September 18, 2021

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “Belfast,” “Benediction” & “Jagged”


BELFAST (Focus/Universal – Nov. 12):  Kenneth Branagh’s semiautobiographical film walks a path laid by many great works by master filmmakers, including Fellini’s Amarcord, John Boorman’s Hope and Glory, and Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma.  Compared to those, Belfast is a relatively minor work, yet quite enjoyable on its own terms.  The setting is 1969, as “the troubles” intensify in the titular city.  The director’s stand-in Buddy (Jude Hill) lives most of the time with his Ma (Caitriona Balfe) and brother, as Pa (Jamie Dornan) is away at jobs in England for long stretches.  Buddy’s lovable Granny (Judi Dench) and Pop (Ciaran Hinds) are just a shout away.  The street where Buddy lives has long been peaceful between Protestants and Catholics, but that’s changing, largely as a result of Protestant thugs who resent Pa’s refusal to join them.  Those tensions lead to the decisions made at the film’s close, but much of Belfast is concerned with much smaller issues, like Buddy’s attempt to catch the eye of the smartest girl in his class, and the family’s dreaded tax audit.  Belfast is charming, and it has its share of moving, lovely moments.  Although the film is in glossy black and white (the photography is by Haris Zambarloukos, who’s been working with Branagh for more than a decade), it explodes into gorgeous color when Buddy is watching his beloved movies like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  There’s also a sequence where Ma and Pa dance at a neighborhood party that will surely be seen in many awards-season clip packages.  It goes without saying that the leading cast couldn’t be better, and it’s particularly nice to see Balfe able to stretch in a feature role after seasons of OutlanderBelfast is an accomplished piece of work that clearly means a lot to Branagh.  It simply doesn’t have the ambition that other filmmakers have brought to the stories of their lives, visually or thematically.  If one didn’t know it was Branagh’s story, it would easily pass as a workmanlike fiction about growing up in Ireland five decades ago.  There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, unless one hoped for more.

BENEDICTION (no distrib):  Terence Davies’ films tend to be oblique and allusive, and to be honest his work is an acquired taste that’s never been in my cart.  Benediction, though, is largely a more conventional piece of filmmaking, despite the occasional mournful montage and some tripping back and forth in time.  It’s a biography of the British poet Siegfried Sassoon (played by Jack Lowden as a young man, and Peter Capaldi decades later), who was celebrated for his World War I poetry and pacifistic views (he suffered from what we’d now call PTSD), but became less prominent over time.  Davies is largely concerned with Sassoon’s homosexuality, which was a crime during the early 20th century (Sassoon eventually married a woman and fathered a son with her).  Despite the necessity of hiding, Sassoon moved in fashionable circles after the war where he was hardly alone, and his companions included Robbie Ross (Simon Russell Beale), best known for his involvement in Oscar Wilde’s scandal, and the actor/songwriter Ivor Novello (Jeremy Irvine), who starred in Hitchcock’s breakout hit The Lodger.  Davies depicts all these characters as speaking in quips and aphorisms, often in lengthy dialogue scenes, and the overall tone of dissatisfaction aging into bitterness wears over 137 minutes.  Despite a few masterful touches, like the time-lapse sequence that initially transforms Lowden into Capaldi, Benediction feels for the most part like a BBC biography about a figure who may have been more of a footnote rather than a crucial text.

JAGGED (HBO – Nov. 19):  Alison Klayman’s documentary has become a matter of controversy, as its subject Alanis Morisette has denounced the film and refuses to promote it.  The reasons are unclear, since Morissette was a major participant in the film’s production (it’s structured around a series of interviews she gave Klayman), and the most controversial statements in the final version, regarding her sexual experiences with men as a 15-year old in the music industry, come directly from her.  If Morissette hadn’t hadn’t withdrawn her support, Jagged would be seen as an extremely positive portrait.  Klayman made the wise decision not to cover Morisette’s entire life or career in detail, but to concentrate specifically on the writing and release of “Jagged Little Pill” and the tour that followed, which allows her to delve deeply into that period.  There’s footage of just about every step along that way, and Klayman seems to have gotten her hands on all if it.  She also provides plenty of context through present-day interviews to clarify the historical importance of Morissette’s album and the level of its remarkable success.  Jagged is a functional documentary that doesn’t attempt anything fancy, and controversy aside, it tells the story it set out to tell.


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."