If you walked into Noah Baumbach’s latest drama Marriage Story without knowing anything about the film, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was a love story. It opens with the leads Nicole (Scarlet Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) talking about each other’s greatest qualities; she is a good mom, dancer, is attentive even to strangers. He is a good dad, eco-conscious, self-sufficient.

But then the rug is quickly pulled from under you. These lists were created after a marriage counsellor suggests they read them to each other.

Charlie passive-aggressively offers to read his first, Nicole doesn’t want to read hers at all. That’s when you realize this isn’t going to be a movie about a hip New York theatre couple. This is a movie about a frustrated separated couple that will soon become a divorced one, and the brutal road it takes to get there.

This is Baumbach’s second foray into directing a movie centred around divorce. The 2005 film The Squid and The Whale was inspired by his parents’ divorce and in that story, Jesse Eisenberg was clearly the Baumbach stand-in.

This time it’s Adam Driver’s turn, in a story based on his own 2013 divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh. Because Baumbach is using moments from his own life to write and direct this story, it’s perhaps not surprising that Driver gets more of the focus in the film.

While I did want to see more of Nicole’s side of things, honestly focusing on Charlie didn’t ruin anything for me. I’ve loved Driver ever since he was the horny weirdo on Girls and in this film he delivers a career-best performance in a career that’s already filled with really great ones.

The scene about half-way through the film when Charlie and Nicole decide they need to have a sit-down in his temporary LA apartment he’s begrudgingly rented to spend more time with his son stands out especially. It’s a 10-minute one-act play in many ways.

It begins with the couple tensely but calmly expressing the desire to work out their issues, and increasingly escalates until people are punching the walls, sobbing uncontrollably, and wishing the other person was dead. It’s a master class in acting and guaranteed to get Johansson and Driver both Oscar nominations. In Driver’s case, I think he has a really good chance of winning.

Neither Charlie or Nicole is a blameless victim in this split. Yes, Charlie cheated, but Nicole has also taken their son across the country to LA and has no intentions of sending him back to New York.

Their lawyers (Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta) go from trading witty barbs to brutal punches as they try to paint their clients as the victims or heroes in this story. But we know that neither is really the case.

While this all sounds like a monumental bummer, I assure you the film isn’t all non-stop heart-wrenching drama. There are in fact plenty of humorous moments in between all the serious ones to give you some breathing space in between the more intense scenes like the one I mentioned above.

The product of all this is without the best film I saw at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema, and so far my pic to win all the awards this season.

Marriage Story will have a limited run in theatres before streaming on Netflix December 6th

“So that was basically Inglorious Kingdom, right?” I overheard someone tell their friend as I left Cinema Imperial after last Sunday night’s screening of Taika Waititi’s (What we do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarock) latest project, the Nazi-buddy comedy Jojo Rabbit.

As I’ve thought about the film the past few days, I feel it’s the perfect way to explain this movie to people: It balances broad comedy and the (historically inaccurate) horrors of war like Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds while also being a sweet coming of age story filled with fairy tale colours and hipstery music choices like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

The film tells the story of Johannes (newcomer Roman Griffin Davis) a 10-year-old boy living in World War Two era Germany. So much is Johannes indoctrinated in the Nazi propaganda machine that whenever he needs a good pep talk to get himself psyched up, he imagines the Fuhrer himself (played by Waititi, who is a triple threat here as writer/director/actor) coming to give him some words of encouragement.

While it’s a little suspicious that Johannes would envision his hero to be this silly and effeminate, as a viewer you get it. If there’s anyone out there who deserves to be mocked and derided, it’s Adolph Hitler.

As we follow Johannes to Nazi youth camp, (where his instructors include Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, and Rebel Wilson, who all deserve recognition for doing their best with very cartoonish, undeveloped characters) we see that as much as he protests that he’s “really into swastikas” he can’t murder a rabbit when asked. It’s very clear that Johannes, or “Jojo Rabbit” as he’s now called by his fellow Nazi youth campers, is never going to be the ruthless fascist he aspires to.

Johannes’ blind devotion to the cause gets even more muddled when he returns home and realizes that his eccentric mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding Jewish girl Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie, who gives another amazing performance after last year’s Leave no Trace) in the walls of his dead sister’s bedroom. Talking with Elsa whenever Rosie is out of the house, Johannes comes to realize that all the stuff he’s heard about Jews is wrong. And maybe instead of being revered, Hitler should just fuck off?

Jojo Rabbit has received mixed reviews since premiering this fall at the Toronto International Film Festival. Some people have said the film is not funny (which I vehemently disagree with, I thought it was hilarious) and that trying to make a coming-of-age story set in Nazi Germany is problematic.

I do agree with that to some extent. The film definitely shows the horrors of war when it wants to, and then either avoids or over sentimentalizes other moments when it wants to focus on the comedy/coming-of-age bits.

But that still doesn’t dissuade me from recommending this film to people. In fact in many ways, I’d say it’s the Hitler buddy comedy you never knew you needed.

Jojo Rabbit has already played at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema. But it’ll have a wide release in Montreal theatres this fall

Ever since I saw Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother I’ve been a huge fan of the Spanish auteur. I’ve always been impressed by how this filmmaker can make films that are outwardly so outlandish in scope; with their eccentric characters, brightly hued colour palettes, and melodramatic storylines… feel so intimate and authentic.

A lot of has to do I think with the autobiographical elements the filmmaker sprinkles into his stories. With his latest film, Pain and Glory, Almodovar creates one of his most personal stories yet.

It follows a charming but depressed ageing director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas in a career-best performance). Salvador is not-so-subtly inspired by Almodovar himself. His house is apparently an exact replica of Almodovar’s, and Banderas even wears some of the director’s own clothes.

One of the reasons Banderas’s performance is so great here is while he gives a brilliant homage to one of his most frequent collaborators (the pair have made eight movies together since the 1980s) he still manages to make Salvador feel like his own man. Never once when you’re watching the film do you feel like “This is Banderas playing Almodovar.”

Salvador hasn’t made a film in years and he’s consumed with a litany of physical ailments that may or may not be psychosomatic in nature. Just when he’s wondering what the hell to do with himself, he gets a call from the local cinematheque; they want to screen one of his films from thirty years ago and would like him to come speak to the audience afterwards.

This call inspires Salvador to track down the star of the film Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) with whom he famously had a falling out years before. Seeing Alberto again is both a disaster (he convinces Salvador to try heroin for the first time) and a good thing; it allows Salvador to reflect on other key moments from his past.

He ends up reconciling with an old lover. We see glimpses of his relationship with his mother (Penelope Cruz and then portrayed in later years by Julietta Serrano) and his first crush on a local handyman Eduardo (Cesar Vincent) that sparked his realization that he was queer.

Dealing with these ghosts of his past seems to spark hope in the director. He may not be the bad boy of Spanish cinema anymore, but he’s ready to create more personal, contemplative stories.

Again it’s hard not to see the parallels between Salvador and Almodovar himself here; because this film is without a doubt his most personal and contemplative yet. Critics have been comparing this film to Fellini’s 8 1/2 and it’s an apt comparison.

Let’s just hope instead of a filmmaker at the end of his career looking back, that this is just the beginning of many more Almodovar films to come.

Pain and Glory plays on October 17th at The Festival du Nouveau Cinema and opens in regular theatres October 18th

Dirty God, Dutch filmmaker Sacha Polak’s English-language debut, tells the story of Jade (Vicky Knight) an acid attack survivor who’s trying to rebuild her life. Fresh out of the hospital, Jade has plenty to contend with; nightmares of her ex-partner and father of her child who perpetrated the attack, her young daughter calling her a ‘monster’, her hard-partying circle of friends not quite knowing how to handle her.

After interactions with her family and friends don’t prove helpful, Jade turns to the internet for relief. First through obsessively researching plastic surgery options, secondly by connecting with strangers for video sex chats. Unfortunately, both of those avenues lead to disaster as well.

In the hands of a lesser director, Dirty God could easily have become either a dreary drama about a woman who can’t catch a break, or a sentimental puff piece about someone finding the beauty within. Thankfully the film walks masterfully in between those two extremes; it’s able to find moments of happiness for the feisty and resilient Jade without losing its grasp on reality. Jade has had a hard life and it’s likely only going to get harder, but she’s a woman strong enough to face these adversities and keep going.

There are some strong supporting roles in this film, such as Katherine Kelly as Jade’s shoplifting mom Lisa, and Bluey Robinson as Naz, Jade’s best friend’s boyfriend who just may have feelings for her as well. But what really makes this film worth seeing is the performance of Vicky Knight in the lead.

It was important to director Polak that Jade be portrayed by a real burn survivor. As a child, Knight’s body was burned badly in a fire. Imagining Knight would understand what Jade is going through isn’t much of a stretch. The fact that she easily carries this whole film on her performance alone, especially when it’s the first time she’s ever acted, is something even more impressive.

Dirty God plays at The Festival du Nouveau Cinema on October 18 and 20th

What is it about dysfunctional father/daughter relationships that female directors find so appealing? Whatever the attraction is to tell these kinds of stories, I’m glad they’re being made; it’s led to some truly great cinema. After last year’s Leave no Trace, the actress turned filmmaker Annabelle Attanasio gives us her impressive debut feature Mickey and the Bear.

Set in rural Montana, the film tells the story of teenage Mickey (Camila Morrone) and her Iraq-war veteran father Hank (James Badge Dale). While there are brief glimpses of Hank’s charm, he’s mostly a violent and pathetic addict who doesn’t know how to function in the world anymore. With her mother dead for an undetermined amount of time, Mickey has taken up the mantle of running the household.

Mickey celebrates her eighteenth birthday early in the film and with adulthood, she finds herself at a critical crossroads. Does she stay in Montana and keep taking care of her father, who clearly won’t survive without her, or pursue her dreams of a life out west?

While it’s clear she loves her father, it’s impossible to deny their relationship has become increasingly toxic. Things get especially disturbing when Hank gets a little too handsy and keeps calling Mickey by her mother’s name during his binges.

Morrone and Dale both give impressive performances as the conflicted father and daughter, but it’s Dale who really shines. Hank likely was a good person at some point but has let his rage and disappointment in the world consume him. Dale manages to show all of that with a simple glance or line delivery.

It’s the first film I’ve ever seen with Morrone but after her nuanced performance as a teen desperate to discover her purpose, I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next.

That goes double for writer/director Annabelle Attanasio. Although I’ve seen this type of film before, both as a writer and filmmaker she manages to make it feel fresh through the intimate story, interesting music choices, and most of all, allowing her performers to shine.

Mickey and the Bear plays at The Festival du Nouveau Cinema October 15th, 16th and 19th

Anyone who knows me even casually knows my deep devotion to film. Which is why I’m excited, after years of blogging about music and theatre, to be getting back to my roots and covering the Festival du Nouveau Cinema for Forget the Box. I encourage anyone interested in international film to check our site during the festival, as I’ll be posting regular reviews of the films I see.

While preparing for my upcoming festival experience, I had the pleasure of speaking with Zoé Protat the head of programming. She explained that while other Montreal film festivals cater to niche audiences, FNC is more of a general festival that has “a little bit of everything for everyone.”

Her rule of thumb while selecting which films make it into the festival? “Basically it comes down to two things,” Protat explained, “I want to be surprised, and not bored.”

One of Protat’s personal pics for this year is Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century

While Protat is eager for audiences to see all the films, she admits she has a soft spot for new talent: “The core of this festival is really about showcasing first features.”

In that vein, when I asked about films she’d recommend this year she gave me the following three suggestions; Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century (which recently won Best Canadian First Feature Film at The Toronto International Film Festival) and Jérémy Clapin’s I Lost My Body (Which has won several awards including the Grand Prize at the Cannes Critic’s Week) and the Polish film Monument which Protat describes as one of “the boldest, edgiest films I’ve ever seen.”

So what am I looking forward to at this year’s FNC? It’s a combination of the newest offerings of my favourite auteurs, discovering new female filmmakers, and a couple of wild cards that could either be amazing or complete disasters.

Without further ado, here’s my top five FNC list in no particular order:

Dirty God

After being the victim of an acid attack, a young single mother in London must try and make sense of her life in this film directed by Sacha Polak.

Marriage Story

Yes, this Baumbach divorce drama will hit Netflix eventually. But given the opportunity, I want to see it where one should see an auteur’s most personal work to date; on the big screen.

Mickey and the BearMickey and the Bear

Camila Morrone stars in Annabelle Anttanasio’s Mickey and the Bear

Teenage Mickey takes care of her PSTD-afflicted father. As their relationship becomes increasingly toxic, Mickey is forced to make major decisions that will change the rest of her life in this film directed by Annabelle Attanasio.

Family Romance LLC

Werner Herzog’s latest film explores Japan’s phenomenon of “rentaru furendo“: agencies that fill emotional voids in people’s lives by offering the services of actors to pretend to be family members or lovers.

Feral

A young homeless woman on the streets of New York City does what she needs to survive before the first snowstorm of the year hits in this film directed by Andrew Wonder.

Featured Image: Scarlett Johanson and Adam Driver star in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story

The Festival du Nouveau Cinema runs from October 9th to 19th