The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: a raw coming-of-age story set in Brooklyn, a sleazy demonic thriller from Mexico, and Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar-contending space odyssey.
It Felt Like Love
Directed by Eliza Hittman
Double Double Land (209 Augusta Avenue)
Eliza Hittman brings great sensitivity and depth to the familiar genre of the teen’s sexual awakening story in It Felt Like Love, the New York–based filmmaker and Columbia University instructor’s accomplished and nervy feature debut. Set during a series of blistering summertime dalliances on Coney Island, the film follows the halting social and romantic progress of Lila (Gina Piersanti), a slightly gawky Brooklynite high-school junior fumbling her way into sexual maturity. Between pining over her more assured best friend Chiara’s new relationship, bragging over her wholly invented sexual prowess, and awkwardly pursuing Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein), a taciturn, older college student who’s not exactly uninterested in her, Lila makes for an odd and compelling study, someone who’s not yet past the stage of young adulthood during which one does things for the sake of doing them.
Squeamish as one feels when Lila’s efforts to go outside her comfort zone bring her to potentially unsafe places, Hittman’s approach is free of condescension and moral judgment. For her part, Piersanti is wonderful at evoking the openness as well as the opacity of her character, whose desires are not even clear to her much of the time. She’s well served by Hittman, who gives Lila more credit and respect than lesser filmmakers in this genre might have. Operating in a lyrical-realist mode that owes as much to Claire Denis’s tender depictions of physical touch as to the unvarnished directness of the Dardenne brothers, Hittman’s camera beautifully translates Lila’s gaze, which lingers over Sammy’s muscles and Chiara’s tanned legs, registering her complicated longing not just for physical contact and affection but also for Chiara’s obvious comfort in her own skin. While most coming-of-age stories are content to tell us what their young, developing minds are thinking, Hittman has the audacity and the formal chops to show us.
The Toronto premiere of It Felt Like Love will be introduced by Julia Cooper, Managing Editor of the feminist film journal cléo, which is co-presenting the screening with Toronto-based production company MDFF.
Here Comes the Devil
Directed by Adrián García Bogliano
The Royal (608 College Street)
It takes something like chutzpah to make a film as bad as Here Comes the Devil. A hit at Fantastic Fest, Mexican horror auteur Adrián García Bogliano’s film is the sort of pompous, name-dropping exercise in hollow imitation–in this case, of the 1970s exploitation movies of Mario Bava and psychological thrillers like Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now—that routinely gets mistaken for something smart when all it’s got on its mind is how best to pummel its audience with retro-inspired ironic misogynist hokum.
Laura Caro and Francisco Barreiro star as Sol and Felix, a married couple whose lives are turned upside down when a moment of passion sees them lose track of their adolescent son and daughter on a family trip to Tijuana. The kids wander off near some spooky-looking caves and vanish for several days, returning with the kind of blank stares that can signal only a recent brush with dark forces.
Surely aware of his script’s shakiness, Bogliano puts off the remarkably scare-free denouement for as long as possible, opening with a lengthy, wildly tangential epigraph that allows him to indulge in some titillating lesbian sex and apparently even more titillating violence against women. After that equal parts brash and pointless introduction, the first two proper acts are an unexpected slog—standard-issue paranoiac storytelling about a mousey wife who suspects something evil is afoot in her home, to the annoyance of her exasperatingly rational husband. But nothing tops the damp squib of a finale for sheer banality: Bogliano ratchets up the supernatural content without doing much to raise the tension, falling back on aesthetic nods to ‘70s horror filmmaking tropes as if citing precedent will make the schlocky material mean something. Sadly, all the whip zooms, optical tricks, and wonky framing in the world can’t make this any less of a bore.
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Fox Theatre (2236 Queen Street East)
The trailer for Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity promises an austere space thriller midway between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien. For better or for worse, that’s not quite what we get. Gravity turns out to be something more modest, despite its wide scope and dazzling 3D visual effects. It’s a technical demonstration and straightforward survival story with a dash of goofy new-age spiritualism.
Inasmuch as there is one, the script, co-written by Cuarón and his son Jonás, follows doctor Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) as they try to stay tethered to something, anything, after a debris storm dislodges them from the space station they’re repairing. Though one wishes the dialogue were as pared down as the narrative—Clooney natters away condescending advice to his junior female coworker, while Bullock discloses a boilerplate personal trauma—there’s a strange beauty to the images of the two shooting through space like pinballs in zero gravity. Clichéd as the script might be, Gravity works on the level of pure spectacle—as an amusement park simulator for floating over Earth in nothing but a jetpack and a space suit.