Mommy

I was so completely flabbergasted by Xavier Dolan’s Mommy that I am at a loss for words. The 25-year-old Québec director’s film was the talk of the Cannes Film Festival last summer, where it won the coveted Jury Prize. We meet Diane «Die» (Anne Dorval), the widowed mother of Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon), a teenager with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Diane is unable to take care of Steve (heck, she’s barely able to take care of herself), yet unable to find a place that will keep him. He started a fire at the last centre, and caused physical damage to another inmate. Steve is unpredictably violent, and also shows love for his mom with great fanfare and excess. Everything is excessive with Steve. Mommy is a roller coaster of unabashed sentiments that unapologetically assaults us with a constant barrage of screaming, loud music, swearing (a mix of Québécois French (AKA “joual”) and English) and emotions. Mommy is a masterpiece of raw emotions. Diane does not have what it takes to deal with her son’s problems. She sometimes is the victim of his sudden violent outburst. Enter neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clément), a stay at home wife and mother with a stuttering problem. Kyla becomes friends with both Diane and Steve, helping Steve with his studies and being a nice, warm, calming presence. They are inseparable. Anne Dorval, one of the best actress in Québec, played the overbearing mother in Dolan’s J’ai tué ma mère. Diane is, like her son, always living on the edge, about to burst anytime with the foul language. In this amazing performance, Dorval plays a mom like I have rarely seen on films. And what can I say about teenage actor Antoine Olivier Pilon (16-year-old while filming) ? Looking like an angel with his beautiful blond hair, he is perfect to play a little demon. If it was only a weird casting choice, it would still be fine. But Pilon has got the acting shops to carry that difficult, demanding part. And then some more. Because of Steve’s mental disorder, it is Pilon’s energy that drives Mommy. And in every scenes, Dorval, Pilon and Clément act in perfect synchronicity. Just as Die and Steve need Kyla, we too need Suzanne Clément (another well-regarded Québec actress). We need respite from all the hysteria. But Clément’s Kyla seems to be more distraught than her two friends, and she too finds a kind of calm and happiness with them. All that great acting, of course the screenplay, the energetic frenzy, the cacophony is all Dolan’s work. And an unusual choice of framing. The 1:1 aspect ratio frame is actually a rectangle screen (almost as if you were looking at a photo on your cell phone or blackberry). With that ratio Dolan focus on what is most important in the film, little things like people, faces and emotions. And with that gutsy choice Xavier Dolan also redefine the way films are made. Did I tell you that Mommy is a masterpiece?

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Mommy

 

Directed by: 
Xavier Dolan
 
Screenplay by: 
Xavier Dolan
 
Starring: 
Anne Dorval
Antoine Olivier Pilon
Suzanne Clément
Patrick Huard
 
139 min.
 
Rated 14A
 
 In French with English subtitles.
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Living is easy with eyes closed (Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados)

The title comes from the Beatles song Strawberry fields forever, which John Lennon wrote it in 1966 while he was  filming Richard Lester’s How I Won The War in Spain. Antonio (Javier Cámara) is an English teacher obsessed by The Beatles. He uses the lyrics to their songs to teach English to his pupils. When he hears that Lennon will be in Spain, he decides to drive to Almeria, where the filming took place, in the hope of meeting him. On the way there, Antonio picks up two young hitchhiker: Belén (Natalia de Molina), a pregnant 20-year-old who wants to return to her family, and Juanjo (Francesc Colomer), a teenage boy who has run away from a strict father. Arriving in Almeria they find shelter at a farmhouse. The three of them become friends. And Antonio will try to meet Lennon. Living is easy with eyes closed is the Spanish entry for the Best foreign language film at the 2015 Academy Awards. It is a pleasant film, a bit thin on plot but with good production values and acting by all. Lead actor Javier Cámara’s Antonio is at first sight a bit peculiar, but wins us with his kindness and generosity towards his two road companions. In other words : pretty good.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Living is easy with eyes closed (Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados)

 

Directed by: 
David Trueba
 
Screenplay by: 
David Trueba
 
Starring: 
Javier Cámara
Natalia de Molina
Francesc Colomer
 
108 min.
 
Rated 14A
 
In Spanish and English with English subtitles

  

 

Art and craft

Artist or forger? For the last 20 years Mark Landis has been donating forgeries of famous drawings and paintings to more than 50 U.S.museums. He copied quite effectively the works of artists as diverse as Picasso, Daumier, Magritte, Walt Disney, Charles Schulz and many others. Mark Landis is a man in his late fifties who was diagnosed with a slew of mental illness when he was 18. A lanky fellow who lives in Mississippi, Landis speaks in a quiet, slow drawl, and has used aliases and impersonated priests in order to trick museums. We also meet Matthew Leininger, the museum registrar who discovered Landis. Leininger got so obsessed it got him fired. He would like to stop Landis, but Landis only donated the pieces and did not profit from it, so is not guilty of anything. There is a chance for both men to meet and talk when the University of Cincinnati is doing a retrospective of Landis’ work. I found the subject of this documentary and both men fascinating.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Art and craft

 

Directed by: 
Sam Cullman
Jennifer Grausman
Mark Becker
 
89 min.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Qu-est-ce qu’on a fait au bon Dieu? (Serial weddings)

Claude Verneuil, a notary from a small French town called Chinon, and his wife Marie (Christian Clavier and Chantal Lauby) have four daughters. Isabelle married a Muslim lawyer, Odile, a Jewish entrepreneur, and Ségolène, a Chinese banker. Family gatherings always end with everyone at odds, with Claude and Marie making some xenophobic comments. But it’s also brothers-in-law against brothers-in-law as they use religion ans race to insult each other. Latter, for a christmas dinner at the Verneuil’s, everybody is on their best behavior and has put aside their differences. When Claude and Marie find out that Laure, their youngest daughter, got engaged to a nice catholic boy, they are breathing a sigh of relief. Until they meet him. His name is Charles Koffi, a black actor from the Ivory Coast. Charles has problems of his own. Let’s just say that his parents are not thrilled that their son is marrying a white French girl. The father, André, is still resentful of the white colonization in Africa. . This film is a pleasant surprise. It is a difficult subject that might have made a lot of people (including me) wince. But, I think it has been done with relative good tastes and subtleties by everyone involved. Veteran actors Christian Clavier and Chantal Lauby seem to be having a great time scratching away at the Verneuils’ bourgeois veneer. But the younger cast members are equally effective and funny. I have to mention Pascal N’Zonzi as André Koffi, who arrives at his son’s wedding almost foaming at the mouth. That this film succeed on so many levels (including a hilarious screenplay) is, I’m convinced, because of Philippe de Chauveron’s attention to details and perfect timing for comedy. I had a great time watching Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au bon Dieu?

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

 Qu-est-ce qu’on a fait au bon Dieu? (Serial weddings)

Directed by:
Philippe de Chauveron
Screenplay by:
Philippe de Chauveron
Guy Laurent
Starring:
Christian Clavier
Chantal Lauby
Ary Abittan
Medi Sadoun
Frédéric Chau
Noom Diawara
Frédérique Bel
Julia Piaton
Émilie Caen
Élodie Fontan
Pascal N’Zonzi
97 min.
In French with English subtitles.

The 100-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared (Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann)

It’s not very often that we see a Swedish comedy. The 100-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared is certainly not Ingmar Bergman, but it is one heck of an absurdist comedy. The main character is Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson), who on his hundredth birthday, like the title says, climbs out the window of the old folks’ home. At the bus station, as he is waiting for the next bus out-of-town, Allan runs into a skinhead who has to go to the toilet, and asks Alan to keep an eye on his suitcase. But Alan’s bus is leaving and he boards it with the suitcase. When the suitcase is opened, it is full of money belonging to a gangster. Pretty soon, everyone is trying to find the old man and/or the money. As this story unfolds, we see snippets of Alan’s life in flashback. As a child, Alan got obsessed by explosives and blowing things up . As an adult, he worked building bombs, and also got to interact with great men. Alan meets Truman, Franco, Stalin, Churchill, Reagan and others. In the funniest chapter, he encounters Herbert Einstein, Albert’s dumber (and fictional?) brother. If the film lags a bit in the middle, it picks it up again towards the end for a great, funny finale that includes an elephant named Sonya. The film is helped by a lively score with a tuba, composed by Matti Bye.

And the nominees are… The team of Love Larson and Eva von Bahr are nominated for Makeup and hairstyling. This is a rare occurrence for a foreign film. I don’t think it stand a chance.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

 The 100-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared (Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann) 

Directed by:
Felix Herngren
Screenplay by:
Felix Herngren
Hans Ingemansson
Based on the novel by Jonas Jonasson
Starring:
Robert Gustafsson
Iwar Wiklander
David Wiberg
113 min.
Rated 14A
In Swedish and bits of German,
Russian, English, Spanish, and
French with English subtitles

The notebook (A nagy füzet)

This is an adaptation of Agota Kristof’s best-selling novel The notebook (in French Le grand cahier). During the Second World War, in order to keep them safe, twin brothers (listed in the end credits as ‘One’ and ‘Other’) are sent by their parents, to live with their monstrous grandmother on her farmhouse. The only thing their parents left them is a notebook (it looks more like a scrapbook to me), so that they can write their thoughts and experiences. ‘The witch’ – as she is known in the village  -force them to work from morning until night, as well as beating them. To get tougher and get used to the pain, they start beating each other. With war and death all around the boys, they kill bugs and other small animals and glue them in the notebook. In their debut, András and László Gyémánt are impressive. They are in every scene, and there is so much pain, horror and violent impulses in their chemistry, and in those eyes. Great performances. I Should also mention great work from veteran actress Piroska Molnár as the grandmother from hell, and cinematographer Christian Berger. I recommend.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The notebook (A nagy füzet)

Directed by:
János Szász
Screenplay by:
Tom Abrams
András Szekér
János Szász
Based on the novel by Ágota Kristóf
Starring:
András Gyémánt
László Gyémánt
Gyöngyvér Bognár
Piroska Molnár
110 min.
Rated 14A
In Hungarian with English subtitles.

Love is strange

The story is simple enough: After having been together 39 years, Manhattanites same-sex couple George and Ben (Alfred Molina and John Lithgow) are getting married. The wedding is attended by loving friends and family members. George works as a music teacher at a Catholic private school, and everyone at school, including parents and students, were aware of his relationship with Ben. But, with the wedding’s announcement making it official, George gets fired. They have to sell their apartment, and while waiting for an affordable place to live, Ben goes to live with his nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows), his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their teenage son Joey (Charlie Tahan) and George with boyfriends Ted and Roberto (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Pérez), who are two cops. Everyone is happy with these arrangements, with the understanding that it is a temporary solution. But the sale of the apartment brought less money than expected, as there was taxes and some additional costs. “Like something out of Kafka”, says George. Kate is an author who works from home, but she’s not working much because she has to entertain Uncle Ben. Similarly, after a while, Ben’s presence starts to annoy young Joey. At Ted and Roberto’s place, George finds it difficult to relate to the younger couple. Their main subject of conversation is Game of thrones, and George has difficulty sleeping because Ted and Roberto party all night. Some time, all a film needs is a good story/screenplay, great acting and, of course, a director who knows how to channel everyone’s talents. Love is strange is such a film. Molina and Lithgow are so touchingly real, with Lithgow showing how Ben’ separation has affected him, and caused some health problems. Marisa Tomei reminds us here how good she can be. And Charlie Tahan is a marvelous find. Director Ira Sachs has a great eye for small, subtle gestures and details that make this love story so believable and real. A beautiful, not to be missed film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Love is strange 

 
 
Directed by: 
Ira Sachs
 
Screenplay by: 
Ira Sachs
Mauricio Zacharias
 
Starring: 
John Lithgow
Alfred Molina
Marisa Tomei
Charlie Tahan
Cheyenne Jackson
 
94 min.
 
Rated 14A