Critical Focus TIFF21 Rushes: Mandico’s After Blue, Akl’s Costa Brava, Lebanon, Griffin’s Silent Night, and Forbes & Wolodarsky’s The Good House

by Jacqueline Valencia

After Blue (Dirty Paradise)

Directed by Bertrand Mandico

Bertrand Mandico is back from The Wild Boys with another gender bending and all encompassing world builder. After Blue is a planet where only women can survive. The men who tried to live there died from having their hair grow into their insides. On a purple hued day, Roxy aka Toxic (Paula Luna) is having fun with her friends on the beach. She spots a head that looks rotten. Before her friends shoot her with a gun with a Gucci label, Roxy unearths the head which turns out to be an entire woman. Turns out the woman’s name is Kate Bush and she was buried there by the planet on purpose. Kate Bush will bring death and crime to After Blue.

The planet’s head honchos/coven enlist Roxy and her mother Zora (Elina Löwensohn) to trek to the mountains to find and kill Kate Bush. Along the way, they philosophize about how they survive on the planet and meet interesting characters along the way while displaying an eroticism decorated with glitter.

Now that all sounds simple, really, but it is not. It’s wild avant-garde fare reminiscent of Stephen Sayadain’s Dr. Caligari with it’s 80s synth infusions and the character’s dramatic flair for fashionable despair. The plot meanders while the characters lose themselves in their surroundings. The originality of this film is what kept me watching and I have to admit I’m still thinking about it.

I don’t normally pair a film to a book, but if you’re looking for something similar after this, may I suggest A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay.

Costa Brava, Lebanon

Directed by Mounia Akl

In near future Lebanon, the Badri family lives an idyllic life isolated from the chaos of local garbage dumps and protests in Beirut. Souraya (Nadine Labaki) and Walid (Saleh Bakri), former activists, along with their two daughters and family matriarch, witness the government coming to encroach on their livelihood. The president plans a new garbage heap near the fence of their home. The family resists, but little can be done with the small power they have.

The political struggles of a land are directly correlated with the environment, but the struggles of a family in transition can be very complicated. In Costa Brava, Lebanon, Mounia Akl tells the story of land and family through a loving lens. Each scene is full of the natural, fantastical, and infused with feeling. Akl’s direction brings out the best of her actors, especially bright-eyed Ceana and Geana Restom, the twins that play the youngest, Rim. Rim witnesses the anger of her father, the longing of her mother, and while she defends her father tooth and nail, she’s determined to do the right thing at all times. The Restom twins flutter in and out of every scene and steal it every time.

There’s a lot of political commentary here that could translate to so many in this moment in time. But, in a very big way, Akl and cinematographer Joe Saade, create a tribute piece to the land of Lebanon, full of the heart, pain, soul, and diversity of views of its people. People who want a freedom to build instead of the decay threatened by the powers that be.

Silent Night

Directed by Camille Griffin

If you knew the end of the world was coming around the holidays, what would you do? In the case of Silent Night, Nell (Keira Knightley) and her family, they decided to get together to celebrate love and forgiveness. The strength of this comedy slash horror slash family drama is in the strength of its script. It never goes overboard in melodrama when it easily could at any second. The comedy can be downright cringey (in a good way), but it is quickly returned to the situation that surrounds it.

At one moment the audience will feel dread and hilarity at the same time and it’s what keeps them riveted to the fast paced dialogue in the film. There are no explosions or tidal waves to behold, but the impending doom brings of tsunami of emotions that will render the audience raw. Bring tissues and maybe have an ice cream after because in the circumstances in this film can sometimes feel like our every day in 2021.

The Good House

Directed by Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky

Sigourney Weaver can do no wrong and her portrayal of an autistic adult who loses her child in Snow Cake will always stand out as one of my favourite performances (amongst a many great others). In The Good House, Weaver plays a real estate agent named Hildy. She’s got her own agency, she’s a divorcée, and an alcoholic. Her daughters arrange for an intervention, but with Hildy trying to keep up her business, she must feign continued sobriety. This is because the town is in continual influx of people selling and buying due to local and drama and gossip. Kevin Kline plays Frank, her neighbour and past (possibly present) love interest, and he stays afar. It’s either for his sake or hers.

The Good House is an entertaining and quiet affair. Weaver shines her portrayal of a joyful drunken state and the despair of the reality of the next day. The rest of the cast revolves around her like they’re dancing around the sun. While great, because Weaver is great, the film lacks a deep dive into the situation created in it. We see Hildy’s alcoholism, but while the story of how it has affected her daughters, is central to the plot, there’s no real discussion of what was so destructing about it. If it weren’t for the one incident in the third act, the audience would be left asking, “Why is everyone mad at Hildy if she drinks if she gets things done regardless?” Functional alcoholism can destroy a lot, and it would’ve been nice to enrich all the characters with their rightful reason to disrupt Hildy when they do.

It’s a good afternoon film though.

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TOMORROW: Our last TIFF21 review: LO INVISIBLE by Javier Andrade. This one deserved both a review and analysis and is the only one that we had to discuss as a collective.

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