Film Review: Spark (Nicholas Giuricich, 2024)

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I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for any story that features a time loop. From the standard bearer Groundhog Day to more recent takes like Happy Death Day or Russian Doll to the repeated use of the trope in sci-fi franchises like Star Trek and Doctor Who, there’s a certain appeal to the idea of a protagonist reliving their lives in a loop while trying to figure their way out of it. Nicholas Giuricich’s Spark, which recently had its world premiere at Toronto’s Inside Out Film Festival, is the latest in a long line of such time loop films.

Spark follows a day in the life (or, rather, a day in the life ad nauseam) of its protagonist Aaron, a hopeless romantic who hasn’t had much luck in the romance department. All that starts to change once he meets Trevor, an intriguing stranger he’s paired up with for a birthday party scavenger hunt. While Trevor at first seems fairly distant and aloof, there is a hint of interest, which is enough for Aaron to use the time loop to his advantage, learning as much as he can about Aaron’s interests over time in order to become more appealing. As these time loop things go, it seems relatively low stakes, but then again, maybe trying to find love and build something up from just a spark is the most important thing. It certainly seems that way in Aaron’s case.

As the day repeats itself over and over, Aaron learns more about both Trevor and himself as the story evolves from what appears to be a straightforward romcom into something darker and more complex. And in telling that story, writer/director Giuricich touches on universal themes such as grief, regret, intimacy, trying to find yourself, and the mistakes one makes along that path.

SXSW Film Review: Resynator (Alison Tavel, 2024)

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There’s a scene early on in Reysnator wherein Alison Tavel, the film’s director and protagonist, visits Mike Beigel, a friend of her late father Don who helped him in engineering the Resynator synthesizer. She visits Beigel to discuss her father’s invention, but also comes to him in the hope that he can resurrect the long dormant piece of tech that’s been hidden away in her grandmother’s attic for many years. As he works to put together the pieces and see what can be salvaged, it’s easy to see it as a metaphor for Tavel’s other task in the film – to put together the pieces of the late Don Tavel’s life and attempt to make a connection to the father she never knew.

WIth Don dying in a car accident when she was only 10 weeks old, it’s not surprising that his daughter Alison would want to learn more about her father and his invention. It’s also unsurprising that in her quest to learn more about her father’s musical legacy, she ultimately ends up learning a lot more about the man himself.

It’s an emotional journey, and at times a heavy one, but as Tavel learns more about her father, both good and bad, there are also many joyful moments as she takes the resurrected Resynator out on the road to test it out with various musicians, including Systema Solar, Money Mark, and Fred Armisen.

If one were to apply the hero’s journey framework to Alison’s story, then Peter Gabriel’s appearance near the end of the film would seem to fill the role of the wise sage who offers her advice and guidance and helps her along in her quest to learn more about her father and his legacy.

It’s interesting that Gabriel, who showed early interest in the Resynator back in the day, says very little on the topic of the synth itself. Rather, he gets to the heart of the matter, asking Tavel whether she’s learned more about her father “… ’cause that’s the important part of this journey.”

Indeed, in her quest to learn more about her father, Tavel does end up forming a close connection of sorts with Don, despite never really knowing him. In making that connection to her past, she ultimately gains a deeper understanding of herself.

SXSW Film Review: Malta (Natalia Santa, 2024)

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Malta follows its protagonist Mariana through her day to day life, a life she feels to be unsatisfying on some level. As the film unfolds, director/writer Natalia Santa shows us exactly why Mariana is unhappy and what it is that she’s looking to escape from.

Though she lives with her family in Colombia, Natalia doesn’t have the most stable relationship with her mother and only seems to drop in when she feels like it, preferring to stay with a friend or with whoever she’s picked up at the bar that night. Often sleeping during the day and filling her nights with German classes and her job at a call centre, she’s clearly not happy with her routine.

Mariana longs for an escape from the drudgery of her life – a better place to hope for. Where exactly will this escape plan take her? It could have been anyplace really, but Malta is where she’s decided on.

Shaking up her routine a bit is the return of her brother Rigo, who, much like Mariana, is not quite happy with his lot in life, and the arrival in her life of a classmate who eventually becomes a romantic interest.

Considering that it’s the film’s namesake, it’s worth noting that Malta the country figures very little into the plot of Malta the film. Rather, it’s the idea of Malta – or more specifically, what it represents to Mariana – that matters. The question that hangs over the proceedings is not so much whether she makes it to Malta or not, but what it will take to shake Mariana out of her rut.

TIFF Review: Seagrass (Meredith Hama-Brown, 2023)

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Judith and Steve go on a couples retreat, with their two young daughters along for the ride, in an effort to work on their relationship and save their rocky marriage. It doesn’t go all that well for them.

That is more or less the premise of Seagrass in a nutshell. Following the death of Judith’s mother, her relationship with Steve has been suffering, but then again, maybe the problems were already there to begin with and recent events have just brought everything to light.

Steve, of course, has his own issues and their daughters are also going through some stuff, with the eldest entering a semi-rebellious tween phase and their younger daughter convinced that she’s seeing the ghost of her late grandmother. Complicating matters further is the presence of Pat, the sensitive, Aussie-accented hunk who seems to have captured Judith’s attention.

As the unhappy couple take part in therapy sessions, any healing they may have hoped for does not seem to be in the cards. Steve is angry, but mostly unable (or unwilling) to articulate why. Judith is similarly disconnected and feels set adrift after the recent loss of her mother. There’s also clearly some guilt on her part over the fact that she doesn’t really know enough about her parents’ history or feel enough of a connection to her Japanese heritage. When Pat asks her about her father and mother’s experiences in the internment camps, she replies that they just never really talked about it. And all the while, the ghost of Judith’s mother hangs figuratively (or maybe literally?) over the proceedings.

While a bit of a slow burn at times, the film paints a compelling portrait of dysfunctional family drama with Ally Maki and Nyha Breitkreuz in particular putting on memorable performances as Judith and her daughter Stephanie, respectively.

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