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: ‘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. 

TIFF ’22: ‘The Whale’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Life can change within seconds and alter how we view the world. More importantly, when life serves us lessons, we also look at ourselves differently. Sometimes, we even question the value we offer to the world. One can lose faith in humanity when those who supposedly supported you turn their back on you in your time of need. It takes a very strong person to continue to be positive and uplift others after going through their own traumatic experiences. This is who Charlie (Brendan Fraser) is in The Whale. He has lost his family and his lover, but the one thing he hasn’t lost is his positivity which is the most endearing thing about him.

We meet Charlie as a reclusive English teacher who is suffering from severe obesity and attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) for one last chance at redemption. On the surface, it is a chance for Charlie to get to know Ellie after years of being forced to stay away from her by her mother. He believes that the only thing that he has ever done right is bringing his daughter into this world and he knows the potential she has to be great. There is so much pain between the two of them; Charlie for leaving her and Ellie for feeling abandoned. Sadie Sink gives a rugged and emotional performance that counters Fraser’s vulnerability and kindness. 

Darren Aronofsky’s direction is very strong as he keeps the essence of the play, written by Samuel D. Hunter. The story takes place in one apartment and even though it feels static, the characters that fill each scene bring so much to the atmosphere. The physicality of Charlie moving through the apartment actively expresses how much of himself fills the apartment and how much of his past self lingers on the walls. Fraser gives a career-defining performance in this film and it’s because of how well he understood Charlie. It’s a tough role to play because Charlie purposefully cares about everyone else but himself. He wants to fade into nothingness because of his past trauma but still leave something meaningful behind. 

The Whale is a stunning character piece for Brendan Fraser who gives such an emotionally raw performance as Charlie. He is the driving force of this film. Without Fraser, the connection to the character would hold no weight. There’s so much care that went into Charlie’s story and Aronofsky captured every side of him in this apartment. Fraser and Sink have such emotionally charged scenes that show the similarities between their characters. They both have the same level of intellect but use it differently throughout the film. The ending of this film holds so much power because of the slow build between Charlie and Ellie’s relationship. Every small detail throughout is tied together to create an emotional ending. 

TIFF ’22: ‘One Fine Morning’ Review

Sometimes we wander through life with the years passing us by. Some could have gone through a tough relationship, others could experience a great loss, and some feel trapped in their current situation. Either way, whatever anyone is going through, sometimes we may forget to live. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our heads that we forget there is a world of endless possibilities. What Mia Hansen-Love does in One Fine Morning is explore both sides of the spectrum at the same time. Even if we are happy in one moment, the sadness still lies there waiting to bubble up to the surface when we least expect it. 

We meet Sandra (Léa Seydoux) who has a father suffering from neurodegenerative disease. She lives with her eight-year-old daughter and is a professor at a local college. While struggling to secure a decent nursing home for her father, she runs into a friend who, although in a relationship, embarks on an affair. Hansen-Love shows that when it rains, it pours, and the small moments in life that you seize can shine a dim light for a little while. After losing her husband, Sandra was in a more private state and focused on raising her daughter. She is someone who has become selfless and hasn’t looked at herself in many years. When her father’s condition gets worse, she sees how short life is and starts living again. 

She takes a risk with a married man Clément (Melvil Poupaud) and this affair gives her more heartache than love at first. The one time she does anything for herself, it ends up being one of the most difficult relationships for her. Seydoux gives a strong performance as she internalizes her pain. Her emotions come out the longer she has to endure the pain of losing her father and her new love. It’s an intimate, emotional film for those who have cared for a sick parent. It’s extremely difficult to move forward with your own life when the person who raised you is slowly slipping away. Hansen-Love uses small spaces to fill the room with many emotions. Each character adds more to Sandra’s life and at times it can feel suffocating.

One Fine Morning is a tender film about love, loss, and life. Hansen-Love works with Seydoux to create such a loving and open atmosphere in this film that you will feel so close to Sandra. She was able to pull from her own experiences to present a different reality for those caring for their elders. This film shows the importance of trying to live your life, even though it feels like things are coming to an end. Whether you’re pushing forward for yourself or your loved ones, life is worth living for the small moments that make you happy. Sandra was stuck in her routine until her father’s illness changes the way she looks at life in general.