TIFF 2023 Highlights

    Aggro Dr1ft (Harmony Korine)

    Cinema’s most (in)famously boyish cult filmmaker has a midlife crisis. For the latest instalment in a lifelong series of aesthetic reinventions, Harmony Korine returns with Aggro Dr1ft. Shot entirely with an infrared camera, the movie’s a hallucinogenic, deconstructed action film about the final mission of “the world’s greatest assassin” across a dystopian Miami. A barebones narrative stitches together lengthy sequences where characters move with the jank of a glitched-out video game. All dialogue—elliptical, clunky, stilted—mimics the writing and cadence of a Neil Breen movie. It’s Hype Williams’ Belly as a half-remembered dream or a psychedelic PS2 session, take your pick. Korine’s been vocal proclaiming his work revolutionary. In numerous press interviews, he dons a plastic minotaur mask and situates Aggro Dr1ft as an exercise in uncovering the next stage of cinema. Lots of outraged contesters were quick to renounce his bold declarations. At times like this, it’s important to recall how Korine also used to urinate on strangers to provoke them into beating him up on camera. I wouldn’t bother getting riled up refuting his logic.

    Despite its eccentricity, Aggro Dr1ft goes down easy. It’s fun and surprisingly mellow (despite the hyper-saturation and occasional ear-piercing falcon screech). While the aesthetic conceit isn’t as complex or radical as Korine suggests, the thermal images summon an uncanny vision of a surreal landscape. The movie’s incredibly juvenile, but that cuts two ways. On one hand, it’s like the crass byproduct of a half-formed brain, conjuring a parodic Grand Theft Auto-type universe where all women are NPC callipygian twerkers. (This isn’t your parents’ Rehearsals for Retirement.) But Aggro Dr1ft also has the self-assuredness of youthful art. There’s no sense of obligation to pacify the conventions of its medium. It indulges a headstrong self-commitment to a very personal aesthetic language.

    Korine’s long masqueraded as a Dumb Guy, exaggerating a stoned-clueless persona and downplaying the rigour of his artistry. In conversation with Caveh Zahedi, he responds to all of Zahedi’s references to prototypical maverick poet Arthur Rimbaud with answers about prototypical action hero John Rambo. For Korine, the ideal artist eradicates their own intellect and operates on a purely sensory level. It’s about returning to an instinct of unassuming creativity that’s conditioned out of us. I don’t think it’s possible to make a purely unintellectual film, especially not when you approach it with Harmony Korine’s ironic deliberateness. But at a glance, Aggro Dr1ft defies the intellect. The film’s designed exclusively around “pleasure”, whatever that amorphous term embodies. It’s a sensual experience which, in the Sontagian sense, rejects interpretation. Pleasures takes precedent.

    Yet Aggro Dr1ft doesn’t cultivate a passive or escapist pleasure. Its pleasure stems from recognizing its disunity, its disregard for filmic convention, its narrative awkwardness, its disinterest in anything human, cohesive, or easily digestible. Korine asks us to find enjoyment in the demolition of standardized film and narrative language. Adorno and Horkheimer described The Culture Industry as a diversion: a means to deplete workers’ free time and energy, to distract them from their material reality via seamless escapism. Pleasure: weaponized. For no moment is Aggro Dr1ft passive viewing. You can’t freefall into images; they announce their presence loudly. Instead, the film strives for a radical form of pleasure built not on immersion, but confrontation.


    The Beast (Bertrand Bonello)

    Bertrand’s Bonello’s The Beast is a melodrama set at the end of human feeling. Told with vague sci-fi mechanics, the film unveils a technofascist AI-run future. The world is depopulated and barren. Architecture and interior design are minimalist and sterile. It’s a Mark Fisher incarnation of the year 2044, where nightclubs blast throwback hits from 1972. Exhausted by this world without affect, Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux) undergoes an operation to purge her emotions via submerging her body in a black liquid goo that broadcasts memories from her past lives. Intercutting stories from three of her lives (2044, 2014, and 1910), Bonello reconfigures narrative as a sprawling tapestry uncontained by a single lifespan. Desires persist into next lives, culminating in a vast, history-spanning arc.

    The story drastically reinterprets and expands Henry James’ novella The Beast in the Jungle: a simple tragedy about a man’s fatalistic apprehension of a vague, impending calamity. Bonello’s adaptation jumps pastiches at lighting speed. It turns from costume drama romance into disaster movie into surrealist L.A. stalker thriller into dystopian sci-fi. Though eclectic and proudly disunified, Bonello patterns each milieu with ominous recurring motifs (e.g. dolls, pigeons, fortune tellers). This is his most audacious and esoteric movie yet, and that’s without factoring in the interpolations of Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers. Like James’ story, the movie ends with a crushing irony: a tragedy where the greatest conceivable loss is the ability to feel. Bonello’s a filmmaker keen on dissecting history and its relationship to the present. The Beast, however, turns its sight on a precarious future. At times, the style is grotesquely melodramatic. Yet Bonello’s wielding of melodrama is a natural recourse: a defense against an evolving technological sphere pushing human feeling into obsolesce.

    La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher)

    La Chimera is a few things: a sun-drenched romp, a tomb-raiding adventure, and a hauntological drama. Set in 1980s Tuscany, the film follows Arthur (Josh O’Connor), a perpetually dishevelled Englishman: equals parts charismatic and curmudgeonly. Released from prison, he reunites with his motley crew of fun-loving grave-robbers raiding Etruscan tombs. He leads the pack with a supernatural ability to spot the locations of tombs buried beneath the soil. For his frivolous gang of thieves, tomb-raiding is about the exhilaration and the spoils. But Arthur has more complex motives; he’s an Orphean figure searching for a legendary gateway to the underworld to find his lost lover, Beniamina.

    When he returns from prison, Arthur stays with his lover’s grandmother (Isabella Rossellini), who lives like an Italian Miss Havisham in an anachronistic and antique-laden decaying villa. Rohrwacher’s 1980s Italy is rife with modernization. Yet simultaneously, the past and its relics are the most invaluable commodities. Rohrwacher traces the illicit pathways of the artifact market, where plundered treasures become respectable property on exhibit at the world’s most prestigious galleries. Arthur cannot imagine a future, cannot build new relationships. He’s stuck in a timeloop, in love with a missing woman. In La Chimera, all systems (financial, aesthetic, emotional) are dictated by ghosts of the past, whose hauntings persist even in times of ostensible progress.

    The crux of the film is Rohrwacher and O’Connor’s pairing as filmmaker and actor. Rohrwacher’s conception of Arthur is so vivid, the perfect cocktail of suaveness and assholery. O’Connor’s rendition is lived-in, larger-than-life at times, yet also infused with the pathos of lovesick longing. At points, he moves like a reincarnation of Jean-Paul Belmondo: similar faces, erratic physicalities, charismatic gruffness. The accumulated dirt on his ivory suit delivers a better performance than most human actors will this year. It’s a gradual performance, hinging on the revelation that he’s a man prepared to plunge into the deepest depths of the earth to uncover a lost love.

    Do Not Expect Much from the End of the World (Radu Jude)

    Radu Jude’s Do Not Expect Much from the End of the World is a big Brechtian farce told in literary allusions, rapid-fire vulgarities, and indignation at a labour system that exploits and disregards its workers. Jude’s form is elastic, associative, freewheeling. The film follows Angela (Ilihenca Manolache) as she interviews injured labourers for a role in a workplace safety video. As a side hustle, she records selfie videos as Bobita, her chauvinistic alter ego masked in an Andrew Tate faceswap filter. Her story is regularly interrupted by excerpts from Lucian Bratu’s Angela Keeps Going (1982) and other digressions, including a lengthy and unexpectedly moving montage of memorials for Romanian roadside causalities. It’s a rare moment of sensitivity amongst Jude’s sardonic dispatch from the frontlines of a nonchalant apocalypse.

    Do Not Expect Much is very funny. Its humour is both broad and obscure; an extended gag involves Uwe Boll’s boxing match against his critics. Yet it’s a misstep to isolate a core element in Jude’s latest hodgepodge, to centre its irreverence or its sadness. Do Not Expect Much is gleefully disjointed. Jude envisions corporatism as a cannibalizing force which uses the respectability of cinema and “high-art” as a smoke screen for its violence. By flaunting its own aesthetic contradictions, Jude offers a work that —despite its arsenal of ironies—feels like it has nothing to hide.

    Evil Does Not Exist (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)

    Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s latest is a detour from the sprawling, monologue-laden drama of Drive My Car and the understated interpersonal encounters of Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. Evil Does Not Exist opens with its camera tilted towards the sky, pushing forward over a ceiling of treetops. Natural environments overtake character drama. Numerous walking scenes are filmed from the prospective of flora, the camera crouched in a low-angle with out-of-focus stems obstructing the foreground. Hamaguchi expands his penchant for social drama into a broader sphere of non-human life. He crafts a deceptive eco-drama where quaintness morphs into a cryptic scream, both poetic and furious.

    Evil Does Not Exist unfolds in Mizubiki Village, a quiet town outside Tokyo. Centred around Takumi (Hitoshi Omika), a stoic local handyman, we follow the community’s protest to an urban development company’s attempt to establish a glamping site in Mizubiki Village. As a centerpiece, Hamaguchi stages a townhall meeting captured with Wiseman-esque observational remove. Armed with reason, the villagers object to the glamping site’s shoddy schematics, including a septic tank placement which will pollute the local water supply. Yet conversation is futile. The development’s representatives (one well-intentioned yet naive, the other sinisterly opportunistic) are punching bags hired to absorb the locals’ grievances and offer noncommittal replies. They come from a different world, one of capitalist exploitation and hyperstimulation. The slow-paced, labour-intensive world of Mizubiki Village is an escapist fantasy from their lives of Zoom calls, finance graphs, and dating apps. Yet the destabilizing violence of their glamping project remains abstract to them.

    If Drive My Car was about the agonizing quest to be understood, to articulate your unspeakable vulnerabilities to other humans, Evil Does Not Exist imagines a breakdown of communication. Words prove useless, and the film ends with an anguished cry. It’s not enough to be understood when your opposition disregards the sanctity of all life.

    Laberint Sequences (Blake Williams)

    Blake Williams, the Toronto-based 3D filmmaker, begins Laberint Sequences like a travelogue. We move through the Laberint d’Horta in Barcelona, a tourist-centric maze hedged from 750 metres of cypress trees in the city’s oldest garden. A statue of Eros rests at the maze’s centre, like a reward for its conquering. A maze is a structuralist puzzle, a solvable question where the enjoyment stems from the act of being lost, of aimlessly searching. But Laberint Sequences resists the temptation to metaphorize. Halfway through, Williams destabilizes his own footage, angling and skewing it jaggedly across the screen. The Laberint d’Horta becomes a passage into a different maze. In the second half, Williams repurposes William Cameron Menzies’ The Maze, an early 3D film and Menzies’ directorial swan song. The film’s a gothic highland horror B-movie most memorable for an amphibian plot twist. Laberint Sequences pays homage to the legacy of its own 3D practice, but this isn’t mere tribute. Cutting together footage from The Maze with shots of Deragh Campbell re-dubbing the audio, Williams holds an intertextual séance where old ghosts find new lives.

    Mast-Del (Maryam Tafakory)

    Iranian experimental filmmaker Maryam Tafakory’s Mast-Del is a visual poem about desire and censorship. It’s a narrative work where on-screen text describes the tender pillow talk between two women in bed. One shares a memory of a forbidden date with a man in Tehran years ago and the repressive state violence they incurred. As the end credits proudly announce, Mast-Del is a film produced without funding indebted to its inventory of visual sources. Against ambient luminary Sara Davachi’s haunting score, Tafakory builds a montage of abstraction, mixing original footage with re-interpreted clips from post-revolutionary Iranian cinema. Not unlike fellow Wavelengths film Laberint Sequences, Mast-Del proves the infinite possibilities of an image to conjure new meanings through modulation and recontextualization. It’s also a film about the intersection of art and authoritarian regimes, recognizing how oppression is deployed in equal parts across the human body and its culture.

    Arts in one place.

    All of our content is free, if you would like to subscribe to our newsletter or even make a small donation, click the button below.

    People are Reading