization that encourages women to sacrifice their happiness for others. The central conceit beautifully illustrates the inner conversation we all have with ourselves. Such a delight.

A Colony
Geneviève Dulude-De Celles’s A Colony is an achingly honest exploration of adolescence and the ways in which teenage girls pressure and coerce on another to conform. The three central performances are brilliant, even if the film does miss a few nuances.

Winter Flies
Olmo Omerzu’s Winter Flies is a clumsy, excruciating road trip that celebrates toxic masculinity, pretending the characters’ misogyny is cute and endearing. If that wasn’t enough, the structure is a mess, jumping between past and present for no discernible reason.

The Innocent
Simon Jaquemet’s The Innocent feels like a film school exercise in profundity with disparate thread that never come together and a mistaken belief that vagueness equals substance. Still, the film has some solid performances and creates an undeniable sense of dread.

Wild Rose
Tom Harper’s Wild Rose hits many of the plot beats for your standard rise to stardom narrative, but switches to something much richer and more satisfying halfway through. Jessie Buckley gives a standout performance in this tale of an artist finding her voice.

Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s Honeyland is a patiently observation vérité drama about greed and the tendency to extract what we need from the earth before moving on to the next patch of ground. It’s a stunning film and a heartbreakingly beautiful character study.

All My Loving
Edward Berger’s All My Loving is a tender triptych following three 40-something siblings in a sweet and tender meditation on aging and loss. It relies a little too heavily forced laughs but manages to find some genuine warmth.

Ms. Purple
Justin Chon’s Ms. Purple is a really solid American indie anchored by two great performances and some intriguing stylistic choices. The climax is a bit overwrought and I’m not sure it completely earns the poetic ending, but it’s still a strong exploration of the sacrifices imposed by familial responsibility.

Note: MS. PURPLE does contain a potentially triggering scene of sexual assault.

No. 1 Chung Ying Street
Derek Chiu’s No. 1 Chung Ying Street has important parallels between the Hong Kong Leftist Riots of ‘67 and the Umbrella Revolution of recent years. Having the same actors play different characters through the generations yields a few really powerful moments, but it’s all wrapped up in a disappointing romantic triangle with stilted dialogue and uneven editing.

Esther Rots’s Retrospekt is an astonishing look at the aftermath of trauma and PTSD, told through a fragmented narrative and an archly comic opera score that disorients and forces us to see the world through our protagonist’s eyes. There’s a sustained dread that hangs over the film and a refreshingly honest look at the consequences of domestic abuse.

Note: RETROSPEKT does feature potentially triggering moments of intimate partner violence.

X – the eXploited
There’s an abundance of style in Károly Ujj Mészáros’s X – the eXploited, and it functions as a relatively solid political thriller with allusions to Hungary’s troubled past. Sadly, the plot is unnecessarily convoluted and the upside-down shots of Budapest grow wearisome all-too-quickly.

One Child Nation
Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang’s One Child Nation is a powerful and harrowing documentary about China’s “One Child Policy” that overcomes it’s boilerplate form and structure with its intensely personal focus. Wang asks tough questions of her family and explores the ways in which propaganda can shape our sense of morality.

Take It or Leave It
Liina Trishkina’s Take It or Leave It was a lovely surprise – every time it starts to veer into predictable tropes, it pulls back and makes much more interesting choices. The loose camera helps keep its more melodramatic and overwrought tendencies grounded.

The Bigamist
Ida Lupino’s The Bigamist is a classic Hollywood melodrama that makes some really interesting choices and avoids a simplistic ending in favor of a bittersweet conclusion that eschews easy answers. And even though the script is a little heavy-handed, Lupino gets lovely performances from her cast.

Storm in My Heart
Mark Cousins’s Storm in My Heart is a captivating, feature-length visual essay that plays two films side-by-side in order to contrast the careers of Susan Hayward and Lena Horne and the racism embedded in the film industry. By playing the films together, the whiteness of Hayward’s film is laid bare and the absence of Horne – even in her own film – is tragic.

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