TIFF ’21: ‘Bergman Island’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Ingmar Bergman is one of the best filmmakers of all time. The way he presented life with all it’s flaws, darkness, trauma, and horrors is something that he brought to the screen so well. Cinema served as a stage for hauntings of the soul and battles against psychological and spiritual demons for Bergman. So to have an entire island dedicated to his life’s work, was interesting to explore. Mia Hansen-Løve Bergman Island is very charming, sweet and has an in-depth look at relationship dynamics. She captures the beauty of the island and the history of Bergman quite effortlessly throughout the film.

We have a husband and a wife, both writers, who are at two very different stages in their career. Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth) head to the island to find some seclusion and inspiration for their writing. We see Chris’s in-development script come to life: a bittersweet love story starring Amy (Mia Wasikowska), a young filmmaker and obvious alter ego to Chris, who is reunited with her first love Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie). Before the audience goes on the adventure with Chris’s new story, we get to understand the dynamic between husband and wife. And how Chris does not want to conform to putting her work on the back-burner in order to be a good housewife and raise her kids.

What sacrifices do women make for their career? Why are they seen as sacrifices, but when men dive into their work and neglect their paternal duties, no one questions it? Much like Bergman, who had more than two wives, and many children, but a full body of work to be praised. There are many questions raised on this journey with Chris. Then, as she retells the outline of the story to her husband, we get this beautiful, heart-breaking romance, that makes the second half of the film the most interesting. Is it possible to love two people at the same time? If so, how is that love divide, what factors define the choice of being with both people?

There are many questions about love and relationships explored in Bergman Island that affect you more deeply because of the way Hansen-Løve structured the story. She created intimacy between Amy and Joseph, moreso than Chris and Tony. It was as if the lust, love, and tension, between husband and wife was projected in their work, rather than with each other. Where exactly is the divide between the artist and the actual person. Hansen-Løve did a fantastic job blending Bergman’s auteurist traits with her own in this layered story of love, life, and artistry.

TIFF ’21: ‘Violet’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Justine Bateman’s directorial feature debut has rich experimental elements and an internal dialogue that all women can relate to. Olivia Munn stars as Violet, a Los Angeles–based film executive, who has worked extremely hard to gain status in an industry still dominated by older white men. Nowhere is this more apparent than in her relationship to her boss (Dennis Boutsikaris), who exerts his power by regularly humiliating her in front of clients. Due to her developed anxiety working with her boss, her submissive nature, often results in a snappy moment, expressing her true feelings.

The choices made in Violet are very unique and is a visual exploration of anxiety and self-doubt. As women, we need to prove ourselves in all industries, but for some reason the film industry proves to be twice as degrading at times. Whether you are in front of the camera, behind it, or in a production studio, women are still not taken seriously. Women are seen as too emotional, sometimes aggressive, or overly critical, which then applies to the meter of the spectrum; too timid, or too bitchy. Bateman shows the internal bashing of a woman’s conscious through colours and intertextual dialogue on-screen.

What really worked was the editing. There are conversations that Violet has with people who have made her as closed of as she is. Whether it was on the phone, or in-person, Bateman made the choice to show that past trauma, by jumping back-and-forth. The quick cuts allowed the audience to understand that these were crucial moments for her that made her feel incredibly small with the relationships she kept. Even though it was choppy, it still worked because Bateman would close off those moments with a polished fade to red, as Violet chose to not silence that angry side of her.

Violet is an experimental film that highlights a woman’s anxiety in her social and work life. The voice of Justin Theroux worked perfectly as her dark side of her conscience speaking out. Everything Bateman did to visually show her internal struggle was unique and it’s a really enjoyable watch because of it. Olivia Munn also gives a very strong performance and it was heartbreaking to watch some moments because of the trauma Violet faced. Addressing mental health in this way shows how important this medium is and how directors can explore these matters visually.

TIFF ’21: ‘Memoria’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Memoria is beautifully striking in its landscapes, as he delivers a character-driven story, about human connectivity through archaeological study. How truly connected are we to this world? How many generations have passed through us. From stories that are passed down through generations, or studying the actual land ancestors walked on, the human connection runs deep. Memoria centres on Jessica (Tilda Swinton), a Scottish orchid farmer visiting her sister in Bogotá. One morning, Jessica is torn from sleep by a loud bang resembling the rumbling sound of a large stone ball falling on metal.

Weerasethakul takes his audience on a journey through sound. The most important aspect of this film is the way the sound design impacts Jessica. Not only does Weerasethakul expertly balance the sound throughout, he lets the frame fill with silence, before awakening the senses. It is very slow, poignant, and will have audiences questioning the meaning of this film. It is left up to interpretation but the subtle hints to the extraterrestrials, to science, to human evolution, and to death, are all intertwined to show human connection.

The sound that Jessica hears is linked to her studies. As the film goes on, that connection becomes clearer. There are key points throughout the film where this sound is louder and direct. We hear the difference in Jessica’s hearing, which interested me the most. The sound frequency varied, depending on the situation or the conversation. We could hear the voices on screen slowly fade, into a faint whisper, or grow louder as Jessica became more disoriented. The third act proves that sound design is an important aspect when making a film. The choice to have the memories of Hernan (Elkin Díaz) echo through the room, while he laid his hand on Jessica was powerful.

Memoria may be a bit slow, but the stunning images that Weerasethakul creates is more than enough to suck you into this world. It slowly unravels into a beautiful story for Jessica, as she has lost her love for her study. She has lost the connectivity to the world she once firmly lived in, filled with love and respect for generations past. The empathy shown towards others and their stories is truly felt in the third act of this film and will resonate with audiences. Weerasethakul is emotional and thoughtful in his storytelling, through his symmetrical landscapes, precise camerawork, and careful direction.

TIFF ’21: ‘Mothering Sunday’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Director Eva Husson’s Mothering Sunday is a period piece that explores the meaning of love and friendship. Jane (Odessa Young) works as a maid for the Nivens (Olivia Colman and Colin Firth), an aging home counties couple who, like so many other families, lost their sons on the battlefields of the First World War. Jane is having a secret affair with Paul (Josh O’Connor), son of the Nivens’ neighbours, the Sheringhams. The weekly luncheon has everyone in their positions, which makes for a steamy Sunday on the countryside. There is something so special about Husson’s storytelling that it will make you understand the characters on a personal level.

What writer Alice Birch explores is the idea of love and how it can be perceived in different ways. Paul and Jane have a mutual love and respect for one another. Their friendship is strong and their attraction to each other is even stronger. The class divide in period pieces has always been the tale of star-crossed lovers, but what Birch created with Jane and Paul’s relationship, is something more modern, unlike other period pieces I have seen. Maybe it’s because I can relate to Jane on a personal level. By watching someone you genuinely care about, end up with someone else, even though, you know nothing will come from that relationship.

Even with its disjointed narrative, the connection to Jane and Paul was very strong. As we move through Jane’s life, the flashbacks while she’s writing her novel, is really effective. Right down to pieces of dialogue, tying into crucial moments, that lead her to becoming a writer. The editing was incredibly well done and worked so well for the way Husson was exploring Jane’s life. The editing reflected the mind of a writer. Sometimes clouded in judgement, sometimes choppy, and jumping to the next idea.

Mothering Sunday is a lovely addition to the genre of period pieces. Odessa Young gives a very strong performance and carries the film. Her chemistry with Josh O’Connor is what draws you in at the beginning of this film. Jane and Paul’s relationship was more than just sex. It was an exploration of each other’s bodies, their souls, and their minds. Husson really captured those moments quite well, making their relationship as natural as possible. It felt, as if, all women have had many different lives and as they grow older, the next chapter just has more obstacles to overcome and it’s harder to move on.

TIFF ’21: ‘Titane’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Julia Ducournau has done it again. Titane is such a bold entry in her filmography and it has left me speechless. The opening of this film sets the tone for familial relationships. The father/daughter relationship between young Alexia and her father was strained from the very beginning, as we see them have a silent argument in the car. This leads to a violent automobile accident which left long-lasting repercussions: Alexia carries a titanium plate in her skull. Ducournau’s direction is flashy on the surface, as she dives into body horror head first. The blood, gore, and violence are in your face.

With bold direction on the surface, the story itself explores the love and respect between parents and their children. Sometimes, the maternal/paternal figures in our lives, might not even be the parents you are born with. Titane feels like it is divided into three acts quite clearly, and it all comes together at the end. When Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) is older, she is a car-showroom model and she begins to exhibit sexual attraction to her wares. As she explores her sexuality, with some very questionable sexual moments, Ducournau devilish storytelling presents the most obscure journey for Alexia.

Even though the story is quite shocking, it is impossible to look away. Rousselle commanded the screen and made Alexia into such a complex character. There are many twists and difficult moments throughout the film. Ducournau created such a suspenseful atmosphere, that any time Alexia had a crazed look in her eye, you knew she would do something unexpected. This is where the violence got really playful because to offset the brutal kills, there were needle drops to make it fun. The sound design also worked with the kills, you could hear every single bone cracking, every cut, and it was wicked.

Titane starts off in such a different place and Alexia’s journey is a wild one. It does drag a bit in the middle because it loses it’s footing. Ducournau was trying to build a new relationship in the middle of the film but it took too long to get it flowing. Once the relationship gets to a stronger point, there is another switch in the story. The ending is poetic, considering the parent/child relationships in this film. It’s bold in its sensuality, has a meaningful story, and the violent murders will leave you speechless.