Tiff 2022: Roundup Part 2

I Like Movies

Directed by Chandler Levack

Runtime 99 Mins

A bittersweet slice of Millennial nostalgia for the Canadian cinephile writing this, Chandler Levack’s debut feature is a tenderly cynical portrait of a movie-obsessed outcast allowing his toxic tendencies to run his life in smalltown Burlington, Ontario, and is a remarkably relatable film in all the most uncomfortable ways. While I Like Movies follows the narcissistic high schooler Lawrence (a remarkable Isaiah Lehtinen) as an aspiring filmmaker working at a video rental chain to pay the astronomical tuition of NYU, the film more broadly serves as a wistful representation of the film-bro archetype at the turn of the early 2000s and how some use the escapist potential of cinema to retreat from their undesirable social lives. 

Levack’s tender yet unflinchingly honest script fluctuates masterfully between melancholy and cringe comedy, throwing cutting and hilarious jabs at the clichéd, film-bro personality (being set in 2002, you better believe Lawrence cannot shut up about Punch-Drunk Love) before delving empathetically into his tragically self-sabotaging behavior and his uncomfortable coming of age. Lehtinen gives a moving performance as the atypical film bro breathing depth into the recognizable caricature, and whenever paired with co-stars Romina D’Ugo and Krista Bridges (who play his boss and mother, respectively), the film hits all the right tonal beats. I never like feeling seen by a film, but I Like Movies is a knowing portrayal of early 2000s cinephilia that feels loving and critical in equal measure. 

R.M.N.

Directed by Cristian Mungui

Runtime 125 Mins

Cristian Mungui’s R.M.N. is a searing and multifaceted reflection on xenophobia centering around the festering animus of a multi-ethnic Transylvanian community. Endeavoring to show the material and social conditions that give way to hate, the story focuses on a rejected worker (Marin Grigore) returning to his rapidly transforming home village to see his estranged lover (Judith State) and to reconnect with his estranged son (Mark Blenyesi). R.M.N. slowly immerses you into this fraught community to poignantly demonstrate how naturally bigotry can become casual parlance when the status quo is threatened by an unwanted change. 

Mungui’s now-signature muted palette and the quietly restrained cinematography of Tudor Vladimir Panduru (in his second collaboration with the director after Graduation) emphasize the casual unspoken resentment lingering beneath the traditional veneer of this border village and intently follows it as this anger mutates into full-on violence and disruption, using the witnessing eyes of Matthias, who is too absorbed in his personal problems to do anything. While shot beautifully — with an emphasis on deliberately long takes (like an extended unbroken take of a community meeting devolving into a racist mob expelling their inner antipathy) — R.M.N. can occasionally lay the morale on with a heavy hand, one that isn’t helped by its deliberately glacial pace. Nevertheless, when the film reaches its festering boiling point, it can be shattering.

Empire of Light

Directed by Sam Mendes

Runtime 113 Mins

The critical failing of Sam Mendes’ flimsy love letter to the theatrical experience is its inability to decide what it is and what it is even trying to say. The film mostly portends to be about Hilary Small (Olivia Colman), the troubled, emotionally shuttered manager at a coastal moviehouse in early 1980s England whose dreary worldview is opened up by an unexpected romance to new employee Stephen (Michael Ward), butMendes’ clumsy script overextends itself and tries to be more than is necessary. 

While, at its core, it is a romance (one which could have been better developed and used more chemistry from the two leads), Empire of Light also ungracefully folds in its undercooked praise of the cinema’s indelible magic while also attempting to provide a portrait of the era‘s racial strife by incorporating the 1981 riots, and it all feels short shifted and underdeveloped. While elements of Mendes’ latest standout, such as Colman’s performance, Roger Deakins’ doleful cinematography or Ross and Reznor’s elegant score, keep your interest, the assembled package rarely works as a cohesive film. It feels like a serious error when, by the time the credits come up, I still wasn’t  sure exactly what Empire of Light was attempting to say about movies, the theater or anything related to cinema.

Susie Searches

Directed Sophie Kargman

Runtime 105 Mins

Expanded from her short of the same name, Sophie Korgman’s feature debut Susie Searches is a clever and rousing indictment of Generation Z’s all-consuming fixation with true crime entertainment and social media that never feels overly dogmatic with what it pokes fun at. Centering on a lonesome yet ambitious college student (Kiersey Clemons) who, along with caring for her ailing mother, runs an amateur true-crime podcast that receives next to no online traction, the film begins as a fairly empathetic portrait of an outcast clinging to a cresting trend in a highly competitive hyperlinked world. 

But Susie Searches truly forms a sense of identity when its surprisingly riveting script by William Day Frank begins to unfold multiple dire twists around Susie’s next podcast case, the disappearance of fellow student and popular new-age influencer Jesse (Alex Wolff). Korgman’s flashy throw-every-at-the-wall stylizations can feel misplaced at times and showy for its own sake, but directly targeting the generation that absorbs stories of serial killers and atrocities via the hyperactive medium of TikTok gives the approach some resonance. Nevertheless, the narrative escalation is smartly composed, and the anchoring performances of Clemons and Wolff and their bountiful chemistry hold together an otherwise solid debut feature.

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