TIFF ’21: ‘Benediction’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Terence Davies Benediction is portrait of 20th-century English poet Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden), and the first time the Davies has ever portrayed love and desire between men. Sassoon went through the war period with a pen and paper in his hand. Exploring the emotions from soldiers and the PTSD they face. The poems from Sassoon are visually executed in a beautiful way thanks to Davies and cinematographer Nicola Daley. It felt like Davies was drawing upon Sassoon’s memories throughout the film and he would use the poems to frame each section of his life. It’s an intimate and somber display of Sassoon’s life and you are transported to that period with him.

Sassoon’s attempt at conscientious objection to the war leads to his being committed to a Scottish hospital, where he meets and mentors fellow poet and soldier Wilfred Owen. Here he expresses his true feelings, as he finds comfort with Owen. They find consolation in each other in regards to their sexual identity and societal norms that have affected their growth as individuals. Davies shows Sassoon exploring different forms of love with different men. We see his relationships and the way he is treated the older he gets. There is Sassoon’s first experience with a man and it is full of love and genuine respect. Then because Sassoon feels he will never love again, the relationships he falls into after are more centred on infatuation and convenience.

Davies uses the poems to create flashbacks for Sassoon. Daley’s cinematography is set as an observational frame peeping into the life of Sassoon at first, but once we get to emotional moments, she paints an intimate, emotional portrait of scorned man trying to find some light in his life. The third act runs a bit long because of Sassoon’s relationship with his son. Or else the film is an interesting feat for Davies in honouring the life of Sassoon. Jack Lowden gives a very powerful performance and the final frame of Benediction is one that will stay with you long after it’s finished.

Benediction is a beautiful, intimate story of love and self-discovery. Davies explores Sassoon’s identity through different relationships, while adding the pressure of societal norms. There is such careful direction from Davies for Lowden’s emotional portrayal of Sasson to resonate with audiences. Period pieces manage to explore the desires and forbidden love between people. Almost everyone can resonate with these stories as these emotions are universal felt no matter the time period. Davies allows his audience to feel whatever Sassoon is feeling through the imagery and poetic dialogue throughout the film.

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.

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.