The breadwinner

The breadwinner is an animated film about Parvana, an eleven-year-old girl living with her family in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. After her father is arrested, Parvana’s mother is having trouble feeding her children. Women are banned from going out in public without a man and at home there is only Parvana, her older sister and a little brother. So Parvana cuts off her hair and pretends she is a boy. She is then able to earn some money and buy food. One day she meets Shauzia, a girl who also dresses as a boy. Shauzia and Parvana become friends and help each other. At home, Parvana helps her family cope by telling them the story of a young boy named Sulayman who must confront his fears and fight a giant elephant. There are then two types of anination. The more realistic drawings for Parvana’s adventures, and the animation for the Sulayman fantasy tale. It looks like a paper collage, is more colourful, and can be very funny at times. Based on the popular children’s novel by Deborah Ellis, The breadwinner is really for adults and older children. It is beautifully made with a lot of careful details and respect. One more plus: the main character is a fearless girl. It has great artistic integrity and it is charming.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from December 8 – 14
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/the-breadwinner

The breadwinner

Directed by:
Nora Twomey

Screenplay by:
Anita Doran
Deborah Ellis
adapted from The breadwinner by Deborah Ellis

94 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Advertisements

The other side of hope (Toivon tuolla puolen)

As he was accepting the 2017 Berlinale Silver Bear for Best Director for The other side of hope, Aki Kaurismäki announced that it would be his last film as a director. The internationally acclaimed director’s type of absurdist tragicomedies are so rare that we are taken aback by the unusual tone of his films. The other side of hope is tell parallel story of two men: Khaled Ali (Sherwan Haji), a Syrian refugee in his thirties who has travelled to Helsinki, Filnland, and Waldemar Wikström (Sakari Kuomanen), a middle-aged traveling shirt salesman. After reporting to authorities, Khaled has to run away when he learns that he will be deported back to Syria. Meanwhile, Waldemar leaves his alcoholic wife, quits his salesman job, sells the shirts, wins a lot of money playing poker and buys a restaurant with the money. When Khaled and Waldemar meet, Waldemar helps him by giving him shelter and a job at the restaurant. Since business is slow, Waldemar tries to save it by serving sushi, but it does not seem that neither he nor the staff know anything about sushi. The scenes dealing with Khaled are mostly serious – being threatened by a gang of racist thugs and receiving the news of deportation – and the Waldemar segments are funnier. But the film is never LOL. Certainly not for everyone. Still, it is good because it often surprises us, and the main actors are fun to watch. Your choice.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from December 8 – 14
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/the-other-side-of-hope

The other side of hope (Toivon tuolla puolen)

Directed by:
Aki Kaurismäki

Screenplay by:
Aki Kaurismäki

Starring:
Sherwan Haji
Sakari Kuomanen
Kati Outinen
Tommi Korpela
Ville Virtanen

100 min.

Rated Parental Guidance.

In Finnish, English, Arabic and Swedish with English subtitles.

Human flow

To make Human flow, his powerful documentary about refugees, Ai Weiwei has travelled to 23 countries around the world in order and put a human face on the biggest mass exodus since World War II. More than 65 million people worldwide. It’s not just Syrians fleeing from the horrors of ISIS that we see here. It’s also African refugees dangerously migrating by boat to Italy, as we saw in the Oscar nominated documentary Fire at sea, or the Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar that have to escape persecution, death, rape and torture. War, ethnic cleansing, human right abuses, famine, climate change, there are many reasons. I knew about film director, contemporary artist and political activist Ai Weiwei from the 2012 documentary Ai Weiwei: Never sorry. In that film we saw Weiwei put in jail in his native China because he dared, through his art, question the government’s actions. With Human flow we see how relentless he can be as a documentarian and an activist. Ai Weiwei seems to be everywhere. In France when they burned the refugee camps, when some countries have closed their borders, blocking access to Germany, and refugees are forced to stay in front of locked gates for days, weeks, months… And the many refugee camps with the kids playing. We often can see Weiwei, sometimes behind the camera, other times among the refugees. He’s filming with his cell phone, playing with children or having a hair cut. There were more than a dozen camera man/cinematographer that worked on that film. From the impressive overhead shots of camps to the stunning landscapes (and the most beautiful, greenest sea I’ve ever seen), and, of course, some shocking images showing the horrible living conditions of some refugees. The picture is complete. Human flow is a documentary of epic scale.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Human flow

 

Directed by:
Ai Weiwei

Screenplay by:
Chin-Chin Yap
Tim Finch
Boris Chershirkov

140 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In English, Arabic, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Kurdish, Rohingya, Spanish, Turkish with English subtitles.

The square (Rutan)

The square, Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s masterpiece about the pretentious emptiness of modern art in a Swedish avant-garde museum. The story is build around Christian (Claes Bang), a Stockholm museum curator who is unable to deal with pressures of life or his job. In the first scene Christian is interviewed by American journalist Anne (Elisabeth Moss). When Anne reads him a quote from the museum’s web site and asks for its meaning, Christian seems to be unaware of the quote and since he does not understand it, he answers some platitudes that completely avoids Anne’s initial question. One day as he walks down a street, he tries to respond to a woman cries for help, and soon after finds out that his phone and wallet are missing. (That incident really happened to Östlund.) He tracks the whereabouts of his phone and tries to get the items back. He will be succesful, but not without costs. Outside the museum there are homeless people, Christian does not see them and rarely speaks to them or give them money. At a press conference, a man with Tourette’s syndrome keeps interrupting with obscenities. When Anne invites Christian to the apartment she shares with a chimpanzee. Anne and Christian have sex. After, Christian refuses to throw away his used condom and Anne deduces that he’s afraid she wants to steal his semen. The museum is featuring a new exhibition called “The square”: On the public place outside of the museum, there is an illuminated square with a plaque that reads “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” While Christian is busy recovering his wallet and his phone, the young advertisers hired by the museum are planning to post a shocking Youtube video in wich a little blond girl enters “The square” and gets blown up. Of course, the video goes viral, the campaign is controversial, the young advertisers are overjoyed, but Christian has to resign. At the press conference, some journalists accuse Christian of exploiting violence, others of censorship. Scenes of increasingly disturbing natures create a pulsating feeling of doom and decay. The best, most memorable moment, will inevitably become a classic. During a fundraising reception, a performance artist impersonating an ape takes it too far. In his only short scene American actor Terry Notary gives an Oscar caliber performance. The impressive Bang is in almost every scenes in this 142 minutes film. It’s a cold and calculating turn that is both funny and dramatic and at times tragic. I got so invested in The square, I was surprised at Ruben Östlund’s imaginative cynicism. But also intrigued and amused. I hope you will too.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The square (Rutan)

 

Directed by:
Ruben Östlund

Screenplay by:
Ruben Östlund

Starring:
Claes Bang
Elisabeth Moss
Terry Notary
Dominic West

142 min.

In English, Swedish, and Danish with English subtitles.

Lady Bird

In her semi-autobiographical solo directorial debut, Greta Gerwig tells the story of a complicated teenage girl who, like the teenage Gerwig, lives in Sacramento, California in 2002. Her name is Christine (Saoirse Ronan), but wants to be called “Lady Bird”. Lady Bird hates everything. She hates the Catholic school her parents chose because they could not afford anything else. She’s constantly fighting with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf). At school Lady Bird hangs around with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) and starts a relationship with Danny O’Neill (Lucas Hedges). It is short-lived when she discovers his secret. Then Lady Bird meets musician Kyle Scheible (Timothée Chalamet) and has sex with him. She would like to go an art school in New York, but her dad (Tracy Letts) lost his job and Marion insists that a local Catholic college will be just fine. Lady Bird is mostly about the mother and daughter’s relationship, and this gives us Laurie Metcalf in the best work she has ever done. It feels like Oscar material. The Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan scenes are so real that you think they were improvised. It is clear that, although they fight all the time, Lady Bird and Marion love each other very much and that the possibility that one will get hurt is greater because of that. If I laughed so much during Lady Bird, is that I got myself caught by surprise by the appalling behavior of that teenager. It’s Gerwig’s originality as an actress, screenwriter and director that is apparent here. Of course I’ve seen other films about teenagers. But one so real, funny and touching? I don’t think so.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Lady Bird

 

Directed by:
Greta Gerwig

Screenplay by:
Greta Gerwig

Starring:
Saoirse Ronan
Laurie Metcalf
Tracy Letts
Lucas Hedges
Beanie Feldstein
Timothée Chalamet

93 min.

Visages villages (Faces places)

Agnès Varda, the French Nouvelle vague director is now 89-year-old. Her latest film is Visages villages, a documentary feature  she co-directed with 34-year-old photographer and visual artist JR. Together they travel through France in a small truck. Photos have been glued on the truck to make it look like a camera, with a big camera lens. As the tittle suggests, Varda and JR are going to French villages (places) and taking photos of the people living there or the workers at the local plants (faces). JR’s truck is a photo lab on wheels. There is a photo booth where people can sit and have their pictures taken. On the truck there is an opening through which giant prints of the photos are coming out, a bit like the old Polaroid. Once JR gets the giant photos, they are glued or pasted on houses, buildings, water tanks (fishes), trucks, trains (a giant pair of eyes) and anywhere really. Old photos of miners are glued on their empty houses before they get torn down. Janine, who is refusing to move out, has her face glued next to her front door. Her reaction when she first sees her face pasted on the house she will soon have to vacate is one of the highlights of this film. But there are others: the three wives of dock workers at the Havre, have their photos put up on a of pile of containers. The women sit in containers opened under each of their giant faces. The effect is spectacular. It is clear that Agnès Varda and JR enjoy each other’s company, even though Varda constantly teases JR that he ought to remove his sunglasses because she wants to see his eyes. Together, they are fun to watch. Visages villages shows that art and beauty does not only belong to museum and galleries. It can be done anywhere. It can illuminate every villages and that all faces and people are important. This charming film is one of my favorite this year.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Visages villages (Faces places)

 

Directed by:
Agnès Varda
JR

89 min.

In French with English subtitles

Novitiate

A film about a convent of cloistered nuns has always been a perfect topic for a film. It’s even better if you have a Reverend Mother who will antagonize the young postulants. Novitiate begins in the 1960s with 17-year-old Cathleen’s realisation that she wants to become a nun. Over the years we see that Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) is totally fascinated when she meets a nun. Nora (Julianne Nicholson), her agnostic mother, is not very happy when Cathleen tells her. The Sisters of the blessed rose is managed by Reverend Mother Marie St. Clair (Melissa Leo). At first she speaks in a low whisper voice, instructing the new postulants on what their lives will be like from now on. There is “regular silence”, they are told, during which time some talking will be permitted, and there is “grand silence” where no talking is allowed. Complete silence. There is little doubts that Cathleen (now Sister Cathleen) had a real “calling” (thanks to Qualley’s emotionally invested performance), but the reasons for the other girls may be less pure. The idealized notions we see in movies, like Audrey Hepburn in Fred Zinnemann’s 1959 film The nun’s story, or the insistence from their families that there ought to be at least one child as a priest or a nun are some of the reason. But whatever the reasons, the temptation to succumb to the sexual urges is present throughout the film. It is during that time that the reforms brought on by Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council (AKA Vatican II) were introduced. Reverend Mother Marie St. Clair is against any changes and refuses to accept the orders she has received from her Bishop. So the nuns continue to whip themselves with a weird knotted-rope instrument, and there is something called “the chapter of faults”, where the young postulants kneel on the floor for long hours and have to confess their sins and weaknesses. Writer-director Maggie Betts has put together an excellent cast of actresses, young and old. Beside Qualley’s central performance, we have noted a few names. Dianna Agron (from TVs Glee) plays Sister Mary Grace, a progressive nun who disagree with the Reverend Mother and feels the need to leave the order. Julianne Nicholson plays Sister Cathleen’s mom with a brassy camp that is great fun to anticipate. Her confrontation with the Reverend Mother is one of the best scene in the film. And Leo in a performance that is subtle and overplayed, sometime in the same scene, speech or phrase. In the early scenes, we know that under that soft voice there is a scary woman. It is Leo showing us the different layers of contradiction of the Reverend Mother that makes it so compelling to watch. As with all films with nuns, Novitiate is aesthetically most beautiful to watch, thanks to cinematographer Kat Westergaard. Beside the score by Christopher Stark, there is a soundtrack of classical music for female choirs. Novitiate shakes up our pre-conceived notions about nuns and the powers inside the church. Any church.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Novitiate

 

Directed by:
Maggie Betts

Screenplay by:
Margaret Betts

Starring:
Margaret Qualley
Melissa Leo
Dianna Agron
Morgan Saylor
Julianne Nicholson

123 min.

Wonderstruck

I was looking forward to see Wonderstruck, the new Todd Haynes film. The last film we saw from him was Carol, and he also directed Far from heaven. Wonderstruck is set in 1977, and it tells the story of a young boy named Ben (Oakes Fegley) shortly after his mom ( if you blink you might miss Michelle Williams) has died in a car crash. Ben, who never knew who his dad was, finds what he thinks are relevant information. But before Ben can do anything, he has an accident that makes him deaf. He then runs away from his guardians in Minnesota and goes to New York in search for his father. Cut to Hoboken, New Jersey in 1927. Rose (Millicent Simmonds), , a young deaf girl who runs away from her father to go Manhattan. Rose is searching for her favorite silent film actress (Julianne Moore who plays two characters). In 77, Ben meets Jamie (Jaden Michael), another boy who will help Ben find the answers he needs. While the Rose/1927 part of film was shot in black and white and is silent, the Ben/1977 are a full color reconstruction of 1977. You think “How did they do that?”. There are scenes in New York where you can see down a long street, and every car, every costume, the way people walk and smoke is like looking at a photo or a documentary film. I have no way of knowing if special effects were used. Brilliant cinematographer Edward Lachman has matched the style and colors of American cinema of the 1970s. It is impressive.  But the 1927 scenes are a lot less believable. The film is helped greatly by Carter Burwell’s expressive score. I was initially put off by Wonderstruck‘s lack of focus and its inconsistency. Some bit of dialogue and turn of events, at least in the early scenes, seemed to be a bit corny. But ultimately, I was charmed by the whole film because of its innocence and naiveté. I think all, pre-teens, teens and adults, will enjoy it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Wonderstruck

 

Directed by:
Todd Haynes

Screenplay by:
Brian Selznick
Based on his own novel

Starring:
Millicent Simmonds
Oakes Fegley
Julianne Moore
MIchelle Williams

117 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

The Florida project

The characters featured in The Florida project are usually reserved for trash TV shows like The Jerry Springer show or Desperate housewives of… pick a place, any place really and you’ll find trash. But here, director Sean Baker does not want to judge. You may know Baker for his previous film, Tangerine, shot entirely on iPhones. In The Florida project we follow Moonee (newcomer Brooklynn Prince), a 6-year-old girl. Moonee lives with her welfare mom, Halley (Bria Vinaite, also a newcomer) in one of the cheap motels near Disney world. During the day, Moonee is left wandering on her own without parental guidance. She’s not really alone. Wandering with her are her friends, Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and her newly found best friend, Jancey (Valeria Cotto). There is nothing Moonee won’t do: spit on cars, ask strangers for money, demand free food be given to them, insult, yell and swear at adults. No limits. And when we get to know her mom, we get it. Halley is a walking time bomb. A in-your-face, loud-mouth young woman who is ready to steal to pay the rent, and even brings clients to her room while Moonee is in the washroom. The motel complex is managed by Bobby Hicks (Willem Dafoe, one of the few professional actors). Bobby does the best he can to help the tenants and make sure they don’t cause any more problems. He’s got his hands full with Halley and Moonee. The very thin plot with mostly improvised dialogue and a cast of non-professional actors does not mean that The Florida project is unworthy. On the contrary : the originality of its subject and Baker’s casual approach is its greatest assets. I will not soon forget Moonee and Halley or the actresses. Looking at Brooklynn Prince, one can’t help but remember Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern wild, with the difference that Wallis was a much more structured and powerful performance. Prince and Vinaite play characters rarely seen in films. Some people feel that a film needs a moral point. There is no point in The Florida project, except to experience unconventional, non-mainstream cinema. Oscar nominations? Yes. I would really like to see Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince among the nominees. But I think that Willem Dafoe is the glue that holds the film together. Dafoe’s Bobby is such warm and caring character, and he plays him with such a gentle touch, an ease. It flows. The Florida project is what it is. Totally original and undefined by our expectations.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The Florida project

 

Directed by:
Sean Baker

Screenplay by:
Sean Baker
Chris Bergoch

Starring:
Brooklynn Prince
Willem Dafoe
Bria Vinaite
Valeria Cotto
Christopher Rivera
Mela Murder
Sandy Kane

112 min.

Rated 14A

Breathe

With the syrupy and bubbly Nitin Sawhney score and Robert Richardson’s Hallmark card cinematography, it was almost enough to dismiss Breathe as another one of those feel-good, manipulative tear-jerker. But I was wrong. Yes, it is a feel-good manipulative tear-jerker, but one fuelled by a cast of subtle players, and the joyful direction by Andy Serkis (yes, that Andy Serkis, the Gollum Andy Serkis from The Lord of the rings trilogy) in his debut as director. Breathe stars Andrew Garfield as Robin Cavendish. In 1958, at only 28, Robin was diagnosed with polio. Claire Foy (TV’s The crown) plays Robin’s wife, Diana. The early scenes shows Robin, a vibrant young man, being overtaken suddenly by the disease. It can happen to anybody. Robin Cavendish was paralyzed, unable to breathe on his own and was only kept alive with the help of a respirator. Beside the opening scenes and a few dream sequences, Garfield is immobile from the neck down for the remainder of the film, playing only with his head. At first, Cavendish was told that he only three months to live, and that he would have to spend his last days in a hospital bed. But when Diana saw that her husband had fallen into a deep depression and that he refused to see their newborn son (Jonathan Cavendish is producing Breathe), she decided to bring him home. The doctors warned her that she would not be able to manage. But Diana did manage and Robin Cavendish died in 1994 when he was 64. Furthermore, with his friend Oxford University professor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville), Cavendish developed a wheelchair with a built-in respirator. They build more wheelchairs and made available to other polio patients, insuring their independence and a better quality of life. Andrew Garfield’s performance is more than a tour-de-force. Well, it is a tour-de-force, but throughout the film, Garfield is very careful to never overplay the dramatic situations. This is a film of survivals. I think that Claire Foy is even more restrained. We never know what Diana is thinking, but oh boy, if you tell her what to do, she’ll stay silent, then do what she wants, what she feels is right. Diana Cavendish must have been quite a lady. The other player of note is Tom Hollander as Diana’s twin brothers, Bloggs and David Blacker. With the help of excellent special effects, Hollander is duplicated on the screen for most of his scenes. I first thought that the twins were played by real twin actors, but I was surprised to find out that it was Hollander alone. There is a scene that best define what the film is about. The family is traveling to Spain when the respirator’s motor blows up. The truck has stopped on a country road, and Robin is given air through a manual respirator, while they are waiting for Professor Hall to fly to Spain and fix the broken respirator. By the time of Hall’s arrival, a crowd has gathered around Robin and his family. There are tables full of food and wine, musicians, people are singing and dancing. When the respirator is repaired, the crowd applaud. This is a fiesta. A celebration of life.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Breathe

 

Directed by:
Andy Serkis

Screenplay by:
William Nicholson

Starring:
Andrew Garfield
Claire Foy
Tom Hollander
Hugh Bonneville

Rated Parental Guidance

118 min.