RVCQ 2005

LES RENDEZ-VOUS DU CINÉMA QUÉBÉCOIS
February 17>27 in Montreal
February 21>27 in Quebec city

This annual festival presents the local films produced in the year that just ended, plus a few premieres. The full schedule will be online February 9th eventually.

OPENING FILM

Manners of Dying (Jeremy Peter Allen) 53

“Regulations”, “schedule”, “as outlined in the procedural checklist”… When death-row convicts come to Harry Parlington (Serge Houde), director of the Cantos prison, they can be assured that everything will go without a hitch. It’s a well-oiled execution machine, the only thing that can be unpredictable is the condemned’s behaviour.

“Manners of Dying” was made on a limited budget, but the visual grittiness is appropriate, the no-frills direction mirroring the cold and clinical way Parlington and his crew go about their business. The only “gimmick” here is how the film goes through prisoner Kevin Barlow (Roy Dupuis)’s last meal, last night and execution through lethal injection once, then it starts over with things happening in various different manners, “Run Lola Run”-style. Barlow is alternately afraid, sad, resigned, kicking and screaming, philosophical, irreverent…

The film doesn’t really add anything to what we’ve seen in “Dead Man Walking”, “The Green Mile” and “Dancer in the Dark”, beside the fact that all the possible ways of facing death are experienced through a single man. The concept is stretched a bit too thin (they should have stopped at 4-5 “manners” instead of going up to 7), but it remains intriguing and it makes for a great acting showcase for Roy Dupuis.

CLOSING FILM

Les Guerriers (Micheline Lanctôt) 70

This adaptation of Michel Garneau’s 1989 play was made for TV (it will air on Radio-Canada later in the year), but it’s smarter and ballsier than most of the movies that hit multiplexes. Not unlike the stage-to-screen translations of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” and Eric Bogosian’s “Talk Radio”, Micheline Lanctôt’s film manages to make a very talkative piece feel dynamic enough.

“Les Guerriers” tellingly opens with stock images of rams locking horns. We then meet Paul (Patrick Huard) and Gilles (Dan Bigras), who are conducting their own alpha male ritual. Their publicity agency has just landed a huge contract, finding a new slogan to promote the Canadian Armed Forces. But how can you top something as wonderfully delusional as the old “Si la vie vous intéresse” campaign? For ten days straight, the two men will relentlessly brainstorm, fuelled on expensive scotch and cigars, struggling to think of a way to convince kids that training to become a mindless killing machine is reasonable.

This is a simple but effective premise, allowing Garneau to discuss all of the great questions of our era through his characters. The philosophy of war, of course, but also how violence relates to sex and religion, the way publicists empty words to make people want things they don’t need, etc. The dialogue can be heavy and very “written”, but it’s made more organic by the inspired performances of Patrick Huard and Dan Bigras. Huard has proven many times now that he’s got real acting chops, so the surprise here is that Bigras is able to relatively hold his own opposite him. Good stuff.

QUÉBEC ROUND-UP 2004

After the extraordinary year for local cinema that was 2003, with Les Invasions Barbares celebrated from Cannes to the Oscars, 2004 was a return to the usual. Crappy mainstream movies, pretentious art films, some great non-fiction work and a few entertaining AND smart genre flicks.

THE BEST OF THE BEST
Les Aimants (Yves Pelletier) [ review ] 91

GREAT DOCUMENTARIES
Daytona (amérika orkestra) [ review ] 77

mon fils sera arménien (Hagop Goudsouzian) 73
[ This powerful NFB documentary depicts filmmaker Hagop Goudsouzian’s journey back to Armenia, on the traces of the 1,5 million of his ancestors who were massacred or forced into exile by the Turkish between 1915 and 1923. This isn’t as well known as it should because many countries still won’t recognize this genocide. Goudsouzian takes with him a group of Montrealers of Armenian descent (including TV personality Patrick Masbourian) to the land of their forebears in search of the survivors of the genocide, whose number diminishes each year. They are all over 90 years old today, but they still feel the pain of fleeing Turkish assassins as kids and so do we listening to them. ]

L’amour en pen / De mémoire de chats (Manon Barbeau) 70
[ Manon Barbeau’s latest documentaries both display acute sensitivity, discovering truth and beauty in unlikely places. “L’amour en pen”, which has prisoners talking about the great love of their life, is surprisingly moving, maybe because it’s so rare to see men (convicts or not) open up and be vulnerable. “De mémoire de chats” explores Montreal’s countless back streets, taking in quiet beauty and sad decay, clothespins and heroin needles, gardens and dumpsters… Barbeau finds lyricism in the urban jungle, getting off the main roads and into the heart of the city. ]

le petit Jésus (André-Line Beauparlant) 70
[ In her follow-up to “Trois Princesses pour Roland”, art director turned documentary filmmaker André-Line Beauparlant once again turns her camera towards her relatives to try and make sense of some of their most difficult memories. In this case, she interviews her parents, siblings and friends of the family about how her handicapped little brother Sébastien (now deceased) affected their lives. This “story of a miracle that never happened” is filled with sadness, naturally, but there’s also anger at why this happened to them even though they were practicing Catholics who fervently prayed and went to church. Heartbreaking stuff. ]

Make Money. Salut, Bonsoir! (Martin Frigon, Christian Fournier) 61
[ This touching documentary depicts the harsh reality of corporations who set up in small towns, rack up millions while working the people nearly to death, then pack up and leave without saying thanks. Co-directors Martin Frigon and Christian M. Fournier give a voice to the angry, bitter former workers of the Noranda mine as they watch their native Murdochville crumble apart while most of them suffer of pulmonary diseases. ]

SOLID GENRE FLICKS
La Peau Blanche (Daniel Roby) [ review ] 69

Monica la Mitraille (Pierre Houle) [ review ] 69

mémoires affectives (Francis Leclerc) 63
[ Part of our Festival du Nouveau Cinéma coverage) ]

La Planque (Alexandre Chartrand & Thierry Gendron) 60
[ After stealing millions of dollars of heroin from their boss, two thugs nervously wait in a disaffected factory for their contact to show up. This ballsy huis clos shows that you don’t need a big budget, elaborate technique or a shooting permit (!) to make an effective movie. Using a couple of DV cameras, natural lighting and only general scene outlines, co-directors Thierry Gendron and Alexandre Chartrand follow actors Martin Desgagné and Pierre-Antoine Lasnier in long uninterrupted takes, allowing much tension to build up. The film is understandably a little rough around the edges, but it really works. ]

Le Dernier Tunnel (Érik Canuel) 49
[ Here’s further proof that we can make brainless and violent flicks as well as Hollywood, and on the cheap, too. This by-the-numbers heist flick is populated by walking clichés: the career criminal who won’t quit, the decrepit old pro, the hard-ass moneylender, the eager new kid, the wild card, the long-suffering girlfriend, the ball-busting parole officer… This is a B-movie all the way, but the cast (led by Michel Côté and Jean Lapointe) is solid and director Érik Canuel’s got a way with pop-up visuals. If you’re gonna watch trash, might as well make it local. ]

NOT TOO SHABBY
Premier Juillet, le film (Philippe Gagnon) [ review ] 47

Le bonheur c’est une chanson triste (François Delisle) [ review ] 36

Vendus (Éric Tessier) 34
[ Less than 4 months after the release of his scarily effective “Sur le seuil”, Éric Tessier follows it up with an underwhelming crime comedy. Double-crosses, violence played for laughs and wacky twists abound in this sub-Coen movie about a prostitute trying to blackmail the loser husband of a rich real estate agent. Tessier’s direction is dynamic and Véronique Bannon is like sex on a stick, but DV blown up to 35mm still looks horrible and “Vendus” is a mild diversion at best. ]

Ma vie en Cinémascope (Denise Filiatrault) [ review ] 31

Elles étaient cinq (Ghyslaine Côté) [ review ] 27

C’est pas moi… C’est l’autre ! (Alain Zaloum) 25
[ Vincent Papineau, a “petty thief trying to make an honest living” (!), finds himself in hot water after stealing than losing 230 grands from the Marseille mob. Then through a contrived case of mistaken identities, he finds himself posing as a Montreal policeman and he decides to use his new status to scam up some cash. Roy Dupuis, in a rare comedic performance, is amusing as the crook/cop, but the rest of the cast doesn’t fare as well. As Dupuis’ partner, Lucie Laurier is at a loss trying to make sense of her character’s constant mood changes, Luck Mervil is bamboozled into a homeboy role and the French actors playing the bad guys couldn’t be more annoying and less funny if they tried. ]

MAKE IT STOP
Camping Sauvage (Sylvain Roy & Guy A. Lepage) [ review ] 18

Jack Paradise, les nuits de Montréal (Gilles Noël) 17
[ Roy Dupuis has got charisma to spare, but he can still not manage to involve us in the by-the-numbers story of Jack Paradise, a French Canadian pianist who enters the often Black and English Montreal underworld from the 1930s to the ‘60s. This is a particularly poorly written film, with idiotic dialogue, one-note characters and a plot that’s little more than a loose string of clichés. The jazz music is cool enough, but the filmmakers lack the budget or the resourcefulness to truly recreate the period setting – the nightclub scenes always feel half-empty and lifeless, much like the movie. ]

La Lune viendra d’elle-même (Marie-Jan Seille) 15
[ Aimée (Isabelle Leblanc) is losing her struggle with AIDS and her boyfriend (the Artist formerly know as Jean Leloup) has abandoned her, but she still has her friend Francine (France Castel) accompanying her until the end. Here’s another film with a heavy subject it isn’t able to transcend. Writer-director Marie-Jan Seille spells things out too squarely and her attempts at symbolism fall flat. Castel breathes compassion, but Leblanc is insufferable in her long, slow, boring agony and the movie offers no greater insights than “Dying’s a bitch, eh.” Thanks for the heads-up, now can I have my 2 hours back? ]

Dans l’œil du chat (Ruby Barichello) 13
[ After an exceptional year where Quebec filmmakers showed they could make pictures both smart and entertaining, here’s a throwback to the days of desperately pretentious films that appeal to nobody. Simon (Jean-Nicolas Verreault) lost his girlfriend Pauline (Julie Le Breton) to a trip around the world from which she never came back. Months later he is still obsessed with her, even though he’s now dating her friend Gégé (Isabel Richer), with whom he only connects through lame movie sex. The movie is about clearing up the mystery of Pauline’s disappearance somewhere abroad, but in pure student film fashion it all takes place in a single apartment through endless phone calls, e-mails and faxes. Verreault is brooding throughout, generally half-naked and drunk, as if he were (badly) channelling Martin Sheen in the opening of “Apocalypse Now”. Colorful characters (notably Pierre Lebeau as the landlord) pop in occasionally, otherwise it’s moping and more moping. Ominous shots of Pauline’s orphaned cat walking around the apartment make one hope that some “Cat People”-style nonsense will shake things up, but no luck. “Dans l’oeil du chat” is reasonably well crafted, but it strives for heavy meaningfulness with no concern of drawing the audience in. ]

Comment devenir un trou de cul et enfin plaire aux femmes (Roger Boire) 11
[ Louis, a needy loser with the worst taste in clothes, has just been dumped again. His ex wants them to remain friends, but he’s had enough of being the “nice guy” and decides to become an asshole instead, since this is what women want. The whole movie revolves around such misogynistic ideas. They’re not necessarily wrong, but they’re definitely unhealthy. Embarrassing sex scenes and godawful musical numbers fill out this unpleasant picture, which is even more amateurish than a Simon Boisvert film. ]

Nouvelle-France (Jean Beaudin) [ review ] 8

THE WORST OF THE WORST
Elvis Gratton XXX: La Vengeance d’Elvis Wong (Pierre Falardeau) 6
[ Pierre Falardeau has never been known for his subtlety, but here he reaches a new low in moronic farce. Two decades after his creation, Elvis Gratton is more pathetic and less funny than ever. The boorish “p’tit gars de Brossard” is now the head of a giant media conglomerate, concerned only with profits and promoting Canadian unity. This allows Falardeau to hurl bile at politicians, journalists and intellectuals but, even if you agree with his opinions, they’re too crudely thrown into this cinematic cesspool to register as more than the whining of a frustrated old man. ]

Festival du Nouveau Cinéma 2004


by Alex Caron and Kevin L.

The 33rd edition of the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma takes place October 14 to 24 at Ex-Centris, Cinéma du Parc and, for special-event screenings, at Cinéma l’Amour. The complete program is available online.

The selection includes films from all around the world, from breakthrough filmmakers or seasoned pros, as well as plenty of documentaries, shorts, “evolving cinema” and special events such as Peter Greenaway’s return to the festival to present his completed TULSE LUPER trilogy. Good times!

***
OPENING FILMS :

Ryan (Canada, Chris Landreth) 84
[ This brilliantly conceived short film is an impressionistic portrait of Ryan Larkin, an ONF animator who made a few influential films in the ‘60s then burnt out and has now ended up as one of the countless bums that roam the Montreal streets. Part documentary (we hear interviews with Ryan and some of the people who knew him), part animation (surreal 3D CGI characters fill the screen), this is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. (KL) ]

clean (France/UK/Canada, Olivier Assayas) 46
[ Emily lives the rock star lifestyle, not that she’s much talented herself, but she’s hooked up with an alt-rock cult figure, and both of them got hooked on heroin, until her husband got dead and everyone got talking about how she was responsible… Why, this is the Courtney Love story! This is an intriguing subject, at least for the first act. We follow Emily and her hubby at the end of their self-destructive downward spiral (in Hamilton of all places) and we gather much about the characters and their background in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, this economy of storytelling doesn’t last. There’s a six-months-later flash-forward and the action moves to Paris, as Emily tries to clean up her act in order to retrieve her kid, who’s been living with his grandparents. I don’t mind the melodramatic premise, but Emily’s emotional arc is predictable and not particularly involving. Maggie Cheung is an extraordinary actress and she’s great in the English parts of the film, not so much in the French ones. In supporting roles, I liked Don McKellar and Nick Nolte, but the child actor is atrocious and having musicians (Metric, Tricky…) play themselves is more distracting than anything. I also found the narrative jittery, clumsily introducing superfluous back-story (Emily once had a music video TV show! She used to be into lesbianism!) and ending every other scene with an inconclusive fade-to-black. The “stylized realism” conveyed by the cinematography is interesting and Brian Eno’s music is hauntingly used through the movie, but ultimately “clean” is too uneven to be more than superficially moving. (KL) ]

[ Clean (55), the last film of french director Olivier Assayas, relates the story of Emily (Maggie Cheung), a rock star living in the shadow of her famous husband Lee. Their lifestyle is Rock’n’Roll and drugs, and that’s what the film is about at first. Later on, it’s the opposite, as we follow Emily’s battle over drugs because she wants to be able to see her son, who’s living with his grandparents in Vancouver. The first part of the movie is amazing. We begin our trip in Hamilton, Ontario. What a great party town!!!The cinematography, the direction and the acting are very powerful. So in the beginning we are saying to ourself that “Clean” will be a great film. That is until Assayas takes his story in Paris, six month after the events in Hamilton. The second part of the movie is not as good as the first in Canada. I don’t know why Assaysa did this. The major problem is that Maggie Cheung, who won Best Actress award at the Cannes film festival, is very good except when she speaks french. And the French actor are very bad when you compare them to the American ones, notably Nick Nolte. Except for the part in Paris, Assayas’ film is very good and the music by Brian Eno is great. (AC) ]

***

Demi-Tarif (France, Isild Le Besco) 37
[ Chris Marker wrote in Libération that a new Nouvelle Vague was emerging and that “Demi-Tarif” was its “À Bout de Souffle”. Quality concerns aside, one can see what he meant. The same way Godard and his contemporaries reinvented the rules of cinema, the new generation is creating a new kind of film without film, where anyone can take a little DV camera and go make a movie on a whim. This has been going on for years, though, at least since Lars von Trier iniated the Dogme 95 manifesto. So “Demi-Tarif” doesn’t actually reinvent anything, but it’s still a notable example of the new cinéma direct. It follows two little girls and a boy as they wander through the city, dress up, shoplift, quarrel, watch “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, prance around in the nude… It’s kind of an asexual, apolitical “The Dreamers”. The preteen actors are very natural and first time writer-director Isild Le Besco’s depiction of childhood adrift is occasionally fascinating, but her film seems adrift itself and feels long at only 63 minutes. (KL) ]

The Fuccons (Japan, Ishibashi Yoshimasa) ???
[ You gotta love the Japanese. Who else could think up such nonsense? “The Fuccons” is a series of three-minute shorts that follows a family of American mannequins living in Japan. There’s James and Barbara, a hypocritically happy married couple, Mikey, their nearly-retarded son, Emily, his sorta-girlfriend, Charles and Tony, the rude English twins who always pop in uninvited, Teacher Bob, the schoolmaster who’s so shy that he takes his mother everywhere with him so she can talk for him, and my favorite, Laura, Mikey’s bitchy but sentimental cousin. It’s peculiar to be watching a sitcom starring inanimate mannequins with petrified smiles and a tendency to laugh loud and often for no particular reason, and a lot of people walked out not even halfway through the screening, but I stuck around and was oddly entertained. (KL) ]

***

Childstar (Canada, Don McKellar) 26
[ Taylor Brandon Burns (Mark Rendall) is a 12 year old sitcom actor who’s about to star in his first movie, “The First Son”, an idiotic Hollywood flick that could be described as a cross between “Home Alone” and “Air Force One” (“Are they funny terrorists?”). While they’re shooting in Canada, Taylor is driven around by Rick Schiller (Don McKellar), who thinks he’s only doing this until his own filmmaking career takes off but is conned by the boy’s mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) into becoming his full-time handler. This is a juicy premise with which you could go many different ways: play off how this wholesome kid on TV is a spoiled brat off screen or make him into a tragic figure that’s being exploited out of his childhood, or focus on the failed Canadian director confronted to the excesses of big Hollywood productions, or on the odd triangle between the kid, his mom and the driver… Unfortunately, instead of picking one plot and developing it properly, the movie takes all these stories and throws them together into a free-for-all of half-baked ideas and unearned tone shifts. The characters are all underwritten, their motivations constantly changing at the whim of the plot(s). The satire of Hollywood is pretty toothless and, while the supporting cast offers amusing turns by the likes of Dave Foley and Eric Stoltz, they don’t get that much to do. There are a few good laughs, but they’re few and far between and then not there at all when the movie takes a dramatic turn. McKellar does have a point to make about children being used by the film industry, but it takes him forever to get to it and by then we’re past caring. “Childstar” isn’t as worthless as “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star”, but it’s a disappointment all the same. (KL) ]

[ What more can I say than Kevin about Childstar (26)? The latest film of Don McKellar is useless. I was so bored watching that film and it’s only 1 hour ½, there’s a problem here. The beginning was ok, but after 25 minutes, the story is going nowhere. After 25 minutes, we don’t care anymore of the destiny of Rick Schiller (Don McKellar), and we don’t care if he found the childstar (Mark Rendall). We just don’t care about the story, as is often the case with Canadian films. Ok, there’s some good bits in the film, like the photo shoot with Natalie (Kristin Adams), but that’s just because she’s cute!!! (AC) ]

Vera Drake (UK, Mike Leigh) 70
[ “She’s got a heart of gold, that woman.” That’s Vera Drake for you, loving wife, caring mother, hard-working cleaning lady for rich folks… and criminal. You see, Vera’s always putting the kettle on, usually for tea, but occasionally to boil water in which she mixes disinfectant and pink soap, all of which is then pumped up the kooch of unhappily pregnant women. Leigh does a good job of establishing Drake as a nice person living with a nice family, ordinary working class people. All she wants is to “help young girls out” but abortion, especially in 1950, is heavily frowned upon and illegal, too. Thus we feel this dark cloud looming over Vera’s happy home life, where no one’s aware of the service she provides to desperate gals… This kind of dry British drama can become depressing, but Leigh, frequent collaborators Dick Pope (on cinematography) and Andrew Dickson (on music) and the ensemble cast find some lighter notes in the midst of dreary circumstances. Imelda Staunton gives a heartbreaking performance in the title role and makes it very hard for us to condemn her. Leigh himself doesn’t pass judgment, whether her actions are reprehensible is up to the viewer. (KL) ]

[ Wife, Mother, Criminal. Those are the words on the poster of Vera Drake (75) the latest film of Mike Leigh. We will follow, during 2 hours, parts of the life of Vera Drake, played by Imelda Staunton. I have to say that the performance of Staunton was the best female performance that I saw this year. Vera is a great character, she’s always smiling, not complaining (she’s a cleaning lady for the rich) and always ready to help people. That’s the criminal part! She’s helping young lady to have a abortion. And of course that’s ilegal in Great Britan. For me, this is the best film of the festival (after 6 days) because Mike Leigh did a great job. First of all, the sreenplay is great, very well written and he finishes his film witch such intelligence. Leigh could have gone on with his story for another half hour, but he has the good sense of ending it at the right moment on a couple of very powerful images. Also, Leigh does a great job with the direction of the film. The art design department does a great job with some beautiful set, further enhanced by the cinematography of Dick Pope, which also conveys the sadness of the film. Finally, this film is beautiful and story will move you. (AC) ]

***

Life is a Miracle (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Emir Kusturica) 65
[ This new film by Emir Kusturica is very joyful and funny, but in some way we are saying to ourselves that we’ve already seen that movie. The story is simple. Kusturica sets the action during the war in Bosnia, his main character being a Serb engineer (Slavko Stimac) who has to keep an eye on a beautiful Muslim hostage (Natasa Solak). Of course the story will be around them and the impossible love that comes out from this relationship. Kusturica has a special touch and always lightens up the movie with beautiful ideas, transforming drama into comedy. Like in “Black cat, white cat”, the spectator will see animals doing strange things (a donkey so desperately in love that he wants to commit suicide), old cars, cheerful music, etc. But that’s the problem of the film, we already saw all those things in “Black cat, white cat”. So no surprises, but you will spend a very good moment with those strange animals and those great characters. (AC) ]

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (USA, Asia Argento) 30
[ I didn’t know what to think after I saw the latest film of Asia Argento. The question that I ask myself was: did she make that film seriously or with a smile on her face? Argento, who wrote, directed and acted in her own film, tells the story of a junkie (herself) travelling with her son around the United States. She’s travelling because she needs money to pay for her drugs and to fuck a lot a different people. It was very quiet in the cinema and I don’t know why, because I laughed so hard during that film. I have to say that I don’t think much of miss Argento. She is a bad actress, a bad screenwriter and a very bad director. Then again, she wrote so many good one-liners (“You want to check my cunt also.”) that I finally enjoyed the screening. And also, I couldn’t understand how she convinced all the different actors to play in her movie (Peter Fonda, Winona Ryder, Ornella Muti, Marilyn Manson, Jeremy Sisto, Michael Pitt, etc). So the success of Asia Argento is a mystery to me, but again, if you don’t have a heart like me, you will laugh a lot in that movie. (AC) ]

[ Like Alex, I was more amused than moved by The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (62), but I don’t agree that Asia Argento is untalented. Sure, her screenplay is all over the place, uneasily mixing religion and blasphemy, but this story of a young boy’s fucked up childhood with the worst mama ever and an endless string of no-good “new dads” is certainly not boring. It’s like “Wild at Heart” meets “La petite Aurore l’enfant martyre”! Argento is not a great actress, but what a screen presence! I loved her ultra white trash bleached blonde junkie whore, this is a great (scarlet) diva performance. And call me crazy, but I find her to truly have a filmmaker’s eye. Her movie is a bit of a mess, but it’s visually alive in a way few movies are. Screw Sofia Coppola, Asia Argento is the second-generation director worth buzzing about. (KL) ]

***

Land of Plenty (USA, Win Wenders) 40
[ After 8 days of festival, I’m kind of disappointed of the movies that I saw. I tought I made safe choice by choosing big names like Assayas, Kusturica, Varda and Wenders. Well the last film of the German director is good, but not that good. I was hoping for a good Wenders, because when he make a good movie, it’s very good. We just have to think of the beautiful “Paris, Texas”, “The American Friend” or the documentary about his friend Nicholas Ray, “Lightning Over Water”, to understand that he is a great storyteller. I remember the first time that I saw “Paris, Texas”, it was such a powerful movie that I just had to watch his other films. But his latest film “Land of Plenty” is not one of his best. I was sad, because the subject is very actual and relevant. The action is set in Los Angeles after September 11, but Wenders won’t show us the glamorous part of L.A., only the poor section of the city. So there’s Lana (beautiful Michelle Williams), just arrived from Tel Aviv to work in a mission. She’s looking for her uncle Paul (John Diehl), whom is a veteran from Vietnam. He’s a freak, driving around in his van looking everywhere to find terrorists. He’s got surveillance cameras, recorders, tape, etc. We follow him in is adventures and by a strange coincidence

FFM 2004

FFM OFFERS THE WORLD
by Alexandre Caron, Neil Manning and Kevin L.

The 2004 edition of the Montreal Festival des Films du Monde, its 28th, will take place August 26 to September 6. The programming includes the following sections: World Competition, Cinema of the Americas (Panorama Canada, United States, Latin America), Cinema of Europe, Cinema of Africa, Cinema of Asia, Cinema of Oceania, World Documentaries, Out of Competition, Tributes, the Student Film Festival, and Outdoor Screenings. This year, the festival is also presenting two new sections, “Variety Critics’ Choice: Americas Now”, a selection by Variety critics of films from the United States, Canada and Latin America and Cinema and Sports, a special section to commemorate the 2004 Olympics.

It is this eclectic aspect of the program that has been a hallmark of the FFM and has made the Festival so interesting to both filmgoers and professionals from around the world. Each year, films from some 70 countries are shown; ranging from works by well-known directors to the first films of a new generation of filmmakers. The FFM has long since lost count of the number of its “discoveries”.

As in the past, an international jury will see the films entered in the World Competition and they will attribute the following prizes:

Grand Prix des Amériques:
THE SYRIAN BRIDE (HACALA HASURIT) by Eran Riklis (Israel/France/Germany)

Jury Award :
Ex-aequo :
THE PARKING ATTENDANT IN JULY (KAN CHE REN DE QI YUE) by An Zhanjun (China)
AROUND THE BEND by Jordan Roberts (United States)

Best Director :
THE 7th DAY (EL 7° DIA) by Carlos Saura (Spain/France)

Best Artistic Contribution :
ELLES ÉTAIENT CINQ by Ghyslaine Côté (Canada)

Best Actress :
KARIN VIARD for the film LE RÔLE DE SA VIE by François Favrat (France)

Best Actor :
Ex-aequo :
FAN WEI for the film THE PARKING ATTENDANT IN JULY (KAN CHE REN DE QI YUE) by An Zhanjun (China)
CHRISTOPHER WALKEN for the film AROUND THE BEND by Jordan Roberts (United States)

Best Screenplay :
FRANÇOIS FAVRAT, JULIE LOPES-CURVAL, JÉRÔME BEAUSÉJOUR and ROGER BOHBOT for the film LE RÔLE DE SA VIE (THE ROLE OF HER LIFE) by François Favrat (France)

Innovation Award :
THE CRYING WIND (FUON) by Yoichi Higashi (Japan), for its poetic quality.

For more info, you can log on to the festival’s website.

***

OPENING FILM :
Elles étaient cinq (Canada, Ghyslaine Côté) 27
[ review ] (KL)

Gente di Roma (Italy, Ettore Scola) 50
[ The 39th film by Ettore Scola, a docudrama about the people living in Rome, is unexceptional but there are some very nice moments, like the 10 minute bus ride in which two persons are talking about racism by the Italian community. The direction is sometimes off, but the images of Rome are beautiful as usual. It doesn’t have scenes you will remember all your life like “Fellini Roma”, but it’s still a nice little film. (AC) ]

Marmoulak (Iran, Kamal Tabrizi) 85
[ This was my first Iranian film and a comedy at that. “The Lizard” is a thief (played by Parvis Parastui, who kind of resembles Bob Hoskins) doing a life term alongside murderers, including one who mused that his wife would still be alive had she been a better cook. After a prison fight, Marmoulak befriends the prison mullah in the hospital, who sees something in him, so that after discussing things spiritual, he leaves his religious garb so that Marmoulak will use it to escape. He then spends the rest of the film trying his best to return to his life of crime, only to have his disguise force him into committing acts of goodness, which start to snowball on him, so that he can’t get away from the community that has adopted him for their mosque. He uses the advice given to him by the prison mullah to inspire his new followers, all the while trying to get his hands on the forged passport that will get him out of the country. This is a true feel-good film, full of great supporting charachters, even though we are forced to suspend belief with a sudden change of heart, based on a good deed performed by the title charachter while trying to cover himself. It’s recurrent theme of “There are as many paths to God as there are people” will find resonance with people of all faiths, and provides a hopeful, but un-Hollywood ending. Apparently, the film has now been banned in Iran. (NM) ]

La Vida que te espera (Spain, Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón) 42
[ “Cows always know what they want.” But we don’t, right? Set against the hills and valleys of northern Spain, the film depicts how the life of farmer Gildo and his beautiful daughters Val and Genia is disrupted after their neighbor gets killed. Things become even more complicated when Val starts dating Rai, the victim’s son, whom Gildo worries is only trying to learn the truth about his father’s death. There’s material for a dark and complex drama here, but this is actually a rather uneventful tale. There’s an interesting undercurrent about how the younger generation doesn’t want to end up like their parents, working to death to make a miserable living, but the movie’s recurring message (“What goes unsaid gets undone.”) is questionable. One also tends to grow impatient when every other scene shows a character milking a cow – there’s even a cow-milking contest! (KL) ]

La Rivincita di Natala (Italy, Pupi Avati) 60
[ Avati’s latest is a sequel to his “Regalo di Natale”. 17 yeas ago, Franco (Diego Abatantunono) lost all his money in a game of poker against l’Avrocatio (Carlo Delle Piane), and now Franco is getting a rematch. He will reunite the same five players who played in the disastrous Christmas poker game, but can they trust each other? The story is very simple, but it’s a fun film to watch. The characters are really likable and the actors are great. (AC) ]

Hacala Hasurit (Israel, Eran Riklis) 85
[ This film probably challenged me the most, as it was an Israeli co-production that dealt with the family of a bride-to-be from the Golan Heights who was about to marry a Syrian TV star, which means she’ll have to leave her home in the Golan and will never be allowed to return. There were many other familial sub-plots involving the relationship between the bride’s father and her two estranged brothers, but the film mainly focused on the bride’s sister, played by Hiam Abbass, who gave one of the most moving and intimate portrayals I’ve seen this year, of a woman facing emotional turmoil, even as her own marraige is falling apart. I had to give Tonya a quick history lesson about the reason why this piece of land is occupied, and I was forced to confront my own personal feelings about the occupation, feelings once held very strongly, when I could see the human toll that it exacts. A very fine film, that also contains the most frustrating border exchange as a UN worker attempts to negotiate the proper paperwork that will allow both countries to accept the bride’s emigration to Syria. (NM) ]

Je t’aime… Moi non plus (France, Maria de Medeiros) 63
[ After last year’s “Cinemania” and its depiction of obsessive film buffs, this new documentary takes a look at those who actually get paid to watch movies all the time, critics. Most interesting is how director Maria de Medeiros (Fabieeeenne!) not only interviews critics but also filmmakers, who are doomed to live together. Whereas some compare this relationship to the one between a lamppost and a dog, others see it as a necessary rapport. Directors and critics both do what they do out of love for cinema, and in the best cases it is a wonderful experience for all. But when the artist and the reviewer don’t see eye to eye, they become like frustrated lovers, with all the bitterness and antagonism this implies. After all, “a stab leaves a deeper mark than a caress”. With interventions from filmmakers (Wim Wenders, David Cronenberg, Pedro Almodovar…) and critics (Gérard Lefort, Elvis Mitchell, Alexander Walker…) from all around the world, “Je t’aime… moi non plus” allows many different viewpoints, always thoughtful and often passionate. Particularly amusing anecdotes involve an English critic being bitch-slapped by Ken Russell on live TV and James Cameron writing a long missive to the L.A. Times asking for Kenneth Duran’s head after he panned “Titanic”! (KL) ]

Trilogia – To livadi pou dakrizi (Greece, Theo Angelopoulos) 55
[ This is the first film of a projected trilogy by Angelopoulos that would be “a poetic summing up of the century that just ended and a visionary relationship with the century we are now traversing through a love affair that challenges time.” The story begins in 1919 as a group of Greeks forced into exile by the Red Army come to establish themselves by a river in the Thessaloniki valley. One of these men is Spyros, who carries with him his son Alexis and Eleni, a three year old orphan. The two youngsters grow up to fall in love with one another but Spyros wants to marry the girl himself so, again, they have to go into exile. It’s not so bad at first, as they hook up with musicians who admire Alexis’ skill with the accordion, but before long death, a flood and war combine to make their lives as tragic as those of their ancient Greece ancestors.

This is definitely not an easy picture. On the one hand, it is remarkably directed and photographed. There is a true majesty to the recurring long wide shots of vast white skies and small black boats drifting on the river, and throughout the film Angelopoulos’ shot composition is constantly amazing. On the other hand, I found it difficult to grasp what exactly the film is about. Historical context is either spouted off in thick blocks of expository dialogue or sketched so vaguely that if you’re not already familiar with the era depicted, you’ll have a hard time following the narrative and its seemingly random jumps in time. Even on a more superficial level, it’s hard to feel involved with the characters and their tragic destiny because, despite the 3 hour running time, we don’t actually get to know them. There are lots of crying fits on Eleni’s part and some whimsical musical bits, but to me at least this didn’t add up to much. “Trilogy – The Weeping Meadow” would have all the makings of a masterpiece, if only it wasn’t so impenetrable. (KL) ]

O Melissokomos (Greece, Theo Angelopoulos) 20
[ In this film from the acclaimed Greek director, we follow Spyros (Marcello Mastroiani), travelling in his truck from the north to the south of Greece with his bees. You think the story is boring? Well, IT SUCKS!!! The only good thing in the film is Marcello. (AC) ]

Topio Stin Omichli (Greece, Theo Angelopoulos) 35
[ After my bad experience with The Beekeeper (O Melissokomos), I decided to watch a second Angelopoulos. Well, again, I was disappointed. I heard so many good things about this filmmaker… Ok, it’s well done but, again, the story SUCKS!!! It’s a road movie about two children (Voula and Alexandros) searching for their father who is supposed to live in Germany. The film is too long, too slow, and I’m tired of movies with children. (AC) ]

Edelweisspiraten (Germany, Niko von Glasow) 90
[ “Edelweiss Pirates” is a film that can best be described as harrowing. This is the true story of a group of little known young Germans during WW2 who did not conform to the Nazi rule. Karl, played by Ivan Stebunov, and his band of disaffected friends roam the streets of bombed out Cologne, painting anti-Nazi grafitti and fighting with gangs of Hitler youth, of which his younger brother, Peter, is a member. But all Karl would like is to be near Cilly, a young widowed mother of two, until one day they stumble upon Hans, a German prisoner who was being used to defuse bombs in the city and was able to evade his captors.

What follows is a bleak picture of a city in ruins, bombs raining down day and night; Hans insinuates himself into Cilly’s life and home and also joins Karl’s band of troublemakers. Relationships become more complicated as Karl becomes jealous, Peter quits the Hitler youth and begins to worship Hans. Karl is later forced into a difficult decision in order to try to save himself and his brother by turning himself in and ratting out Hans. The film is brutal in the portrayal of the Gestapo tactics with the Pirates who are eventually rounded up to face execution. This film is not to be missed as it compares to Polanski’s “The Pianist” in its harsh portrait of a city reduced to rubble and the people who are forced to endure it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hollywood picked this to remake and sentamentalize…don’t buy it, check out this original, shot on digital video, I think.

We were lucky to be able to listen to Director Niko von Glasow and survivor Jean Julich after the film answer questions from the audience; Glasow talked about the German collective amnesia regarding small stories such as this and Julich talked about the pain and difficulty of being locked up in underground cells while bombs continue to rain down on the city. (NM) ]

Otra Vuelta (Argentina, Santiago Palavecino) 15
[ I’d like to point out the importance of sticking with your game plan…I had originally planned on seeing “Rangeh Eshgh (The Colour of Love)”, an Iranian documentary. However, Tonya was determined to assert herself by choosing our last film of the day, settling on Argentina’s “Otra Vuelta (Another Turn)”. Big mistake. From what I could gather from this slow moving “art-house” film, in grainy black and white, was that a filmmaker returns to his town after the suicide of a former friend. He engages in long, pointless dialogue with a female friend and there are ponderous shots of buildings where people occasionaly walk past. At one point I just gave up and took a rest; then, after waking up Tonya for the second time, we finally walked out of the theater to stumble back to our hotel. We were not the first. On the way out, we encountered a small group of people listening to what appeared to be the Iranian-American director of “Rangeh Eshgh” speaking about her views of the current culture in Iran. Oh well. (AC) ]

Predstava Hamleta u selu Mrdusi Donjoj (Yugoslavia, Krsto Papic) 62
[ Along with Isabelle Adjani and Theo Angelopoulos, Krsto Papic is one of three personalities from the world of cinema who are getting tributes at this year’s festival. I don’t actually know anything about the Yugoslavian filmmaking and randomly stumbled into this screening with Mixed Reviews’ Ned Depew and his wife after the movie we planned on seeing turned out to be sold-out. This turned out to be a nice surprise, in spite (or because?) of the production values straight out of ‘70s porno and the uneasy mix of melodrama and farce. It tells the story of how the commissar of a small communist village forces the local teacher to direct a dumbed-down version of “Hamlet”. The film interestingly has Shakespeare’s classic drama translate into real life, as the young man playing the tortured Danish king struggles to prove that his father was framed for theft by the commissar, who happens to play the usurping king on stage. You can guess that this will end tragically, but what’s unpredictable is how this is followed by the villagers feasting on roasted lamb and dancing for something like 15 minutes. Oddly compelling. (KL) ]

Zelary (Czech Republic, Ondrej Trojan) 80
[ Before seeing the film, I did not know that this film was nominated for best foreign film at this years’ Academy Awards, or that Anna Gieslerova won the Czech Lion award as best actress. I only knew that it was a two and a half hour WW2 drama which seemed to be a nice counterpoint to “Edelweiss Pirates” as it takes place during the same time period and claims to be based on actual events. It begins with our heroine working as a nurse in Prague, seemingly also working for the underground with her lover, a doctor at the same clinic. That is until the Gestapo start closing in, her lover has already been spirited away to places unknown, and she is forced to flee under cover of taking care of a wounded farmer by escorting him back to his village. We are then taken through a small Czech town and eventually find ourselves looking at thrilling scenes of the countryside as she makes her way to the remote village of Zelary, under the assumed name of Hana.

It is at this point the film takes a shift as Hana must come to terms with her new life in a backwards community, as the farmer drops her off and leaves for supplies, telling her “…there is no electricity, but you’ll get used to it.” Hana must now assimilate with the village-folk, eventually marrying the farmer, dealing with the rivalries of a close-knit community, where everyone uses grain alcohol in order to get them through the harsh realities of their lives. Eventually, Hana does fall in love with the farmer, the Germans make an appearance and they are liberated by the Red Army, who turn out to be as bad as the Germans at first. Situations become desperate as the villagers try to hide, including a little girl whose cuteness reminded me of Dakota Fanning. The film then turns rather predictable as her farmer-husband is killed while helping to save the villagers. The final scene has Hana, reunited with her lover, return to the remote village and meeting with the old woman she had befriended. (NM) ]

CLOSING FILM:

Les choristes (France, Christophe Barratier) 56
[ review ] (KL)

FANTASIA 2004

The Fantasia Ubisoft Festival will hit Montreal for the 8th edition, from July 8 to August 1st 2004!

One of America’s leading genre film festivals, it shows the edgiest, craziest flicks to packed houses that eat it all up. This year will bring 109 features and 80 shorts from all around the world to the two movie rooms of Concordia University.

REVIEWS!

Blueberry 58
[ I loathed “Dobberman”, Jan Kounen and Vincent Cassel’s previous collaboration, but I was intrigued by this adaptation of Moebius’ comic book Western, even though the word from France was that it’s a self-indulgent mess of shamanistic hallucinations. I figured, what the hell, at least I know I’ll get supporting parts by the great Michael Madsen and Juliette Lewis (mmm, Juliette Lewis). Cassel plays Mike Blueberry, a Cajun cowboy who was rescued by Chiricahuan Indians after a violent quarrel over a whore with the vicious Wallace Sebastian Blount (Madsen). The film takes place some years after that when Blueberry, now Town Marshall, must face Blount again and stop him from entering the Sacred Mountains and… Ok, even trying to work out a straightforward summary seems impossible, and I haven’t even gotten into the mystical Indian stuff yet! Still, for most of the movie, this is a typical Spaghetti Western revenge story, very well crafted if inconsequential. Cassel looks sharp, like a young Clint Eastwood, Madsen is both despicable and charismatic, Juliette Lewis looks gorgeous (she even gets to do a song), Ernest Borgnine and Colm Meaney are amusing as Blueberry’s deputies and while he only appears in two brief scenes, Djimon Hounsou makes an intense impression. I was really with the film until the last act, when the earlier mystical bits suddenly overcome everything else. There’s something like 20 minutes of CGI snakes and scorpions battling into some kind of Indian Kool Aid acid trip mind-fuck, and only the most experimental of moviegoers won’t disconnect with the picture. Still, the first 90 minutes are pretty damn cool… ]

Memories of Murder
[ Based on South Korea’s first recognized serial killer case, “Memories of Murder” follows a pair of bumbling police detectives as they try to find the man who’s strangling women with their own underwear on rainy nights. Park Du-man (Song Kang-ho) relies on his instincts and is not above planting evidence to support what his “shaman eyes” suggest, while his partner Jo Yung-gu (Kim Roe-ha) likes to force confessions out of suspect by dropkicking them in the head! When the country cops’ methods fail, a senior officer from Seoul is brought in and they’re soon following all kinds of leads concerning bald genitals, pop songs and outhouses, yet the killer keeps on striking… “Memories of Murder” is an odd duck, with uneasy tonal shifts between grimness and comedy. It can be pretty funny when it tries to be, but it’s surprising that it would, considering how it’s about women being raped and murdered. It also suffers from unnecessarily slow pacing; the investigation seems to go nowhere most of the time and, while the climax is intense, the ending remains inconclusive. Likewise, the hints of social unrest in Korea (the film is set in 1986 when the country was still under military dictatorship) are intriguing, but they don’t add up to much. There’s a good film somewhere in this material, but this is not quite it. ]

One Point O 54
[ Simon J. (Jeremy Sisto) is a programmer who lives in a decrepit building in some kind of near future. The landlord’s a weirdo who watches all from the surveillance cameras positioned in every hallway, the maintenance man (Lance Henriksen) is a weirdo who talks a lot of nonsense and Simon’s immediate neighbours are, respectively, a weirdo who’s created a virtual reality sex game and a weirdo (Udo Kier) who builds robot boys and self-cleaning furniture. Yet Jeremy only truly begins to get weirded out when empty packages appear in his apartment, followed by mysterious phone calls and constant computer crashes. Is there a virus in the code he’s writing? Or is he the one infected with the virus?

This first effort from writing-directing team Jeff Renfroe and Marteinn Thorsson might be a little too bleak and obtuse for its own good, but Sisto does tormented as well as anybody and paranoid anguish effectively builds through the film. There’s a definite “Matrix” influence, from the stylishly saturated cinematography to the gloomy-chic production design and the cryptic dialogue (“There are changes happening.”); no kung fu alas.

The filmmakers hosted a Q&A after the screening, but all hope of getting insights into “One Point O” vanished when they were joined by an hilariously incoherent Udo Kier:

“I wanna make movie with Emily Perkins, I play a vampire, she’s the werewolf… I wanna bite her.”
“I go on television, I talk about orgasm, sperm… I say fuck, I like to say fuck, because I know it’s forbidden… Toilet smelling, snnnfff!”
“I’m a man who likes lamps. I bought two lamps from the ‘50s in Montreal.”

Last Life in the Universe 71
[ This is the latest from Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, who also directed Fun Bar Karaoke. It stars Asano Tadanobu, best known as the Mr.-Blonde-to-the-extreme Yakihara in Ichi the Killer, but his character here couldn’t be more different. Kenji is a quiet Japanese man who works in a Bangkok library during the day and contemplates suicide the rest of the time. “No more e-mail. No more telephone. It would be like taking a nap, then you wake up refreshed for your next life…” One night, though, his morbid routine is disturbed by two yakuzas (one being his brother), a 6-pack of Heineken and a few gunshots. Later that night, Kenji meets Noi in equally bloody circumstances and they end up going back to her house together… And that’s about that.

The remainder of the movie revolves around how the two gently bond despite their differences. She’s messy, he’s a cleaning freak. He barely speaks Thai, she’s learning Japanese, so most of the time they talk in broken English. He can’t dance, she loves to Dance Dance Revolution! This is kind of a very understated romantic comedy, basically what Lost in Translation tried to be, minus the American chauvinism and Sofia Coppola’s grade school-level writing skills. “Last Life in the Universe” is slowly paced but never boring, not when you get to savour Christopher Doyle’s exquisite cinematography and the wonderful bursts of offbeat humor, notably the priceless cameos by filmmaker Takashi Miike and Sakichi Satô (Charlie Brown in Kill Bill!). ]

Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning 34
[ Emily Perkins was on hand to introduce the world premiere of this third entry into the Canadian horror franchise. It’s sort of a prequel, with earlier incarnations of sisters Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Perkins) dealing with werewolves around a trading outpost in 1815 Hudson’s Bay. It’s nice to watch Perkins and Isabelle in any setting, but the larger cast around them is hardly as engaging. You got asshole officers, asshole trappers, the asshole reverend, the asshole doctor, asshole David La Haye (he does blurt out a nice “Tabarnak!”), and then you’ve got a bunch of mystical Indians talking a lot of mystical Indian bullcrap. The snowy woods and Fort Edmonton (where the filmmakers shot while tourists still visited it!) are made to be creepy enough, but the gore scenes rely too much on flash-cuts and loud orchestral thumps. This oddball mix of B-movies and Minutes du Patrimoine has its moments, but it’s not worthy of its much superior precursors. ]

Tokyo Godfathers 66
[ After “Perfect Blue” and “Millennium Actress”, Satoshi Kon seriously tones down the mind-fucking to tell a simple fable about a homeless man, a heartbroken transvestite and a runaway girl who find a baby in the trash on Christmas eve and attempt to find her parents. This is all quite melodramatic, but the characters are quirky and the animation is wonderful. ]

Mortadelo y Filemon (presented as part of the KOMIKSTOK week-end) 51
[ This is an adaptation of a Spanish comic that has apparently sold 80 million books worldwide – I’d personally never heard of it. Mortadelo (Benito Pocino) and Filemon (Pepe Viyuela) are not-so-special agents for the T.I.A. (Total Intelligence Agency), which is in deep trouble since their most dangerous weapon, the D.D.T (Daunting Demoralizer of Troops) has been stolen and sold to the diminutive but antagonistic dictator of Tirania (Paco Sagarzazu). The Agency assigns cocky detective Fredy Sledgehammer (Dominique Pinon) to save the day but when his loyalties turn, they’re forced to send in dumb Mortadelo and dumber Filemon. “Mortadelo y Filemon” is the textbook definition of WACKY! Every little corner of the film is colorful and cartoonish, every other beat is silly and irreverent, the actors are chewing scenery like there’s no tomorrow, the story has not purpose except to string together endless gags and bits of slapstick… All of this is often more STUPID than funny, but I found the movie’s relentless goofiness rather endearing, if a bit tiresome. ]

CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS!

Emily Perkins, star of the “Ginger Snaps” movies
Olivier Sabino, writer-director-star of “À tout perdre”
Udo Kier, legendary creepy European actor
Éric Bertrand, from Dead Cat Films
Rémy M. Larochelle, director of the technically brilliant but tiresome stop-motion nightmare “Mecanix”

COMEDIA 2004

From July 15 to the 25th, Montreal’s Just for Laughs Festival will present the 8th edition of its cinematic portion, Comedia. Once again it will showcase a bunch of hilarious and twisted movies, often presented by the filmmakers and stars.

Bobcat Goldthwait will be in town with both “Windy City Heat”, a satire of reality television, and “When Stand Up Stood Out”, a documentary about Boston’s 1980s comedy scene.

Pauly Shore comes back from the grave to present “Pauly Shore is Dead: You’ll Never Wiez in this Town Again”.

French comedian Franck Dubosc and director Marie Anne Chazel will introduce “Au secours, j’ai 30 ans”, a comedy about romantic misadventures.

Michaël Youn and Dieudonné will be there to unleash “Les 11 commandements”, France’s answer to “Jackass”.

And none other than bare-ass thespian Ron Jeremy will be host a screening of “Being Ron Jeremy”!

Also part of the line-up is the Canadian premiere of the stoner comedy “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”, mockumentary “The Delicate Art of Parking”, two new broadcasts of “The Other Network” (which screens un-aired TV pilots), the 25th anniversary re-release of “Monty Python’s The Life of Brian”, a Pierre Richard retrospective, numerous programs of shorts and a whole week-end of cheesy 3-D flicks!

For more information on the films and the festival, you can visit hahaha.com

REVIEWS!

Ciné-lounge (07/16)
[ The idea of a night of short films with a bar to keep everyone going is pretty good, and host Guy Nantel was funny enough (if a bit heavy on the anti-Semitic jokes). The problem was in the selection of films. It was great to have local filmmakers present such hilarious pieces as “Oussama and the Axis of Evil Band” (flash animation of bin Laden, Saddam, Bush, etc. singing Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It) or “Doux rendez-vous” (a delightful slice of absurdity in which a dude’s date is ruined by the girl’s weirdo brother), but the evening lost momentum when it showed France imports, even when they were amusing. I’d rather watch a so-so low budget oddity like “Hier encore j’avais 4 ans d’âge mental” (which features my babelicious ex Delphine Brodeur!) or “Imagier en action” (a mockumentary from Dead Cat Films) than more polished but kinda dull and impersonal things like “Kaamelot”, “Le bon, la brute et les zombies” or Stéphane Rousseau and Frank Dubosc’s dimwitted spoofs of “Apollo 13” and “Deliverance”. And then there’s “Token”, which suuuuucked so much and was so long, slow and unfunny that half the audience left. Damn you bread-eating losers in yellow plush suits! ]

Going the Distance 23
[ From the director of “Beethoven’s 5th” (not the symphony, the big dog flick) comes this sex comedy about a dude who has 6 days to get to the MuchMusic Video Awards so he can propose to his girlfriend before she falls prey to the oversexed record producer (Jason Priestley!) with whom she’s interning for the summer. Thus begins his Winnebago road trip across Canada, with two of his idiotic buddies and a pair of sexy hitchhikers tagging along for this journey sure to be filled with sex, drugs and wussy punk rock. “Going the Distance” is little more than yet another lowbrow teen movie, except that it’s Canadian so it goes through B.C., the Prairies, Montreal, Toronto and even Newfoundland. It’s also slightly looser with the naughtiness and the boob flashing than its Hollywood counterparts, but that doesn’t make it any less derivative – one of the leads tries so much to be Stifler it’s not even funny. ]

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle 78
[ Harold and Kumar are sons of immigrants who taught them the importance of working hard, getting good grades and appreciating the opportunities offered by America, but what the two young men really want is to get high and get laid. And on the particular night the movie takes place, they also desperately crave White Castle burgers!

The bulk of the flick has them driving, hang gliding and riding a cheetah (!) across New Jersey in search of their fast-food Holy Grail, only to constantly get sidetracked by everything from extreme sports jerks (“Let’s go get some Mountain Dew!!!”), racist cops, wild animals, a freaky-looking Jesus freak and even Neil Patrick Harris (playing himself).

The movie is full of absurd scenes (the marijuana love montage has to be seen to be believed) and amusing cameos (Anthony Anderson, Jamie Kennedy, Fred Willard…), but what truly sets it apart is its two leads. John Cho and Kal Penn make a great comic pair as the title characters, as endearing as they are hilarious. Cho’s Harold is kind of the straight man, shy and reluctant to go crazy, while Penn is an utterly out of control foul-mouthed maniac. The same movie could have been made as “David and Jason Go to McDonald’s”, but the fact that the filmmakers dared to go for racial diversity is damn cool.

Says director Danny Leiner (who also gave the world “Dude, Where’s My Car?”):
“We’re dealing with how perceptions of people are based on racial stereotypes. The movie both undercuts that and makes jokes about it at the same time, which to me, is the best way of dispelling myths about stereotypes and prejudice.”

Most importantly, “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” is embarrassingly entertaining and made me laugh loud and often as much if not more than any other movie I’ve seen this year.

“This is either a really smart move or the stupidest thing we’ve ever done.” ]

Les 11 commandements 29
[ Michaël Youn and his band of “conards” are hired by the God of Jokes (Dieudonné) to turn the world’s frown upside down by going through a series of silly challenges. So our merry pranksters are off to make fools of themselves, taking sleeping pills then going roller-skating, going to the beach in Speedos while sporting Viagra-enhanced erections, turning a house into a pool, unleashing farm animals in a hotel, blocking traffic for an impromptu hard rock concert, picking on cops until they get arrested… This is basically a French “Jackass” and, like its American counterpart, it’s pretty hit and miss. It’s such a fine line between clever and stupid, and “Les 11 commandements” is most often stupid, but it is kinda amusing anyway. ]

Cinemania 2003

From November 6 to the 16th, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal will be host to the 9th annual CINEMANIA Film Festival, which presents a variety of French-language films subtitled in English. I had a wonderful experience covering the event last year, meeting interesting people and watching great movies (notably Oui, Mais… , which won the Mel Hoppenheim Audience Prize and made my year-end Top Ten), and I hope to do the same this year as well.

For more information, you can visit the official website.

Rire et Châtiment (Isabelle Doval) 32
[ José Garcia stars as an osteopath who’s so funny that people around him die of laughter, literally. The problem with the movie is that Garcia is not that funny, in fact he’s mostly obnoxious. He has a few amusing moments involving Russian dance and first-aid classes, but most of his relentless goofing off falls flat. The film also attempt to be sentimental, but that’s even less successful. ]

Filles Uniques (Pierre Jolivet) 51
[ After liberating her on parole, a judge (Sandrine Kiberlain) befriends a young shoplifter (Sylvie Testud). The two women become like the sisters they never had, going out, fooling around, talking about shoes and even breaking cases together. The film starts from a sitcomish premise and doesn’t really go anywhere with it, but it’s full of deadpan humor and the lovely lead actresses have a lot of chemistry. ]

18 ans après (Coline Serreau) 40
[ In 1985, “Trois hommes et un couffin” was a big box-office hit in France. It was then remade in Hollywood as “Three Men and a Baby”, which quickly led to the sequel “Three Men and a Little Lady”. Now we get the true follow-up, 18 years later as the title announces. Coline Serreau has taken her sorta-franchise back, and she pokes gentle fun at the Americans in the process.

André Dussolier, Roland Giraud and Michel Boujenah are still sharing the fatherhood of Marie (sexy Madeleine Besson), who’s just graduated from university. Various contrived circumstances lead to the three daddies to take a holiday in Provence with their now grown-up little girl, her mother, her gung-ho American husband, his two sons and a kooky housekeeper. “18 ans après” is as sitcomish as it sounds, it’s all over the place and it doesn’t offer anything new or particularly insightful, but it’s lively and cute enough. It’s not half the film Serreau’s “Chaos” was, but there are worse ways to spend 95 minutes. ]

Pas si grave (Bernard Rapp) 65
[ Three dudes (Sami Bouajila, Romain Duris, Jean-Michel Portal) who were taken in as kids by a former Spanish anarchist must now pay him back by going to Spain and bring back a bust of the Crimson Madonna, the dying old man’s last wish. So we get a road trip, a bit of fish-out-water hijinks, a caper and a sex comedy involving a gorgeous Spanish surgeon (Leonor Varela). The film occasionally tries to be meaningful, but it doesn’t need to. It works just fine as a simple, feel-good little comedy filled with the beauty of Spain, colorful characters and music. ]

La fleur du mal (Claude Chabrol) 62
[ François (Benoît Magimel) comes back to his bourgeois French family after 4 years in America only to find the old tensions still intact. His father (Bernard Lecoq) is busy drinking or screwing around, his stepmom (Nathalie Baye) is running for municipal office again even though she clearly doesn’t care for people, and he still feels deeply attracted to his beautiful young cousin/sister (it’s complicated) Michèle (Mélanie Doutey). And then there’s Tante Line (Suzanne Flon), always so pleasant and helpful, or so it seems…

Chabrol’s latest is a very very French black comedy that’s ostensibly about old family secrets, politics and murder, but those are ultimately details. It really comes down to good actors playing interesting characters who engage in endless talking, eating, drinking, screwing… But mostly talking. All the bickering and snickering is most amusing, enough that we don’t mind that it doesn’t lead anywhere. ]

Ni pour, ni contre (bien au contraire) (Cédric Klapisch) 28
[ A desperately uninspired heist flick in which a timid, lonely TV camerawoman incomprehensibly chooses to hang out with a bunch of dicks who rob jewellery stores, until one day they try for one last score, etc. These guys are supposed to be cool and funny, but they’re just mean, dumb, arrogant and worse of all, boring. The movie is technically impeccable, with great shot composition and music cues, but that doesn’t make up for the uninteresting characters, inconsistent tone and derivative plot. ]

Le lait de la tendresse humaine (Dominique Cabrera) 54
[ They’re only producing, but you can feel the sensibilities of the Dardenne brothers (“Rosetta”, “Le Fils”) all through this purposely brash and unkempt film, both stylistically and emotionally. Shaky hand-held camerawork and natural lighting prevail, with all emphasis on the actors: pop star Patrick Bruel, Dominique Blanc, Sergi Lopez, Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi, Mathilde Seigner and especially Marilyne Canto. She plays a woman hit by a brutal case of the baby blues after giving birth to a third child. Exhausted and desperate, her mind unravelling, she bolts, leaving her newborn and everything behind, and she ends up crashing at her neighbour’s, who has experience of her own with nervous breakdowns.

With its unflinching look at post-partum depression and female despair in general, “The Milk of Human Kindness” is not unlike a smaller-scale “The Hours”. It’s a difficult, rough-around-the-edges picture which offers no clear answers, but just the fact that it depicts the not often acknowledged misery mothers sometimes feel is laudable. ]

Laisse tes mains sur mes hanches (Chantal Lauby) 65
[ Chantal Lauby writes, directs and stars in this charming, quirky romantic comedy about the unlikely but sweet coupling of a middle-aged actress and a young carnie. The love story is endearing, but even more so is the actress’ circle of friends played by a group of lively performers like Alain Chabat, Jean-Hughes Anglade and the wonderfully kooky Rossy de Palma. The movie also benefits from beautiful, rich cinematography by Tetsuo Nagata, witty dialogue, a score of Adamo songs (hence the title) and a touch of fantasy. A true crowd-pleaser. ]

Ah! Si j’étais riche (Michel Munz/Gérard Bitton) 29
[ Aldo’s marriage is going down the toilet, with his wife even sleeping with his pain-in-the-ass boss. So when Aldo wins 10 million euros in the lottery, he decides to keep his newfound wealth a secret until the divorce is finalised so his wife doesn’t get half. This sounds like a wickedly funny premise, but the resulting film is a dud. The gags are lowbrow, mean-spirited, predictable, often all at the same time. Furthermore, the behaviour of the characters rarely makes sense. The couple breaks up yet they still live together for months? Aldo’s a total ass, yet his wife still cares? The audience seemed to find Jean-Pierre Darroussin hilarious, but he left me cold. Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi is a peach, but if you’ve gotta see her in a so-so comedy, you might as well check out “Il est plus facile pour un chameau”, which she also wrote and directed. ]

UPDATE: This year’s Mel Hoppenheim Audience Prize was awarded to “Ah! Si j’étais riche”.

FCMM 2003

The Festival of new Cinema and new Media of Montreal is back for a 32nd year. From October 9 to the 19th, more than 300 movies from all countries, genres and styles known to Man will be shown. Highlights include a theatrical presentation of all 7 features of the Martin Scorsese-produced “The Blues” series, a look at Iranian filmmaking, a retrospective of Werner Herzog’s work, a masterclass by Peter Greenaway and much, much more.

You can get more details at the official
FCMM website.

100% Bio (2003, Claude Fortin) 44
[ A documentary within fiction, fiction within a documentary, “a biographical misadventure”… Claude Fortin co-wrote his film with Serge Laprade, with whom he also co-stars as a filmmaker and his would-be documentary subject. A meta look at how fleeting fame is (Laprade, once a famous crooner and talk show host, is now reduced to starring in infomercials), it’s undermined by the not quite successful use of non-actors and a plodding third act, but at times it’s rather funny, interesting, even touching. ]

Nobody Someday (2002, Brian Hill) 29
[ Robbie Williams is rich and famous – and he can’t stand it anymore! Ah, the exquisite pain of being pop star… This rockumentary is nicely shot (mixing color and B&W) and the music is not bad, but what a whiny little bitch Robbie can be! ]

la petite lili (Claude Miller) 67
[ A middle-aged actress is spending a sunny week-end in a beautiful house by the sea with her 70 year old brother, her bourgeois filmmaker lover, her young son Julien and his girlfriend and muse Lili. Good times turn sour when Julien shows the others a short film that is as pretentious, naïve and self-pitying as he is and it’s met with what he feels is condescension. Even more troublesome is how Lili seems to side against him…

Claude Miller’s latest is a reflection on film itself, setting up a conflict between cinema as art and as an industry, between movies that reach for lyricism and resonance and those that just try to entertain. Miller’s film is somewhere in the middle, taking the highbrow road by borrowing the general outline of Tchekhov’s “The Seagull”, but also doubling as a crowd-pleaser, with the ever adorable Ludivine Sagnier (who takes her clothes off in the first two minutes!) and an hilarious supporting performance by Jean-Pierre Marielle.

Unfortunately, the movie derails in the end by making one of those “5 years later” jumps that so rarely work. What follows isn’t uninteresting, but it feels like a different picture, even more self-reflective but with little of the warmth and humor that came before. ]

Amelia (Édouard Lock) 44
[ Édouard Lock is a modern dance choreographer with La La La Human Steps, and now he’s a filmmaker… Or is he? He’s really only reworking one of his shows with an extra “dancer”, the camera. This could make for a transporting viewing experience, but I found myself tuning in and out. André Turpin’s cinematography is admittedly pretty inspired and the dance sequences are impressive enough, but they lack variety and color, literally. The whole piece takes place in some sort of wood-panelling box, with plain white lighting and everyone dressed in black. Huh. I don’t want to belittle the obvious skill of the performers, but this could have been so much more. ]

Zatoichi (Takeshi Kitano) 29
[ Kitano is directing himself as Zatoichi, already the subject of many movies and TV series in Japan. A wandering blind masseur, he carries a sword hidden in a cane and he knows how to use it, and use it he will when he comes upon a town terrorised by gangsters. This leads to much random bursts of badly digitised blood, corny humor and “Dancer in the Dark”-style musical numbers. Some of this can be amusing, but for the most part this is a big dull mess. ]

Dogville (Lars von Trier) [ review ] 95

COMEDIA 2003

UPDATE!
The festival ended yesterday as the awards were announced. AMERICAN SPLENDOR won the Comedia-Just for Laughs Audience Prize, with LA GRANDE SEDUCTION being named best French feature. 07/21/03

**********************

This will be the 7th year of the film portion of Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival. From July 10th to the 20th, Comedia will screen “wacky adventures, bittersweet romance, mobster capers, wisecracking buddy pictures, feverish farces, black domestic comedies, send-ups, spoofs, satires, documentaries and mockumentaries, as well as a newly minted 35mm print of the greatest silent masterpiece ever made.” (no, not “La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc”, they mean Chaplin’s “Modern Times”).

Plenty of guests from around the world will be in town for the occasion, notably the legendary Carl Reiner (introducing a special screening of “The Man with Two Brains”) and Lloyd Kaufman (hosting a “Make Your Own Damn Movie!” class).

La Grande Séduction (Québec) 73

French Canadian cinema tends to be a hit-and-miss affair, torn between pretentious film school bores and no-one-ever-went-broke-underestimating-audiences hack jobs. Thankfully, the likes of Arcand, Morin and now Pouliot offer a breath of fresh air with films that are well crafted without showing off, entertaining without resorting to cheap tricks, and that have something to say about our way of life but don’t feel the need to shove their thoughts down our throats, auteur-style.

Raymond Bouchard plays the new mayor of Ste-Marie-la-Mauderne, a village on the Quebec east coast that’s dying a slow, pathetic death. Who needs a small community of men who fish every morning in their little boats when you can have a single huge-ass million dollar ship hauling all the fish out of the ocean in half the time? This leaves the people of Ste-Marie reduced to living off government handouts, wasting away in boredom, shame and drunken misery. Ok, I’m making it sound like a Ken Loach picture, but despite its bleakly relevant subject matter, “La Grande Séduction” is actually a joyful and often hilarious film. News come that a company wants to build a factory in Ste-Marie (and create lots of jobs), but only if a long-term contract is signed with a doctor.

Thus begins the Great Seduction, in which the townspeople will do anything to convince David Boutin’s Montreal plastic surgeon character that their little fishing village is heaven on earth. Ken Scott’s witty script is basically a fish-out-of-water story in reverse, where it’s the majority that must adapt to the individual. This is an opportunity for great ensemble work, and Bouchard, Boutin, Clémence Desrochers, Benoit Brière, Rita Lafontaine, Pierre Collin, the bodacious Lucie Laurier and the ever absurd Bruno Blanchet all deliver. The film doesn’t offer much in terms of profound insights and solutions, the resolution in particular feels like a cop-out, but this doesn’t take away how charming and enjoyable it is. This is a crowd-pleaser in the best sense of the word.

Mon Idole (France) 46

The bittersweet story of Bastien (Guillaume Canet, who also directed the film), the ever belittled assistant of asshole TV personality Philippe Letzger (Philippe Lefebvre), host of the hit Jerry Springer-style show “Envoyez les mouchoirs!”. Bastien only keeps working at Broustal Productions because of his admiration for his boss, Jean-Louis Broustal (François Berléand). One day his dream of earning Broustal’s respect comes true as the veteran trash TV producer invites him to his country house to discuss a concept Bastien came up with. Alas, the young man finds out that what Broustal and his sexy young wife Clara (Diane Kruger) are really interested in is a “male companion”…

This is Canet’s first feature and it shows. Not because it’s amateurish, quite the contrary. “Mon Idole” is filled with visual tricks, but that’s what they mostly are, “Look Ma! I’m directing!” tricks. So you get colorful animated sequences bookending the film, Scorseseish Steadycam shots through studios and nightclubs, extreme close-ups in DV (shower-cam, etc.), slowed-down or sped-up shots… It’s all pretty nifty but a bit distracting; I wish Canet had spent more time getting under the characters’ skin. The satire of shock-and-awe TV is superficial and obvious, as are the gay undertones of the central relationship (“Come and piss with me.”). I did laugh at the absurd, deadpan introduction of vultures, a dead deer and a coked-up plush kangaroo into the plot, and gratuitous musical numbers à la François Ozon are always a good thing, but the third-act shift towards black humor doesn’t work. Ultimately, the best thing about the movie is the wonderfully groovy soundtrack by French pop star Sinclair. “Mon Idole” has got some groove too, but it’s inconsistent.

Mortadelo y Filemon (Spain) 51

This is an adaptation of a Spanish comic that has apparently sold 80 million books worldwide – I’d personally never heard of it. Mortadelo (Benito Pocino) and Filemon (Pepe Viyuela) are not-so-special agents for the T.I.A. (Total Intelligence Agency), which is in deep trouble since their most dangerous weapon, the D.D.T (Daunting Demoralizer of Troops) has been stolen and sold to the diminutive but antagonistic dictator of Tirania (Paco Sagarzazu). The Agency assigns cocky detective Fredy Sledgehammer (Dominique Pinon) to save the day but when his loyalties turn, they’re forced to send in dumb Mortadelo and dumber Filemon.

“Mortadelo y Filemon” is the textbook definition of WACKY! Every little corner of the film is colorful and cartoonish, every other beat is silly and irreverent, the actors are chewing scenery like there’s no tomorrow, the story has not purpose except to string together endless gags and bits of slapstick… All of this is often more STUPID than funny, but I found the movie’s relentless goofiness rather endearing, if a bit tiresome.

Separações (Brazil) 68

This is an obvious retread of Woody Allen’s “Husbands and Wives”. You’ve got Domingos de Oliveira not only writing and directing but starring as Cabral, a neurotic and self-centered yet witty and romantic 60 year old intellectual who’s been in a relationship with the much younger Glorinha (Priscilla Rozenbaum) for 12 years. He still loves her dearly, but he also craves liberty, i.e. the opportunity to sleep with other young women. This leads to much arguing and angry sex between the two, they both end up taking lovers and they break up. Sort of.

de Oliveira reveals his game plan early on by linking the different phases of a separation with those of terminal illness: Denial, Negotiation, Revolt, Acceptance and finally Agony/Grace. Cabral and Glorinha go through it all, mostly through heated discussion. This is one chatty movie! Most of the characters work in theater and the film itself often feels like a play. de Olivieira doesn’t do much to make his story more cinematic. Beside a few clumsy montages drowned in voice-over, it’s all long hand-held shots of people talking and talking some more. This could be tiresome, but most of the dialogue is actually interesting, the actors are all very convincing and sympathetic, and Portuguese is such a musical language that you don’t grow tired of hearing it.

“Separações” can be harsh and bitter at times, but ultimately it’s heartfelt and joyful. It might be a shameless Woody Allen knockoff, but it has its own particular flavor that makes it enjoyable anyway.

Rub and Tug (Canada) 52

A “rub and tug” is a term to describe massage parlours where the girls work the fine line between legal (or at least tolerated) titillation and no-no full service. It’s “a lesson in teasing”, and so’s the film. There is some pornoish muric, scantily clad hotties and implied sex acts throughout, but the movie never feels crass or exploitative. This can be explained by the fact that it was written and directed by a woman who researched directly real-life parlours, which makes for an interesting, knowing look at the sex industry as a 9-to-5 job.

We meet Cindy (Kira Clavell), a bubbly Asian who’s supporting her family abroad and looking to get married so she doesn’t get deported, Lea (Lindy Booth), a playful blonde who tells her boyfriend that she does charity work (!), and Betty (Tara Spencer-Nairn), an ambitious brunette looking to open her own business. And then there’s Don McKellar as a nice-guy dork hired to welcome customers, keep the place tidy and the girls in line. His interaction with the girls and the customers is amusing and the film is generally pleasant as well, with nifty little visual tricks and gags, but the character work is inconsistent and the suddenly mean-spirited tone of the third act is uncalled for.

Cinemania (Germany) 66

For some, this “kookumentary” about individuals who love movies so much that they devote their whole lives to them must feel really out there and nutty, pathetic even. But being quite the cinemaniac myself (I saw “Cinemania” in the middle of a four-flick day) and knowing how rich and diversified New York’s repertory cinema circuit, I can’t say I blame them. If I had time and money and if Montreal had rep houses where you can see everything you want for a measly 50$ yearly fee, I know I’d spend even more time going from screening to screening! As one of the subjects points out, film can be a “substitute for life”. Like, I might be a miserable lonely drunk in “real life”, but who cares when you’re experience so much through movies? You laugh, you cry, you fall in love, you ponder things, you meet interesting people, you see new things…

Ok, so Roberta, Jack, Eric, Bill and Harvey’s moviegoing addiction is only one symptom of general obsessive-compulsive behaviour, they are a bit nutty and pathetic, but they have a sense of humor about themselves. The movie is quite funny and interesting, and it’s nice to see that you’re not alone in your desperate love affair with the films of the cinema. One could lament the irony that this was shot in video but hey, I guess cinéma vérité isn’t lucrative enough to afford celluloid. The Stereo Lab music is a nice touch, though.

Modern Times (USA) 70

A clock (time is money!), titles (“A story of industry, of individual enterprise – humanity crusading in the pursuit of happiness”), then a shot of cattle fading into one of workers rushing out of a subway station! Not very subtle, but an effective opening to this whimsical anti-capitalism / pro-proletariat comedy. I’ve never found the Tramp’s pratfalls particularly funny, but I do admire Chaplin’s physical prowess and the heartfelt, unpretentious way he expresses his convictions. And how cool is it that there’s actually a scene here where he’s high on cocaine and beats up escaping convicts?

Steal it if You Can (Korea) 18

A civil servant who gets no respect from his family, his wife who doesn’t have taste buds but who loves cooking, a video game creator who does hi-tech B&E at night as a hobby… The cat burglar targets the civil servant’s house and happens to steal some of the wife’s awful cooking and what do you know, he actually likes it so he breaks into their house night after night to eat it, which forces the husband tries all sorts of WACKY! things to protect his home.

Director Lym Kyung-isu throws in a lot of visual gimmicks and has the whole cast overacting like retarded cartoon characters, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a stupid, unfunny bore that makes “Home Alone” look like “To Catch a Thief”. Worse, it’s also drowned in sappy voice-over but we still couldn’t care less about the one-note characters.

Tales from the Crapper (USA) 54

Ohmygod! What an angry bitter man Lloyd Kaufman is! He was in town to promote his new “Make Your Own Damn Movie!” book and to conduct an “unfocused focus group” for the next Troma release, which he called a “huge mistake” right off the bat. You should have hear him ranting about the idiots he gave 250 grands to direct two DV sex-and-gore exploitation flicks (one with cops facing an alien man-eating stripper, the other with high school kids facing vampire man-eating strippers) that turned out so crappy that he had to fire them and take over. What he did was to edit them down to what was less unwatchable and, since that didn’t leave much, he had the idea to make them part of a “Tales from the Crypt”-type anthology, with himself in a black garbage bag (!) hamming it up as the Crapkeeper!

This is clearly a “troubled project”: it looks like crap, it sounds like crap, and the actors are crap. The low-rent gore effects are cool, but the endless strippers and fake lesbians scenes aren’t sexy in the least. Then again, what could be the worst movie ever made is elevated into the funniest thing by Kaufman. You see, he added tons of dubbing, voice-over and commentary through the film, most of it viciously mocking how incompetent the filmmakers are! No flaw of the original footage isn’t pointed out, no actor isn’t ridiculed, an endless parade of dick and fart jokes has been added and when a scene is still too boring, it’s spiked with “Boner-Vision”, picture-within-picture showing naked Tromettes!

This is still a pretty crappy flick, but the loud masturbating old man (“Bring on the BITCHES!”), the incredibly politically incorrect homosexual character (“Now you got the AIDS, baby!”) and Trey Parker’s cameo (“What do you call yourselves?” “The Aristocrats!”) made me laugh harder than anything else in the festival.

Manitou’s Shoe (Germany) 21

1862, the railroad is attracts new settles to the American West. One of them, known only as Ranger, finds himself bound to Apache chief Abahachi after saving his life. They’ve barely gotten time to adjust to each other that they get framed for murder and theft by an evil real estate agent from Wisconsin, which somehow leads to a madcap treasure hunt also involving Abahachi’s flamboyantly gay brother, a Greek who wants to be an Indian and a saloon femme fatale.

This anachronism-happy Western spoof wants to be a German “Blazing Saddles”, but its childish old-hat humor and lame sex gags are more akin to Mel Brooks’ later, lousier fare. The performances are lively enough and the film, shot on locations once used by Sergio Leone, looks pretty good, but it’s just not funny.

The Kiss of Debt (Canada) 32

Am I the only one who’s growing tired of “Sopranos” knockoffs? Here we have a Irish restaurant owner (Dan Lalande, who also wrote the film) who inherited his father-in-law’s gambling debts, an opera singer who can’t break off his contract and a lady florist who can’t divorce her incarcerated husband joining forces to free themselves from the Ottawa mafia. I did enjoy Lalande’s comedian-next-door performance and Ernest Borgnine makes a great Don, warm and fatherly one minute, blood-chilling and ruthless the next. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough laughs for me to get past the derivative script and mediocre direction.

I’ll Be There (UK) 26

When burnt-out, drunken Scottish rock star Paul Kehr (writer-director Craig Ferguson) rides his motorcycle through a second-story window and is taken to a psychiatric ward, hairdresser and former groupie Rebecca (Jemma Redgrave) decides it’s time to tell him that their one-night-stand 16 years ago birthed a young woman, Olivia (classical singer Charlotte Church, making her film debut). Will the family reunion be rocky at first? Will the Kehr discover that his daughter inherited his musical talent bu

Cinemania report, part 3

LE DOUX AMOUR DES HOMMES 89

Existential dread never felt so good! Womanising Parisien poet Raoul (Renaud Bécard) might be bummed down by his hedonistic lifestyle, feeling like he’s “hollow” and only “mimicking life”, but I found the film full of life and beauty. There’s not much of a story beside how Raoul starts questioning his ways, wondering whether he’s capable of love even as he becomes completely enamored with pale little Jeanne (the adorable Claire Perot, in her first film role), a very sexually forward and unpredictable young woman with drug problems.

Writer-director Jean-Paul Civeyrac, freely drawing inspiration from “Penses-tu réussir?” (a novel by 19th century writer Jean de Tinan, a dandy who died at 24), puts aside storytelling and filmmaking conventions, shooting in video in a non-intrusive, naturalistic style and letting the characters breathe and party and love to the extent they can (or can’t) without chaining them down to three-act plot structure. I could have done without the pseudo-philosophical voice-over, which seems there only to justify “artistically” this inconsequential sex/love story, as if making a wonderfully lyrical and sensual film was not a noble venture on its own. Sure, “Le doux amour des hommes” is a bit naïve, but that’s what’s so goddamn endearing about it.

JOJO LA FRITE 44

A fun if uneven little comedy with a very quirky sense of humor, “Jojo la frite” tells the story of hyperactive Raph (Didier Becchetti) and dopey Swan (Fred Saurel), a pair of hobos who hustle their way through life, willing to pull any cheap trick to make a few bucks. Their careless existence is troubled when Swan accidentally rescues fragile girl Camilla (Mélanie Thierry) as she’s being robbed and is rewarded by becoming a saint, shiny halo and all!

Nicolas Cuche’s movie starts out promisingly, with a lot of rhythm and irreverence. Saurel and Becchetti are both amusing and they have great chemistry together. They’re like Lenny and George in “Of Mice of Men”, down-on-their-luck but true friends nonetheless. The film is cartoonish and unkempt, but entertainingly so. The film loses some steam when it makes an uneasy transition into pathos. Camilla is abused by the owners of the strip joint where she works while “Saint Swan” is exploited as well, forced into performing miracles to sell T-shirts. There’s also a love story between the two, but it’s not very convincing. “Jojo la frite” has its moments, but it’s not as successful as it could have been.

AND THE AWARD GOES TO…

I’m very happy to report that the Mel Hoppenheim Audience Prize has been awarded to Yves Lavandier’s “Oui, mais…”, incidentally my favorite film of the festival. Coming in second place was Coline Serreau’s excellent “Chaos”, which is set to be released in the US early next year.

Cinemania 2002, continued

UNE HIRONDELLE A FAIT LE PRINTEMPS 47

Judging from movies like this one, you wonder why everybody is not leaving cities for the countryside and not the opposite. While director Christian Carion does show some of the most difficult aspects of farm life, it’s still rather postcard-pretty. Mathilde Seigner plays Sandrine, a thirtysomething Internet instructor who decides to drop everything and buy the goat farm of Adrien (Michel Serrault), who’s retiring but will still live on his land. Sandrine renovates the installations, turns a barn into a bed & breakfast, organises school trips and sells goat cheese on the Net, to the dismay of Adrien who is still clinging to his old ways. It is indeed a bit befuddling how the Paris girl commercialises her return to nature, but Adrien is being awfully grumpy about it.

The film eventually has the two bonding, but not in a very natural way. Everything has to be spelled out in cringe-worthy voice-over narration and in Adrien’s big dramatic speech to Sandrine. Yet their relation remains fuzzy, and we’re not sure what Carion’s film is going for. The third act feels particularly unsure, like the filmmakers are struggling to find a resolution that never comes. They end up settling for some more unimaginative voice-over, but no closure is attained. Still, the film is quite beautifully shot and generally pleasant, and I enjoyed the performances by Serrault and Jean-Paul Roussillon, who steals every of his scenes as Adrien’s old friend.

CHAOS 84

The film opens like a punch of face: a couple is preparing to go out for the evening and then bam! They almost drive into an Algerian hooker running away from her pimps. She desperately wants them to let her into the car, but the husband and wife lock their doors and watch passively as she’s brutally beaten by her assailants. Right away, “Chaos” proves to be a frantic and unpredictable picture. Director Coline Serreau favors a stripped down but energetic style, with frantic handheld camerawork matched by a beat-heavy score by electronica virtuoso St-Germain. This effectively communicates the chaotic rush of the lives of Hélène (Catherine Frot) and Paul (Vincent Lindon), always hurrying and overworking, communicating only through answering machines, too busy to care for anyone.

Hélène has a change of heart after witnessing the street beating. She goes to see the prostitute in the hospital and ends up putting her family and her job on hold to stay with the almost dead Noémie (Rachida Brakni). This initially plays like a comedy, with Hélène’s husband unable to take care of himself and her son trying to juggle two girlfriends while she clashes with cartoonish bad guys. But when Noémie comes out of her coma and tells her story… I won’t spoil it, but it’s tragic, horrible stuff. All this exposition feels a bit crammed and there are some slight incongruities, but it’s enthralling how it totally throws the film off-kilter.

From then on “Chaos” becomes a riveting revenge Monte Cristo-style thriller. The tone’s all over the place and side-plots are piled up a bit thick, but eventually it all converges towards a surprisingly satisfying and touching ending. “Chaos” is ultimately very cohesive thematically, joining very different women into a similar quest for empowerment beyond the diminutive roles men force them into. It’s a feminist film, but in a good way.

LAISSEZ-PASSER 68

The second film (after “Monsieur Batignole”) of the festival to deal with the Nazi occupation of France during the Second World War, “Laissez-passer” also adopts a light, comedic tone, but instead of tending a butcher shop the protagonists here are filmmakers. Jacques Gamblin is Jean Devaivre, a first assistant-director who works for German-funded Continental Film but secretly fights for the French resistance. The film alternates between his story and that of Jean Aurenche (Denis Podalydès), a screenwriter who refuses to collaborate with the Germans even if to live a bohemian life, moving from script to script, home to home, woman to woman.

Bertrand Tavernier directs this with skill but also self-indulgence, letting his film ramble and digress into a 170 minute mess. It’s sometimes hard to follow with all the characters who come in and out and not very clear what Tavernier wants to say about this period. Personally, as much as I love movies I know that there are more important things in life, especially when the world is in such turmoil. It’s supposed to be inspiring how these guys keep shooting in spite of limited celluloid, power shortage, air raids and censorship, but I kept wondering that there must have been more urgent needs for people at the time. One character argues at one point that they’re story-makers, just like there are sheet-makers and bread-makers, which would usually be justifiable but in 1942 Europe?

Nonetheless, some parts of “Laissez-passer” are engrossing. Aurenche’s woman troubles are amusing, Devaivre’s secret missions with the Résistance and the British are suspenseful and I liked the elegantly shot bicycle rides through the French countryside. But I still find it odd how Tavernier only mentions Jews in passing and makes it seem like it wasn’t so bad in the Vichy regime despite the occasional imprisonment of alleged maquisards, and the picture doesn’t have any business going on for almost three hours.

MA FEMME EST UNE ACTRICE 45

Yvan Attal wrote and directed this romantic comedy in which he also stars as Yvan, a sportswriter married to popular film star Charlotte, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, Attal’s real-life wife. Between the thinly veiled autobiographic subtext, the Jewish concerns, the husband-and-wife blues, the irreverent tone and the jazzy score, there’s decidedly a Woody Allen influence at work here. And before long, Yvan goes into full neurotic mode after seeing the wife’s latest movie and finding her particularly convincing in the love scenes. Making matters worse is her going away to London to shoot a new film opposite the older but attractive John (amusingly played by Terrence Stamp).

“Ma femme est une actrice” is most notable for the winning performances of its cast, the actresses especially. It’s easy to see why everyone loves Charlotte, as Gainsbourg is simply fabulous in the film. Noémie Lvovsky is good too as Yvan’s circumcision-fixated sister, and Ludivine Sagnier is adorable even though her part as an acting class student is very small. Attal himself isn’t bad, but his character grows grating. His obsessive jealousy is played as a charming quirk, but it’s creepy more than anything. It gets to a point where you wonder why Charlotte wants to be with such a jerk, which obviously undermines the romantic comedy mechanics.

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This film is sort of like a French (and hetero) spin on the Wachowski brothers’ “Bound”. Emmanuelle Devos is a partially deaf office worker who doesn’t get any respect at work or in her boring personal life. Excitement finally enters her life in the form of a sleazy ex-con (Vincent Cassel) she hires as an assistant. She ends up entangled with the guy physically and in his schemes, as he uses her ability to lip-read in an attempt to steal dirty money from some of his old criminal acquaintances.

“Sur mes lèvres” makes brilliant use of sound and silence. It’s neat how Devos’ character can hush her surroundings by turning off her hearing aid, and director Jacques Audiard uses this effectively to create tension in certain scenes. Unfortunately, I found the story rather dull. The relation between the deaf girl and the hustler is intriguing, but there isn’t much to it. A lady friend I talked to says the film is a great love story, but I never quite got the appeal of being used by a bad boy, cute or not. Also, the pacing of the picture is way too loose. The set up takes forever, and when the payoff comes it’s muddled and rather unbelievable. The quality of the acting and the inspired direction manage to hold our attention, but otherwise the film is not particularly memorable.

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Aurélien Recoing (in a quietly powerful performance) plays Vincent, a financial consultant who gets fired but continues to go through the motions of going to work, telling his family lies about meetings and projects and late hours even though he just drives around aimlessly in nearby Switzerland. This is all unsettling, in no small part because we’ve been so programmed to think that works defines oneself. “You get a job, you become the job,” as Wizard would say. For the longest time we wonder why Vincent doesn’t just get another job or at least enjoy his free time, and his constant lies and his ways of still providing for his family are questionable to say the least.

But we gradually realise that the man is having a nervous breakdown, only it’s deeply internalised. Everyone’s had bouts where you feel alienated by a meaningless job and you want to give everything up, which makes the film truly affecting, though it takes nearly the whole length for the emotional wallop to kick in. In fact, the film is most moving after it’s over, as it lingers in your mind depressing the hell out of you. In a subtle but hypnotic way, director Laurent Cantet manages to not only make you feel for Vincent but like him as well. “L’emploi du temps” is a fascinating, unique exploration of the nature of work.

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A bleached Jean-Hughes Anglade stars as the utterly amoral Harvey, a rally pilot who’s been hired along with his young sidekick Victor (Cyrille Thouvenin, who’s also in “Oui, mais…”) and loose cannon Simon (Saguamore Stévenin), to drive ten tons of stolen gold through the Moroccan desert for a crooked air traffic controller (Joaquim de Almeida, the bad guy in “Desperado”). “Sueurs” is literally one big chase sequence à la “The Road Warrior”, sprinkled with violent confrontations with other desert-dwellers, cops and especially amongst the four double-crossing bastards.

Director Louis-Pascal Couvelaire seems to channelling Michael Bay, cranking everything up to the loudest, fastest and most explosive. It’s like the whole film is trailer for itself! This makes for a very visceral movie; you can practically feel the desert heat and smell the sweat. I enjoyed the quirky touches, like how the characters turn Édith Piaf’s Non, je ne regrette rien into a nihilistic anthem. “Sueurs” is no masterpiece, but it’s a nice change of pace from all the chatty dramas and chatty comedies.

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