SUSHI GIRL (Kern Saxton)
[ This auspicious debut feature by Kern Saxton shares many traits with Reservoir Dogs, what with it revolving after the aftermath of a botched diamond heist (glimpsed only in flashbacks), as a group of colorful criminals attempts to find out what happened in close quarters. It also juggles extended dialogue scenes with bursts of ultra-violence and torture, and while it doesn’t include any Reservoir Dogs alumni, it does feature memorable cameos from a few cult actors from the Tarantino/Rodriguez company, namely Kill Bill’s Sonny Chiba, Grindhouse’s Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey, and Machete himself, Danny Trejo! But the real stars are the utterly badass Tony Todd as a gang boss with a thing for Japanese culture (Noh theatre masks, yakuza traditions like eating sushi off a naked girl, etc.), an hilarious Mark Hamill in effete psycho mode (sort of like when he does the voice of the Joker in Batman cartoons and video games), brutish force of nature Andy Mackenzie, conflicted James Duval, and long-suffering Noah Hathaway (Atreyu from The Never Ending Story!). Oh, and for an actress whose titular part is mostly limited to lying nude and covered in raw fish on a table, Cortney Palm makes one hell of an impression. Add taut writing, sharp direction, striking cinematography and particularly effective editing, and you’ve got a truly enjoyable film which, ultimately, manages to admirably distinguish itself from other post-Tarantino gangster movies. The cherry on top? Isaac Hayes’ “Walk on By” playing over the closing credits. ]
IT’S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY (Don Hertzfeldt)
[ Back in 2007, Don Hertzfeldt’s everything will be ok totally blew me away. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time: “I saw this during DJ XL5’s Kaleidoscopic Zappin’ Party, in a gorgeous 35mm print. This is one of the most powerful examples of why film is superior to video I’ve ever seen. Hertzfeldt uses to its full potential the dreamlike state created on the viewer by images projected 24 frames per second and, for 17 minutes, he takes you on a journey into the life of one Bill. Using his usual deceivingly simple stick figure drawings, plus some photographs and colourful special effects, all of which in simultaneous multiple frames, the film immerses you completely in an altered state of mind. I’d rather not go into details about the story (which is told through perfectly worded omniscient narration), as part of the genius of the piece is how it keeps confusing and surprising you. It starts out funny and absurd, grows more and more thoughtful, then at some point it becomes practically hallucinogenic. Throughout, it’s also incredibly emotionally affecting. This is a full-on masterpiece, easily the best work of art I’ve experienced all year. Incredibly, this is only the first part of a planned trilogy. I truly wonder how Hertzfeldt could possibly top what he’s accomplished here.”
Somehow I never got the chance to see the second film, i am so proud of you, something I should really fix asap. But today, again in a shorts program curated by my friend DJ XL5, I saw the final chapter of Hertzfeldt’s trilogy and found it as brilliant, unique and profoundly moving as everything will be ok. In only 23 minutes, the filmmaker manages to encompass nearly everything primordial about human life and death, both on an achingly intimate and a staggeringly universal level.
I’ve never seen mental illness depicted as masterfully and powerfully as it is in these films. The use of the aforementioned deceivingly simple stick figure drawings, spliced with live action footage and various other visual elements, combined with the voice-over narration, again achieve to put us right into Bill’s fractured mind, and the alternately (or simultaneously at times) emotional, psychological, lyrical, comical and metaphysical journey we go on with him is absolutely unforgettable. it’s such a beautiful day is nothing less than a perfect film, from start to finish, but I still have to single out two sequences: the “Isn’t everything amazing?” bit and the nursing home scene. The latter in particular is one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen on screen. ]
LLOYD THE CONQUEROR (Michael Peterson)
[ For the love of Odin’s sack! This ode to Canadian geeks, from your average video game playing college kids to your hardcore middle-aged LARPers, is both riotously funny and achingly heartfelt, alternately making you laugh with and feel for some truly ridiculous, yet nonetheless relatable characters. Doubling as a dick-and-fart-jokes-fuelled homage to low-rent heroic fantasy (not unlike David Gordon Green’s underrated Your Highness), Michael Petersen’s movie features terrific performances from comedy veterans Mike Smith (“Look at my cool helmet!”) and Brian Posehn (“I am a level 80 wizard – I don’t have to do anything.”), and newcomers Evan Williams, Jesse Reid, Scott Patey and Tegan Moss, plus a killer heavy metal soundtrack featuring bands like Barn Burner and Bison B.C. And wait until you see the epic climactic battle which has Smith riding a coked up centaur against Posehn astride a gay unicorn! ]
THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL (Darren Lynn Bousman)
[ Repo! was hardly a masterpiece, but it certainly wasn’t your everyday normal movie! Now director Darren Lynn Bousman and writer-composer-star Terrance Zdunich are back with another outrageous horror-musical, this time revolving around, well, the Devil’s Carnival, i.e. a vision of hell as a demented, perverted, sadistic, satanic circus populated with sideshow freaks. For better or worse, this new flick is not quite as batshit insane as Repo!. It’s still a love-it-or-hate-it, theatrical, quasi-experimental trip, but the concept is clearer and more accessible. Less emo-glam-metal, more Tom Waits cabaret-rock, you know? It still suffers from (intentionally?) confusing storytelling / editing, limited production values and uneven musical numbers, but it can certainly count on a committed cast, which notably features, in addition to Zdunich as Lucifer (!), Emilie Autumn, M. Shawn “Clown” Crahan, Sean Patrick Flanery, Jessica Lowndes, Hannah Minx, Ivan Moody, Bill Moseley, Ogre, Paul Sorvino and Alexa Vega. ]
THE VICTIM (Michael Biehn)
[ (in the style of @LexG_III) MICHAEL BIEHN POWER. JENNIFER BLANC POWER. THE VICTIM POWER. Shot in 12 days with an unfinished script and very little money, “The Victim” is hardly a perfect film, but it’s nonetheless a wildly enjoyable, hilariously rough around the edges, appropriately low-rent homage to 70s and 80s exploitation flicks. To paraphrase writer-director-star Biehn, it’s a fun flick for people who like “fucking and fighting” – to which I would add “driving.” ]
STARSHIP TROOPERS: INVASION (Shinji Aramaki)
[ While this Casper Van Dien exec-produced Japanimation sequel is nowhere near as brilliant as the original 1997 Paul Verhoeven film (what is?), it’s still nice to reunite with Johnny Rico and his space buddies. Plus it packs enough machismo, gore and T&A to be well worth checking out. ]
ALTER EGOS (Jordan Galland)
[ Here’s a witty, insightful take on superheroes (and supervillains) that has a really loose, down to earth quality… These characters may have superpowers, but they spend most of the film not fighting crime, but chatting about this or that, worrying about their relationships or the ways of the government-subsidized Super Corps… This is basically an indie comic book movie, a romantic dramedy in which the leads just happen to wear tights and to be able to freeze stuff, see through walls or whatnot. Don’t expect awesome special FX or epic action scenes, just some compelling performances from the likes of Kris Lemche, Joey Kern, Brooke Nevin and Danny Masterson. Good stuff. ]
JACKPOT (Magnus Martens)
[ In a Norwegian police station near the Swedish border, right around Christmas time, Oscar Svendson (Kyrre Hellum) is being interrogated by a befuddled inspector (Henrik Mestad) who, an hour earlier, found him at strip joint/adult video store Pink Heaven, crawling out from under an enormous woman, with a bunch of dead bodies lying everywhere around him and a shotgun in his hands. As Mike LaFontaine would say, “Wha’ happened?” Flash back to the previous day when Oscar, who is a supervisor at a recycling plant where all the workers are ex-cons, let three of his employees – Billy (Arthur Berning), Thor (Mads Ousdal) and Dan (Andreas Cappelen) – rope him into entering a soccer pool. Amazingly, they end up winning nearly two million kroner, but their celebration is short-lived. How do you divide this jackpot by four? Wouldn’t it be easier to divide it by three, by two… Or not at all? Tensions grow, tempers fly, and before you know it, the corpses start piling up. Don’t you just hate when that happens?
Based on a story by crime writer Jo Nesbo (whose work also inspired Morten Tyldum’s HEADHUNTERS), this second feature from Norwegian writer-director Magnus Martens (UNITED) is a wildly entertaining thriller filled with colorfully crooked characters, startling bursts of violence and gallows humor. While it undeniably bears the influence of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers, JACKPOT is perhaps most reminiscent of early Danny Boyle (SHALLOW GRAVE, TRAINSPOTTING), with a touch of THE USUAL SUSPECTS thrown in for good measure. Running a tight 82 minutes, it keeps hitting you over the head with beer bottles, throwing severed body parts in your face and splashing blood all over you yet, all the while, you can’t help but grin or downright laugh out loud. Tyldum’s film, which is also genuinely suspenseful at times, benefits greatly from flamboyant cinematography, sharp editing and shrewdly used music. And then there’s the uniformly great cast, which pulls off the impressive feat of navigating the film’s wonderfully abrupt tonal shifts while without going over the top. Particularly enjoyable in that regard is Henrik Mestad as the police detective who just can’t believe the insane story Kyrre Hellum’s character is telling him. ]
RESOLUTION (Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead)
[ This could be described as a low-key, real-life horror movie, about a guy (Peter Cilella) who, in order to force a childhood friend (Vinny Curran) to go clean, handcuffs him in the cabin in the woods where he’s been living, doing meth and shooting guns, and takes care of him while he goes cold turkey during 7 days. Long handheld shots coexist with quick bursts of surreal imagery, all kinds of odd, creepy characters show up here and there in the boonies, tweakers and cult members and con men and Native Americans from a reservation nearby… Plus there are mysterious artefacts that seem to be abandoned (or placed?) around the cabin, folks talk of things happening in the caves… And who the hell is filming the two protagonists? “Resolution” is kind of like a cross between “Winter’s Bone” and “Black Snake Moan,” with a certain Haneke/Lynchesque, meta vibe… It’s really hard to pinpoint. One thing’s for sure: the two central performances are very strong, especially that by Vinny Curran, who’s alternately funny and moving as a crazy redneck bastard whose grasp on reality is fragile at best – and he seems to be taking his friend (and the whole film) along with him into the void. Or something. ]
SINGHAM (Rohit Shetty)
[ “Those who break the law, I will break their bones.”
I love action movies more than just about any other genre, save for possibly musicals… And I also love comedy, and drama, and romance, and many other genres and subgenres… So no wonder Bollywood is always such a thrill for me, as each film usually juggles many different styles and tones. Singham, for instance, is a tragicomic police story that touches upon such serious themes as political corruption and the struggle to achieve true justice within the confines of the legal system – while also featuring cartoonish visual gags, rom-com atropes, thick family melodrama, as well as wildly over the top fights, chases and stunts that use every visual gimmick in the book (from speed ramping to bullet time) and ridiculously loud sound effects, with every punch and kick cranked up to 11! Oh, and there’s a bunch of song and dance numbers too, of course. Best of all is the game of cat and mouse between the (super) hero and the (super) villain, namely ultra macho and brutal cop Bajirao Singham (Ajay Devgn) and ultra sleazy and evil kingpin Jaikant Shikre (Prakash Raj). The former is particularly badass and awsome, with his distinctive mustache, sunglasses and motercycle, hilarious one-liners and unequalled prowess when it comes to putting foot (or fist, or belt!) to ass. And he’s got his own theme song (SINGHAM!), and his most spectacular actions are accompanied by actual LION GROWLS on the soundtrack! He’s like Richard Roundtree’s John Shaft and Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs rolled into one. Good news: he’s scheduled to return in Singham 2! ]
NEW KIDS TURBO (Steffen Haars & Flip Van der Kuil)
[ This supercharged shock comedy about a gang of spectacularly and sleazy mullet-sporting assholes who decide not to pay for anything anymore (great plan, geniuses!) would be best described as the Netherlands’ answer to Troma movies. It’s all about piling on the most aggressively offensive gags you can imagine and, every time you figure it can’t get worse (or better, depending on the viewer), it does, oh, how it does… And it also gradually turns into a batshit insane, ultraviolent action flick, not unlike Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, with elements from the Coen brothers’ Burn After Reading thrown in for good measure. “Truck driver. Honk, honk!” ]
[ Inspired by Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church and their bullshit “God Hates Fags” campaign, but also by the Waco siege and the U.S. government’s post-9/11 excesses, Smith has put together a violently nihilistic film that comes off like an unholy cross between “Hostel”, “There Will Be Blood” and “Die Hard”, if that makes any sense. Going back and forth between horror, action and black comedy, all the while blasting away at religion and politics, “Red State” blends genres and juggles tone in ways that call to mind Quentin Tarantino or the Coen brothers.
This is the Kevin Smith of “Dogma” back with a vengeance, delivering a gritty-as-fuck flick that’s not without its flaws (a bit too much exposition here, a shaky scene there), but that skilfully pushes the audience’s buttons more often than not. For what it’s worth, it certainly played like gangbusters at Fantasia.
Talking about it with various folks after the screening, I did run into a few people who hated it, but even those had nothing but praise for Michael Parks and his riveting portrayal of Pastor Abin Cooper. I personally also got a kick out of Nicholas Braun, Michael Angarano and Kyle Gallner as the hilariously sleazy teenagers who inadvertently put the plot into motion, Melissa Leo as one of the most fanatical members of the Cooper family, and John Goodman as an ATF agent who shows up two thirds of the way through and practically walks away with the movie. ]
Ninja Kids!!! (Takashi Miike) 64
[ Adapted from manga/anime series “Ninja Rantaro Flunks Again”, this is sorta-kinda what a “Harry Potter” movie would be like if it was directed by Takashi Miike. Telling the story of a boy’s first year at Ninja Academy and subsequent involvement in a conflict between a family of hair stylists and assassins, “Ninja Kids!!!” is colorful, alternately goofy and brutal (although in a cartoonish way), full of ridiculous characters (including a “friendly ninja trivia commentator”!), kind of messy but mostly a lot of fun. ]
The Whisperer in Darkness (Sean Branney) 68
[ This adaptation of the 1931 H.P. Lovecraft short story, about a folklorist (Matt Foyer)’s encounter with sanity-defying mystery and horror in the eeriest corners of Vermont, is not only a period piece but also a brilliant pastiche of Golden Age filmmaking. The pulpy storytelling, the film noir-style narration, the ominous orchestral score, the stark b&w cinematography, the old-fashioned acting… It really seems like this a long-lost gem from the ‘30s that’s just been discovered. ]
Retreat (Carl Tibbetts) 77
[ Starting as a psychological drama about a couple (Cillian Murphy and Thandie Newton) whose marriage is on the rocks, “Retreat” then morphs into a truly suspenseful claustrophobic and paranoid thriller. Almost entirely set in a cabin on a secluded island, the film grows increasingly tense after a mysterious young private, played by the scarily intense Jamie Bell, arrives with news of a lethal outbreak and orders the couple to board themselves up -along with him- in the cabin… It almost never lets up until the staggeringly brutal ending. A truly auspicious debut feature from Carl Tibbetts. ]
Milocrorze: A Love Story (Yoshimasa Ishibashi) 70
[ In many ways, “Milocrorze” is a showcase for actor Takayuki Yamada, who plays the three very different yet equally iconic lead characters: youth counsellor Besson Kumagai, who comes off like a cross between Frank T.J. Mackey and Austin Powers; Tamon, a mild-mannered man who turns into a vengeful samurai when the girl he loves is kidnapped; and Ovreneli Vreneligare, a poor sap who had his heart broken by the titular Milocrorze when he was a little boy. “Milocrorze: A Love Story” blends fantasy, romance, comedy, irresistible dance numbers and badass action sequences, climaxing with a show-stopping six-minute combat sequence inspired by traditional Japanese painting and kabuki theatre. ]
A Lonely Place to Die (2011, Julian Gilbey) 79
[ Amidst the breathtaking scenery of the Scottish Highlands, a group of mountain climbers find themselves hunted down by creepy men with guns after they rescue a Serbian girl they found buried alive. Full of gasp-worthy moments, this mercilessly intense and action-packed thriller is driven by a very physical performance from Melissa George, not unlike the one of Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens”. Not for the faint of heart! ]
Endhiran (S. Shankar) 72
[ Superstar Rajni portrays both an android and his creator in this typically overstuffed but always entertaining Indian blockbuster. Over the 170-minute length, it swings between science-fiction, slapstick, action, musical and melodrama, as Chitty the robot and Dr. Vaseegaran end up fighting each other for the love of a woman, played by the ever gorgeous Aishwarya Rai. Expect a lot of ridiculous nonsense, but also some genuinely awesome set pieces and fun song-and-dance numbers. ]
The FP (Trost Bros.) 66
[ While I’ve seen many objectively better films at Fantasia this year, I still have a particular fondness for Jason and Brandon Trost’s ridiculously enjoyable film about the underground war between two gangs for control of Frazier Park, a.k.a. “the FP.” At this point, I should point out that the aforementioned gang members are all dressed in 1980s attire and that when they confront each other, they do so by playing a variation of the Dance Dance Revolution video game called Beat Beat Revelation! In addition to co-writing and co-directing, Jason Trost stars as the eyepatch-wearing JTRO, who’s forced to pick up the mantle and bring his clan to victory after the death of BTRO, their leader. While the plot is beyond silly, it’s mostly played straight, which makes it all the funnier. The film also happens to be pretty damn well crafted, from Brandon Trost’s stylish cinematography to George Holdcroft’s synth-heavy score. Still, it remains close to a Troma-produced B-movie in spirit, with apparent nods to 80s flicks like “The Warriors”, “Escape From New York”, “Commando” and “Rocky IV” (training montages!) thrown in for good measure. ]
SUPER (James Gunn) 85
[ What a weird fucking movie! At first, I figured it would just be a variation on “Kick-Ass,” i.e. an irreverent send-up of comic book movies that’s as hilarious as it is badass (to quote from my review of that flick). Except that it’s also a rather sad, almost depressing story about a poor bastard (Rainn Wilson) who just can’t cope with his wife (Liv Tyler) having left him for another man (Kevin Bacon) – who just happens to be a drug lord… And our protagonist happens to be some kind of psychopath who has visions of God and demons which lead him to deciding to become a super-hero who beats criminals to a pulp with a pipe wrench, and who eventually teams up with a comic book geek girl (Ellen Page) who’s probably as much of a sick and twisted maniac as he is… Again, I guess this isn’t that far removed from “Kick-Ass”, or from elements of other subversive super-hero movies like “Watchmen”, “Orgazmo” and “The Toxic Avenger”… All the same, this remains a weird fucking movie, and I kinda loved it. ]
Troll Hunter (André Øvredal) 78
[ Featuring gorgeous cinematography despite its found footage conceit, this dark fantasy set in striking locations across Norway (woods, mountains, bridges, an abandonned mine…) depicts a young film crew as it follows a mysterious man (Otto Jespersen) they suspect of being a pear poacher. Turns out he’s actually yes, a troll hunter. Not so much reminiscent of “The Blair Witch Project” or “Cloverfield” than of “C’est arrivé près de chez vous” (“Man Bites Dog”), this movie juggles suspense, wonder and droll humor as it lets us get to know a most peculiar individual and learn about the ins and outs of his most unusual profession. The four or five set pieces involving various kinds of trolls are all gripping and fascinating, thanks to pretty awesome special effects but mostly to clever writing and direction. ]
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (Troy Nixey) 42
[ Most notable for having been co-written and co-produced by Mexican filmmaker extraordinaire Guillermo del Toro, this remake of the 1973 made-for-television horror film comes off like a dumbed down, generic Hollywood version of “Pan’s Labyrinth”. Both movies are about a little girl who discovers a fantastic underworld, but try as he might, Troy Nixey possesses neither del Toro’s visual mastery nor his talent for getting great performances out of actors. Set in a gothic mansion where a little girl (Bailee Madison), her dad (Guy Pearce) and her stepmom (Katie Holmes) are stalked by creepy creatures who eat children’s teeth, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is pretty tense and scary at times, but it’s also frustratingly inconsistent and increasingly implausible. ]
[ More likely to win him yet another Aurore than a Jutra, Robert Ménard’s latest is a shamelessly, nah, obscenely melodramatic, manipulative, hammy, preachy, unsubtle, cloying and contrived ensemble film that’s badly directed alright, but suffers from even worse writing. The cast features some good actors (Gérard Poirier, Danielle Proulx, Vincent Bilodeau, Louis Morissette, Maxim Roy, Julie Perreault, etc.), but they couldn’t hope to salvage this crap. Screenwriter Claire Wojas apparently figured she oughta cram every issue imaginable in one picture: alcoholism, Alzheimer’s disease, allergies to cats, divorce, Down syndrome, abortion, a child running away, pedophilia, poor and abused immigrants, street gangs, asshole landlords, road rage… All of which are touched upon in an utterly shallow and ridiculous way. ]
Voir Ali (Martin Guérin)
[ In 1983, a bunch of beautiful dreamers in the far away, financialy fragile land of Abitibi managed to bring legendary heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali to Rouyn-Noranda to give a conference. This incredible story has been well researched, well documented and well told in this very entertaining documentary, which comes off like a cross between “La Grande séduction” and “When We Were Kings”. ]
Les invités de mon père (Anne Le Ny) 62
[ Despite a somewhat schematic screenplay and point-and-shoot direction, this film about how an 80-year-old man makes his petit bourgeois family unravel by welcoming illegal immigrants into his home works anyway thanks to some hilarious one-liners, a few thought-provoking ideas and enjoyable performances by Fabrice Luchini and Karine Viard as the old man’s children. Oh, and did I mention that the illegal immigrants happen to be a young sexy vulgar brash blonde and her daughter? Good times! ]
Octubre (Daniel & Diego Vega) 54
[ Every October in Lima, thousands of people participate in the Lord of Miracles procession. You wouldn’t expect a lonely cynical loan shark whose favorite hobby is to have sex with putas to show up in such an event, but he ends up doing just that in this award-winning film from the Un Certain Regard section of the latest Cannes festival. That’s because throughout the story, which unfolds slowly and quietly but not uninterestingly, our shylock hero will gradually allow other people in his intimacy, starting with a baby, who’s then followed by a lady friend, an old guy and a comatose woman… “Octubre” is most notable for its muted performances and for the series of well-composed morose, grey and brown, worn down tableaux it offers. ]
Les Fros (Stéphanie Lanthier)
[ This documentary about “débrousailleurs”, some Québécois but most of them foreigners (“fros”), takes place entirely in the depths of the Abitibi forests, which makes for a rather striking setting. As such, we can forgive how uneventful and repetitive it is… Especially since we also get so spend time with some wonderful characters, including the gloriously charismatic and cocky Mamadou, who could give Ali a run for his money! ]
Sound of Noise (2010, Ola Simonsson & Johannes Stjärne Nilsson) 90
[ Right from the pre-credits sequence, in which a speeding van is used as a musical instrument by the woman driving it, who’s accompanied by a man playing drums in the back of the vehicle, I knew I was in good hands. A clever and fun idea, dynamically shot and cut, with absolutely brilliant sound design, this sequence is only the first of half a dozen equally awesome set pieces that are part action scenes, part musical numbers. “Sound of Noise” is also sort of a heist flick, with the man and woman we initally met in that van putting together a crack team of percussionists, then planning and executing Music for one city and six drummers, an anarchic symphony in four amusingly named movements, each of which involves performing in various locations and using whatever’s around them to rock out: Doctor, Doctor, Give Me Gas (In My Ass) in a hospital operating room, Money 4U Honey in a bank, Fuck the Music Kill! Kill outside a concert hall with heavy machinery, and Electric Love on… well, you’ll see! Meanwhile, we also follow a police detective who hates music and is determined to stop these terrorists and their weapons of mass noise pollution. Inventive and thrilling from start to finish, full of offbeat humor, colorful characters, and memorable sights and sounds, this debut feature from Swedish filmmaking duo Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson has got to be seen (and heard!) to be believed. ]
Fous de leur village (Vincent Audet-Nadeau)
[ This made-for-TV documentary about the problems facing small towns in rural regions of Quebec uses a Michael Moore-style approach, putting Huntingdon mayor/media personality Stéphane Gendron on the road in his black Mustang convertible and following him as he goes around meeting people who struggle yet, in most cases, keep on keeping on. Demagogic but effective enough, “Fous de leur village” will work or not for you to a large extent depending on whether you love or hate Gendron. I like him, mostly, so I enjoyed the film. Mostly. ]
Adem (2010, Hans van Nuffel) 63
[ Winner of the Grand Prix des Amériques at the Festival des films du monde de Montréal, this Flemish dramedy takes place almost entirely in a hospital, where various characters suffering from mucoviscidosis experience friendship, love and misdemeanors while they can. A life-affirming film about impending death, “Adem” indulges in some clichés and narrative shortcuts, features a couple of caricatural supporting characters and oddly lacks urgency, but winning performances from the lead actors and the cold, sterile, bright, slightly heightened visual look manage to keep us moderately involved. Now, in comparison to the somewhat similarly themed “Never Let Me Go”, it ain’t all that. Still, it’s got its moments, including the note-perfect ending set to Radiohead’s Videotape. ]
Le nom des gens (Michel Leclerc) 68
[ Jacques Gamblin stars as Arthur Martin, an utterly ordinary French man whose boring life is all shook up when he meets Bahia Benmahmoud, a spunky, impulsive, no-nonsense firecracker played by Sara Forestier. Oh, Sara Forestier… Not since Ludivine Sagnier in Ozon’s “Swimming Pool” have I seen an actress burn up the screen so much in a movie as a shamelessly promiscuous, purely sexual girl who keeps getting all kinds of naked. Of course, the fact that Forestier’s smoking hot nude body is a masterpiece doesn’t make this a great film, and neither do her beautiful blue eyes, cascading brown hair, infectious smile… Where was I? Oh yeah, so a sexy actress gorgeously shot by a filmmaker is not necessarily great cinema. But I gotta say, it’s not just the looks, Forestier is also a gifted little actress and the character she plays here, a self-rigthteous militant leftist Algerian young woman who uses her sexuality to convert her political enemies (“Moi je peux faire de grandes choses avec mon cul!“), is rather fascinating. I also liked the “Amélie Poulain”-like whimsical flourishes, the warm and colorful cinematography, the witty one-liners… Then again, the film as a whole is hardly as perfect as Forestier’s T&A. It takes a while to really get going and even longer to wrap up, the stuff with Gamblin and Forestier’s respective families is uneven, and it’s not always clear what it’s trying to say beyond “make love, not war” and “everyone should get along no matter what their race, religion and name is”. Nothing wrong with those messages, but they’re not exactly new. Still, if you find Sara Forestier attractive at all, this is a must-see! ]
Curling (Denis Côté) 84
[ This fifth feature from the director of “Les états nordiques”, “Nos vies privées”, “Elle veut le chaos” and “Carcasses” is, like those aforementionned titles, a relatively atypical picture that willingly keeps things mysterious, confusing even, introducing all kinds of odd, eerie, disturbing elements (a blood-covered motel room, frozen corpses in the woods, an injured kid lying on the side of a road, a goddamn tiger out in a field…) with no intention to explain or justify them. All the same, “Curling” has been described by many critics and by Denis Côté himself as his most accessible movie. I’ve even seen it described as commercial! Which is ridiculous of course (Côté couldn’t make a commercial flick if he tried, thank God), but I guess I see where this impression is coming from. The film is not semi-improvised, it’s not in Bulgarian, it’s not a b&W anti-Western, it’s not a minimalist experimental quasi-documentary… What it is is an engrossing, offbeat character study, starring Emmanuel Bilodeau as Jean-François “Moustache” Sauvageau, a socially awkward, guarded man who lives in a house in the middle of nowhere with his daughter Julyvonne (Philomène Bilodeau), who’s homeschooled – or more accurately, just left to her own devices because her father is scared of her going out into the world. Masterfully crafted, with stunning winter imagery and great use of ambient sound (plus a couple of 1980s pop songs, including the pointedly ironic in context Tiffany cover of I Think We’re Alone Now), the movie is also surprisingly funny at times, especially every time Roc Lafortune’s bowling alley manager shows up. And then there’s Emmanuel Bilodeau, who won a well-deserved Best Actor prize at Locarno (Côté’s direction was awarded there too) for his brilliantly calibrated performance as a quietly desperate man, who eventually shows faint signs that he’s ready to open up, to get out of his shell. By accepting an offer to go to a curling game, for instance… ]
Das Vaterspiel (Michael Glawogger) 33
[ A slow, talky, dull film about a longhaired yuppie scum Austrian guy who designs a videogame in which the goal is to kill your father over and over… An intriguing idea, which leads to a few potent moments in which real life and virtual elements connect, but this is actually a very small part of the narrative. The bulk of the flick is about the massacre of thousands of Lituanian Jews during the Holocaust, as recounted by a man searching for the Nazi who killed his father, and by the Nazi in question, who’s been hiding in a basement in New York for decades. This leads to a couple of powerful monologues… But isn’t this supposed to be a movie? As in Show, Don’t Tell? Most unfortunate is how poorly the characters are defined and how random the dramatic progression of the plot feels. The film ends and you kinda just shrug. ]
Jaloux (Patrick Demers) 81
[ Shot in 16 days with a $100,000 budget and no fully written screenplay, this debut feature from Patrick Demers nonetheless impresses in just about every way. A semi-improvised thriller about a flirty young woman (Sophie Cadieux), her jealous boyfriend (Maxime Denommée) and a mysterious, charismatic, potentially dangerous stranger (Benoît Gouin), it makes great use of its setting: a cabin deep into the woods, near a lake. The simple but effective storytelling, Demers’ keen eye for evocative visuals, the glorious score by Ramachandra Borcar that would have fitted in a Hitchcock film and the three great lead performances combine to make this a truyly compelling watch. In my opinion, it doesn’t quite nail its landing, but it remains an extremely promising film, which accomplishes lots with limited means. ]
The Tree (Julie Bertuccelli) 86
[ Adapted from a novel by Judy Pascoe, this poetic drama focuses on Simone (the precociously mature, never cloying or hammy, amusingly assertive, very moving Morgana Davies), a little girl who believes that her recently deceased father’s spirit has transfered into the huge Moreton Bay Fig tree next to their house. This might sound silly, but it actually works as a fantastic, really potent metaphor. Because of its breathtaking magic hour images of the Australian landscape and the deep attention it pays to nature (not only the tree, its branches and its roots, but also ants, bats, frogs, the dry earth, the sea, heavy winds, etc.), “The Tree” often feels like a Terrence Malick picture. Some of the story points of this almost biblical tale are a bit more conventionnal, though, like how Simone’s grieving mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg) eventually moves on by getting a job and starting to date, and some of the supporting characters seem underdevelopped. All the same, this is a truly impressive sophomore effort from Julie Bertucelli, up to its riveting climax and sobering coda scored to Patrick Watson and The Cinematic Orchestra’s superb song To Build a Home. ]
La tête ailleurs (Frédéric Pelle) 20
[ A dull, dimwitted, dorky comedy about a dull, dimwitted, dorky roulette dealer (Nicolas Abraham) who spends his whole life planning a trip around the world, buying a big red suitcase, travel clothes and a hunting knife, getting every kind of vaccination imaginable, trying to learn many different languages, etc. You can probably guess that he’ll keep postponing the moment of his departure over and over, until it may be too late… A thin premise, in my opinion, that could have made for a mildly diverting short film, but is not nearly sustained enough over the 83 minutes length of “La tête ailleurs”. Narrative detours like the protagonist’s affair with a Thai waitress enliven things a little bit, but not enough to entirely shake off our boredom. ]
CLOSING FILM: Des hommes et des dieux (Xavier Beauvois) 91
[ On May 21st, 1996, a group of French Trappist monks stationed in Algeria were found dead, presumably after being murdered by an Islamist terrorist group. Winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes and now of the Cinéma et Société award at Rouyn, “Des hommes et des dieux” depicts the last months of these poor old men’s lives, carefully establishing the pastoral setting and taking the time to let us get to know and love the characters, with no apparent rush to get to the events surrounding their tragic end. Writer-director Xavier Beauvois allows us to observe the monks’ serene lifestyle, as they pray, sing Gregorian chants, do their daily chores around the monastery and, most interestingly, interact with the local population, showing a lot of generosity and openness towards them. Slowly but surely drawing us in, the film eventually does introduce the extremists who are terrorizing the region, as well as the army that also uses excessive methods which make the whole situation a big bloody mess. As tension builds around them, the monks remain admirably calm and determined to stick to their ideals of devotion, charity and peace. They do have to think things over and have discussions about their situation, their faith is truly put to the test and some experience serious doubts, but they end up deciding that leaving to save themselves but abandoning their Arab brothers and sisters is not the right thing to do. Solemn and thoughtful but never preachy or excessively dry (there’s actually quite a few touches of humor), deeply spiritual but also firmly grounded into the characters’ humanity, “Des hommes et des dieux” is a remarkable film in every way, from the subtle but taut storytelling to the majestic, elegiac mise en scène, the rich, warm, painterly cinematography, and the flawless performances by the ensemble cast (Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Jacques Herlin, Jean-Marie Frin, Philippe Laudenbach, Xavier Maly, Olivier Perrier), which is full of actors with great rugged faces that convey tons of nuances without ever making it seem forced. The final stretch, from the helicopter sequence and the Last Supper set to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake to the elegant fade to white, is simply magnificent. ]
[ Podz’ first feature, “Les Sept jours du talion”, was not perfect, but its qualities strongly outweighed its flaws. Now, in “10 1/2”, there is still quite a bit to admire, but I feel like this time the negatives slightly overcome the positives. The big problem is Claude Lalonde’s screenplay which, while undeniably well-informed about its subject (Lalonde was once an educator in a juvenile detention center himself), is just not very good writing. In other hands, it could have easily led to an unbearably melodramatic, miserabilist and didactic film. Podz mostly avoids those traps by keeping everything barebones: stark visuals, handheld camera, shots that are often shaky, partially out of focus or obstructed, no music, scenes filled with only silence or background noise, etc. As the educator in charge of a new kid in juvie who displays aggressively antisocial behaviour, Claude Legault is solid if not extraordinary (his role is too one-note for that), young Robert Naylor is generally convincing as the problem child in question, and I liked Martin Dubreuil a lot as his deadbeat father… Still, the sometimes clumsy storytelling and clunky dialogue kept bugging me, up to the pointless and manipulative last big scene with the old man (you’ll see which one I mean) and the non-ending that follows. Thanks to Podz and his actors, “10 1/2” is not nearly as bad as it could have been, but does that make it good? I’m not so sure… ]
Mutantes – Féminisme Porno Punk (Virginie Despentes)
[ This insightful and entertaining documentary from “Baise-moi” director Virginie Despentes explores the world of pro-sex feminists who embrace pornography, prostitution and “deviant” sexuality. Choosing self-affirmation instead of victimisation, these girls consider their bodies to be “political tools” that they can use however they please. Built around a series of interviews with the likes of Annie Sprinkle, Scarlot Harlot, Norma Jean Almodovar, Candida Royalle, Michelle Tea, Nina Roberts and Catherine Breillat, “Mutantes” also includes plenty of archival footage, including images from female-driven adult films and racy stage shows. ]
Año bisiesto (Michael Rowe) 69
[ Laura (raw, troubling Monica del Carmen) is a lonely Mexican freelance writer who works from home and generally spends her evenings alone in her apartment as well. When relatives call on her, she lies about leading a happy, busy life and having many friends, but the only company she gets is when she goes out to pick up strange men then brings them back to her place for some loveless, increasingly rough and perverted sex. Slow, quiet and made up strictly of long, static, meticulously composed widescreen shots, “Año bisiesto” (“Leap Year”), the winner of the Caméra d’or for the best first feature at the last Cannes Film Festival, is an oddly compelling watch, the unblinking, voyeuristic portrait of a desperate woman. ]
Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé) 94
[ review ]
2 fois une femme (François Delisle) 82
[ “Nos vies sont les mêmes. Nos vies sont pareilles et défigurées…” In this film written, produced and directed by François Delisle, who also composed and performed the (great) music score under the moniker The States Project, the extraordinary Evelyne Rompré plays a woman who, after being brutally beaten by her husband (Marc Béland) one too many time, escapes to a small town somewhere in Northwestern Quebec with her son (newcomer Étienne Laforge). Now, this isn’t a film about domestic violence, at least not in a square, straightforward way. “2 fois une femme” is actually a lyrical, moody, elusive, quiet, deliberately paced picture about trying to move on, to build a new life… As stunningly shot by cinematographer Mathieu Laverdière with the Red One camera, the film makes great use of the environment that surrounds the characters, as the son wanders through the woods or the mother swims naked in a creek, for instance. The cast, which also includes David Boutin, Martin Dubreuil, Catherine De Léan, Michelle Rossignol and Marie Brassard in bit parts, does good work across the line, but it’s Rompré who really carries the film, radiating infinite sadness but also fragile hope. ]
The Kate Logan Affair (Noël Mitrani) 45
[ Most people won’t be so patient, but for the longest time, I tried to roll with this disappointing sophomore effort from Noël Mitrani. Because I liked his debut, “Sur la trace d’Igor Rizzi”, and because of my schoolboy crush on Alexis Bledel, of course. The former Gilmore Girl stars as the titular young Canadian policewoman, who becomes involved sexually with a French insurance executive (Laurent Lucas) attending a conference in town, even though he’s married with children… and despite the fact that they first met when she mistakenly arrested him because he looked like a wanted serial rapist! That’s only the first of many, many bad decisions Kate Logan will make over the course of the story, which grows increasingly ludicrous throughout. Like I said, I made an effort to go along with it anyway, to enjoy it as a low-rent B-movie thriller. But even on that level, the irrational behavior of the characters, not to mention the lack of actual thrills, make it nearly impossible not to give up on the film. Yet I haven’t given up on Mitrani, who’s clearly still a skilled director. And I did think Bledel’s performance was quite good, even though she’s playing the stupidest movie cop of all time. ]
Jo pour Jonathan (Maxime Giroux) 76
[ In a suburban town that could be anywhere or nowhere (mostly nowhere), bored young men waste away, indulging in sex, alcohol, drugs, petty crimes… Plus street racing which, for a while, seems to be what the film is about, in a stripped down, matter-of-fact way. The Not So Fast and the Not So Furious? Kidding aside, I was truly engrossed by this portrait of a time, a place and people as ordinary as it gets, who are somewhat transcended by the evocative visuals of cinematographer extraordinaire Sara Mishara and music of composer Olivier Alary. Particularly touching for me was the rowdy but affectionate relationship between Jonathan (Raphaël Lacaille) and his older brother Thomas (Jean-Sébastien Courchesne), and I dug the no-nonsense wit of the dialogue written by Maxime Giroux and longtime collaborator Alexandre Laferrière. The one hesitation I have about “Jo pour Jonathan” concerns the third act, which takes a sudden dramatic, tragic turn that I wasn’t really sure what to think of, in part because of the similarities with the last stretch of a certain Oscar-winning picture… That being said, this is still solid work, with which Giroux confirms that he’s one of the most promising filmmakers in Quebec. ]
Biutiful (Alejandro González Iñárritu) 91
[ In this first feature made without the collaboration of screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu refreshingly breaks away from the formula of his three previous movies by going for a straightforward narrative, centred on a single main character, whose story is told in chronological order (save for the bookend scenes) and is set entirely in one location, Barcelona. Not the warm, picturesque, romantic Spanish city seen in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, but what seems like the filthiest, poorest corners of it, where illegal immigrant workers struggle to survive. And while protagonist Uxbal happens to be played by the male lead of the aforementioned Woody Allen flick, Javier Bardem is not playing a suave artist here, but a morose bastard haunted by death: that of the departed souls he’s mysteriously able to communicate with, that of the father he never knew, and his own imminent death from cancer, which scares the piss out of him because he can’t accept the idea of leaving his young children on their own in this cruel, merciless world. González Iñárritu outdoes himself here, crafting a visually masterful, immensely affecting film full of humanity, urgency and raw emotion. Bardem delivers an astonishing performance, one of his best ever (which is saying a lot), and he’s surrounded by a rich tapestry of supporting characters, including Maricel Álvarez as his mentally unstable on-and-off wife, Hanaa Bouchaib as his daughter, Guillermo Estrella as his son, Eduard Fernández as his brother, plus a whole bunch of African and Chinese immigrants, every one of which contributes to making the ensemble so effective. There are many spectacular, disturbing and otherwise striking scenes, but the most memorable ones might actually be the most intimate, simple ones. Definitely one of the year’s crowning achievements. ]
rammbock (Marvin Kren) 80
[ Taking place over a few days in a Berlin apartment complex being assaulted by zombies, this “28 Days Later”-style apocalyptic flick makes up for its minimalist scope with relentless intensity and suspense. The desaturated, high contrast cinematography, nervous editing, sharp sound design and ambient score all contribute in making this a riveting experience from start to finish, as do the perfectly gruesome makeup effects, then there’s a melancholy undercurrent building up to a tragic, operatic climax that elevates the whole thing. “rammbock” (battering ram in German) is one hell of a calling card for first-time feature director Marvin Kren, who I wouldn’t be surprised to see directing high-profile Hollywood genre movies before long. ]
Raavanan (Mani Ratman) 90
[ In this loose, modern retelling of the ancient Sanskrit epic “Ramayana”, Bollywood superstar Aishwarya Rai plays a brave yet vulnerable woman who’s kidnapped by a schizophrenic terrorist (Vikram), forcing her police officer husband (Prithviraj) to lead a commando squad deep into the jungles of Tamil Nadu to rescue her. This seems like a basic good-versus-evil story at first, but the plot and characters are actually much more complex and ambiguous than they initially appear to be and by the end, we’re not quite sure who to root for, making this a very potent illustration of the vicious circle of violence. I was also taken by how filmmaker Mani Ratman fills every scene and every shot with ravishing beauty, danger, sensuality, atmosphere, color and emotion, as well as a general surreal, dreamlike quality, which somehow made me think of “Apocalypse Now”… Except that it also features awesome musical numbers set to songs by Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” composer A. R. Rahman! The way people occasionally start dancing like that, some of the sillier bits of comic relief, the over the top action climax right out of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, and the other tonal shifts characteristic of popular Indian cinema might turn off some viewers, but I went along with it all and loved every minute of it. ]
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Jon Turteltaub) 47
[ review ]
Crows Zero II (Takashi Miike) 63
[ Is anyone able to keep up with Miike’s output? Since breaking out in 1999 with the brilliant “Audition”, the Japanese filmmaker has directed something like 40 features in 10 years, no shit! His latest to reach us is a sequel to 2007’s “Crows Zero”¸ a live-action prequel to the Hiroshi Takahashi manga which I haven’t seen. Nonetheless, I was easily able to get into this story of a high school gang war between the students from Suzuran and those from rival Hosen. After all, it’s mostly about young men yelling at and beating each other! Rowdy, exciting and fun, the fights are stylishly directed by Miike who, amongst other things, makes potent us of some Japanese pop songs, notably during the opening credits sequence, which inter-cuts between a huge brawl and a rock concert. I also enjoyed most everyone in the ensemble cast, even though none of the characters is particularly complex and memorable. It’s almost exactly just guys dressed in black and guys in white exchanging kicks and punches for two hours! ]
Secret Reunion (Jang Hun) 80
[ Taut writing, nervous cinematography, precise editing, a whole lot of breathless action… Right from the amazing 20 minute opening sequence, in which a pair of North Korean hired killers (the cold-blooded Jeon Gook-hwan and the more conflicted Gang Dong-won) secretly rendezvous than make their way to an apartment building for a job, unaware that a South Korean federal agent (the great Song Kang-ho) and his team are just a few steps behind them, I got the feeling that this could be the best Asian crime-thriller I’ve seen since “Infernal Affairs”. During the second act, alas, the film turns into kind of an odd couple comedy with a touch of melodrama. It’s still involving enough, especially since there are some fight and stakeout scenes thrown in here and there, but the promise of the first 20 minutes isn’t really fulfilled until the last stretch leading to the climax, which is a thing of tragic beauty… Too bad about the bullshit happy end, though. ]
Accident (Cheang Pou-Soi) 65
[ The story begins with a freak accident, straight out of a “Final Destination” flick. Only, the victim happens to be a Triad boss… and he was actually killed by a quartet of assassins (Louis Koo, Michelle Ye, Stanley Fung Shui-Fan, Lam Suet) who specialize in making their work look like accidents, so the cops don’t even think to look for them. It’s the perfect murders, and it’s a clever premise, which allows for a series of meticulously crafted, gruesome set pieces. Then when “accidents” start happening to the accident-makers, they understandably start thinking that someone is after them and the film turns into a tale of paranoia and obsession à la “The Conversation”. I’m not sure it adds up to all that much, but it makes for a captivating watch. ]
The Disappearance of Alice Creed (J Blakeson) 55
[ Here’s another film with a great opening sequence it can never quite live up to. Said sequence is a precisely shot and cut, dialogue-free depiction of the various steps of two kidnappers’ preparation for their crime: stealing a molester van, shopping for tools and materials, soundproofing the walls of the room where they will put their victim, boarding up the windows, installing extra locks on the doors, etc. We’re then quickly shown a girl being thrown in the van with a bag on her head, then dragged into what will become her cell, where she ends up handcuffed and tied to a bed, with a ball gag in her mouth and, sorta gratuitously, her clothes and underwear cut off. Only then do we learn a bit more about her and her abductors and still, backstory and exposition are kept to a minimum: she’s a millionaire’s daughter, they’re ex-cons, that’s about it. As I alluded to, like in all movies of this kind, the line is thin between showing a woman being exploited and the film itself being exploitative, or at least voyeuristic, but there’s no denying that it’s all effective and engrossing. What follows, a huis clos that has the two criminals and their hostage engage in increasingly tense situations, is also initially involving, in no small part thanks to the scary intense, dangerously badass performance by Eddie Marsan as the more authoritative of the kidnappers. As his less focused, more “sentifuckin’mental” partner, Martin Compston is pretty solid and Gemma Arterton certainly fully commits to the sordid nature of her part (she basically spends the whole movie in bondage, in tears, terrified, humiliated…), but there’s no doubt about it, Marsan is the best thing about the film. Even when a series of dumb twists are introduced and the characters start behaving stupidly, Marsan always remains convincing and fascinating to watch. As a whole, “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” is suspenseful enough and first-time feature director J Blakeson shows a lot of promise, but his screenplay is unfortunately not as tight as it could have been and, again, I’m not sure there’s a point in showing a girl suffering for 100 minutes like this. ]
Red White & Blue (Simon Rumley) 52
[ “Look, I don’t stay over, I don’t fall in love and I don’t fuck the same guy twice, ok?” If anything, Erica (Amanda Fuller) knows what she wants, and that is apparently to have sex with every man in Austin… Except her neighbor and coworker Nate (Noah Taylor), for some reason. With its loose narrative, its impressionistic visual style and its sexually open yet emotionally opaque protagonist, this low budget, spontaneous-feeling film reminded me a bit of Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience” at first. But as the focus shifts to local musician Franki (Marc Senter), one of the countless dudes Erica has screwed at one time, “Red White & Blue” slowly but surely turns into something else altogether. To reveal what happens exactly would spoil it, but let’s just say that it gets mighty dark, violent and unpleasant. Horror fans will enjoy this detour, but I personally much preferred the first stretch of the film. ]
Symbol (Hitoshi Matsumoto) 85
[ This film alternates between depicting a day in the life of Mexican lucha libre wrestler Escargotman and the struggle of a man in colourful pyjamas (hilariously played by writer-director Hitoshi Matsumoto) to make sense out of his waking up in a mysterious white room with walls entirely bare except for a bunch of cherubic genitalia which, when pressed, make random objects appear. Need I stress out that this is a profoundly silly movie? Only in Japan, right? The white room part in particular is as absurd as it gets, coming off like a wickedly inventive live action variation on the classic Daffy Duck cartoon “Duck Amuck”, with a touch of Wile E. Coyote for good measure. The Mexican-set part is more conventional, inasmuch as a story about a wrestler who never takes off his mask can be “conventional”, but it’s engaging on its own and works as an intriguing contrast to the rest. And wait until you see how the two seemingly unconnected tales ultimately collide! As for the extended multimedia climax, it’s even more batshit insane, if you can believe it… Much better than his first feature, “Dainipponjin”, which was a lot of goofy fun at times but a bit too uneven overall, Hitoshi Matsumoto’s sophomore effort is obviously not for all tastes, but I seriously doubt I’ll see a more original film at Fantasia -or anywhere for that matter- this year. ]
Sophie’s Revenge (Eva Jin) 48
[ Were mostly used to seeing Zhang Ziyi in martial arts epics (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “House of Flying Daggers”, etc.), but it turns out she’s also a gifted comedienne, who brings ample charm and spunk to this colorful romantic comedy. Her character, Sophie, is a comic book artist who, after a bad break-up, attempts to win back her ex in growingly stalkerish ways. Almost as visually playful as “Amélie” or a Baz Luhrmann picture, “Sophie’s Revenge” is kind of a mess plot-wise and the gags are hit and miss but, really, Zhang Ziyi is a peach. ]
Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (Edgar Wright) 94
[ review ]
Metropolis (Fritz Lang) 96
[ Some of the sillier plot specifics and the over the top acting characteristic of most silent cinema have aged, I guess, but as a thematically rich Marxist revolution allegory and a sci-fi epic filled with iconic imagery, this remains as visionary, groundbreaking and masterful as ever. Watching a restored print of it in a packed 3,000 seat theatre with an amazing new score performed by a live orchestra made it all the better. ]
[ I’ve written before about my fascination for the new wave of Quebec filmmakers that includes the likes of Denis Côté, Yves Christian Fournier, Stéphane Lafleur, Maxime Giroux and yes, Rafaël Ouellet. Now, Fournier made the biggest impact on me of them all with his brilliant “Tout est parfait”, but I also have a particular affection for Ouellet, who first came onto the scene with the delightful “Le Cèdre penché”, which he quickly followed with the darker “Derrière Moi” and this here “New Denmark”, easily his most achieved film to date. It had me at hello, literally, right from the opening shot, a striking view of overcast skies looming over a forest that slowly reveals a search party heading into the woods. We then meet our typically Ouelletesque protagonist, a beautiful, sad, quiet girl (Carla Turcotte) who’s going around town putting up posters of her missing sister… The whole film is about Carla’s desperate search for her sister or, at least, closure. With sparse dialogue, lyrical shot composition, well directed non-professional actors, evocative use of sound (and of an intriguingly in situ sound recordist) and outstanding music by Man an Ocean, Rafaël Ouellet has created a true work of art. 4 or 5 times, you fear that a generic plot is gonna kick in, but it never does. This remains a pure dose of great visuals and sound, anchored by just enough emotional heft and thematic depth. An absolute must-see. ]
Grande Ourse – La clé des possibles (Patrice Sauvé) 86
[ At first, the film can be confusing, throwing us right in the midst of an intriguing story involving strange visions and parallel dimensions. But if you’re a fan of genre cinema, you’ll soon be taken by the aura of mystery that surrounds every scene and will have great fun trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle that is the plot. Having never watched the “Grande Ourse” TV series, I wasn’t familiar with the characters played by Marc Messier, Fanny Mallette and Normand Daneault beforehand, but I quickly fell in love with ex-journalist Lapointe and the detective couple formed by Gastonne and Biron. I also enjoyed the new additions to the cast, notably Maude Guérin as a charming bookseller and Monique Mercure as a creepy witch. Screenwriter Frédéric Ouellet clearly has a lot of fun making his characters evolve in this new adventure that blends suspense, humor, mythology, philosophy and emotion in a surprisingly cohesive and winning way. As for Patrice Sauvé, he proves with this second feature (after the underrated “Cheech”) that he’s clearly one of the most gifted contemporary Quebec directors, easily outdoing every other local attempt at genre filmmaking in recent memory (“Sur le seuil”, “Saint-Martyr-des-Damnés”, etc.). Could he be our own David Cronenberg? ]
Polytechnique (Denis Villeneuve) 85
[ review ]
La Donation (Bernard Émond) 84
[ This is the final and, in my opinion, best film in Bernard Émond’s trilogy about theological values. Slow, quiet and austere, “La Donation” is a profound yet unpretentious meditation on the meaning of life, filled with muted but acutely felt emotion. Taking place more often than not around hospital rooms and deathbeds, the film also spends a lot of time taking in the transfixing Abitibi scenery. And then there is Jacques Godin as an aging backcountry doctor and Élise Guilbault as his reluctant successor, who both deliver superbly understated performances. ]
De père en flic (Émile Gaudreault) 75
[ review ]
Sans dessein (Steeve Léonard & Caroline Labrèche)
[ I can’t objectively rate this, as a few friends of mine were involved with the production of this low budget independent feature. But I can tell you anyway that I enjoyed it a great deal! The US had Kevin Smith, the UK had Edgar Wright, and now Quebec has Steeve, Caroline and the rest of the Dead Cat Films crew, basically. Here’s a movie that’s both funny and sensitive, clever and juvenile, about a slacker coming into his own. Full of universal geek culture references (“Star Wars”, “Back to the Future”, “Star Trek”, “Transformers”, old kung fu movies, etc.), “Sans Dessein” is nonetheless Québécois to the core, which gives it a special color that’s quite unique. ]
Who Is KK Downey? (Darren Curtis & Pat Kiely) 70
[ Vaguely inspired by the J.T. Leroy scandal, this first feature from Montreal collective Kidnapper Films is an incisive satire of the hipster milieu and of the cult of celebrity. Dynamically shot and cut, the film also benefits from hilarious performances by Darren Curtis, Pat Kiely and Matt Silver. ]
40 Is the New 20 (Simon Boisvert) 70
[ review ]
Dédé à travers les brumes (Jean-Philippe Duval) 65
[ This biopic of Les Colocs lead singer André Fortin is marred by clichés and uneven performances. Visually, though, it’s involving, particularly during the few animated sequences, that remind alternately of “The Wall”, “Actross the Universe” and the band’s music videos. And then there’s Sébastien Ricard, the one truly extraordinary thing about the film. Both physically and vocally, he’s a dead ringer for Dédé, and he also conveys really effectively the character’s manic-depressive tendencies. Finally, there’s the music which, beyond the tragedy that’s now forever associated with it, survives nonetheless and remains wonderful. ]
Modernaire (Martin Laroche) 63
[ Shot on the fly with a $6,000 budget, this latest feature from Martin Laroche is an intriguing conceptual piece about how a (modern) man’s dull routine is perturbed by his paranoid fixation on a suspicious Arab man he meets on the bus. Even after seeing it twice (I first saw a workprint about a year ago), I still can’t quite put my finger on why this film remains captivating even though it’s so sparse and low-key. Is it the protagonist (played by Laroche himself)’s impenetrable façade? The recurring motifs? The evanescent nature of the narrative? I don’t know, but what’s sure is that Laroche remains a filmmaker to watch. ]
J’ai tué ma mère (Xavier Dolan) 58
[ review ]
Carcasses (Denis Côté) 55
[ A series of static tableaux showing an old man working/screwing around in a car cemetery out in the sticks, where he’s eventually joined by a bunch of intruders with Down syndrome, this fourth feature by Québec iconoclast Denis Côté is certainly his most radical film to date. A stark, wilfully uneventful quasi-documentary, “Carcasses” is quite interesting conceptually, and there are certainly some arresting visuals and amusing bits… But even at less than 70 minutes, it feels needlessly stretched out. Still worth seeing as a curiosity. ]
mille neuf cent quatre-vingt-un (Ricardo Trogi) 51
[ 75% autobiographical according to the filmmaker, the movie’s story must seem crucial and fascinating to him… But truth be told, Trogi’s childhood seems to have been desperately ordinary, boring even. All young Ricardo cares about is for his parents to buy him some crap (a K-Way, a Walkman, a calculator watch, etc.) so he can supposedly fit in better at school. He also has a silly kid’s crush on a pretty classmate, which he never really does anything about. And that’s about it. Now, despite the utter lack of story tension, dramatic weight and character development, “1981” could still have been a fun slice-of-life comedy. Alas, the humor is mostly limited to the retro-kitsch flourishes, Trogi’s wisecracking voice-over narration and fantasy sequences involving a B&W Nazi, which all outstay their welcome. I liked Jean-Carl Bérubé, Sandrine Bisson and Claudio Colangello’s performances quite a lot, which went a long way in keeping me moderately invested in the film. Otherwise, I felt this was rather forgettable. ]
La Dernière Fugue (Léa Pool) 48
[ Dedicated to her filmmaker friend (and mentor) Georges Dufaux, who died in 2008 after a long illness, Léa Pool’s latest is, at its core, about the right to retain one’s dignity, in death like in life. The first half of the film, which takes place during a tense Christmas eve amongst a dysfunctional family where the patriarch (Jacques Godin) is deeply weakened by Parkinson, is pretty rough. We’re in straight melodrama territory, with a large group of mostly unlikable characters we never really get to know properly constantly getting into arguments, which are punctuated by angry yet feeble outbursts by the pathetic old man and clumsily inserted flashbacks. The film gets a lot better, though, when it starts focusing on only a few key characters: Godin’s, his devoted wife (Andrée Lachapelle), as well as his oldest son (Yves Jacques) and one of his grandchildren (Aliocha Schneider), who share an endearing complicity. Unfortunately, the movie stumbles again towards the end and closes on an utterly befuddling note. ]
Les Pieds dans le vide (Mariloup Wolfe) 36
[ Imagine a young-adult soap opera overflowing with cheap melodrama (cancer, struggling with homosexuality, unplanned pregnancy, crippling accident, etc.), directed with all the depth and subtlety Tony Scott showed in “Top Gun” and where all the characters are douches, idiots or both. Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge and Éric Bruneau seem to be in a contest about who can overact the most and while Laurence Leboeuf remains an alluring little actress, she’s unfortunately playing a dim-witted slut who alternately has unprotected sex with both male leads then is all shocked when the inevitable happens. The film is mostly being sold with its admittedly spectacular skydiving shots, but we’ve all seen “Point Break” already, right? And that had surfing and bank robberies, too! ]
Cadavres (Erik Canuel) 26
[ Hysterically unfunny, aggressively stupid, grotesquely lowbrow, pointlessly unpleasant and painfully boring… Oh, it’s well crafted enough like every Canuel flick, but it’s nonetheless a thoroughly hollow experience. You can tell that this is supposed to be an oh so provocative black comedy, then again, half the time, it seems to be taking itself seriously. Apparently left on their own, the actors’ performances are all over the place (is Patrick Huard’s character supposed to be mentally challenged or what?), the pacing is generally off and, worse of all, the film makes the age-old mistake of trying to be a cult movie, which never works, of course. Even full frontal Julie LeBreton nudity can’t save this; it didn’t work for “Dans l’oeil du chat” either, so… ]
Les Grandes chaleurs (Sophie Lorain) 22
[ When I see a movie like this, I’m always befuddled by how a filmmaking team’s instincts can be so wrong. I mean, they had millions of dollars and a good enough cast to adapt what was, from what I hear, a solid play by Michel Marc Bouchard, but scene after scene, moment after moment, bad artistic choices are made so that it all feels phony, shallow and dull. It’s in the slick but soulless TV commercial visual look, the overcooked direction, the shaky performances, the dialogue that’s too on the nose, the lame music cues, the dumb gags, the ridiculous depiction of young folks, the unearned sentimentality… Unless you’re a desperately sexless fiftysomething woman who gets all hot and bothered at the sight of a bare-chested young man, there’s no reason to bother seeing this. ]
Détour (Sylvain Guy) 18
[ Léo Huff (an intentionally dull but dull nonetheless Luc Picard) jumps at the chance to leave his obnoxious wife (Suzanne Champagne) and his office work routine, if only for a day, to go present his company’s latest project at an assembly in Le Bic. However, things become more complicated when he crosses paths with a femme fatale (the rather tame Isabelle Guérard) and her violently jealous boyfriend (a cartoonish Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge)… “Détour” is a drab, ill-conceived pseudo-film noir, with a pointless story and characters we never care about. It doesn’t even cut it as an exercise in style (what style?). ]
Suzie (Micheline Lanctôt) 13
[ For the first 5-10 minutes, Lanctôt’s eponymous protagonist never talks, even when directly spoken to. It’s almost as if she’s catatonic or something, even though the big tragedy in her life, we’ll learn later, happened decades ago. That tragedy was the loss of her child and what do you know, the moment she snaps out of her silence is once she finds a kid in the back of her cab. Off to a bad start. Right there, it feels like the movie is a gonna be a chore, and it is. Contrived. Unpleasant. Visually unappealing. Dull, so very dull. The kid can’t act (he mostly screams like an animal), Lanctôt is one-note, and even the usually reliable Pascale Bussières is embarrassingly bad as the kid’s crass, hysterical mother. Or maybe it’s the writing that’s embarrassingly bad? Or the way she’s directed? In any case, the result is the same: a truly lousy picture. And I haven’t even mentioned the ridiculous poker scenes, the preposterous police station climax and the totally WTF? epilogue with the djembe player… ]
À vos marques… Party! 2 (Frédérik D’Amours) 11
[ Wha’ Happened? I mean, the first film wasn’t high art, but I remember liking it well enough. But this sequel, with its cliché-ridden script, utterly generic direction, blatant product placement, lame melodrama, dumb gags, racist stereotypes and ridiculously unconvincing “teens” (most of the actors playing them are pushing 30)? Awful, just awful. ]
Afterschool (Antonio Campos) 92
Fuck. Mike D’Angelo wasn’t kidding. In less than three minutes, this movie has already just about perfectly encapsulated in one little montage of various footage how, in this era where seemingly everything is being filmed then streamed online, every aspect of the human experience, from the cutest (a baby giggling, a cat playing piano) to the most sordid (Sadam Hussein’s hanging, porno actresses being abused), has become in many ways virtual, i.e. mostly witnessed “once removed” as just another entertaining/shocking random piece of video. Happiness *click* Death *click* Sex *click*, etc. In a simultaneously voyeuristic and artsy style akin to that of Haneke or the Van Sant of late, Antonio Campos then proceeds to observe a group of high school kids who seem to be “once removed” from their own lives, alienated from their own selves. Without going into details, tragedy eventually strikes amongst them, and before, during and after said tragedy, there’s that distance through media thing going on again… Life as pornography: it isn’t about feeling empathy towards others’ pain (or pleasure) anymore, it’s about getting the (money) shot.
Martyrs (Pascal Laugier) 78
It starts off strikingly, as a bloodied up little girl escapes from a warehouse where she’d been help prisoner and tortured for years. The consequences on her emotional and mental state are then quickly conveyed, and it’s first sad, then rather creepy… And then we flash forward to 15 years later, with some unrelated characters (French folks played by Quebecers) having breakfast, and it gets to be almost dull when suddenly… Well, you’ll see, but let me just say that it never gets dull too long in this absolutely brutal cross between J-Horror, so-called torture porn and new French horror à la “Haute tension”. Gore and terror are always just around the corner, and the storytelling is admiringly unpredictable. Heck, when they shot the film last year, right here in Montreal, I spent a couple of hours visiting the set and pretty much got a glimpse of all the different characters and locations, but I still had no idea how the various pieces (child abuse, home invasion, bizarre experiments, monster attacks, etc.) fitted with each other while I was watching it…. And the ending is both infuriating and pure genius.
Demain (Maxime Giroux) 70
Over the past few years, there’s this new wave of Quebec filmmakers, many of them having made their chops directing shorts, who are bringing original and current visions to the big screen. I’m thinking of Denis Côté, Rafaël Ouellet, Robin Aubert, Stéphane Lafleur, Yves Christian Fournier… And Maxime Giroux, the most recent of this group to make his feature debut. With its long sustained shots, sparse dialogue and deliberate pacing, “Demain” is resolutely not of a thrill-a-minute popcorn movie. In fact, it might stretch itself a little too thin and be a little too humourless… Then again, Giroux truly has a knack for almost purely visual storytelling and he manages to convey complex psychological and emotional nuances just through his actors’ facial expressions, their body language, the way they relate to their environment… There might not be much to the plot, but the characters (a mousy young office worker, a shiftless young construction worker) feel true and the film does say something about a certain generational malaise, particularly in regards to unfulfilling, utterly unromantic relationships.
3 saisons (Jim Donovan) 35
I liked Donovan’s previous “Pure” quite a bit a few years ago. This? Not to much. Apparently shot on the cheap and on the fly, this González Iñárritu-style ensemble piece about sex, violence and parenthood tells three seemingly unrelated stories involving a squeegee punk played by Carinne Leduc, a shady man with a gun played by Frank Schorpion and an out of work actress played by Caroline Néron. With its uneven acting, forced grittiness, shaky dialogue, scenes that go nowhere and unsympathetic characters, “3 saisons” can’t help but disappoint, even though Donovan’s skill behind the camera is still apparent here and there.
JCVD (Mabrouk El Mechri) 63
Jean-Claude Van Damme not only playing himself but making fun of his public persona and owning up to his private demons? Brilliant idea, and in the 4 or 5 instances where “JCVD” truly clicks, we get to experience what feels like classic movie moments. Alas, the execution of said brilliant idea is mezzo-mezzo. This isn’t the “Being John Malkovich” of action movies it could have been, but more of a somewhat straightforward robbery/hostage thriller that happens to involve the Muscles from Brussels. Which leads to some surreal exchanges and auto-referential humor, and pathos, too, culminating in a one-take existential monologue by Van Damme that I found to be pure genius. But on the whole, the film is hit and miss.
Le premier jour du reste de ta vie (Rémi Bezançon) 84
This family dramedy kicks off in 1988, on the day the family dog is put to sleep and eldest son Albert (Pio Marmaï) moves out. We then flash forward to 1993, as youngest child Fleur (Déborah François), who’s gone all grunge on her parents, loses her virginity on the day of her not-so-sweet 16. In 1996, we follow middle kid Raph (Québécois Marc-André Grondin with a very convincing French accent) as he enjoys good wine with his grandfather (Roger Dumas), reminisces about falling in love with a girl during an air-guitar contest (!) and attends his brother’s wedding. In 1998, mother Marie-Jeanne (Zabou Breitman) struggles with her difficult relationship with her daughter, who she barely knows anymore, and the impression that she isn’t young and desirable anymore. Finally, in 2000, father Robert Duval (Jacques Gamblin) bonds with his sons, daughter and wife, celebrating what a wonder family life can be…
Through these five key days (plus a few choice flashbacks throughout and an extended epilogue), which are like five short films or five chapters from a novel, we get to know and love this family, thanks to the light-footed but effective storytelling, appealing characters and perfect balance between humor and emotion found in Bezançon’s screenplay. Stylishly shot and cut, with wonderful performances and a great pop soundtrack (the versatile original score by Sinclair is complemented by songs from Blossom Dearie, The Divine Comedy, Janis Joplin, David Bowie, Indochine, Lou Reed and Etienne Daho), this film is like a cross between “C.R.A.Z.Y”, “5×2” and “Six Feet Under”, but it’s also very much its own thing. A crowd-pleasing gem.
Elle veut le chaos (Denis Côté) 67
Winner of a well-deserved Prix de la mise en scène at Locarno (any and all cinematography awards should also be de rigueur for the stark beauty of the B&W images), this minimalist modern day Western is ostensibly about a gunman (Laurent Lucas) riding back into town to get his old girlfriend (Ève Duranceau), who lives with her father (Normand Lévesque) in the middle of nowhere, next to some bandits (Réjean Lefrançois, Nicolas Canuel and Olivier Aubin)… Also involving phone sex, ping-pong and a mother-daughter team of Russian ballerinas/prostitutes, Denis Côté’s third feature is most of all a hanging out movie, which can be a bit too dry and wilfully opaque, but remains impressive if only as an exercise in style.
Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme) 90
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… Here’s a movie about the most dysfunctional family in the world, with a rarely seen emotional harshness, but where you still end up loving all these beautiful, fucked-up people. Using a naturalistic approach that’s part Altman, part Dogme 95, Demme truly allows us to become intimate with the characters. His film, as scripted by Jenny Lumet, is built like a musical composition, with a mellow intro that lays down the melody and all the notes, then a series of powerful crescendos and, finally, a more subdued coda. Throughout, we get to hear lots of actual music of all kinds, we laugh, we cry, etc. It’s tempting to single out Anne Hathaway, whose performance, as a just out of rehab “harbinger of doom” bad seed who always seems on the verge of a breakdown, is indeed a revelation, but Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Debra Winger, TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe and the rest of the nicely multiethnic ensemble cast are also wonderful.
Daisy Diamond (Simon Staho) 93
Recalling “Screen Test: Karen Elkin” and that one part of “Mulholland Dr.”, “Daisy Diamond” depicts the merciless cruelty of the audition process and of being an actress in general. But it one-ups these other works by adding this whole meta dimension, where the scenes the protagonist acts out in auditions (which include one of the key exchanges in Bergman’s “Persona”) all seem to actually be her reliving moments of her past or expressing her darkest feelings about motherhood. Less stylized than his previous picture, the unheralded masterpiece “Bang Bang Orangutang” (unheralded except by me, that is: it made my 2006 Top Ten), Simon Staho’s latest is driven by the staggeringly great, immensely brave, incredibly affecting performance (and performances within the performance) of Noomi Rapace, whose face I could look at for hours – which is convenient, because so much of the film is constituted of close-ups of it. Because Staho remains criminally overlooked, I’m afraid this will become another lost masterpiece, but it should be seen by any serious filmgoer and Rapace should get every possible acting award.
I’m Not There. (Todd Haynes) 92
Bob Dylan is a man of mystery, contradiction, chaos, clocks and watermelons, and “I’m Not There.” is built in his image. Part conventional biopic (rise to fame, failed marriage, drug addiction, etc.), part fake documentary (with talking heads segments, including some with Julianne Moore as a Joan Baez type), part 1960s art film (B&W, psychedelic imagery), part post-modern exercise (interweaved narratives, different actors playing the same character), part mad-circus Western (no, really!), Todd Haynes’s latest is infinitely challenging and equally rewarding. On first viewing, some stretches feel somewhat self-indulgent, while still being interesting in their own way, but there’s no question that much more numerous are the masterstrokes (the Beatles “cameo”, the New England Jazz and Folk Festival massacre, David Cross as Allen Ginsberg…). As word had it, Cate Blanchett is the best of the six actors playing the various versions of Dylan, but I also loved the takes by Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, little black kid Marcus Carl Franklin and even Richard Gere. But the real star here remains Haynes, who proves once again to be an unbelievably versatile virtuoso. “I’m Not There.” is a goddamn master class in cinema, always visually enthralling and packing a genius soundtrack, of course. This is everything the Lucien Francoeur flick “Exit pour Nomades” (look it up) wanted to be, and then some.
Whaaaaaa? This is supposed to be the best Québécois film of the year? This boring movie about boring people doing boring things? I’ll never understand other local critics… Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s crap: it’s nicely shot, Lafleur’s got some interesting ideas and the acting is fine. There’s just absolutely nothing exceptional about it. Don’t even try to compare it to “Happiness”. Sure, both movies are about losers, but Solondz’ flick was wonderfully, hilariously mean-spirited and his losers were fucked up in all kinds of fascinating ways. Lafleur’s sorry bunch is just dull, dull, dull.
This one is a tough nut to crack. As a movie-movie, it’s definitely got the goods: compelling storytelling, naturalistic yet lively direction, strong performances. It’s nicely positioned between a character drama about a community in crisis (in the press notes, the director invokes “Do the Right Thing” and “On the Waterfront”, amongst others) and a boxing flick à la “Raging Bull” (there’s even a “You fucking my wife?” scene between two brothers) and, particularly, “Rocky”: get this, the plot has this underdog, working class bloke (Rossif Sutherland) training for a match against a charismatic/arrogant, Apollo Creed-style Black champion (Flex Alexander), and he doesn’t want to win so much as to remain on his feet and “keep fighting back”. Classic… Except that there are all these disturbing undertones brought by the fact that our “hero” has just got out of jail, where he spent 10 years for having beat up a Black youth (KC Collins) so bad that he became physically and mentally handicapped for life. THAT’s the guy we should be rooting for!? Even more befuddling is how the white trash mofo ends up being trained by the victim’s father (Danny Glover)! Befuddling… but interesting, no doubt. As I said, this is all well written (though the escalation of violence feels a bit exaggerated – are there really such explosive racial tensions in Halifax, Nova Scotia?), well directed and well acted (beside those mentioned, the film also features good performances from Greg Bryk and Stephen McHattie), but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with where the movie stands morally.
Les chansons d’amour (Christophe Honoré) 70
Laidback but thoughtful storytelling, a few nods to the Nouvelle Vague, a compelling cast (including the particularly adorable Louis Garrel, Ludivine Sagnier and Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) and a wonderful collection of Alex Beaupain songs performed by the characters. What’s not to love? Well… Something happens at the end of the first act that made the film less pleasurable to me. On the other hand, it leads to something in the third act that, while it took me a while to accept, ultimately put a huge smile on my face.
Part autobiography, part history lesson, this engrossing animated film depicts a young lady’s experience of the Iran revolution, the Iran-Iraq war and its deceivingly calm aftermath, simultaneously with her discovery of youthful rebellion, love, heartache and so on. The start, amazingly expressive B&W drawings, the acute political commentary and the many humorous touches make this a true gem.
The Tracey Fragments (Bruce McDonald) 65
Tracey, a “normal” 15-year-old girl with “no tits and a big dumb moon-face”, is struggling with self-loathing, bullies at school, parents who don’t understand her. This is your typical high school drama, right? Pretty much, even when you take into account how Tracey has this imaginary romance with a classmate, has to look for her lost little brother (who thinks he’s a dog) and ends up running away from home and interacting with seedy individuals. What sets this movie apart, for better or worse, is the decision to blow it up into a million little pieces and quasi-randomly throw them together. Not only is the chronology fragmented, so are all the shots, which are split in 2, 3, 5, 8 or more frames. This makes for a kind of a live action comic strip on acid, as if Peter Greenaway was doing an experimental remake of “Ghost World”. This approach is somewhat justified by the idea that the form of the film mirrors Tracey’s own fragmented psyche, but I’m not sure if this enhances the storytelling, diminishes it or merely hides the fact that this ultimately is a relatively simple, ordinary teenage tale (again, in spite of a few quirks). I mean, this technique does make the emotional moments more overwhelming, but when a simple conversation scene is split into 6 frames, it grows tiresome. Still, whether you think this is a trippy exercise in style or an artsy wank, one thing’s for sure: “The Tracey Fragments” remains enjoyable thanks to the crazy/beautiful, funny/badass performance from Ellen Page and the great, moody score by Broken Social Scene.
L’âge des ténèbres (Denys Arcand) 0
“J’me suis dit, je l’fais, d’la marde.”
– Denys Arcand, after the FNC screening, candidly
explaining that he had a feeling this movie
wouldn’t work but decided to make it anyway.
Oh, of course I’d been aware of the noxious buzz coming off this movie over the last six months, as it’s been befuddling critics in Cannes, in Toronto and in France. But damn! One of the things I hate the most about critics is groupthink: when everyone is hating on a movie, it usually turns out that it’s not so bad. That’s what I thought here, as I was reading about how this was a “film de vieux con” and “le film de trop d’un auteur claquemuré dans une rancoeur stérile”. It couldn’t be that bad, right? WRONG! It’s worse. So, so much worse. It’s not only the worst movie Denys Arcand’s ever made (“Stardom” is genius in comparison), it might be the worst movie any world-class filmmaker has ever made. I mean, I don’t like everything Ang Lee or Gus Van Sant make, but you’re always guaranteed a minimum of interesting artistic input. Here, at best, Arcand is feebly rehashing his own work.
Otherwise, “L’âge des ténèbres” is filled with the most obvious, aimless, unfunny satire, not to mention endless ranting, idiotic skits and pointless cameos from Québécois or French stars (amongst those embarrassing themselves here: Thierry Ardisson, Bernard Pivot, Véronique Cloutier, Chantal Lacroix, Gaston Lepage, Michel Rivard & Marie-Michèle Desrosiers, Pauline Martin, Christian Bégin, my man Mathieu Baron). In bigger parts, Sylvie Léonard and Caroline Néron are also atrocious, and Arcand manages the impossible feat of making the usually wonderful Marc Labrèche (who’s the star of this witless rip-off of “American Beauty”) dull. His character is intended to be boring, I know, but even his dreams are a bore!
As you may know, it’s been suggested that this is the last in a thematic trilogy which started with “Le déclin de l’empire américain”, which I also dislike, but nowhere near as much. That first movie in Arcand’s Bourgeois Baby Boomer trilogy showed BBBs at their “peak”, observing the decline of civilization around them but remaining smug and enjoying the smell of their own farts. I actually love the middle film in this triptych, “Les invasions barbares”, maybe because it’s more human, less self-content, as if the BBBs had realized the err of their ways and were now trying to be open-minded towards the younger generation. Alas, that didn’t last. In “L’âge des ténèbres”, that open mind is slammed shut and chooses to reject post-BBB society wholesale, with infinite bitterness, pessimism and contempt. Thanks, but no thanks.
“Ich Bin Ein Quebecer!”
When a misunderstood Belgian inventor (Olivier Gourmet) learns from his sick old father (Jean-Pierre Cassel) that he’s adopted, having been born in a barn in Ste-Cécile, he flies to Canada to find his biological parents. His journey takes him to a nun (Janine Sutto), a priest (Gabriel Arcand) and another inventor of sorts (Paul Ahmarani) and then… Ha! I wouldn’t dare divulge all the surprises this highly clever little picture packs.
“Des diamants, un père disparu, une invention révolutionnaire…”
Falardeau’s film is a joy of every moment, marvellously telling an original, absurd, slyly moving story. Many scenes are replayed from different angles, as we learn more about Gourmet and Ahmarani’s characters (who form a superb comic duo, apart or together) and the things that bring them together. The movie also offers a refreshing vision of Quebec, celebrating both its more traditional/provincial side (the Catholic Church, country music, Molson beer) and a growing overture towards the world (Expo 67, relations with Belgium and Congo, natch). This is all very enjoyable, but it doesn’t stop there: ultimately, this tale of fathers and sons is downright biblical! (KL)
What better way to begin a festival than by showing the new movie of Philippe Falardeau (“La moitié gauche du frigo”). Congorama (90), starring Paul Ahmarani and the always excellent Olivier Gourmet, talks about family in a strange way. Falardeau has a nice way to tell a story and he is a great actors director. At first, maybe for the first 20 minutes, I was not sure if I was enjoying the film, whether it was good, and I wasn’t sure where it was going. But when Louis (Ahmarani) arrives this is when the film truly starts. And after that everything is perfect with great acting, dialogue and lots of surprises. I highly recommend this film and try not to read too much about it. Great start for the FNC. (AC)
“Sometimes there’s something delicious in oblivion.”
This is a story about a woman with Alzheimer’s whose mind is gradually degenerating, but it’s not a miserable viewing experience. It’ll make you cry a lot, for sure, but with much beauty and brightness through the sadness. This is a mature, masterfully calibrated picture, which comes as quite a surprise when you know that it’s the directorial debut of a 27-year-old woman. Polley’s film, based on a short story by Alice Munro, takes a relatively sober visual approach, but with poetic touches, great use of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon and a special handling of light and brightness – eternal sunshine of the spotless mind?
“I’m going… but I’m not gone.”
One thing that makes “Away From Her” instantly affecting is our long history as moviegoers with the eternal beauty of Julie Christie, which makes it all the more heartbreaking to see her aging and ailing (just as it would be to see Polley in such a role 50 years from now). Gordon Pinsent is very moving too as her husband, who didn’t always treat her well during their fortysomething years of marriage but who’s truly there for her now, with infinite compassion and patience, even though he has to watch her forget about him, their life together, their love… I’m getting tearful again just writing about it!
“Once the idea’s gone, everything’s gone.”
This is a film about the toll of time, about long-term relationships, about the infinity of the Canadian winter, about the loneliness of one’s own fragmented spirit, about the tragedy of forgetting and being forgotten. (KL)
A sex therapist (“I prefer couples counsellor.”) can’t get an orgasm even though her husband makes her go through the most acrobatic positions in the Kama Sutra. A depressed DV filmmaker and his former child star boyfriend bring in a third man into their relationship. A dominatrix longs for a real human connection. All of them converge in the titular underground New York club, where they indulge in copious amounts of art, sex and friendship. Sounds great, and it kind of is but, while Mitchell makes awesome use of color, music and humor like in his brilliant “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and the various characters in his new film are all somewhat fun/touching, none of them is nearly as iconic, badass and fascinating as Hedwig. Still, I liked this mix of “Rent”, “Happiness” and “Ken Park” quite a bit, and its joyful, graphic celebration of the three Cs (cock, cunt, cum) is certainly memorable. (KL)
Before choosing the film Shortbus (77) in my selection for the FNC, I watched the trailer to get an idea of what I was going to see. Afterwards, I said to myself, well that will be funny, and at the same time I recalled “Hedwig” and the pleasure I had watching that movie. So it was sold, I was going to see “Shortbus” by John Cameron Mitchell. The film starts with an opening that you will not forget with its nice “maquette” of New York and of course all the sexual acts that are included in that first 15-20 minutes. So that was funny, strange, but at the same time I was enjoying the movie. But after the introduction, the movie changes gears a bit, all the characters are looking, searching for something. It’s a quest to fill up their life, to fill up the emptiness in their life. There is the gay couple looking for what is not working in their life, a couple therapist searching for an orgasm, a dominatrix looking for a real relationship, etc. At some point I was so sad for them because as the film goes along further the characters are depressed and looking for something to make them fill alive. There are some great characters, great dialogue (specially with the old mayor of New York and a young guy), great use of music, and the more I think about the film, the more I like it. (AC)
This is the latest of Iñárritu’s series of films in which unrelated characters are linked by a road accident, here involving a tourist bus in the Moroccan desert and a stray bullet. I’m starting to feel that the multithread, jangled-chronology thing has not only lost its originality and surprise value, it kind of undermines the potency of each individual story. Still, out of the recent outflow of such pictures, which includes “Crash” and “Syriana”, this is by far the most effective. It also surpasses the two aforementioned titles in the depiction of a post-9/11 world of heightened racial tensions and political turmoil, the all too actual issues of “illegal” Mexicans in the US and of violence (and the repression of such) in the Middle East being very movingly dramatized. And then there’s the kinky Japanese teen comedy, which completes the film’s triptych thematically by, um… Your guess is as good as mine! Throwing a drastically different in tone and style storyline about a horny deaf-mute schoolgirl who enjoys flashing her bush (!) into a harrowing drama doesn’t make any sense to me but on its own, that part of the film is a lot of trippy fun and ultimately moving, too. All in all, this is a return to the brilliance of “Amores Perros” after the muddled “21 grams”. (KL)
Waiter (Alex Van Warmerdam) 70
After two very good film in a row at the FNC I was wondering if I was pushing my luck by going to a film by Alex Van Warmerdam from the Netherlands called “Waiter”. Well, I had a very good time and laughed a lot during the screening. It was not all good, at some point it was kind of flat, but in general it was very good. The film tells us about the life of a waiter (Edgar, played by writer-director Van Warmerdam) in his boring restaurant, in his boring home, with bizarre neighbours and a life without real love. The thing is after 20 minutes in the film we understand that we are watching a story that a writer is writing at the moment. So we are watching the story in the story. It’s not a new way to tell a story but it works very well in this case. The character (Edgar) and the author are interacting with each other, and that is very funny. So if you want to see a very good comedy, with great characters and great dialogue, go see that movie. So it’s 3 on 3 for the FNC. (AC)
Here’s a movie that’s easy to hate. Heck, it practically dares you not to hate it! But twisted as I am, I liked it anyway. Oh, it’s definitely uneven, heavy and rough around the edges, but there is some damn ballsy filmmaking in there and a pitch-dark sense of humor that I responded to. Think of a gangbang between Lynch, Bergman and Cronenberg and you might get an idea of how odd the film is. The dynamic at its centre is neatly established in the opening series of wordless shots, where we instantly understand the relationships between the three main characters through their body language. Adapted by Marie-Christine Blais from her first novel, this is the story of a young woman who’s violently jealous of the symbiotic, incestuous love shared by her brother and their mother.
The storytelling is bumpy and the dialogue can be too literary, especially coming from the always affected Carole Laure, but fortunately Hussain’s also got the two best young Quebec actors to work with, Marc-André Grondin and Caroline Dhavernas, whose charisma cuts through the occasional stuffiness of the picture like a knife. Dhavernas is supposed to be an ugly duckling, all crazed and disturbed, but while it works to a degree, her charm and beauty still shine through. Grondin’s character could have been better defined, but he brings a welcomed balance of intensity and vulnerability to it. Altogether, “La belle bête” is not perfect by any means; it’s a bit too artsy-fartsy for horror fans, and the gore and surreal flourishes (hello, Mr. Horseman!) will turn off the poor souls looking for another family drama à la “C.R.A.Z.Y.” But if you take it as a dark comedy à la “Visitor Q”, you might have as much fun watching it as I did. (KL)
Red Road (Andrea Arnold) 90
What a beautiful film, very hard, but so human. I don’t know where to start with that movie, I don’t know what to say. The story’s about Jackie (Kate Dickie), a girl working in a place where they control surveillance cameras on the streets. So everyday, she is looking at monitors to see what’s happening in a part of Glasgow. One day she sees someone that she didn’t want to see, or at least not know. We know that there is something wrong with the guy, Clyde (Tony Curran), and we can feel that he did something to Jackie. She follows him to meet him, to be closer to him. This is a very slow movie, and very intriguing. It’s very hard to describe it, but one thing I know is that the director took a great decision by choosing to do a movie that takes its time and does not tell the spectator until the last 15 minutes of the film what the guy did wrong. And when we find out, it is so well done, very sensitively. I’m not sure everything is clear in what I’m saying, but you have to see it for yourself to understand. If you’re planning on going to see it, be sure you have English subtitles to help (because of the Scottish accents)! A must see if you like Haneke and Lars von Trier, not for the deranged way of those directors, but more for the feeling the movie will leave you with after the end of the credits. Beautiful!!!!!! (AC)
Alright, this is kind of a wank-off. Like “The Idiots”, this is an intentionally amateurish, Dogme-style trifle, with inconsistent sound mix and light levels, inept framing, apparently random jump cuts… Coming from an unknown, you’d quickly dismiss it as an unremarkable little flick with a good performance by Jens Albinus and a few amusing bits (the sex scene, Jean-Marc Barr butchering the Danish language, etc.). But of course, von Trier’s reputation warrants more of our attention, a fact he neatly milks. He pops up (off screen) 3-4 times to poke fun at how this is just a silly comedy, “not worth a moment’s reflection”, and he points out bad camerawork, forced plot turns, how needlessly stretched the ending is… You gotta give it to Lars, clever bastard, he makes it almost impossible to hold his perceived failings against him!
So what is the movie about? Actually, it’s got a promising premise. Albinus plays a pretentious, idiotic actor who’s hired by a businessman to pose as the fictitious president of his company, whom he made up so he could remain chummy with his employees and blame unpopular decision on his higher-up. This elusive “boss of it all” now needs to materialize at the request of a grumpy Icelander they’re about to sign a major deal with, hence the need for someone to play the part. Not that surprisingly, even in this light comedy, von Trier sneaks in some commentary about capitalism, acting and people’s desperate need for attention/approval. So this isn’t a complete waste of time, and maybe if the comic timing wasn’t undermined by having to read subtitles I’d even recommend it. As is, this is mostly for completists. (KL)
Arrivederci Amore, Ciao (Michele Soavi) 60
I don’t know what to say about this movie, only that everything in this film is not new. Corrupted cop, corrupted guy, drugs, sex and rock’n’roll. Still the director Michele Soavi manage to entertain us, and just that is good… But what was he thinking when he put Smoke on the water (Deep Purple) or Aqualung (Jethro Tull) as background music? That was a terrible choice. But Alession Boni who played Giorgio Pellegrini, the main character, was great and very convincing. (AC)
Robert Morin is a video virtuoso, we already knew that, but with this incendiary new falsely (?) autobiographic yarn à la “Yes Sir! Madame”, he punches us in the gut once more. With nothing more than a voyeuristic camera and an accusatory voice pacing around an elderly man in a hospital room, Morin delivers an ultra dense, dynamic, sometimes funny but mostly disturbing film.
Morin is an incredible storyteller and a fiercely clever filmmaker and it’s endlessly impressive how he manages to keep us hanging to his every word. All that time, the objective is pointed at objects, photographs, objects, body parts, the TV or out the window, punctuating the discourse with seemingly banal images that become evocative.
“Petit Pow! Pow! Noël” is the story of a man who visits his dad on Christmas with the intent of making him suffer and eventually die for his crimes against his family. The catch is that whatever torture (psychological or otherwise) he inflicts on the old bastard, it pales in comparison with the daily pain and humiliation of having to be fed, washed and get your diapers changed. Even though the protagonist is motivated by hatred, the evident loss of human dignity on display makes a striking pro-euthanasia case.
Morin’s movie takes a situation often seen in Québécois cinema, the neglected son who confronts his father on his deathbed (see also: “Les invasions barbares”, “La vie avec mon père”), but here it’s devoid of superfluous flourishes, romanticism or pretension. “Petit Pow! Pow! Noël” is a thought-provoking, unforgettable real-life horror tale. (KL)
Gabrielle (Patrice Chéreau) 80
First of all, I have to say that I love Patrice Chéreau, and that’s why I bought a ticket for his new film “Gabrielle”. Chéreau is one of the best directors of France because he is very reliable – each of his films is different, but they’re always of a very high quality. To appreciate “Gabrielle”, you have to know that Chéreau also directs theatre and opera, because his new film is very theatrical. The action is set in a big house during the early 1900s and revolves around a couple that does not go well together. Gabrielle (played by the great Isabelle Huppert) leaves her husband by writing a letter to Jean (Pascal Greggory) and then she realises that she is making a mistake and wants to come back. Chéreau wrote a great script with beautiful dialogue. It’s so well written and the direction of Chéreau is as good as the script. He knows how to make his actors move and how to nicely compose images. At the end of the film, you can think easily ot the films of the great Italian director Antonioni, with the feeling of coldness, silence, things left unsaid, etc. Finally, if you want to see that film, go see it in a theatre because on your T.V. you will lose all the beauty of it. I’m already waiting for Chéreau’s next film.
Vers le Sud (Laurent Cantet) 70
After winning the grand prize at the FNC with the excellent “L’emploi du temps”, Cantet wanted to present his new film at the same festival. The big problem with “Vers le Sud” is that it was made after “L’emploi du temps”. So for sure “Vers le sud” suffers of that, but it’s still a very strong film, with a very strong casting. “Vers le sud” is the story of three depressed women in their 40’s and 50’s who don’t have love and affection at their own house, so they go to Haiti to relax and cruise little boys. So they receive unreal love and unreal affection, but they like that, they feel younger and more appreciated by life. The movie is based on three short stories by Dany Lafferière and it was a co-production with Canada. Cantet cast Louise Portal to play one of the three women, and she is really great. Maybe not as great as Charlotte Rampling, but still, she is close. As usual Charlotte Rampling is fantastic, she is just precise, loving and mean all at the same time. And of course I have to talk about the casting that was made on Haiti. Legba is a great character and Ménothy Cesar plays it with a real realism. Another thing that I like with the film is that it’s in French, English and Creole.
Le temps qui reste (François Ozon) 60
Last year, at the same festival, I saw “5×2” from Ozon. And yesterday, I saw at the FNC the new François Ozon. So every year we have the chance to see a new Ozon film and soon we will have to review his films regularly like we do with Woody Allen. So how was the new Ozon, well it was better than “5×2”, not as good as “Swimming Pool” and “Sous le sable”, but still a good little film. I really like to see a new Ozon each year, even if it’s not a great film, I always enjoy it, like I like to watch the new Woody Allen every year. So “Le temps qui reste” tell the story about Romain (handsome Melvil Poupaud), who is diagnosed with untreatable cancer. So he stops working, goes to see his grandmother, and tries not to fight with his sister. The story can be sad, but the problem is we don’t believe that Romain is sick, he is too good looking, too clean and too in shape for that to be possible. So it’s a big problem that we don’t believe the main story of the film. But there are still very nice moments, like when Poupaud visits his grandmother, played by the very talented Jeanne Moreau. That is the best part of the film, it’s very touching and well played by the two actors. But all the flashbacks of Romain when he was a child are cheesy and that bothers me, because those part are ruining the film.
Another thing I like about Ozon is that the audience is fully aware that he treats his actors like puppets and does whatever he wants with them. He always does that with his actors, like in “8 femmes” when Catherine Deneuve fell on Fanny Ardant. In “Le temps qui reste”, you feel that Ozon finds Melvil Poupaud cute, so he makes him do an erotic scene. A homosexual erotic scene, I might add. So if you like Ozon, go see his new film just because it’s him, but we are waiting for a better one next year. (AC)
Nuit noire (Oliver Smolders) 20
I went to see that film by knowing nothing about the director, the actor and the story. I only knew it was supposed to be a mix between Peter Greenaway, David Cronenberg and David Lynch. So, as a big fan of David Lynch I said to myself, why not give it a try. I got nothing to lose, and I read that the director did some great short movie. But after the viewing of the film “Nuit Noire”, it’s more a mix between David Lynch and some student of Université de Montréal trying to do a David Lynch film. I cannot tell you the story, because I’m not sure there is a story. But I can tell that I saw some strange characters, some insects and some boobies. Yes gentlemen, there is some boobies, a lot. So, after 90 minutes of nonsense, I thought right away of a student film that wants to be as cool as David Lynch. I have to admit that they are some very cool parts of dream, with some old men and some good art direction. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, I love the idea that it’s always nighttime in the town. It’s only sunny for 15 seconds and they are announcing the venue of the sun in a microphone. So that was cool but that doesn’t make a film. (AC)
Manderlay (Lars von Trier) 40
The latest from von Trier is the second part of his American Trilogy. The first one was “Dogville”, one of von Trier’s greatest films, so I had some big expectations for the following film. Unfortunately my expectations were not reached at all. “Manderlay” is a big failure in my point of view. I don’t want to compare “Manderlay” with “Dogville”, but I have to because it’s the sequel and it’s made with the same Brechtian approach. I still like the style very much, and von Trier’s camera is always at the right spot at the right moment. So the technical part is very good, but it’s not enough to become a good film.
First negative point is the choice of the new Grace, played here by Bryce Dallas Howard. After Nicole Kidman’s unsettling performance in the role, the new Grace is just not good. Nicole Kidman was so good in “Dogville” that the new Grace is just boring to watch. Bryce Dallas Howard is not a great actress. The only good point I can find in the choice of Ron Howard’s daughter is that she is more American than Kidman. But that’s it for her. There is a big waste of talent in that movie, we only see Lauren Bacall 3 minutes, Chloe Sevigny only 10 minutes, and I think she only says one line in the film. I hope Lars von Trier will choose Sevigny for the final part in his trilogy to play Grace.
Like its predecessor, “Manderlay” is about an important subject, slavery. But with a theme like that I was hoping of a better film, especially from this director. The dialogue is weak, and you don’t feel the misery of those slaves. “Manderlay” is not as powerful as “Dogville”, but I hope “Wasington” will be. So please Mister von Trier, take your time to do the last one, because I feel you did “Manderlay” a bit too fast. Take your time to write powerful dialogue and replace Bryce Dallas Howard by an actress who can act. In conclusion, I have to say that the photo-montage for the end credits to the sound of David Bowie’s Young Americans works. But it was too late to bring some good idea. (AC)
Unlike Mr. Caron, I found Manderlay (92) to be pretty damn great. Of course it’s not as powerful as “Dogville”, but what is?
(KL : my full review)
Caché (Michael Haneke) 95
First of all, if you’ve never seen a movie by that director I have to tell you that it’s never an easy watch. But like his other films, you will remember your experience and just by the fact that I still talk about “La pianiste” and “Funny Games” makes those films very interesting. It’s the same thing with his new film, I will remember and talk about that film for a while. It’s been a long time since I saw a great new film, and that is the case for the new Haneke, it’s a great film. I love how he manipulates the audience just by using some simple tricks. I will not reveal those things because it will ruin your experience.
Haneke wrote a great script and he chose a great actor in Daniel Auteil, who is just fantastic as that journalist and Juliette Binoche as his wife is great too. The plot goes like this, the couple receive some videotapes at their home. On the tape you recognize the house of the couple, and see them go out, go into the house. So it’s a bit like David Lynch did in “Lost Highway”, but Haneke pushes the idea further than Lynch. With that, the spectators are plunged in a great thriller, without music, without someone hidden at the end of a street waiting for someone. And of course, because you’re in a Haneke movie, there is always big tension between characters, and you have the tension between races. You got tension between white and black people, between white and Arabic people, and you feel that tension very well. And you feel the difference between them, and Haneke does represent that very well.
I have to compare it with “Manderlay”, because they are both about racism. But Haneke does it much, much better than Lars von Trier. Because you feel the difference between the white, the black and the Arabic people. In “Manderlay”, you don’t feel that difference. Maybe it’s because Haneke’s dialogue is better put together. So if you want to see a great film that you will remember, go see that film, and don’t read too much about it, because you will spoil the movie. (AC)