TIFF Film Review: ‘Antigone’ is a Jarring Adaptation of a Greek Tragedy

2019 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL:Antigone” adapts a classic Greek tragedy to illustrate the immigration experience while covering the issues of modern-day police brutality and family ties. It juggles various themes while orchestrating a vigorous filmmaking style, becoming an experience as arduous as it is emotional.

In this adaptation, Antigone (Nahema Ricci) is a high school student who has plenty going for her. She’s an honor student with potential to build a better life for herself. Her life is shattered when her brother Eteocle (Hakin Brahimi) is shot by the police. To make matters worse, her criminal brother Polynice (Rawad El-Zein) gets imprisoned. Looking to save Polynice from deportation, Antigone disguises herself as him to break him out of jail.

Once Antigone gets arrested, she slowly learns the lies her brothers kept from her. Thanks to the screenplay from writer/director Sophie Deraspe, the way she learns these secrets is structured in a labyrinthine manner. With each secret she uncovers, she questions her family loyalties. Can she protect her brothers, knowing their troubled past? Is Antigone willing to put her family before her own well-being?

Antigone hints at her awareness of the consequences she may face early on. During a scene where she asks her sister Ismene (Nour Belkhiria) to cut off her hair, the look on her face shows her willingness to forge ahead even if she’s uneasy about what’s at stake. Her contradictory feelings are well-showcased by lead actress Nahema Ricci. Ricci is a quiet revelation as the titular heroine, continuously letting her expressive eyes show Antigone’s self-doubt and courage. Meanwhile, Nour Belkhiria is the picture’s unsung hero as Ismene. Belkhiria is natural as Antigone’s supportive sister, frustratingly tangled up in the conflict.

The acting and the screenplay allow the picture to move seamlessly. Where the film becomes strenuous, however, is its use of social media montages. Due to the use of choppy editing and booming music, those sequences have a jarring effect and make the picture more aggressive than it already is. For what it’s worth, those montages successfully illustrate Antigone’s transition from Internet pariah to heroine.

To put it bluntly, “Antigone” is a lot. It tackles various themes and has certain visual aesthetics that add to its immense impact. Based on the subject matter alone, it’ll be a tough watch for some. But thanks to its performances and composite writing, it’s a worthy watch.

“Antigone” is currently seeking US distribution and will be released in Canadian theaters on September 24.

GRADE: (★★★½)

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