TIFF Reviews: 'Tu Dors Nicole', 'The Riot Club', 'Manglehorn', 'Corbo'

Tu Dors Nicole
(Canada, 93 min.)
Written and directed by Stéphane Lefleur
Starring: Julianne Côté, Catherine St-Laurent, Marc-André Grondin
Programme: Contemporary World Cinema (Toronto Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Reviews from Cannes offer ample comparisons of Tu Dors Nicole to Frances Ha. This Québécois comedy from Stéphane Lafleur merits the likeness to Noah Baumbach's Brooklyn-set film. The beautiful black and white cinematography invites an obvious point of comparison between the two, but they're just as bouncy and funny thanks to the aimless young protagonists who discover themselves in the films.

Nicole, played by Julianne Côté with an infectious likability to rival Greta Gerwig’s Frances, suffers from insomnia during one restless summer while her parents are away on vacation. Her brother, Remi (Marc-André Gagnon), rehearses all day with his rock band and her friend (Catherine St-Laurent) tags along for the fun. Tu Dors Nicole could result be a conventional comedy, but the black and white summer breeze makes it utterly sublime.

Welcome to the wild and wacky world of Stéphane Lafleur where realism and wood paneling collide with an eclectic bang. This subtle slice of life comedy is an offbeat original. Lafleur unfolds this coming of age story in dreamy episodes as Nicole becomes restless with her sleepless summer. She's stuck in a rut, completely aimless and directionless like most young adults these days, as she kills time at the pool, bikes around, and spends summer doing anything but finding work. Her one plan for the future arrives in the mail one day. It's a credit card, a symbol of adulthood, independence, freedom, and responsibility for Nicole, but her recklessness with the imaginary funds is anything but.

More apt for symbolizing this Québécois Frances is the ever-jammed lock for Nicole's bike. The lock, which she struggles with throughout the film, is just as stuck as she is. It seems people are growing up all around Nicole and her arrested development.

The most wildly funny gag of Tu Dors Nicole comes with one of Nicole's young admirers, a prepubescent boy (Godefroy Reding) whom she babysat years before, who tries to seduce Nicole with his irregularly deep voice. Lafleur has an adult actor double the voice work in ADR, and the incongruous sounds/image play is an uproarious gag. Some of the funniest tricks in comedy are actually the simplest. Smart, simple, and astutely observational, this hilarious and gorgeously shot film is a TIFF highlight.

Rating: ★★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

The Riot Club
(UK, 106 min.)
Dir. Lone Scherfig, Writ. Laura Wade
Starring: Sam Claflin, Max Irons, Douglas Booth, Jessica Brown Findlay, Holliday Granger
Programme: Galas (World Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Is The Riot Club the scariest film of 2014? Lone Scherfig’s brilliant satire is a scathing look at debauchery and excess among the youth of Britain’s upper class. This film assembles a who’s who of hot young British actors as they form The Riot Club, an elite band of hooligans at Oxford University united in their celebration of hedonism. 

Everything leads to one impeccably structured and realized dinner party in which The Riot Club plans to drink an unsuspecting small town establishment dry. The event goes horribly wrong as Wade’s script (based on her own play Posh) dramatizes a class of youth that has utter disregard for the consequences of their actions with eerie realism. Money is the answer to everything—isn’t capitalism grand?—and the tension mounts as the members’ alcohol-fuelled rage shows the ugliness and emptiness of being posh. Scherfig’s passionate direction takes the fearless cast in bold terrain as The Riot Club feels unnervingly real. It’s the kind of film that makes one shudder, yet leaves one in awe.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

(USA, 97 min.)
Written and directed by David Gordon Green
Starring: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Harmony Korine, Chris Messina
Programme: Special Presentations (North American Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Al Pacino, cat person of TIFF ’14. The iconic actor carries a kitty in his latest role, a juicy part as the title character of David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn. Manglehorn lives alone with his cat deep in the American South (aka David Gordon Green territory, and the furry feline almost steals the show from Pacino. Pacino gives one of his best performances in years, though, as the brooding, philosophical locksmith with inept social skills and a genuine spirit.

Pacino keeps Manglehorn afloat despite the meandering screenplay that features a host of subplots, including a great one with Holly Hunter as a romantic interest and a not-so-great one with Harmony Korine in the most annoying performance of the year. Some random imagery, like a nightmarish traffic pile up full of smashed watermelons, veer the film into self-indulgence, but Pacino more than capably proves that his nine lives are far from over.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Belated TIFF review:
(Canada, 119 min.)
Written and directed by Matthieu Denis
Starring: Anthony Therrien, Antoine L'Écuyer, Karelle Tremblay, Tony Nardi.
Programme: Discovery (World Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.

Corbo is stunning. This gripping film dramatizes the rise of the Front de Libération du Québec in the late 1960s. The events documented here in thrilling detail give rise to the radical October Crisis of 1970. Not enough Canadian films dramatize the tensions and history of separatism in Quebec, but Corbo more than capably makes up for them. The film zeroes in on a group of teenage radicals inspired to revolutionize change through violence. The birth of the movement is seen through the eyes of Jean Corbo (Anthony Therrien), an Italian-Canadian who feels like an outsider among outsiders as his Québécois schoolmates call him a wop and shun anyone who isn't an old stock Quebecer. The rhetoric of colonialism and nationalism is too much, but it's chilling to hear these words spoken in a period film when the same rhetoric reverberates today and wins PKP a seat in office. Will the currents of Quebec nationalism ever go away?

Writer/director Matthieu Denis makes powerful debut with this meticulously crafted essay on the political complexities of Canadian diversity. Corbo evokes The Battle of Algiers before its chorus of young radicals begin dropping bombs Montreal, and the film merits the comparison for how intelligently it conveys the rational behind the violence, capturing the personal and political urgency of these events without condoning it. The film ultimately appeals to the futility of such violence as it refuses to shy away from the consequences of such violence and asks the viewer what kind of political and ideological currents may escape from such explosive rifts and produce tangible change. Stunningly shot and exceptionally crafted, Corbo is one of the most noteworthy Canadian films of the year.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)