Faulty Memory


Aftersun (2022)

First time writer-director Charlotte Wells very nearly did an excellent job with “Aftersun,” but she didn’t trust herself to get her point across, and overdoes it so badly the whole movie spoils. The framing device of adult Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) obsessively revisiting the camcorder footage of a holiday her 11-year-old self (Frankie Corio) took with her absentee father Calum (Paul Mescal, playing five years older than his real age), is completely unnecessary. Worse, Ms. Wells doesn’t trust the audience to figure out the import of this story, and therefore included several brief scenes about Calum’s state of mind which Sophie is not party to. The scene on the dive boat is an unforgivable cheat; the same point is just as beautifully, and more sadly made, when Sophie asks Calum how he spent his own eleventh birthday. But “Aftersun” is not meant to be an exercise in realism; it’s one of memory, and how wallowing in thin evidence can build its own narrative. That constructed narrative is not necessarily accurate of course, but that’s a problem for another film.

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Crash Dive

Vince Valitutti/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

Thirteen Lives (2022)

“Apollo 13” might have been the film that changed the game in Hollywood. It was a dramatic re-enactment of a real-life event most people had either forgotten about, or not quite understood the historical importance of. But that aborted space flight happened in 1970; and Ron Howard directed the movie version in 1995. Nowadays the rush to adapt real-life events into filmic re-enactments happens almost as soon as news cameras arrive on the ground. “Thirteen Lives” is about a Thai football team getting trapped in a flooded cave in 2018 – that is to say, four years ago. The teenagers who were in that cave are still teenagers now. Is that a spoiler? But how can it be, when the incident is so fresh in our minds? So what Mr. Howard needed to do was find an angle like what “Apollo 13” had. In that case, it was to remind us of human ingenuity in times of crisis and what humanity lost by stopping our exploration of the universe. It is unfortunate that this time around, Mr. Howard did no such thing.

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Life Under Siege

Oxymoron Films

Our River . . . Our Sky (2022)

The key scene in this Iraqi film comes about two-thirds of the way through. Sara (Darina Al Joundi) is on a bus stuck in Baghdadi traffic when there’s a nearby burst of machine-gun fire. Everyone ducks, wearily; they have all done this before. It’s 2006 and the war is raging. But it’s soon over, with only one corpse in the street; and the driver reassures the passengers they are all safe. Everyone sits up, mutters a few curses, take a few deep breaths and starts cracking jokes. If their bodies were dumped in a strange part of town, at least it would be a nice change of scenery! Maybe their corpse can go to Paris, Venice, Dubai! And this group of strangers all laugh in glee at still being alive.

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Made to Measure

Courtesy of TIFF

The Blue Caftan (2022)

Now this is cinema. It’s a small movie, with a slow pace, focused on watching three people think their thoughts and say very little of what they are actually thinking. It’s set in a place most people have heard of – Casablanca – but in a world most people haven’t – the workshop of a master craftsman (a maâlem) who embroiders caftans by hand. In Moroccan culture, caftans made by a maâlem are a treasured possession designed to last the lifetime of the wearer, or even passed from mother to daughter in a way that perhaps only christening gowns are in the West. (One customer mentions her caftan was a gift from her husband on the birth of their first son, 50 years ago.) Or at least they were. Times being what they are, hardly anyone is interested in buying something designed to last forever anymore. But a movie like “The Blue Caftan” makes a beautiful, enchanting case for always taking your time.

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Bearer of Bad News

Courtesy of TIFF

Until Branches Bend (2022)

Robin (Grace Glowicki) is in her 20s and works as a grader at the fruit factory in town. It’s one of the best jobs going locally; and she is proud to do it, and takes it seriously. She lives with her younger sister Laney (Alexandra Roberts), who dates the rich boys for whom a summer of physical labor is a fun escape. Robin dates men who are married. There’s Jay (Paul Kular), with whom she is forever having arguments in parking lots; and there’s factory management Dennis (Lochlyn Munro, excellent as the bland, depersonalized face of corporate evil). As a grader, it’s Robin’s job to give the fruit the final once-over before putting them into the punnets which go to the shops. In one fruit she notices a kind of beetle. Not on the fruit – in the fruit. She has the presence of mind to go on break before taking a few photos and bringing the evidence to Dennis. She’s worried this is an early harbinger of an infestation, the kind that can ruin an entire crop and throw the whole valley out of work. The kind of modern-day plague that can cause your parents to lose their farm and hasten their deaths and leave someone living alone with their sister. Dennis reassures her he will handle it, but Robin already knows about the lies married men can tell.

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Restricted Aria

Larry Horricks/20th Century Studios

Chevalier (2022)

The opening scene is almost too good to be true. Mozart himself is giving a concert in Paris when an audience member stands up and insults him. Of course Mozart laughs – he’s Mozart! – but the smile vanishes when the insulter challenges him to a violin-playing duel. Of course Mozart accepts – he’s Mozart! – but soon realizes that the challenger is actually pretty damn good, and the audience is so delighted by his chutzpah and his skill that they cheer him to victory. Who the hell is this? Well, his name is Joseph Bologne (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and before this triumph he stood out in 18th-century French high society anyway. He’s Black.

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No Netflix, No Chill

Searchlight Pictures

Empire of Light (2022)

At a certain point, blockbuster filmmakers must get bored. If you have, over the course of your career, demonstrated that you can handle both small budgets and colossal ones, high romance and shooty-action stuff, talky teenagers and morose adults, then what mountains are there left to climb? If you’re Sam Mendes, you direct your own screenplay and call it “Empire of Light.” It’s a love letter to cinema, of course; while he might be winning a bet he made with himself he’s still career-minded enough to keep his pet project in awards consideration. But while he was at it, Mr. Mendes decided to give cinematographer Roger Deakins a few tough marks to hit as well (backlit night fireworks, lamplit rooms at sunrise and the inside of a projectionist’s booth are just three examples). The irritating thing is that Mr. Mendes and Mr. Deakins are so skilled they could have succeeded blindfolded. They are two of current cinema’s greatest auteurs, who know how to stage an image in a way that elevates the plot. “Empire of Light” is so casually gorgeous it’s easy to overlook its flaws.

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Killer Instinct

Courtesy of TIFF

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

When was the last time a movie was so thoroughly, unashamedly, fun? Rian Johnson might have had “Star Wars” unjustifiably taken away from him, but never has anyone needed a major franchise less. Not when he can, with no visible strain on his part and all the support in the world (including a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival), casually set up a better one of his own. “Glass Onion” is a flawless delight; and it’s crystal clear Mr. Johnson is only getting started.

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The Parent Trap

Universal Pictures

Ticket to Paradise (2022)

As an advertisement for modern parenting, “Ticket to Paradise” is a terrific argument for abortion on demand. Instead, it’s meant to be that dying art, the romantic comedy. While on holiday in Bali with best friend Wren (Billie Lourd), recent law grad Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) meets local man Gede (pronounced G’day, and played by Maxime Bouttier) and almost immediately they decide to get married. But the movie doesn’t care about them. Their relationship only exists to spite Lily’s parents, who have been bitterly divorced for decades. Instead the romance and the comedy are meant to be found in whether David (George Clooney) and Georgia (Julia Roberts) will be able to set aside their mutual loathing and work together to prevent the wedding. How comedic! How romantic!

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Modern-Day Gypsy

Sony Pictures Classics

Carmen (2022)

Robert De Niro once answered a question about his career by saying “The talent is the choices.” Whether or not Paul Mescal knows that quote, it’s advice he has taken to heart. After the television show “Normal People” captured everyone’s imaginations in early lockdown, both he and his costar Daisy Edgar-Jones were given the freedom to choose what they wanted to do next, an incredible position for any actor in their early 20s to be in. While Ms. Edgar-Jones has gone for unusual rom-coms and more standard courtroom dramas, Mr. Mescal has proved himself willing to experiment, and push beyond the comfort zone a lot of actors on the rise have.

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