#TIFF2023 Reviews: The Royal Hotel, The Zone Of Interest, North Star

The Royal Hotel | Directed by Kitty Green | Written by Green and Oscar Redding 

The excellent new film from the director of The Assistant, reuniting with the breakout star of that film. Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick are Hanna and Liv, two (presumably American, though they pretend to be Canadian) pals on an antipodean adventure when they run out of money. They take a job at a bar in an outback mining town where they have to deal with the increasingly threatening attitude of the dudes who work there and spend their wages drinking. Green’s made a slippery horror movie this time out, ratcheting up the tension through Garner’s performance — of the two she’s the one who feels more at odds with this environment, which causes problems with Liv.

Also here in a supporting role is the always excellent Hugo Weaving as the alcoholic bar owner. It feels like a film in conversation with Kate Beaton’s Ducks — the isolated places in the world where men feel a sense of impunity re their behaviour with women.

The Zone of Interest | Written and Directed by Jonathan Glazer, adapting a novel by Martin Amis

Glazer’s been gone too long — 10 years since Under The Skin, with Birth and Sexy Beast also in his filmography, he’s one of the best filmmakers working. Here he tells the story of the commandant of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and his wife (Christian Friedel and Sandra Hüller), focussing on his work and their home life with a passel of kids just across the wall from the camp. The horrors of that place occasionally edge into the frame of the film, or haunt the sound design, with the family proceeding blithely to enjoy their privileges, birthdays, and swimming pool. Incredibly chilling throughout, the film delivers a horrible truth about human cruelty, lack of empathy, and ability to compartmentalize. The final 15 minutes shifts focus in a way that I’m unsure really works, but this is still easily one of the most unforgettable pictures of the year.

North Star | Directed by Kristin Scott Thomas | Written by Scott Thomas and John Micklethwaite

According to the producer of North Star, who introduced the film tonight at the Princess Of Wales theatre on King Street, this is the third time Scarlett Johansson has played daughter to Kristin Scott Thomas. The first time was The Horse Whisperer, I think. I wonder what was the other? Anyway, that’s research for another day when I’m not wiped out. I know Thomas is here in Toronto but she didn’t appear on stage tonight in order to show solidarity with striking actors.

Her film is a sweet, semi-autobiographical story of three sisters (played by Johansson, Emily Beechum, and Sienna Miller) who couldn’t be more different, but who are all hung up in one way or another on their dead fathers/stepfathers. Thomas plays their mother, about to get married for a third time to a man played by James Fleet, her Four Weddings And A Funeral scene partner. As with many actors who step behind the camera, Thomas’ gift with other actors is clear — there’s a lot of warmth amongst the ensemble. She also utilizes lovely animated segments to bring us into Johansson’s character’s memories of a childhood with her now absent parental figure. But the film goes to deeply sentimental places, too — the script could’ve used a bit more of a Richard Curtis-esque edge and ribald humour.

And someone should’ve told her, you can’t repurpose Carly Simon’s “Coming Around Again.” That song is forever wedded to Mike Nichols’ Heartburn.

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About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.