TIFF ’19: ‘Murmur’ Is A Search For Love In The Form Of Senior Rescue Dogs

With a long puff on an e-cigarette, we meet Donna, a woman with a love of red wine and not much else. But beneath the cloud of vapor and bottles of alcohol lies a deeply sad person who is searching for some larger purpose. Shot like a documentary with a careful and thoughtful gaze, Heather Young’s directorial debut Murmur is a gorgeous, yet heart-breaking, film about addiction, loneliness, and trying to feel loved. 

Donna (Shan MacDonald) is a recovering alcoholic who was recently convicted of driving while drunk. She is ordered to complete community service, which she does at a local animal shelter. There, she finds joy in motherless kittens and sad senior dogs. As she scrubs their cages and files down their toys’ sharp edges, she is able to feel useful; she can finally take care of something and feel loved in return. She particularly connects with a sick dog named Charlie who has a slew of medical conditions including a heart murmur. Donna believes she can give him the best life possible in his remaining months. But, once she gets a taste of being a caretaker, it spirals into another addiction that bleeds into her need for alcohol. She brings home cats, dogs, hamsters, and fish until her home is covered in pets. 

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TIFF ‘19: ‘Sea Fever’ Director Neasa Hardiman and Actor Hermione Corfield Talk Eco Thrillers, Red Heads, and the Use of Body Horror

Sea Fever is a parasitic environmental horror about what waits for us beneath the waves. It follows a PhD candidate Siobhan (Hermione Corfield) who would rather study specimens in a lab rather than interact with people. However, she is sent out on a fishing boat for field research, only to come upon a massive unknown creature. She must help the crew understand the beast and figure out a way to escape its grasp.

Neasa Hardiman, who wrote and directed the film, is known for her work on dramas such as Happy Valley and Jessica Jones. So why did she decide to pivot to the terrifying seas? I was able to speak with her and Corfield during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival to learn more about Sea Fever and what it was like to research and film on a fishing vessel.

Note: interview has been edited for clarity

Mary Beth McAndrews: I absolutely loved Sea Fever, it is a film very much up my alley. My first question for you, Neasa, is why did you want to do the ocean?

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TIFF ’19: Get Swept Away by ‘Sea Fever’

The ocean is a vast, unknown, and frankly terrifying place. It is home to massive whales and other creatures that have adapted to huge amounts of pressure and total darkness. Some of the weirdest animals on Earth can be found in the ocean, but, there’s so much we still don’t know about it. More than 80% of the ocean has not been explored, so who knows what lurks beneath the waves? Director Neasa Hardiman takes that aura of mystery to create her latest feature film, Sea Fever, an eco-thriller that reflects on aquatic possibilities as well as the effects human beings continue to have on ocean life. 

Siobhan (Hermione Corfield) is a PhD student who is most comfortable in the lab, surrounded by specimens, books, and numbers. But, her professor forces her to board a fishing boat to do field research, which means mingling with a crew of fishermen. Despite her protests, she ends up on the trawler captained by Freya (Bonnie Corfield) and her husband, Gerard (Dougray Scott). While Siobhan tries to connect with the crew, Freya and Gerard battle financial problems that could lead to them losing their boat. Despite advisories from the Coast Guard to avoid a certain part of the ocean, Gerard sets a course right through the restricted area due to high volumes of fish.

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TIFF ’19: ‘Honey Boy’ Is A Devastating and Emotionally Raw Portrayal of PTSD

Shia LaBeouf has been acting since the age of 12. He made us laugh in Even Stevens, he was the goofy protagonist in Transformers, and he was the paranoid teen in Disturbia. His career has been full of ups, but also some tragic downs that have often made him the butt of the joke. But now in Honey Boy, directed by Alma Har’el’s and written by LaBeouf, the child actor can set the record straight and offer his quasi-fictionalized side of the story.

It’s 2005 and Otis, played by Lucas Hedges, is an actor who does take after take and parties hard when the cameras turn off. But his partying lands him in rehab again, which means court-mandated therapy. His parole officer tries to get to the source of his anger and instructs him to keep a journal of what triggers his extreme emotions. In this journal, he documents his relationship with his father, James (LaBeouf), who served as a manager when he was a kid. These journal entries serve as a vehicle to flashbacks to a young Otis (Noah Jupe) at age 12, living in a motel with his dad.

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TIFF ’19: ‘Joker’ Tries and Fails to Hide Its Clownery With a Political Message

With superhero movies raking in the cash despite how much they’ve saturated the market, studios are looking for new and creative ways to tap into their passionate fanbase. One of these ideas includes standalone movies that address individual characters, both heroes and villains. Enter Todd Phillips’ Joker, an attempt to give depth and ethos to a psychopathic killer in a time where that kind of behavior is the last thing that needs to be glorified.

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TIFF ’19: ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ Reminds Us That We Were All Kids Once

When we’re children, life seems incomprehensible and strange, an amalgamation of emotions that we aren’t sure how to navigate. But as it turns out, that doesn’t change much when we’re adults. We are a mess of traumas and confusion, trying to go through life like we’re fine when we’re very much not. This is where the incomparable Mr. Rogers comes in, a soothing wave of compassion and empathy who wants us all to know it is OK to be angry sometimes. In A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Marielle Heller’s latest film after Can You Ever Forgive Me?, journalist Tom Junrod is a stand-in for all of us, a ball of resentment and fear that learns how to parse those feelings through red-cardigan-clad Fred Rogers. 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Is based on Junrod’s 1998 profile of Rogers that appeared in Esquire magazine. Matthew Rhys plays Junrod, who at the time was a jaded journalist who was desperate to find out the worst things about humanity. He digs at people, writing exposes and long pieces of investigative journalism. So he is shocked when his editor assigns him to a puff piece about Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks), famed children’s TV show host. What Junrod expects to just be a short interview about a joyous old man becomes a transformative process where he learns how to process his trauma and forgive his father.

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TIFF ’19: ‘Portrait Of A Lady On Fire’ Is A Perfect Example of the Female Gaze

The male gaze is a term often used to address and critique how male directors use the camera to portray the female body as a site/sight of desire. The term, coined by Laura Mulvey, has grown and changed over the decades to address shifting genres, new mediums, and the growth of female directors. But, the question then emerges, what about the female gaze? Is there such a thing if hegemonic ideas of film are governed by patriarchy? Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady On Fire answers that question with a loud, resounding yes.

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