LITTLE GIRL – Review by Leslie Combemale

If people who are less understanding of trans rights see this film, it has the potential to shift belief and possibly reverse a lot of outdated laws. That would be a gift and blessing to kids finding challenges now, but even more future kids who won’t have to struggle needlessly as they grow. Of course the film is subjective, as it aims to change a lot of hearts, and attempts to do so through experience rather than statistics, but if the definition of great art is that it elicits compassion and understanding, Little Girl qualifies.

Read more

NIGHT RAIDERS (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

The first words uttered in voiceover in Canadian Cree and Metis writer/director Danis Goulet’s feature debut, Night Raiders, are “We knew they would come for us like they always have before.” Though rooted in dystopian storytelling that recalls some darker recent YA literature, the film is actually right out of the nightmares and collective memories of indigenous people around the world, particularly in the US, Australia, and Canada. Clearly, for Goulet, making a film is inherently a political act.

Read more

MOTHERING SUNDAY (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Part Bridgerton, part Downton Abbey, director Eva Husson’s steamy take on the Hawthorne Prize winning novella Mothering Sunday is equally lush and bleak as it examines love and loss in post WW1 England through the eyes of orphan, maid, and aspiring writer Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young).

Read more

PETITE MAMAN (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Celine Sciamma is the quintessence of female filmmaking. In all her films, she values emotional intelligence, and uses the female lens to examine life and universal truths through stories about women’s experiences and relationships. Her female characters are multidimensional and exist on their own terms, often apart from, or with very little influence from, the men around them. A look here, the touch of a hand there, cooperation in a task together, a verbal exchange where a secret is shared or somehow reveals a character’s fears and hopes, these are her building blocks. With Petite Maman she creates an immersive experience, and one in which most women will see themselves in some way.

Read more

VIOLET (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

What’s the worst that can happen? That’s not a question the voices inside your head will likely answer, because doing so might end the self criticism, judgment, and worry that play like a tape loop in your brain. That isn’t something studio executive Violet Calder (Olivia Munn) has figured out in the film Violet, from actor Justine Bateman in her first narrative feature as writer/directed.

Read more

Director Sara Colangelo on the Ensemble and the Moral Conundrum of WORTH – Leslie Combemale interviews

Based on the memoir What is Life Worthby Ken Feinburg, the lawyer in charge of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, Worth is a fictionalized behind-the-scenes look at how dollar values were assigned to relieve the personal tragedies suffered by those who lost loved ones in the Twin Tower calamity. Starring Michael Keaton as Feinberg, the film is the third feature for director Sara Colangelo, who speaks about its serious theme and brilliant stars.

Read more

LANGUAGE LESSONS – Review by Leslie Combemale

There’s a lot of buzz for pandemic indie Language Lessons. Co-starring Mark Duplass, who partnered with director Natalie Morales in writing the script, the film is the latest example of the screenlife film genre, in which all the storytelling takes place via a computer, tablet, or smartphone screen. Given that the world is universally experiencing Zoom fatigue, Language Lessons is a surprisingly poignant, bittersweet, sometimes uncomfortable exploration of platonic love, and it shows the depth and breadth of the talent of these two actors, who are tasked with keeping both forward momentum and building an emotional connection with viewers for 90 minutes. It is entirely worthy of its accolades, but should also come with a trigger warning for those still actively struggling with the pain of loss.

Read more

CANDYMAN – Review by Leslie Combemale

Candyman leverages visual art and the film’s stars to consider the history of racial subjugation, the ongoing trauma of police violence and discrimination, and the way white supremacy continues to be leveraged to benefit white America. It’s when it rises above subtext and action and is telegraphed through conversation that it loses its audience.

Read more

FAYA DAYI – Review by Leslie Combemale

The feature debut of Mexican Ethiopian filmmaker Jessica Bashir, Faya Dayi immerses its audience in a visually rich, hypnotic world that feels as hallucinogenic, languid, and euphoric as a drug trip. Centered in rural Ethiopia, the documentary transcends traditional storytelling as it relays the hopes and challenges of Ethiopians trapped working in the Khat trade. The name of the film means “giving birth to wellness”, and is part of a hymnal chant that farmers in Harar chant while they’re harvesting.

Read more

CURIOSA – Review by Leslie Combemale

Lou Jeunet’s woefully off-target and ponderously slow French Curiosa aims for historical illumination, sex positivity, and strong feminist and feminine energy, and misses the mark in nearly every way. I’m all for sexy fun couched in a historically-influenced story, especially when it’s delivered in such a beautiful palette and accompanied by women so well appointed in costume, makeup and hair that they literally look like they just stepped out of a Marie Cassatt painting. What none of us should be up for is a story that ignores the most fascinating aspects of the real-life characters on which the film is based, in favor of a clumsily structured tale of supposed female empowerment.

Read more