Regular readers will know I’m in Toronto right now seeing films at the 2022 edition of Toronto International Film Festival, but I can’t help but feel a little wistful to be missing the launch of the Atlantic International Film Festival — recently known as FIN, though that branding seems to be a little less prominent this year — which I’ve been covering since 2005. Of course, I have already seen a few of the #AIFF films in advance that screened at #TIFF or due to having received a screener from filmmakers.
Here’s a list of films I have my eyes on at AIFF22 (including longer reviews where I’ve seen the films already).
Alice, Darling | Anna Kendrick, generally seen in comedies, musicals, and thrillers, here appears in a psychological drama about a woman in an abusive relationship and her friends looking to intervene.
Bernie Langille Wants to Know What Happened to Bernie Langille | Halifax documentarian Jackie Torrens has turned her short doc, Bernie Langille Wants To Know Who Killed Bernie Langille, about a grandson’s investigation into his grandfather’s (and namesake) history, into a full-length film.
Black Ice | A documentary exploring Black Canadians’ contribution to the game of ice hockey
Bones of Crows | Biopic of the life of Cree matriarch Aline Spears, here played by three actors at different points in her life, from director Marie Clements.
Brother | Toronto filmmaker Clement Virgo’s first film since his Halifax-shot Poor Boy’s Game, this one adapts David Chariandy’s novel about siblings in Scarborough in the 1990s.
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry On | A look at the life of the Canadian legend.
Bystanders | Multi-hyphenate playwright, actor, and now feature filmmaker, Koumbie brings the story of a group of old friends dealing with the information one of their number may have sexually assaulted someone.
Compulsus | Written and Directed by Tara Thorne | 80 min
So, full disclosure: I’ve known Tara for many years, since I was a freelancer and then editor at The Coast where we both worked. Accordingly, I can’t really review her film without acknowledging the personal connection I have with the filmmaker.
I’ll say this much: Compulsus is an indie thriller on the bleeding edge of the rape-revenge genre, and I really enjoyed it. Shot on the neon-lit streets of North End Halifax, where our lead, Wally (Lesley Smith), a poet, hunts dudes who she’s heard have abused women with impunity. She doesn’t kill them, but leaves them broken and bleeding with the aid of a bowling ball, stapler, or nightstick, and ropes in her lover, Lou (Kathleen Dorian), as a willing accomplice while keeping her friends (Koumbie and Kathryn McCormack) in the dark. The film delivers a satisfying dose of rage, stoking the conversation around what’s appropriate and ethical while also acknowledging the feelings of powerlessness women commonly experience on the streets of the city or in their ongoing relationships with men. That Thorne has chosen to cast a single actor (James MacLean) as all the Bad Men but denying him any close-ups turns out to be more effective and hard-hitting here than a similar technique employed in Alex Garland’s Men.
Decision To Leave | A noirish thriller from Park Chan-wook, director of The Handmaiden.
Holy Spider | A serial killer thriller from Iran, directed by Ali Abbasi
I Like Movies | Canadian film reviewer-turned-filmmaker, Chandler Levack (who is my new hero) tells a relatable story about a video-store employee (I also once worked at Blockbuster).
One Fine Morning | Bergman Island director, Mia Hansen-Love, returns with a family drama starring Léa Seydoux.
Queens of the Qing Dynasty | Written and Directed by Ashley McKenzie | 122 min
McKenzie, while still fond of the small visual details of characters’ bodies, broadens her storytelling palate on Queens with a dose of dryly absurd humour in the story of teenaged Starlet, or “Star” (Sarah Walker), in a hospital ward being treated following a suicide attempt. She’s assigned Ziyin Zheng’s An, a student volunteer who looks in on her. That’s the key relationship, between the caregiver and the caregiven, and as the film goes on their connection becomes something warm and deep. They explore commonalities over texts and stories of Chinese myth, trans narratives, the immigrant experience, and being unmoored from the ordinary.
Triangle of Sadness | Written and Directed by Ruben Östlund | 147 min
Östlund’s The Square was a favourite of mine the year it came out, and like that film his new one won the big award, the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. I don’t think it’s quite as sharp, but it does work as another uproarious class comedy this time setting a lacerating eye at the One Percent. It starts like it’s going to take its shots at the fashion world, which Robert Altman’s Pret A Porter proved isn’t always easy to do well, but as we follow the bickering couple at its centre (the recently and sadly passed away, Charlbi Dean, and Denis Shapovalov-alike Harris Dickinson) onto a yacht cruise for the super-rich, the film really sets sail, too. The upper deck/lower deck divide is where the tension lies, between the clueless toffs and the hard working crew.
Women Talking | Directed by Sarah Polley, written by Polley adapting the book by Miriam Toews | 120 min
Polley’s first feature in a decade continues her interest in adapting Canlit classics from women authors, as she’s done with Alice Munro in Away From Her and Margaret Atwood on the series, Alias Grace. Women Talking is unread by me, so I can’t speak to fidelity to source, but what Polley’s done is tell a moving and politically potent story about a group of women and girls from a Mennonite community who meet in secret to decide what to do regarding the men, having learned they’d been repeatedly raped by a group of them while drugged by bovine anesthetic. They discuss the options open to them: do nothing and live with the pain of it, fight for their rights within the community, or leave. What works especially well is when Polley just lets her actors — a stellar cast including Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Shiela McCarthy, and Ben Whishaw — talk. It’s a surprisingly hopeful film, despite the darkness in the material.
The Works of Margaret Perry | A screening of a series of short films shot around Nova Scotia in the 40s and 50s
For more information on the entire slate at this year’s Atlantic International Film Festival, go here.