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Michael Winterbottom Shosanna Review


Shosana | 2023 Toronto Intl. Film Festival Review

Shosana | 2023 Toronto Intl. Film Festival Review

Winterbottom Cranks Yet Out Another One, This Time A Forgettable Thriller With No Bite

Michael Winterbottom Shosanna ReviewMichael Winterbottom never stops. For over three decades, the filmmaker has been working at a clip; just when you think you’ve caught up with him, he’s got another one on the way. However, efficiency hasn’t always favored quality control for the filmmaker, and with the instantly forgettable, patience-testing thriller Shosana, the time has arrived for the filmmaker to reconsider the assembly line for a slower, more artisanal approach.

Unafraid to step into the tinderbox of Israeli/Palestinian politics, Winterbottom finds a unique entry point, taking viewers into 1930s Tel Aviv when Palestine was under British administration. Idealism and navieté are often not far apart and British Palestine Police officer Thomas Wilkin (Douglas Booth) attempts to balance his fondness for the region with his professional duties, aiming to toe a line that might not even exist. The task is made considerably more difficult when he falls for Shoshana Borochov (Irina Starshenbaum), a left-leaning, Zionist journalist with fierce convictions. Wilkin’s attempts to take a measured approach in his work given his knowledge of the region and his personal relationships are put under pressure when Geoffrey Morton (Harry Melling) takes command and has no quarter for nuance. Morton’s target is the militant Avraham Stern (Aury Alby) who is fighting for a Jewish Israel, and as he raises the temperature on his no-holds-barred policing, sympathies on all sides are tested.

Michael Winterbottom Shosanna Review

Drenched in explanatory narration (particularly in the first half of the film), cut together with various reports, letters, and newsreels, and with characters frequently dipping into monologue, Shosana can never outrun its exposition. The script by Winterbottom, Laurence Coriat, and Paul Viragh, plays like an airport novel — all action, but no substance. The romance between Wilkin and Borochov is simplistic, presenting an obvious conflict between Wilkin’s work and Shosana’s loyalties. And while Geoffrey is ostensibly the villain — pushing Wilkin to play all sides against each other — he’s ultimately like everyone else in the sprawling ensemble, a token one-dimensional device that pushes the plot along. This leaves viewers searching the film’s politics for a point of view, but those too are equally generalized, broadly gesturing that pragmatic beliefs can only take you so far when the realities of conflict move out of the realm of hypothetical to the all too real.

As the film stretches out, spreading its story into the early years of WWII, with one episode piling up on top of another, Shosana does manage to offer some small pleasures for those who stick it through. Foremost is the vibrant performance by the luminous Irina Starshenbaum that will hopefully put her on the radar. The actress is a magnetic presence, bringing a flinty yet vulnerable edge to Shosana who is torn between her career, family, and a love that is doomed from the very moment it starts. Meanwhile, the propulsive, jazzy score by the always great David Holmes brings life to a film that can often feel like homework, pulling the picture along even as the pacing frequently drags.

Despite a fascinating and fraught setting, and volatile subject matter, it’s a curious thing that Shosana struggles to make an impression. As a filmmaker Winterbottom has never felt more anonymous. Perhaps it’s because he’s busier than ever — Shosana arrives on the heels of the director’s Boris Johnson miniseries This is England, and the documentary Eleven Days In May, both released last year — and with Winterbottom’s eyes on so many projects, he may have forgotten to put his fingerprints on them too.

Reviewed on September 9th at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival – Special Presentations Programme. 119 Mins.


Kevin Jagernauth is a Montreal-based film critic and writer. Kevin has written professionally about music and film for over 15 years, most prominently as Managing Editor of The Playlist, where he continues to contribute reviews, and he has recently joined The Film Verdict as a Contributing Critic. Kevin has attended and covered a wide range of festivals including Cannes, TIFF, Fantasia, Savannah, and more. On a consultative basis, Kevin provides script coverage for feature-length independent and international films. He is also the co-founder and co-programmer of Kopfkino, a monthly screening series of cult classics and contemporary favorites that ran from 2017-2020 in Montreal.

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