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Toronto International Film Festival 2019 Mini Film Reviews for Day 1

I’m at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, so I thought I’d post some mini reviews of the movies I’ve seen so far. I’m breaking up the posts by the days on which I watched the movies. Descriptions by/from TIFF.net. Reviews are my own rambling opinions.

The Whistlers

Corrupt cop Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) travels to the Canary Island of La Gomera, where he collaborates with mobsters in order to try and free a shady Bucharest businessman named Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea), who is believed to know the whereabouts of a mattress containing millions in cash. Under heavy surveillance on the island, Cristi is taught by the local gangsters and a femme fatale, appropriately named Gilda (Catrinel Marlon), to communicate in an indigenous whistle language called “El Siblo,” which is unintelligible to the police because it sounds like bird calls. Full of double-crossings and unexpected twists and turns, Porumboiu’s neo-noir thriller is an intelligent, entertaining, deadpan-funny caper that explores the limitations of language while at the same time using it as a poetic form of resistance.

My take:

I chose this movie because it sounded interesting and fairly different from my standard fare, and it did not disappoint. The locations were gorgeous, the characters were fascinating, and it was funnier than I expected. I found myself really rooting for Cristi, despite his obvious character flaws, and the gorgeous, kickass Gilda. I liked the movie’s structure in that there were “chapters” devoted to each main character’s story, with very little overlap between segments. Well edited, it put together a cohesive, linear story. I also learned from the director during the post-screening Q&A that there were/are in fact civilizations that use(d) a whistling language, which the actors were trained in, which added another layer to the movie as a whole.

Worth seeing in a theater?

Yes. The Whistlers was entertaining enough and beautifully filmed so that I appreciated the big-screen treatment.

Blood Quantum

Jeff Barnaby’s astutely titled second feature is equal parts horror and pointed cultural critique. Zombies are devouring the world, yet an isolated Mi’gmaq community is immune to the plague. Do they offer refuge to the denizens outside their reserve or not?

The term “blood quantum” refers to a colonial blood measurement system that is used to determine an individual’s Indigenous status, and is criticized as a tool of control and erasure of Indigenous peoples. The words take on even more provocative implications as the title of Jeff Barnaby’s sophomore feature, which grimly depicts an apocalyptic scenario where in an isolated Mi’gmaq community discover they are the only humans immune to a zombie plague. As the citizens of surrounding cities flee to the Mi’gmaq reserve in search of refuge from the outbreak, the community must reckon with whether to let the outsiders in — and thus risk not just the extinction of their tribe but of humanity, period.

My take:

I felt like the social/political critique aspect of the movie was oversold. While it was great to see an ensemble cast comprised of Indigenous actors, not a lot was done with that fact other than the characters’ immunity to the zombie plague. I felt like more time could have been devoted to really expressing what the filmmakers intended to say, but didn’t quite convey. Most of the main characters were easy to root for (Bumper was my favorite), while the villainous ones were easy to hate. That said, this was a fun zombie movie entry with impressively gruesome, extremely gory kills (done creatively on a budget, it turns out).

Worth seeing in a theater?

Yes and no. Yes to support the underrepresented Indigenous community, and yes if you really enjoy your gory horror movies on the big screen. No because other than some imaginative kills, we’ve seen this type of zombie movie treatment already.

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