TIFF is such a large beast of a film festival — hundreds of films, dozens of big screens — that everyone can make their own festival within it. Thus it is that I, Nathaniel, of Danish descent (way back) and rudimentary Norwegian language skills (from also way back but at least in my lifetime), invariably program my own Scandinavian mini-fest each year while I'm here. This year I'm seeing five Nordic films so here are quick takes on the three Swedish entries, which all happen to be about teenagers. And since we were just discussing great High School Films, the perfect topic for September, let's continue that thread...
THE HERE AFTER
Report Card: In this super tense drama, John (Ulrick Munther), a convicted murderer, returns home and goes right back to high school with his former classmates -- who are also the former classmates of his victim. The students and even his own family are not super jazzed about his return. This directorial feature debut from writer/director Magnus Von Horn is sensitively shot and tough-minded but its best assett is its slow burn patience (without testing the audience's). It builds and builds towards its inevitable bummer conclusion while trying to get inside the impenetrable head of its young protagonist. It doesn't really stick the landing because... well, what is actually the point of all this depressing shit? Still, the 32 year-old director's work is confident enough that I'd line right up to see a second feature. B
Extra Credit: That double meaning title is smart since all of what's "here" for the town and its characters is entirely predicated on the death that came before.
Would you want to go to school here? On the bright side it's very liberal -- even former murderers are welcome because "everyone is entitled to an education". There's no dress code and the lockers are in cute island format. On the other hand it's hickville central, the boys are violent, the girls are bored, and they let former murderers go here. The well meaning but nervous principal/teachers are absolutely flummoxed about how to handle this PTSD pressure cooker that was once a normal school. Can you blame them?
Report Card: In this drama with supernatural touches, three much bullied teenage besties form a coven of sorts (without calling it that) and end up raising a strange and unusual plant (think Audrey II without the songs or sentience --actually never mind) that transforms their lives. When they drink from the plant's beans these outcast girls are suddenly transformed into boys. The first transformation is the movie's clear highlight but alas, this tale gets bogged in unsteady characterizations and the difficulty of balancing four different topics/causes: trans awareness character arc, closeted gay love, gender inequities, school bullying. Strong on concept but very unsteady in the execution. B-/C+
Extra Credit: You will absolutely marvel at the casting. Somehow they found teenage boys that look exactly like the female leads if they happened to suddenly be transformed into boys. And all six of them are likeable actors. It's the best "same person. different sex" casting of all time after Tilda Swinton and Tilda Swinton in Orlando.
Would you want to go to school here? Well their well funded high school has great grounds and is big enough that even if you're unpopular you can have your little tight knit circle to hang with. But the bullying shit is out of control, and and the gym teacher actively sucks, basically telling the girls to grow a pair when they're distressed at the escalating torments.
GRANNY'S DANCING ON THE TABLE
Report Card: This strange film is a bifurcated affair. One half is an hypnotic stop-motion family history (or tall tales) of twin sister refugees who took much different paths in the world, one becoming a caregiver shut out, the other a wild bohemian prostitute. The other half is the modern story of their shared young granddaughter raised in total reclusiveness by her religious father who is also a shut in. The strawberry blonde is so catatonic and pale she makes Sissy Spacek's oddball young 70s waifs seem positively extroverted and suntanned. She barely seems to exist outside of her head (i.e. the animated portion). The problem here is the balance since one half is entrancing and the other is painfully repetitive and obsessed with its own hopelessness. Animated half: B+ The Other half: C-
Extra Credit: I have a great friend who always audibly groans when the title of a movie gets worked in to the dialogue (I personally love it, though, in part from the reaction it provokes in him). Anxiously awaited the moment, did I. But the awesome title only shows up in visual form during the end credits. Worth the wait.
Would you want to go to school here: Insert that Mean Girls joke about home-schooled religious nutjobs. So, emphatically NO. Plus the teacher is your father and his idea of detention and lunch plan are shudder-worthy cruel.