will o' the wisp TIFF reviews

I Like Movies, Pacifiction, Will-o’-the-Wisp, De Humani Corporis Fabrica: TIFF REVIEWS

A Portuguese musical romantic comedy, an ambitious Canadian coming of age film, a grotesque medical documentary and more.

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) runs from Sept. 8–18, 2022, and you can see our first batch of reviews here, and the second one below.

I Like Movies

I Like Movies TIFF reviews
I Like Movies

As Canada’s largest film festival and one of the largest in the world, historically, TIFF has often failed to showcase and uplift local talent. This year seems to represent a shift on that front; at least thus far, some of the festival’s best movies are homegrown. I Like Movies, Chandler Levack’s feature debut is set in small-town Ontario during the early 2000s as video stores took their last lap before the inevitable collapse. Lawrence (Isaiah Lehtinen) has filmmaking aspirations and makes strange, ambitious movies for class. He dreams of going to NYU like his film heroes and gets a video store job in the hopes of saving 90K over the summer. 

As far as coming-of-age films go, I Like Movies subverts expectations just enough to be surprising and original without fully abandoning the familiar tropes that make the genre so enduringly popular. Utterly charming but with a dark edge, Chandler captures the nostalgia of the early aughts without falling too deep into a nostalgia hole. Isaiah Lehtinen is a revelation; though he’s had some minor roles in movies and TV, given a chance to shine, he dominates the screen. Both wistful and stubbornly ambitious, Lawrence captures the whole gamut of adolescent emotions with relatable honesty. He also embraces the artifice of the film obsessed, living and acting like the star of his movie, often completely unaware of how his behaviour might come across in the real world. I Like Movies doesn’t shy away from Lawrence’s faults as a person, nor his most obnoxious adolescent impulses. The confidence behind this choice shows an utmost respect for the character, making him seem all the more real on screen. 

The film’s biggest failures are likely tied up to financial or logistical restraints related to COVID-19 protocols; the movie often feels depopulated, like a strange stage play set in the real world. Yet, overall, this does little to detract from the overall charm and earnestness.

I Like Movies opens in Montreal in 2022


Pacifiction TIFF reviews

A pink neon sign that says Paradise glows against the peachy hues of sunset and the lush greens of Tahiti. In Pacifiction, French colonial rule looms as a spectral but omnipresent imperialist rot perverts the paradisical landscape. From director Albert Serra, a Catalan filmmaker with a propensity for imperial corruption and decadence, Pacifiction centres on the paranoid downward spiral of French government official De Roller, the blonde and sweaty Benoît Magimel, who professes impeccable manners and condescending-politician acumen. As he navigates business and political meetings, he affects certain politeness and benevolence that conceals a maddening entitlement. The stunning, picturesque landscapes are breathtaking but somehow sinister in how they’ve been appropriated as a pleasure garden for affluent European guests. 

Serra’s filmmaking style can sometimes feel stilted. Conversations unfold in real-time and can be drawn out and aloof. Characters are reprehensible but also held at a distance as the camera acts as a passive interlocutor who sees and hears all. The movie, running at 165 minutes, is drawn out, but it only contributes to the decaying, otherworldly mood. Pacifiction similarly features some of the most incredible cinematic moments in recent memory, particularly a surfing scene on enormous waves. The sequence not only inspires awe but sublime terror. As discussions of impending nuclear tests ramp up, the monstrosity of these waves towers above the rest of the film, underlying the pettiness of oppressive colonial powers and their self-destructive violence. The question of human’s true nature comes into question: are we naturally predatory creatures, or have we allowed the blunt cruelty of colonial powers to let this narrative take hold as they justify their indiscriminate destruction? Is everyone who doesn’t act this way naive, as one character suggests, or is there more insidious in that cynicism?

Pacifiction doesn’t currently have a Montreal release date. 


Tangential dreaminess reigns in the bewildering new film, Will-o’-the-Wisp, from Portuguese filmmaker João Pedro Rodrigues. In 2069, a king lies on his deathbed in a small white room. Spontaneous and naturalistic, a little boy enters the room and farts in front of the dying king, underlining perhaps that we shouldn’t take things seriously. We soon join different timelines: The backstory takes place in 2011, but most of the film takes place “some years later” and then “one year later” again. In a world where Portuguese royalty still reigns, the future heir to the throne (aptly named Alfonso, after the first king of Portugal) wants to become a firefighter. While running under 90 minutes, the film packs itself up with ellipsis, phantasmagorical sequences and alternate realities. 

As young Alfonso aspires to become a firefighter, he is drawn into a world of unbridled male desire. In locker rooms, naked men wrestle and recreate famous paintings of masters like Caravaggio, Reubens and Velasquez in queer, erotically charged tableaus. One of the songs, “Ctrl + c, Ctrl + v” (Copy/Paste for computer illiterates), may not play an essential role within the film, but it ideologically illuminates a pastiche approach to filmmaking by Rodrigues and is emblematic of Portuguese national cinema as a whole. As it draws from culture, history and literature, the film is dense with references to the world of art, Portuguese history and towering pop cultural figures like fado singer Paulo Bragança. The film reframes iconography and imbues them with new meaning. The meeting of these sometimes disparate reference points creates a collage of an individual and the collective experience of mythmaking and history, where irony and sensuality drive the passions to keep living while recontextualizing history and art through a queer lens. Rather than be a purely academic exercise, the film often feels forged by playfulness, finding joy in unexpected paradoxes and the integral frivolous pleasures of image-making.

Will-o’-the-Wisp does not currently have a Montreal release date. 

De Humani Corporis Fabrica

De Humani Corporis Fabrica TIFF reviews
De Humani Corporis Fabrica

Not for the faint of heart, De Humani Corporis Fabrica turns the body inside out. The latest documentary from Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel (Leviathan and Caniba) takes us inside French hospitals and, deeper, inside the human body. Their invasive and immersive lens lingers on the unseen facets of our body, drawing attention to how easily we can be torn apart. In an extended sequence, we see a cataract surgery up-close — the pupil repeatedly prodded with a needle. Rather than the familiar black pit, it’s lit up and red. The bloodshot eyes held open with small metallic hooks, feel alien, an encroaching otherworldly presence unable to see our bodies as a whole. The camera here brings us so close that the familiar context of the human body becomes alienated and strange. As the voices of doctors and nurses talk casually, as if gathered around a water cooler, it only underscores the peculiar intimacy of the doctor/patient experience.

Not all blood and organs, the hospital itself becomes a subject. As older women wander halls, it takes on an ouroboros structure with no real beginning and end. Sensuality and sex equally mix in with the affair, as the charged adrenaline of bodies being opened up and healed mix in with the camaraderie and ecstasies of the caretakers. As revealed later in the Q&A, in France, there is similarly a strange tradition that “guard rooms” are decorated with graphically pornographic murals (you can google it), often (but not always) depicting members of the hospital staff. While these images may seem paradoxical, almost perverse in the context of surgical wings and life-saving operations, it also underscores a fundamental vulnerability of the work itself. Watching and experiencing the raw viscera of the film, it was difficult not to think back to another movie out of Cannes this year: David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future, where a character says with raw hopefulness, “Surgery is the new sex.” The phrase has become a meme, but what does it mean? It acknowledges the ultimate vulnerability in cutting open another human being. Also, the transformative potential of medicinal work and discovery, both horrific and romantic, as it imagines our bodies not as static things but fleshy landscapes capable of radical change.

De Humani Corporis Fabrica does not currently have a Montreal release date. 

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