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Films on Healthcare at the Toronto International Film Festival

5 min read

Still(s) Courtesy - Toronto International Film Festival

If you look close enough at the 's lineup, you can always find a couple of unique trends and pairings in their programmed oeuvre. Whether the executive decisions were intentional or not, it's always fun to look within their topical slate of discussion worthy titles and find duelling perspectives on urgent issues. From sexual-repression (Winter Boy & The Blue Caftan) to radical activism (All the Beauty and the Bloodshed & How to Blow Up A Pipeline), this year's programme was compact with the voices of various talented artists from around the globe and their search for a platform to discuss their values. Festivals behave as safe-spaces for many independent artists —  presumed as a sanctuary away from our streaming-reliant viewfinders and distribution prospects. Within the endless mileage of screenings at Scotiabank, one theme in particular stood out from the rest of the aforementioned issues. Providing an empathetic outlook on the deterioration of their depicted subjects, the Toronto International Film Festival screened three projects all about the equity of health-care and the anthropological aftermath of their political, economical, sociological critiques. 

In 's , the controversial Dane returns with another round of medical malpractice and superstitious incoherency. With two episodes entitled ‘Halmar' and ‘The Congress Dances', von Trier specifically spotlights a propagated narrative centered upon the influx of nationalism and foreign influences within 's system. Coyly satirising Denmark's own ineptitude and disobedience towards the status-quo with their fellow Nordic neighbours, von Trier elongates various comedic sequences with cringe-inducing wince. : Exodus is an exhausting exercise in senseless delirium; branded with the iconoclast's notoriously criticised brand of humorous provocation and sharp political sentiments. 's cameo as the show's iconic ‘Swedish Lawyer' is shockingly his greatest performance to date; a nonchalant role which aptly services subtext through his unhinged vocality. 

Still Courtesy –

Tobias Lindholm's The Good Nurse was a surprising addition to the festival lineup, as many disregarded its initial selection as a mere Netflix write-off for additional profit and publicity. In actuality, Lindholm's thorough examination on Charlie Cullen's final spree of mass-murder provoked alluring discussion at the festival. In its opening scene, we witness the death of one of Cullen's helpless victims, as 's calculated performance stands firm with passive posture. Redmayne's title-credit is plastered higher in opposition with his other co-stars in the aforementioned opening sequence. The placement represents a seismic shift in power against the other characters involved in Cullen's subsequent downfall. As the film builds a profile of crimes with dialogue-centric exposition, Lindholm also focuses on the other elephant in the room. 

Chastain's role as Amy Loughren — a real nurse who was involved in the Cullen investigation — quickly acts as an earpiece for the viewer. Her character is the bridge which aligns the film's historical text with its adjacent examination on the dangers of privatisation; told through an economic lens. The Good Nurse demonstrates the complicit behaviour of the revolving institutions and their silence in the wake of Cullen's silent massacres. Amy is belittled throughout the film, as she awaits for the required amount of shifts to receive her work-provided health-insurance. The film patrols her character with an oppressive colour-palette, as she quickly loses her stamina. She's unable to afford the practices conducted in the same walls she occupies, as her physical health is slowly sacrificed for the well-being of her job-position. The workers of the hospital walls are silenced in order to survive — the commonwealth of the same complicit institution are victims of a greater systemic issue. The institutions themselves fail to speak for their patients and their staff; due to the public-relations nightmare which would hinder their influx of services. The cycle repeats itself once again, in a country built on the economic hierarchies and manipulation of innocent civilians.

Still Courtesy – Netflix

Concluding the triptych of clinical malaise with a sociological viewpoint, the most alluring public-health piece at the Toronto International Film Festival was easily De Humani Corporis Fabrica. A documentary revolving around the daily tasks, routines, and intertwined ecosystems of various health institutions located in France — and tell their tale of blood, sweat, and tears with a hypnotic tenacity. For any readers familiar with Castaing-Taylor & Paravel's prior productions, their observational documentaries tend to break the boundaries of non-fiction storytelling. Their films are bound upon some form of radicalisation; breaking conventions with niche editing tricks and unique technological upgrades. For their latest piece, the duo implemented newly-constructed cameras into their film, in order to enter the human body. From C-sections to brain scans, nearly every practice found within the hospital walls is screened as part of the film's cinematic index of anthropological insight. 

Time is the ultimate weapon, as the film continuously forces the viewer to endure endless rounds of surgical gore. There's a low-fi quality to the captured images, as De Humani Corporis Fabrica continuously utilises low-quality renders within spaces and situations more prevalently suited for higher-quality shooting methods. The aforementioned artistic decision is purposeful, where in a technical sense, there's no escape from the confines of the emergency ward. At one point during the documentary, we enter a mental-health facility.  We follow a man confused by his placement in the psychiatric ward. The man's journey for answers about his placement in the facility is continuously intertwined with the operations of other patients. The labyrinthine structure creates a proactive paradigm, as the film's design insinuates another layer of unease. At every moment, the film is consistently following a subject ​​— a person, a body part, or even an animal. The film breaks away from its sole rule during the opening and closing of its gateway to another reality, another world; a rave of vague images shrouded in ambiguity.  

Through its vivid sound-mix, we over-hear nurses gossiping about haunted operation rooms and the anguishing complaints of surgeons. The workers at the depicted institutions are overworked and exhausted, as they resort to a dialogue between one-another for solace. De Humani Corporis Fabrica represents a universal sociological issue that is endlessly applicable to virtually any healthcare system. The film's design specifically forces the viewer to empathise and experience the aforementioned operations first-hand. The structure, whilst simple on paper, effectively studies its central thesis with electrifying precision. Desensitisation evolves into another form of provocation, as Castaing-Taylor & Paravel's direction opens another parallel into a field that is criminally under-represented. Through the longevity of its patient picture-lock, the audience merely experiences a whimper of the same struggle, the same high-stress nausea of the film's operational staff. As we depart from the institution, the celebration of its foundational walls evolves into a nightmarish fever-dream. Foreign colours, shapes, and blurred shadows of people converge synchronously, as the humanity that was once radiant on-screen slowly disintegrates with blaring maximalism.

Still Courtesy – Grasshopper Films
The Kingdom: Exodus, The Good Nurse, and De Humani Corporis Fabrica screened at this year's