Bee Nation Hits the Airwaves this Sunday

The definition of a crowd-pleaser, Bee Nation (Sunday, CBC, 9pm) revolves around an event with tension, drama and personal achievement ingrained in its DNA: The First Nations Provincial Spelling Bee competition, the first ever for Saskatchewan’s aboriginal communities.

It’s Documentary 101: Director Lana Slezic pics a handful of kids from the Kahkewistahaw reserve in SK and shows their lives and their preparation for the event. The spelling bee pool consists of 4,000 words and there is no standard training, and the level of parental support fluctuates wildly.

The approach allows some distressing information to seep through, like the fact schools in reserves receive considerable less money per student, forcing administrators to make some hard decisions regarding their institutions’ curriculum.

The children Slezic picks as main subjects are all overachievers, but each has a personality of their own: Mikayla is your traditional good student; For William, the sole idea of failure is devastating; The bullied Savannah is a model of personal drive. In each case, their parental figures see education as a way out, a chance to see a world beyond the reserve.

Heartbreak is unavoidable for the scrappy underdogs (the winners of the provincial chapter get to travel to Toronto to compete against private school kids with tutors), but makes for great cinema. It’s hard not to root for these kids or share the excitement of their first flight.

Bee Nation feels a bit stately (it’s presented under the CBC Docs POV banner and it shows), but the power of the story overtakes the format.

TIFF ’17 Day 9: The Lightning Round

Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz in Disobedience.

When a movie falls through the cracks, Planet S catches it in a yearly section called The Lightning Round.

Disobedience (UK, 2017): Understated drama about two women coming to terms with their sexuality within a Jewish Orthodox community. It doesn’t obey any of the clichés this subgenre has us used to.

Downsizing (USA, 2017): By far director Alexander Payne’s worst film to date, it has plots for about five movies, all undercooked.

Oh, Lucy! (Japan/USA, 2017: Slight and tonally awkward. I wasn’t expecting Josh Harnett (of all people) to pop up in a Japanese movie.

The Crescent (Canada, 2017): Imagine The Others, but boring and badly acted. It looks otherworldly, but desperately needed a better plot to go with the visuals.

The Summit (Argentina, 2017): There are two plots in this film: Political intrigue among Latin American countries, and the daughter of a president acting crazy. The former is far better than the later, but the movie focuses on the wrong one.

Cocaine Prison (Bolivia, 2017): Underdeveloped country chooses to punish drug traffic small offenders over the infinitely more powerful kingpins. It personalizes the problem without forgetting the context. Not bad.

Princesita (Chile, 2017): Twelve year-old girl lives in a cult, gets a taste of the outer world, wants out. Noteworthy allegory of the oppression of the patriarchy, with a truly horrifying, artfully shot sexual violence sequence.

Let the Corpses Tan (France, 2017): The story of a robbery gone wrong embodies everything wrong with the Midnight Madness program this year. Weird for weird sake, barely competent filmmaking and ultimately, a pointless enterprise.

mother! (USA, 2017): Masterpiece. We’ll be talking about it for years.

Happy End (France, 2017): Michael Haneke’s weakest effort in years. Family alienation was better dealt with in Caché.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (USA, 2017): A glorified behind-the-scenes doc from the time Jim Carrey interpreted Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon, this doc has great footage but loses its way trying to pretend is deeper that it actually is.

The Shape of Water (USA, 2017): A beautiful, dark fairy tale from Guillermo del Toro featuring a man-fish and Sally Hawkins. It certainly has its virtues, but I was less blown away than most people here.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (USA, 2017): Martin McDonagh relies less on his sharp dialogue and more on his character building skills in this black comedy with a heart. Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell use their well-honed personas to great effect.

The China Hustle (USA, 2017): Apparently, investing in China is a terrible idea. Dense but important doc.

Borg/McEnroe (Sweden, 2017): In theory opposites, the cool-as-ice Swede and the hothead American came from the same place. Well-made and ntertaining, although I ended up wanting to watch a Vitas Gerulaitis biopic.

Revenge (France, 2017): We live in 2017, do we really need to take ideas from I Spit in Your Grave? This is not feminism, it’s exploitation disguised as feminism.

TIFF 2017 overall: Three planets. The movies were average, but the parties were fantastic.

TIFF ’17 Day 8: The Death of Stalin, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Pyewacket

The Death of Stalin.

The Death of Stalin (UK/USA, 2017. Dir: Armando Ianucci): Wondering what would be of Armando Ianucci after leaving Veep? Look no further. The brain behind The Thick of It and On the Loop, is back to mercilessly mock a new institution, in this case, the Communist Party leadership and their power squabble following the passing of Comrade Joseph Stalin.

The best positioned to replace the mustached genocidal maniac is Lavrently Beria (Simon Russell Beale), chief of the secret police apparatus. Beria’s callous behavior rubs the rest of the Stalin administration the wrong way and soon a team of rivals targets him, although inner struggles make the task more difficult than it should.

While the plot sounds serious and the body count is considerable, Ianucci’s scalpel-sharp dialogue and some brilliant slapstick makes The Death of Stalin the funniest film of the festival by a mile. Actors not known for generating laughs like Steve Buscemi and Jason Isaacs demonstrate killer comic timing, supported by experts in the field Jeffrey Tambor and Michael Palin. Everything about this movie works, particularly depicting the dictator’s inner circle as a frat house. Hilarious and unsettling. Four planets. Distribution: Presumably theatrical.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (USA, 2017. Dir: Angela Robinson): This is the year of Wonder Woman: Never mind the two DC Comics film with the Amazonian at the forefront, here comes a biopic about her creator and the two women who inspired him.

William and Elizabeth Marston (Luke Evans and Rebecca Hall) are a couple of academics focused on the female mind. Rational to the extreme, their relationship is tested when William becomes infatuated with Olive (Bella Heathcote, The Neon Demon), his teaching assistant. Olive is not your average college student. Her open mind and sweet disposition soon turns her into a component of the Marston family. As they explore the limits of their polyamorous bond, the idea of a powerful woman with superpowers and a taste for bondage begins to take shape.

Professor Marston is an effective feminist film that benefits from strong turns by Evans, Hall and Heathcote. That said, it tends to state the obvious, as everybody feels the need to verbalize their feelings at all times. Regardless, it’s worth your time. Three planets. Distribution: Opens October 13th.

Pyewacket (Canada, 2017. Dir: Adam MacDonald): Pyewacket is the kind of movie that makes you wonder why would Telefilm support this (shades of the unwatchable Teen Lust). Reportedly a horror flick, Pyewacket is at heart a film student short stretched into 90 minutes. And that’s the least of its problems.

A goth teen who dabbles in witchcraft (Nicole Muñoz, in a less than stellar turn) gets mad at her grieving mother (Laurie Holden, The Walking Dead) and conjures a demon to get her killed. Eventually (and much later than you would think), the daughter-of-the-year comes back to her senses, but undoing the spell may be more difficult than expected.

I don’t know what I found more annoying: The cliché dialogue (teen angst has never been this flat), the across-the-board terrible acting (Laurie Holden excepted, despite her character’s inconsistency), the belief inexplicable, sudden noises are scary per se, or the hilariously silly conclusion. Pyewacket is a step back for Backwoods director Adam MacDonald. One planet. Distribution: Presumably theatrical.

TIFF ’17 Day 7: Suburbicon, Eye on Juliet

Matt Damon and Noah Jupe in Suburbicon.

Suburbicon (USA, 2017. Dir: George Clooney): There is no way Suburbicon could be considered an average film. It’s topical (fear of the “other” prevents us from noticing the true monsters in our society) and is directed by proven commodity George Clooney, from a script from the Coen Brothers. In spite of it all, it doesn’t add to more than the sum of its parts.

Matt Damon taps into his dark self as Gardner, a presumably average suburban dad in the 50’s. His home is invaded by a couple of thugs and his wheelchair-bound wife (Julianne Moore) is an unintended casualty of the break-in (or is she?). Meanwhile, their entire neighborhood is up in arms because a black family has moved in, oblivious to the horrors taking place a few doors down.

The film could be described as a mix of Fargo and Blood Simple by the way of Tim Burton. It’s undeniably entertaining but is hard to shake the feeling we have seen all this before. Furthermore, Clooney’s films are often staged to a fault and this one feels particularly airless. Oscar Isaac as a wily claims investigator provides the one breath of fresh air in this otherwise hermetic cautionary tale. Three planets. Distribution in Canada: Theatrical.

Eye on Juliet (Canada, 2017. Dir: Kim Nguyen): After the hard-hitting Rebelle and the fierce Two Lovers and a Bear, it’s no surprise writer/director Kim Nguyen has chosen a gentler piece as a follow-up. Eye on Juliet is a romantic drama in which technology acts as an accessory to amorous pursuits in unexpected ways.

Recently dumped by his girlfriend, Gordon (Joe Cole, Green Room) is on the brink of a nervous breakdown. His behavior has started to affect his job operating security robots remotely. In the midst of his pity party, Gordon becomes smitten with a young Arabic woman who hangs out near the pipeline his bots are protecting. The girl’s parents have arranged her wedding, unaware that she has a boyfriend and hopes to escape to Europe with him. Particularly susceptible to love stories, Gordon attempts to help them, but his involvement causes more trouble than good.

Even though the premise has potential and the visuals rise to the occasion, Eye on Juliet leans heavily on narrative clichés and corniness. The “growing tension” hardly registers and the final five minutes are blatantly borrowed from a 90’s travelogue classic. The film is not without merits, but it could have used a better story. Two and a half planets. Distribution in Canada: Theatrical.

TIFF ’17 Day 6: A Fantastic Woman, The Disaster Artist

Daniela Vega in A Fantastic Woman.

A Fantastic Woman (Chile, 2017. Dir: Sebastián Lelio): One of the two films Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio is presenting at TIFF, A Fantastic Woman is an intimate portrait of three particularly bad days in the life of Marina (star-making turn by Daniela Vega), a transgender singer.

Orlando, Marina’s much older partner, has died of an aneurysm, but she is not allowed to grief. Marina must face mistrust and prejudice at every level, as if she was responsible for Orlando’s death.

A Fantastic Woman is a superb character study and a severe indictment of a society that’s more hypocritical than open-minded. The film does falter every so often (I call for a moratorium of sex dungeons in movies), but overall it underlines Lelio’s talent to write female characters. Considering Gloria, A Fantastic Woman and the upcoming Disobedience, the Chilean director is poised to give Almodóvar a run for his money. Four planets. Distribution: Theatrical.

The Disaster Artist (USA, 2017. Dir: James Franco): A dramatization of the behind-the-scenes of The Room (the infamous cult classic renown only by its awfulness) is a minefield of outlandishness: If the subject itself is already laughable, how could you top it? Can you impersonate The Room star/writer/director Tommy Wiseau without turning him into a caricature?

Director James Franco doesn’t quite succeed at turning The Room into a triumph of the human spirit, but damn if he doesn’t come close. The Disaster Artist approaches the figure of Tommy Wiseau sideways, through his sidekick (and the author of the book that inspired the movie) Greg Sestero. Originally struggling actors from San Francisco, Tommy and Greg decide to try their luck in L.A. After a number of discouraging encounters and Tommy’s desire to be cast as the hero, not the villain, Wiseau decides to make his own movie. This, in spite of being a terrible actor, writer and not having directed a thing in his life. The rest is movie history.

The film doesn’t even try to respond the most pressing questions about Wiseau (first of all, where does he get the money from). Instead, it focuses on the friendship of Greg and Tommy. Wiseau is strange, difficult and prone to outbursts, and Greg enables him for longer than expected. The film (and The Room itself) hints at a history of betrayal that explains Wiseau’s behavior, but doesn’t dig further. The Disaster Artist is undeniably fun, but just skin deep. Three planets. Distribution: Theatrical.

TIFF ’17 Day 5: Breathe, You Disappear

Claire Foy and Andrew Garfield in Breathe.

Breathe (UK, 2017. Dir: Andy Serkis): Another one of the many films about physical disabilities in this edition of TIFF, there is nothing intrinsically wrong about Breathe. It’s just that it plays it way too safe and doesn’t break any new ground. One doesn’t have to look further than The Theory of Everything to find the same old beats.

At least Breathe covers the getting-to-know-you portion of the story in the first few minutes. Robin (Andrew Garfield, The Social Network) and Diana (Claire Foy, The Crown) are an adventurous couple who can’t be constrained by walls. Unfortunately, Robin gets polio in Africa and loses all mobility and the capacity to breath on his own.

The once outdoorsy Brit falls into a depression that forces his wife and friends to extreme efforts to give him at least a semblance of a normal life. It’s the beginning of a journey that would lead to the invention of the Cavendish chair, a conception that improves the quality of life of extremely disabled patients to unheard degree.

Andy Serkis’ first directorial effort is traditional to a fault. His sole focus seems to be to move the plot forward, in circumstances the best moments of Breathe take place whenever he takes the foot off the gas. The cinematography is disproportionally superior to the story, not a surprise since Robert Richardson (Scorsese and Tarantino’s go-to guy) is behind the camera. It’s a good movie to take your grandma, but that’s about it. Two and a half planets. Distribution: Theatrical.

You Disappear (Denmark/Sweden, 2017. Dir: Peter Schønau Fog): The embodiment of the ‘brainy’ movie, You Disappear uses procedural tropes to explore the eternal conflict of free will versus determinism.

The film uses a fragmented timeline to tell the story of the Hallings, a marriage enduring one crisis after another. First Frederik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Angels & Demons) is diagnosed with a brain tumor, which may or may not be affecting his behavior. Not much later, he is accused of embezzlement. His defense argues temporary insanity due to impulse control disorder, but the condition is extremely difficult to prove.

The narrator in You Disappear is Frederik’s wife, Mia (Trine Dyrholm, The Commune), often the victim of Frederick’s misbehavior. Her voiceover focuses on the undependability of the human brain (reality vs. perception), and it’s as dense as fascinating. The kicker is that Mia herself may not be the most reliable of witnesses.

The obvious intelligence that went into the script also creates certain distance between the film and the viewer. In spite of the cast’s efforts to humanize the proceedings, You Disappear remains a high density enterprise. A rewarding one though. Three planets. Distribution: TBD.

TIFF ’17 Day 4: The Square, Brad’s Status, A Worthy Companion

Terry Notary in The Square.

The Square (Sweden, 2017. Dir: Ruben Ostlund): The winner of the Palm D’Or is more often than not a TIFF staple. The Square is a comedy brimming of novel ideas and topics, so much so that after a while the richness becomes counterproductive. Still, the Swedish flick is years-light ahead of your average Hollywood comedy.

At the center of The Square lies Christian (Claes Bang), the chief curator of a modern art museum in Stockholm. Christian must juggle several crises simultaneously, chief of them all, the need for funding and attention. A personal hiccup (a robbery) sends his carefully balanced existence into a tailspin.

Christian’s woes are just an excuse for director Ruben Ostlund (Force Majeure) to explore the growing distance between the elites and the common man. The film also tackles the perennial matter of what constitutes art. Ostlund doesn’t venture an answer, but has a good time mocking the question.

The Square is a bit too cynical for its own good, but reaffirms my belief that the future of cinema can be found in Scandinavia. Three and a half planets. Distribution in Canada: Theatrical.

Brad’s Status (USA, 2017. Dir: Mike White): Once could easily dismiss Brad’s Status as a white privilege dramedy unaware of how conceited it is. Alas, the film touches on a number of topics that ring true.

The Brad in question (Ben Stiller) is a middle age Gen-Xer embarking on a college tour with his teenage son. The occasion becomes a dark night of the soul for Brad, as he reminisces about his own days as a student and how much better his then friends have fared in life.

Easily Mike White’s best since Chuck and Buck, Brad’s Status rings true more often than not, and even dares to offer answers to middle age ennui. It’s also kinder to Gen-Y than most films attempting to portrait millennials. Definitely an indulgent experience, but a satisfactory one. Three and a half planets. Distribution in Canada: Theatrical.

A Worthy Companion (Canada, 2017. Dir: Carlos Sánchez, Jason Sánchez): Not a fantastic crop of Canadian films this year at TIFF. A Worthy Companion at least has an intriguing premise, mangled by a script stripped of all common sense and an over-the-top performance by Evan Rachel Wood.

The Westworld lead is Laura, a troubled woman with more issues than the Encyclopedia Britannica. She is an accountant/cleaning lady who becomes obsessed with a bookish teen girl for some reason (I’m not being glib, there isn’t anything special about their relationship).

Laura convinces the teenager in question, Eva (Julia Sarah Stone, Wet Bum), to run away from home and move in with her. After about a hundred red flags, Eva realizes there may be something seriously wrong with Laura, but just as she is considering escaping, the Stockholm syndrome kicks in.

A Worthy Companion is so obsessed with being edgy, it forgets to build mildly cohesive characters. Chief among all is Eva, whose behavior defies basic self-preservation (Julia Sarah Stone looks lost through the entire movie). Not only Evan Rachel Wood chews scenery like is nobody’s business, her character’s psychological issues are not even consistent with one another. Overall, the film has train wreck qualities that make it watchable, if just barely. Two planets. Distribution in Canada: Likely theatrical.

TIFF ’17 Day 3: The Children Act, The Ritual, Porcupine Lake

Emma Thompson in The Children Act.

The Children Act (UK, 2017. Dir: Richard Eyre): Based on a novel by Ian McEwan, The Children Act is not only a thorough character piece about a judge whose rigidity renders her unable to deal with life’s curveballs. It’s also a fantastic showcase for Emma Thompson, too long stuck in supporting roles or as the love interest of some old fogey (often Dustin Hoffman).

Thompson is the Honorable Fiona Maye. Her specialty are medical cases that require an speedy process. Her job is fascinating but has taken a toll on her marriage to Jack (Stanley Tucci). The same week Jack announces his intention to have an affair, Fiona must rule on a case that pits the parents of a teen with leukemia against the hospital he is held at. Their religion forbids transfusions, even though the kid desperately needs one. Fiona’s job begins to bleed into her personal life and vice versa in unexpected ways.

Adapted to the screen by McEwan himself, The Children Act is predominantly a character study with a captivating plot lurking underneath. Dialogue and subtext are a delight, reminiscent of also superb 45 Years (heartbreak happens at every age). Tucci’s part is somewhat underwritten and the third act abandons the sobriety that makes the piece so compelling, but overall is a very relatable piece. Three and a half planets. Distribution in Canada: Theatrical.

The Ritual (UK, 2016. Dir: David Bruckner): Modeled after The Wicker Man and, to a lesser degree, The Blair Witch Project, The Ritual stands slightly above films with similar influences on the strength of the acting and psychological undertones.

Following the violent death of the leader of their pack, four friends decide to honor his wish of spending the holidays hiking the Northern Sweden highlands. The already harebrained idea (all four are city folk) becomes deathly when the group becomes the target of an unseen forest dweller.

The film is at its best when dealing with the unraveling psyche of the foursome. The main focus is on Luke (Rafe Spall, Roadies) who nurses a massive case of survivor’s guilt (their friend’s death was partially his fault). The Ritual is not nearly as effective when the force stalking them goes from abstract to all too real. Two and a half planets. Distribution in Canada: Likely theatrical.

Porcupine Lake (Canada, 2017. Dir: Ingrid Veninger): Ingrid Veninger’s most traditional film to date is a coming-of-age story that unfolds during the dog days of summer. City girl Bea (Charlotte Salisbury) is the dutiful daughter to a couple on the verge of breaking up. In dire need of a friend her own age, Bea connects with Kate (Lucinda Armstrong Hall), a townie with her fair share of issues at home.

The girls become fast friends and find solace on each other’s company, to the point of tentatively exploring their sexuality. It doesn’t reach Heavenly Creatures territory, but comes close.

Despite the stilted dialogue and some less than polished performances, Porcupine Lake is a charming flick that captures the hazy transition from childhood to puberty, as well as the horrifying realization that adulthood can be pretty ugly. Worth a look. Two and a half planets. Distribution in Canada: Likely theatrical.

TIFF ’17 Day 2: Stronger, The Insult, What Will People Say

Tatiana Maslany and Jake Gyllenhaal in Stronger.

Stronger (USA, 2017. Dir: David Gordon Green): This year’s second feature inspired by the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings approaches the matter from an individual perspective. The film zeroes on Jeff Bouman (Jake Gyllenhaal), a flaky Bostonian who loses both his legs in the blast. The film covers Bouman’s rehabilitation and his relationship with his ex-girlfriend (Tatiana Maslany), who was the reason Jeff was at the race in the first place.

Even though the direction and acting are top notch (although the Boston-personality traits border the caricature), Stronger is a very standard affair: Every beat can be seen from a mile away. The movie hints at the emptiness of platitudes like “Boston Strong”, but doesn’t have the dramatic courage to quite go there. The most subdued characters (Maslany, Carlos Sanz as the man who saved Bouman’s life) are the brightest ones.

Stronger also flirts with the notion that no matter what major event, sooner or later people return to their default settings (once a screw-up, always a screw-up). Predictably, it folds on itself by the third act. All things considered, as meat-and-potatoes dramas go, you could do a lot worse. Two and a half planets. Distribution in Canada: Theatrical.

The Insult (Lebanon/France, 2016. Dir: Ziad Doueiri): A classic festival film (a movie that thrives in this kind of environment, but is unlikely to flourish outside), The Insult deals with a specific rift in the Arab world, one that doesn’t get much attention: The strain between Christians and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Tony is a mechanic with a simmering resentment against Palestinians, which flares up when an illegal contractor starts working on his block. A spat over a drain escalates when the worker insults Tony, the mechanic responds with a racial slur, and the contractor punches him in the ribs. Soon the justice system, the press and even the President of Lebanon get involved.

Despite some minor issues (the score is -to put it charitably- blunt; one of the twists is soap opera-worthy), The Insult remains firmly grounded in reality, even as the squabble spirals out of control. The approach to the matter is refreshingly earnest, even when the conflict is ripe for cynicism and irony. I was slightly distracted by the very attractive actress playing Tony’s wife (she is the spitting image of Emily Ratajkowski), but that’s on me.

Three and a half planets. Distribution in Canada: Likely theatrical.

What Will People Say (Norway/Germany/Sweden. Dir: Iram Haq): Scandinavian cinema tends to look at the subject du jour directly, never mind how controversial it may be. What Will People Say is a veritable minefield, but writer/director Iram Haq’s vision doesn’t compromise… until the last three minutes of the movie

Nisha (newcomer Maria Mozhdah) is the eldest daughter of a traditional Pakistani family living in Norway. While respectful of her heritage, Nisha has grown as an average Westerner teen. Her two worlds come into conflict when her father finds a boy in her bedroom. Shunned by her family and community, Nisha is forcefully relocated to Pakistan. Her attempts to reach out for help are regularly thwarted by her relatives and a misplaced sense of loyalty.

Regardless of the number of setbacks Nisha must face, What Will People Say never feels like misery porn. In fact, it’s gripping. Every mishap, every poor decision is firmly rooted in reality, which is why the denouement stroke me as false. On a bad movie, I wouldn’t mind. The problem is that What Will People Say flirts with greatness. Four planets. Distribution in Canada: TBD.

 

TIFF ’17 Day 1: Call Me by Your Name, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Loveless

Call Me by Your Name.

Call Me by Your Name (Italy/France, 2017. Dir: Luca Guadagnino): How about a stone-cold masterpiece to kick off TIFF’s coverage this year. A filmmaker who has already shown considerable potential (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash), Luca Guadagnino finds a new gear with the thorough, compelling coming-of-age drama Call Me by Your Name.

Set in Northern Italy in 1983, the film revolves around Elio (star-making turn by Timothée Chalamet), a well-liked teen and beloved only son of an archeologist and a translator. The idyllic boredom of summer in Italy becomes disrupted by the arrival of Oliver (Armie Hammer), an American scholar in town to intern for Elio’s dad. Oliver’s presence triggers unknown feelings in Elio, who tentatively begins pursuing the American, while simultaneously exploring his sexuality with a girl his own age.

There is no high drama in Call Me by Your Name, just a teen assimilating new experiences and shaping his personality accordingly. The film (adapted by James Ivory) is beyond lovely and methodical, covering every aspect of the life of an adolescent at a critical moment of his growth. True to form, the climax is as low impact as a loving father comparing his own experiences to his son’s, and suggesting what to do of them. Think Stealing Beauty, but twice as good. Five planets. Distribution in Canada: Theatrical.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Ireland/UK, 2016. Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos): Lanthimos’ latest starts suspiciously like his previous film, the darkly comedic The Lobster. Colin Farrell introduces his character -a renowned cardiologist- in a monotonous, detached fashion. However, as the movie progresses, The Killing of a Sacred Deer hits a more relatable note: The costs of the greater good.

Unbeknownst to his family, Dr. Murphy (Farrell) meets with a very polite teen named Martin on regular basis. The nature of this relationship is kept in the dark for a good chunk of the film, but doesn’t appear to be very wholesome. As Martin demands more time and dedication from the surgeon, Murphy becomes spooked. An attempt to ghost him triggers a devastating reaction.

Lanthimos keeps his cards close to the chest until the second half, when the (somewhat) standard stalker drama morphs into an exercise in ethics and morals I don’t wish to spoil here. Suffice to say, the good doctor finds out there are limits to the power of modern medicine. As it’s traditional with the Greek filmmaker, the pitch-black sense of humor is perfectly calibrated. The novelty here is the sense of despair that comes with the comedy. Three and a half planets. Distribution in Canada: Theatrical.

Loveless (Russia, 2017. Dir: Andrey Zvyagintsev): By far the better known Russian filmmaker at work today, Andrey Zvyagintsev doesn’t mince words to depict a morally bankrupt society. In Leviathan, the director portrayed the political world as a haven of corruption. In Loveless, Russian middle class doesn’t fare much better under Zvyagintsev’s unflinching eye.

A couple going through the most acrimonious of divorces is forced to live under the same roof until liquidating their apartment. They have a kid, a sad boy no one pays any attention to. Their utter disregard for the child is such that, when he disappears, it takes them over a day and a half to notice. More out of obligation than genuine concern, the bickering duo must navigate the unhelpful Russian bureaucracy to get some help. Not that the disappearance puts a dent on their hatred for each other.

If you think this description is dour, just wait until you see the movie. From Zvyagintsev’s perspective, the pursuit of material riches has corrupted the soul of the country to such point, people willing to help are the exception and money is the only parameter of success. The filmmaker is thorough in his description of modern Russia’s malaise and even takes a few swipes at Putin while at it. Loveless is a bit thick to swallow, but highly rewarding. Three and a half planets. Distribution in Canada: Theatrical.