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Toronto 2010: “I Am Slave,” Reviewed

Toronto 2010: “I Am Slave,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival.

With a title like “I Am Slave,” one can reasonably expect neither subtlety or uplift from this true-life drama about the plight of one young Sudanese girl who is taken from her village in and sold into serving a family of Arabs in contemporary England. And for about two-thirds of “I Am Slave” that presumption would seem accurate, as “Last King of Scotland” screenwriter Jeremy Brock has no objection to leaving the caps lock on at times when depicting the particularly brutal treatment that befalls the village princess-turned-urban slave Malia (Wunmi Mosaku). Nor does director Gabriel Range, who last caused a stir in Toronto in 2006 with the premiere of the faux assassination of President Bush drama “Death of a President,” have any qualms about pushing buttons.

But patience is a virtue, for both the audience and Malia, as much of the heavyhandedness serves a purpose when Malia comes to realize her enslavement is far more psychological than physical. Worn down by years of sleeping in the cramped corners of the home of Hiam Abbass’ cruel mistress in Khartoum and then the mansion of her slightly more empathetic cousin (Lubna Azabal) in London, Malia has no contact with the outside world and is ordered to look away from anyone in her respective homes.

She has no idea that her father (“The Limits of Control”‘s Isaach De Bankolé) is out searching for her. The whippings by garden hose and the even more painful tongue lashings by Abbass’ and Azabal’s mistresses still pale in comparison to the loneliness endured by Malia and without any money or a place to go, the fear of the outside is significantly greater than staying inside the gates of her captors.

09052010_IAmSlave3.jpgAccording to one of the film’s end cards, this is more common than one would think: 5,000 slaves are believed to be held captive in England with an additional 20,000 existing in Sudan, and the film itself is based on the story of Mende Nazer, who became a human rights activist after serving in the home of the Sudanese diplomat. Even without that basis in reality, the premise of “I Am Slave” is jarring: Malia is unable to use the phone, exit the house or have any free will beyond the confines of her small cot as cars pass by the front of the house and the world moves on without her.

The wide-eyed Mosaku’s natural stoicism cuts through some of the more manipulative aspects of Range and Brock’s storytelling – even though one expects Malia to befriend the family’s driver to plant the seeds for a likely escape, she doesn’t really warm to him, and even though there are cutaways to her father journeying to the big city, it’s obvious enough that if there’s ever to be change in her life, she’s going to be the one achieve it.

All of this is done with a modern slickness that set it apart from a Lifetime movie, but there’s a thin line as far as tearjerkers of this nature are concerned. “Fish Tank” cinematographer Robbie Ryan lends his sharp eye to the proceedings, which rids the film of any sentimental glow, and in spite of some far-fetched dramatic scenes to move the story forward, Brock has a good ear for dialogue to make the whole disgusting situation almost seem sanitary to the characters who have lost their humanity long ago. (When the family driver encourages Malia to leave, he actually emphasizes the fact that she’s a “nobody.”)

“I Am Slave” also flirts with losing its humanity in the face of becoming too much of a movie, but by its end, it moves you in a way that only movies can and brings to light a reality that sadly couldn’t be made up.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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