The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: an incendiary indie black comedy, a Toronto-set mind-bender, and a look at the ghosts of the Holocaust.
Directed by Joel Potrykus
Camera Bar (1028 Queen Street West)
The truism that most comedians are privately grim and contemptuous gets a fresh treatment in Michigan native (and former New York stand-up) Joel Potrykus’s nervy debut feature Ape, a black comedy that starts innocuously enough—the better to deliver its savage punchline. Joshua Burge plays Trevor, a mild-mannered and wildly unsuccessful comedian who bombs whenever he isn’t bumped for someone better and spends the rest of the time bemoaning the rising prices of slushies and nurturing his pyromania habit. That’s until he meets a man in a devil suit who offers him an apple and, unbeknownst to Trevor, a major attitude adjustment.
It’s hard to know where Ape is going much of the time—the first half plays out as a series of mopey vignettes, with Trevor ambling about in a yellow Penguin jacket, pathetically struggling to collect minor debts and accruing new ones like a live-action Charlie Brown. Yet that unpredictability is ultimately Potrykus’s greatest asset. Trevor’s transformation into a kind of demonic parody of himself, a raging dead-eyed lunatic capable of the most shocking violence, comes with a real visceral kick. In its final revealed state, Ape, too, evolves into something much more interesting than it initially promises—a savage satire of a certain kind of beta-male rage.
The Ape screening is co-presented by MDFF and The Seventh Art. Potrykus will be on hand for a Q-and-A after the film, moderated by The Grid’s Jason Anderson.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
The Royal (608 College Street)
Whatever else you might call the films of Quebecois Oscar nominee and, as of Prisoners, mainstream thriller director Denis Villeneuve—and some have called them calculated, serious, and bloated—you normally wouldn’t think to call them fun. And yet here we are with Enemy, the filmmaker’s first English-language excursion (though the second to be released), as well as the first of two rapid-fire collaborations with Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s turned out to be his most freewheeling, experimental, and—miraculously enough—joyous film to date, not that it has strong competition from po-faced affairs like Incendies and Polytechnique.
On the face of it, Enemy is as dark and elliptical as its predecessors. It’s the story of a University of Toronto Scarborough (!) history professor (Gyllenhaal) who, through a colleague’s chance recommendation, stumbles upon a local indie film featuring his exact double (also Gyllenhaal) in the prized role of “Bellhop #3.” The ensuing identity crisis takes Gyllenhaal prime down some dark paths, including a bout of stalking around his double’s Mississauga condo, a mysterious key party involving some likely sex workers and an angry-looking tarantula, and, even more alarmingly, a covert partner-swapping episode.
If all of that sounds a bit silly, well, it is—but for the first time in his career, Villeneuve seems uninterested in spinning his twisty material into anything more meaningful and profound than straight pulp. That’s the right choice, and it helps give just the right sleazy thriller vibe to the film’s jaundiced vision of the GTA, a place of weird jutting angles, concrete, glass towers, and smog. Gyllenhaal, for his part, is terrific in no fewer than two career-best performances, hitting every shade of cosmic confusion with bug-eyed intensity, whether he’s creeping his other half in oversized dollar-store sunglasses, baffled by his mother’s insistence that he’s always loved blueberries (he hates them, but does his double?), or brought face to face with an enormous CG spider. What can we say? We’re fans.
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Pawel Pawlikowski returns to his native Poland after a sojourn in English-language filmmaking with Ida, the story of the eponymous young novitiate nun (played by newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska), who, on the eve of her vows, is transformed by a visit with her estranged aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza). Wanda, a low-level judge and former Communist state prosecutor, informs the girl that she is Jewish and that her parents died during the Nazi occupation of the country. What might have been the material for a dopey road-trip story about an odd couple finding themselves in their travels through the countryside is transformed, in Pawlikowski and Trzebuchowska’s capable hands, into a modest and impeccably lensed character study about the momentous impact of one’s family history.
Immaculately shot in black and white, squared off in unusual boxy compositions, and cut with enviable precision, every still in Ida could be framed and hung on a wall. That makes the film beautiful to marvel at, though it also invests the proceedings with a certain airlessness, as though everything in this world that’s of interest is contained in the shot—an especially curious effect, given how little is revealed about the historical context behind Ida and Wanda’s quest beyond its broad strokes. Indeed, as the film goes on, Ida’s transformation at her liberal aunt’s hands from a reserved adolescent to a more freewheeling jazz aficionado begins to feel a bit too tidy, her redemption narrative somewhat at odds with the anxious collective history that has hung over both her aunt’s and her parents’ lives. Still, this is strong stuff, beautifully observed.