Sept. 17, 6:30 p.m., Roy Thomson; Sept. 18, 3:00 p.m., Ryerson; Sept. 19, 4:30 p.m., AMC 6
Cornelius Porumboiu (Romania)
A young small-town undercover cop's dreary routine gives way to a rebellious spark, becoming a subtle comment on the penetrating legacy of Romania's past as a police state in this quietly riveting, intelligent film from this Caméra d'Or-winning director ( 12:08 East of Bucharest). Cristi (Dragos Bucur) is tailing a teenage pot-smoker and his two friends (one the original tipster) to root out the supplier. His captain (Vlad Ivanov), whom he's avoiding, wants him to close the case and arrest the kid. Beautifully composed scenes and few but memorable exchanges that border on the absurd anchor a deceptively simple story, giving the viewer space to think. Winner of the jury and FIPRESCI prizes in Cannes's Un Certain Regard section earlier this year. J.P.
Sept. 13, 10 p.m. Isabel Bader; Sept. 17, 2:30 p.m., AMC 6; Sept. 19, 9 a.m., Varsity 4
Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire
Lee Daniels (USA)
Raw, moving and somewhat akin to having a piano dropped on your head, Precious is a fable of abuse and redemption set in Harlem in 1987. Based on the novel by poet Sapphire (born Ramona Lofton), the film follows the struggle of Precious (Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe), an obese, illiterate 15-year-old who has been twice impregnated by her father and is physically and verbally abused by her mother (Mo'Nique), a character who is both sinister and sympathetic. Salvation comes from a gorgeous, angelic teacher, improbably named Blu Rain (Paula Patton), who helps Precious and a group of other young women find dignity and hope through keeping journals. Daniels's direction is all over the map but he gets vibrant performances from his actresses, including singer Mariah Carey as a dowdy, no b.s. social worker. L.L.
Sept. 13, 9:30 p.m. Roy Thomson; Sept. 14, 12:30 p.m. Winter Garden
Roberto Hernandez, Geoffrey Smith (Mexico)
The Mexian justice system is so corrupt and dysfunctional and has been for decades that a Canadian viewer can be forgiven for thinking that a documentary expose of that system might provoke feelings of "been there/know that." But this feature does an admirable, even suspenseful job of shaking one's complacency by focusing on the struggles of a young Mexico City man, Tono Rodriguez, to overturn a wrongful murder conviction from December, 2005, and put an end to his 20-year sentence in one of the country's notorious prisons. The film's co-director, Roberto Hernandez, is a lawyer himself. In fact, he and his partner, Layda Negrete, got involved in Rodriguez's appeal and are prominently featured in the documentary. While it skimps on material about the murder victim, the circumstances of his death and Rodriguez's alleged accomplices in the crime, the film nontheless clearly demonstrates Rodriguez's innocence while anatomizing the injustices meted out by Mexico's police and judiciary. Most gripping is a long, Kafka-esque sequence in which Rodriguez finds himself being retried by the same judge who first convicted him. J.A.
Sunday, Sept. 13, 7 p.m., AMC Sat., Sept. 19, 4 p.m., Jackman Hall/AGO
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
Rebecca Miller (USA)
It's the tale of a crumbling May-December marriage, it's the diary of a mad housewife, it's the sins of the mother visited upon the daughter - oh, it's all that and so much less. In the title role, Robin Wright Penn struggles valiantly to lend some emotional conviction to this busy narrative, trying to interest us in the plight of a woman who's left behind her dysfunctional youth to devote herself to "goodness," to becoming the perfect wife to an aging husband. But when perfection inevitably unravels, Penn's performance gets sucked down by the gravitational pull of a top-heavy plot that keeps lurching from the present to the past and back again. The result is fraught with incident but devoid of credibility, and Miller's direction only serves to add further clutter to an already messy business. Somewhere deep in this mound of melodrama, there's a good film gasping for breath and waiting to escape - too bad it gets suffocated. R.G.