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Parenting Ambitions and Reforms at Toronto Film Festival 2023


By Roger Costa


Just last year, Brazilian filmmaker Carolina Markowicz has proved she is an auteur. Her directorial debut, “Charcoal” premiered at Toronto leaving a remarkable mark and announcing a major female cinematic force. Her sophomore project, “Toll” examines some of the same issues she did in the previous one, but in different tones. This one feels somehow more sensitive, a little distant from the rustic, dark and tragic aspects of her debut. But this obe also carries so much pain, tragedy, political, ecological and economical conflicts, making it her most accomplished work yet. The balance between morbid and sensibility is just perfect and unique. The Brazilian Association of Cinema had listed this as one of the films to represent the country at the Oscars in 2024. I was rooting for it, especially because of its aesthetic and gender rights message, but they picked Kleber Mendonca Filho’s “Pictures of Ghosts” which is probably of similar quality. Yet, “Toll” could be a contender for other categories, such as Screenplay, Actress and Supporting Actor. Anchored by a mesmerizing performance by Maeve Jinkings, it follows the desperation of a conservative mother in trying to “convert” her gay son. In conflict with his feminine behavior (he aspires to be an Influencer diva and obsessively creates lip-synch musical videos) the toll booth attendant will risk everything, her dignity, reputation and future, even helping a few criminals, in order to raise the money needed to pay the treatment offered by a foreign pastor. In the other side, her son, Tiquinho, struggles to connect to a boy he once had a thing with, and silently suffers with his mother’s rejection. Do not expect a beautiful family drama out of this. Unconventional, provocative, deeply raw and unashamed, director Markowicz is more interested in presenting the facts and the harsh reality of the poor class in trying to survive. Her characters are not really nice people. There are perversion, cheating, betrayal, lies, contempt, exploitation and moral disorder all over them, yet, they are a reflection of the human condition facing obstacles, going through their limits and resisting surrender. Most of these cases involve corruption, criminality and abuse. In this remarkable drama, Markowicz examines all of these elements through the complicated relationship of mother-son, and how they react individually to each other’s motives. Set in Cubatao, considered the most polluted city in Brazil, the film also casts a warning on global warming supported by its haunting cinematography, capturing the contrast between mountains and foggy images of air pollution. In one striking scene, Tiquinho takes a photo of his mother smoking, using the Industrial landscape as a backdrop.  In his breakthrough role, Kauan Alvarenga delivers a devastatingly emotional and charismatic performance, easily conquering the audience’s heart, as the outcast Black queer kid who just wants to fit in. I can easily see an Independent Spirit Award nomination for him. The way he looks at his mother, carrying anguish and a sense of abandon, and the way he reacts to the surprisingly flirts of a boy he meets at the treatment program are examples of the tension and anxiety he is able to efficiently demonstrate with his complex character. This is reality cinema at its best.


Deeply perceptive, often mysterious and melancholic, Japanase-Canadian filmmaker Meredith Hama-Brown’s feature debut is based on her own memories and experiences as she grew up amidst her parents’ existential crisis.

It follows the attempt of a woman in recovery after her mother’s death. Along with her husband and two daughters, she arrives at a retreat center seeking healing and strength to restart. The grieving process is not an easy task, and the retreat offers many alternatives to keep them occupied from memories of longing and the consequences of loss. There are swimming, nature exploring, meetings, counselings and charismatic guests. The couple’s complicated relationship and secret wounds start to affect their children, and the people around them, which could lead them to definitive transformations.

Ally Maki and Luke Roberts are incredibly touching as the vulnerable parents, elevating the sense of credibility in this tender drama that subtly explores racial conflicts, identity and loss. Armed with a distinguished sensibility, Hama-Brown is a name to watch.


French pop star Claire Pommet makes an impressive acting debut as a young non-binary person in pursuit of her goals and ambitions. Director Héléna Klotz examines gender identity, family abuse and financial ambitions in this wonderfully told, upbeat, modern urban drama. Jeanne is forced to provide for their siblings while struggling to fit in as a financial advisor. There is also an unsolved romantic issue, as a former military lover returns resurfacing past wounds. He is played by the incredibly reliable and ultra cool actor Niels Schneider, who brings emotional tension to the story, while Sofiane Zermani as Jeanne’s boss embodies greed, determination and capitalism with powerful chemistry. He delivers a memorable character, worth of Awards attention. But the film belongs completely to Pommet. She is charismatic, ambiguously sensual, incredibly smart, sort of a genius with numbers and words who anyone would love to have a date with. As she journeys the experience of being young in a competitive, materialistic era, she captivates the audience with naturalism and perfect synch, crafting an unforgettable heroine. There is a bright, very bright future for her in this industry.

(The 48th Toronto International Film Festival runs through September 17th. Go to for schedule, tickets and details.)

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