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film review
  • The Beast
  • Written and directed by Bertrand Bonello
  • Starring Léa Seydoux and George MacKay
  • Classification N/A; 145 minutes
  • Opens in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Winnipeg on April 19

Critic’s Pick

  • Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World
  • Written and directed by Radu Jude
  • Starring Ilinca Manolache, Nina Hoss and Uwe Boll
  • Classification N/A; 163 minutes
  • Opens in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Montreal and Quebec City on April 19; expands to Toronto May 4

Critic’s Pick

It is a strange weekend for lovers of art-house cinema in Canada. This Friday, two of the year’s most challenging – but rewarding and invigorating – films open in Canadian theatres. Both were critical hits on last year’s festival circuit, and both are likely to linger long after the dust of 2024 has settled. But the hardest part of unlocking Bertrand Bonello’s The Beast and Radu Jude’s Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World is not analyzing their themes or aesthetics, but figuring out their curious release strategies.

First up is Bonello’s film, a hypnotizing and extremely loose adaptation of Henry James’s novella The Beast in the Jungle. Split across three time periods – the distant future, 2014 Los Angeles and 1904 France (the latter being the year after James published his original story) – The Beast follows two quasi-lovers as they are pulled together and apart.

At one moment, Louis (George MacKay) is a smouldering aristocrat whose entanglements with the enigmatic Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux) result in a doomed romance at once beautiful and tragic. Flash-forward 100 years, and Louis is a bitter young man who finds himself being pulled into the online vortex of the emerging “incel” movement (“involuntary celibates,” for those who have been spared the toxic reality of the subculture). Gabrielle, now a struggling actress house-sitting a comically gigantic mansion in L.A., is his prey. Many decades (or perhaps centuries) later, and Gabrielle is trying to shake off her past lives in order to purify her DNA from any remnants of Louis.

The French filmmaker Bonello, rightly beloved by adventurous cinephiles for his idiosyncratic slow-burn fantasias Coma and Nocturama, creates his own version of Cloud Atlas here – an ambitious epic that flits between timelines and mood settings with a deceptively light touch. Seydoux is as captivating as ever as a woman haunted by the spectre of a man she never truly gets to know, while MacKay (most familiar from his work in Sam Mendes’s First World War thriller 1917) oscillates between charm and seething rage with a terrifying ease. Classical and ultramodern – Bonello closes things off with a QR code, of all things – The Beast is an experience both bold and rich.

So why is The Beast’s Toronto run going down at the tiny and not-exactly-prestige Carlton Cinema and not a larger, more destination-friendly venue worthy of Bonello’s ambitions? Add it to one of the many mysteries shrouding the reality of independent film distribution these days. Which brings up this weekend’s other release-strategy puzzler.

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When Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World screened at the Toronto International Film Festival this past fall (alongside Bonello’s drama), it seemed as if 2023 might be the year of Radu Jude.

The confrontational and playful Romanian filmmaker has been alighting the international cinema scene for a good decade now, and just about escaped into the wider cultural conversation with 2021′s absurd, explicit and brilliant satire Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, far and away the best movie made about, and during, the pandemic. But Jude graduates to a new level of controlled chaos with Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World, a bracing and eye-opening snapshot of the current moment.

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Radu Jude graduates to a new level of controlled chaos with Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World.4 Proof Film/Supplied

So why is the film hitting only a handful of Canadian cities nearly a month after it landed in key U.S. markets, and why will it take several more weeks for it to make it to Toronto cinemas? Those are questions that only the film’s distributor can answer – but I bet that the movie’s central character, a cog in the factory floor of contemporary media production, might have a decent idea, too.

A harried production assistant helping put together a workplace-safety film for a dubiously ethical megacorporation, Angela (Ilinca Manolache) spends much of her time driving across Bucharest, sussing out the onscreen potential of workers who have been injured on the job. Between lightly interrogating victims of her employer’s callousness and enduring the road rage of Bucharest’s hair-trigger drivers, Angela has a successful side hustle on social media, where she adopts the persona of a comically misogynistic creep in the Andrew Tate mould.

Weaving in footage from Lucian Bratu’s 1981 film Angela Moves On (a melodrama following a female taxi driver and set during the heart of Nicolae Ceausescu’s crushing reign in Romania), and capped off by an extended movie-within-a-movie contained in one static shot, Jude’s film is an ambitious experiment of the mad-science variety. By the time that Nina Hoss pops up as Angela’s perpetually harried boss (who also happens to be a distant descendant of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) and widely derided German filmmaker Uwe Boll makes a cameo as himself, Jude can barely control his ain’t-I-a-stinker glee.

Yet it all works, with its many preoccupations – the gig economy, TiKTok, Romanian history, the immaturity of the European film industry, worker exploitation – culminating in an epic, wild ride whose presumed destination is hell itself. Godspeed to any adventurous Canadian moviegoer who manages to figure out a route down Jude’s particular road.

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