By Anne Brodie
Jonathan Glazer’s kick in the head Zone of Interest starring Christian Friedel and Sandra Hüller is the mindboggling story of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss, his wife Hedwig, and their children who live peaceful, pretty, sunfilled lives in their ultra-modern home and its glorious gardens, separated from the concentration camp by a fence They studiously ignore the constant gunfire, screams, and fires burning from ovens roasting Jews mere feet away. It’s two worlds of evil; Hedwig runs the house with cheery efficiency, happy to have finally found their perfect home. It comes with interned slaves as staff and gardeners who can do nothing but their “duty” as they hear and see the same sights and sounds emanating from the camp where their families may be. Her sunny disposition is a feat of feigned ignorance, while her husband is at work deciding more efficient ways to kill Jews with better equipment and timetables. She glories in her fine wardrobe and jewelry, stolen from the interned knowing full well the weight of her evil. Glazer chooses a subtle way to illustrate the duality of life; little mention is made of the camp, as Glazer’s persistent background noise of death intensifies. Most unusual opening and closing sequences and the eerie music fill us with dread, sounding like a symphony of muffled screams, a brilliant, soul-damaging masterstroke. Expect a tough recovery. Select theatres including TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Ferrari from Michael Mann, is another downbeat biopic of a wealthy, powerful man with demons, this time Enzo Ferrari, inventor of the eponymous line of high-end Italian race cars. For some reason, American actor Adam Driver plays Ferrari whose dubious accent is constantly distracting. The former race car driver is the benign dictator as leader of the design, engineering, and manufacturing concern; his innovations were landmarks in the development of race cars, but by 1957 the company’s in financial trouble. Ferrari’s also at a personal crossroads, married to Laura, a suspicious, bitter, and deeply unhappy woman played with gritted teeth by Penelope Cruz. Their once passionate love has soured and he lives on and off with his mistress Lina (Shailene Woodley another American actor with a dubious accent) and their child. He stays laser-focused on work, winning races, and saving Ferrari. He fires staff for the slightest personal offences and is well aware that race car driving is a “deadly passion”. That truth lands hard – in total, eight of his drivers are killed racing his vehicles, and a horrific chain accident caused by a blown tire kills 11 people, racers and spectators in Guidizzolo. There’s plenty of drama to be had but feels morose and tired. And for some reason, the volume is either whisper soft or thrumming, throbbing, ear-blastingly loud, a thrill for race car enthusiasts but not so hot for some of us. Based on the book Enzo Ferrari: The Man, The Cars, The Races, The Machine by Brock Yates. TIFF Bell Lightbox Dec 25th.
I happened to see Society of the Snow the day after my furnace was replaced, having spent several days shivering with three space heaters. Being cold for extended periods is physically traumatic at the very least, and I shivered after the heat was back on. So the pain the Uruguayan rugby team that crash-landed in the frigid snow-covered Andes Mountains back in Oct. 1972 endured is unimaginable. They had no space heaters, no food, no coats and no way to communicate with the outside world but they had solid camaraderie and fortitude. Existence was a moment-to-moment gamble. Some died, and some were eaten, not without consideration and prayer. Writer-director J.A. Bayona’s incredible epic, shot in the same location, under the same conditions at the same time of year re-enacts the event, save the deaths uses tight closeups to great advantage, revealing the men’s physical scars from the cold, and the desire to live in their eyes. and it was tight in the plane’s fuselage, where they might share one another’s body heat. Realism defines the film; the actors lost weight and became oddly at one with the cold, as did the team back in 72. There’s a kind of majesty that Bayona delivers, a heightened sense of soul, that perhaps those who know they may die, might feel, an appreciation of life and even of their icy windswept home. It’s a celebration of the strength humans have that might be called spiritual. Stars Enzo Vogrincic, Simon Hempe and Esteban Bigliardi. And that is one heck of a crash sequence. Society of the Snow is Spain’s submission for the 96th Oscars. Netflix and select theatres including TIFF Bell Lightbox.
George Clooney directs The Boys in the Boat the true story of the University of Washington Huskies rowing team that made and witnessed history back in 1936. It was a seminal time in the world, rocked by the Depression; and in Seattle, thousands lived in encampments. It’s set in a rare pocket of privilege, where an all-white team of athletes, coached by no-nonsense Coach Al Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton) row a lane to success. It wasn’t long before the Huskies were winning races in a state university league. British actor Callum Turner plays Joe, an impoverished student who raised himself from the age of 14, who makes the team and goes to great lengths to hide the realities of his existence. The team goes out to dinner, but he makes excuses and heads to a soup kitchen and he’s dubbed Hobo Joe. It spurs him to succeed; his athleticism is invaluable and the remarkable winning streak continues. They’re invited to compete for the US at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin under Adolph Hitler, the appointed, not elected, chancellor of Germany. The film hops from one inspirational moment to another, without gathering much momentum. It’s competent but conventional and ultimately not successful. Triumphant episodes seem inevitable and therefore lack drama and engagement. The side stories could have been fleshed out and not quite so perfectly, painlessly wrapped up. A disappointment from the man who directed so many terrific films. In theatres Christmas Day.
Julia Roberts is Amanda an angry wife and mother in Sam Esmail’s dystopian thriller Leave the World Behind. She, her husband Clay (Ethan Hawke), and their children Charlie (Archie Sandford) and Rose (Farrah Mackenzie) have fled Manhattan for a weekend getaway in a minimalist Long Island rental. En route Amanda notices a man packing survival items, flats of water and food. Her sour mood hangs over the “relaxing” break, and then late the first night a man claiming to be the homeowner, GH (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la) knock at the door. Amanda’s shackles are up as thinly veiled racism and classism; she doesn’t believe they could own the place. But they’re in a bind. Electronics and services have been knocked out, the roads are blocked and they’ve come seeking shelter and to find out what’s happening. Amanda cruelly challenges them and GH and Ruth see what they’re up against. Eventually, Amanda consents to let them stay in a basement suite. Strange occurrences begin. All communications are dead, an oil tanker grounds itself while they are on the beach, Rose sees hundreds of deer flocking around the house, planes start falling from the sky, and there are no other people about and no information. The characters face demons from unfulfilled obsessions, witness the horror of unloosed electronic cars, isolation, and maladies that could arise from suddenly being thrust into primitive darkness. Deathless quote: “I am a man without GPS and a phone. I am a useless man”. Ain’t it the truth? Now on Netflix.