The Kingdom Exodus, Nanny, Dry Ground Burning: TIFF REVIEWS

Lars Von Trier is back on TV with a new installment of his macabre ’90s hospital show PLUS the tale of a haunted Senegalese woman and heavy surrealism in Bolsonaro’s Brazil.

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) runs from Sept. 8–18, 2022, and you can read our fourth dispatch below and see our previous reviews here.

The Kingdom Exodus: Episodes 1–2

The Kingdom: Exodus

For a brief few minutes at the beginning of Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom: Exodus, it appears as if the style of the series has changed; as if this new world is slick and modern and blue. But the moment Karen (Bodil Jørgensen) enters the Kingdom hospital, the familiar sepia-toned canted angles return, along with the demons that haunt the building. For those unfamiliar with the original Kingdom series from 1994, this new addition might seem a little deranged, but then again, the original was also a series of insane inside jokes, beautifully alienating from the very start. 

As a Kingdom fan, I was apprehensive about the return of this cult hit. Still, miraculously, all that was goofy and scary about the original has been virtually untouched 25 years later. With yet more wild fraternal bullying rituals designed to humiliate Swedes and several original cast members returning, among them Ghita Nørby, although her character has mysteriously lost both legs in the intervening years. Of course, Satan is also back, speaking through his minions, among them a terrifying Willem Dafoe, who may or may not transform into an owl.

This new Kingdom is lightly and self-deprecatingly meta, making repeated references to the old show (Karen watches it on DVD) and to “idiot Trier” or Trier’s “wise-ass remarks,” with select cutaways to the original series. Somehow this holds together, a reluctant and crazed invitation into the spooky nether regions of this universe.

Medical students experiment with electricity to access cosmic pain; the new Helmer Jr. (Mikael Persbrandt) masturbates to the “Swedish sing-along.” A slightly cringy boomer joke about gender pronouns leads to a darkly farcical surgical mishap and visions of the afterlife. At the same time, Karen fearlessly investigates spirits dressed in a cute bathrobe covered in elephants. In short, Kingdom is genuinely frightening and enormously fun. (Nora Rosenthal)

All five episodes of The Kingdom: Exodus will stream this fall exclusively on MUBI.



Nanny is Nikyatu Jusu’s self-possessed debut feature, a psychological horror centred around domestic labour and the immigrant experience that draws upon the mythology of Mami Wata and Anansi the spider. The film tells the story of Aisha (Anna Diop), newly arrived from Senegal and hired as a nanny to a white upper-middle-class family in New York City.

Jusu has an excellent handle on dialogue, from the fruitless and boozy political rhetoric that can saturate a certain kind of party (especially one dominated by white people talking about the struggles of others) to the power plays of employers flirting and sweeter moments shared between friends and lovers, lending a naturalism to Nanny that makes the genre elements that much more frightening. The cast’s chemistry is palpable, not only in the intimacy shared between Diop and Sinqua Walls, playing Malik (a building doorman where Aisha’s employers live), but also between Diop and the child in her charge, Rose. 

With a host of understated performances and reserved magic realism, Nanny is an unsettling slow burn, a parable not only about the experience of racialized women but about the doomed exploits of life under capitalism: the gnawing anxiety even during rest and relaxation, the work without end that strips everyone, those with more power and those with less, of their empathy and humanity.

Diop’s world is rich, visually and thematically, introducing folklore without didacticism and managing to explore that frightening relationship between spiritual insight and mental illness (and the perilous drop-off where one bleeds into the other). There are moments of hope that can feel excessively optimistic, considering the horrors that descend on Aisha’s life. Still, Jusu’s confidence as a storyteller somehow chooses to escape darkness and feel brave rather than implausible. (NR)

Nanny will be released on Nov. 23, 2022.

Dry Ground Burning

Dry Ground Burning

A natural thread of surrealism runs through directors Adirley Queirós and Joana Pimenta’s Dry Ground Burning. Centred on a gang of women living in the favelas outside of Brasilia, the absurd reality of Brazil’s political situation bleeds into all aspects of life. The women have secured a plot of land where they pump black oil from the ground, selling it to people cheaply. Women sweat as they work in the shadows in long sequences with few cuts. Sweat mixes with the inky black oil as they work tirelessly and often without words.

Abandoning the westernized narrative structure, the film often feels episodic. The land itself feels ingrained with 1,000 histories told and retold. Léa, a queer gang leader, has just returned from prison. In the years she’s been locked away, Bolsonaro has been elected, and the national mood has shifted. As it blows up the line between fiction and documentary, the film features sequences that seem to unfold in real time; the length is a test of attention and acceleration of strangeness. The many threads slowly come together: the fascistic rituals of military police, an unconventional political campaign and a travelling party bus. In horrific awe, a pro-Bolsonaro rally unfolds in absolute darkness, and it’s impossible to escape the almost ironic frenzy of the environment. 

While the pacing might test an audience unfamiliar with its rhythm, it’s profoundly poetic and hypnotic and will lull you into its strange wavelength. While for an audience unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Brazilian politics, the movie also demands more attention and care than a capsule review written under the pressure of a festival can do justice to. If you can, see it on a big screen. (Justine Smith)

Dry Ground Burning will be screening at the RIDM film festival in Montreal in November.

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