TIFF ’22: ‘The Menu’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Films featuring restaurant owners, chefs and critics alike have always been under-appreciated. These films offer a different lens of understanding how difficult it can be to get into the culinary business and it’s always fascinating. The Menu deliciously serves an original concept that incorporates many moving parts and will keep you at the edge of your seat until it’s done. We meet a young couple Margo (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) who travel to a remote island to eat at an exclusive restaurant where the chef has prepared a lavish menu, with some shocking surprises. It is the one film this year that feels so unfamiliar and is not bad. 

Once the characters get seated for the meal director Mark Mylod does a wonderful job keeping everyone in the frame. Each couple is seated at a table and has their own issues. Multiple conversations are happening at once, and you’re able to get to know these characters quite easily. Mylod’s attention to detail inside and outside of the kitchen made for such an intriguing mystery. Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) at Hawthorne’s planned a menu for his guests that co-writers Will Tracy and Seth Reiss worked into the structure of the film. The way Mylod directed each scene with the following course, while still assembling the development of these characters on screen was a real treat. 

The cast was really strong because they worked to the strengths of their characters. Taylor-Joy is always a delight to watch on-screen and Hoult barely gets the recognition when he has a good script to work with. Fiennes was unhinged as Chef Slowik and he was probably the most interesting to watch because of the commentary on criticism in the culinary industry. Apart from this story descending into madness, it’s also very funny because of how the characters interact with one another. How do these privileged people all have secrets of their own as they’ve clawed their way up to the top? Slowik creates the perfect menu to have these characters reflect on their life as they enjoy the near-perfect meal. 

The Menu is one of the most refreshing original concepts for a story that you will watch this year. Every single course presents a surprise and changes the dynamic of the characters. It’s such a fun watch because of how unpredictable it becomes. Every course is also beautifully shot to make the meal look delicious, but most importantly, the meal comes with a story. Each character then has a different perspective of the course and its meaning of it. That story is then suited for the overarching concept of the menu itself. Mark Mylod was able to make a posh culinary drama while taking the concept of criticism and flipping it on its head. 

TIFF ’22: ‘Women Talking’ Review And Interview With Director of Photography Luc Montpellier

By: Amanda Guarragi

Women are on another intellectual level when they discuss anything. They tend to break down any situation, no matter how small and weigh the endless possibilities. There can be many outcomes and they asses the repercussions of their actions. Women can see a situation unfold before it even happens because they have to always be prepared. Society has conditioned women to be prepared for anything, while men can just take flight and not take accountability for their actions. So to see a group of women in Women Talking making a very calculated decision regarding an abusive relationship is one of the most authentic on-screen experiences. 

In 2010, the women of an isolated religious community grapple with reconciling their reality with their faith. Based on the novel by Miriam Toews. Writer-director Sarah Polley adapts the novel with such care and precision in every aspect of the filmmaking process to bring this story together. The importance of this feature is to start a conversation, not only amongst women but men as well. There are different discussions about how women can break free from certain cycles by staying and fighting, leaving, or doing nothing. When the colony of women decides to challenge the men who have abused them they contemplate the best approach. It was just mesmerizing to watch each character in this cast voice their opinion with a valid thought because a decision such as this one is too difficult to make. 

The words on the page were elevated by the stunning cinematography of Luc Montpellier. The colour palette is one of the most important aspects of this film to show the gloom and despair while the colony of women make their decision. In small instances, the beauty of nature would creep through like little glimpses of the sunlight giving these women some form of hope. Montpellier wanted to show how the women were feeling through the palette of the film,

“We needed the imagery to represent through the lack of colour. I hoped that you would feel this repression because these women aren’t allowed to go to school. There are a lot of really strict rules that are apparent. So for me, it was kind of a way to, by desaturating all the colour and just leaving a little bit in, hopefully, gives you that unease of what’s happening and the kind of lives that they are forced to live.”

– ‘Women Talking’ director of photography, Luc Montpellier

Montpellier worked closely with Polley to have multiple women’s faces within the frame at all times. It was more effective during the discussions to have one woman stand out stating their point and have women within the frame reacting. He used Panavision lenses that are called ultra vista lenses because there’s still this old quality to them with a level of sharpness so you could still see the performances. They chose to shoot with a wider aspect ration which also creates this godlike big world feel for its exterior while the conversations in the barn felt small and intimate. There was a sense of comfort within the barn with it being lighter and more vibrant at times. Then the vastness of the outside added to the worry of breaking free of what they’ve known for so long.

Courtesy of Plan B Entertainment

Light also played a huge role in the tension of the film. Montpellier says, “The light shifting throughout the entire film would make the audience wonder when the men were going to return and there was this pressure for them to make this decision.” It was interesting to see at what point the light would shine through, especially with religious undertones. Polley explored faith and female agency with this script and their attachment to gender roles. Each character had their moment to speak their piece and this ensemble was lovely. The three women who played to their strengths were Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy. They commanded the screen in different ways and their delivery of certain ideas was impactful. 

Women Talking is tenderly directed by Sarah Polley as she uses the conversation among women to further create a safe space for the subject matter. It is an educational piece for men, women, and children to understand how to raise the next generation. Polley rarely shows any acts of violence towards the women but utilizes flashbacks to show the aftermath of graphic situations. In a way, those cuts were more effective than showing the violence to its full extent. The words on the page were expertly performed by the cast, but it comes down to the visual storytelling to evoke the emotions of the audience. It’s an incredible feature film that is a necessary watch, not from just a technical standpoint but to be part of a bigger conversation. 

TIFF ’22: ‘The Woman King’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

In the 1800s, a group of all-female warriors protects the African kingdom of Dahomey with skills and fierceness, unlike anything the world has ever seen. The Woman King is director Gina Prince-Bythwood’s blockbuster epic that will pleasantly surprise moviegoers. It feels so grand in scale but the story becomes intimate for General Nanisca (Viola Davis). When Dahomey faces a new threat, she trains the next generation of recruits to fight against a foreign enemy determined to destroy their way of life. What worked well is that Dahomey felt lived in because the community comes together for their kingdom. Every aspect of this film came together to make a very strong blockbuster for Sony. 

From the opening scene, Prince-Bythwood’s direction keeps the audience on the female warriors. They are synchronized as a unit when fighting and they all shine on screen. Being able to see women, more important Black women come together and show their strengths in this film was beyond empowering. The action sequences were very strong and the sound design made them even more effective. Every sound of the blade making contact or even a gunshot will bring you right into that moment with them. The way these women carried themselves made you want to understand their process and how they think so differently than others in Dahomey. It was a beautiful display of sisterhood and unity when protecting something you love.

The story goes much deeper than fighting for territory or trading with another. The emotional connection to General Nanisca comes when she faces her past. Davis gives another outstanding nuanced performance that carries so much weight in this film. She has personal issues to deal with that slowly unravel by the end. Prince-Bythwood and writer Dana Stevens construct this story about past trauma and how duty can sometimes take precedence over individual decisions. It’s heartbreaking to watch Davis process her past life before settling into her role as General for King Ghezo (John Boyega). The supporting cast all lifted each other in this film; from Izogie (Lashana Lynch) showing the duality of a warrior by being cocky and fun, to Amenza (Sheila Atim) caring for her sisters with her spirituality, and lastly, to the standout Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) who showed such resilience and kindness as a warrior.

The Woman King is an incredible epic from beginning to end. The action sequences are so well-done, but it’s more than just the physical battles. General Nanisca is tested on every level as she trains Nawi as well. Prince-Bythwood’s direction for certain flashbacks was very tasteful and impactful because women can remember past trauma in detail. Riches are abundant in this film from the production design to the costumes, everything about this was stunning to watch. It is an intimate story for a warrior, as General Nanisca struggles with her identity as a woman and her life as a whole in Dahomey. Women exploring different facets of themselves while still trying to hold everything together is the bravest thing they can ever do. 

TIFF ‘22: ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Friendships are always an integral part of life; sometimes, we can grow out of certain ones. In the small town of Inisherin, two lifelong friends find themselves at an impasse when one abruptly ends their relationship, with alarming consequences for both of them. People can change and want different things out of life. But the way Colm (Brendan Gleason) handles the situation with Pádraic (Colin Farrell) is a bit excessive when ending the relationship. It’s very hard to watch a friendship fall apart in front of your eyes because one person doesn’t have the same mindset anymore. There has always been room for growth within friendships, and sometimes, one friend just outgrows the other.

Writer-director Martin McDonagh breaks down Colm and Pádraic’s relationship throughout the film. They are two very different characters that seem like an unlikely pairing on Inisherin. The Banshees of Inisherin has Farrell at his most vulnerable and you will feel from instantly. Pádraic doesn’t understand why Colm is breaking their bond to complete a song. He can’t seem to wrap his head around the fact that he is such a distraction for Colm. Farrell’s performance is heartbreaking because Pádraic is genuinely such a good man and has always wanted the best for Colm. As Colm slowly starts to distance himself from his best friend, we can see how this causes Pádraic to spiral.

McDonagh crafted one of the funniest, most heartfelt and dark scripts of the year. Friendships come in all forms and they constantly change over the years. It also highlights a midlife crisis for Colm, who feels he needs to do something for which he will be remembered. He questions the purpose of his life and his accomplishments. In his solitude, Pádraic questions what it means to be a good person. It then becomes a battle of kindness versus purpose in life. The development of Pádraic’s character throughout this film is strong and he becomes a completely different person at the end of this experience. Sometimes things have to break in order for changes to be made in your own life.

The Banshees of Inisherin is a darkly comedic film about rediscovering yourself. McDonagh reconstructs Colm and Pádraic’s relationship; in the end, it becomes something different. What starts as an individual issue for Colm becomes personal when Pádraic insists on fixing the friendship. Both characters shift after a string of horrible situations and give new meaning to being connected to someone for life. Best friends know you through and through, they even know how to push your buttons. So to see the lengths that Colm goes to in order for Pádraic to understand his decision is intriguing. Even though Colm’s actions can be a bit dark and excessive, the chemistry between Farrell and Gleeson is incredible. Two powerhouse performances by two men who have known each other since In Bruges.

TIFF ’22: ‘Empire of Light’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

For movie lovers, a trip to the cinema means the world to them. It’s not only escaping into the picture on the screen, but it’s the entire experience itself. To some, the movie theatre is a second home, almost a haven for anyone to express themselves. Director Sam Mendes opens Empire of Light with a beautiful trip through the Empire movie theatre. He shows every single moving part in operating the theatre and it’s beautiful, thanks to his director of photography Roger Deakins. However, the beauty of cinema and what seemed to be an ode to the theatre experience faded into the background. It then becomes a story about human connection with the theatre being the backdrop. 

It is set in an English seaside town in the early 1980s. The sociopolitical climate in the 80s is sprinkled in from time to time, but the central focus of the story is Hillary’s (Olivia Colman) struggle with her mental health. The audience slowly gets to know Hillary and the many ways she has changed over the years. Her colleagues at the movie theatre know her story and see her pattern but the audience doesn’t. Her timid demeanour changes when Stephen (Micheal Ward) starts working at the theatre. She falls for him instantly because he is so kind to her and he is someone new. Someone who doesn’t know her past. Their relationship blooms because of his kindness and her yearning for someone to accept her.

However, what doesn’t quite work is the racial politics forced into the film because of the period. It almost felt unnecessary to incorporate that aspect into the film because it felt detached from the characters. The cinema is a safe haven for the characters and the audience. So when it is disrupted by protestors and white supremacists with Stephen present it feels intrusive. If that was the intention of Mendes then it did work at that moment but wasn’t effective overall. When racism is written through a white lens the Black experience isn’t authentically shown, but rather exploited to make the story more grounded in the period. 

Empire of Light feels a bit hollow because of the way the characters and their relationships were developed. It does show the importance of human connection and how a little bit of kindness can change anyone’s perspective on life. In a way, the cinematography by Roger Deakins feels wasted because there was no clear direction towards the cinematic experience. There are such beautiful moments in the film because of Deakins but it just doesn’t translate well. Ward and Colman have great chemistry and deliver great performances. Ward’s character Stephen is used to add drama to the story and cater to Colman’s character. And when he gets his ending, it seems like an afterthought.