Triangle of Sadness TIFF reviews

Triangle of Sadness, Aftersun, Emily, Queens of Qing Dynasty: TIFF REVIEWS

Episodic social satire, an unconventional family drama, a Brontë sisters story and a Canadian underground gem.

After two years online and as a hybrid edition, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is back in person in 2022, and the Screen Team has you covered with reviews.

Triangle of Sadness

A broad satire of our modern era, Triangle of Sadness has three parts: Carl & Yaya, The Yacht and The Island. The film opens in the modelling world as blonde pretty-boy Carl (Harris Dickinson) goes on an audition. A panel of casting agents wonder if he needs botox on his triangle of sadness (the T-zone for skincare fans). Then, we cut to dinner, where Carl mopes around with his much more successful girlfriend, Yaya (actress Charlbi Dean, who passed away suddenly just before the festival). Much of the first part features the two main characters fighting over who should pay for dinner. Deliriously over the top and touching on gender roles, the movie exaggerates and hyperbolizes. The tamest of all the sections, this first part offers a glimpse into how far director Ruben Östlund is willing to push his vision to expose our hypocritical and excessive decadence in a world on the brink of social, political and climate collapse.

The filmmaking is undeniably seductive, working in contradictions and the sublime. Beauty faces off against ugly, putrid fluids in beautiful widescreen photography. On a one-person mission to dismantle the influencer industrial complex, Östlund’s filmmaking utilizes the stunning playgrounds of the rich, beautiful and powerful and paints them (literally) with bile and shit. The Yacht sequence stands out as among the most incredible pieces of cinema in recent years, channelling Fellini at his most baroque, particularly in his penchant for repulsive sensuality and slapstick sensibilities. The writing is blunt, unmistakably cynical about human nature’s unwillingness or inability to change. In an age still tinged with misplaced optimism, it’s difficult to say if the film’s messaging is refreshing or unnecessarily dour. Still, if, at its core, human nature is as Östlund depicts us, perhaps we aren’t worth saving. (Justine Smith)

Triangle of Sadness opens in Montreal theatres this fall.


In Charlotte Wells’ debut Aftersun, memories rewind and video archives glitch into a sharply observed portrait of a father-daughter relationship. The film begins over black with the sound of a Panasonic mini-DV turning on. A handsome man stands on a hotel balcony, staring at us. “When you were 11, what did you think you would be doing now?” asks the voice of a Scottish girl. She’s Sophie, played with spunky maturity by Frankie Corio, and she’s filming her Calum, her young Dad (Paul Mescal). Her question is never answered. Not because of some horrific event or severed ties; one of the great pleasures of Aftersun is that Sophie and Calum are loving and kind to each other. Instead, we get the sense that being a single dad to a young child while still in his late twenties is not where he expected he’d be at 11.

On holiday in a resort in Turkey, Sophie and Callum laze about poolside. They snicker as the hotel staff dance the Macarena and record each other on their camera. Tense undercurrents creep through as the holiday progresses, but without ever reaching a blowout. Wells’ sensitive eye is trained on the rapture of the ordinary: the syncopated breathing of two bodies in bed; a reflection of a dozen paragliders in the hotel pool; a daughter’s knowing look. 

The film immerses us in Sophie’s memories captured through these home movies. Although, of course, they aren’t home movies; they’re hotel movies; travelogues that aren’t interested in filming landscapes, attractions or any other tourists besides themselves. The film is intercut with brief rave scenes in which an older Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) thrashes under flashing lights. Images of an un-aged Callum crop up progressively through the film. Where he is in her life now is unclear, however. Despite the film being described as Sophie’s reflections on her childhood holiday, the older Sophie hardly does any reflection. She dances in a nightclub and rewatches the holiday footage. But what is she thinking when she watches this footage? What does she feel about her dad? Where is he? The problem with the grown-up Sophie’s unexplored inner world is that the home movies she watches remain unchanged. There is no sense of how age reorganizes memory into a fragmented timeline. Their shared joy and mutual struggles to understand one another remain unaltered with time. (Sarah Foulkes)

Aftersun open in Montreal theatres on Oct. 21.


Emily (Emma Mackey) is a “strange one” to the local townspeople but a literary genius to us. Set in the windy moors of Yorkshire, Emily is a portrait of the second-youngest Brontë child who died at 30, a year after her masterpiece Wuthering Heights was published. One of the missions behind most projects exploring the Brontës is to explore how three shy and impoverished sisters living far away from London’s publishing circles could write such gripping and disruptive masterworks. O’Connor references this cultural query in the opening scene when Charlotte asks a dying Emily, “How did you write it? How did you write Wuthering Heights?” The film’s answer suggests that grief and a romantic tryst ignited her writing. But what of Emily’s capacity for invention? 

Despite this disappointing narrative choice, Emily is vividly-rendered and anchored by a terrific lead performance by Emma Mackay. O’Connor writes Emily as an independent thinker who quickly questions the religious doctrine of 19th-century England. She provokes the new parish priest Mr. Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), with her disavowment of blind faith. She implores Emily and Anne (Amelia Gething) to stop telling each other stories. As with Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, passion springs from the murky waters of mutual contempt. The film suggests tension between Emily and Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling), who is painted as the more severe of the sisters. When Emily returns home from a failed stint at a girl’s school, Charlotte instructs Emily to “make [her]self useful.” Instead of heeding this advice, Emily galivants around the verdant moors while high on opium with her brother Branwell (a terrific Fionn Whitehead). 

When watching the film, it’s hard not to think of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women’s clever meta-rewriting of the novel’s conservative ending. Unlike Little Women, O’Connor is not interested in depicting the struggles of publishing. When she receives a package with a first print of “Wuthering Heights” the name inscribed on the spine is not Brontë’s pen name “Ellis Bell,” but hers. Is this ellison for the sake of narrative neatness or does it signal yet another commitment to reimagining the past? Maybe Emily needs romance to sell, just as Emily needed a man’s name. (SF)

Emily opens in Montreal theatres on Winter 2023.

Queens of Qing Dynasty

Ashley McKenzie made waves back in 2016 with her debut feature, Werewolf. A young voice in an emerging group of filmmakers from Atlantic Canada, the film found critical success at home and abroad. She does something different with her sophomore feature, Queens of Qing Dynasty. Ostensibly about a suicidal teen, Star (Sarah Walke) and an older student from Shanghai, the film exists outside of traditional narrative expectations. It features two characters with unexpected and atypical communication styles. The film remains dense and sometimes inaccessible to the audience with its tangential and temporally challenging logic.

Featured as part of this year’s Wavelengths program, a series within the festival where art and experimental meet, Queens of Qing Dynasty showcase a side of Canadian cinema rarely allowed to flourish. While sometimes feeling like a free-for-all in form and ideas, the movie’s wildly ambitious nature stands out in a Canadian media landscape so painfully devoted to conventions and tepid moral stories. While it treats quote-unquote important ideas surrounding immigration, identity and mental health, it does so without the trappings of melodrama. It allows the character’s growing relationship to inform the film’s form directly and acutely. Among other ideas, the film touches on issues of power and labour as it navigates the bureaucratic and impersonal healing tools at our disposal in contemporary society. It’s almost impossible to put the sensory experience at play; as the film wavers between disorienting and ecstatic frequencies. (JS)

Queens of Qing Dynasty is scheduled to open in Montreal theatres in late 2022.

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