Daisy Diamond (Simon Staho) 93
Recalling "Screen Test: Karen Elkin" and that one part of "Mulholland Dr.", "Daisy Diamond" depicts the merciless cruelty of the audition process and of being an actress in general. But it one-ups these other works by adding this whole meta dimension, where the scenes the protagonist acts out in auditions (which include one of the key exchanges in Bergman's "Persona") all seem to actually be her reliving moments of her past or expressing her darkest feelings about motherhood. Less stylized than his previous picture, the unheralded masterpiece "Bang Bang Orangutang" (unheralded except by me, that is: it made my 2006 Top Ten), Simon Staho's latest is driven by the staggeringly great, immensely brave, incredibly affecting performance (and performances within the performance) of Noomi Rapace, whose face I could look at for hours - which is convenient, because so much of the film is constituted of close-ups of it. Because Staho remains criminally overlooked, I'm afraid this will become another lost masterpiece, but it should be seen by any serious filmgoer and Rapace should get every possible acting award.
I'm Not There. (Todd Haynes) 92
Bob Dylan is a man of mystery, contradiction, chaos, clocks and watermelons, and "I'm Not There." is built in his image. Part conventional biopic (rise to fame, failed marriage, drug addiction, etc.), part fake documentary (with talking heads segments, including some with Julianne Moore as a Joan Baez type), part 1960s art film (B&W, psychedelic imagery), part post-modern exercise (interweaved narratives, different actors playing the same character), part mad-circus Western (no, really!), Todd Haynes's latest is infinitely challenging and equally rewarding. On first viewing, some stretches feel somewhat self-indulgent, while still being interesting in their own way, but there's no question that much more numerous are the masterstrokes (the Beatles "cameo", the New England Jazz and Folk Festival massacre, David Cross as Allen Ginsberg...). As word had it, Cate Blanchett is the best of the six actors playing the various versions of Dylan, but I also loved the takes by Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, little black kid Marcus Carl Franklin and even Richard Gere. But the real star here remains Haynes, who proves once again to be an unbelievably versatile virtuoso. "I'm Not There." is a goddamn master class in cinema, always visually enthralling and packing a genius soundtrack, of course. This is everything the Lucien Francoeur flick "Exit pour Nomades" (look it up) wanted to be, and then some.
Continental, un film sans fusil (Stéphane Lafleur) 44
Whaaaaaa? This is supposed to be the best Québécois film of the year? This boring movie about boring people doing boring things? I'll never understand other local critics... Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it's crap: it's nicely shot, Lafleur's got some interesting ideas and the acting is fine. There's just absolutely nothing exceptional about it. Don't even try to compare it to "Happiness". Sure, both movies are about losers, but Solondz' flick was wonderfully, hilariously mean-spirited and his losers were fucked up in all kinds of fascinating ways. Lafleur's sorry bunch is just dull, dull, dull.
Poor Boy's Game (Clément Virgo) 68
This one is a tough nut to crack. As a movie-movie, it's definitely got the goods: compelling storytelling, naturalistic yet lively direction, strong performances. It's nicely positioned between a character drama about a community in crisis (in the press notes, the director invokes "Do the Right Thing" and "On the Waterfront", amongst others) and a boxing flick à la "Raging Bull" (there's even a "You fucking my wife?" scene between two brothers) and, particularly, "Rocky": get this, the plot has this underdog, working class bloke (Rossif Sutherland) training for a match against a charismatic/arrogant, Apollo Creed-style Black champion (Flex Alexander), and he doesn't want to win so much as to remain on his feet and "keep fighting back". Classic… Except that there are all these disturbing undertones brought by the fact that our "hero" has just got out of jail, where he spent 10 years for having beat up a Black youth (KC Collins) so bad that he became physically and mentally handicapped for life. THAT's the guy we should be rooting for!? Even more befuddling is how the white trash mofo ends up being trained by the victim's father (Danny Glover)! Befuddling… but interesting, no doubt. As I said, this is all well written (though the escalation of violence feels a bit exaggerated – are there really such explosive racial tensions in Halifax, Nova Scotia?), well directed and well acted (beside those mentioned, the film also features good performances from Greg Bryk and Stephen McHattie), but I'm not sure I'm comfortable with where the movie stands morally.
Les chansons d'amour (Christophe Honoré) 70
Laidback but thoughtful storytelling, a few nods to the Nouvelle Vague, a compelling cast (including the particularly adorable Louis Garrel, Ludivine Sagnier and Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) and a wonderful collection of Alex Beaupain songs performed by the characters. What's not to love? Well... Something happens at the end of the first act that made the film less pleasurable to me. On the other hand, it leads to something in the third act that, while it took me a while to accept, ultimately put a huge smile on my face.
Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi) 79
Part autobiography, part history lesson, this engrossing animated film depicts a young lady's experience of the Iran revolution, the Iran-Iraq war and its deceivingly calm aftermath, simultaneously with her discovery of youthful rebellion, love, heartache and so on. The start, amazingly expressive B&W drawings, the acute political commentary and the many humorous touches make this a true gem.
The Tracey Fragments (Bruce McDonald) 65
Tracey, a "normal" 15-year-old girl with "no tits and a big dumb moon-face", is struggling with self-loathing, bullies at school, parents who don't understand her. This is your typical high school drama, right? Pretty much, even when you take into account how Tracey has this imaginary romance with a classmate, has to look for her lost little brother (who thinks he's a dog) and ends up running away from home and interacting with seedy individuals. What sets this movie apart, for better or worse, is the decision to blow it up into a million little pieces and quasi-randomly throw them together. Not only is the chronology fragmented, so are all the shots, which are split in 2, 3, 5, 8 or more frames. This makes for a kind of a live action comic strip on acid, as if Peter Greenaway was doing an experimental remake of "Ghost World". This approach is somewhat justified by the idea that the form of the film mirrors Tracey's own fragmented psyche, but I'm not sure if this enhances the storytelling, diminishes it or merely hides the fact that this ultimately is a relatively simple, ordinary teenage tale (again, in spite of a few quirks). I mean, this technique does make the emotional moments more overwhelming, but when a simple conversation scene is split into 6 frames, it grows tiresome. Still, whether you think this is a trippy exercise in style or an artsy wank, one thing's for sure: "The Tracey Fragments" remains enjoyable thanks to the crazy/beautiful, funny/badass performance from Ellen Page and the great, moody score by Broken Social Scene.
L'âge des ténèbres (Denys Arcand) 0
"J'me suis dit, je l'fais, d'la marde."
- Denys Arcand, after the FNC screening, candidly
explaining that he had a feeling this movie
wouldn't work but decided to make it anyway.
Oh, of course I'd been aware of the noxious buzz coming off this movie over the last six months, as it's been befuddling critics in Cannes, in Toronto and in France. But damn! One of the things I hate the most about critics is groupthink: when everyone is hating on a movie, it usually turns out that it's not so bad. That's what I thought here, as I was reading about how this was a "film de vieux con" and "le film de trop d'un auteur claquemuré dans une rancoeur stérile". It couldn't be that bad, right? WRONG! It's worse. So, so much worse. It's not only the worst movie Denys Arcand's ever made ("Stardom" is genius in comparison), it might be the worst movie any world-class filmmaker has ever made. I mean, I don't like everything Ang Lee or Gus Van Sant make, but you're always guaranteed a minimum of interesting artistic input. Here, at best, Arcand is feebly rehashing his own work.
Otherwise, "L'âge des ténèbres" is filled with the most obvious, aimless, unfunny satire, not to mention endless ranting, idiotic skits and pointless cameos from Québécois or French stars (amongst those embarrassing themselves here: Thierry Ardisson, Bernard Pivot, Véronique Cloutier, Chantal Lacroix, Gaston Lepage, Michel Rivard & Marie-Michèle Desrosiers, Pauline Martin, Christian Bégin, my man Mathieu Baron). In bigger parts, Sylvie Léonard and Caroline Néron are also atrocious, and Arcand manages the impossible feat of making the usually wonderful Marc Labrèche (who's the star of this witless rip-off of "American Beauty") dull. His character is intended to be boring, I know, but even his dreams are a bore!
As you may know, it's been suggested that this is the last in a thematic trilogy which started with "Le déclin de l'empire américain", which I also dislike, but nowhere near as much. That first movie in Arcand's Bourgeois Baby Boomer trilogy showed BBBs at their "peak", observing the decline of civilization around them but remaining smug and enjoying the smell of their own farts. I actually love the middle film in this triptych, "Les invasions barbares", maybe because it's more human, less self-content, as if the BBBs had realized the err of their ways and were now trying to be open-minded towards the younger generation. Alas, that didn't last. In "L'âge des ténèbres", that open mind is slammed shut and chooses to reject post-BBB society wholesale, with infinite bitterness, pessimism and contempt. Thanks, but no thanks.