TIFF Reviews: 'Moonlight', 'Paris Can Wait', 'Okafor's Law'

Capsule catch-up continues with a trio of diverse love stories:

(USA, 110 min.)
Written and directed by Barry Jenkins
Starring: Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Ashton Sanders, André Holland, Janelle Monáe
Programme: Platform (International Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF

Moonlight shines with understated passion. This sophomore feature from writer/director Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) is a film of quiet power. This visually arresting film offers a Miami awash with colour as Jenkins harnesses the glow of the city in compositions of stark, poetic realism.

Jenkins presents a few snapshots in the life of a young African-American boy named Chiron as he grows up in Miami feeling different from the crowd. Bullies tease him, while his crack-addict mother (Naomie Harris) offers zero guidance. This kid’s heading to juvie, jail, rehab, or the morgue if he follows the statistics. With the aid of an unexpected father figure (Mahershala Ali), Chiron finds himself confident, grounded, and ready to face the world with quiet trepidation.

Moonlight draws subtle power from its ensemble as Chiron evolves in this unconventional coming of age tale. The three actors playing Chiron at various stages in his life—childhood (Alex Hibbert), adolescence (Ashton Sanders), and adulthood (Trevante Rhodes)—anchor the film with their soul-searching introspection as the young man makes sense of his place in the world as a queer black male and negotiates the trickiness of being twice sided to the periphery. As his mother, Harris is a devastating presence throughout the film, while Ali gives the drama its biggest jolt of life in his brief but memorable performance as Juan, particularly with a cautious and authoritative monologue on the significance of the moonlight in relation to Chiron owning his identity as a black male that sets the tone for the story that follows. Don’t wait for any given moment of Moonlight to grab your heart and knock you over: this film is one of those experiences that slowly envelopes the viewer with a warm, compassionate embrace.

Paris Can Wait
(USA, 92 min.)
Written and directed by Eleanor Coppola
Starring: Diane Lane, Alec Baldwin, Arnaud Viard
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF

After soaking up some noodles and Chianti in Under the Tuscan Sun, Diane Lane enjoys le goût de la vie in the romantic comedy Paris Can Wait. Lane stars as fiftysomething Anne who takes an impromptu dining tour throughout the inns and cafés of France while en route to Paris. Her husband (Alec Baldwin) puts aside pleasure for business and tasks his colleague Jacques (Arnaud Viard) to chauffeur Anne to Paris. What should be a rides of only a few hours turns into a two-day affair as Anne’s travel companion insists they take in every hidden gem en route for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and altogether new meals in between. Paris Can Wait is positively scrumptious entertainment as Anne and Jacques eat French cuisine and taste fine wines. The delicacies invite Anne to live in the moment and savour the present as food becomes a metaphor for life, something that is meant to be shared and enjoyed slowly for its complexity of flavours. This warm and refreshingly light-hearted film from Eleanor Coppola, wife of Francis Ford Coppola and director of the acclaimed Apocalypse Now doc Hearts of Darkness, goes down nice and easy. Coppola smartly lets the warm glow of the film hinge on Lane’s radiant performance, while the rare offering of a love story centered on a mature woman is a bite to savour. Like the wines and cheeses on display in Paris Can Wait, some things get better with age.

Okafor’s Law
(Nigeria, 110 min.)
Written and directed by Omoni Oboli
Starring: Omoni Oboli, Blossom Chukwujekwu, Ufuoma McDermott, Toyin Aimakhu
Programme: City to City (World Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF

This year’s spotlight on the cinema of Lagos, Nigeria is a major talking point of the Toronto International Film Festival. Eight films from Nollywood appear in the Festival sidebar, which notably revived the spirit of the former Planet Africa programme, as TIFF used its clout for good to make a robust yet hidden national cinema stand tall alongside Hollywood players.

Only one City to City title managed to fit my oft-changing schedule, but an unsuccessful rush for Neruda offered a chance to take in a welcome comedy during the fest with Okafor’s Law. The film is the latest work from budding Nollywood talent Omoni Oboli, whose previous film Wives on Strike was a smash hit. Okafor’s Law probably suffers from Oboli’s pressure to deliver a hit in a quick turnaround time, though, for the director noted in her introduction to the screening that principal photography for the film only began in July 2016. Two months is an awfully rushed turnaround time to deliver a film through completion and Okafor’s Law shows signs of its hurried production, particularly in the audio, while earnestly delivering laughs with its sweet-talking rom-com.

Despite the circumstances of production, Oboli nevertheless delivers a charming and winning comedy as womaniser the Terminator (Blossom Chukwujekwu) takes on a bet with his friends that he can seduce three of his former conquests with the power of Okafor’s Law, which is an old myth that says any man with a good libido can reclaim a former flame at will. As the Terminator pursues three of his most difficult hook-ups, Oboli offers carefree and risqué entertainment in a battle of the sexes turned moral fable. The women of the tale aren’t doormats, either, as they turn the tables on the Terminator and teach him a thing or two about women. Hollywood, take note.

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