It's a fairly slow moving affair, revealing it's secrets slowly as the tension builds and as a result drags slightly at the beginning, as the viewer (well this one certainly) attempts to grasp what exactly is going on in the scenic railway station which Nebel inhabits. But as it moves forward, and the hero journeys from the station, to a mental institution, crossing paths with the slightly menacing mute, and onto Prague and a lovely sequence mingling with the main station's homeless inhabitants the pace picks up. There he forms a touching relationship with a middle-aged widow, Kveta, which forms much of the heart of the piece.These touching segways help as the story moves towards its inevitably dramatic, storm-drenched conclusion, where the monochrome animation beautifully depicts the engorged river, swelling as the audience tension grows.My expectations may have been low, but Alois Nebel provided a pleasingly esoteric beginning to my Torontonian experience, providing a mostly gripping, but at all times beautiful slice of Eastern European animation.
The overarching feel of this year's Toronto Film Festival is by all accounts desolation and desperation. Think of Me hammers that point home, hard. Written and directed by American Bryan Wizeman it stars (and is produced by) Lauren Ambrose, formerly of Six Feet Under and currently to be seen on TV hamming it up in Torchwood.
She plays Angela, a poor single mother living on the edge of an American casino city, struggling to raise her only daughter Sunny (as in the Sun, not Sonny and Cher) under severe financial constraints. When offered the chance to make a quick buck with a $2000 investment opportunity she attempts to scrape together the dough, through her ex, taking on another job (painfully cleaning the same office she works in by day at night) and playing fruit machines. As the plot twists and turns the tension is ratcheted up, and the true desperation of the family's situation is revealed.
Bleak is the only word to describe this film, almost relentlessly so, right up until the gripping conclusion. There's very little light and dark; Dylan Baker's at first friendly co-worker could have provided some light relief, or some hope, but instead serves only a sinister purpose in Angela's descent to rock bottom. And I'm not even going to mention what happens to the family dog.
Lauren Ambrose is the undoubted star of the piece, her face dominates the screen as her character goes through anguish after anguish, hardships piling on top of each other, until she's faced with an abhorrent decision. If this were a higher profile film there's no doubt Ambrose would be attracting Oscar buzz, but as it is there's hope that she now might have a shot at landing meatier roles in bigger projects.
Think of Me reminded me a great deal of Andrea Arnold's Oscar winning short Wasp – but set in America, and stretched over 90 agonising minutes, each serving only to make the audience squirm and fear for the safety of Sunny, impressively, and unshowily, portrayed by Audrey Scott. Anyone's who's seen that short will know that it makes for uncomfortable, not necessarily enjoyable viewing, so being served up a similarly themed offering over a much longer time frame is difficult to judge. It's well-written, competently directed, has a trio of great performances at its core from Ambrose, Baker and Scott, but is it enjoyable? Does film need to be? At a time of great hardship across the world films like this are inevitable, and important. But really, next time, leave the dogs alone.