TIFF: The Lobster, Dheepan, Black Mass

The rain’s been pouring the last two days at TIFF but hopefully the skies will clear before this year’s Telluride giants arrive to build on the buzz they created a few weeks ago. I’m looking forward to the way Spotlight, Beasts of No Nation and Room will fare with everyone here.
This time last year in Toronto, everyone was talking about Whiplash, and the thunderous applause it garnered at the Ryerson theater. This year it’s all about three Cannes favorites: Sicario, Son of Saul and The Lobster. Everywhere you go people are asking if you’ve seen these three movies. They are the standouts of the fest thus far, but there are still 5 days of premieres left and we’re all hoping for a surprise to take over the fest and get some fresh buzz going. James Vanderbilt’s Truth is said to be that movie, if you believe the select few who have seen it. We’ll know for sure as early as Tuesday when the press screening will take place at the Scotia Bank theater.
Johnny Depp gives his best performance in almost 10 years in Black Mass. He’s almost guaranteed a nomination, but prospects for the film are uncertain. Director Scott Cooper lets Depp take change of the proceedings as Irish gangster Whitey Bulger — a role that ticks all the boxes for Depp to finally win that much eluded Oscar. We already knew that just by watching the trailer a few months ago. Joel Edgerton co-stars as the FBI agent — who happens to be Bulger’s childhood buddy — and convinces the gangster to become an informant for the FBI. Edgerton is actually a talented filmmaker in his own right. He directed this summer’s sleeper The Gift, a superb movie.
The Lobster is a wholly original vision by Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos. It will be divisive for many reasons: When Sasha saw it at Cannes she wrote “I don’t know if Lanthimos got baked to write The Lobster but it does seem like the stoned ramblings of someone brainstorming about an imaginary world where people must form couples or else be turned into animals.” The first half of the film is great, before it narrows its focus a little too tightly in the second half. That’s been the main observation by many who saw it at Cannes and it is my main issue as well. Lanthimos is a true talent, Dogtooth is one of the great movies of the past half decade. He encompasses and creates worlds unlike any other. Did he get super baked to write this picture? If so, more directors should meet his dealer. The visual and surreal nature of the first hour is a breath of fresh air, the hotel in which these strangers stay in is gorgeously thought out and a world which I wish the film dealt with at greater lengths. This is a film that is truly a breath of fresh air amid some of the stuffier Oscar fare playing here.
The Danish Girl premiered at Venice but did not travel to Telluride. Directed by Tom Hooper, it stars Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe, one of the first persons known to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Surprisingly, the role shares many similarities with Redmayne’s Oscar-winning turn in The Theory of Everything, focusing on a marriage where the wife makes extraordinary concessions for her husband’s sudden dramatic crisis. Redmayne’s performance in The Theory of Everything was harrowing and brilliant. In his second run in a row for Best Actor, he’s more tender, gentle and sensitive. Hooper shoots the film exactly as you would expect him to: safely, dependably, elegantly and somewhat guardedly. Although Redmayne’s performance will be the main attraction for most people, attention should be paid more thoroughly to his co-star Alicia Vikander who gives a brilliant performance as Gerda Wegener, the wife. Vikander is a star in the making, just like Felicity Jones was in Theory, and provides much needed artistry to the film’s masterpiece theater setting. The subject matter is provocative, Redmayne’s transformation is convincing, Vikander is hot and an actress to be reckoned with.
Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan won the Palme D’Or this year at Cannes and caused a slight backlash because of it. Don’t listen to the critics; this French film is top notch. It features a great performance from lead Jesuthasan Antonythasan, who plays a former Sri Lankan Tamil warrior fleeing his native country along with two Sri Lankan women, seeking refuge in what they think is a peaceful neighborhood in France. Many refugees in the film have lied to get away from the civil war in Sri Lanka. Dheepan and his companions pretend they are a family of three, but in reality they are not father, mother and daughter. Understandably, there’s ample reason for tension between the three of them, which is clearly felt in every scene.
The film tells what transpires when title character, a former Tamil Tiger, takes a job as a caretaker in a crime- and drugs-ridden apartment block in the Paris suburbs. Many immigrants have fled the strife of their own country, only to find themselves embroiled in deadly struggles of a different kind. As a caretaker of a rundown building, Deephan is faced with problems he clearly doesn’t see coming, since the place has been overrun by gangsters who conduct their business with brutality on a nightly basis. This doesn’t sit well with the main character, who’s clearly dealing with a case of PTSD, so he decides to take matters into his own hands. In the end, the peaceful caretaker Dheepan is forced to become a fierce fighter once again.
The film is raw and one of the very best to address the Sri Lankan Tamil conflict. Audiard has sometimes struggled to give his great films a proper climax (A Prophert, Rust and Bone) and Deephan is perhaps another example of that. The last several minutes may be divisive, but the resonance the film leaves for the viewer is rare in cinema these days. It provokes, asks questions, and provides an emotional experience that is hard to shake.