Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: Benediction

Written by Alexander Reams

98/100

Benediction: (noun) The utterance or bestowing of a blessing, especially at the end of a religious service.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24–26

Benedictions are almost always used in Christianity to signify the end of a worship service. The last words you hear before you go out to eat and forget everything, it is said in the hopes that these words will stick with you throughout the week until the next Sunday when you sit in your same seat and listen to another sermon. It is a constant throughout worship services in one form or another. Terence Davies’ study on the poet, soldier, and writer Siegfried Sassoon is not a typical biopic. Davies doesn’t care about informing you about the person, presenting a portrait of a man who could not be with the ones he loved, or could not find the right one to love instead, and how it affects him at different points in his life. In such, putting a benediction, or a look of hope, on Sassoon’s life.

The film begins with a reading of one of Sassoon’s poems, with archive footage of World War I in the background, providing us with his opinion on the war even before we see him on screen. Damning the war, and himself. Then Sassoon appears, not Capaldi, but Jack Lowden, who embodies this character in every frame he appears, every syllable he utters is perfect. As a Peter Capaldi fanboy, I was disappointed that his role is a glorified cameo, however that disappointment was replaced with fascination and heartbreak as Jack Lowden commands the screen in what hopefully will be his breakout role, he has been in high profile films before (Dunkirk and Mary, Queen of Scots). Never before though has he commanded such a quiet presence that riveted me throughout the runtime of the film.

It brings this writer great shame to admit that Davies is a filmmaker who I have never dived into, and after seeing his latest, I want to dive in more. His usage of Sassoon’s poems as a way to show vignettes of his life correlate brilliantly with the usage of archival footage to continually remind us that Sassoon, while he did serve, became disenfranchised with a war he saw as unnecessary and had the guts to speak out against one of the biggest empires on the planet. The film is a message of bravery while also a meditation on heartbreak.

Sassoon’s life was filled with heartbreak. After the war he had a string of lovers, however, the film only shows in detail, 2 of them. Both of them were clearly being destructive for Siegfried and I couldn’t help but feel heartbreak for him. He wants to be loved and he wants to give love, but in a time when 2 men could not love one another how they want. This love he has is one of pure truth. One that seeps throughout the film and nearly bursts through the final shot of the film. Utilizing Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis to show a simple moment but one that is the utmost profound in a film full of deeper meaning and how Sassoon was subjected to this disregard because of who he was as a person. This shot is reminiscent of Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) and its use of Fantasia on a Theme is as heartbreaking as the use of Vivaldi’s Presto from “Summer” in his Four Seasons symphony.

Benediction is one of the finest films to come out this year, a meditative and personal reflection for Davies, while also breaking me emotionally to the point where I could not stop caring for Siegfried Sassoon and only wanted him to be happy in a time where he could not be. Whether due to his own personal drawbacks or the fact that being openly gay at this time in Britain was a criminal offense. I hope this film is widely seen, and that everyone who does see it comes away from it with some version of a message. I know I did, and I rarely take messages from films. Like its title, Benediction is a benediction on the life of Siegfried Sassoon, while also feeling like one for Terence Davies filmography.

Benediction was screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

First Man

Written by Taylor Baker

96/100

Visual Jazz

Chazelle assembles a first-rate series of high high’s, high low’s, low high’s, and low low’s. I couldn’t agree more with everyone heaping praise upon the technical proficiency found aboundingly in this film. If one were to put it in a class of technical mastery based off of recent films you would lump it amongst Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, and just ever so slightly beneath Mad Max: Fury Road. During this film I experienced shock, awe, jubilation, grief, anger, and solace. Chazelle tosses narrative norms to the side and brings you into an emotional ride loosely tied together by it’s handful of main characters and main goal.

Reach the Moon.

I’ve been trying to think about it’s narrative depths so as to express it’s wrinkles and omages and it keeps slipping through my fingers like that fine grain silt on the Moon’s surface. What I am absolutely certain of is that beauty and love are the two most apt words to describe what Chazelle packs into First Man’s omages to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The lights reflected to us off of Gosling’s helmet near the end, the docking sequence, the brief AI concern, the Moon as a monolith, and that last shot of Foy reflected off the glass within Gosling’s head. The love while not easy to see on the surface was always there, it was behind everything. Behind the sacrifices.

Gosling’s performance is amazing, and of the Fall fare as of yet Foy’s supporting role is peerless. The entire ensemble is almost sure to grab the best ensemble cast this year unless Vice or Widows really floor audiences. This is a bonafide blockbuster and a wonder to behold. See it in a premium format if you can, whether it’s IMAX or Dolby you won’t be let down.

Highly Recommended.

Taylor Baker originally posted this review on Letterboxd 10/12/18

Tenet

Written by Taylor Baker

86/100

Nolan revisits all the pieces of formulaic ingenuity that have risen him to the pinnacle of non-franchise blockbuster cinema, and it’s fun. The whole time you’re there, it’s a good time. When it’s done, you feel mostly satisfied, but that thing from Inception and Interstellar, the longing for a better understanding of the film. That is absent. The sheer emotional ride of Dunkirk leading you out the doors of the cinema winded, is also absent. But you had a fantastic time keeping up thru the spectacle of it all and seeing glorious movie stars projected on a screen with some of the largest action set pieces you’ll ever witness.

At bottom Tenet feels like a live concert from Nolan. Some of his greatest hits strung together in different ways than they were before. The fun of the premise is assuredly there, but the substance is notably absent. And I think I’m mostly okay with that. But after the runtime I am also filled with a deep longing to see him shoot a walk and talk that doesn’t include exposition in every drop of dialogue.

First trip to a theater in 6 months, it felt good to be back.

PS: While WB is developing shows on HBO based on their blockbuster films in 2020, I’d appreciate them greenlighting a TV-MA show centered around whatever Aaron Taylor-Johnson does outside of what we see in the movie.

Taylor Baker originally posted this review on Letterboxd 08/31/20

Tenet is currently in theaters.