Hot new films from day four of TIFF

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Cedric Kahn and Bérénice Bejo in L’économie du couple

I’m not sure how people can manage to see four to five movies in a day, go to an afterparty and get up and do it all over again the next day.

Maybe they don’t go to 8:30 a.m. screenings of Xavier Dolan’s new movie.

L’économie du couple (After Love)

Joachim Lafosse’s The White Knights really blew me away when I saw it last year as part of Cinemania. A dark, cynical take on the work of white “benefactors” in Africa, it employed a real lack of glamour and artifice in its characterizations. Cynicism seems to be Lafosse’s concern these days if his latest film L’économie du couple is any indication — it’s an emotionally gruelling domestic drama with a courageously uncommercial hook.

When we meet Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and Boris (Cedric Kahn), they’re already in the midst of a separation. We don’t know what led to them separating, but they still cohabitate with their twin daughters in the apartment that they’ve always lived in. Marie comes from money, so the entirety of the money used to buy the apartment came from her and her mother (Marthe Keller); Boris, on the other hand, is a handyman without a penny to his name who often fell short on payments but nevertheless renovated the entire apartment himself, bringing up the value. Tensions flare as Boris continues to linger in the apartment, requesting half of the proceeds of its sale, and maybe operating under the hopes that his presence might rekindle the relationship.

If you thought “my parents split up mostly because of money” is a terribly depressing concept for a movie, you’re entirely correct. The film is often harrowing in its realism and its familiarity (and I say this as someone whose parents are still together and has not had a break-up since the age of 22), yet remains entirely compelling despite what would appear to be dry subject matter. The film could use some fleshing out in its leads; too often the dynamic boils down to Boris appearing uncaring and Marie appearing on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and it’s one of those things where it starts to become unclear why they were ever together in the first place. But its relative lack of melodrama (it does hit a kind of bum note in the third act, but not fatally so) makes it a perfectly gloomy, despairing bit of business. Don’t see it on a date.

L’économie du couple does not yet have a release date, but you can bet on it making a festival appearance in Montreal sooner than later.

Hello Destroyer

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It’s a familiar (and deeply Canadian) story: a young man works all his life to play hockey. He’s told repeatedly to do whatever it takes to succeed; that legends are born through perseverance, hard work and taking no shit on the ice. That young man turns out to be particularly good at wailing on others players and using physical strength to do so, so the coach gives him that task. Then, one day, one false move. A push that’s a little too hard, a slip in the wrong direction. Another player is seriously injured, and the tides turn. Suddenly the player is an animal, a savage, a psychopath.

That’s more or less the approach taken by B.C.-based director Kevan Funk with his debut feature Hello Destroyer. With a style best described as an even more laconic Gus van Sant (lots of shots of backs of heads, of driving, of people stewing in silence), the film offers a contemplative look at the culture of violence and toxic masculinity that drives hockey. It’s as Canadian as a Weakerthans song and as depressing as that second Leonard Cohen record. The contemplative style can sometimes drag and the ending feels too self-consciously dark and edgy, but Funk is one of those filmmakers who emerges with a debut that already has a fully-formed style and perspective. I can only imagine what comes next.

Hello Destroyer does not yet have a release date.

The Bleeder

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Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber in The Bleeder

Essentially all boxing films post-Rocky exist in a world where they have to at least tangentially acknowledge a deep debt to Rocky. The fact that Philippe Falardeau’s The Bleeder tells the story of the guy who originally inspired Stallone to craft the character of Rocky first struck me as a bad sign. What would The Bleeder be, if not just an umpteenth retelling of Rocky?

Good news (for me, at least): The Bleeder is barely a boxing film. It’s a film about a boxer, the genial Jersey-born Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber). Known more for his punch-receiving prowess than his punch-giving skill, Wepner nevertheless lands a chance gig against Muhammad Ali in 1974. He loses the fight, of course, but becomes a bit of a celebrity – which all goes to his head when he recognizes himself so much in the character of Rocky, leading him and his best friend (Jim Gaffigan) down a familiar ’70s spiral of booze, dope, disco, moustaches and so on, much to the displeasure of his wife Phyllis (Elisabeth Moss).

Granted, a rise-and-fall biopic set in the ’70s is nothing new, but Falardeau manages to give the film a lot of atmosphere without necessarily resorting to the broadest clichés. Schreiber is a hoot as the gregarious Wepner, and the film has a sort of humility about it that’s refreshing for a biopic. (The film never really makes the claim that Wepner was forgotten or somehow undervalued in his time; even if it does take some liberties with the real story, its touch remains relatively light.) Although Falardeau’s second American film remains significantly more straightforward and commercial than his homegrown work, The Bleeder is a lot of fun.

The Bleeder is slated for a Fall 2016 release.

American Honey

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Sasha Lane in American Honey

There’s a lot that could go wrong with Andrea Arnold’s American debut: namely, it’s her American debut and pretty much the entirety of her prior work explored the nooks and crevices of the British working class. American Honey fits in rather neatly with the rest of her work, an epic-length road movie that’s part Harmony Korine and part Terrence Malick. Newcomer Sasha Lane plays Star, a young woman who escapes her dead-end home life by joining a band of roving misfits who drive through the American South selling (possibly bogus) magazine subscriptions.

Drawn in by the charm of top-seller Jake (Shia LaBeouf), Star experiences freedom and independence (not to mention wealth, relatively speaking; we’re introduced to her while she’s dumpster-diving a chicken with her foster siblings) on this kaleidoscopic road-trip/bender. Employing similar full-frame cinematography as she did in her previous films, Arnold traces an outsized portrait of an outsized lot of characters, but unlike the aforementioned Korine, she never invites us to gawk at their misery and their peccadilloes. (She does invite us to gawk at an unnecessarily large amount of scenes of everyone dancing, though — the film seems to end three times only to be beset by yet another dance scene.) It’s a resolutely human and heartfelt portrait of lives lived just a notch or two above the skids, an outsized and exhausting epic of tiny moments. ■

American Honey is slated for release in Oct. 2016.

TIFF continues through Sept. 18. See regular reports at cultmontreal.com.

See our report from day 1 here, day 2 here and day 3 here.

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