Photo: Izabella Balcerzak

Review: Putting the “international” in TIFF

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By Jacob Dubé

Pyromaniac — Norway

When I agreed to do this write up, it came with one condition— that I review one Norwegian movie. Every year I make my way out to one, and every year they’re always so disastrously grim. Pyromaniac, which had its international premiere on Sept. 9, definitely didn’t disappoint.

Pyromaniac, directed by Erik Skjoldbjaerg, features some great shots of quaint Norwegian scenery, original sound design and the chillest old couple to ever walk out of a live house fire.

The film is set in the small Norwegian town of Finsland— a place that is so wonderfully quaint that they all sing in unison about how nothing bad ever happens in Finsland. Dag, a 19-year-old loner, is setting forest fires across town and putting them out with his dad, who happens to be the town fire chief.

One of the hidden gems of this movie is the sound. The film is quiet when it needs to be, and ready to jolt you out of your seat as well. All of the fires sound urgent and alarming—the filmmakers added in a woman singing to the sound of the flames to create this surreal, human feeling.

It’s a true story that happened in Finsland in the ‘70s, and the most gripping part of the film is that every fire in Pyromaniac is real. After the screening, the director told the audience that, to save money, the crew asked locals if they could burn down their old abandoned buildings for free. Respect.

Layla M. — Netherlands

The world premiere of Layla M., directed by Mijke de Jong, was shown at the Winter Garden Theatre on Yonge Street on Sept. 10. Before I go into the details of this fascinating movie,

I just have to mention that the theatre looks like it just came right out of a fairy tale’s wet dream—lanterns, leaves, those weird square fences they have in vineyards —the works.

I digress. Layla M. was riveting from start to finish. The film is centered around Layla, an 18-year-old Dutch-Moroccan high school student on the brink of starting a new chapter of her life. She is unhappy with the treatment of Muslims in her country, and has begun to radicalize, to the dismay of her parents. She moves to the Middle East with her freshly minted husband to fight alongside an Islamic terrorist cell, but it’s not what she expected at all.

With Islamophobia running rampant around the world, it was refreshing to watch a movie that showed radicalism for what it really is—a major exception to the rule. The heart of this movie was Layla’s parents attempting to teach her that “hatred hasn’t gotten anyone anywhere.”

Oh, and in one scene they forgot to add the English subtitles, and we got to see the actors speak pure Dutch for five minutes. Turns out they got engaged. That would have been good to know.

Raw — France, Belgium

It’s settled—the French make better horror movies than us. Raw, directed by Julia Ducournau and premiered internationally at Midnight Madness at Ryerson University on Sept 12, is shocking, unrelenting and just the right amount of fun that forces you to keep watching.

First and foremost, this is a film about frosh week. 16-year old Justine’s parents, who fervently raised her as a vegetarian, drop her off at veterinary school to study alongside her sister. What comes next is the craziest hazing ritual you’ve ever seen—froshies get their rooms torn apart, their beds thrown out the window, they get blood splashed on their lab coats—but when Justine is forced to eat a raw rabbit liver, shit really starts to go down. She starts ravenously eating raw meat wherever she can find it, and in the best scene of the movie, nibbles at her sister’s freshly cut-off finger while her sister watches.

Raw is just wild from start to finish. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, or anybody who doesn’t like seeing teenagers coughing up hairballs. But if you’re into that kind of stuff, this movie fills its screen time with as much blood, gore and sex as it can, while also maintaining a really good story about family ties and unfortunate family inheritances.

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