September 14, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Fesrival Reviews: “Her Smell” & “Non-Fiction”


HER SMELL (no distrib – TBD):  Writer-director Alex Ross Perry (The Color Wheel, Listen Up Philip) is a fan of invective, and the punk rocker Becky Something (Elizabeth Moss), when she’s in the full flower of her moderate success, lets it fly in a way that even Natalie Portman in Vox Lux would find impressive.  Although there are plenty of drugs around, Becky hardly seems to need them in order to aim at her bandmates (Gayle Rankin and Agyness Deyn), fellow musicians (including Cara Delevinge and Amber Heard), the father of her child (Dan Stevens), the head of her record label (Eric Stoltz), and her mother (Virginia Madsen), among others.  Perry clearly wants this section of Her Smell, set backstage at a club and in a recording studio, to feel like an assault, and it does.  The visual style is very unlike Perry’s previous films, shot with an aggressive hand-held camera, a constant backbeat of bass-heavy music, and with characters imprisoned in tight close-ups that showcase their garish looks and exhaustion.  Moss has worked with Perry twice before in Philip and Queen of Earth, and she seems to relish every blast of fury and explosion of spite.  It’s an impressive show, but it doesn’t seem to be adding up to much.  However, the film’s final section presents a deliberate about-face.  Set several years later, it finds Becky in a fragile recovery, desperately trying to hold onto her sobriety and peace of mind, and portrayed in a much calmer visual style.  Her Smell is limited, because we’ve seen plenty of stories about rampaging rockers and their attempts to take control of their lives before, and at 134 minutes, Perry risks his own kind of self-indulgence.  Becky Something’s boisterous bile, though, and the care with which she lives her life afterward, is memorable.

NON-FICTION (IFC – TBD):  Olivier Assayas is a filmmaker who enjoys hopscotching styles and genres, and he’s followed the spooky, obscure Personal Shopper with a neo-oldie, a return to the Eric Rohmer/Woody Allen style of arthouse dramedies that follow witty intellectuals as they talk to each other, sleep with each other, and talk about sleeping with each other.  The setting is literary, centering around the head of an old-line publishing house (Guillaume Canet) and one of his less prominent writers (Vincent Macaigne), along with their wives (respectively Juliette Binoche as a successful action-TV star, and Nora Hamzawi as a political aide).  A lot of the conversations are about e-books, literary standards, digitalization, and the challenges of the book business in a hyper-technological era, but the philosophical underpinnings (this is the kind of film that has philosophical underpinnings) concern the struggle to be genuine in a virtual society, the limits of honesty, and fidelity in both the business and personal contexts.  That makes Non-Fiction sound daunting, and certainly a viewer has to be willing to read copious subtitles for 105 minutes, but Assayas doesn’t want things  to be grim:  there’s a running gag about The Force Awakens vs. Haneke’s The White Ribbon, and a playful meta-nod at a member of the cast along the way.  Mostly, there’s the pleasure of watching smart people be smart, which is something we used to take for granted in a niche of film, but which like successful literary novels have something of an artifact.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."