Critical Focus TIFF2021 Rushes: Hadžihalilović’s Earwig, Vigas’ The Box, and Goulet’s Night Raiders

by Jacqueline Valencia


Directed by Lucile Hadžihalilović

Sometime in the 1940s, a silent little girl named Mia lives in an dark apartment with a man called Aalbert who takes care to install teeth of ice in her mouth every day. This little ritual translates into other odd routines throughout their existence. Mia clicks her mouth seemingly communicating to an earwig, while Aalbert listens outside her door. She sits for meals as Aalbert observes her. Once in a while, a far off voice on the telephone asks Aalbert how she is doing, but most of all, “How are her teeth?”

For the lovers of slow film, Earwig is an art piece worthy of time and attention. Hadžihalilović creates a silence that allows for meditation. The settings are dark and sepia muted. Mia and Aalbert’s lives are spent in a dank and sparse apartment that fills the air with despair and memory. There’s something very Kafkaesque about their situation: isolated, alone, and waiting for the next instruction. When finally changes occur and the pair find themselves outside, splashes of colour stand out. Whether there is symbolism in a lady’s red coat or the shine on Mia’s shoes which she wears for the first time, it really doesn’t matter. This film is an unfolding of Lynchian scenes rather than of a narrative(s).

I admire Hadžihalilović dedication to the image of Earwig the novel by Brian Catling. In absurdity, a deeper thing than meaning can be found in observation, rather than analysis.

Night Raiders

Directed by Danis Goulet

I want a trilogy. I want this story to be told over and over again. Danis Goulet has taken prescient stories of Indigenous peoples and brought them into a future that can very well happen.

There’s been a massive war in North America, and in the rebuilding, the government has taken children and put them in mass military-like schools. These schools brainwash and reprogram a new generation to forget where they came from and to live under one nation, with one language, and under one country. Niska, a Cree mother and her daughter Waseese, are one of the few who haven’t been found by the forced State Academies. They live off the land, but soon must find refuge in the city and succumb to dire circumstances. However, Niska, skeptical of everything, finds some hope in a rebellious band of Indigenous warriors and must decide whether to flee or stay and fight.

While the subject matter is a hard look at the past, bringing it to the screen through speculative fiction really drives meaning to our current situation in denying the diversity of Indigenous folk, in their freedom and basic human rights. The power of future casting is in fully acknowledging the past in the present. Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Brooklyn Letexier-Hart, and especially, Violet Nelson embolden the film with their talent and heart felt portrayals of their characters.

I highly recommend this film not just for its subject matter, but because it educates while it keeps the viewer captivated by its message.

The Box (La Caja)

Directed by Lorenzo Vigas

In the introduction to the TIFF premiere of his film, Venezuelan-born director Lorenzo Vigas explains that this is a story that you don’t quite often hear about in Mexico. I would think as a Latinx woman myself, this is also true for many Latinx that live a life outside of hard labour. I mention this because I believe stories like The Box need to be exposed more and Vigas does a good job in this film.

Hatzín (Hatzín Navarrete) travels to the vastness of Mexico City to collect the remains of his father who died in a mining accident. While on a bus with the box of his father’s remains, he spots someone who looks like his father. After questioning the man, named Mario, Hatzín can not be persuaded that he is anything, but his father. He drops the remains back where he found them and follows Mario like a lost puppy. Mario works as a recruiter for a manufacturing company. There Hatzín witnesses abuses, but dismisses them in favor of loyally following Mario.

This film is a hard watch. Hatzín Navarette does a great portrayal of a boy lost to circumstance. His eyes pleading beyond the screen for some moral direction and it is heart wrenching. The cycle of hope, dreams, truth, and dreams dashed is continual. However, the strength of this film exists in its DP Sergio Armstrong (No). The film’s lens lets the desert-like countryside and the lushness of the Mexican environment sing with its mysteries and people.

Vigas deftly exposes the repercussions of late stage capitalism and colonialism in the Latin American diaspora. These are true stories that require attention. These are real situations that require change and reform.

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