The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: a quietly stirring Turkish drama, a visionary work of sci-fi, and an international selection of animated and live-action shorts.
Directed by Ali Aydin
Double Double Land (209 Augusta Avenue)
On the face of it, not much happens in Küf, a drama from Turkish director Ali Aydin, but it’s precisely that minimalism that gives the film its deep emotional charge. Frequent Nuri Bilge Ceylan collaborator Ercan Kesal gives a superb and mostly silent performance as Basri, an Anatolian railway inspector who spends his days either ambling up the tracks or writing letters to Turkish authorities concerning the whereabouts of his son, who went in for interrogation nearly 20 years prior and never came back, leaving Basri in existential purgatory.
Languidly paced and structured as a series of static frontal tableaux, Küf (which translates as “mould”) is formally in step with the slow, purposive movements of its protagonist, an observant sort who takes in his bleak surroundings with increasing wariness. Even more than the gut-punch of the finale, a quietly devastating reveal that gives Basri the bureaucratic equivalent of an answer to his life’s question, what registers most strongly is the film’s lightly Dostoevskian subplot about Basri’s accidental involvement in a moral drama involving one of his co-workers, which is every bit as dynamic as his daily life is static.
Under the Skin
Directed by Jonathan Glazer
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
From his iconic music videos for Radiohead and Jamiroquai to his underrated sophomore film, Birth, Jonathan Glazer’s work has always shown a certain visual flare. As consistently striking as his videos and films have been up to now, though, nothing tops Under the Skin, which rivals the monumental work of Stanley Kubrick in its aesthetic accomplishment, even if it does share his films’ suffocating seriousness.
Based on the novel by Michael Farber, the film follows the mysterious exploits of an alien (Scarlett Johansson, in a career-best performance) who roams the Scottish countryside in a van, picking up men and engaging them in earnest chitchat before bringing them down to her oily lair, where their bodies are butchered. That’s it for the plot, but Glazer is more interested in establishing a mood via an able mix of astonishing non-narrative visual and aural set pieces staged under the titular skin where the alien stores her unfortunate men, and a number of unscripted vignettes in the van, where Johansson acts as a kind of late-night host, interviewing her doomed guests.
We weren’t as bowled over by Under the Skin as some critics, who hailed it as a masterpiece the moment it hit the festival circuit last fall; for all its beautiful images, it struck us as a bit slight for something so self-assured—seemingly counting on our emotional investment in one gentle victim, for instance, simply because of his facial scarring. That reliance on shorthand will go further for some viewers than for others, but there’s no denying Glazer’s craft either way.
Shorts That Are Not Pants
Directed by various filmmakers
Carlton Cinema (20 Carlton Street)
One of the only screening series in the city dedicated to the short film as a genre, Shorts That Are Not Pants returns this week with an international sampling of brief live-action and animated work from emerging talents.
Animation is well-represented by a pair of shorts from Sheridan College’s award-winning program. Tyler Novo offers Mean Teddies, a dystopian tale about a teddy bear fighting for the life of his boy, while Colin Lepper directs the fine stop-motion Never Stop Cycling, whose production design suggests Nightmare Before Christmas-era Tim Burton.
The live-action side features two wildly different shorts from Northern Ontario filmmakers John Alden Milne and Anne Boulton. The Runner is a smartly cut portrait of a man tasked with scattering his wealthy father’s ashes, his run through the city, urn in hand, nicely spotlighting the ruined charm of downtown Sudbury. The Standoff, meanwhile, is a punchily written relationship drama about a longstanding argument between a couple, set off by an uneaten sandwich.
The program is rounded out by a pair of longer works, including the Canadian premiere of Edouard Salier’s Habana, a black and white dystopian sci-fi drama; we didn’t get to see it, but it certainly looks striking from the stills. We weren’t as sold on Belgian filmmaker Toon Aerts’s surrealist comedy Perfect Drug, but we can at least champion its grotesque creature effects.
For more information on the lineup, see the series’ website.