TIFF had tons of movies. Here are brief thoughts on the three that stood out for us.
Dee Rees’s Mudbound tells the story of intertwined lives of two American families in Mississippi in the ‘40s. On breaching with the past and setting out for a virgin future that is the American ideal self-portrait, Mudbound uncovers an inescapable palimpsest of social and political histories; the West may be expansive, but it is still on the same colored canvas. That race and racism, in its everyday and venial manifestations, haunt the first half of the film only to come out in the open in full violence in the second not only shows Rees’s narrative acumen, but is also a chilling parallel, in the wake of a Klan supported president and Charlottesville, to the current state of the U.S. following eight years of ostensible ‘hope and change.’ And on top of the underlying and, ultimately, the essential issue of racism that shape the tensions between the white McAllans and their black tenants, the Jacksons, Rees weaves together first-person perspectives on land and land ownership, fathers and sons, marriage, and traumas and friendships made by war. Though its tone and pace are quiet, the movie is ambitious. Perhaps its greatest success lies in its vivid and triumphant ending.
In Kazuya Shiraishi’s Birds Without Names, Towako (Yū Aoi) and Jinji (Sadao Abe), two protagonists described as ‘a rotten woman’ and ‘a slob’ respectively, live in a small apartment in Osaka and each indulge in their basest desires; Towako despises Jinji and finds him disgusting, but is entirely dependent on him as she pines after an ex-boyfriend who almost beat her to death; Jinji shamelessly submits to and lusts after Towako and sustains her unsustainable habits. Yet, the movie is less concerned with unrequited love than it is with the possibility and failures of empathy and romantic love. As the movie veers from melodrama to murder-mystery, Shiraishi explores the characters’ depravities as means of survival and cries for help. If so, ‘to whom?’ we may ask. When the movie nears its end, one is left to wonder if, having failed at Eros, the characters instead glimpsed at each other’s Psyche; shared something more enduring, if less beautiful, than desire. In classic Greek tragedies, catharsis comes from a sense of purgation and renewal; there’s none to be found in Birds Without Names — it leaves the audience feeling powerless, full of regret and questions about the possibilities and scarcity of redemption.
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird, is a coming of age story in set California. Though certain plot lines make a synopsis of the movie not necessarily redundant, suffice it to say that Christine, or Lady Bird, played by a charming and convivially rebellious Saoirse Ronan, goes to a new high school, suffers anxieties about her family, friends, college, and romance, and survives. That is not to say that if you’ve seen other coming of age movies, you should skip Lady Bird. The movie treads familiar grounds with candid humor and brilliant performances from Ronan and Marion McPherson (who plays the mother) that it seems fresh. If nothing else, it’s well worth watching for a gloriously awkward audition scene early in the movie.