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#TIFF15 Reviews: The Rainbow Kid, Room, Al Purdy Was Here, Keeper, Sleeping Giant

September 10, 2015

By John Corrado

#TIFF15The 40th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival kicks off tonight, with the world premiere of Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée’s Demolition, and will be going strong in the city until September 20th.

To start things off, below are my thoughts on my five top picks from what I’ve seen so far, and please come back tomorrow and throughout the rest of the festival for many more reviews and recommendations.

More information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here, or through the links in the film titles, which are arranged in order of when they first screen.  Enjoy!

The Rainbow Kid: Eugene (Dylan Harman) is a young man with Down Syndrome, who still believes in the power of rainbows to deliver gold.  Living in Toronto and riddled by extreme poverty, practically taking care of himself alongside his terminally ill mother, Eugene sets out to find the proverbial end of the rainbow, in hopes of being able to pay off an eviction notice.  This journey takes him through rural Ontario and puts him in contact with an eccentric cast of characters, some kind and others dangerous.  These encounters make up much of The Rainbow Kid, a captivatingly unique film that uses the almost mythic undertones of its coming of age story to take us on a journey that is by turns moving, surprising and even disturbing, fearlessly never shying away from its darker elements.

Every scene is impressively performed by Dylan Harman, affectively portraying his character’s emotional maturation over the course of the journey.  The young actor performs extremely well alongside the vast landscape of supporting players, including a superb Julian Richings as an aging punk rocker, in one of the film’s most strangely compelling interludes.  Director Kire Paputts shows a sure hand behind the camera, allowing for some beautifully captured widescreen frames, as we become completely invested in the offbeat but also improbably heartfelt nature of the story.  Both moving and compelling, The Rainbow Kid offers a sensitive and respectful portrayal of disability, and is surely one of the most strikingly unique independent films at this year’s festival.  A must see for lovers of original homegrown cinema.

Saturday, September 12th – 7:15 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 14
Monday, September 14th – 9:30 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 8
Saturday, September 19th – 10:30 AM at Scotiabank Theatre 14

Room: Jack (Jacob Tremblay) has just turned five, but has lived his entire life locked inside a small square room with his beloved Ma (Brie Larson).  The only glimpse he has ever gotten of the world is through a small skylight, believing that outside is space and everything else only exists in the magical world of television.  Ma is fiercely committed to protecting her little boy, and will do anything in her power to get him out, but adapting to the unexpected expanse of the real world might prove to be even more challenging for them.  Like in Emma Donoghue’s bestselling book, Room offers a remarkable window into a child’s eye view of the world around him, never giving us any more details than Jack has at the time, and all the more gutting for it.  Working from a screenplay that the author adapted herself, director Lenny Abrahmson perfectly captures these elements of the book, shooting from low angles and using close ups to mimic the vantage point of the young lead.

The results are captivating, giving Room a distinct visual look and feel, utilizing the grey tones and confined spaces of the first half to create a sense of claustrophobia, before amplifying the brighter colours of the second half.  The stellar performances also successfully help lift the story from page to screen.  Brie Larson brilliantly portrays both the tortured pain and resilient strength of her character, and it’s an exceptionally nuanced piece of work that is profoundly moving to watch.  Young Jacob Tremblay never hits a wrong note and displays an incredible amount of depth for a child actor, with his wide open eyes powerfully showing both his terror and awe of the world around him, simultaneously stealing our hearts and breaking them wide open.  A gripping, disturbing and emotionally powerful drama, Room casts a unique spell that is almost hypnotizing to watch, and just as hard to shake afterwards.

Tuesday, September 15th – 6:00 PM at Princess of Wales
Wednesday, September 16th – 3:00 PM at Princess of Wales

Al Purdy Was Here: A “Sensitive Man” beneath an ultra masculine persona, who rose from his humble working class origins to leave behind a lasting legacy of words, Al Purdy is now rightfully regarded as one of our country’s finest poetic voices.  The directorial debut of local film critic Brian D. Johnson, Al Purdy Was Here explores the life and lasting legacy of this famed Canadian icon, using the efforts that were made to restore and convert his family home in Ontario into a retreat space for other writers, as the backbone of its narrative.  The documentary finds added emotional weight through rare archival footage, and there are also some genuinely touching performances from the many notable homegrown musicians who were enlisted to set his poems to music.  A thoughtful and beautifully captured celebration of words and music, Al Purdy Was Here is a surprisingly moving film that reaffirms the title subject as an intrinsic part of our vast cultural landscape.

Tuesday, September 15th – 7:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 2
Thursday, September 17th – 4:45 PM at Isabel Bader Theatre

Keeper: Adolescents being forced to make adult decisions and teen pregnancy are a common trope in cinema, but these themes are given fresh perspective in Keeper, an honest and deeply affecting small gem from director Guillaume Sanz.  Maxime (Kacey Mottet Klein) is a pretty typical fifteen year old in Belgium, who dreams of becoming a champion soccer player, and is deeply in love with his girlfriend Mélanie (Galatea Bellugi).  So when she becomes pregnant, Maxime is determined to help her keep the child, despite her mother’s rigid resistance, perhaps underestimating his own ability to provide and be a good father.  Anchored by impressively naturalistic performances from Kacey Mottet Klein and Galatea Bellugi, who bring moving and authentic depth to their charming young characters, Keeper is a low key and bittersweet coming of age film, that reaches an emotional but realistic conclusion.

Tuesday, September 15th – 7:00 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 3
Thursday, September 17th – 9:30 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 2
Saturday, September 19th – 3:30 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 13

Sleeping Giant: Adapting his own short film to feature length, director Andrew Cividino has crafted an assured and richly textured debut in Sleeping Giant, authentically capturing all of the little moments and unexpected drama of teenage rivalry, against the backdrop of a seemingly endless summer.  Riley (Reece Moffett) and his cousin Nate (Nick Serino) are spending the summer hanging out in a small cottage community on Lake Superior, with the quiet and sensitive Adam (Jackson Martin) tagging along.  The three bored and restless teenagers hang out, goofing off and causing trouble in equal measure, as the working class Nate takes to relentlessly bullying the seemingly more privileged Adam.  But the weight of jealousy, various family problems and tested friendships, including arguments around Adam’s close female friend Taylor (Katelyn McKerracher), make things increasingly volatile between them.

Built around a trio of compellingly written characters, the giant of the title comes to represent many things throughout the story, a mounting obstacle in their lives, visualized by the towering cliff side that becomes the point of an ongoing dare.  These teenage protagonists are allowed to become completely believable in their intentions and constant attempts to prove their young masculinity, even as the story turns increasingly dark.  Beautifully filmed and anchored by impressively naturalistic performances, Sleeping Giant is an absolutely incredible coming of age film, perfectly capturing the youthful feeling that things are going to last forever, and the shocking moment when you realize that they’re not.  The result is a stunning small gem, that lingers in the mind long afterwards.

Tuesday, September 15th – 9:00 PM at Winter Garden Theatre
Thursday, September 17th – 9:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 3

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