TIFF Reviews: 'Maudie', 'Age of Shadows', 'Jesus'

Catching up on coverage with some capsule reviews! First up: Can-con, an Oscar contender, and one unfortunate blight on this year’s programming.

(Canada/Ireland, 115 min.)
Dir. Aisling Walsh, Writ. Sherry White
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke
Programme: Special Presentations (Canadian Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF

Applaudit pour Maudie! Sally Hawkins gives an exceptional performance as Nova Scotian painter Maud Lewis. Lewis's paintings are cute little pieces of folk art that she dabbles on discarded boards strewn about the ramshackle cabin she shares with her husband (Ethan Hawke) and the works benefits from the story behind them. More than one prospective arts patron in Maudie observes that Lewis's childlike drawings resemble something a kid would paint, but the film effortlessly shows the difficulty of the artist's dedication as Hawkins maneuvers the paintbrushes within Lewis's gnarled fingers.  The physical feat of Hawkins’ interpretation of Lewis is outstanding as she recreates the figure of the painter who suffered from crippling arthritis throughout her career. Comparisons to Jim Sheridan's My Left Foot are inevitable as Maudie follows a paint by numbers scheme with its tale of Lewis's trials and passion, but Hawkins' performance alone lets the film stand up to the film that earned Daniel Day-Lewis good first Oscar.

The Age of Shadows (Miljeong)
(South Korea, 139 min.)
Dir. Kim Jee woon, Writ. Lee Ji min, Park Jong dae
Starring: Song Kang ho, Gong Yoo, Han Ji min
Programme: Special Presentations (North American Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF

The Age of Shadows weaves an engrossing spy game within a complex historical drama. Director Kim Jee woon (I Saw the Devil) uses the resonant political backdrop and visually arresting trimmings of the period setting to tackle international relations and traumas that sting as The Age of Shadows dramatizes the Korean resistance to Japanese occupation in the 1920s. The film, which is South Korea’s official submission to compete in the Best Foreign Language Film race this year, stars Song Hang ho in a gripping performance as Lee Jung-chool, a noble Korean officer enlisted in the Japanese police as he infiltrates the rebels to expose and paralyse the resistance movement.

Particularly impressive is the centrepiece of The Age and Shadows in which Lee ferrets out a mole in their operation and exposes spies and resistance fighters. The tight confines of the train are thrilling and packed wall to wall with Hitchcockian suspense. An explosive gunfight on the rails leaves a visceral impact like a scar after a wound cut deep.

The complicated plot of The Age of Shadows often proves confusing as the myriad of characters cross paths, get bumped off, or vanish throughout the film’s well-packed procedure. The cast excels as some committed freedom fighters and ambiguous spies collude, and Kim’s allusive and impressionistic direction proves instructive as The Age of Shadows creates a challenging film experience in which loyalty is rare and intuition is key. This intense and atmospheric film is a thrill.

(France/Chile/Germany/Greece/Colombia, 86 min.)
Dir. Fernando Guzzoni
Starring: Nicholás Durán
Programme: Discovery (World Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF

An angry young man struggles to find his voice in Fernando Guzzoni 's bleak drama Jesús. Jesús, played by Nicholás Durán, is a queer male coming of age with a rambunctious group of friends who grow up without a sense of responsibly after their teeny bopper dreams fizzle out on the local American Idol equivalent. Guzzoni often conflates queerness with deviance, however, as Jesús and his quartet of homies do dirty deeds around town. The mischief culminates in a repugnantly violent assault that Guzzoni explodes without restraint as the beating and cruel bullying play out in unbearable real time. Jesús pushes the envelope with brutal violence and explicit unsimulated blow jobs and hand jobs, but the film lacks substance to give this salacious action any bite.  The film lumbers in search of redemption as Jesús is also an utterly unlikable protagonist and Guzzoni provides no reason to care about his plight. In a word:  turgid.


TIFF runs Sept. 8-18.
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