Our correspondent John H Foote writes the review from the ground zero of #TIFF2020

GOOD JOE BELL

Based on the true stories of Jaden Bell and his father Joe, portrayed with infinite sadness by Mark Wahlberg, this deeply heartbreaking film, so aching with profound honesty and loss is a powerful experience. Jaden Bell was a gay teenager who was bullied relentlessly by the students at his high school, and though he had friends, he was mercilessly taunted and assaulted by the jocks of the school. Openly and unashamedly gay, Jaden knew who he was, but found no support from the school board, and eventually felt so alone he hung himself, ending his life. Can you imagine being so beaten down you place a rope around your neck and choke the very life out of yourself? Jaden did, Jaden was that alone. His father knew his son was gay and accepted him as such, but he later admitted he could have done more to support his boy.

Joe was mired in grief and despair before embarking on a walk across America, hoping to build and further create awareness about bullying in high schools. He stops along the way to speak, accompanied at the beginning by the ghost of his boy, father and son together one last time. They laugh, they smile, they argue, their love for one another always at the forefront of their relationship, though Joe tells a group of high schoolers that he failed his son. 

Wahlberg has grown leaps and bounds as an actor since his debut back in the nineties, since ‘Boogie Nights’ (1997) even since his Oscar nomination as the hot-tempered cop in Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Departed’ (2006). There is real gravity and weight in his performance, as the staggering weight of grief bears down on him, never easing up his guilt. Wahlberg carries the film, his furrowed brow seeming to ask a permanent question, why? He just cannot comprehend why his son felt so alone his only peace was to die. It is a profoundly moving performance. Connie Britton does fine work as his wife, and Gary Sinise has a cameo as a decent cop sharing some of Joe’s burden. 

Haunting the landscape of the film as well as Joe’s very existence is Reid Miller as Jaden, a bright-eyed young man beaten down by hatred and cruelty that neither he nor his father truly understands. His scenes with his father have a curious hope when we learn why.

Deeply moving, forever haunting, this is the finest work of Mark Wahlberg’s career.

The Cinemawala Rating: 3/5

I AM GRETA

What is she like, this grave, serious, often stern sixteen years old who was TIME Magazine’s Newsmaker of the Year in 2019, and brought piercing attention to climate change? Who was this girl, this Greta Thunberg?

In this extraordinary documentary we are given remarkable access into her life, her home, see her interact with strangers, however awkwardly but see her with her parents and family. How refreshing it is to hear her laugh, to squeal with the goofy delight of a child because so much of her life has been about the challenge.

Greta suffers from Asperger’s but claims it is her superpower. A brilliant student she has the unique ability to recall everything she reads and can be laser-focused on things that interest her. Climate change terrified her and she made it her decision to do something about it. Sitting outside the Swedish Parliament for weeks she slowly drew attention to herself and her cause and it was not long before she and her father were travelling a Europe, the girl speaking at climate conferences and summits. Great was an instant rock star wherever she went, but it was not easy on the shy, introverted young girls who also drew sharp attacks from the powerful figures she spoke out about. Called mentally ill, exploited by her parents, used by various agencies, condemned by Putin and Trump (no surprise there) her spirit shone through and every obstacle she faced she conquered.

Asked to speak in New York at the United Nations she adamantly refused to fly, so she and her very understanding (sometimes) father rode a sailboat across the Atlantic from England to Manhattan, braving massive swells and waves, illness at sea, the fears of being so vulnerable on the open ocean, all so she would not have to fly. Embraced by America, she was by now a world-renowned figure and her blazing speech at the UN where she pointed the finger of blame exactly at who deserved it. It remains among the most galvanizing speeches of the 21st century. Her voice quivering with anger, her eyes burning with rage, this was a speech heard around the globe, a speech for the ages.

And while the film explores her rise to becoming a world figure, it equally explores the fact she is a young girl struggling with a tricky affliction. She and her father do not always see eye to eye and Greta can be a very difficult, headstrong young person. The film explores that she is not easy to be around. This is what a great documentary does, teaches us, educates, enlightens. I knew of Greta Thunberg through her speeches, now I know something about the,person she is.

And I admire her even more. A breathtaking film.

The Cinemawala Rating: 4/5

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