Martyrs (Pascal Laugier)78
It starts off strikingly, as a bloodied up little girl escapes from a warehouse where she’d been help prisoner and tortured for years. The consequences on her emotional and mental state are then quickly conveyed, and it’s first sad, then rather creepy… And then we flash forward to 15 years later, with some unrelated characters (French folks played by Quebecers) having breakfast, and it gets to be almost dull when suddenly… Well, you’ll see, but let me just say that it never gets dull too long in this absolutely brutal cross between J-Horror, so-called torture porn and new French horror à la “Haute tension”. Gore and terror are always just around the corner, and the storytelling is admiringly unpredictable. Heck, when they shot the film last year, right here in Montreal, I spent a couple of hours visiting the set and pretty much got a glimpse of all the different characters and locations, but I still had no idea how the various pieces (child abuse, home invasion, bizarre experiments, monster attacks, etc.) fitted with each other while I was watching it…. And the ending is both infuriating and pure genius.
Demain (Maxime Giroux)70
Over the past few years, there’s this new wave of Quebec filmmakers, many of them having made their chops directing shorts, who are bringing original and current visions to the big screen. I’m thinking of Denis Côté, Rafaël Ouellet, Robin Aubert, Stéphane Lafleur, Yves Christian Fournier… And Maxime Giroux, the most recent of this group to make his feature debut. With its long sustained shots, sparse dialogue and deliberate pacing, “Demain” is resolutely not of a thrill-a-minute popcorn movie. In fact, it might stretch itself a little too thin and be a little too humourless… Then again, Giroux truly has a knack for almost purely visual storytelling and he manages to convey complex psychological and emotional nuances just through his actors’ facial expressions, their body language, the way they relate to their environment… There might not be much to the plot, but the characters (a mousy young office worker, a shiftless young construction worker) feel true and the film does say something about a certain generational malaise, particularly in regards to unfulfilling, utterly unromantic relationships.
3 saisons (Jim Donovan)35
I liked Donovan’s previous “Pure” quite a bit a few years ago. This? Not to much. Apparently shot on the cheap and on the fly, this González Iñárritu-style ensemble piece about sex, violence and parenthood tells three seemingly unrelated stories involving a squeegee punk played by Carinne Leduc, a shady man with a gun played by Frank Schorpion and an out of work actress played by Caroline Néron. With its uneven acting, forced grittiness, shaky dialogue, scenes that go nowhere and unsympathetic characters, “3 saisons” can’t help but disappoint, even though Donovan’s skill behind the camera is still apparent here and there.
JCVD (Mabrouk El Mechri)63
Jean-Claude Van Damme not only playing himself but making fun of his public persona and owning up to his private demons? Brilliant idea, and in the 4 or 5 instances where “JCVD” truly clicks, we get to experience what feels like classic movie moments. Alas, the execution of said brilliant idea is mezzo-mezzo. This isn’t the “Being John Malkovich” of action movies it could have been, but more of a somewhat straightforward robbery/hostage thriller that happens to involve the Muscles from Brussels. Which leads to some surreal exchanges and auto-referential humor, and pathos, too, culminating in a one-take existential monologue by Van Damme that I found to be pure genius. But on the whole, the film is hit and miss.
Le premier jour du reste de ta vie (Rémi Bezançon)84
This family dramedy kicks off in 1988, on the day the family dog is put to sleep and eldest son Albert (Pio Marmaï) moves out. We then flash forward to 1993, as youngest child Fleur (Déborah François), who’s gone all grunge on her parents, loses her virginity on the day of her not-so-sweet 16. In 1996, we follow middle kid Raph (Québécois Marc-André Grondin with a very convincing French accent) as he enjoys good wine with his grandfather (Roger Dumas), reminisces about falling in love with a girl during an air-guitar contest (!) and attends his brother’s wedding. In 1998, mother Marie-Jeanne (Zabou Breitman) struggles with her difficult relationship with her daughter, who she barely knows anymore, and the impression that she isn’t young and desirable anymore. Finally, in 2000, father Robert Duval (Jacques Gamblin) bonds with his sons, daughter and wife, celebrating what a wonder family life can be…
Through these five key days (plus a few choice flashbacks throughout and an extended epilogue), which are like five short films or five chapters from a novel, we get to know and love this family, thanks to the light-footed but effective storytelling, appealing characters and perfect balance between humor and emotion found in Bezançon’s screenplay. Stylishly shot and cut, with wonderful performances and a great pop soundtrack (the versatile original score by Sinclair is complemented by songs from Blossom Dearie, The Divine Comedy, Janis Joplin, David Bowie, Indochine, Lou Reed and Etienne Daho), this film is like a cross between “C.R.A.Z.Y”, “5×2” and “Six Feet Under”, but it’s also very much its own thing. A crowd-pleasing gem.
Elle veut le chaos (Denis Côté)67
Winner of a well-deserved Prix de la mise en scène at Locarno (any and all cinematography awards should also be de rigueur for the stark beauty of the B&W images), this minimalist modern day Western is ostensibly about a gunman (Laurent Lucas) riding back into town to get his old girlfriend (Ève Duranceau), who lives with her father (Normand Lévesque) in the middle of nowhere, next to some bandits (Réjean Lefrançois, Nicolas Canuel and Olivier Aubin)… Also involving phone sex, ping-pong and a mother-daughter team of Russian ballerinas/prostitutes, Denis Côté’s third feature is most of all a hanging out movie, which can be a bit too dry and wilfully opaque, but remains impressive if only as an exercise in style.
Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme)90
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… Here’s a movie about the most dysfunctional family in the world, with a rarely seen emotional harshness, but where you still end up loving all these beautiful, fucked-up people. Using a naturalistic approach that’s part Altman, part Dogme 95, Demme truly allows us to become intimate with the characters. His film, as scripted by Jenny Lumet, is built like a musical composition, with a mellow intro that lays down the melody and all the notes, then a series of powerful crescendos and, finally, a more subdued coda. Throughout, we get to hear lots of actual music of all kinds, we laugh, we cry, etc. It’s tempting to single out Anne Hathaway, whose performance, as a just out of rehab “harbinger of doom” bad seed who always seems on the verge of a breakdown, is indeed a revelation, but Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Debra Winger, TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe and the rest of the nicely multiethnic ensemble cast are also wonderful.