THE GUILTY (TIFF 2021) – Review by Pam Grady

Twenty years after his breakthrough film, Training Day, Antoine Fuqua returns to the environs of the Los Angeles Police Department to deliver a very different, more subdued drama. A remake of a 2018 Danish thriller of the same name and shot under COVID protocols, it is a film where interest never flags but one that is hampered by its shaky night-in-the-life-of scenario, delivering a too shallow portrayal of the life of a troubled man.

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WHERE IS ANNE FRANK (TIFF2021) – Review by Ulkar Alakbarova

Anne Frank’s diary has been told, filmed, and has many documentaries about it. It seems there is nothing more left to be said until you watch Ari Folman’s Where is Anne Frank. This time, it takes a novel approach and revolves around Anne’s imaginary friend, Kitty, who finds herself in Frank’s house in Amsterdam. Getting a physical form, she steals Anne’s diary and begins the journey of her dearest friend, as she, with deep sadness, learns about Anne’s tragic fate.

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SALOUM (TIFF 21) – Review by Maitland McDonagh

The genre-warping Saloum starts out as an action-heavy thriller and glides seamlessly into a supernatural horror tale with intense psychological underpinnings. Congolese filmmakers Jean Luc Herbulot Herbulot and Pamela Diop draw on both real-life horrors and fairytale darkness, and combined with intense performances across the board the result is genuinely disturbing. Suffice it to say that the film’s most disturbing images have nothing to do with bogeymen.

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THE ELECTRIC LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

If you have cats in your home as part of your family, you have Louis Wain to thank. He was the 19th century illustrator of cat images and he introduced Victorian London to the wonder and joy of cats. A socially inept, eccentric soul, Wain created paintings and sketches of anthropomorphized felines, though many of his images were of his beloved pet cat Peter. In Will Sharp’s The Electric Life of Louis Wain Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, along with Andrea Riseborough as one of his five sisters, and Claire Foy as his beloved Emily. The film is charming, sad, has great performances, and is visually sumptuous, with some of the best costuming and makeup you’ll see this year. It has such undeniable heart, you’ll be sure to forgive it being a little overly sentimental.

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FLEE (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Danish writer/director Jonas Power Rasmussen’s documentary Flee about Afghan refugee Amin, his arduous journey getting to Denmark, and how that experience colors his current life, is destined to become a shining example of great indie animation. It may be painful to watch Amin go through the horrors he describes, but it is also an incredibly uplifting, inspiring story that will leave its viewers with a powerful feeling of hope.

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THE MAD WOMEN’S BALL (TIFF 2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Melanie Laurent creates a compelling world in which discarded women are blithely mistreated. She has also laid out a strong case for why women of the early 20th century, as in the time of The Snake Pit, as well as women today, struggle with being heard and believed by the mental health and medical communities. The Mad Women’s Ball is the kind of layered, femme-centric and very political story we need more of, and by fearless female filmmakers like Melanie Laurent.

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THE SURVIVOR (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combebale

It’s strange to say that a film based around the Holocaust is hopeful, but it’s true. Barry Levinson’s The Survivor is based on the real life story of Hertzko Haft, a jewish boxer who survived Auschwitz by fighting 76 brutal life or death matches against other Jewish prisoners, only to carry that trauma into his postwar life. As Haft, Ben Foster is the best he’s ever been. The Survivor is hopeful, in part, because Levinson has a way of finding the balance between darkness and light in his movies, and in part because the Jews of the world didn’t come out of the Holocaust without reaching for hope.

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ALI & AVA (TIFF2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

A strong screenplay, strong direction, and – of course – two strong performances from Adeel Akhtar and Claire Rushbrook make Clio Barnard’s Ali & Ava something genuinely precious and electrifying, all while remaining focused on the low-key minutia of the everyday lives of its two central characters. Only going from strength to strength, Ali & Ava is another extraordinary achievement in Barnard’s unrelentingly impressive filmography.

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YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER (TIFF 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

You Are Not My Mother is dominated by a range of women characters who collectively challenge and reveal the complexities of the “strong female character” cliche. Tensions between binaries such as strength/weakness and good/evil are rendered far more sophisticated and difficult to unknot here in a way that is subtly subversive, disguised as it is as a fun, spooky, popcorn-friendly horror film. What makes You Are Not My Mother such compelling viewing is how it seeks to defamiliarize our moral and ideological expectations surrounding women and the broader concept of strength, challenging us to think in more complex ways about gender and power.

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THE MAD WOMEN’S BALL (TIFF 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Mélanie Laurent’s debut feature The Mad Women’s Ball announces the arrival of a filmmaker of enormous skill and talent. The film is adapted from Victoria Mas’s bestselling novel. Laurent both directs, co-stars in and co-wrote the film adaptation’s screenplay, resulting in a movie that, although being in French, will surely woo even the most subtitle-phobic English language viewer with its powerful story, sumptuous filmmaking style, solid performances and the inescapable contemporary edge to its core thematics.

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