It’s been almost exactly six months since the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to everyone’s plans for the year – I know this for a fact, because I have a series of emails that historians are urged to dig into. whether the thoroughness of canceled SXSW reservations is useful for future generations to understand the crisis. This was supposed to be my first SXSW, and I was disappointed to miss it, although I have to note that it is nothing compared to the upheaval of the filmmakers moved by the event. (I don’t have a budget to recoup, for example.) But in the end, sometimes things work out, as the scrolling of the TIFF virtual festival platform produced a number of titles that were on my list for SXSW. I greeted them as old friends.
That’s okay for TIFF, which brings together the best of winter and spring festivals and adds them to its lineup even when there aren’t any pandemic-related shortage issues to contend with. (It won’t be much of a problem until it’s time to following festivals of the year, whose Hopes, with a few exceptions, did not go into production this year as planned.) But with the scuttling of SXSW, Tribeca and most other spring and summer festivals , This year’s Toronto – still a “festival of festivals” – is even more of Noah’s Ark than usual.
A film that deserves to rise above the flood waters is Baby Shiva (Grade: B +), which is less of a coming-of-age story than, “I came of age, what now?” »Story. Although Emma Seligman’s feature debut was originally slated to premiere at SXSW, TIFF is the playground for Seligman, who wrote, directed, and co-produced the feature film of her short film of the same name. This short was screened as part of the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival last year, but Seligman also has the right to brag about serving on the jury for the TIFF Sprockets Children’s Festival when she was 9. And all that cinematic support has served him well, like Baby Shiva is a confident and impressively choreographed start that gets funnier with each new complication.
Seligman specializes in sexually positive teeth grinding, in which the second-hand embarrassment comes less from the sexual situations themselves and more from the collision between the heroine and the more conservative society around her. Danielle (Rachel Sennott) is cut from the same soft New York fabric as the heroines of Large city, although she prefers to escape her own perceived flaws, it’s sex, not weed. Specifically, this gender studies major is involved in a sugar-daddy relationship with an older man, not because she has to – her parents pay her rent and tuition – but because she s ‘bored. (Or maybe it’s a feminist statement? She doesn’t even seem to know.)
Opening with an unconvincing orgasm and transforming into a silent car ride that’s both painfully awkward and rather sweet, Baby Shiva follows Danielle as she leaves her sugar daddy’s loft and meets her adorable and distraught parents, Joel (Fred Melamed) and Debbie (Polly Draper), for a shiva, or Jewish reception after the funeral. Things start off pretty weird as Danielle has gone from a dominant relationship to a dominant one, who all want to know: is she seeing anyone? She is, of course, but it’s not the kind of thing you discuss with your great aunt, especially not at a funeral. It’s quite embarrassing, but Baby Shiva rises to nuclear levels of discomfort when Max (Danny Deferrari), the sugar daddy in question, walks with his wife and baby in tow. Suffice it to say that they didn’t discuss their plans for the day while having sex on the couch that morning.
Seligman choreographs the results with confidence and not a small amount of wit, as Danielle navigates what is best described as a combination of a dance sequence from a classic Hollywood musical and a chase scene. from a slasher movie. (The latter is reinforced by Ariel Marx’s score, positively Harry Manfredini-esque at times.) The handwriting is crisp, exposing the intricate stories and relationships between the many characters –Booksmart‘s Molly Gordon is a highlight as the aggressive and bitter high school sweetheart of Danielle – in a naturalistic yet surprising way. Sennott keeps the material anchored with much post-millennial boredom, for a worthy entry into the growth canon of feminine and proudly Jewish sex comedies.
As Baby Shiva, Beans (Category B-) would have been a natural fit for TIFF no matter what. This first feature film by writer-director Tracey Deer sheds light on a specifically French-Canadian and Indigenous coming-of-age story that is heavy in some ways and delicate in others. These latter aspects are largely due to 13-year-old Mohawk actress Kiawentiio, who stars in the lead role. The story is based on Deer’s own childhood memories of the “Oka Crisis,” a three-month stalemate in 1990 where two Mohawk communities blocked roads leading to tribal lands, including a cemetery, which the regional government of Quebec was planning to transform it into a golf course. It’s hard for an American to say if this is a well-known event in Canada, but it was this writer’s first exhibition. And the virulence of Deer’s racism weaves its way through its story – including a real-life event where Bean, his mother, and his little sister are thrown at each other and cursed at – is painful to watch.
Thanks to Kiawentiio, Deer uses this pain to show how exposure to hatred can affect a young person’s life, as Beans transforms from a gentle, confident child to a brooding, rebellious teenager in those three months. . There are aspects of history that are typical coming-of-age dishes – a first drink, a first kiss – and aspects that are unique to a time and place in history. Without the latter, Beans would be memorable especially for Kiawentiio’s intuitive performance as the main character, which shows remarkable vulnerability for an actor his age. But the projection of universal experiences against this very specific backdrop has an emotion of its own. It’s when the two intersect, such as in a scene from Beans bringing his newfound tenacity to a confrontation between his mother and the Provincial Police, that the film overcomes its more maudlin tendencies and becomes truly poignant.
Bawl (Grade: C +), another SXSW refugee making his late debut at TIFF, also has a resonant, if not symbolic, backdrop. But apart from the weathered forests and menacing chimneys that writer-director Nicole Riegel films in a beautiful grainy 16mm – evoking the same hard-core Barbara Loden Wanda–there is not much memorable in this story. As Nomadland, Holler deals with the forgotten people living on the fringes of post-industrial America – here, a southern Ohio town choking in its dying breath after the factory that once employed most of the locals closed. And like Beans, he filters political questions through the perspective of a teenage girl struggling with responsibilities too heavy for someone her age. Unlike those movies, however, it’s sometimes more generic than specific, despite Riegel’s commitment to realism.
Bawl has the grim resolution of another point of reference, Debra Granik Winter bone. Jessica Barden plays Ruth Avery, a high school student who has long learned to take care of herself through her education from a mother struggling with opioid addiction. Older brother Blaze (Gus Halper) is trying his best, but he’s not as smart as his little sister and knows it. Yet the two are a tight family unit, working a series of marginally legal daily work concerts to raise enough money for Ruth to attend what is supposed to be Ohio University – coincidentally, the ‘alma mater from this writer. Their struggle touches a bit too many familiar rhythms for viewers familiar with indie drama, which is a problem mainly because Riegel prioritizes the plot to both symbolism and character. We see the struggles Ruth goes through, but Bawl never gives us a clear idea of the hopes and dreams that fuel her fight to get out – or, indeed, whether she’d rather just stay put.