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By Anne Brodie

Dir. Felix Van Groeningen’s adaptation of Paolo Cognetti’s novel The Eight Mountains will rip your heart out. Told simply, with the Italian Alps a looming, breathtaking presence, follows a friendship between two men over forty years. Pietro lives in a Turin apartment block and Bruno is a “mountain man” who herds sheep and makes cheese instead of going to school. The boys meet in 1984 at age 13 when Pietro vacations with his parents in Bruno’s village Grano – he is the last child there – and together they explore the endlessly stunning landscapes of mountains valleys, lakes, and glaciers. It’s tough when Pietro returns to Turin for the fall but they will meet again each summer. Both boys have complicated relationships with their fathers which further binds them and the idyll of mountain life friendship seems like it might last forever. It doesn’t. Bruno refuses to leave the mountain even when years later his wife and child leave. Pietro’s trying to make it in the city but not feeling the life there. Fifteen years later, they meet when Pietro returns to Grana for the first time and finds Bruno, a construction worker like his father. The next chapter finds them rebuilding a stone cabin – an alpeggio – high up in the peaks, and renewing their bond. The mysteries, joys, and sorrows of comradeship play out in their magical mountain world which by now feels like home to us. Gorgeous, profound, and natural as the day is long Kudos to the actors, Alessandro Borghi and Luca Marinelli, the adult Bruno, and Pietro and Cristiano Sassella and Lupo Barbiero, the boys, the director and the Alps! And the hardworking ponies. Subtitled. In select theatres.

The Master Gardener, writer-director Paul Schrader’s chilling study of Narvel (Joel Edgerton), a man transformed by the deep art of gardening. Not his garden. He’s a master horticulturalist who always dresses the part and always carries strong pruning shears. He’s put everything he has into Gracewood Gardens for his “mistress” Mrs. Haverhill’s (Sigourney Weaver) fourth-generation estate. She’s his mistress on every level. They’re sleeping together in some kind of arrangement of hers, she lives in the big plantation house while he lives in a former slave cabin on the property. His meticulous horticulture philosophy is tied directly to his life and he’s learned that everything takes time, even the possibility of one day owning the garden. When Mrs.Haverhill’s grandniece Maya (Quintessa Swindell) is sent for to apprentice in the garden, Norman tells him she’s of mixed blood. Why would that matter? Narvel’s torso, never seen in public, is covered with Nazi, white supremacist, death-obsessed tattoos. This gentle man? He’s a recovering addict who “was once a different person”. Maya is out of her element but smart and willing to learn. He cares for her like a father and when she’s beaten by her boyfriend, he avenges her. The film takes us on a huge U-turn and becomes something altogether different. But all roads lead back to Gracewood. Interesting, provocative, odd and dark, typical of Schrader’s work, but I wanted it to stay about gardening, learning, and his eloquent passion. In select theatres across Canada.

Canadian film Retrograde from Adrian Murray and starring Molly Reisman which follows a young woman who has recently split from her boyfriend and lives with roommates. Molly’s not very good at her job. She lands in the emotional soup when she’s pulled over for careless driving. She argues with the officer and for her troubles gets a $300 ticket. She alleges innocence – we don’t see what happened – and what she sees as unfairness overtakes her. She launches challenges to the fine via legal aid and is told to take a deal and pay $50. Molly says no, paying is an admission of guilt. She carries her claim to extremes because she’s obsessed with it. It’s taking a toll on her mental state, creating problems at home and work but she pushes the matter. There is nothing to support her claim, no bodycam or CCTV footage, a lost cause, but that doesn’t stop her. Molly’s increasing bitterness has consequences as she discovers, and her anxiety and fake confidence go into high gear. Murray’s unsympathetic lead is exhausting and indefatigable, and worse, reflects us back to ourselves in our worst, quixotic moments. In select theatres.

British aristocrat and influencer Jemima Khan, who was married to the Prime Minister of Pakistan and a close friend of Princess Diana is a filmmaker with impressive credits. Her latest, a Brit rom-com in the style of Love, Actually, starring Lily James and Shekhar Kapur looks at the modernisation of the custom of arranged marriages so common in much of the world. What’s Love Got to Do with It? concerns Zoe, a documentary filmmaker and single dating app enthusiast who seems to reject the authentic connection, and her lifelong next-door neighbour Kaz. He’s an oncologist and a modern man, but he tells Zoe he will make an arranged marriage, and lays out the reasons. She will follow him with her cameras for a doc on the state of modern marriage. He’s never met his bride until they Facetime, and she seems unhappy and near tears. Zoe’s disappointed in Kaz’ decision while Emma Thompson, as Zoe’s meddling but somehow charming mother frets for her daughter’s apparent single future. The bride from Pakistan won’t crack a smile, something is wrong, but she and Kaz marry. and then it begins to dawn on Zoe that she and Kaz are not only neighbours but dear friends and confidantes and they kissed in the treehouse years ago. And her mother keeps bringing home a vet she thinks will be a good match for her picky daughter. Family machinations requiring everyone to do the traditional thing have dire consequences and everyone seems doomed to be unhappy. Kaz marries, his bride cries, and Zoe’s confused. Some great zingers are launched, and spot-on social commentary. Zoe investigating freezing her eggs for later tells the technician “I don’t have to put all my eggs in one bastard”. So what are two families to do? It’s a mess but by now we care about Kaz and Zoe. How many hearts will be broken? At TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Showtime‘s original four-part espionage series Ghosts of Beirut is more than compelling entertainment, it’s a primer on the unrest and factions that led to a new kind of terrorism – the suicide bomber. The series follows the radicalization of Shiite Lebanese mystery man Imad Mughniyeh, “the Ghost”, “The Father of Smoke”, from his creation of an extensive terrorist cell to destroy Israel and American interference in the political chaos in Beirut, circa 1980, to his concept of sending young men strapped with bombs to give their lives “in glory” for the cause. The CIA and Mossad waged a covert war against him and his followers; the 21-year-old was responsible for more American murders than any other person or event until 9/11 and he eluded a wide network of searchers. The dramatisation component follows intelligence operatives American, Lebanese, and Israeli operatives and their unique aims, a fictional work, based on extensive research of still-classified events, and real-life interviews with important figures involved in the manhunt. They weren’t fast enough to prevent the 1983 suicide bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut that killed 563 people, or the kidnapping, torture, and murder of Embassy officials. The series is a shocker and shows ways in which these early events evolved to change war and intelligence in the Middle East. Crave TV.

Like most films set during the Cold War, the HBO series SPY/MASTER has an icy, anxious, foreboding throughout. There is very little relief from tension in this six-parter starring Alec Secăreanu as Victor Godeanu, a fictional player in the deadly European theatre. He’s Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s closest advisor who plays fast and loose as also a KGB agent. Romania has recently won its freedom from the Soviet Union and has opened an embassy in West Germany. US President Richard Nixon gave Romania a global seal of approval during a 1969 visit. Romani earns its keep when in 1977 it brokered peace talks between Egypt and Israel. That’s the backdrop of this complex story. It’s interesting the ethics of espionage back in the seventies. Godeanu is being courted by West Germany and the US and balancing the many arms at work. He finds a chalk message in a garbage can, electronic bugging is a way of life and always likely, and spooks are hot on his trail. He must disappear before his cover is blown as a Russian spy – a photo of him with a leading official will do the trick. Packed with information, double-crosses, and head-spinning plot twists, all under the frigid environment of post-war Europe. Pay close attention.

Wanda Skyes: I’m An Entertainer premiering on Netflix May 23, is gentler than some of the sharp material she’s covered over her career. For one, she finds fun in church-going, taking communion (bagels and wine are her preferred offering), before launching into thoughtful, provocative, and funny takes on today’s hot-button topics. Sykes speaks for all of us on her battle with COVID, isolating in her room, no wife allowed in, no kids, no fuss, and begging for long COVID because she’s found her happy place. Regarding vaccines, a friend told her she won’t put anything into her body and Sykes retorts with “You use Splenda, so shut the **** up!”. And how her childhood encounters with Mosquito Man knocked fear out of her. Wish I’d thought of that three years back. She describes the challenges of having a Francophone wife, with their kids in French immersion, how trans folks could help women clean up their bathroom act, about coming ut without knowing it, an hysterical bit about Mitch McConnell, brilliantly using her mic cords as props and explores why Black people disapproved of the Jan 6 insurrection. The woman’s a keen observer and translator and we’re looking forward to her next special.

The 33rd edition of the Inside Out 2SLGBTQ+ Film Festival is underway today with a packed lineup of films from around the world. Ira Sachs’ love triangle romantic drama Passages with Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, and Adele Exarchopoulos, opens things on May 24 and the musical summer romance Glitter & Doom – with Alex Diaz, Missy Pyle, Tig Notaro, and The Indigo Girl closes on June 4th. In between, 107 films from 30 countries. Here’s a look at a few of the offerings:

Glitter and Doom

Kokomo City

Inside Out’s Centerpiece Gala will host the World Premiere of the Canadian documentary, Supporting Our Selves Lulu Wei’s look at Community One Foundation in Toronto supporting 2SLGTBQ+ locals.

Here are more offerings:

Sisi & I (Sis & Ich)

Is There Anybody Out There?

It’s Only Life After All

A Queer’s Guide To Spiritual Living

Before I Change My Mind

Golden Delicious

Something You Said Last Night

This Place

All in-person screenings at the TIFF Bell Lightbox with events at Artscape Sandbox. Some films are available virtually in Ontario.



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