Paul Greengrass, Peter Farrelly and more on our last day of TIFF coverage

Peter Farrelly makes his dramatic debut, Paul Greengrass takes on more real-life tragedy, Peter Strickland goes even deeper and a truly bizarre Portuguese film charms our last day of TIFF 2018 coverage.

22 July

It’s been a hacky punchline for like 20 years that any real-life tragedy is inevitably going to be turned into a movie; understanding that to be inevitable, we should probably pray that those movies are made by Paul Greengrass rather than, say, Peter Berg. Greengrass sort of wrote the book on rigorous re-enactment of unthinkable tragedy with films like Bloody Sunday and United 93, so he would be a natural to tackle the mass shooting at Utoya, in Norway, that claimed the lives of 77 people. Unfortunately, Greengrass lets his inner Berg poke through, delivering a heavily uneven mix of cloying melodrama and exacting re-enactment.

The film focuses on three “branches” of the tragedy: the massacre perpetrated by white supremacist Anders Behring Breivik (Anders Danielsen Lie) and his subsquent trial as he’s represented by a left-wing lawyer (Jon Oigarden), the governmental response led by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (Ola G. Furuseth) and the recovery process of a young man (Thorbjorn Harr) who was severely injured in the attacks. It would be absolutely, brutally unwatchable for Greengrass to focus entirely on the massacre, but by approaching everything with a supposedly journalistic objectivity (which we know full well is impossible), he winds up making a film that’s seriously lacking.

One of the major problems is how much time he devotes to Breivik and his pickle-dick white supremacist rhetoric. Breivik is depicted as being almost rational, a man blinded by a hate that has consumed him so thoroughly he’s actually become quite good at getting it across. One quickly gets the feeling that 22 July could easily be misinterpreted by white nationalists in the same way that Fight Club or American History X were embraced by the very people they were supposed to be calling out. The recovery storyline, on the other hand, wades into some real dodgy triumph-of-the-human-spirit corniness that’s completely at odds with Greengrass’ usual kitchen-sink style. 22 July has the best intentions, but those certainly can’t be enough.

22 July is set for release on Netflix on October 10.

In Fabric

Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy remains one of my favourite films of the last decade, a truly surprising and hilarious film that defines categorization. All of Strickland’s films operate on some level of genre or aesthetic pastiche, but none of them are quite as openly comedic as In Fabric, a genre parody so arch and specific that its target audience may well be in the low hundreds. In Fabric is set around a mysterious department store run by quasi-witches who speak in flowery platitudes. When divorced Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) buys a showy red dress for a blind date, she sets off a series of ghostly events that perpetuate as the dress is passed on from hand to hand.

There’s outright comedy here, from a pair of extremely anal bank managers who dog Sheila at every corner (played by Steve Oram and The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt) to the fridge-poetry word salad put forth by the spectral salespeople, but In Fabric doesn’t really qualify as straight-up giallo parody. It’s something else entirely, a reverent style pastiche (complete with bloopy synth score from Stereolab’s Tim Gane through his project Cavern of Anti-Matter) that revels in the sensorial particulars that seem to obsess Strickland. It’s funny and strange and hypnotic, but also sort of ridiculously specific in a way that The Duke of Burgundy wasn’t. In Fabric reminded me more of the work of its executive producer Ben Wheatley in the way that it fully commits to its ideas both good and bad.

In Fabric does not yet have a Montreal release date.

Green Book

Green Book comes with a whole heaping lot of warning signs. It’s directed by Peter Farrelly, who’s going out on a limb two times over by going solo and by making something that isn’t a broad, gross-out comedy. It’s a period piece set in the 60s that deals with racism, which automatically leads one to assume that it’s going to trade in the most facile and banal of audience-pleasing teaching moments. It stars Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali – two extremely talented actors, but two actors whose careers have not exactly dipped in the direction of feel-good middlebrow dramedies. There’s good news and bad news, unsurprisingly: the good is that Green Book is mostly a comedy in spite of it all, and the bad is that it’s also exactly the movie it sounds like, even if it’s a lot funnier than I expected.

Mortensen is Tony Lip, an Italian-American nightclub bouncer with an immense appetite and retrograde-to-nonexistent views on race relations. Finding himself jobless, Tony answers a job query as a driver for a doctor that turns out to be Dr. Don Shirley (Ali), a virtuosic concert pianist who has decided to go on a tour of the Deep South. Shirley is everything Tony isn’t: educated, well-spoken, well-dressed and highly cultured, but he knows that audiences in the South won’t give a shit about that based on the color of his skin. Together, they form an odd pair who will learn to accept each other’s differences and so on and such forth.

The odd-couple matching is as traditional and down-the-middle as it gets, with Shirley teaching Tony how to write flowery romantic letters to his wife (Linda Cardellini) and why stealing is bad, while Tony gives Shirley pointers on how to let loose a little and enjoy some Little Richard once in a while. This shit is undeniably corny, and it wouldn’t work if Farrelly wasn’t so attuned to the comic timing of the script and its leads’ strengths. Mortensen has the more transformative role, pot-bellied and chomping on fried chicken like Bacchus at a buffet, but it’s Ali who has the tougher job of selling a character that is pointedly not written to express his opinion about literally everything. Green Book works like gangbusters as a comedic two-hander, but less so as a supposedly nuanced look at race relations; in that regard, it’s only a couple of notches above something like The Help.

Green Book is set for release on November 21.

Diamantino

Imagine Zoolander directed by early 80’s Almodovar and you’ll have part of the picture when it comes to Diamantino, a thoroughly perplexing and extremely charming silver screen UFO from directors Daniel Schmidt and Gabriel Abrantes. A zany political satire that has the freewheeling spirit of 60s icons like Terry Southern or Tom Robbins but is concerned with 21st century ideas, Diamantino centers on a beloved soccer star (Carlotto Cotta) whose career goes to shit after he misses a crucial goal. Unfortunately, Diamantino has the intelligence (emotional and otherwise) of a ten-year-old boy, and failing at the only thing he knows how to do sends him in a spiral of self-doubt that’s almost immediately exploited by sinister government forces who want Portugal to secede from the European Union.

Diamantino also becomes obsessed with adopting a refugee child, so of course he winds up adopting a grown woman (Cleo Tavares) posing as a young boy to infiltrate his life, much to the disarray of his wicked twin sisters and… you know what, I’ll just stop right here. Part of the beauty of Diamantino comes from the heavy tonal disconnect between the absolute silliness of its fairy-tale premise and its relatively down-the-middle style, which makes it look like a completely average European drama that will never have its protagonist kicking a ball between giant puppies smothered in glitter. It’s a truly singular work, a completely bizarre and charming movie that manages the impossible task of being an instant cult movie without even feeling like it’s trying. Not even a little bit!

Diamantino does not yet have a Montreal release date.