More dysfunctional families. Films reviewed: Blackbird, The Ties PLUS #TIFF20

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 11, 2020

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

The Toronto International Film Festival has begun, but with a twist. It’s #TIFF20 meets COVID19. Gone are celebrities, autograph hounds? Gone. Thousands of volunteers?  Countless parties? Gone, gone, gone. The press corps is cut by 2/3 with feature films chopped from 300 to 50. Indoor movies are few and far between, sparse and spaced, but you can watch the movies at home instead. Normally, I’d have viewed two dozen movies before the festival starts, but this year less than five. This week, I’m reviewing two movies about dysfunctional families, one from Italy and one from the US.

But first I’m talking about TIFF films I haven’t yet seen… bear with me.

#TIFF20: unseen recommendations

Here are a few movies playing at TIFF that caught my eye.

Idris Elba stars in Concrete Cowboy, as a man who rides horses dressed in hat, boots and spurs in North Philadelphia. The film’s about him and his estranged teenaged son who comes to live with him.

Beans (Dir: Tracey Deer) is about the 1990s stand-off between Mohawk communities and the Quebec town of Oka who wanted to expand their golf course onto indigenous land. It’s told through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl named Beans.

Summer of 85 (Dir: Francois Ozon: Frantz, Young and Beautiful, The New Girlfriend) is about a summer love affair on the beaches of Normandy between a young man who almost drowns and the 20 year-old guy who saves him. It’s like Call me By Your Name, but with a sinister undertone.

Quo Vadis, Aïda? is about a journalist trying to save her husband and son in the Bosnian genocide. After seeing Jasmila Žbanic’s first film, the stunning Grbavica 12 years ago, I’m dying to see what she’s up to now.

And finally Night of The Kings about a man in a Cote d’Ivoire prison in Abidjan forced to tell his epic story until the sun rises. Philippe Lacôte’s first film, Run, was brilliant which is why this one looks so good.

These are just a few of the films opening at TIFF.

Blackbird

Dir: Robert Michell

Paul (Sam Neill) and Lily (Susan Sarandon) are a happily married couple. They live in a beautiful wood and glass home, a short stroll to the Pacific ocean. Lily is retired but Paul still practices medicine. They’re getting ready for a big party with family and friends. Her uptight daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet) is coming, along with her nerdy husband Michael (Rainn Wilson) with his requisite bowties, and their teenage son Jonathan (Anson Boon). Her other daughter Anna (Mia Wasikowska), excentric and needy might also show up, along with her non-binary partner Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus). And Lily’s best friend Liz who she’s known since childhood. The presents are wrapped, the cake is baked and Lily is wearing her favourite dress. Is it her birthday? Chistmas perhaps? A special anniversary?

No. It’s a deathday party. Lily is terminally ill and this is her goodbye celebration before her assisted suicide the next day. But once the liquor is poured and the joints are lit, the guests loosen up, and family secrets and rivalries are revealed. Will Lily go through with her plan? And will her family and friends accept her decision or try to stop it

Based on a Danish film from 2014, Blackbird is a low-key look at a family’s reaction to an important issuet. It’s slow moving but well-acted, like a traditional drawing room comedy, with a serious subtext. But I’m bothered by Lily’s reasoning. Here’s an example. At one point she breaks a glass and says “When you have to drink chablis from a paper cup, you know it’s time.” Really? She walks unassisted and dresses herself, largely free of pain. To me – if there’s ever a time – this seems way to early. But, like I said, Blackbird is a well-made movie and one that makes you think.

The Ties (Lacci)

Dir: Daniele Luchetti

It’s the 1980s in Naples, Italy. Aldo (Luigi Locascio) is a happily-married, bearded man with two kids, Anna and Sandro. They love the stories he tells them in his “radio voice”. He works as a literary critic and announcer at RAI radio – Italy’s CBC — at their headquarters in Rome, where he keeps an apartment. He’s a bit of a celebrity; “an ordinary man who says clever things”. Vanda (Alba Rohrbacher – she starred in this) his wife, has curly blonde hair. She’s a part-time school teacher and takes care of their kids on her own while he’s in Rome on weekdays. All is going great, until one day he confesses he slept with another woman. What he doesn’t tell her, but she suspects, is he’s having a long term affair in Rome with Lidia (Laura Morante) his beautiful co-announcer on their radio show. She kicks him out for the night, but it turns into a long-term separation, punctuated with arguments and fights – always initiated by Vanda. Aldo just passively takes it all in and does nothing but never taking responsibility for his actions. This leaves the kids floundering for attention from their dad, which they rarely get. Can this relationship ever be saved?

The Ties – the title refers to the family ties he has in Naples and the no-strings relationship he desires in rome – is a beautiful crafted look at a fractured family. It jumps back and forth, sometimes second by second, from the 80s to the present day, where Aldo and Vanda are elderly and the kids middle aged, still holding grudges against their Mom and Dad. I love Daniele Luchetti’s work – I always catch his films at TIFF – which is why I made sure to watch this one. He crafts great silent scenes, like behind the glass in a recording booth – and the costumes, set, cinematography are very pretty and cozy. But – like Aldo – the film is more passive than passionate, observing instead of delving deep into his mind. It’s not perfect, but I enjoyed The Ties.

Blackbird opens next week on VOD across Canada, The Ties is screening at TIFF as Industry Selects and premiered at Venice. Go to tiff.net for tickets and info on festival films.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website culturalmining.com.

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