Review by Sean Boelman
Everyone knows that film festivals value their alumni — filmmakers who are willing to come back time and time again with their high-profile premieres. However, this can sometimes result in less-than-stellar movies being included in a festival lineup. That is the case with Cesc Gay’s Stories Not To Be Told, a horrid Spanish anthology film that might be one of the worst movies TIFF has ever selected.
Telling five supposedly “comedic” interconnected stories, the movie’s issues begin with the fact that all of the characters are pretty detestable people. The official festival description of the film describes it as “awkward and sardonic” with “flawed characters,” but in reality, that’s code for the fact that the movie is about a bunch of people who are absolute pieces of shit.
The first story starts out decently enough, exploring a love triangle between a woman who has fallen out of love with a man that desperately wants to keep her, and the new guy who appreciates her for who she is. Granted, the short-form nature of the film prevents it from saying anything interesting about the patriarchal structure of relationships, but it is inoffensive enough.
However, it is in the second story that things begin to go off the rail. This portion follows a man who, unbeknownst to him and to the dismay of his friends, falls in love with a trans woman. Yes, it is exactly as transphobic and regressive as it sounds, and while it may have been Gay’s intention to satirize the people who hold this outdated belief, it is ineffective at doing so.
Indeed, one of the supporting characters in this segment even points out the fact that their actions might be wrong, but another character defends it as sticking up for his pal’s “best interests” and everything continues as normal. And again, because of the short length of the segments, there isn’t a whole lot of time for them to learn a lesson about the error in their ways.
It’s really a shame, because Alex Brendemühl gives a legitimately good performance in his role as the down-on-his-luck loner in the movie who finds unexpected love. He’s also maybe the only character in the film who isn’t to some extent annoying or a total asshole. However, the people around him are so overwhelmingly bad that he cannot thrive.
It might just be the residual anger from the second segment, but the remaining three aren’t particularly good either. Although nothing ever matches the offensive nature of the second segment, none of them are particularly entertaining either. Exploring kinks, age gap relationships, and people who are being cheated on, these are things that we have seen dozens of times — just a stupider version of it.
It likely wasn’t purposeful, but the title of Stories Not To Be Told perfectly describes what should have happened with this production. One of the stories is offensive, and the others are plain boring, making this a movie you should skip this TIFF.
Stories Not To Be Told screens at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which runs September 8-18.