Foxtrot (פוֹקְסטְרוֹט)

When Daphna Feldman (Sarah Adler) opens the door of her apartment, she understands and faints. From the living room her husband, Michael Feldman (Lior Ashkenazi), watch as soldiers from the Israeli defence forces (IDF) come in the apartment, sedate his wife and carry her to bed. They have bad news for them: their son Jonathan was “killed in action”. The soldiers are quick to instruct Michael that he has to remain calm. They give him some pills. They tell him that he has to drink water. One of the soldier even sets up an alert on Michael’s phone to remind him when he should drink water. But during the day Michael goes crazy. No amount of water is going to change that. He calls his brother, tries to reach his daughter, kicks the family dog, visits his mother at the retirement home to tell her the news, but he’s not sure if she even knows who he is. Foxtrot, a near perfect film from Israel, has a three-part structure, playing around with time and space. At the end of the first segment, the soldier come back with another devastating news. In the second segment, we find Jonathan (Yonatan Shiray) with three other soldiers manning a roadblock situated to the north of Israel. This is boring work. There are some cars passing on the road, but most of the time they raise the barrier for camels. Their conditions are terrible: They sleep in a container that seem to be slowly sinking into the ground. To get there they have to cross a pond of muddy water. And they eat food directly from boiled cans. There’s a great moment at the beginning of this second segment where Jonathan shows his fellow soldiers how you dance a Foxtrot. But a tragedy comes to disrupt their quiet life. In the third segment we are back at the Feldman apartment. It’s a year later and the house is in disarray, with Michael and Daphna’s marriage almost on the brink of divorce. Foxtrot has been controversial in Israel, mostly for the less than stellar depiction of the Israeli defence forces. If I love that film so much it’s not only because of the structured screenplay. It’s Samuel Maoz’s visually compelling direction. The unusual angles, overhead shots, the close up. Every beautiful shots contribute to the story and create a tension of its own. This is the most fun I had at the movies in a long time. During the first segment Lior Ashkenazi gives a tense, fierce and hysterical performance. So far this is my favorite film this year.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from April 13 – 19
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/foxtrot

Foxtrot (פוֹקְסטְרוֹט)

Directed by:
Samuel Maoz

Screenplay by:
Samuel Maoz

Starring:
Lior Ashkenazi
Sarah Adler
Yonatan Shiray
Shira Haas

108 min.

Rated 14A

In Hebrew with English subtitles.

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Finding your feet

I don’t know how many British films like Finding your feet I’ve seen. The formula is easy: you take a respectable middle-age/elderly British actress, she’ll play a woman with a dramatic situation who copes by doing something that takes her out of her comfort zone, but makes them feel that they have accomplish a lot. The cynic in me calls that the “embracing life” or “climb every mountain” films. How do you like them clichés? In Calendar girls you had Dame Helen Mirren and Dame Julie Walters posing in a nude calendar to raise money for cancer, Song for Marion starred Dame Vanessa Redgrave as a cancer patient joining a choir. There are many other examples. There is a lot of laughs and pathos. That is why the those films are a big hit. But it has to be British. If Americans tried to do a film like that, it would be called corny, and it would be snubbed and laughed at. If it sounds as if I did not like Finding your feet, it is wrong. Well, I liked it more than I expected. It’s probably because of the three main actors. Imelda Staunton plays Lady Sandra Abbott, who finds out that Mike (John Sessions), her husband of 40 years, has been having an affair with her best friend. Ashamed and hurt she goes to live with her estranged sister, Bif (Celia Imrie, who was one of the Calendar girls). Bif lives on an inner-city apartment building, and the “Lady” lived in a rich mansion. Sandra is snobbish, doesn’t like anyone or anything, especially her life. Meanwhile, Bif is an “embracing life”, “climb every mountain” person. While Bif is going to community dance class for seniors, Sandra mopes around the apartment all day, drinking too much and feeling sorry for herself. It takes time, but with the influence of her older sister, Sandra is slowly getting out of her near comatose state. One of Sandra’s childhood dreams was to be a dancer, so Bif invites Sandra to join the dance class. There Sandra meets Charlie (Timothy Spall) and Jackie (Joanna Lumley). At first Sandra does not like Charlie very much, but he’s a very good dancer, and slowly they become closer. But Sandra ignores that Charlie is married, but his wife is suffering from advance stage Alzheimer, and does not recognize him. It is too much for Charlie and it may cause her more damage than good, so he stops visiting her. When a video of a dance that the group performed as a street celebration has gone viral, they are invited to go to Rome to perform at a festival. But Mike wants her to come back home. A lot of people will like Finding your feet. And so did I. Yes, the actors are good. This is a great part for Celia Imrie, who usually plays the best friend, the ex-wife or the mother. Here she is funny and touching. And so is Timothy Spall. The scenes where Charlie visits his wife are particularly effective and hard to watch. And Imelda Staunton is a great performer. She made me laugh and touched me. She is the main reason to go see Finding your feet. There is one small problem. The dance number in Rome is a big letdown. The expectations were raised quite high, but instead of having something that was extraordinary, we get something that doesn’t even match the quality of the rest of the film. The dance in Rome was such a disappointment. But if you wanna laugh and have a good cry… And it is British!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from April 13 – 26
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/finding-your-feet

Finding your feet

Directed by:
Richard Loncraine

Screenplay by:
Meg Leonard & Nick Moorcroft

Starring:
Imelda Staunton
Celia Imrie
Timothy Spall
Joanna Lumley
David Hayman
John Sessions
Josie Lawrence

111 min.

Never steady, never still

Judy (Shirley Henderson) suffered from advanced Parkinson’s disease. She lives with her husband Ed (Nicholas Campbell) and their 18-year-old son Jamie (Théodore Pellerin) in a house on the edge of Stuart Lake in British Columbia. It has been twenty years since Judy was diagnose with the disease and now she can’t even button her jeans. Ed will do it. It’s clear that they love and understand each other. Ed wants Jamie to go work in the oil fields of Alberta, to earn money of course, but also to give him some responsibilities. Once there though he has to deal the violence of his co-workers. When Ed dies, Jamie goes back home for the funerals. Although Jamie would like to stay to help her mother, she insists that he goes back to Alberta. Life is hard for Judy, but she manages without much problems for now. Jamie’s orientation is unclear. In the shower he is daydreaming being kissed by his best friend. During winter life gets harder for Judy who befriends the grocery’s delivery girl (Mary Galloway). It is actually very hard to watch Scottish actress Shirley Henderson and believe she does not have Parkinson’s. Her body is terribly bent and deformed. It must have been hard on her body.And she’s so thin. She looks like a fragile little bird. Physically Henderson has been perfectly cast. Pellerin, who is a popular actor on Quebec TV and film, is compelling to watch here as a confused, lost teen. Kathleen Hepburn’s film is based on her mother’s life. It is well photographed by Norm Li, who never let’s us forget the harshness of the Canadian winters. Never steady, never still can be depressing and slow, but it may be worth it for certain moviegoers simply because of the great cast. Henderson, Pellerin, Campbell and Galloway.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Never steady, never still

 

Directed by:
Kathleen Hepburn

Screenplay by:
Kathleen Hepburn

Starring:
Shirley Henderson
Théodore Pellerin
Nicholas Campbell
Mary Galloway
Lorne Cardinal

112 min.

Rated 14A

In English.

In between (Bar bahar)

In between is about three young Israeli-Palestinian women sharing a flat in Tel Aviv: At first only two of them are living together. Layla (Mouna Hawa) is a lawyer, and Salma (Sana Jammelieh) works in a restaurant. Oh yes, she’s a lesbian. They’re like all the other young people their age. They hang around a liberal crowd of women and men. There are drugs and booze. Then Nour (Shaden Kanboura) moves in. Nour is a traditional Muslim who wears a hijab and is committed to her fiancé. She’s from another city and she’s coming to live in Tel Aviv to finish her studies. At first, Layla and Salma don’t have much in common with her. Nour’s fiancé is very strict with her. He would like Nour to come back to their city, even if it takes a few hours to drive to school. On one of his visits, he brutally rapes her. That’s when the three women band together to make sure that Nour can get out of this marriage. Layla has met Ziad, a man she thinks will be her soul mate. But soon Ziad start to want to control her. She’ll have none of that, and she’s quick to break off with him. As for Salma, situations get tense in her Christian family when her parents finds out she has a girlfriend. Being afraid for her safety, Salma makes the decision to move to another country. As Palestinians, the daily lives of those women are fraught with danger. A suspicious look at the grocery or when they are buying clothes. But the danger (or the possible dangers) is also coming from their own community. Maysaloun Hamoud has put a much-needed a spotllight on them. Those three actresses are nothing short of amazing. Shaden Kanboura as Nour has the most difficult scenes in the film. The French title is Je danserai si je veux (I’ll dance if I want). And at the end they dance indeed, to celebrate their friendship and their liberty.

Rémi-SergeGratton

In between (Bar bahar)

 

Directed by:
Maysaloun Hamoud

Screenplay by:
Maysaloun Hamoud

Starring:
Mouna Hawa
Sana Jammelieh
Shaden Kanboura

103 min.

Rated 14A

In Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles.

Mountain

Australian director Jennifer Peedom’s new documentary Mountain starts with an anonymous quote: “Those who dance are considered insane by those who can’t hear the music”. Throughout the film we are indeed witnessing how insane those mountain climbers seem to us, mere ordinary, boring people. It’s not only climbers, but skydivers, parachuting off a mountain or free flying (wearing a costume with wings they are amazingly flying like birds), the skiers and snowboarders. Or tempting fate biking in the mountains. It’s all very perilous. We see the bloody noses, fingers, frostbite, climbers freezing in a tent during a snow storm and avalanches. To us it’s foolishness, to them excitement. In one spectacular stunt, a man is walking on a tightrope in the Grand Canyon. When I gasped it was more than the stunt. It was the grandeur, the beauty. As cinematographer, Peedom has asked mountain climber and photographer Renan Ozturk. Some of the footage come from mountain climbers with either their cellphones or cameras. There is one section with old archive films in black-and-white. But most of the footage is from Ozturk. The mountains are majestic, scary and it’s almost impossible to describe their hold on people. The only narration is an homage to mountains from Willem Dafoe (perfect really) reading excerpts from Robert Macfarlane’s Mountains of the mind: A history of a fascination. There is a score by Richard Tognetti, but also music from Vivaldi and Beethoven and modern composers like Arvo Pärt, making it the best soundtrack in a long time. On film it seems all the elements are there. A feast for eyes, a feast for the ears, as they say.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Mountain

 

Directed by:
Jennifer Peedom

Screenplay by:
Robert Macfarlane
Jennifer Peedom

Narrated by Willem Dafoe

74 min.

C’est la vie! (Le sens de la fête)

It’s going to be a beautiful day. Pierre and Héléna are getting married. That is if everything goes according to plan. Wedding planner Max (Jean-Pierre Bacri) certainly hopes so. It’s a big outfit. A 17th-century castle was rented with the reception is to be held in the garden. A ton of staff has been hired, most of them waiters, but also musicians, sound men, electricians, assistants and a wedding photographer. From the start there are a number of small annoyances. The groom’s prefered wedding singer/DJ cancelled, and Max had to hire DJ James (Gilles Lellouche). But Max’s assistant, Adele (scene-stealer Eye Haidara), cannot stand DJ James, and she has no problem voicing her dislike to his face. Max’s brother-in-law, Julien (Vincent Macaigne), is one of the waiter. Julien recognizes the bride as one of his old girlfriend and remains obsessed by her throughout the reception. The photographer starts eating the food before it is served. As if it was not enough, Max’s personal life is also in shambles. As he is about to divorce, his other assistant but also his mistress, Josiane (Quebec actress Suzanne Clément from Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways and Mommy), threatens to end their relationship and starts flirting with a young waiter in order to make Max jealous. Without telling the staff, Max has been planning to sell the business. He had enough! What I liked about C’est la vie! is that it is unmistakably French. A good ensemble cast, headed by the wonderful Jean-Pierre Bacri and an extremely funny script peppered with just enough magic. This not a masterpiece, but it is worth seeing.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

C’est la vie! (Le sens de la fête)

 

Directed by:
Olivier Nakache
Eric Toledano

Screenplay by:
Olivier Nakache
Eric Toledano

Starring:
Jean-Pierre Bacri
Eye Haidara
Gilles Lellouche
Jean-Paul Rouve
Vincent Macaigne
Alban Ivanov
Suzanne Clément

115 min.

Rated 14A

In French with English subtitles.

The death of Stalin

When Joseph Stalin suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1954 he urinated on himself. This is a true historical fact that is taken very lightly by director Armando Iannucci and his team. As Stalin’s associates are gathering around him they try to figure out what to do with him. He’s not dead yet, so they kneel to help him, and of course they kneel in the pee. They step in it or they touch him and retreat in disgust. It’s milked until its last drop. You’ve guessed it, The death of Stalin is a comedy about the death of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin). The labyrinthine script is about the power struggle to take the job of Chairman of Council of ministers of the Soviet Union is lampooned. The next in line is the deputy chairman Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor). But Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), chief of the Soviet security, sees an opportunity to take control. But Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), then a Stalin adviser, is not happy with Beria (or with anything much). They’re all dumb and/or paranoid, and they hate one another. It’s a great cast but I can’t name all of them here. The most noteworthy are Monty Python’s Michael Palin, Rupert Friend as Vasily Stalin, Stalin’s demented son and Jason Isaacs as Georgy Zhukov, an aggressive military officer who wants to rule everyone. But the best performances are from Simon Russell Beale who gives the film its early drive, Buscemi who does the same in the second half. The death of Stalin is not always great or even funny. but it is fascinating. There is so many f-bombs it might put some people off. (The last time I’ve heard that many in a film was In the loop also directed by Iannucci) There was a lot of criticism about historical accuracy. Duh! Do I cared? Not really.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The death of Stalin

 

Directed by:
Armando Iannucci

Screenplay by:
Armando Iannucci
David Schneider
Ian Martin
Peter Fellows
Based on the comic book La mort de Staline by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin

Starring:
Simon Russell Beale
Steve Buscemi
Adrian McLoughlin
Andrea Riseborough
Michael Palin
Jeffrey Tambor
Rupert Friend
Jason Isaacs
Olga Kurylenko
Paul Whitehouse

106 min.

The leisure seeker

At the last Academy Awards, host Jimmy Kimmel offered a Jet Ski to the Oscars winner who gave the shortest acceptance speech. Presenting the Jet Ski like a The price is right model, and obviously having the most fun of the evening, was Dame Helen Mirren. And that’s not all! At the end of the Oscar-cast the Jet Ski was rolled on the stage with the winner (Phantom thread costume designer Mark Bridges) and Dame Helen riding on the Jet Ski. In The leisure seeker Mirren co-stars with Canadian icon Donald Sutherland (their last film together was Bethune: The making of a hero in 1990). They play Ella and John Spencer, an elderly couple (Mirren is 72, Sutherland 82) who decide to run away for a last road trip in their motor home, baptized “The leisure seeker”. They are going across America. They did that without telling their children, Will and Jane (Christian McKay and Janel Moloney). The children are understandably worried since Ella suffers from what we guess is cancer and John has Alzheimer. But Ella and John don’t look too bothered by anything. They’re having a great time. While driving the motor home John, a retired English teacher, constant reciting of Hemingway annoys Ella. Sometimes they park the motor home at camping sites, and at night Ella shows John slides of old family photos. He sometimes remembers, and sometimes not. Often other campers gathers behind them to watch the slides. It’s our collective memories, one’s family being like all families. This is America and when they get robbed, Ella knows how to defend herself. And John goes to a Donald Trump rally. And he likes it. Hey! this a road movie, and like all such films they could be painted by numbers. That is if it wasn’t for the two stars. At first Sutherland plays John as a quiet, withdrawn. And he starts talking, and boy does he talk. Layers upon layers the character becomes more complex. Helen Mirren has played Queens and Shakespearean tragedies, but I’ve never seen her play someone like Ella Spencer. A thick southern accented American with a gun, hopping on a motorbike, holding on to her wig and swearing all the way. This is funny, but also sad. People should not forget that this is a film about two people in love. Their last days, as they say, are numbered. So bring your handkerchief.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The leisure seeker

 

Directed by:
Paolo Virzi

Screenplay by:
Paolo Virzì
Francesca Archibugi
Francesca Piccolo
Stephen Amidon
Based on the novel by Michael Zadoorian

Starring:
Donald Sutherland
Dame Helen Mirren
Christian McKay
Janel Maloney
Dana Ivey

112 min.

The insult (قضية رقم ٢٣)

In The insult we see what can happen when two men let their ideological pride color the way they treat each other. Tony Hanna is a Lebanese garage owner. Tony (Adel Karam) is a staunch Christian party follower. His wife, Shirine (Rita Hayek), is pregnant with their first child. One day water from their drain pipe drips on Yasser Salameh (Kamel El Basha), a construction foreman doing some road repairs. Yasser is Palestinian refugee. Both men hate each other. After Yasser insults him, Tony demands an apology. Despite their wives, friends and family telling them that they should be kinder, words are exchanged and matters gets worse when Yasser punches Tony in the stomach. It escalates even more when Shirine is sent to the hospital. Both mother and child are in danger. That’s when Tony decides to sue Yasser. Tony has a team of lawyers, headed by veteran Wajdi Wehbe (Camille Salameh). As for Yasser, he is defended by a young female lawyer (Diamand Bou Abboud). In the courtroom or outside, Tony and Yasse have started a small civil war. For both men there is too much pain in the past, but maybe they could co to an understanding. At court it is discovered that the lawyers are father and daughter. Even though it’s a bit too formated, the film is still well constructed and well acted. Very good.

And the Oscar went to… The insult was Lebanon’s nominee for Foreign language film, but lost to A fantastic woman from Chile.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The insult (قضية رقم ٢٣)

 

Directed by:
Ziad Doueiri

Screenplay by:
Ziad Doueiri
Joelle Touma

Starring:
Adel Karam
Kamel El Basha
Camille Salameh
Rita Hayek
Christine Choueiri
Diaman Bou Abboud

Rated 14A

113 min.

In Arabic with English subtitles.

Cannes Lions international festival of creativity 2017

The world of commercials have changed so much over the years. The ads used to be almost entirely played on TV between on commercial breaks, each commercials usually lasting no more than 30 seconds. Now that they can play on youtube or be made for a company’s website, there’s no time limit. Some of the commercials are more like short films. I must admit that this year was a very good year. I’ve notice that there was no ads about cars. There are a few about road safety. One of them is a commercial from Quebec about a man who laughs at everything while looking at his text messages. Among the memorable ads is one where an ostrich wears virtual reality goggles. It think it can fly. In a French ad, a man who was terribly disfigured in a fire goes out on Halloween. People think he is wearing a mask and he can dance and have fun like everybody. This is troubling and heartfelt. My favorite is from a traveling agency. Several people go through a DNA test to attest their ancestry, and challenged to travel to the countries of the test. Some of those people are initially prejudiced about other nationalities (“I am better than you,” says one man to the interviewers.). They are surprised and pleased when they find out they really did not know their origins. There are also a lot of Nike ads. One is about powerful young girls doing sports. And I really like the Nike ad done for the Paralympics. This year’s collection is impressive. I recommend.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Cannes Lions international festival of creativity 2017

 

Various directors

112 min.

Rated 14A