TIFF23 Day Two: Exploring International Cinema
The international component of The Toronto International Film Festival has vast offerings and really traversed the map on day two of the festival. The first film of day 2 of TIFF23 was a film that premierred at Cannes earlier this year and the likely submission from Italy for the Academy Awards international submission. “Kidnapped” (Rapito) is an operatic-style drama detailing the true story of Pope Pius IX (Paolo Pierobon), who gave the order to have a Jewish child removed from his family because the child had been secretly baptized. The bombastic score aids the over-the-top direction by Marco Bellocchio—a film about the overall forcefulness of Christianity.
“Kidnapped” isn’t a page-turner; it lacks suspense despite the subject matter. It’s overly dramatic in some parts and too stagnant in others. Taking full advantage of historical shooting locations in Bologna and Rome might have history and architecture buffs swooning. The narrative focus is split between the family desperately trying to get their young boy returned and the ungodly ruthlessness of the clergy. Enea Sala, who plays the young Edgardo from age six to eight, gives a Jacob Tremblay-type performance that ignited his career.
From Italy to New Bedford, Massachusetts, “Finestkind” is the newest film from Tommy Lee Jones and Ben Foster, co-starring girl of the moment Jeanna Ortega. It’s a middle America thriller about fishermen in New England making all the wrong choices and learning hard life lessons to redeem themselves. It’s also the film that has garnered the most sneers, to poorly written lines like “I’m your explicative daddy,” coming from a characteristically salty Jones. Finestkind has already become a social media pinata with reactions from the press and appears to have the most walkouts.
When asked what “Finestkind” means, Foster’s character, a down-on-his-luck boat captain, explains to his half-brother, charismatic Toby Wallace, that it’s the Swiss army knife of words. This movie goes from fisherman drama to criminal suspense, culminating in a “Hell or High Water” wannabe manner. Director Brian Helgeland (“A Knights Tale,” “Legend”) does a decent job of bringing the viewer into this world of desperate men trying to make an honest living despite the screenplay being as weak as water.
On the opposite end of walkouts is when the press screenings erupt in applause after the film. This occurred at the first must-see picture of the year, “The Promised Land,” starring the ever-reliable Mads Mikkelsen. A non-American western, but a genre entry just the same, is a “Game of Thrones” level land dispute set in the 1800s. Director Nikolaj Arcel reteams with Mikkelsen following their excellent collaborations on “A Royal Affair” and “Riders of Justice.”
Everything about “The Promised Land” works, from the gorgeous cinematography to the gut-wrenching original score. There’s brutal violence, romance, and well-tailored suspense that doesn’t waste a second of screen time. It’s filmmaking on a grand scale that should again land Denmark in the running for one of the five international nominee spots. Mikkelsen delivers another stoic performance, using glances and body language more than words. It’s a performance similar to Christian Bale’s in “Hostiles.”
Remaining in the same period, only set in New Zealand this time, is “The Convert” by director Lee Tamahori. The hit-or-miss director (“Die Another Day,” “XXX: State of the Union”) returns to his filmmaking roots with a story imperial conquest of the indigenous tribes. Guy Pearce leads the film as a preacher sent to the not-so-promised land, where he finds Christian settlers in turmoil with themselves and warring tribes. The unconventional peacekeeper, erring on the side of common sense and equality more so than the Bible, is caught between a battle fueled by the British selling their weapons to both sides.
It’s “The Last of the Mohicans” or “The New World” as far as plotting, style and outcomes go. There is no denying the transportive nature of the film, offering lush shots of the New Zealand coast. The script and plot are soft, and while not based on actual events, “The Convert” isn’t interested in teaching the audience much about culture. Tamahori has directed enough action films to keep this film engaging, but it’s predictable surface-level stuff that offers little conversation or cinematic achievement.
As day 2 of TIFF23 wraps, the festival continues to heat up with new discoveries daily, the best appears yet to come in the days ahead as numerous films will have their world debuts—new movies from Olivia Colman, Viggo Mortensen, Kate Winslet, and many more.