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TIFF 2021 Review: Benediction – “An emotional journey”

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Traumatized by his time spent on World War I battlefields, English poet Siegfried Sassoon struggles to find love and peace within himself.

Going off to fight World War I was a big adventure for Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden) who subsequently became a conscientious objector after losing his beloved brother to the conflict and witnessing the waste of human life at the expense of political self-interest.  The anti-war beliefs cause Sassoon to be committed to a military hospital where he begins his first of many homosexual romances; the one constant source of happiness comes from his unwavering supportive mother.

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Slow dissolves create the impression that Sassoon is observing his life while also seamlessly transitioning between scenes and different time periods; by having his poetry read over archival World War I footage, the words are put in the proper context thereby adding to their emotional significance.  The dialogue is consistently playful and cutting which is not an easy feat to accomplish.  One area that could be improved is the pacing as it is glacial at times.

Solid performances are provided by Jack Lowden, Geraldine James and Kate Phillips as they believably convey a wistfulness to find happiness.  Framing the narrative around a number of failed romances with vain and petty lovers gets to become repetitive but then again maybe Sassoon is guilty of having a bad taste in men.  The restraints of having a low budget are in full display with the driving shots which actually look as if the vehicle and actors have been placed upon a stage.  Despite the theatrical quality to the production, filmmaker Terence Davies is able to craft an emotional journey where Sassoon becomes an empathetical character.

The 46th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 9-18, 2021, and for more information visit tiff.net.    

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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