Toronto International Film Festival: Quick Takes

Sept. 20, 2011, 5:04 a.m.
Toronto International Film Festival: Quick Takes
Courtesy of Michael Gibson

At an event like TIFF, the overwhelming amount of film showings makes it impossible to come even close to catching everything. We’re holding some reviews (like “50/50”, “The Ides of March”, “Like Crazy”, etc.) until their North American premiere date but here are our intrepid movie critic’s quick takes on a couple movies screened in Toronto:

Take This Waltz
“Take This Waltz,” the newest feature from Canadian wunderkind Sarah Polley, follows travel writer Margot (Michelle Williams) as she tries to keep her marriage afloat after a chance meeting with Daniel (Luke Kirby) while on assignment at a historic landmark. The two share a brief flirtation on the plane and cab ride home, but rather than going their separate ways afterward, Margot is shocked to discover that Daniel lives right across the street from her and husband Lou (Seth Rogen), a cookbook author specializing in chicken. What follows is a largely drawn out but occasionally comical situation of will-they-or-won’t-they, as what began as a strictly emotional affair threatens to boil over into something more. The title of the film is thus a reference to Margot’s struggle to maintain her relationships with both men, whilst trying to come to terms with her own discontent. Polley, who also penned the script, presents us with a delightfully eclectic mix of characters, which also includes Lou’s outspoken alcoholic sister, played by Sarah Silverman. However as the story trudges on toward its inevitable conclusion, they become less compelling. Margot, with her childlike mannerisms, loses her initially endearing appeal as her indecision and victim complex prove tedious and frustrating by the final act. The film has its moments, but by and large feels too twee to foster serious treatment of its own themes.

Take Shelter
Thoroughly suspenseful and uniquely genre-blending, writer-director Jeff Nichols’ “Take Shelter” is a disaster movie crossed with psychological thriller. Set amid the rural cornfields of Ohio, it follows industrial worker Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) as he experiences a series of increasingly graphic nightmares involving a violent storm. Shaken by these visions, his erratic behavior soon begins to take a toll on his family, which includes wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and the couple’s young, hearing-impaired daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart). As Curtis obsesses over making preparations for the storm, tension rises as the audience can no longer be certain of whether he is somehow glimpsing the future or merely losing his mind. On the one hand, portions of the dreams seem to carry real-life consequences. On the other, Curtis is painfully aware of the fact that his own mother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when she was his age. Skillfully executed with a modest budget and boasting outstanding performances by Shannon and Chastain, “Take Shelter” is the thought-provoking answer to all the mediocre apocalypse and environment-themed duds that have plagued the box office in recent years. Don’t worry if the premise still sounds improbable; just go in with an open mind and you are sure to be enthralled.

Une vie meilleure (A Better Life)
Not to be confused with Chris Weitz’s Los Angeles-set film of the same name, this French and Canadian co-production from director Cedric Kahn follows Yann (Guillaume Canet, a French Patrick Dempsey look-alike), a cafeteria cook aspiring to be an executive chef, whose life takes an unexpected turn when he becomes romantically involved with Lebanese waitress Nadia (Leila Bekhti). On a day trip with Nadia’s young son, the trio chances upon an abandoned building near a beautiful lake — the perfect site for opening the restaurant that Yann always dreamed of. But their meager income and savings forces Yann to make a series of hasty decisions, which ultimately push their dreams further away rather than bringing them closer within reach. As the couple’s situation becomes increasingly grim, Yann refuses to let go, even as Nadia shows signs of moving on. A gritty and bittersweet story, “A Better Life” explores the ripple effect that our everyday actions have as they reverberate across the long term, how to adapt in an unforgiving world that keeps turning even when you try to stop it and the personal sacrifices made for loved ones.

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