Editor’s Notes: The following capsule reviews are part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival. For more information visit tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
This year TIFF came to town in a giant swoop. Flooded with screeners and interview requests, this is probably the busiest I’ve been before the festival since I’ve started covering it. I’m trying my best to cover as much as possible considering the festival this year is incredibly diverse and some of them already have Academy awards written all over them.
This first batch is quite incredible.
Director: Robin Pront
Cast: Jeroen Perceval, Kevin Janssens, Veerle Baetens
This feature directorial debut by Belgian Robin Pront starts off with a crime scene. Dave (Jeroen Perceval) leaves his brother Kenny (Kevin Janssens) at the scene and drives off with Sylvie (Veerle Baetens), Kenny’s girlfriend. Many years later, Kenny is released from prison and Dave vows to his mother (Viviane de Muynck) that he will keep his brother out of trouble.
At first the film focuses on Kenny’s adjustment and the painfully awkward love triangle between the brothers and Sylvie. Tensions ebb and flow as they naturally would in a situation like that. However, the friction between the brothers increases slowly throughout. Kenny gets himself into a bit of a mess, and the brother finds themselves back in the Ardennes forest, not like fun old times though. It’s an unexpectedly exhilarating climax reminiscent of Nicolas Winding Refn picture.
Pront paints the Belgian criminal underbelly with guts and dark grit. Both Janssens’ and Perceval’s work with a palpable angst that brews underneath the surface of their scenes together. The film’s retro synth soundtrack adds to the nostalgia of times gone by for the story, but also reduces its audience to shivers at its conclusion.
The Ardennes is getting a bit of a buzz and I was extremely lucky for it to have been my first film at TIFF15. Don’t miss this one.
A Heavy Heart
Director: Thomas Stuber
Cast:Peter Kurth, Edin Hasanovic, Lena Lauzemis
Retired boxer Herbert (Peter Kurth) survives his days by teaching his trade, bouncing, and debt collecting. He is a strong quiet man who doesn’t let anyone close denoting a past and present he is not entirely proud of. His girlfriend Marlene (Lina Wendel) chases after him for attention and the small bit of affection he allows himself to give. He is estranged from his daughter Sandra (Lena Lauzemis) and finds respite in silent moments watching his aquarium. Things quickly take a turn for the worse as Specht is diagnosed with a fatal disease.
While A Heavy Heart deals with the quick decline of an imposing figure like Herbert, it focuses on how an emotional crisis can spark change that can make way for brutal truths. Germany’s Thomas Stuber bravely takes on this tragic tale with an affecting hand. Kurth is impressive as the deteriorating Specht powerfully transforming himself from a tattooed bulldog to a vulnerable sensitive being who would do anything to make things right. If anything, watch this film for this memorable performance.
It is part of the Contemporary World Cinema programme.
Director: Andrew Cividino
Cast: Jackson Martin, Erika Brodzky, Nick Serino
Canadian Andrew Cividino’s feature debut based on his short film of the same name is a welcome surprise. Adam (Jackson Martin) is a teen on summer vacation with his parents by Lake Superior. He befriends troublemaker cousins Riley and Nate and their adventures begin. The boys bond over miscreant deeds and the debauchery that freedom at the cottage entails. Riley becomes the closest to Adam while Riley playing it cool slowly begins to resent the Adam’s presence in their lives.
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen Lake Superior look this lucidly amazing in a film. Cinematographer James Klopko’s lens encompasses the vast expanse of lake scenery like a moving painting. A lot of natural lighting, especially by campfires and patio lanterns infuse symbolic colors of fun and foreboding. Cividino lets his young actors play and uses their innocent expressions to draw complex thought in some very dark circumstances. Sleeping Giant is not so much a coming of age tale, but a story of how puberty can be the most fragile and critical time for boys. They’re times of experimentation and exploration, but they are also ones of life, love, and crucial consequences.
I commend Cividino’s work with this film and hope to see more of it.