Festival du Nouveau Cinéma 2010

OPENING FILM: 10 1/2 (Daniel Grou – Podz) 56
[ Podz’ first feature, “Les Sept jours du talion”, was not perfect, but its qualities strongly outweighed its flaws. Now, in “10 1/2”, there is still quite a bit to admire, but I feel like this time the negatives slightly overcome the positives. The big problem is Claude Lalonde’s screenplay which, while undeniably well-informed about its subject (Lalonde was once an educator in a juvenile detention center himself), is just not very good writing. In other hands, it could have easily led to an unbearably melodramatic, miserabilist and didactic film. Podz mostly avoids those traps by keeping everything barebones: stark visuals, handheld camera, shots that are often shaky, partially out of focus or obstructed, no music, scenes filled with only silence or background noise, etc. As the educator in charge of a new kid in juvie who displays aggressively antisocial behaviour, Claude Legault is solid if not extraordinary (his role is too one-note for that), young Robert Naylor is generally convincing as the problem child in question, and I liked Martin Dubreuil a lot as his deadbeat father… Still, the sometimes clumsy storytelling and clunky dialogue kept bugging me, up to the pointless and manipulative last big scene with the old man (you’ll see which one I mean) and the non-ending that follows. Thanks to Podz and his actors, “10 1/2” is not nearly as bad as it could have been, but does that make it good? I’m not so sure… ]

Mutantes – Féminisme Porno Punk (Virginie Despentes)
[ This insightful and entertaining documentary from “Baise-moi” director Virginie Despentes explores the world of pro-sex feminists who embrace pornography, prostitution and “deviant” sexuality. Choosing self-affirmation instead of victimisation, these girls consider their bodies to be “political tools” that they can use however they please. Built around a series of interviews with the likes of Annie Sprinkle, Scarlot Harlot, Norma Jean Almodovar, Candida Royalle, Michelle Tea, Nina Roberts and Catherine Breillat, “Mutantes” also includes plenty of archival footage, including images from female-driven adult films and racy stage shows. ]

Año bisiesto (Michael Rowe) 69
[ Laura (raw, troubling Monica del Carmen) is a lonely Mexican freelance writer who works from home and generally spends her evenings alone in her apartment as well. When relatives call on her, she lies about leading a happy, busy life and having many friends, but the only company she gets is when she goes out to pick up strange men then brings them back to her place for some loveless, increasingly rough and perverted sex. Slow, quiet and made up strictly of long, static, meticulously composed widescreen shots, “Año bisiesto” (“Leap Year”), the winner of the Caméra d’or for the best first feature at the last Cannes Film Festival, is an oddly compelling watch, the unblinking, voyeuristic portrait of a desperate woman. ]

Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé) 94
[ review ]

2 fois une femme (François Delisle) 82
[ “Nos vies sont les mêmes. Nos vies sont pareilles et défigurées…” In this film written, produced and directed by François Delisle, who also composed and performed the (great) music score under the moniker The States Project, the extraordinary Evelyne Rompré plays a woman who, after being brutally beaten by her husband (Marc Béland) one too many time, escapes to a small town somewhere in Northwestern Quebec with her son (newcomer Étienne Laforge). Now, this isn’t a film about domestic violence, at least not in a square, straightforward way. “2 fois une femme” is actually a lyrical, moody, elusive, quiet, deliberately paced picture about trying to move on, to build a new life… As stunningly shot by cinematographer Mathieu Laverdière with the Red One camera, the film makes great use of the environment that surrounds the characters, as the son wanders through the woods or the mother swims naked in a creek, for instance. The cast, which also includes David Boutin, Martin Dubreuil, Catherine De Léan, Michelle Rossignol and Marie Brassard in bit parts, does good work across the line, but it’s Rompré who really carries the film, radiating infinite sadness but also fragile hope. ]

The Kate Logan Affair (Noël Mitrani) 45
[ Most people won’t be so patient, but for the longest time, I tried to roll with this disappointing sophomore effort from Noël Mitrani. Because I liked his debut, “Sur la trace d’Igor Rizzi”, and because of my schoolboy crush on Alexis Bledel, of course. The former Gilmore Girl stars as the titular young Canadian policewoman, who becomes involved sexually with a French insurance executive (Laurent Lucas) attending a conference in town, even though he’s married with children… and despite the fact that they first met when she mistakenly arrested him because he looked like a wanted serial rapist! That’s only the first of many, many bad decisions Kate Logan will make over the course of the story, which grows increasingly ludicrous throughout. Like I said, I made an effort to go along with it anyway, to enjoy it as a low-rent B-movie thriller. But even on that level, the irrational behavior of the characters, not to mention the lack of actual thrills, make it nearly impossible not to give up on the film. Yet I haven’t given up on Mitrani, who’s clearly still a skilled director. And I did think Bledel’s performance was quite good, even though she’s playing the stupidest movie cop of all time. ]

Jo pour Jonathan (Maxime Giroux) 76
[ In a suburban town that could be anywhere or nowhere (mostly nowhere), bored young men waste away, indulging in sex, alcohol, drugs, petty crimes… Plus street racing which, for a while, seems to be what the film is about, in a stripped down, matter-of-fact way. The Not So Fast and the Not So Furious? Kidding aside, I was truly engrossed by this portrait of a time, a place and people as ordinary as it gets, who are somewhat transcended by the evocative visuals of cinematographer extraordinaire Sara Mishara and music of composer Olivier Alary. Particularly touching for me was the rowdy but affectionate relationship between Jonathan (Raphaël Lacaille) and his older brother Thomas (Jean-Sébastien Courchesne), and I dug the no-nonsense wit of the dialogue written by Maxime Giroux and longtime collaborator Alexandre Laferrière. The one hesitation I have about “Jo pour Jonathan” concerns the third act, which takes a sudden dramatic, tragic turn that I wasn’t really sure what to think of, in part because of the similarities with the last stretch of a certain Oscar-winning picture… That being said, this is still solid work, with which Giroux confirms that he’s one of the most promising filmmakers in Quebec. ]

Biutiful (Alejandro González Iñárritu) 91
[ In this first feature made without the collaboration of screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu refreshingly breaks away from the formula of his three previous movies by going for a straightforward narrative, centred on a single main character, whose story is told in chronological order (save for the bookend scenes) and is set entirely in one location, Barcelona. Not the warm, picturesque, romantic Spanish city seen in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, but what seems like the filthiest, poorest corners of it, where illegal immigrant workers struggle to survive. And while protagonist Uxbal happens to be played by the male lead of the aforementioned Woody Allen flick, Javier Bardem is not playing a suave artist here, but a morose bastard haunted by death: that of the departed souls he’s mysteriously able to communicate with, that of the father he never knew, and his own imminent death from cancer, which scares the piss out of him because he can’t accept the idea of leaving his young children on their own in this cruel, merciless world. González Iñárritu outdoes himself here, crafting a visually masterful, immensely affecting film full of humanity, urgency and raw emotion. Bardem delivers an astonishing performance, one of his best ever (which is saying a lot), and he’s surrounded by a rich tapestry of supporting characters, including Maricel Álvarez as his mentally unstable on-and-off wife, Hanaa Bouchaib as his daughter, Guillermo Estrella as his son, Eduard Fernández as his brother, plus a whole bunch of African and Chinese immigrants, every one of which contributes to making the ensemble so effective. There are many spectacular, disturbing and otherwise striking scenes, but the most memorable ones might actually be the most intimate, simple ones. Definitely one of the year’s crowning achievements. ]

rammbock (Marvin Kren) 80
[ Taking place over a few days in a Berlin apartment complex being assaulted by zombies, this “28 Days Later”-style apocalyptic flick makes up for its minimalist scope with relentless intensity and suspense. The desaturated, high contrast cinematography, nervous editing, sharp sound design and ambient score all contribute in making this a riveting experience from start to finish, as do the perfectly gruesome makeup effects, then there’s a melancholy undercurrent building up to a tragic, operatic climax that elevates the whole thing. “rammbock” (battering ram in German) is one hell of a calling card for first-time feature director Marvin Kren, who I wouldn’t be surprised to see directing high-profile Hollywood genre movies before long. ]

Raavanan (Mani Ratman) 90
[ In this loose, modern retelling of the ancient Sanskrit epic “Ramayana”, Bollywood superstar Aishwarya Rai plays a brave yet vulnerable woman who’s kidnapped by a schizophrenic terrorist (Vikram), forcing her police officer husband (Prithviraj) to lead a commando squad deep into the jungles of Tamil Nadu to rescue her. This seems like a basic good-versus-evil story at first, but the plot and characters are actually much more complex and ambiguous than they initially appear to be and by the end, we’re not quite sure who to root for, making this a very potent illustration of the vicious circle of violence. I was also taken by how filmmaker Mani Ratman fills every scene and every shot with ravishing beauty, danger, sensuality, atmosphere, color and emotion, as well as a general surreal, dreamlike quality, which somehow made me think of “Apocalypse Now”… Except that it also features awesome musical numbers set to songs by Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” composer A. R. Rahman! The way people occasionally start dancing like that, some of the sillier bits of comic relief, the over the top action climax right out of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, and the other tonal shifts characteristic of popular Indian cinema might turn off some viewers, but I went along with it all and loved every minute of it. ]

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