TIFF ‘19: ‘Pelican Blood’ Is A Disturbing Examination of What a Mother Will Do For Her Child

What would you do for your newly-adopted daughter? Give her the best education possible? Address her behavioral problems head-on? Take lactation medication to breastfeed her so she feels closer to you? Yes, all this happens and more in Katrin Gebbe’s film, Pelican Blood, a disturbing look at the depths a mother will go to prove her love for her (adopted) child.

Wiebke (Nina Hoss) is a horse trainer who, in the film, is focused on getting horses ready to be a part of the police force. She and her daughter Nicolina (Adelia-Constance Giovanni Ocleppo) live a peaceful and idyllic life surrounded by animals. But the family dynamic shifts when Wiebke decides to adopt another daughter, a five-year-old girl from Bulgaria named Raya (Katerina Lipovska). While everything seems great at first, Raya slowly reveals her violent and aggressive side, symptoms of an attachment disorder that makes her dangerous. She tries to set the house on fire, threatens to kill Wiebke and Nicolina, and bullies all of her classmates relentlessly. Wiebke must figure out a solution to keep her other daughter and herself safe.

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TIFF ‘19: Hirokazu Kore-eda’s ‘The Truth’ is Well-Acted But Emotionally Light

In 2018, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda devastated audiences with his film, Shoplifters, a story about found family and the bonds that hold them together. Kore-eda, in general, is known for his emotional films that feel like punches to the gut. His latest film, however, delivers less emotional impact. The Truth is his first English language film and while it is well-acted, it is less accessible than his previous work.

Famous actress Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve) has just realized her memoirs detailing her life as a performer and a mother. Her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) arrives in France from the U.S. with her husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) and daughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier) to celebrate the book’s release and finally get a chance to read it. Upon opening the book, Lumir finds it riddled with lies and half-truths. They bicker and argue about it over a period of weeks while Fabienne shoots her latest film, a sci-fi feature starring a budding young actress.

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TIFF ‘19: Teen Romance Meets Climate Change in ‘Weathering With You’

In the follow-up to his wildly successful animated film, Your Name, Makoto Shinkai has written another whimsical teen romance in Weathering With You. It is about a boy and a girl who meet in a rain-filled Tokyo, where the weather has become wildly unpredictable. While his message about climate change is questionable at best, Shinkai still crafts a beautiful story about young love, found family, and struggling to discover who you truly are.

Hodaka Morishima is a 16-year-old high school student who has run away from home in pursuit of a better, less stifled life in Tokyo. However, he soon discovers that life in the big city isn’t so easy. As he goes days without eating, he tirelessly applies for jobs. He finally gets one as an office assistant as a local publishing company, run by a man and his one reporter. Hodaka copy edits, answers emails, cooks meals, everything one could possibly fathom. Then, he starts helping with a story about sunshine girls, or girls who are blessed with the ability to stop the rain.

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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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