Toronto Film Festival rundown 2019… 3/3 Black conflux, Antigone, Arab Blues

What to look out for, what you can definitely miss, and what you should be demanding your local cinemas to be showing.
The final article rounding up my time at Toronto, a truly wonderful experience.

So having written about the cinematic hits and duds of the festival, it’s high time to share with you the films that are in desperate need of a general release, the ones you’ll have to fight for in order to get shown in your local cinema.

The first of this bunch is Black Conflux. This dark, Twin Peaks-esque drama follows a young teenage girl, Jackie (Ella Ballentine), as she navigates growing up in a small town with small town values and a home life that is far from picturesque. Alongside this coming of age storyline we are introduced to a Dennis (Ryan McDonald) who represents what happens in a society where men are suffocated into one tiny box. Where they must only be strong, confident and domineering. He falls short of this expectation, being shy, not so successful with women, and suffers from a form of psychosis that sees him invent realities that don’t actually exist.

As we are introduced into this dark twisted story there is a constant undercurrent of sexual violence as we hear of a rapist who is on the loose in the area on the TV and Radio. What makes this film so brilliant is the subtleties that the Director, Nicole Dorsey, was so keen to incorporate. at a party Jackie is subjected to a form of sexual violence that isn’t black or white, she knows she has been violated in some way but she stopped it before it started, so can she still call it sexual assault? It perfectly captures the grey line of sexual encounters that is so often left out of the debate on the education of consensual sex. Although I would consider what happened to her sexual assault, when watching the film there is this strong sense of affection that the boy shows for Jackie, but this affection is directed at an unconscious girl. He constantly asks whether she is ok, and she mumbles a yes. The scene lies at the centre of the debate. For many they may think that the boy did nothing wrong as he stopped the second she told him to, but it still opens up a a crucial question: Can it be perceived as true consent unless there is an enthusiastic yes? And not just a lack of an enthusiastic no?

We are then led through the beautiful landscape of the town through this dark meditation on growing up, masculinity and small town mentalities. If I was to compare this film to literature it is more akin to poetry than a novel. Despite the strong storyline what I loved about the film was that it left much unsaid. Instead, Dorsey simply poses these questions to us through the ambiguous occurrences on screen, allowing us to decide an impression of the characters for ourselves, rather than having an opinion shoved down our throats. She has treated her audience with the respect they deserve, and overall left us with a hopeful feeling as we leave the screen.

In essence, this film is a painfully beautiful one. I will definitely be seeking it out over the next few weeks as, being so ambiguous, it has plenty of room for multiple viewings.

Next up: Antigone. The Director, Sophie Deraspe, has managed to make deep political points, very persuasively, while at the same time not shoving any kind of skewed agenda down her audiences throat.

Set in Montreal, this story takes the core elements of the original greek play of the same name by Sophocles and launches it into our modern day surroundings. Antigone (Nahéma Ricci) sacrifices her entire life in order to protect what is most crucial for her: family. It has intertwined extremely divisive modern day themes of police brutality, refugee resettlement and racism while preserving the most crucial element of the original story, this strong central female figure. Ricci is masterful as the central lead, being both a fierce figure to contend with whilst also allowing a deep vulnerability to be displayed. It’s refreshing to see a female lead who can do both. So often we see two ends of the spectrum: either the submissive or the overwhelmingly strong who’s never shown to be anything but powerful. To be able to see a woman that’s genuinely recognisable, someone who can be both strong but also have her moments of weakness is so much more rewarding to watch. Despite hating the term ‘strong woman’ as it comes with the underlying notion that not all women are ‘strong’ I can’t help but reference Antigone as such. She is fiercely strong. Unapologetically so.

The story is a rich labyrinth of constant twists and turns that will have you completely gobsmacked at times. To go into this story blind however is far more effective so I won’t divulge anything more on the specifics of the twists and turns other than to say that it is a painfully gratifying watch.

The French-Canadian backdrop being one that is so incredibly distinctive. While it does clearly take elements of inspiration from French films of the 90s, such as La Haine, at the same time it has an undeniable original style.

To conclude, Antigone launched me into a world I know very little about: the urban environment of Montreal. The initial starting point taking inspiration from real life events making the tumultuous journey all the more incredible. A definite necessity to watch.

Finally, let’s talk about Arab Blues. What a brilliant film. Set in Tunis, Tunisia, Selma (Golshifteh Farahani) has returned from Paris, having been away for many years, with the sole intention of opening up her own psychiatrist Practice. We are then completely absorbed into her world. We access parts of Tunisian life that I have never seen before. We meet clients of hers who remind us that we all struggle with the same core issues in life, regardless of where we’re from. The Director, Manele Labidi Labbé, has masterfully captured everyday life in this city. She has intertwined moments of humour with real raw moments that overall create this incredibly nuanced film.

We deal with extremely contemporary issues, such as Trans identity, as well as subtler issues of identity and how we can define our identity when we are born into one culture but grow up in another. There is a constant struggle for Selma to belong when she is a Parisian in Tunisia but a Tunisian in Paris. There was not a single moment throughout the entire film where I was not fully invested in every single character. I believed every line, action, gesture.

This film offers something I am constantly searching for: a new perspective, a new story. It’s incredibly fresh and where a lesser film might fall into traps set by the thousands of films that precede it, where some lesser films may be overcome by these cliches, Labbé has managed to avoid all that. She throws us into this incredibly different world from our own and yet still makes it incredibly relatable. In short, this film is a gift. Don’t waste it.

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Fiona Hughes

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