BEBA (TIFF 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Deeply intimate and unfiltered, Rebeca “Beba” Huntt talks of her experience as an Afro-Latina artist raised in a one-bedroom apartment in New York with her two siblings and her immigrant parents. The documentary speaks explicitly to the intergenerational aspect of trauma linked to race, class and gender. Huntt pushes herself through the search for self in a range of ways, spanning from aggressive to poetic, frequently straddling both simultaneously.

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WHERE IS ANNE FRANK (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

We are told in Where is Anne Frank’s prologue that writer/director Ari Folman’s parents were sent to Auschwitz the same week as famed diarist Anne Frank. That was part of the inspiration for this animated feature examining her life from the perspective of Kitty, the imaginary friend Anne chose as recipient of her feelings and experiences in her diary. Kitty magically materializes in the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, innocent of what happened to her dear friend. She must seek out the answers to her whereabouts. In that way, Folman sets up a clever and insightful way of both explaining the Holocaust to young viewers, and considering in what ways we are currently in danger of repeating history.

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THE STARLING (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Eventually everyone gains expert status on loss. If you think you’re immune, you aren’t. This is something director Theodore Melfi banks on with his new film The Starling a dramedy in which parents Lilly and Jack Maynard are grappling with grief from losing their baby daughter Katie to SIDS. The Starling works the extended metaphor of Lilly’s inability to control a bird in her garden that repeatedly attacks her while protecting its nest as a reference reference the grieving parents’ inability to deal with their sadness. The film works and reworks that metaphor and others to such an exhaustive degree that it might as well be the audience members getting dive-bombed à la Tippy Hedren in The Birds.

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THE GUILTY (TIFF2021)- Review by Leslie Combemale

“Broken people save broken people.” That’s how Christina Vidal as Sgt Denise Wade explains Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Joe Baylor in Antoine Fuqua’s incredibly tense new film The Guilty. If the movie proves one thing, it’s that nothing is simple, and nothing is what it seems. Here, Fuqua teams up with Gyllenhaal in a pandemic-era story that unfolds in real time, bringing the audience on a gripping 90 minute wild ride, while the cameras stay almost exclusively in one room.

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ENCOUNTER (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

An alien threat leads decorated soldier Malik (Riz Ahmed) to kidnap his sons Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada) and take them across the Southwest desert highways in Encounter, the latest genre-bender by English director Michael Pearce. The film, which is also co-written by Pearce, affirms him as a talent with vision, showing he has an ability to intermingle the tensions unique to psychodrama and sci-fi actioners, while offering a showcase for Ahmed, an actor who, with Malik, is adding to his arsenal of unforgettable performances.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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VIOLET (TIFF2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Violet is a film about toxic relationships, not just with others, but – first and foremost – with ourselves. It makes literal the internal struggles so many of us face on a daily basis: how much do we share? Who do we trust? How do we change our lives? Violet uses the codes and conventions of cinema and weaves them into Justine Bateman’s own strikingly creative approach to filmmaking to address the tricky representational arena of self-sabotage, as the character is pushed and pulled with exhausting frequency between what she feels, what she does, and what the cruel, infantalizing voice in her head tells her about herself. Violet is a film about struggle, about fighting back and taking control, but the way that Bateman brings this internal universe to life makes it not only one of the most memorable films at TIFF this year.

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