Piers Marchant at TIFF, Day Four

September 11, 2017

TIFF 2017: Day 4

Films: 3
Vibe: Dispirited

Mary Shelley: One of the bigger disappointments of the festival so far, especially considering the talent of the director, Haifaa Al Mansour (Wadjda) and the potency of the subject matter. Shelley, of course, was the writer, who at the tender age of 21, wrote Frankenstein, one of the seminal horror texts of the age. The romantic partner of the poet Percy Shelley (played with Twilight-like pretty boy malevolence by Douglas Booth), Mary (Elle Fanning, whose accent fluctuates) suffered horribly at his irresponsible hands, and those of the horrific Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge), en route to making her most famous creation: A creature whose loneliness and abandonment are absolutely palpable. Unfortunately, working from a truly terrible script from Emma Jensen, Al Mansour’s film is at best inartful, and at worst, the kind of simplistic, every-scene-has-a-point! pabulum that would embarrass a high school English class. Each element of Frankenstein is foreshadowed (here, Mary learns about galvanism; here, she sees an article about sewing body parts together, et al.), as if all she needed to do to write the novel was to pluck them directly from the sources. Even the film’s strongest moments – where Al Mansour, the worlds first female Saudi director, gets to show 18th century male oppression at its most vile and condescending – get watered down under that lead weight of a script. Everyone deserved better.

Lean On Pete: What sounds like a kind of standard horse-as-redemption story, of which Hollywood has a plethora, in the hands of the extremely talented Andrew Haigh (45 Years, Weekend) becomes something a good deal more dark and deeply felt. Charlie, (Charlie Plummer, a star in the making), a sweet teenager living with his vagabond dad (Travis Femmel) as he takes intermittent gigs all over Washington state, lives a singularly lonely life. Being uprooted every few months, he’s gotten used to living on his own, as his wild-eyed, irresponsible father cavorts with different girlfriends, leaving him for days at a time, but even living in one sort of flophouse or another in this unhinged manner hasn’t dimmed Charlie’s temperament or penetrated his soul. Looking for a gig one summer, and hanging around near a horse track, he hooks up with Del (Steve Buscemi), a two-bit racehorse owner, who takes his fillies from small track to small track around the state. Charlie falls for one of Del’s horses (hence the film’s title), and despite entreaties to treat them like commodities, Charlie’s good nature, and the desperate emotional state he’s in, leaves him susceptible to actually caring. Things do not go well for quite some time, as Charlie gets more and more disenfranchised in trying to do right by his conscience, but even at his lowest ebb – and it’s quite a long plunge – he retains most of his purest sense of self. In the end, it’s anything but simple emotional fodder, Charlie dearly earns any good turn that comes his way.

Thelma: Joachim Trier’s would-be horror flick plays like a Norwegian Carrie, only in place of a lonely teenager from an ultra-religious household with telekinesis, we have a lonely college student (Elli Harboe) from an ultra-religious household with the ability to make anything happen she chooses. The film is stylish and sleek – many of the shots carry the substantial weight the concepts themselves do not – but it begs several very serious questions, including one major one that would actually render most of the film moot. There is some interesting psychology at work here, Thelma’s “powers” are revealed during her seizures, and it is suggested that only things that she wants to happen with her “heart and soul” can be changed, which points to us actually finding our essential truth, and not just caving into others’ expectations, but the film’s many puzzling pieces eventually come together in ways that are simply not terribly powerful or haunting.

Tomorrow: We start the day with John Curran’s Kennedy expose Chappaquiddick; move to Guillermo del Toro’s highly anticipated The Shape of Water; take in Louis C.K.’s disturbingly titled I Love You, Daddy; and close the day watching Denzel Washington in Dan Gilroy’s Roman J. Israel. 

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