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September 2021

Duck and Dive

National Geographic Documentary Films

The Rescue (2021)

A documentary recounting the 2018 mission to save a Thai soccer team of 12 kids and a coach trapped inside a flooded cave, “The Rescue” easily matches any dramatic action thriller in its ability to rivet viewers. This is no surprise coming from Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, the filmmaking couple behind the Oscar-winning “Free Solo.”

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Taking Care of Business


Montana Story (2021)

Imminent death has a way of bringing the living together, whether that’s what they want or not. Blood responsibility and the requirements of endings – not the same thing as closure, which is a cherry on top – mean that last chances are a compulsion almost impossible to ignore. When the setting for this reckoning is the chilly Montana prairie, where regular people work several jobs in a second-hand coat to survive, there’s a harsh immediacy not found in more comfortable and/or populated places. Here the secrets are all out in the open.

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Cat's Cradle

Jaap Buitendijk/Amazon Studios

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (2021)

Benedict Cumberbatch turns up his eccentricity to 11 in “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain,” as the titular Victorian era artist whose claim to fame is drawing cats for The Illustrated London News. He was apparently also into electricity and patents, which the film glosses over despite the titular reference – but it shows enough here to remind us of the time Mr. Cumberbatch played Thomas Edison in “The Current War: Director’s Cut.”

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Disaster Gay

Final Cut for Real/Neon

Flee (2021)

A true story about an Afghan refugee who spent years hiding out in Russia before making it to Denmark to resume some semblance of normal life, “Flee” joins the recent chorus of films covering the same topic, including “Limbo,” “I Carry You With Me,” “El cuartito,” “Chal Mera Putt,” fellow TIFF entry “Snakehead” etc. What makes Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s film stand out is that it’s entirely animated, at times seemingly drawn directly over documentary-style interviews while other times illustrating flashbacks told during these sessions. It’s also perhaps the timeliest of the batch, given recent events in Afghanistan.

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All in the Family


All My Puny Sorrows (2021)

Movies about death are often the most vibrantly alive. How’s that for irony? A very early sequence in the wonderful “All My Puny Sorrows” shows a man standing in a railway crossing, working himself up to step into the path of an oncoming train. As the sirens blare and the barriers drop, he takes off his glasses and sets them neatly onto the ground. Is it so as not to make a mess? Or is it because it’s easier to go to your death if you can’t exactly see what’s coming? These are just some of the questions this somber, joyous, intellectual movie grapples with. But what makes it a joy to watch despite the heavy subject matter is how much love saturates the story – love which can survive the most permanent separation.

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Irreconcilable Differences


The Wheel (2021)

Director Steve Pink is best known for directing both “Hot Tub Time Machine” movies, but he also wrote the screenplays for “Grosse Pointe Blank” and “High Fidelity.” These movies are all basically about whether John Cusack will stop being a jackass with his friends (or fellow assassins) in order to find the love that’s been right there all along. “The Wheel,” which is Mr. Cusack-free and written by Trent Atkinson, is a smaller but more heartfelt exploration of similar themes. In this case the jackass is a woman and the love is halfway out the door.

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Youthful Offender

Céline Nieszawer

Arthur Rambo (2021)

It’s really, really annoying to see a movie try to make a sociological point when it doesn’t understand the meaning of its own plot in the first place. This is a trap a lot of people fall into when they are talking about social media that they don’t use themselves. Reading about Twitter is not the same thing as being on Twitter. Lurking on the site is not the same thing as being an active user. And there is a colossal difference in being torn to pieces over a misunderstanding, or after deliberately poking the bear. But you’d think you’d get all that cleared up before going to the trouble of making a movie about it.

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Carole Bethuel/Neon

Titane (2021)

If you are going to see “Titane” – which, as a bona fide patron of the arts, you should; it’s won Palme d’or and all – you’d be best advised to go in cold. Engaging with it here on any beyond-the-bare-bones level – screenplay, direction, acting, special effects et al. – simply necessitates spoiling. Basically, it’s a series of bonkers body-horror set pieces built strictly on shock value, with writer-director Julia Ducournau overreaching to connect the far-fetched dots.

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Gang Up


The Hill Where Lionesses Roar (2021)

The awkward title might sound better in the original Albanian. The lionesses are three poor, socially outcast 18-year-olds in an Albanian-speaking village in Kosovo, impatiently kicking their heels as they wait to discover if they have passed their college entrance exams. Education is the only ticket out, and they are desperate for its escape; no country will give them visas without an education, and none of them want to spend their lives in their backwater town, cleaning toilets or cutting hair like their mothers. They have ambitions but no one else has any of these things for them. But as the summer passes their dreams alter, twisting a coming-of-age story into something else altogether.

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R. Arpajou/Kino Lorber

France (2021)

At a press conference held by President Emmanuel Macron, the first question goes to famous and well-respected TV journalist France de Meurs (Léa Seydoux). Her question is so scorchingly insulting it takes the president a little while to answer, and as he does, France makes eye contact with her assistant, Lou (Blanche Gardin) at the side of the room. They egg each other on with increasingly obscene gestures, laughing in triumph, as he wriggles on her journalistic hook. It’s very clear writer-director Bruno Dumont is using real footage of Mr. Macron, edited together for the appearance of a real event with Ms. Seydoux C.G.I.-ed in – something American cinema hasn’t allowed itself to do with a sitting leader since the speech purportedly given by Bill Clinton in 1996’s “Contact.” This is by far the most interesting part of the movie.

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