Call Me by Your Name (Italy/France, 2017. Dir: Luca Guadagnino): How about a stone-cold masterpiece to kick off TIFF’s coverage this year. A filmmaker who has already shown considerable potential (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash), Luca Guadagnino finds a new gear with the thorough, compelling coming-of-age drama Call Me by Your Name.
Set in Northern Italy in 1983, the film revolves around Elio (star-making turn by Timothée Chalamet), a well-liked teen and beloved only son of an archeologist and a translator. The idyllic boredom of summer in Italy becomes disrupted by the arrival of Oliver (Armie Hammer), an American scholar in town to intern for Elio’s dad. Oliver’s presence triggers unknown feelings in Elio, who tentatively begins pursuing the American, while simultaneously exploring his sexuality with a girl his own age.
There is no high drama in Call Me by Your Name, just a teen assimilating new experiences and shaping his personality accordingly. The film (adapted by James Ivory) is beyond lovely and methodical, covering every aspect of the life of an adolescent at a critical moment of his growth. True to form, the climax is as low impact as a loving father comparing his own experiences to his son’s, and suggesting what to do of them. Think Stealing Beauty, but twice as good. Five dogs. Distribution in Canada: Theatrical.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Ireland/UK, 2016. Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos): Lanthimos’ latest starts suspiciously like his previous film, the darkly comedic The Lobster. Colin Farrell introduces his character -a renowned cardiologist- in a monotonous, detached fashion. However, as the movie progresses, The Killing of a Sacred Deer hits a more relatable note: The costs of the greater good.
Unbeknownst to his family, Dr. Murphy (Farrell) meets with a very polite teen named Martin on regular basis. The nature of this relationship is kept in the dark for a good chunk of the film, but doesn’t appear to be very wholesome. As Martin demands more time and dedication from the surgeon, Murphy becomes spooked. An attempt to ghost him triggers a devastating reaction.
Lanthimos keeps his cards close to the chest until the second half, when the (somewhat) standard stalker drama morphs into an exercise in ethics and morals I don’t wish to spoil here. Suffice to say, the good doctor finds out there are limits to the power of modern medicine. As it’s traditional with the Greek filmmaker, the pitch-black sense of humor is perfectly calibrated. The novelty here is the sense of despair that comes with the comedy. Three and a half dogs. Distribution in Canada: Theatrical.
Loveless (Russia, 2017. Dir: Andrey Zvyagintsev): By far the better known Russian filmmaker at work today, Andrey Zvyagintsev doesn’t mince words to depict a morally bankrupt society. In Leviathan, the director portrayed the political world as a haven of corruption. In Loveless, Russian middle class doesn’t fare much better under Zvyagintsev’s unflinching eye.
A couple going through the most acrimonious of divorces is forced to live under the same roof until liquidating their apartment. They have a kid, a sad boy no one pays any attention to. Their utter disregard for the child is such that, when he disappears, it takes them over a day and a half to notice. More out of obligation than genuine concern, the bickering duo must navigate the unhelpful Russian bureaucracy to get some help. Not that the disappearance puts a dent on their hatred for each other.
If you think this description is dour, just wait until you see the movie. From Zvyagintsev’s perspective, the pursuit of material riches has corrupted the soul of the country to such point, people willing to help are the exception and money is the only parameter of success. The filmmaker is thorough in his description of modern Russia’s malaise and even takes a few swipes at Putin while at it. Loveless is a bit thick to swallow, but highly rewarding. Three and a half dogs. Distribution in Canada: Theatrical.