The Griff went to EIFF, ate lots of popcorn, watched the movies, and reviewed five films that you should watch too.
From Sept. 21 to Oct. 1, I had the pleasure of attending the Edmonton International Film Festival. After attending last year’s festival and returning this year, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The venues had changed, the genres and filmmakers were new, and the popcorn tasted different at each theatre (this is a vital part of the film-watching process). But, after opening night, I was back in the groove and felt right at home. Every film that we saw this year exceeded our expectations. So, here’s five reviews of films that screened at EIFF 2023 that the Griff team thinks you should go see.
Disclaimer: These reviews may contain spoilers and/or graphic descriptions around sensitive topics such as suicide, transphobia,homophobia, violence, eating dirsorders, and depression.
Anatomy of a Fall (dir. Justine Triet) — Thriller, drama
Directed by Justine Triet, Anatomy of a Fall takes a look into the life of Sandra (Sandra Huller), a narcissistic German mother, as she proves her innocence in the case of her husband’s ill-fated death. When her 11-year-old blind son, Daniel (Milo Machado Graner), is chosen to be the sole witness in his father’s murder case, he faces more than one predicament — the scientific details of the fall, if it was intentional, and the ultimate decision of innocence or guilt placed on his shoulders.
Between Sandra’s past of countless lovers and extramarital affairs, her husband’s deep-rooted trauma, and the dire complexity of their home’s location in the beautiful French alps, Anatomy of a Fall is a courtroom drama like none other.
Each scene is utterly stunning and encapsulating, all while being extraordinarily simple. Every unexpected turn forces us to guess what will happen next, breaking down every little detail yet still leaving us in the dark about what really went on that afternoon in the family’s chalet. Graner’s remarkable acting despite his young age; the importance of the family’s dog, Snoop; and, a traumatic death scene to the instrumental version of 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” all join harmoniously together and make this film an original.
Geoff McFetridge: Drawing a Life (Dir. Dan Covert and Spike Jonze) — Documentary
Directed by Dan Covert and Spike Jonze, Geoff McFetridge: Drawing a Life is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen this year. This film breaks down McFetridge’s youth, growing up in Calgary, and beginning his love for art through skateboarding and graffiti.
The film follows a young Geoff as he goes through university, meets his wife, has his two daughters, and connects with other artists and professionals all over the world.
The name Geoff McFetridge may sound new to you, but his work certainly isn’t. From creating graphics for big companies like Apple and Warby Parker, producing work shown in many Hollywood movies, hosting art shows, and designing band and film logos, he’s done it all.
But, this movie isn’t just about him. It’s about life, and how we perceive what goes on around us. The point of “drawing a life” isn’t to try to encapsulate what’s happening in each moment; it’s about creating a life in itself through art and holding onto those experiences forever in our minds, and in art. One of my favourite lines from the film is when the directors ask what is the most precious thing Geoff owns, only for him to answer with “my memories.”
Covert pushes this film outside of traditional boundaries. The New York director mentions that this film is about creating your own happiness and pursuing what you’re good at and interested in. This film will inspire you and pull on your heartstrings, all while teaching you about art, design, and culture.
Karen Carpenter: Starving for Perfection (Dir. Randy Martin) — Documentary
Karen Carpenter: Starving for Perfection is a full-heartedly in-your-face, sensitive piece of work. Everybody knows the Carpenters, from their hit songs “Close to You” and “Superstar”, but do you really know the Carpenters? Siblings Karen and Richard Carpenter grew up like most families in California. That being, until they blew up for their musical talents, with Karen on drums and vocals and Richard on piano.
This documentary showcases Karen’s struggles with finding love, living up to her mother’s expectations, and, of course, her ongoing battle with anorexia nervosa. The stunning cinematography and score, complemented by old video performances and never-before-heard tapes of Karen, are just one part of what make this movie so great. Karen’s story itself is the other part.
The musical group carried the music scene during the 60s and 70s until Karen’s heartbreaking death in 1982, at only age 32. Yet, their music continues to live on. My grandparents listened to them, my parents listened to them, and even I grew up listening to them.
There have been a lot of documentaries about musical groups, but the reason why this film is so special is because of the community that came together to create it. There were many people in particular who made this film shine: the director, Randy Martin; Kristen Chenoweth; Olivia Newton-John; Belinda Carlile from The Go-Go’s; and Carnie Wilson, singer for Wilson Phillips and daughter of the Beach Boys’s Brian Wilson.
Karen’s struggles, though not commonly talked about at that time, were not unheard of – and they certainly aren’t unheard of today. Anorexia can be a sensitive topic for many people, but that’s why I believe it’s so important for everyone to see this film. And on top of that, if you weren’t a fan of the Carpenters before, you will be after watching it.
Monster (Dir. Hirokazu Koreeda) — Drama, thriller
Monster, a thriller film from director Hirokazu Koreeda, was my favourite film at the festival this year. It features a Japanese single mother, Saori (Sakura Ando), who begins to have concerns about her young son, Minato (Soya Kurokawa). After his father’s death and making a new friend at school, Yori, (Hinata Hiiragi), Minato’s mother notices her son’s strange behaviours at home and in class, and attempts to figure out what’s going on with him.
This film uses the perspectives of the mother, son, and his school teacher, Mr. Hori (Eita Nagayama) to ever so carefully put the pieces of the puzzle together. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear to the audience that the struggles the boy is facing are in fact common experiences that audience members may have felt themselves.
Every little detail in Monster is purposeful, implicit, and brilliant. And on top of that, the shots are breathtaking in their simplicity, whether sunshine-y or stormy, the pictures are crisp and powerful. It’s one of those films where you leave the theatre still thinking about it hours later… at least, I know that I was.
If there’s one film I urge you to watch this year, it’s this one. There’s something for everyone in Monster, whether you’re aged 16 or 65. It may not make you laugh out loud or cry in the theatre, it will change your outlook on life, childhood, innocence, and blame.
Close to You (dir. Dominic Savage) — Drama
Close to You is a Canadian drama about a transgender man going home for the first time in four years. Directed by Dominic Savage and starring Elliot Page, the film explores how transitioning affects various relationships.
The film begins with Sam’s (Elliot Page) train ride from Toronto to his hometown of Cobourg, ON. While on the train, he locks eyes with Katherine (Hillary Baack), an old childhood friend he hasn’t seen in twenty years, who becomes a vital part of his story.
When Sam arrives at his parent’s house, he is presented with a seemingly happy reunion. But, as the film progresses, it becomes clear that not everything is as it seems. It starts small with Sam’s mom (Wendy Crewson) accidentally referring to Sam as a “she.” From there, things escalate to his sister’s boyfriend (David Reale) making anti-trans comments and an explosive fight between him and Sam, leading Sam to return home.
Throughout the film, the declining relationship between Sam and his family is contrasted by him and Katherine’s relationship becoming stronger as she proves to be a safe haven for him within his hometown.
The contrasting storylines in Close to You make for a disjointed film. The movie seems geared towards showing a realistic depiction of the struggles that trans people face when having to navigate relationships.
Savage’s screenwriting style, which relied heavily on the actors’ ability to improvise, forced the film to leave out many small details that would’ve given a more finished feeling to the characters being left out. If the filmmakers had decided to forgo the storyline about Sam and Katherine, there would’ve been more room to flesh out the characters and his relationships with his family.
One of these small details is shown in the many conversations between Sam and his family revolve around his job, which is never once revealed.
Despite its flaws, Close to You offers a highly personalized perspective on a complex and important topic. Page excels in his role as Sam, drawing from his own experiences to give the audience a genuine and authentic performance. Seeing Page on screen being able to play a trans man after coming out as transgender in 2020 is a refreshing step forward for showcasing the transgender community on-screen. Even though the film has its problems, I believe that everyone should watch it to support proper representation in film and television going forward.