The railway man

Based on Eric Lomax’s autobiographical novel of the same name, The railway man begins with Eric meeting his soon-to-be wife on a train in 1983. In those early scenes Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman’s display of delicate romanticism is winning us over. The great snappy dialogue helps a lot too. After Eric and Patti’s wedding, he starts having nightmares that are disrupting the couple’s happiness. Since her husband refuses to speak she turn for help to Eric’s friend Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård). Patti learns that during the Second World War Eric and Finlay were British soldiers captured by the Japanese. They were forced to build the Thailand-Burma Railway. Eric was caught trying to build a radio and as a result was brutally tortured and beaten. One of his torturer was young officer Takashi Nagase. Having found Takashi’s location Eric decides to go back to Japan and confront him. This is a beautifully filmed story of reconciliation. What strikes us is what a great cast this is. Firth goes from a man who seems happy to an angry man paralyzed by his memories of the past. And Kidman has never shown such restraints. Kidman is holding back the tears to show Patti’ strenghts. The male cast of supporting players is also impressive. Jeremy Irvine (young Eric), Tanroh Ishida (young Nagase) and Skarsgård are all excellent. But it is Hiroyuki Sanada’s performance as old Nagase that is the revelation her, although he comes later in the film. Quality work from Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky. The last scene taking place on the same train tracks they build in times of war, with its message of ‘no more hate’ is very moving.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

 The railway man

 

Directed by: 
Jonathan Teplitzky
 
Screenplay by: 
Frank Cottrell Boyce
Andy Paterson
Based on the memoir by Eric Lomax
 
Starring: 
Colin Firth
Nicole Kidman
Jeremy Irvine
Hiroyuki Sanada
Stellan Skarsgård
 
108 min.
 
Rating 14A
 
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Finding Vivian Maier

Finding Vivian Maier is a fascinating new documentary. It all started in 2007 when John Maloof, real-estate agent, art collector and co-director of Finding Vivian Maier bought 100,000 of her negatives at an auction. Being impressed by what he saw, he tried to find out about her. There was no trace of Maier as a photographer. After she died in 2009 at 83, he found an obituary in the Chicago tribune. Then from an auction of an unpaid storage, Maloof found more photos and hundreds of rolls of film, home movies, audio tape interviews, cameras and other items. Who was Vivian Maier? She was a nanny for most of her life. During the 70s one of her clients was talk show host Phil Donahue. John Maloof and his co-director Charlie Siskel pieced together a portrait of Maier from the items found in the storage and from the interviews they conduct with the people who knew her. Friends and employers remember an excentric but friendly woman. The children under her care liked her, although some recall painful memories of physical abuse. It is often with those children that she walked the streets of Chicago with her Rolleiflex camera strapped around her neck. Maier was what we call a street photographer. She would snap pictures of well-to-do Chicagoans shoppers, bums and drunks, urban black youths of the 1950s and 60s and lots of kids. She did that without their knowledge or without their consent. Most are in black-and-white. Among them there are a lot of self-portraits that she snapped in mirrors or store windows, her head often popping out from her Rolleiflex or some furniture with a look of serious defiance or surprise at being caught by her own camera. We know Maier tried to have some of the negatives developed, but the mystery remains. Why did she do it? Why such a compulsion to take so many photos (150,000, Maloof says, is just the tip of the iceberg ) if nobody would see it. And what a treasure John Maloof found. Vivian Maier was simply brilliant. And now thanks to Maloof she is known around the world. As she should be.

And the Oscar went to… The nomination of Finding Vivian Maier for Documentary feature could not make me happier. But CitizenFour, about Edward Snowden and the NSA leaks, won the Oscar. 

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

 Finding Vivian Maier

 

Directed by: 
John Maloof
Charlie Siskel
 
84 min.
 
Rated Parental Guidance

Bethlehem

Everything seems in place for Israeli drama Bethlehem to be a compelling tale of betrayal in a time and place of conflict. The emotional central character is young Palestinian teenager Sanfur. The youth has been an informant for Israel’s secret service organisation Shin Bet since the age fifteen. His recruiter and contact is officer Razi, who also acts like a big brother toward the young man. Sanfur’s real brother, Ibrahim, is a Palestinian militant who Shin Bet wants to eliminate. Having an absent brother and a stern father, Sanfur has much trust in Razi. There is a scene in a hospital where Sanfur is getting treated for a gunshot wound. Razi has come to see him and Sanfur pleads with him to stay. The revealing scene shows the attachment between Sanfur and Razi. For his part Razi is conflicted between his mission as a Shin Bet officer get to Ibrahim, and a strong desire to protect his protegé. A labyrinthine script that mirrors the complexity of those conflicts. Witter Yuval Adler and Ali Waked interviewed Shin Bet operatives and militants from Palestinian groups al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and Hamas. Non professional first time actors were chosen and that creates an air of authenticity. A scene in which Palestinian villagers are throwing rocks at Shin Bet agents seems real because the extras were reenacting what they experienced every day. In the few scenes they have together Shadi Mar’i (Sanfur) and Tsahi Halevi (Razi) show the painful tenderness the characters are feeling toward each other. Despite and because of that, they are driven toward a violent but inescapable ending. Powerful.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Bethlehem

 

Directed by: 
Yuval Adler
 
Screenplay by: 
Yuval Adler
Ali Wakad
 
Starring: 
Tshai Halevi
Shadi Mar’i
Hitham Omari
Michal Shtamler
Tarik Kopty
 
99 min.
 
Rated 14A
 
In Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles.

Jodorowsky’s Dune

If you were to believe Alejandro Jodorowsky his film version of Frank Herbert’s Dune is the most influential film ever made. Problem is: it was never made. Director Frank Pavich documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune tries to make us into ‘believers’. In 1974 science fiction films were not getting the big budgets it got after Star wars (1977) was released and became a box-office phenomenon. Chilean-French director Alejandro Jodorowsky was at the time a favorite of midnight-movies audiences. With his two cult films El Topo and The Holy Mountain, he claims to have wanted to recreate the LSD experience. The idea for Dune came when a friend brought it up. But he never read it. Still he wanted to do it, bigger and better than 2001: A space odyssey. He went to meet 2001‘s guru Douglas Trumbull, but Trumbull refused.. After that Jodorowsky got several people on board to contribute to his vision. He calls them his ‘spiritual warriors’. The film was entirely storyboarded by French illustrator Jean Giraud. Some of the storyboard come to life with animation by director Pavich (accompanied by one of the cheesiest score. The composer is Kurt Stenzel).  According to Frank Herbert the screenplay “was the size of a phonebook”. For the special effects Dan O’Bannon (Alien) was hired. The score would have been composed by Pink Floyd and as actors Jodorowsky wanted Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, Jodorowsky himself and his 12 year-old son. Oh! and one small detail. It would have been 14 hours long. The project was turned downed by Hollywood studios. In 1984, when Herbert’s epic novel was adapted to film by David Lynch, it was a box-office disappointment. What Jodorowsky’s Dune argues is that even if it was never actually produced, it has influenced every sci-fi films ever since. The storyboard book that Giraud made was being passed around the studios, and there is a slight chance of having had some impact. Sci-fi comic books, illustrations and posters are more likely to have had more influence. But Jodorowsky is a passionate artist worth your time if you are a love of science fiction films.

 Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

 Jodorowsky’s Dune

 

Directed by: 
Frank Pavich
 
90 min.
 
Rated Parental Guidance
 

La garde

Luc can’t see his teenaged son Samuel because of a violent incident that happened years ago when his son was a toddler. Often Luc disobeys the court order regarding his son and has to spend a few days in jail as a result. One day, he kidnaps Samuel and brings him into the woods to hunt. There’s a lot of uneasiness between the two but an accident happens and Luc is seriously wounded and it’s up to Samuel to guide his  father through the woods to safety in order to save his dad’s life. La garde is a well constructed movie that keeps everything simple. The principal theme is a father-son relationship in those difficult circumstances. No over-melodramatic overtones, it is kept real and simple. The story will move and reach the audience, although one might think that the father could cooperate more, find an intelligent solution to his dilemma. Because of the high level of emotions of the story, the film could have turned into a cheap melodrama. But no, Quebec director Sylvain Archambault’s direction is strict, rigourous, credible. The actors are great in this scenario particularly Antoine L’écuyer as the son. In conclusion the film is touching without being weepy which gives us a stronger, realist vision of a complex father and son relationship.
 
André St-Jacques
 
 
La garde
 
 
Directed by: 
Sylvain Archambault
 
Screenplay by: 
Ian Lauzon
Daniel Diaz
Ludovic Huot
 
Starring: 
Paul Doucet
Antoine L’Écuyer
Sandrine Bisson
 
91 min.
 
In French.

 

The face of love

With a few deft strokes of the brush I was hooked. Not much really. Just Annette Bening’s Nikki sitting by her pool sipping wine, flashes of memories taking over her emotions. Her husband drowned after 30 years of happiness together. She found Garrett’s dead body on the beach. She wakes up in the middle of the night and calls out his name. Five years later, although not as depressed as she was, Nikki still misses Garrett. One day she goes back to the Los Angeles museum she and Garrett loved to visit. It’s there that Nikki sees her husband’s double. Ed Harris plays both Garrett and Tom. Nikki start to follow him and finds out that he teaches painting at college. Having met him she then ask him to give him private lessons without telling him he’s a dead ringer for her late husband. Tom soon falls in love with her and that inspires him to start painting again. At every turn Bening’s emotionally understands Nikki’s obsessions and contradictions and that makes The face of love a must. And Ed Harris as the ghostly memories of Garrett, but also as Tom matches Bening’s talent. The face of love is unabashedly romantic and although it has suspense, it is not a thriller. You keep thinking ‘When is she going to tell him?’. Other characters might see Tom and realize what’s happening. Nikki’s friend and neighbour, Roger (Robin Williams), also lost his wife and has developed a crush on Nikki. There is also Garrett and Nikki’s daughter (Jess Weixler) who may drop by to see her mother. The scenes at the museum reminds us of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. There’s even a moment where Nikki buys Tom a grey suit, just as James Stewart bought one for Kim Novak in Vertigo. But director Arie Posin does not try to replicate Hitchcock’s style. Instead of settling with long-established notions in film directing, Posin always follow the pulses and emotions of his characters. Actors and director are feeding one another. A sparingly used minimalist Marcelo Zarvos score has just enough ostinato to recall Bernard Herrmann. And production designer Jeannine Oppewall’s attention to details makes this film even more compelling than it already is. The face of love is perfection. And it has a brilliant performance by the great Annette Bening.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The face of love

 

Directed by: 
Arie Posin
 
Screenplay by: 
Matthew McDuffie
Arie Posin
 
Starring: 
Annette Bening
Ed Harris
Robin Williams
Jess Weixler
 
92 min.
 
Rated Parental Guidance

Like father, like son (Soshite chichi ni naru)

In Like father, like son we meet workaholic architect Nonomiya Ryota, wife Midori and their six-year-old son Keita. Japanese director Kore-eda Hirokazu shows us the daily life of the family in a minimalistic, slow manner. That suits me fine. I like Japanese cinema. One day the couple get the revelation that Keita is not their son. He was switched at birth in the hospital. Their biological son is Ryusei and his parents are Yudai and Yukari Saiki. The two fathers could not be more different. Ryota is a wealthy architect, a cold and distant man who spend too much time at work to really know his son. Yudai Saiki is completely involved with his three children, not afraid to get down on the ground to play and even bathes with them. The Saikis run an electrical store in the poor area of town. Ryota is a snob who looks down on the Saikis with disdain. Not a very nice person at first. Both families have to decide what they will do. First they sue the hospital. Yudai wants money and Ryota wants to find out what went wrong. Also Ryota claims to have always known Keita was not his. So he wants his ‘real’ son to live with them. This is the usual screenplay conventions: a person with unflinching character traits as the film begins, has come around at the end. Like father, like son is a second-rate tear-jerker dressed as an art film. Everything in it is geared toward making you weep. With those two cute boys you can’t resist. And they are very good actors too. Yukari Keita with those question mark wide eyes, especially at the end when Keita is angry with Ryota. Ryusei Saikis’s big scenes come at the end of the film but Shogen Wang who plays him is equally impressive. The film has one of the most manipulative screenplay I’ve ever seen, and yet what we see is a minimalist film. Keita plays the piano, so of course the score is solo piano and includes classical piano pieces. The actors whisper every word as if it was sacred. The camera is mostly static because you would not want to rush things. Aesthetically the film is close to perfection thanks to Mikiya Takimoto’s brilliant cinematography. The dichotomy between the popular and the artsy is what I love about Japanese films. I would not want it any other way.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Like father, like son (Soshite chichi ni naru)

 

Directed by: 
Kore-eda Hirokazu
 
Screenplay by: 
Kore-eda Hirokazu
 
Starring: 
Fukuyama Masaharu
Ono Machiko
Maki Yôko
Rirî Furankî
Yukari Keita
Shogen Wang
 
121 min.
 
Rated Parental Guidance
 
In Japanese with English subtitles

Sweet dreams

2014 marks 20 year since the Rwandan genocide. Reconciliation has been difficult. In 1994 from April and July, the Hutu population killed between 500,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsis. Sweet dreams is a documentary about Rwandan all-female drumming troupe named Ingoma Nshya. Founded by Kiki Katese, the troupe welcomes women who were victims and saw their families killed, but also those who saw their husbands or parents put in prison for these horrific crimes. You can tell by the smiles on their faces that drumming is not only a liberating experience for those women; it saved their lives. On a trip to New York Kiki met Blue Marble Ice Cream owners Jennie Dundas and Alexis Miesen, and brings back to the troupe the idea of starting an ice cream parlor. Ice cream is virtually unknown in Rwanda (a man in the film calls it “crème glacée” – the French name). The parlor would be named Inzozi Nziza (meaning “Sweet Dreams” in Kinyarwanda). The women’s difficulties are numerous. Not all of them can be chosen for work at first. Some who are not are heart-broken. And will the ice cream machine work in time for the opening of the parlor? The directors, siblings Lisa and Rob Fruchtman, also interview the women about their ordeals during the genocide. We see the sadness and feel their pain. One stunning moment happens during a speech by President Paul Kagame at the 2011 memorial. We can hear the painful screams and see some of the people gathered together in the stadium being carried to ambulances, fainting or walking outside, lying on lawns and chairs, catching their breath with loved ones by their sides. Painful memories. Devastation everywhere. It is a lesson then to see, after all they’ve been through, the women of Ingoma Nshya joyfully drumming together. Or joyfully selling ice cream at the Inzozi Nziza parlor where the slogan is “Ice Cream. Coffee. Dreams”. Those beautiful, beautiful women full of dreams.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

 Sweet dreams

 
Directed by: 
Lisa Fruchtman
Rob Fruchtman
 
84 min.
 
Rated Parental Guidance
 
In Kinyarwanda and English with English subtitles.

9 Mois ferme

 
Judge Ariane Felder is pregnant! It is very surprising considering that judge Felder has very strict morals, no men in her life and is a workaholics. Even more surprising, according to the paternity tests, the DNA collected belongs to a criminal accused of a particularly brutal aggression. Ariane who doesn’t remember a thing because at the time of conception she was intoxicated due to a new year eve binge. Quite exceptional for her. She’ll try to put the missing pieces together and most of all, understand what the heck happened. This is a black comedy. It takes a serious subject and gives it a cynical black humour twist.The director Albert Dupontel has succeeded at creating a dysfunctional crazy atmosphere deliberately injecting gore graphic violence in some comic scene. It is irreverential, crude and funny. The dialogues are quick and snappy. Sandrine Kiberlain is  quite at ease as the judge who lives a ordonate life but who for one night will discover a wild side she did not suspect. She manages to give her character a sympathy not apparent at first due to her cold,, predictable  lifestyle. Dupontel who plays Bob the violent criminal and also directed the film forms an explosive duo with her that makes of 9 Mois ferme not what you would expect from a french comedy. You could compare it to Le père noel est une ordure. The film was very well received at the Outaouais Film Festival.
 
 
André St-Jacques
 
 
9 Mois ferme
 
 
Directed by: 
Albert Dupontel
 
Screenplay by:
Albert Dupontel
 
Starring:
Sandrine Kiberlain
Albert Dupontel
Nicolas Marié
Yolande Moreau
 
82 min.
 
In French.

Tim’s Vermeer

Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675) is most known today because of the 2003 film Girl with a pearl earring. So here comes a documentary that focuses on the beauty and peculiarity of his masterpieces. Tim’s Vermeer is produced by magicians Penn & Teller, with Penn Jillette narrating and Teller in the director’s chair. We meet Tim Jenison inventor and founder of NewTek, a hardware and software company. Jenison has a theory about Vermeer’s painting techniques. It is a fact that no preparatory sketches or notes has ever been known to exist from the great master. The paintings have been x-rayed and there are no traces of lines drawn up or layers of paint. They seem to have been painted as they are seen now. In the film we see paintings so perfect they actually look like photographs. One theory has been that Vermeer used optical devices like camera obscura or camera lucida, and mirrors to reproduce what was in front of him. And Jenison has decided to prove it by trying to reproduce a Vermeer painting with those techniques. But first he meets american comedian and painter Martin Mull, mathematician Philip Steadman and British painter and Vermeer theorist David Hockney who all confirm he is going in the right direction. This project took five-year of Jenisons life. The painting he chose is The music lesson. In a studio he builds a full-scale replica of the room exactly as it is seen in the painting. And Jenison spends months sitting at a table trying to reproduce every minute details. The story of Tim Jenison’s obsession becomes a film about the beauty of Vermeer’s paintings, no matter what techniques may have been.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Tim’s Vermeer

 

Directed by: 
Teller
 
Narrated by Penn Jillette
 
80 min.
 
Rated Parental Guidance