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Tara Thorne at TIFF: Also: Todd Solondz

I’ve always appreciated Todd Solondz—I wouldn’t call myself a fan, exactly, because even I don’t hate people that much—but for a guy who riles up such rage, what he’s doing is always interesting, nothing more so than Palindromes, in which eight different actors, including a dude and Jennifer Jason Leigh, played the lead character.

Dark Horse is a weird little movie about a fat loser with inflated self-image (Jordan Gelber) who meets Selma Blair, an over-medicated loser who also lives at home, and decides to propose on the first date. Her initial rejection kicks off a downward spiral of job loss—he works for his dad, Christopher Walken, doing the most self-aware parody ever, and his Mom is Faye fucking Dunaway—and disease accumulation (to explain would spoil the plot). It’s relentlessly uplifting as it's relentlessly grotesque—extreme close-ups abound, but maybe it seemed worse because I was in the second row—and is scored by sub-Taylor Swift pop songs I am pretty sure are not real. It pitches into a bizarro world where you’re never sure whether what’s happening really is, and I’ve been wondering if there’s a higher meaning to it all, and if I find it I will let you know, but mostly it’s just fuckin’ weird. (Broadway vet Donna Murphy turns in a great supporting role, FWIW.) Despite a character actually voicing the words “People are horrible. Humanity is a fucking cesspool,” Dark Horse lacks the pedophilia, extended uncomfortable sex scenes and general all-around awfulness we’ve come to expect from Solondz, making this—if you can believe it—a feel-good film.

Not feeling so good? Juliette Binoche in Elles, which finds her journalist writing an investigative piece on two underage escorts (Joanna Kulig and Anais Demoustier). They aren’t ashamed, most of the time, and they don’t feel degraded, usually, and they’re rolling in it, always—this sets Binoche questioning her own high-class, boring Parisian life with a husband and two sons. Considering the subject matter it’s not as grim as I expected, save the obligatory rape-the-prostitute scene, and Binoche continues her reign as one of cinema’s most compelling actors—endlessly watchable even when doing something completely ridiculous like questioning her own attractiveness. The film veers off-course a little with jumps into fantasy and contains a hammering classical score both portentous and pretentious—Hans Zimmer himself would be like “Dial it back, dudes”—but stands as a provocative drama with visual and elemental themes I’m still thinking about.


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