Rep Cinema This Week: Ms. 45, Gabrielle, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
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Rep Cinema This Week: Ms. 45, Gabrielle, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.

Still from Ms. 45.

At rep cinemas this week: Abel Ferrara’s sleazy revenge thriller, a disability melodrama from Quebec, and the more or less triumphant return of Ron Burgundy.

Ms. 45
Directed by Abel Ferrara

The Royal (608 College Street)

After closing out the 1970s via a porno with an unmentionable title and a grindhouse slasher (The Driller Killer), Abel Ferrara properly arrived as an idiosyncratic filmmaker with Ms. 45, a rape revenge thriller that doubles as a note-perfect portrait of early 1980s New York City at its seediest. Newly revived for a rep tour by Drafthouse Films, Ms. 45 ought to build on its reputation as a bold hybrid of exploitation and arthouse cinema.

Model, singer, and one-time screenwriter Zoë Lund stars as the mousey Thana (presumably short for thanatos, or “death drive,” for any aspiring Greek scholars), a mute seamstress in New York’s garment district who spends much of her day ducking the grotesque come-ons of virtually every man around her. Thana is transformed one day when she is raped by a mugger on her walk home from work, and then assaulted a second time by yet another goon when she finally makes it back. These experiences turn her into a kind of vengeful superheroine: she dismembers her home assailant and coolly guns down every would-be rapist and soon, every man she sees.

Since its rebirth as a cult phenomenon, some have begun to appropriate Ms. 45 as something of a feminist essay against male violence, but it’s tough to square that reading with the exploitative situations Thana finds herself in as a deaf woman who cannot scream for help, or later as a vigilante in a sexy nun habit. As in much of Ferrara’s cinema, what resonates most here is the sickly overripe environment, a hellish New York teeming with trash bags and garbage cans—a world away from the romantic setting of Woody Allen’s Manhattan, released just two years prior.

Directed by Louise Archambault

TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)

Though Gabrielle has broken a two-year streak of Canada’s Best Foreign Language film submissions making it all the way to the Oscars, you can’t fault it for any obvious deficiencies. Louise Archambault’s sophomore feature is a quality production through and through—in fact, it’s almost too preoccupied with quality to take any risks that might distinguish it from the other disability melodramas it resembles.

Gabrielle Marion-Rivard stars as the titular character, a good-natured young woman with a developmental disability who dreams of breaking out of assisted living and getting her own apartment. That goal becomes more complicated when her sister and all-purpose lifeline Sophie (Incendies’ Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, in a very fine supporting performance) announces she’s moving to live with her partner in India, and when her burgeoning romance with fellow resident Martin (Alexandre Landry) is quashed by his doting mother.

When it’s working in the somewhat conventional realist register of European filmmakers like the Dardenne brothers—observing its protagonist through long, uninterrupted takes—Gabrielle works nicely as an unhysterical portrait of disability as simply one of a range of traits that define a person’s life. Too often, though, Archambault weighs this character sketch down with dodgy philosophical treatises from the characters around her, weighty discussions about eugenics and family responsibility that Gabrielle herself isn’t allowed to participate in. Like the frequent quasi-inspirational musical interludes—Gabrielle and Martin are in a choir that’s soon to open for Quebecois superstar Robert Charlebois, who makes an impressively rumpled appearance—these moments may flatter audience members who want to learn a thing or two about disability in a safe setting, but they don’t do any favours for the character who gives the film its name.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Directed by Adam McKay

Fox Theatre (2236 Queen Street East)

Although it’s as much a period film as its predecessor, setting up shop in the cable news boom of the 1980s, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues can’t help but seem a little dated. Landing nearly a full decade after the first, which, following a modestly successful theatrical run, became arguably the most influential film comedy of the aughts in its second and third lives on video and in YouTube extracts, Adam McKay’s sequel arrives a touch past its best-by date, offering a satire of the rise of personality-based news shows years after the ascension of Glenn Beck and his ilk. So compelling are the unlikely franchise’s charms, though, that one is tempted to forgive the staleness.

Will Ferrell returns as Ron Burgundy, the blowhard co-anchor, along with rival-turned-soulmate Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), of a popular news network in New York—a step up from their origins in San Diego. When Veronica gets a promotion that he’s been coveting himself, Ron spirals into a deep depression, until he’s recruited for a hosting gig at GNN, an fledgling network with the radical idea of covering the news as a 24-hour cycle, à la the as-yet-nonexistent CNN. Back with his team (Paul Rudd, David Koechner, and Steve Carell return, with a significantly beefed-up role for the latter’s brain-damaged Brick Tamland), Ron becomes a hit as a fact-free opinionator.

As with McKay and Ferrell’s first kick at the can, the experimental, devil-may-care spirit of the comedy nets some big laughs while also occasioning long, weak stretches during which nothing seems to gel. Their commitment to high-concept plot developments and surrealist set pieces has always produced mixed results, and some, including a nearly 30-minute segment in which Ron goes blind and retreats to a cabin to cure what ails him, should have stayed in the writers’ room. When it’s on-point though, Anchorman 2 has the inspired lunacy of all the best American comedies.