Rep Cinema This Week: Mustang, Carol, and Spotlight
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Rep Cinema This Week: Mustang, Carol, and Spotlight

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

Still from Mustang.

At rep cinemas this week: an Oscar-nominated feminist debut from Turkey, Todd Haynes’ ravishing melodrama about two women in love in 1950s New York, and an Oscar heavyweight about the Boston Globe‘s investigative work uncovering the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal.

Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven

TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)

Though it was pitched ahead of its successful festival run as the Turkish answer to The Virgin Suicides, Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s accomplished debut Mustang stubbornly takes on a form of its own. Nominated for Best Foreign Film at the largely lily-white Academy Awards, Ergüven’s film is a finely tuned character study of five teen sisters living under the punishing conservative regime of their grandmother and uncle in a Turkish coastal town. After a neighbour’s disapproving eye catches the girls’ semi-flirtatious play with local boys, the sisters are locked indoors and indoctrinated into a world of patriarchal denial and control. Before long they are severed from the outside world (and pop culture), draped in form-obscuring smocks, and forcefully engaged to a succession of either brutish or disengaged young men. The younger girls are left to watch in fear as their older siblings are silenced one by one.

What might have been an overly schematic allegory for how independent women are repressed under violent patriarchal regimes is instead a warm portrait of one family in disarray, pulled apart by the unpredictable and uncontainable energies of five young women whose identities are stamped out the moment they begin to form them. The film is at once a trenchant critique and an intimate story, the former flowing from the latter. That’s thanks to the honest, natural performances Ergüven gets out of her young cast, and the script’s delicacy and tact in emphasizing the normal waves of excitement and ennui that these average young women experience in an extreme situation.

Directed by Todd Haynes

Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles Avenue)

Long a favourite of film theorists and high-toned cinephiles—and perceived as a clever but frosty semiotician by pretty much everyone else—Todd Haynes makes a compelling bid for more mainstream tastes with Carol, a poignant adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s lesbian pulp novel, The Price of Salt. Though it’s as impeccably crafted and steeped in film history as earlier efforts like Far From Heaven and HBO’s Mildred Pierce, Carol is the director’s most emotionally accessible work by a mile: a deeply romantic two-hander built largely on furtive glances, double entendres, and coded expressions of love.

Cate Blanchett stars as the titular 1950s Manhattan socialite in the midst of a separation who falls hard for Therese (Rooney Mara), a younger shopgirl and aspiring photographer with a fetching far-off stare. Though the women are an instant match, their connection is systematically forced underground by a prosaic world of homophobic family members and would-be partners, not to mention a legal system that deems their relationship a psychological disorder to be treated before Carol can be deemed fit to care for her daughter. Repressed from all of these sides, the women go on a distinctly American covert road trip that solidifies their love away from everyone who could tarnish it.

This push-pull relationship between the individual and the greedy world around her is powerful stuff, impeccably realized by Haynes at the top of his formalist command: this isn’t just the best period recreation of the year, but the most evocative and self-aware. It imagines not just 1950s small-minded America but its distorted cinematic mirror image, forged in a tradition of melodrama that Haynes knows inside out. That the two central performances are so tender and real amidst this directorial playfulness is a small miracle, and a testament to Haynes’ command of the story.

Directed by Tom McCarthy
2016 01 20 spotlight (640x334)

Fox Theatre (2236 Queen Street East)

What is there to say about Spotlight, perhaps the most competent and easygoing prestige picture to come down the pike in years? Seemingly engineered from the pitch stage to rack up Oscar nominations (mission accomplished), actor-turned-filmmaker Tom McCarthy’s look at the Boston Globe’s work in uncovering the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic archdiocese of Boston is as annoyingly self-congratulatory as it effective. This creates something of a wash: a film about the importance of speaking up about taboo subjects that doesn’t yield much conversation itself.

Michael Keaton gives a much more measured performance than his overwrought (and, predictably, Oscar-nominated) turn in Birdman as the paper’s investigative team leader Robby Robinson. Charged by incoming editor-in-chief and Boston outsider Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) with getting to the bottom of a developing scandal—involving a local priest who appears to have been bounced around church after church following accusations of sexual abuse against children—Robinson and his team uncover something far more insidious. The team uncovers a long-running, foolproof system of internally shuffling offending priests and secretly settling with victims, tacitly endorsed by the highest levels of the Church.

McCarthy is a pro at managing big players in tight, unshow-y ensembles, and Spotlight does a nice job of getting nuanced character work out of actors as disparate as Rachel McAdams and Stanley Tucci. (We’re not so sure about Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo, who delivers some of his best as well as his worst work here, voicing most of the script’s unfortunate rants against The System.) As good as the cast is at rendering out-sized characters in minute details, they’re let down by a script that insists on annotating the team’s every minute victory and proclaiming its own importance. The result is an intermittently powerful procedural that can’t stop singing the praises of procedural work and unhelpfully narrating each step of the process.