TIFF 2022: Charcoal, Muru, Roost | Festivals & Awards

ytsfreeSeptember 12, 2022

One of the best films I’ve seen from the Platform section of TIFF this year is Carolina Markowicz’s “Charcoal,” a sharp, specific thriller that also has a nice undercurrent of dark humor. Markowicz confidently tells a story that film has been doing forever—the stranger who radically upsets a family dynamic—but does so in a way that feels driven by character and setting instead of cliché.

Irene (Maeve Jinkings) and Jairo (Romulo Braga) live in a small village in the Brazilian countryside, away from civilization, where they run a family charcoal business. It’s the perfect place for someone to hide. They go about their business, including raising their nine-year-old son Jean (Jean Costa) and caring for Irene’s increasingly ailing father. His days are quite literally numbered, and so the family considers it when their nurse suggests something remarkable. She works for an Argentinian drug lord who needs a place to hide out. If Irene and Jairo could basically replace the old man with the kingpin, they would have enough money to never worry again. Irene prays on it, wondering about the kindness in keeping an ailing relative alive anyway, especially when God has given them such an opportunity.

In a way that’s never forced, the new arrival in this non-descript home throws the family into chaos. Jairo has a secret affair with a neighbor, and he uses the newfound income in ways that might draw attention in a small community. Irene becomes more confident and outspoken, fascinated by this imposing figure in her relatively dull reality. Even Jean opens up in unexpected ways, getting closer to a criminal lifestyle that now looks appealing to him.

Markowicz takes a potentially dul plotline and elevates it by sticking close to her characters. We come to know Irene—Jinkings is fantastic—and relish in watching her manage the new reality of her existence, going from a dying father to a potential escape from her mundane existence. There are also sharply interesting religious themes in the film, one that culminates in a fascinating ending with one of the best final shots of TIFF so far.

On the other side of the world, the reliable Cliff Curtis—one of those actors you may not know by name but certainly will recognize—stars in Tearepa Kahi’s true story “Muru,” an intense thriller about a violent clash between a Maori community and the armed forces who became convinced they were domestic terrorists. Inspired by not just one violent encounter between these communities, “Muru” centers Taffy (Curtis), a police sergeant who has returned home to what should be a quiet existence in terms of lawbreaking. However, a few of the locals, including a well-known activist named Tame Iti (who plays himself in a powerful performance), have been talking enough about mistreatment from the New Zealand government that they’ve gotten their attention.

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