Piers Marchant at TIFF, Day Seven

September 15, 2016

Films: 3
Vibe: Nearly Fully Bummed

Nocturnal Creatures: One of the more controversial moments of TIFF this year comes to us via the opening credit sequence of Tom Ford’s new film. We see extremely large women, fully naked and dancing in slow motion, looking into the camera confidently as Ford appears for all the world to be exploiting their tiff_day7size and shape for the sake of his art. It turns out that they are indeed part of an art exhibition, but one put on by the calcified Susan (Amy Adams), a fabulously wealthy and utterly soulless curator, married to an ostentatious prig (Armie Hammer), who is cheating on her, leaving her alone in their spotless concrete-and-glass mansion. When she unexpectedly receives in the mail a manuscript from her first husband (Jake Gyllenhaal), a sweet dreamer of a fella whose financial prospects were never too strong, she is delighted to find he has dedicated the book to her. She reads the novel, which concerns a married man (also played by Gyllenhaal) who endures a hellish experience losing his wife and daughter to a group of Texas thugs, and goes looking to get revenge. We shift back and forth between Susan’s frigid climes and the novel’s slightly overheated drama, which works reasonably well, if not a bit too one the nose. Gorgeously shot, with an excellent performance from Adams (who, between this film and the raved-about Arrival has certainly reached TIFF favored status this season), Ford’s film makes for rather overstated points, but as you can imagine, is beautiful while doing so.

I Am Not Your Negro: A vital cinematic essay that uses some of the last writings of James Baldwin to spur a frank discussion of America’s race problem. The great Harlem author was at work on a book about three of his friends killed in service to their people: MLK, Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X. Utilizing snippets of Baldwin’s many public speeches and guest appearances on talk shows, overlaid by the reading of some of his profound ideas on race by Samuel L. Jackson, and intercut with photos and video clips of various racial clashes, from the desegregation battles of southern schools in the ‘50s, to modern riots in Ferguson and Baltimore. The effect is powerfully depressing and illuminating, as Baldwin explains with almost eerie eloquence the difference between the way white people view their relationships to minorities, and how they are actually viewed by those minorities. “The difference between what we’d like to be, and what we actually are.”

Katie Says Goodbye: A curious bummer of a film that ends being more a character study than a definitive statement about the horrific nature of human beings, which comes as a massive relief. Katie (Olivia Cooke) is a joyful young woman living with her perpetually down-and-out mother (Mireille Enos) in a trailer park somewhere in prairie brush Arizona. She works at a nearby diner, while she cheerfully turns tricks in her spare time, trying to make enough money to pursue her dream of moving to San Francisco. She is kind and selfless to everyone in town, most of whom have no trouble whatsoever taking advantage of her beatific nature. Then she meets Bruno (Christopher Abbott), a taciturn ex-con working at the nearby car garage, whom she promptly and without reservation falls in love. We can see where this story is going, for the most part, but when things really turn ugly and brutal – the kind of thing Hubert Selby Jr. might suggest is really depressing – it becomes a test of Katie’s generally unflappable optimism. People are horrible, essentially, and those rarest of individuals who are actually wonderful and openhearted pay a massive price for their empathy.

Tomorrow: I get up early, get my bags together, take the sweet airport train – while enjoying my free wifi – and fly on home to the Philly motherland, where it is undoubtedly raining and/or insanely humid.

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