Blood in the Snow 2016 Review: Streamer

Jared (Jared Bratt) is a lonely man living a solitary existence. He’s got no friends, has never had a girlfriend, and moves through his life in repetitive actions as if he’s waiting for the moment he can finally stop. He begins frequenting an adult online chatroom where he becomes enamoured with one of the women (Tanya Lee). He soon realizes that she actually lives in the same building as he does, and he goes out of his way to strike up a friendship with her. While their relationship seems to be growing, Jared finds out that his new love has a boyfriend, and he’s not sure if there’s actually something between the two of them, or if this women is just stringing him along.

Directed by Jared Bratt and Vincent Pun, Streamer won’t necessarily satisfy viewers looking for a demented, disturbing, and horrific genre film. Streamer is purely psychological, showing its character’s slow descent into full on madness. This works both for and against the picture. While Bratt’s performance as the unstable lead is well done, it’s also nothing new. Many scenes are simply viewers watching Jared stare longingly into the distance while he stumbles through his life. It’s not exactly the most riveting film during these moments.

Once he finally meets with the unnamed woman who he’s had encounters with online, things start to pick up. Her intentions aren’t ever really clear, but Jared’s mental state makes things even more confusing. You’re never quite sure if what has happened between Jared and this woman are true, or if some of the events are things that have only happened in Jared’s mind.

The scenes with Lee and Bratt together are filled with uncomfortable moments, due mainly to the fact that Jared has never been with a woman before, so his actions are always awkward and tinged with a kind of subtle instability. Where the story is lacking in originality and surprises, it’s made up by the performances and chemistry of Lee and Bratt. Viewers may find themselves wishing things moved along a little more quickly, or that things turned out a little more horrific, but what’s here is still a great start.

EUFF 2016 Review: Eva Nova

Eva Nova (Emília Vášáryová) was once a prominent, well-respected actress. At 62, she is a recovering alcoholic who is desperate for a connection with her children and to rediscover herself. In the pursuit to begin a new chapter in her life and pick up the pieces in the process, she goes to visit her son, Dodo (Milan Ondrík), his wife, and their two children. She has not seen her son or her grandchildren in seven years, as a result she is met with resentment upon entering their house. Her son despises her for abandoning him and for her behaviour while she was famous.

Directed by Marko Skop, Eva Nova gives a fascinating, yet sad account of the life Eva leads now. She endures both the pressures of attempting to reconnect with her family again, and returning to acting. She is met with struggle every way she turns. With her toxic encounters with her son and her moment of self-destruction after seeing her ex-lover at a gala with his very young and pregnant wife, as audiences, we cannot help but wish for Eva to find strength in taking control of her life.

Eva Nova leaves us with a deep understanding of how we all search for a place of belonging and desire for a connection when we feel disassociated and disconnected from others.

EUFF 2016 Review: Home Care

Czech director Slavek Horak makes his feature-length debut with Home Care, a depressing tale about a middle-aged woman in small-town Czech Republic holding it together after a grim medical diagnosis.

Home Care follows nurse Vlasta (Alena Mihulova), a home-care nurse who, as we see in the film, visits patients in their homes, doing rather unglamorous work, including bathing elderly and obese patients, taking them to hospital appointments and acting as a friend. She goes out of her way to care for her patients for little pay, much to the dismay of her husband (Bolek Polivka), who miserably points out that she spends more on transportation than she earns in pay. When Vlasta goes to her doctor for a check up, she discovers that she has a terminal disease and only a few months to live. Not wanting to let the diagnosis get the worst of her, she takes dance lessons and seeks alternative medical treatments from a daughter of a patient. At the same time, she continues to care for her own patients. Despite facing many obstacles, she faces death with dignity.

The film’s aesthetic and pacing is slower and perhaps duller than most Hollywood features, and this may be a turn off for a Canadian audience. But it’s a joy to watch Vlasta take pleasure in things that she hadn’t thought of doing pre-diagnosis: dyeing her hair, taking dancing lessons, and more fully appreciating her own patients’ needs and anxieties. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s easy to see why this film was the Czech Republic’s official choice for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards.

EUFF 2016 Review: Head Full of Honey

Head Full of Honey is a bittersweet tale about a family dealing with their grandfather’s Alzheimer’s disease. After his mother’s death, Nico (Til Schweiger) becomes concerned with the deteriorating mental health of his father (Dieter Hallervorden). Nico encourages his father to move in with his own wife and daughter Tilda (Emma Tiger Schweiger — Til’s real-life daughter). Grandfather and granddaughter develop a strong relationship, and they fill their days with stories and adventures. As her grandfather’s behaviour becomes more erratic and dangerous, Tilda learns that bringing dementia patients to meaningful places from their younger days can sometimes help their memory. So Tilda takes her beloved grandfather on one last adventure — a visit to Venice, where he and his late wife honeymooned — before he is put in a nursing home.

This film is a touching drama that ultimately expresses the uncertainties that a family feel when a member has Alzheimer’s. It’s a heartbreaking account, but also filled with comedic moments — the grandfather is charismatic and loveable even when almost burning the house down. There’s also a fair amount of tenderness here. The grandfather’s attempt to recreate his honeymoon with his late wife, whom he still adores, is romantic, and the relationship he has with his granddaughter is cute to say the least.

Til Schweiger — who many of you will be most familiar with as the tough Nazi-killer from Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009) — is right for the role as the sometimes aloof father and son who is trying his best to deal with the demands of his family. He has double duty in this film, acting also as co-director. Along with Lars Gmehling, they do a great job conveying the sadness and humour that sometimes surrounds Alzheimer’s.

Freedom First Film Festival Review: The Fifty-Sixers

Screening at the Freedom First Film Festival, commemorating 60 years since the Hungarian uprising over the Soviets in 1956 which brought 37,000 refugees to Canada, The Fifty-Sixers gives an in depth look at the uprising that started this historic moment, and the ways in which Canada aided the refugees by offering a new home. Not everything was smooth though, and we hear from some of the people who moved to Canada about their highs and lows in their new country.

What Young Rebels briefly looked at at the Freedom First Film Festival, The Fifty-Sixers explores in a more in depth and historical point of view. Exploring the actual uprising, the film gives a brutal look at what Hungarian people were subjected to during the reign of the Soviets. The uprising was violent and deadly, for both sides of the battle, but it was the Hungarian people who quickly lost to the much more powerful Soviets.

The race to escape was on, and while the overall idea of Canada helping sounds beautiful and hopeful, it was not something that happened quickly. This is where The Fixty-Sixers excels in its storytelling. It doesn’t hide that fact that while Canada was certainly a country who was willing to help the refugees, they were also not quick to do so. The political landscape led to a bit of feet dragging when it came to finding these refugees a home, and it wasn’t until things were almost at their lowest point that Canada stepped up.

Eventually, the aid they needed was given, and in massive numbers. These new Canadians still faced some uphill battles with racism, but many of them were simply glad to have a place to live where they weren’t being terribly oppressed. As the years have passed, some of the struggles have faded, and listening to the stories of these one time refugees shows just how happy they are to be in their new home of Canada.

Freedom First Film Festival Review: Young Rebels

This brief documentary tells the story of teenage revolutionaries in Hungary as they attempt to overthrow the Soviets who have occupied their home in 1956. This moment led to 37,000 refugees fleeing to Canada, becoming the first group to be welcomed into Canada, changing their lives and our country for the better.

Commemorating 60 years since the uprising in Hungary that led to a mass of refugees entering Canada, the Freedom First Film Festival begins with a screening of Young Rebels, and it’s a relatively quick introduction to this historic moment. At just 45 minutes long, there’s not a lot of in depth knowledge to be found here, but there’s plenty of inspirational messages that can, and should, be applied to our thinking today.

Following a brief uprising that only lasted 12 days, Hungary was quickly taken back from the rebels by the Soviets, leaving thousands dead and wounded, and forcing the citizens to flee their homes. Young Rebels focuses on the students and children, some of them as young as 11-years-old, who took part in the revolution before being forced to flee. Their part in the revolution isn’t exactly as powerful as you may imagine. Their youth mainly kept them from participating in a major way, but their race to escape is as dangerous as everybody else’s.

It’s when these teens become refugees searching for a home that Young Rebels truly stands out. Canada is quick to accept them, allowing them free travel and quick acceptance into the country. With over 37,000 of them accepting and making their new home in Canada, we hear from the people themselves what their lives became, and see how they started with absolutely nothing to make themselves important members of society. This is certainly something we need to think about at this time in our world.

EUFF 2016 Review: Mom and Other Loonies In the Family

Mom and Other Loonies in the Family is a multigenerational story featuring 94-year-old Berta, spanning four generations of family tales. Part wiry drama, part Hungarian history lesson, we experience the trials and tribulations of evolving values, religious persecution, and national identity through their experiences.

Ibolya Fekete’s film tells not only of a single woman’s life but the history of the nation covering 100 years that include two world wars, a revolution, and other political and religious strife. She paints a picture of familiarity to many Hungarian and Central and Eastern European families, but one that is less familiar to many in North America.

The film strikes a balanced tone, utilizing a mix of historical and newly created footage. It’s interesting to see the bustle of a city that is also in ruins at the same time, as well as dated propaganda in a country caught between communism and fascism. All these elements combine nicely to enhance the “storytelling” angle of the narrative. Fekete also encapsulates well in a few short conversations, the heartbreak of suddenly becoming a ‘foreigner’ without stepping outside your front door in a reality of war, border disputes, and political instability.

Initially it takes some effort to digest the events in the lives of Bertha, her family, and friends, not because they’re not believable but because theirs is a world so far removed from our own. As well, the constant barrage of new characters being introduced in the first half of the film, some mentioned and some shown, combined with the fast-paced narration, can make it impossible to keep up at times. Once we settle on Berta and a small circle of loved ones, it’s much more easy to focus on the story.

EUFF 2016 Review: The First, The Last

Belgian actor, writer, and filmmaker Bouli Lanners’ fourth directorial feature, The First, The Last is a weird one that intersects varying surreal stories against an overcast, possibly apocalyptic, definitely otherworldly backdrop.

Cochise (Albert Dupontel) and Gilou (Lanners, rocking a pretty epic beard) are a pair of bounty hunters tasked by a shadowy businessman to retrieve his stolen cell phone, one that contains a wealth of sensitive information. The current holders of the phone are a couple of drifters named Esther (Aurore Broutin) and Willy (David Murgia), who seem more than a bit off, insist the world is ending, are potentially unaware of the phone’s contents, and they only keep turning it on and off, making Cochise and Gilou’s tracking of the device nearly impossible. Both pairings are being subtly tormented by a bigger pair of jerks, and they keep stumbling across a drifter who may or may not be Jesus (Philippe Rebbot).

Steeped in metaphor, bleak tones, and bone dry humour, The First, The Last is a hard movie to define or peg down, and it definitely won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. But about a third of the way in when Esther goes missing, Gilou falls ill, and the stories start splintering off into different directions (one including Suzanne Clement as a woman who befriends Cochise), things start to get more narratively interesting than the surreal set up lets on. It’s clear that Lanners has built his austerely comedic chase film around a grand reveal that a key line of dialogue all but gives away, but it never fails to remain intriguing.

EUFF 2016 Review: Irreplaceable

The sweet and subtle French drama Irreplaceable tells of the interplay between a long time rural family doctor and his soon-to-be replacement. Dr. Jean-Pierre Werner (always reliable veteran actor François Cluzet) has been carrying on his small town practice for years, still making house calls and dealing with psychiatry, palliative care, physical therapy, paediatrics, and everything in-between. After Jean-Pierre is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour and he’ll be forced to take time off for rest and chemotherapy, he’s sent Dr. Nathalie Delezia (Marianne Denicourt) as a replacement to take the reign of the practice. A former veteran nurse who dabbled in being an ER doctor after finishing medical school as a mature student, Dr. Delezia is knowledgeable, but doesn’t have the same bedside manner and relationship to the patients that Dr. Werner has.

Most of director and co-writer Thomas Lilti’s film deals with the professional differences between Werner and Delezia, while subtly outlining the personal character traits that make them who they are. Such material could have been handled for melodramatic purposes, but Irreplaceable finds a comfortable middle ground between the austere and the manipulative. The characters, their approaches to their job, and their environment are all captivating enough, and Lilti and the cast know they don’t have to embellish anything to make it more engaging.

The push-and-pull chemistry between Denicourt and Cluzet remains the main attraction here, but the story slowly becomes moving over time. It’s not a “slow burn,” but a subtle one.

EUFF 2016 Review: A Noble Intention

Kicking off the European Union Film Festival for 2016 is Joran Lursen’s A Nobel Intention, based on events from the book “Publieke Werken” (Public Works) by Thomas Rosenboom about the troubles encountered during the construction of the famed Victoria Hotel in Amsterdam. The story is told from the perspective of cousins Vedder, a cabinet turned violin maker, and Anijs, a chemist overstepping his bounds in his medical practices.  When each of the two men encounter their own set of troubles, Vedder with negotiating the sale of his house on the site of the future Victoria Hotel, and the threat of malpractice looming over Anijs after he tries to help a family of peat farmers, the two men come up with an idea that exercises social conscience and gets them out of their binds all at the same time.

Though events were partially fictionalized, A Nobel Intention is an interesting story to behold, giving us glimpses from different perspectives. The narrative drags for the first half of the film, as audiences are introduced to an array of characters. The plot meanders as we’re left guessing who the important people are, and who we’re meant to sympathize with. For example, we begin with one cousin, out for personal gain but well-meaning in relationships with his neighbour and family, who descends into deception and mental instability as time goes on. However as the film progresses, one becomes more emotionally invested as characters develop, and the second half draws the multiple storylines to a satisfactory conclusion.

A Noble Intention opens with a disturbing scene. It’s by no means graphic, but rather the length of the scene, and the act of abuse depicted within, leaves a heavy emotional impact that might not actually be necessary given the lighter tone of the rest of the film. It left this viewer expecting a grittier, more emotionally taxing tale than what Lursen actually gave us. It sets up a back story for a family of characters, but at the same time felt a bit gratuitous after the fact. It could also be argued that the scene’s overall intensity doesn’t fit in with the rest of the film, leaving the entire experience a little lopsided.

Cinéfranco 2016 Review: Rebellious Girl

Laila is no stranger to activist causes at home in Morocco, but when she decides to help support her family by taking a job in Belgium as a migrant working on Andre’s pear and apple farm, she discovers a new fight as she strives for fair treatment and better working conditions for herself and her fellow labourers in a foreign land. Laila rallies her peers and brings out their fierce spirit, and she unites them in a battle to stand up for themselves.

Jawad Rhalib’s sophomore film is rooted in realism and deftly ties together two nations dealing with conflict of a very different nature through a single character. His camera takes on an observational role, as if to create a cinema verite style. Laila is the predominant focus but with minimal backstory presented for everyone on screen, the audience soon learns as much about those whose spirit and passions she incites as they know about Laila herself. Later on in the film there are glimpses into Andre’s struggles running the farm as well, but those are largely recorded in an unsympathetic manner.

When it comes to storytelling, there are instances when one can perhaps be too straightforward. Regrettably Rebellious Girl‘s narrative unfolded more like a flow chart, where one thing happens, that leads to the next, and then to the next in a linear fashion with little dramatic arc. Even as conflicts escalate and rebellion takes place, the filmmaker does nothing with his camera and direction to heighten tensions nor invest the audience in the events that are unfolding. All too soon we see ‘what happens next’ and it’s pretty much as we expected.

Rebellious Girl sheds light on international conflicts and inequalities, and they are important issues that should be made known. A documentary might have made for a better approach to do this though, as audiences of a narrative may be seeking other qualities in the films they go to see, and in so doing may overlook the important socio-political issues Rhalib’s placed on the screen.

Cinéfranco 2016 Review: Saint Amour

Bruno (Benoît Poelvoorde), a cattle breeder who is growing tired of the work, is attending the Paris Agricultural Show as he does every year. This time he’s accompanied by his father Jean (Gérard Depardieu), who has been retired for 5 years but just can’t stop working. Instead of working to win, Bruno is more interested in his annual wine tour of the booths at the show. Jean would prefer that Bruno take things seriously, as he wants him to continue their breeding work, and decides that the two of them should actually travel together through wine country in an attempt to come together and convince Bruno to take the family business. Accompanied by Mike (Vincent Lacoste), a taxi driver, the men set out on a memorable trip through the country.

Written and directed by Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern, Saint Amour is a quiet blend of family reality and completely absurd situations. Bruno is quite unhappy with his life, unable to find love and working in a business that he has no interest in anymore. The problem is that it’s the family business and his father wants him to continue the work. Their relationship is strained, so there’s no surprises when it comes to them reconnecting in the film. It’s incredibly touching though, and doesn’t resort to anything over the top.

That’s the complete opposite of just about everything else in the film. The situations they find themselves in are ridiculous and unbelievable, but they react to them in such a realistic way that you can’t help getting caught up in their lives. This is even more true with Depardieu, whose character is still dealing with the death of his wife. There’s an element of sadness in everything that he does, and Depardieu is wonderful in the role.

Cinéfranco 2016 Review: Back to Mom’s

Fortysomething architect Stephanie Mazerin (Alexandra Lamy) has fallen on hard times. After putting too many of her eggs in one basket – both professionally and personally – she’s jobless, broke, divorced, homeless, largely friendless, and forced to move back in with her mother, Jacqueline (Josiane Balasko).

From there begins the standard and tiresome family comedy Back to Mom’s, directed and co-written by Eric Lavaine. None of the gags about doting mothers and ungrateful kids hit their marks in the early going. Mom keeps the house at too hot of a temperature! Mom’s taste in music is terrible! Mom is so square she can’t set up her own email, let alone use it! These are the kind of buttons Lavaine and his cast push constantly throughout, and all three of those examples are actually deployed in a single scene.

It doesn’t get much better when the narrative shifts to Stephanie’s strained relations towards her cruel, micromanaging older sister (Mathilde Seigner) or her workaholic brother (Philippe Lefebvre) or to mom’s attempts to break it to her kids that she’s started dating for the first time since their father’s death. These plot points don’t reinforce any of the characters or offer new surprises, but they do add a lot more clichés about “how you can’t choose your family” that are as deep as an inspirational quote stitched into a dishtowel.

Planet in Focus 2016 Review: The Anthropologist

Teenager Katie Crate admires her mother greatly. Susie Crate has been working tirelessly as an anthropologist focused on documenting the effects that climate change has on various world cultures. Katie often accompanies Susie on her adventures around the world – from Siberia where Katie’s dad hails from to protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline to a stint in the remote South Pacific island nation of Kiribati for the holidays – but she has little desire to follow in her mother’s footsteps and has a conflicted relationship to mom’s transitory lifestyle of constant research and advocacy. Mary Catherine Bateson can sympathize with what Katie’s going through. Bateson’s mother was one of the most famous and worldly anthropologists to ever live: Margaret Mead.

Although filmmakers Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, and Jeremy Newberger have collaborated before with great success on documentaries like Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie and The Linguists, the well meaning, but scattershot The Anthropologist is the first of their collaborations to actually feel like the result of three conflicting voices, four if you count the fact that most of their cues come from Susie Crate’s travels and interactions. The film never fully decides if it wants to be about father-daughter relationships and inheriting a family dynasty, a look at climate change, or a straight biopic of Crate with Bateson’s story often falling by the wayside.

There is something very interesting and poignant to be said about Katie’s experiences on the road with her mother, and how learning the cultures of others is an important part of maturation and not only educational in nature. The moments of the film that show Susie doing straightforward anthropological research and photography are also fascinating. It’s just too bad that by the end of The Anthropologist, I didn’t really know what I was supposed to be taking from it.

Planet in Focus 2016 Review: 10 Billion: What’s on Your Plate?

10 Billion: What’s on Your Plate is an eye opening documentary that addresses how the current methods of agricultural production are just not enough. It is not enough to sustain the global population, which by 2050 will rise to 10 billion. What are the alternatives? Artificially produced meat? Eating insects as a source of protein? What if there is not enough food to go around to feed everyone on a daily basis. This does not just mean that everyone gets to eat but that everyone eats a well adjusted and sustainable diet.

Director and self-proclaimed “food fighter” Valentin Thurn searches for solutions around the world for the impeding food crisis. Though the film does push to be environmentally conscious of the food we eat, it seems to rely too heavily on scientific innovation and packing us full of GMOs. Regardless, the film does a good job in exposing environmental destruction in the over consumption of meat, over-fishing to exhaustion and small, local farmers often resorting to relying on industry produced seeds to grow their crops.

As an alternative, the proposal is made for new food production systems. Thurn’s doc suggests to shift our focus to seeking organic and more local foods. This decentralized method of production keeps food regional. Large scale industrial producers are closely examined with how they genetically modify our food. Yet, without the knowledge of the long terms effects of genetically produced foods, it is difficult to say this is even a solution either.

Planet in Focus 2016 Review: Behemoth

In Zhao Liang’s affecting documentary Behemoth, the coal-mining industry in China is brought into startling view as gaping landscapes become filled with sky-high structures. With impeccable compositions and sensitive portrayals of the workers involved, Liang’s camera reflects the human and global cost of a country’s desire to build its urban centres.

Through surreal depictions of the rumbling dirt paths and endless underground abysses, Behemoth imbues each frame with silent and meditative qualities, contemplating the hardship that goes hand in hand with making a concrete and iron ‘paradise’ of high-rises. This is a paradise without the peace or humanity, leaving in its wake the death of its workers and the dismantling of their families. However, Liang doesn’t solely search for the human element, finding chasms within the earth to explore the ancillary effects on our environment.

Striking and current, Behemoth finds itself at the apex of ideology and aesthetic, putting forth ideas and arguments for our past, present and future, while exuding contradictory beauty in every frame.

Planet in Focus 2016 Review: Bugs

Most foodies with refined palates and a keen eye towards all things trendy and new wouldn’t think twice about eating a dish that had a major component of it comprised of insects, larvae, or any matter of creepy crawlies. But with food production needing to increase over the next thirty-five years by 70% to keep up with population growth (especially in impoverished third world countries), the time is now to seriously consider making bugs an intricate part of diets around the world, and most of these insects are far more delectable and sought after than one might think.

For the entertaining and well researched documentary Bugs, director Andreas Johnsen (Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case) follows a trio of gastronomic researchers working out of the Nordic Food Lab in Denmark, an offshoot of Noma, arguably the world’s most famous restaurant. They travel the world digging for termites in Africa, researching cheese making techniques with flies in Italy, and wasp hunting in Japan. They experiment by cooking in maggot fat, distilling ant gin, and any number of things that hardier souls would never have thought to attempt.

Johnsen captures the infectious energy, creativity, and enthusiasm of the Food Lab Team, and it’s an eye opening  experience that will make people think twice about the world around them. But more important than that is how Johnsen turns Bugs into a prescient discussion about how to cultivate this previously maligned food source with an eye towards quality and sustainability. Major corporations are already trying to get on the bug train with an eye towards mass production and the corner cutting that comes with it, and the subjects of the film want people to know what to look for in their food before it’s ruined like almost every other food source humans have.

Planet in Focus 2016 Review: In Pursuit of Silence

In Pursuit of Silence explores the human relationship to noise and sound and examines the importance of silence.

Taking John Cage’s 4’33” as it’s reference point, In Pursuit of Silence asks us to reexamine our acoustic surroundings. Like Cage has done with 4’33”, director Patrick Shen has created an intelligent work that raises important questions about how we perceive our everyday surroundings. Shen has created a complex web of connections, linking urbanization and the increase in mechanical noise directly to elevated stress and other health concerns.

Shen is careful to consider all the aspects of silence. He talks with philosophers, musicians, health care professionals, scientists, religious figures and tea ceremony experts to create an intricate portrait of how societies define and perceive silence.

Shen clearly has an agenda with this film, but he presents the facts in a measured and seemingly impartial manner. This makes In Pursuit of Silence the perfect tool to get people to start to think about the importance of silence and the toll of constant aural stimulation.

Planet in Focus 2016 Review: Costa Da Morte

The coastline of Galicia, located in Northern Spain, is notorious for its dangerous waters. Nicknamed “coste de morte” or “coast of death”, it is a place of frequent shipwrecks. The film explores the power of the coastline and the stories of the inhabitants.

For a film about shipwrecks, Costa da Morte spends very little time on them. Instead, director Lois Patiño presents his film almost entirely in extremely long shots of the endless ocean. The sounds of the crashing waves create the film’s soundtrack, mingling with the voiceovers of the island’s inhabitants as they tell their stories.

Everything is dwarfed by the vastness of the ocean. While there is something to be said for respecting the power of nature, especially in a place that has been shaped by it, Costa da Morte has let itself be engulfed by it. Human figures are obscured by the crashing waves, completely invisible. Combined with grainy cinematography, Costa da Morte plays like one long experimental art piece by an artist obsessed with the colour grey.

What could have been a fascinating look into the power of nature has instead been reduced to an exercise in tedium.

TO Indie Film Fest 2016 Review: Compartment

There are some SPOILERS AHEAD. You’ve been warned.

Three homeless people, Steff (Alex Saul), and couple Gavin (Griffin Clark) and Rachel (Erica Genereux Smith), travel aimlessly through the country, stopping at random derelict houses to rest and so Gavin can search for a treasure he’s sure he’ll come across one day. While staying in one empty house, Rachel wanders into the woods to find a camper with the door locked multiple times. She’s sure she can hear someone inside. As the three friends investigate, a woman (Jennifer Radford) comes out of the forest with a rifle in her hand. They soon learn that the woman is keeping her daughter Magdalena (Maggie Casey) locked in the camper to protect her from her ex-husband, who she says believes that Magdalena is a witch. The three are reluctant to get involved, but when Magdalena secretly tells them that the woman isn’t her mother, Rachel feels compelled to help her out of the situation.

The setup for Compartment sounds great, and for the most part, writer and director David Ridgen does a great job. Everything looks great, despite the fact that every object and home they encounter has been sitting unused and vacant for years. The cast work well, and they don’t look like a caricature of someone who would be homeless. You can tell they are, and there’s a hint of it in their clothes and their actions, but it’s not a giant cliché, which could have easily been the case.

There are some problems though. The beginning of the film is quite long. It’s about 40 minutes before anything happens besides the three friends walking through the beautiful scenery, or stumbling around an abandoned house. There’s barely any conversation here as well, and for a film that runs 1 hour and 40 minutes, it seems like there could be a lot of editing to cut this intro in half. It doesn’t add anything to the characters, and there’s only one moment that matters to the story in the end.

Once they begin chatting about their lives, which quickly leads to the moment they find the camper in the woods, things pick up. Much like the characters, we have no idea who is telling the truth. Magdalena may actually be the daughter of the woman, but she could also be telling the truth. Either way, it’s odd that she would be locked inside a camper in the woods. A few more characters show up, but they don’t help swing the story to one side or another. What they do is create a very dangerous situation for the three homeless friends. The tension picks up, and we actually learn a little bit more about some of the three friends, but things kind of fall apart in the end.

Ridgen offers absolutely no concrete answers. That’s not always a bad thing, but Compartment raises a lot of questions. It would have been nice to have a few of them answered. Instead, everything abruptly ends. We never really know anything about Magdalena, although a number of different scenarios can be played out after the final moments, and we never really know what is to become of the three friends. It just didn’t feel satisfying at all.