TIFF ’21: ‘You Are Not My Mother’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Kate Dolan’s feature debut You Are Not My Mother is an eerie Irish folk horror that will keep you at the edge of your seat. Dolan sets the tone for this film at the very beginning with some supernatural elements that eventually tie into the relationship between mother and daughter. A young teenager named Char (Hazel Doupe) knows something strange happened to her mother Angela (Carolyn Bracken). She can’t quite put her finger on it, but when she returns home, after being missing for a couple of days, she isn’t quite the same. Dolan brought the suspense, the graphic imagery, and addressed mental health in a different way.

Dolan creates a very creepy atmosphere within the confines of Char’s home. Yes, the house is filled with her uncle and grandmother, but it still feels empty. Even without her mother Angela in the home, Char has nightmares of what her mother could have gotten herself into. The dream sequences are terrifying, when combined with the rough cuts, haunting score, and the graphic images. We do see some normalcy from Angela, only for it to escalate within seconds, causing Char to be scarred by the drastic change.

What starts out as a daughter caring for her mentally ill mother eventually spirals out of control. It’s incredibly difficult to tend to someone who can constantly change their attitude or even their persona. That’s where Dolan works the anxious horror scenarios into the film. Anything can change in an instant, so the experimental vivid imagery that plays in Char’s mind blends with reality in different ways. Watching your mother do questionable things, while trying to help her through her breakdown is very challenging to watch from a teenagers perspective. Where they are old enough to understand what is happening but still do not know how to approach the situation.

You Are Not My Mother is anxiety-inducing and scary in all the right places. The framing of certain scenes, combined with the eerie score and vivid images, make for an entertaining midnight watch. Dolan’s feature debut is impressive and will make you want to see more from her in the future. She has a way of getting under your skin with her visual storytelling and the jump scares worked in different ways. It’s always fun to experience new filmmakers and their ability to surprise their audience with a different perspective.

TIFF ’21: ‘The Mad Women’s Ball’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Mélanie Laurent’s The Mad Women’s Ball is a harrowing tale of institutional abuse and misogyny in 19th-century France. Eugénie Cléry (Lou de Laâge) is a young woman with a free spirit, an independent mind, and a quick tongue — qualities her father will not tolerate. Eugénie also has spectral encounters that leave her staring into space and gasping for breath. She is visited by the spirits of the dead. Alarmed by her visions, Eugénie’s family admits her to a neurological clinic in Paris’s Pitié-Salpêtrière overseen by Professor Jean-Martin Charcot (Grégoire Bonnet). Watching Eugénie lose her voice and her freedom by the hands of men who simply didn’t understand her was frustrating to sit through.

In this particular case, women who are seen as outcasts, do not get the love and care they deserve. Instead of understanding women and their trauma, or their personal struggles, they are automatically cast to the side as if they are broken. What Laurent taps into in this film is the ability to understand women and how various forms of trauma, or conforming to societal norms, can affect them mentally. Laurent takes the audience on a brutal journey through the institutional abuse of women when they need help the most. Even though it takes place in the 19th century, those themes are prevalent today.

What these women endure physically parallels the mental struggle of dealing with abandonment, physical trauma and emotional abuse. There are different characters in this film that show the paths women must choose and the repercussions of their choices. Eugénie is very outspoken and therefore, she is isolated, silenced, and terrorized mentally. Whereas other characters are probed and observed by men in the institution. Eventually turning their mental trauma into physical ailments. Women are placed under a microscope in this film and its unsettling to watch at times but really necessary to understand the complexities of trauma.

The Mad Women’s Ball is bold in its visual storytelling, as it casts these women as medical subjects rather than patients needing assistance. It is heartbreaking to watch these women suffer through their own trauma, as men observe them. There is this hatred that boils under the surface and it is finally released at the end of this film. Laurent made this for women everywhere who have felt insignificant because of condescending men who have affected them in any way. It’s a powerful feat that will resonate with audiences who have experienced any form of pain at the hands of internalized misogyny, institutional abuse, and men in general.

TIFF ’21: ‘Spencer’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Pablo Larraín’s Spencer is a slice of the Princess of Wales that we have never seen before. As the film begins, Larraín labels it a fable of a tragedy. We have seen many projects where they depict the Royal family in a certain way but we have never gotten a character study on one in particular. It isn’t necessarily slandering the family but it highlights the mental state of Princess Diana in a three-day span over Christmas. Diana reached a point where she needed some sort of normalcy, she had played the persona for too long, and now the cracks within her marriage began to show.

Larraín kept the central focus on Diana and Kristen Stewart gave an incredible performance. The intimate camerawork framed her in ways that made her look like Diana from afar. The haunting score by Jonny Greenwood accompanied her descent into realizing that she was stuck. The screenplay was also well-written by Steven Knight, as it kept circling back to the notion that she wanted to go home, back to being a ‘Spencer’, equating that to the freedom of her childhood. In a way, it does act as a ghost story, seeing that she was fighting with the shell of who she became and the girl she once was.

The cinematography by Claire Mathon worked with Diana’s mind. In certain scenes it almost felt like a dreamlike sequence, like Diana was in a daze. The broken pieces of her mind were projected into the frame through every single aspect. It is heartbreaking to watch a woman who is so loving and wants to give her children the same life she had, not be able to live the way she wants. The important takeaway from Spencer is that there were very emotional, playful, and sweet moments between Diana, William and Harry. Larraín wanted to show her as a woman first, a mother second, a wife third, and a member of the Royal family last.

Larraín’s work in Spencer presents a woman who is trapped in her own body, living someone else’s life. Her freedom is defying the guidelines put in place and reverting back to her childhood self. He also visually experimented a bit more in this film and it worked well because he showed many possible outcomes when attempting to take her own life without making it too graphic. Stewart and Larraín truly felt like a match made in heaven. She was in full control of Diana’s persona and the internal struggle she needed to present.

Joshua Jackson And Liquid Media Group Make A Big Splash At TIFF

By: Amanda Guarragi

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has always been the talk of the town and been the center of the most exclusive and desirable parties. TIFF welcomes celebrities, top industry executives, influential media and other glamorous guests for a night of marvelous entertainment and fun. 

Monday evening’s gala event, “The Big Splash” hosted by entertainment business solutions provider Liquid Media Group, boasted a guest list that included the best and brightest of the entertainment crowd. 

Liquid Media Group has been shining the spotlight and sharing their expertise on important issues for independent producers through an exclusive series of TIFF panel discussions. Liquid’s Chairman Joshua Jackson (“Dr. Death,” “Little Fires Everywhere,” “The Affair”) and CEO Ronald Thomson were among the speakers on topics ranging from streaming in the new world and financing for independents to harnessing the power of media for social good. Their mission with Liquid feels wonderfully analogous with the aim of the non-profit cultural organization that operates the festival, which seeks to transform the way people see the world, through film.

TORONTO, ONTARIO – SEPTEMBER 13: (L-R) Katarzyna Kaczmarczyk, Paul Jun, Jon Fitzgerald, Joshua Jackson, Ron Thomson and Andy Wilson attend “Joshua Jackson and his Company Liquid Media Group host THE BIG SPLASH” held at Windsor Arms Hotel on September 13, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Sonia Recchia/Getty Images for Liquid Media Group/ Jane Owen PR)

The offering from Liquid Media Group is much needed to ensure independence for independents, explains Thomson, and will enable professional video (film/TV and video game) creation, packaging, financing, delivery, and monetization, empowering IP creators to take their professional content from inception through the entire process to monetization.

“Our company is addressing a significant challenge for independent creative professionals, “and there is no better way to celebrate the importance of that work and all that we have accomplished than to gather safely with the industry’s best and brightest.”

– CEO Ronald Thomson

“The Big Splash” took place at The Windsor Arms, an award-winning boutique hotel in the heart of the city. It included an open bar accompanied with tantalizing food to tempt any taste buds, and live entertainment. The Windsor Arms is known for hosting visiting royalty, aristocracy, stars of film and screen as well as heads of state and industry.

TORONTO, ONTARIO – SEPTEMBER 13: Joshua Jackson attends “Joshua Jackson and his Company Liquid Media Group host THE BIG SPLASH” at Windsor Arms Hotel on September 13, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Sonia Recchia/Getty Images for Liquid Media Group/ Jane Owen PR)

After walking the red carpet, guests gathered in the courtyard ballroom, one of the hotel’s most elegant spaces. Renowned DJ Samantha Michelle’s music enveloped the night as invitees were safely engaging with one another and enjoying their drink of choice at the grand bar. 

Gift bags for Liquid’s gala guests included:

  • House of Waris Elephant Friendly Black Tea
  • Massawippi Mercantile Granola
  • Maax Gum
  • David and Young Scarves
  • A Gift certificate from The Sailing Collective.

Also included in the gift bag were several digital gifts from the Liquid Media Group family of companies. These included Filmocracy One month free Indieflix gave guests a month complimentary access to their full expanse of virtual festivals. Slipstream gifted gift bag holders 45 days free access to their movies. iGems gave lucky guests both a discount on their renowned TV Film Festival mastery course as well as one month complimentary platinum membership. 

Ultimately, the lively party was a splendid and sensational hit. Liquid Media Group carefully balanced the perfect amount of glitz, dazzle, glamour and excitement for today’s times, enchanting its attendees as a noteworthy addition to the 2021 film festival’s most memorable occasions. 

To learn more about Liquid Media Group, please visit https://www.liquidmediagroup.co/

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 heart-warming 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, makes 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.