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.

CBC’s ‘Sort Of’ Shows How To Be An Authentic Millennial By Living Your Truth

By: Amanda Guarragi

When we are children, no one ever explains adulthood. We just see our family members existing and going through the motions as adults. It isn’t until you are in the middle stage of being a young adult, where you fully realize that no one actually has it all figured out. As someone who just turned 26 – I know, it’s not that old – it feels like there is a deadline approaching. It feels like you are riding this wave and you don’t know where it’s taking you. You have some sort of plan but nothing is fully formed. You also feel like you want to try everything before you somehow can’t. As I was watching the first episode of Sort Of, I got pretty emotional. Even if you’re feeling lost, there are shows like this, with characters who are feeling the exact same way. There’s this beautiful honesty that makes this show special.

The series follows Sabi Mehoob (Bilal Baig), a gender-fluid 25-year-old Pakistani Canadian, living in Toronto. Sabi decides to follow the advice of best friend 7even (Amanda Cordner) and move to Berlin for a change of scenery. Leaving Toronto means distancing from an uncommitted partner and a thankless job as a nanny. Although these seem like easy circumstances to part with, things become complicated when Sabi’s employer Bessy (Grace Lynn Kung), mother to Violet (Kaya Kanashiro) and Henry (Aden Bedard), is critically injured in a bike accident. This leaves an unprepared, ill-equipped, and at times insensitive father (Gray Powell) in a challenging position. Sabi needs to make a decision whether they will stay with the family during this difficult time.

When structuring this show, Baig wanted to make sure that there was a balance between emotional and comedic moments, “Isn’t life that blend of drama and comedy and tragedy and hope? It’s all of those things, so because we wanted to centre realness, truth and authenticity, it then meant that the genre, or the tone of the show, was going to be reflected in that.” Sometimes people can find the humour in the darkest of times and that needs to be shown on screen. There are moments in this show that have dry humour, during some disheartening scenes. People can cope with situations differently and that’s why this show will resonate with so many.

More importantly, the character of Sabi has been created to represent everyone who has been struggling with who they are. Whether they are struggling in their love life, family life, or even their work life, Sabi comes with some anecdotes through their own struggle. The strength of this show is the diversity within the lives of the characters and their own experiences. When asked about their own experiences being written into the show, Baig said that the character of Sabi has gone through more,

“I think parts of it for sure, but overall when I look at the eight episodes, a lot of things happen to Sabi that haven’t happened to me. It feels like the texture of my life is represented in the show but then again working with other writers and choosing situations and story beats that felt dramatic and funny mean that the arcs for all the characters were really transformed into their own.”

– Bilal Baig, Co-Creator of ‘Sort Of’

As Baig explained the creative process, it felt like the show was special from the beginning, even before production. There was a writers room full of people who shared their own experiences with each other. That in itself, already makes the team stronger, which then results into something wonderful. You could feel that the stories forming for each character came from someone’s heart. Sure, for dramatic purposes, there are some embellishments, but it comes from such an honest place.

New TV show filmed in Toronto will be the first of its kind
Courtesy of CBC

Sort Of is a very refreshing series about a young adult trying to navigate their life. It has a diverse cast with character stories that will resonate with everyone. It not only pulls on the heartstrings but the writing for these characters will make you connect with them on a different level,

“I think that it is going to be really transformative because I think then that means that people of all genders will be talking about characters like Sabi or their friends or some of their other queer/trans/non-binary characters we’ll meet later on in the season. I think there’s just something really powerful about looking at what it means to evolve and change and how it’s not as scary.”

– Bilal Baig, Co-Creator of ‘Sort Of’

For those who are feeling like they are a little lost right now, definitely tune in on October 5th. You will instantly connect with Sabi and will be laughing at their dry humour throughout the series.

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.