Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | September 25th, 2022
The Toronto International Film Festival (or TIFF) wrapped a week ago, on September 18, and though I am late to the wrap party, I still want to offer my favs from among what I watched. To take a look at the award-winners, check out the fest website (amazingly, I only saw one of them, While We Watched). If interested, you should also read my TIFF 2022 curtain raiser. It was great to be back in Toronto in person. I love both the festival and the city and already can’t wait for next year.
For Film Festival Today, I wrote full-length reviews of five films: Bros, Corsage, The Lost King, Nanny, and The Woman King. What follows are short capsules of the 10 films I reviewed for Hammer to Nail, in alphabetical order. They all had something of interest to offer (we only do positive coverage at that publication). I hyperlink the title of each to the original article, except in the case of the two which have yet to post, in which case I hyperlink to the movie’s TIFF page. Enjoy!
Bones of Crows (Marie Clements)
“Inspired by true events,” as an opening title card informs us, Marie Clements’ Bones of Crows explores the devastating legacy of Canada’s residential schools, which for over 100 years took Indigenous children away from parents, attempted to destroy their native culture, and often created conditions that led to sickness and/or death. It was a horrible system, with a genocidal impulse hardly unique to Canada but no less awful because of it. Following one central Cree family over multiple generations, the movie is filled not only with outrage but also triumph, since our protagonists rise above their long torture to stand tall. It’s a hard-fought victory, with many casualties.
Broker (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda last wowed us with his first film not shot in his native tongue, The Truth(French and English), and just before that with Shoplifters. The first movie of his I watched was the 1998 After Life, about a group of newly deceased people stuck in limbo until they can choose one memory from their life to take with them into eternity, and it made an indelible impression. A recurring theme in his work is of makeshift families coming together to support each other in times of need, communal bonds far thicker than blood. In his new release, Broker, he is true to form in that respect, though the details are fresh.
Emily (Frances O’Connor)
19th-century English writer Emily Brontë died prematurely young, like all her siblings, but left behind a significant novel, Wuthering Heights, for which she is still celebrated to this day. From what is known of her life, she lived a fairly remote existence in the Yorkshire moors, mostly self-taught and without romantic entanglements, except perhaps for an incestuous fascination with her lone brother, Branwell. Actress-turned-director/screenwriter Frances O’Connor (Mercy) has taken what little details remain of Brontë’s short time on Earth and spun a vivid tale of a spirited young woman finding her voice. Though much of it may be fanciful, most of it is engaging.
Hawa (Maïmouna Doucouré)
Hawa is a teenage girl with a big problem. Beyond the albinism that unfortunately marks her as an outsider both in general and within her Parisian African community, she is about to lose her primary caretaker. That would be her grandmother—her beloved Maminata—a celebrated local griot who sings in her native Bambara tongue at weddings and other events; she is sick and doesn’t have much time left. And though Maminata keeps trying to find someone to adopt Hawa once she is gone, so far they have had little luck, meaning Hawa might soon be headed for an orphanage. This is the fraught setup of the eponymous Hawa, from writer/director Maïmouna Doucouré (Cuties).
My Sailor, My Love (Klaus Härö)
In My Sailor, My Love, Finnish director Klaus Härö (The Fencer) offers an alternately fraught and romantic tale about the difficult relationship between Howard, a retired Irish sea captain, and his adult daughter, Grace. Their life has always been marked by his absence, though now she is the only one of his children to take an interest in his well-being. As a child, she was also the primary caretaker for her clinically depressed mother, who eventually took her own life. Now, as the old man descends into petulant cantankerousness, Amy hires a housekeeper, Annie, to watch over Howard when she can’t. What she does not expect is for the Howard to fall in love with Annie, and vice versa. That proves an unsettling complication.
Sidney (Reginald Hudlin)
The fact that Sidney Poitier (1927-2022) is no longer of this world fills me with great sadness. Born in the Bahamas to tomato farmers Evelyn and Reginald Poitier and raised on Cat Island, away from all kinds of hustle and bustle, he would eventually become globally famous as the world’s first bona fide Black movie star. He bore that burden mostly well, no matter how some of his acting roles would come to be seen by later generations, talking the talk and walking the walk when it came to Civil Rights and supporting other Black artists. A giant of a man, he was defined by his moral sense of right and wrong, as well as his humility. Now, director Reginald Hudlin (Safety) has crafted a lovely and loving documentary portrait of Poitier, entitled simply Sidney. It’s everything you could hope for, and more.
Susie Searches (Sophie Kargman)
Susie is lonely. A part-time college student, she lives with her ailing mother and produces a true-crime podcast on the side. Sadly, almost no one listens to it. But then, one day, she solves a mystery in her own backyard and suddenly the accolades and attention come in droves. She’s a hero, and no longer alone. That’s how things appear, anyway, as Act I comes to a close in Sophie Kargman’s Susie Searches. An expansion of her 2020 eponymous short (in which Kargman, herself, played the lead), the feature accompanies the title character through the ensuing misadventures which bring her both headache and joy. Kiersey Clemons (Asking for It) stars as Susie, joined by two other fine actors, Alex Wolff (Castle in the Ground) and Jim Gaffigan (Collide). Filled with surprises, the movie proves engrossing from start to finish.
Until Branches Bend (Sophie Jarvis)
Robin knows about dangerous pests, those insects that can destroy not only crops, but entire livelihoods. Her family lost their farm that way, and now she works as a peach-cannery grader. The parents gone (deceased, we assume, perhaps from the stress of the one-time disaster), she is the matriarch of a family of two, her younger sister Laney beginning to chafe under her sometimes overly watchful eye. But when Robin spies a beetle among a batch of peaches, that eye might just be the one that can save her community. If only they would listen. So begins Until Branches Bend, Sophie Jarvis’s debut narrative feature. It’s a well-crafted, tense indie drama about what happens when one brave soul goes up against a system designed to squash all dissent.
We Are Still Here (Beck Cole/Dena Curtis/Tracey Rigney/Danielle MacLean/Tim Worrall/Renae Maihi/Miki Magasiva/Mario Gaoa/Richard Curtis/Chantelle Burgoyne)
Portmanteau—or anthology—films can sometimes prove challenging. It is difficult to invest one’s full range of emotions, so disjointed is the storytelling. Just as we begin to care about one tale, we jump into another, cutting short our developing cinematic rapprochement with the protagonists. The best of these either feature well-developed, self-contained short narratives (the 2006 Paris, je t’aime as a prime example) or a strong thematic through line that unites everything in a compelling whole (the 2019 Vai comes to mind). Enter We Are Still Here, a tale of colonialism and its aftermath brought to us by 10 directors from Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific. How does one survive the British Empire? With grit and perseverance.
While We Watched (Vinay Shukla)
Ours is an age of unfortunate political regression. Whether this is a harbinger of an eventual turnaround or of a complete plunge into oblivion, we don’t yet know. Tyrants rise throughout the world, and here in the United States one of the two major political parties is obsessed with an obvious con man who always blames others for his transgressions. Take heart, America, for you are not alone. In his new documentary, While We Watched, director Vinay Shukla (An Insignificant Man) takes a hard look at the devastating consequences of the rising tide of Hindu nationalism in his native India.