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By Anne Brodie

Kore-eda Hirokazu’s astounding drama Broker, starring Song Kang Ho’s delicate cinematic touch lands a devastatingly emotional punch. Baby brokers Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo (Dong-won Gang) sell orphans left in their Baby Box to childless couples wishing to avoid governmental involvement. So-young (Ji-eun Lee) a young prostitute leaves her baby but returns the next day to see how the child is and what will happen to him. She joins them on a road trip to sell the child to potential couples awaiting them. The trio of human traffickers is breaking the law while doing what they believe is humane work, and the police are on to them. Two female officers tail them, via a tracker; they see where they’re going but they don’t know the bond of trust that develops between the three adults and their charge. Rival traffickers are on their case and the wife of the late father of the child wants the child for herself at any cost; her gang connections pose a deadly threat. Constant revelations change the scene right up to the end, we think we know where it’s going and why, but the truth is far more human and interesting than we imagine. An extraordinary look at the psychology and humanity of people considered lawless, and the strength love gives them. Bears repeat viewing to catch all of the subtleties of this unexpectedly magical experience. TIFF Bell Lightbox now, expanding across Canada in January.

What is it about Vicky Krieps – what is her magic, that she easily owns any film she’s in? Actor/director Mathieu Amalric’s Hold Me Tight, a film adaptation of Claudine Galéa’s play, uses her je ne sais quoi to great effect. The film and her character are part illusion, fragmented between interior life, varying realities and bold plays with the fundamentals, a psychological montage of a woman’s moments, scattered across time and place; she is unknowable yet extraordinarily familiar. Krieps is mercurial Clarisse, wife, and mother of two children who may or may not have deserted her family. The story’s split between Clarisse’s car trip moving fast and far from home, which she left without warning, and her husband Marc (Arieh Worthalter) facing sudden abandonment, fruitlessly trying to explain to his small children what was happening when he doesn’t know. Their daughter Lucie (Anne-Sophie Bowen-Chatet) is a gifted pianist but the constant triggering sounds may have been a factor in Clarisse’s decision to slip away. Overwhelmed by deep grief, that caused her to “beat up” her collection of family Polaroids, she escapes and drives nowhere; she gets drunk in a seedy bar and embraces a surprised local until she’s removed from him. She publically screams abuse at a man disciplining his son, stalks a flutist and forces herself on him, and suddenly she’s dressed to kill at a disco, drinking, and drugging, random scenes of what we suspect is a breakdown. After an apparently long period away Clarisse shows up at her daughter’s piano recital, forcing the young girl to flee. We’re observing the damaged inner workings of Clarisse’s psyche, looking back and forth to things that may or may not have happened, never certain of her reality. Three bodies are found in the snow-covered mountains. She says in voice-over “I didn’t leave. I made it up.” We know she is unstable. What is true? All of it? Any of it? Krieps’ expressive face, made for film, is perfect from all angles, gently, shatteringly emotional, elegant, everything at once, and ideal for this capricious lightning rod of an experience. TIFF Bell Lightbox on Jan 5.

Love, Charlie: The Rise and Fall of Chef Charlie Trotter perhaps unfairly, rips the lid off the late, globally celebrated chef. The Chicago-based wunderkind was the first to take a chance on unusually paired and presented cuisine; he took off like a rocket, influenced by, among others, modern masters like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in California, and the cuisines of Cafe Flore in Paris, and Girardet in Switzerland. He opened Charlie Trotter in 1987 – no cream or butter – which evolved to include the Japanese aesthetic, molecular gastronomy and dégustation. He verbally slaughters rivals like Grant Achatz and is devastated when Achatx wins a designation he coveted. He earned a rock star rep and millions while pushing aside his wives, baby, physical and mental health, and the goodwill of his staff to focus on food. He is overheard threatening to kill a cook’s family if he messes up an order. Such behaviour stands in contrast to his endless letters to friends in which he reveals a sensitive, imaginative and playful personality. Trotter’s health began to fail and he couldn’t focus properly so closed the globally renowned restaurant without warning. Interviews with his wives and friends, Achatz, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, and Jacques Pepin are loving, enlightening and pay tribute to the late genius. Hot Docs Jan. 2, Vancouver Jan 6, TVOD and digital Jan 31.

The doc Madoff the Monster of Wall Street recounts the sad tale of the so-called God of Palm Beach, the uber-wealthy, admired Investment Securities mogul who was revealed as “a demon, the Devil”, Bernie Madoff. His scheme to fox investors from all walks of life of $64 billion, draining bank accounts and impoverishing those who trusted him was a “success”. He didn’t invest a cent of their money – he used it to further his deep-seated desire to be seen as successful, with objects like homes in Montauk, the south of France, the yachts, planes, the sad symbols of having made it. His father had knocked that into him – don’t be a failure like him. Interestingly Madoff exhibited a giant sculpture of a screw and depictions of bulls throughout his office. His well-paid, loyal staff stated in interviews they were floored by his arrest on far-reaching fraud charges. Madoff ran two separate companies, one for the public, sleek and impressive, and another, an unregistered, rundown warren of boxes and outdated tech that no one but employees saw. That’s where the scams were carried out. Still, no one saw anything, not even his private secretary, his sons, or his wife. He wiped out friends and family, celebrities, and retirees and decided to tell police and reporters all. So what made the late symbol of all that was wrong in business do what he did? Take a look at Joe Berlinger’s thorough reportage on Netflix on Jan. 4.



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