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EIFF Mini Reviews

Toni Erdmann // Photo supplied
Toni Erdmann // Photo supplied

American Honey
Directed by Andrea Arnold
Sun Oct 2 (1:30pm)
4 stars

It’s easy to dismiss a movie that racks up 158 minutes on the road with wild teens as overlong and ragged. But Andrea Arnold’s travel-picaresque, while visually intoxicating, isn’t just an imagistic indulgence. There’s that title, dripping through the film: sex, money, Lady Antebellum’s song itself, and the shots of bees, lush fields . . . even a bear. American Honey turns the American dream into a grungy mixtape: Kids + Glengarry Glen Ross + Badlands = Smells Like Teen-Salesman Spirit.

Star (Sasha Lane, stellar indeed) joins a rag-tag troupe of late-teens to escape a broken-home life and follow seductive Jake (Shia LaBeouf). The pack of outsiders roves from city to city, selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door in a scheme overseen by Krystal (Riley Keough). Star can’t sell people lies and sob-stories, but she can’t stop selling herself, either. Arnold and cinematographer Robbie Ryan hit the interstate between searching-for-someone and independence for this young woman, criss-crossing a country where the poor-rich divide seems wider than the Grand Canyon (revealed here in a starkly unromantic moment). A searingly poetic tour of a land deliriously in thrall to its own myths of vast opportunity. Brian Gibson

Toni Erdmann
Directed by Maren Ade
Wed Oct 5 (7pm)
5 stars

Grating a daughter’s officious, schmooze-heavy corporate culture against a father’s waggish antics, this comedy-drama—German director Maren Ade’s third feature—is sneakily, surreally heartfelt. After his beloved dog dies, Winfried (Peter Simonischek) visits his work-bound, too-serious daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller) in Bucharest, but he soon starts adopting buck-toothed, louche persona Toni Erdmann around her and her colleagues. Ade tickles scenes out to bittersweet lengths; amid the clowning-around, moments of melancholic pensiveness abound. Skeptically observing business-consulting and globalization (watch for Winfried’s cultural encounter in rural Romania), Toni Erdmann is also sharp-eyed about the corporate world still being such a man’s world—a disturbing sex scene here’s about submissiveness and detachment. But there’s also a wildly bathetic karaoke scene and a bravura sequence—maybe, just maybe, the most wonderfully comic use of nudity on-screen ever—where people start going starkers. Ade’s sticky mix of the foolish and the lonesome clings on afterwards, seeping slowly under the skin around your funny bone.  Brian Gibson

Brett Kissel: Stepping Inside the Circle
Directed by Kelly Wolfert (Shown as a part of Studio A Spotlight on Alberta, a package of short films from the prairies.)
Sat, Oct 1 (5pm)
2 stars

For Brett Kissel fans, this 20 minute short will be joyous. Follow Alberta’s golden boy as he travels from the humble beginnings on his parent’s farm to the iconic stage of the Grand Ol’ Opry. It is a testament to Kissel’s abilities and wherewithal. A true celebration of his accomplishments.

But here is the rub—it is not a documentary. It is a commercial.

I have interviewed Brett and know those who have worked with him. He is a decent and talented fellow. He deserves everything he has worked hard for in the field of country music.

But to call this a film or a documentary, would be akin to calling a picture of a pizza a meal. While it is shot well, edited well, and does a good job covering Kissel’s road to Nashville, it lacks substance. It renders itself banal with its slow motion self indulgence.

It pains me to write this. I wish it were rad. I wish there was an ounce of pain or regret or hurt. But like so much modern country music, it is weighed down by cliché and the lack of a real depth. Trent Wilkie

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