TIFF 2019: Hearts and Bones, Saint Maud and Saturday Fiction – quick reviews

Saint Maud. Image credit: Courtesy of TIFF

For the first time I’ve been granted press accreditation for the Toronto International Film Festival®, recognised as one of the largest and most prestigious film festivals in the world. So, I had the opportunity to watch and review a bunch of movies. This article features three short reviews of Hearts and Bones (Australia, Ben Lawrence, drama/thriller), Saint Maud (Rose Glass, United Kingdom, horror), Saturday Fiction (Lou Ye, China, drama/history).

Continue reading and check my quickies below…

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Hearts and Bones – short review

Hearts and Bones - Image credit, courtesy of TIFF
Hearts and Bones. Image credit: Courtesy of TIFF

Hugo Weaving is Dan, an acclaimed war photographer suffering from PTSD. He has just returned home to prepare for his latest exhibition when a South Sudanese refugee appears at his door and begs Dan not to exhibit any photographs of the massacre in his village, taken 15 years earlier. What emerges is an unlikely friendship between the two men, which leads them to make a startling discovery: the refugee’s daughter, thought dead, may still be alive.

In this impressive directorial debut, Ben Lawrence is able to combine the main storyline (which is about the search of peace and salvation) with a reflection upon the current issue of immigrants in Australia, specifically in the Western Sydney suburbs in which the movie is filmed. Solid performances from both leads (Weaving is jaw-dropping as expected; newcomer Andrew Luri as Adam is an outstanding surprise) help the narrative to flow seamlessly, while many points about social issues are communicated in the background. In this regard, the racial diversity to be found in Sydney, as it’s depicted in this film, plays as a major character onto its own. The director’s direct experience as a volunteer for Amnesty International brings a level of authenticity to the film that is reflected first and foremost in the characters, but it extends to the framing and the way environments and confrontations are shot.

The biggest gripe with Hearts and Bones revolves around the opening scene, which reveals a lot about Dan’s character in a rather on-the-nose way: this decision causes the discovery of Dan’s traits throughout the film to feel less impactful than it could have been. The mystery/thriller aspect of the film, on the other hand, comes off as a plot device rather than a genuine puzzle the audience wants to be solved.

Hearts and Bones                             8/10

Saint Maud – short review

Saint Maud - Image credit, courtesy of TIFF
Saint Maud. Image credit: Courtesy of TIFF

Speaking of directorial debuts, first-time director Rose Glass puts herself on the map with a psychological horror film that follows a pious nurse (Maud, Morfydd Clark) who becomes dangerously obsessed with saving the soul of her dying patient.

Within a very short 83-minute runtime, Saint Maud delivers a lot on many levels. This is a film that shows how good intentions can lead to terrifying and horrific consequences when unhealthy doubt and paranoia come into play. Through a captivating and multi-faceted performance from its lead character, Saint Maud lures the audience with what begins as the display of empathetic relationships between Maud and her patients. Maud’s dogmatic candour, however, soon turns the somewhat light-hearted beginning into an unnerving and shocking viewing experience. Although the unsettling atmosphere (crafted through the expert use of sound-design and cinematography) is what this horror film is immediately noticeable for, Saint Maud doesn’t shy away from disturbing scenes and images, which build up in a very climactic way.

Inspired by other religious horror forerunners, the main issue with Saint Maud consists of the derivative nature of some scenes/choices featured in the movie.

Saint Maud                                         8/10

Saturday Fiction – short review

Saturday Fiction - Image credit, courtesy of TIFF
Saturday Fiction. Image credit: Courtesy of TIFF

In 1941, since the Japanese occupation, China has become a wartime intelligence battlefield. Iconic actress Jean Yu (Li Gong) returns to Shanghai, on paper to appear in the play “Saturday Fiction” directed by her former lover. But what is her true aim? To free her ex-husband? To gather intelligence for the Allied Forces? To work for her adoptive father? Or to escape from war with her lover?

The latest film from renowned Chines filmmaker Lou Ye finds its strength in two aspects: first and foremost, Saturday Fiction stands out from a visual standpoint. Entirely shot on gritty, dirty, black and white film, this movie perfectly captures the emotions Chinese people must’ve gone through during WWII: uncertainty and fear were silent companions of their lives, as the Japanese occupation and the presence of spies wouldn’t allow for freedom in any situation. The cinematography, here, encapsulates the parallels between a society that seems pretty and neat on the surface but it’s, in fact, rotten underneath. The other standout aspect of Saturday Fiction is Li Gong’s performance: this fantastic actress is, basically, acting multiple different characters within a single character.

On the other hand, the director’s intent to make the viewer experience the same uncertainty the characters are going through cause more harm than good to the film: there isn’t a character you can latch on to, as everyone might be a spy or might be acting; the story feels confusing in a way that, over the 127-minute-long runtime, feels jarring rather than purposeful. Overall, Saturday Fiction feels a bit long in the tooth and convoluted, making the stunning visual experience a tad less impactful.

Saturday Fiction                               6/10

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