Nurse-ry Crimes

Courtesy of TIFF

The Good Nurse (2022)

The main topic of “The Good Nurse,” which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, is healthcare under capitalism, while its subtext is the power of kindness. It’s important to make that explicit since there’s a worrying recent trend for audiences to interpret “based on a true story” to mean that what is shown on screen is exactly as things happened in real life. There is no longer tolerance for changes to serve a cinematic purpose (such as the third child in “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) or in order to simplify complicated plots (such as when multiple characters are combined into one in almost any film). Netflix has pushed this “based on a true story” to new limits, by having the subject of the brand-new “A Friend of the Family” appear at the start to assure us it exists with her blessing. There is some argument for this – if someone made a movie about my life while I was still alive to see it, you had better believe I’d expect all my irritating opinions to be respected by the filmmakers. But there is also a strong case for a better understanding about the blurred lines inherent in any retelling – life is messy and complicated, and sometimes sanding the edges makes for a better story. On a less philosophical level, a better understanding of how fiction handles the truth would also cut down on spoilers, and more easily enable us to examine a piece of art on its own terms. Nothing is ever only about itself; there’s always subtext. “The Good Nurse” is also a Netflix film, and also based on a true story, but writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns (a Brit, ie someone from a nation with socialized healthcare) and director Tobias Lindholm (a Dane, also from a nation with socialized healthcare) are uninterested in sensationalizing suffering. For once we have a movie which minimizes its depiction of pain.

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Life in the Dumps

Courtesy of TIFF

Daughter of Rage (2022)

A swarm of kids on a Nicaraguan landfill approach as an ambulance opens its back doors and hurls out what are clearly bags of medical waste. The kids pounce, and to their delight discover that one of the bags contains body parts. As they begin a mock fight with some amputated arms, one of them shouts, “The dead are here!” For a grim opener, you could hardly do better, though “Daughter of Rage” is not a macabre horror story. It’s just a run-of-the-mill horror story, about what poverty does to an 11-year-old girl whose mother cannot protect her.

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Spirit of the North

Courtesy of TIFF

Ever Deadly (2022)

Tanya Tagaq is a well-known name in Canada, and this documentary about her life and work, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and which she codirected with Chelsea McMullan, takes that a little too much for granted. Ms. Tagaq is a poet – excerpts from her book “Split Tooth” are read in voiceover over anatomically correct animated drawings by Inuk artist Shuvinai Ashoona. However she is mainly known as a singer – a throat singer, to be precise. The movie begins with a display of traditional Inuit throat singing, which is always a duet, in which Ms. Tagaq and Laakkuluk Williams Bathory appear to be passing the same breath back and forth as they vocalize. But the core of the film in a concert performance of Ms. Tagaq’s contemporary throat singing, in which she is backed by a three-piece band as she takes over a concert hall by appearing to harmonize with herself.

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No Refuge in Holy Mother Church

Courtesy of TIFF

Pray for Our Sinners (2022)

At the world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, director Sinead O’Shea expressed anxiety about how “Pray for Our Sinners” will be received in Ireland, specifically in her hometown of Navan, where the documentary was made and is set. This is not only because of the consequences it might have for her personally – her sister works at the elementary school at its center, for a start – but also because of the cultural sensitivity which still surrounds its subject. It is no longer a secret that the Catholic Church in Ireland was a brutal master, which used extreme social control as well as violence to maintain its power and run Irish society to its own ends. But what is still secret is how some people were able to defy the church at the height of its power, mostly through hidden methods. Ms. O’Shea frames this narrative of revelation through a modern, American-style lens, one of power and resistance. This is an unusual framing in Irish culture, which tends to take abuse of power as a given, defiance as something to be proud of, but above all, “whatever you say, say nothing.” The reason for this framing is Ms. O’Shea’s embarrassment at growing up under the shadow of some local heroes without any idea they were there. It is an excellent demonstration of how the personal is political.

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Paternity Test

Courtesy of TIFF

This Place (2022)

“This Place” is a sweet but slight movie that does itself no favors with the generic title. Its explorations of what it means to be Canadian – more accurately, a person who happens to be growing up in Canada who is neither white nor straight – hold a great deal of interest. That’s hampered by the fact that director V. T. Nayani, who cowrote the script with fast-rising star Devery Jacobs and Golshan Abdmoulaie (who also has a small part), has a sophomoric outlook. That’s not to say “This Place” is puerile, far from it. It’s only exactly what you would expect – a little narcissistic, a little exhausting – about 21-year-olds with complicated daddy issues. Of course there’s a lot of innate sympathy for any coming-of-age story. But how charming you find it usually depends on how much about life you’ve worked out for yourself.

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Say Yes to the Dress

Dávid Lukács/Focus Features

Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris (2022)

Sometimes a gem comes along at just the right time to cheer everybody up. In 2022, that gem is “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” which is about the importance of kindness, community and good clothes, three things the world has been sorely lacking these last horrible years. It stars Lesley Manville as the most lovable British heroine since Bridget Jones, is about a journey of self-discovery via haute couture and is rated PG. Not since David Mamet made “The Winslow Boy” has a movie so adult also been appropriate for all ages. But this one is much better looking.

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Father Figured

Courtesy of TIFF

Prisoner's Daughter (2022)

Catherine Hardwicke is probably the least appreciated director working today. She personally revolutionized cinema with the alienated, moody “Twilight” – say what you will about it, it tapped into a deep (admittedly embarrassing) vein of teenage-girl longing and made young-adult adaptions the biggest thing in cinema for a good decade. She also has a knack for offering future stars their first big leading roles, most notably Oscar Isaac in “Nativity Story.” However, she did not direct any of the increasingly silly “Twilight” sequels, on which fellow director Lexi Alexander once sent some famously sharp tweets about how this was the perfect example of Hollywood sexism. And it must be said that Ms. Hardwicke’s films since “Twilight,” either for teenagers or adults, have not been terribly successful. From that angle this makes “Prisoner’s Daughter,” which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, an important movie, because if it does not succeed at what it sets out to do, it will be the end of an important director’s career. It’s pleasing to say that it does – but only just.

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Kingdom Done

Felix Vratny/IFC Films

Corsage (2022)

Early on there’s a slow-motion shot of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Vicky Krieps) and her three ladies-in-waiting (Jeanne Werner, Alma Hasun and Katharina Lorenz) running up some palace stairs. The shot is slow-motion to allow the audience to realize that they filmed in the actual palace without bothering to cover up the modern trappings of the museum it has become, to the point there’s a uniformed guard in a glass ticket booth by the door. This jarring choice by writer-director Marie Kreutzer might have been an inevitable budgetary consequence – they could shoot in the genuine historical locations, or in perfectly accurate period settings, but not both – but it turns the heart of the film away from Elisabeth into the conflict we have when assessing a real historical figure with modern eyes.

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A Bitter Pill

Nan Goldin

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022)

There has rarely been a more effective demonstration of how the personal can be political. Nan Goldin should be mentioned in the same breath as Sylvia Plath as artists who changed the world through their overwhelmingly emotional, deeply personal art. Ms. Plath was a poet, whose work was seen through the gendered lens of “confessional” and whose suicide has unfortunately permanently overshadowed her incredible talents as a writer. Happily Ms. Goldin is still alive, despite a life equally full of pain. She is most famous for “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency,” a photographic slide show set to music which debuted in 1986, depicting herself and her friends going out or staying in, having sex, taking drugs, being ill in hospital or other similarly private and intimate activities. (The best version is in the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, while a more British-themed version is in the permanent collection of the Tate in London.) It runs on a continuous loop and can be an overwhelming experience due to the rawness of emotion from the combination of sound and images that somehow floods the viewing room. Like a great movie, come to think.

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Lady Killer of the Night

Profile Pictures and One Two Films

Holy Spider (2022)

It’s 2001, in the Iranian city of Mashhad, the nation’s spiritual capital. At first we follow a drug-addicted sex worker (Firouz Agheli) as she leaves her little daughter asleep in bed and goes about her unhappy trade. Her only comfort comes from smoking opium with a friend; the johns she meets cheat her of money and physically abuse her. Then she is murdered in shocking close-up by a man who wraps her body in a carpet, lays it across the back of his motorbike and rides out of the city to dispose of her in the hills.

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