TIFF ’21: ‘Belfast’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Over the years Kenneth Branagh has worked on a variety of different projects. He brought Shakespeare, a Disney princess, and the God of Thunder to life. Branagh is very skilled in creating a contained world for all of these characters. His attention to detail and love for the material shines through every single time. His latest film, Belfast is unlike anything he has done before and that is what makes this film special. This was a passion project for Branagh. His personal life experiences made for an emotional story that will resonate with many. There are religious and political debates that fuel the background narrative, but his family life and love for moving pictures are what makes this one of the most heartwarming films of the year.

Belfast is a coming-of-age drama set during the late-1960s in Northern Ireland. The film follows young Buddy (Jude Hill) as he navigates the landscape of working-class struggle, cultural changes, and sectarian violence. Buddy dreams of a glamorous future that will whisk him far from his troubles. In the meantime, he finds consolation in his charismatic Pa (Jamie Dornan) and Ma (Caitríona Balfe), and his spry, tale-spinning grandparents (Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench). This cast worked so well together and you could feel them united as a family unit. Their chemistry and genuine love for this story was definitely felt.

The reason why Belfast struck a chord with me had nothing to do with the political discourse. It was Branagh’s ode to cinema that made me incredibly emotional. Through the eyes of Buddy, we feel the excitement of watching a new motion picture on the big screen, or catching an old Western on the television. The wonderment and genuine love for cinema came through in the camerawork itself and the eyes of Buddy. Branagh also played with colour and texture on screen which I really loved. When Branagh does switch to colour, it’s pure magic because of Buddy’s reactions. Being able to recreate that feeling of watching something on the big screen for the first time is a beautiful thing.

Belfast is one of my favourite movies of the year! There are strong emotional moments between Balfe and Dornan to establish the working class struggles. There are conversations between Buddy and his grandparents that create that generational connection through the stories of the past. Each character in this cast shapes the story and shapes Buddy. The songs from Van Morrison and the pop culture references, especially one in particular, make this Branagh’s best feature to date. It’s a family film about respecting the stories of the past and moving forward for a better future, by never forgetting the streets that raised you.

TIFF ’21: ‘The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

There are many biopics that do not capture the essence of the subject. In the case of Will Sharpe’s The Electrical Life of Louis Wain every characteristic filled the screen. Through his artistry and his spirited nature, Louis Wain’s story was presented in such a charming way. Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch) brims with creativity, as he navigates building his career in the 1880s to support his widowed mother and five younger sisters. The academy-trained artist is skilled and his speedy portraiture has impressed many. However, his often stormy view of the world and those in it keeps him from engaging much with society. Sharpe showed Wain’s entire spectrum through unique framing and great use of flashbacks.

While watching this film, it seems that Benedict Cumberbatch was truly the perfect casting for Louis Wain. He embodied him extremely well, even down to his mannerisms. Cumberbatch had this warmth as Wain and he was very caring towards his sisters. Wain ends up hiring a curious governess, Emily Richardson (Claire Foy) for his sisters, and she brightens his life in a way even he’d never imagined. The awkward tension between the two of them carried the first half of this film, as Wain turns into a different person. He is much happier with Emily by his side and the world did not seem so dark.

As his story unfolds, you see the way that he lived and how his personal life was reflected in his art. Without saying much, the second half of this film is very emotional and Cumberbatch will move you to tears. It’s a slow, painful process for Louis Wain, but he expressed his grief and sorrow through his paintings. Sharpe beautifully framed scenes with Emily and Louis, he would blend the stillness of the scene with that of an actual painting. Sharpe just let the loving, intimate moments between the two of them breathe, so you could feel the same warmth.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is a beautiful portrait of his life and how he became one with his artistic side. Many things make up the mind of the artist. Through love, trauma, and grief, the pain is expressed through strokes on a canvas. The way Sharpe highlighted his life, using as much as his creative side as possible, made for a beautiful piece for Louis Wain. From the score, to the costume design, and the witty voice over from Olivia Colman, this film is a real treat and you will gain a new appreciation for Louis Wain.

TIFF ’21 ‘The Guilty’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Antoine Fuqua’s The Guilty has him reuniting with Jake Gyllenhaal in a tension-filled situational thriller. As a wildfire rages towards Los Angeles, after getting demoted ahead of his disciplinary hearing, police officer Joe Bayler (Jake Gyllenhaal) is winding down from a chaotic but tedious shift answering emergency calls. His evening is soon interrupted by a cryptic call from a woman (Riley Keough) who appears to be attempting to call her child, but is in fact discreetly reporting her own abduction. Fuqua addresses mental health from a different perspective. We see that Baylor is asthmatic and has anxiety of his own, causing him to snap when he can’t take it anymore.

What Fuqua does so well is place you in the room as close as possible to Bayler. When he’s on the phone, answering these emergency calls, the camera is placed in the computer in front of him. You are up close and personal with the character, as you watch Bayler, frantically fill out the information. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a captivating performance as Bayler and he keeps you invested in the story. Piece by piece, Bayler’s detective skills and his determination to help this woman, shine through. As the film goes on, the web of clues begins to get jumbled, and Bayler has hit his wits end in trying to figure this out.

For any parents who plan on watching this film, the story just gets more complicated and darker because it involves children. It can be difficult at times to listen to the conversations on the phone and Fuqua sets up the rising tension with each call so well. There are some silent moments from Bayler, as he thinks about his next move. But the consistency of the phone calls, and the flow of the conversations, will have you glued to your screen. Bayler is full of surprises and when he snaps, he snaps. Ultimately making this one of my favourite Jake Gyllenhaal performances.

The Guilty is a pulse-pounding, self-contained action thriller that will make you want to hug your family right after. The way this story unfolds is brutal in the way Fuqua addresses mental illness. Each conversation adds to the story and it is structured so well because of it. The way Gyllenhaal showed his range throughout the film combined with Fuqua’s careful direction makes this movie an entertaining one to watch. We learn more about the emergency call centre and what one night can entail for those workers.

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.