Features, Film

Dispatches from TIFF 2023, Part One

Hamaguchi, Rossellini, and Aussie creeps


THE ROYAL HOTEL (2023) dir. Kitty Green

The Hassle’s Kyle Amato is on the ground for the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival – watch this space for further dispatches!

The Royal Hotel dir. Kitty Green

Another fun entry in the anti-Australian tourism genre, Kitty Green’s followup to The Assistant is a similarly harsh look at the disgusting world of male aggression and presumptions. Backpacking friends Hanna (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick) run out of money in Australia, forcing them to take jobs at a mining town bar in the outback. The drunk owner Billy (Hugo Weaving) claims the men are just having fun, but their advances and “jokes” grow stronger as the nights go on. Hanna rightfully wants to leave, but Liv keeps talking her down, even when some of the men start lurking around after the bar has closed. Though Garner and Henwick both give great performances, and the film is similarly claustrophobic, there’s less stylistic dread than The Assistant. The ending never goes quite as hard as an outback thriller should, though Garner gets to let loose in a way only she can.

ZONE OF INTEREST (2023) dir. Jonathan Glazer

The Zone of Interest dir. Jonathan Glazer

If you were to describe this film in one word, it would be “evil.” Of course, a film about a Nazi family unit living right against the walls of Auschwitz should be nothing else. However… what if I said it’s also kind of fun? There’s something to be said about experiencing the day-to-day lives of some of the worst people to ever live, a disgusting irony to all their marital squabbles while Jewish people are murdered by the dozen mere feet from their doorstep. The women have tea and laugh about taking clothes from the Jews, the men discuss blueprints for more efficient incinerators, the kids absorb the cruelty around them and take it out on each other. Sandra Hüller and Rudolf Höss give daring performances, alternately callous and bored, ferocious and despairing. The closest comparison would be The Act of Killing, but with Glazer-ian flares of inventive imagery and sound. One of the year’s best, whether you can stomach it or not.

LA CHIMERA (2023) dir. Alice Rohrwacher

La Chimera dir. Alice Rohrwacher
I must impress upon you: this is a film about a ragtag gang of Italian graverobbers led by a moody Englishman (Josh O’Connor) who is kind of scamming a kooky old woman (Isabella Rossellini) while he uses his innate gift to sense hidden tombs and pines for his lost love. There’s an argument to make that this is the best film of the festival, or at least the most delightful, most gorgeous, most rollicking, or most Italian. I don’t want to say anything else, lest I ruin this dreamlike film. Just see it when it comes out – Neon picked it up at Cannes, and I’m sure they’re preparing a proper release. And watch Happy as Lazarro, Rohrwacher’s previous film, which is on Netflix.

EVIL DOES NOT EXIST (2023) dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Evil Does Not Exist dir. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

A total swerve away from Drive My Car, the latest film from Hamaguchi finds a rural community under threat from developers humiliatingly pushing a “glamping” resort onto their land. The town pushes back, especially on potential groundwater contamination from the proposed septic tanks. They are met with bureaucratic apathy, but the soft-spoken Takumi (Hitoshi Omika) makes a rational case for compromise and the representatives decide to spend some time in the community. Hamaguchi looks at both sides of this conflict without getting preachy, showing us how the business side works without fully demonizing them or tsk-tsking the audience for not thinking of them as people. They are just people with jobs, unaware of the natural beauty of the region. Fortunately, this film is also not Pocahontas. Twists and turns abound, and hopefully the film gets a non-festival release very soon so everyone can take in the lush, wintry atmosphere for themselves.

Watch this space for Kyle’s further bulletins from the Great White North!

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