SIFF 2022: Capsule Reviews, Part 2

Our enthusiastic coverage of the festival that was rolls on with another ten films we’re writing home about. Read our first round of capsule reviews and stay tuned for one more course of pre-reviews.

Ahed’s Knee

Ahed’s Knee. Dir. Nadav Lapid.

Flooded with exasperated rage and heightened fury to speak out against a government whose only purpose is to sow senseless hate and oppression, to crush any and all art that goes against the precisely crafted agenda of the state. The frenetic energy is palpable, from its early moments needle dropping “Welcome to the Jungle,” to the rapid and energetic camerawork, finally reaching a climactic moment of pure impassioned and enraged speech that feels like director Nadav Lapid screaming his frustration right through the screen. Its consistent moments of catharsis and outspoken political statements are unfortunately undercut by its lack of cogent narrative drive, a hazy collection of scattered moments, flashback stories, and imagined cinematic energy, leaving a collection of images that feel sharply brilliant in the moment but never come together cohesively. The emotion and purpose behind it all carries it beyond its narrative failings but can’t quite take the slightly bitter lingering taste away, left feeling like something was missing to connect all the dots. — Vaughn Swearingen

Speak No Evil

Speak No Evil. Dir. Christian Tafdrup.

The tension builds methodically, a clear intent behind it all to make you go slowly insane as the runtime grates on you with the subtlety of a boulder to the skull, but it’s hard to say if it all feels earned or worthwhile. Despite the torturous atmosphere that’s built, it’s so achingly one note in its self-important “social satire” that it almost gets tiring, and by the time it feels ready to turn the ignition and slam the pedal to the floor for its whiplash-inducing finale, it fails to land as believably demented despite the unmistakably horrific and shocking atmosphere that permeates. So, you’ve done it, Mr. Tafdrup. Undeniably, you’ve crafted one of the most enveloping and displeasing cinematic experiences around, one rife with just enough believable social pressure to leave you questioning how you’d fare in a similar scenario. The lingering question is whether that amounts to much substance, if any, or if it mostly boils down to cheap brutality designed to shock the audience, as unrealistic as it is wildly sadistic. Read our full review. — Vaughn Swearingen

There’s a way to make repugnant and off-putting movies where they mean something in total and all their mean-spiritedness contributes to a holistic design and meaning. No such luck in Speak No Evil, a movie that is mean and ugly for the sake of it, and has few redeeming characteristics. We ought to have a non-tacit trust established in a horror movie, where we understand that the creator is going to work with harsh pieces and put together a puzzle that ultimately has a clean finish and says something about the characters or what they’re doing in the world. But Speak No Evil just happens. It’s just an ugly story that happens and there’s no rhyme or reason for it. The characters are not well defined. They seem to be directed to act with emotion but it’s impossible to tell why. There’s always just something off and then the situation is bad and then it’s short and it’s over and you get nothing out of it. Despicable. — Calvin Kemph

Zero Fucks Given

Zero Fucks Given. Dirs. Emmanuel Marre, Julie Lecoustre.

A work study on the transient job of the airline stewardess. It’s a smooth flight thanks to Adèle Exarchopoulos‘ performance, who gives a gorgeous range of emotion to her character, providing ample depth and readable interiority. The film also glides by at what would sound like a long two hours due to the graceful curiosity of the co-direction here. It never gets too tangled in the weeds not to present a focused and deliberately executed portrait of a worker and the circumstances of their station. It always does right by its characters and while shot and put together simply, it is a right sized answer for what the film calls for. — Calvin Kemph

Midday Black Midday Blue

Midday Black Midday Blue. Dirs. Samantha Soule, Daniel Talbott.

There’s always something special about seeing familiar vistas and locales put to the silver screen, and the lush seaside beauty of Whidbey Island is as inviting as anything else, such a quiet and peaceful stage for the decomposition of the psyche, fractured at the hands of grief and turmoil. Any semblance of coherence unravels rapidly, however, when the film is so turgid and singular, a one note diatribe that reveals itself early on only to be a redundant mess for the remainder of the film. Aiming for some distant notion of mystery, this cosmic and hallucinatory ideal of inner conflict and messy thoughts, it never reaches a cogent destination with these concepts, instead just a formless collection of moments and dialogues that mean nothing and fail to pull together anything worthwhile. At a certain point, when it seems clear there’s nothing more to be added to its narrow view of character dynamic, it just all stops mattering. — Vaughn Swearingen


Resurrection. Dir. Andrew Semans.

Rebecca Hall boils in a thrilling pressure cooker picture in the tradition of Andrzej Zulawski. It does not hold together as well as the master’s Possession but it has the same earmarks and basic attributes. Here, the story unwinds unpredictably in a sweaty psychotic breakdown of well earned nervous paranoia. The film is sharply made if not always clear in its exact methods of getting there, still enrapturing in its edge-of-your-seat heightening fever. It does not need to confront the audience with constant terror because it is accumulative. It builds through the very particular way it tells the story and the difficulty of our lead’s predicament. Tim Roth menaces through the most crooked smile that earns his malevolence. Sit through the heavy handed story and it’s ridiculous conclusions and the reward is really the process and the anxious journey to the unnerving end. Hall adds to an increasing resume of tough genre pictures, choosing her projects with utmost care and a will to do daring things, and we ought to celebrate that. — Calvin Kemph

The Good Boss

The Good Boss. Dir. Fernando León de Aranoa.

Sharply designed satire with a perfectly tuned rhythm, constantly feeding into and paying off smaller threads that begin to weave an all too familiar tapestry of the often deceptively friendly face of crushing capitalism. Julio is a good boss. He loves his company, and his employees are just like his children – at least, that’s what he tells them, smile on his face, while quietly playing psychological chess behind the scenes with his employees to bend them to his will, disregarding individual needs in favor of the company’s wider image, and turning a blind eye to any havoc he cause with his actions. He may let relationships crumble, let people’s lives become completely hopeless as he kicks them to the dirt, and act so completely despicably that he doesn’t even realize just how absolutely horrifying his actions are, but none of that matters to him. As long as his company’s name appears in shining lights in the morning paper, he can keep perpetuating the lie that everything is fine, and that it’s all thanks to the hard work of his “family” that it’s all held together. What’s here is smart and incisive, its only detriment is how quickly it all becomes lucid for the viewer only for the film to overstay its welcome by continually reiterating the film’s already cogent thesis long after you’ve come to understand the substance of it all. Unfortunately, I think we’ve all encountered enough repugnantly selfish bosses in the workplace that the satire eventually wears off and just feels like a waking nightmare. — Vaughn Swearingen

Montana Story

Montana Story. Dirs. Scott McGehee, David Siegel.

Big Sky Country is just a background for this family drama about trust and betrayal. The hills and the sky are just there so Haley Lu Richardson can gracefully ride horses around them and so characters can drive around saying things like “remember when we saw Kid Rock play there?” Besides Richardson, who can elevate her simple material, everything else thuds against itself and wastes a most cherished setting in America, the gorgeous stretches of Montana that feel like they are open forever, just like the skies above them. The film may glance at its subject and occasionally mention a rural issue, but it’s never a story about Montana. — Calvin Kemph

Flux Gourmet

Flux Gourmet. Dir. Peter Strickland.

Supremely bizarre and gleefully alienating, a perfect concoction of all of Peter Strickland’s cinematic proclivities for exploring human desire and social constructs, once again within an unabashedly eccentric universe that refuses to explain itself or shy away from its bewildering affectation. A fluidly natural evolution from the giallo-inspired world of Berberian Sound Studio, Flux Gourmet is a delectable feast of sight and sound, sprinkled with more than enough wryly delivered comedy to keep the tone consistently light while the film’s central group of sonic caterers begin to unravel through their time in residency at an institute dedicated to the fabrication of gastronomic symphonies. As to be expected from Strickland’s directorial madness, it’s nearly impossible to pin down as it unfolds, but the lingering memory of its sharp blend of artistic satire, harsh yet mesmerizing melodic noise, kaleidoscopic sexual insanity, and more uses of the word flange than perhaps any film in history, leaves for a hell of an impression. — Vaughn Swearingen

Are We Lost

Are We Lost. Dirs. Jenny Gage, Tom Betterton,

I prefer to be sympathetic to the goals of microbudget indie films, especially ones about addiction and family issues. It’s never to short change them. I think they are a brave kind of film to make. This one is a hoary recollection of family dysfunction with a few tender moments and nostalgic-reaching shots. If it doesn’t always excel, it does make a case for the filmmaker’s intentions and I’m glad they have made their film, sweet, small, and shows a belief that people can get better. We’re all a bit lost and recovering from something. — Calvin Kemph

Petite Maman

Petite Maman. Dir. Céline Sciamma.

With delicate economy, Céline Sciamma builds characters and spaces from positions of deep empathy. Petite Maman uses small people to express its biggest feelings. It’s rich and deeply moving cinema that proves without question the prowess of Portrait of a Lady on Fire while building on its formal ability. The utter confidence on display here, the perfectly toned execution and heightened emotions of it all. Simply a best case example of what modern cinema can do at its best. One more brilliant feature and we’ll have to build Sciamma a monument in the woods. — Calvin Kemph

Pastel warmth emanates through the soft, fuzzy celluloid, memory and empathy echo through the fallen leaves and the dated wallpaper. The infinite discovery and growth of the self distilled into a dyadic microcosm of childhood innocence. Stunning emotional complexity from its gentle and simple premise, each moment leaving a lasting impression of the lingering formative nature of childhood. Simultaneously plays with the cyclical existences we endure while also granting an intelligent inflection that we are constantly learning from our past, learning and changing with each moment of grief and struggle. Beautifully honest and kind writing, wonderfully natural and heartfelt performances, and the perfect level of sweet simplicity. Combined with its stunning framing and vibrant colors it constantly feels like a comforting warm blanket, a tender hug of love and understanding. An amazingly resonant and beautiful 72 minutes with a lasting note of saccharine melancholy, a lyrical cut to black in a final moment of hopeful embrace. — Vaughn Swearingen

There are people in our life that we will never understand, this is enforced even further by generational divides. Some conversations can never happen, some pasts will forever stay locked off from us. But what if we could holiday in the past? What if the indelible distances could be wiped away? Our parents, our grandparents, our guardians (and beyond) were like us once. Now they may be so removed but everybody has been a child, has thought like a child and lived like a child. To be so is to be different. But, importantly, to be so is not to be lesser. Pettite Maman has so much emotional understanding, realising that the supposed maturity of adulthood is a different state rather than a progression. This film loves the children at the heart of it, and this leads to them giving exceptional performances. It is a plea for connection, for honesty and for openness as well as a window back into the past. It has so much to say outside of its upfront, literal text but never feels like an essay or a polemic. It is another masterful film from one of our leading filmmakers; a short holiday into the lives of others that will stay with you for a long time. Read our full review. — Stephen Gillespie

Leave a Reply