Timbuktu

There is not much one can say about Timbuktu, except that it is perfect. A French-Mauritanian film, it chronicles Mali’s brief occupation by Islamist group Ansar Dine. Smoking, music and soccer have been banned, women must wear gloves and Sharia tribunals are punishing the people who are not following those strict rules. A woman is sentenced to 40 lashes for singing and 40 lashes for being in the same room as a man not of her family. Adulterers are stoned to death. A woman argues that she can’t sell and handle fish with gloves and an Imam is trying to get more rights from the Islamists. Some Islamists are seen smoking or discussing their favorite soccer team. Another one is trying to force a young woman to marry her. It helps to put a human non-judgemental perspective. I found the female characters to be of strong will and mind. There are also moments of humor despite the drama. A crazy woman walks around with a rooster on her shoulder and laughs heartily at the absurdity of the Islamists. The scenes are perfectly composed and directed. It is perfect because it all seem to be effective, both technically and thematically. A main storyline concerns cattle herder Kidane, who lives in the desert with his wife and daughter. When one of his cow gets caught in a fishing net and the fisherman kills the cow, Kidane confronts the fisherman and accidentally shoots him. At the same time you are emotionally compelled by all these stories, it is the most beautiful cinematography by Sofian El Fani that paints the film with poetic touches. That is done with delicate subtleties and a lack of melodramatic antics. Beautiful and perfect.

And the Oscar and César went to… Although Timbuktu is a French-Mauritanian co-production, Timbuktu was selected to represent Mauritania, and received this country’s first nomination as Best foreign language film. unfortunately, the Oscar went to Poland’s Ida. I found both Timbuktu and Argentina’s Wild tales to be better candidates. The French Oscars are called “César”. And Timbuktu was the big winner because it is a French-Mauritanian co-production. It waked away with the César for Best film, director, original screenplay, cinematography, music, editing and sound. Seven out of eight. Not bad.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Timbuktu

Directed by:
Abderrahmane Sissako
Screenplay by:
Abderrahmane Sissako
Starring:
Ibrahim Ahmed
Abel Jafri
Toulou Kiki
Layla Walet Mohamed
Adel Mahmoud Cherif
97 min.
In Tuareg, Bambara, Arabic,
French, and English with English subtitles

’71

In Northern Ireland, the conflict between unionists (mostly Protestants who wanted to remain within the United Kingdom) and Irish nationalists (Catholics wanting to leave the United Kingdom to join a united Ireland) was at its most violent in 1970 through 1972. As we witness in ’71, Belfast was not the safest place. With bombings being a daily happening, deaths of innocent civilians rising, Belfast felt like hell. And it is in this hell that Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) is dispatched, along with his squad of young army recruits, fresh out of training barracks. They’re kids. The young men are sent to Belfast to keep the peace while the local police are violently searching homes for firearms. There is a riot, and as the violence escalates, Gary is separated from his squad. He has to run for his life, when a group of young Nationalists are threatening to kill him. Lost in an unknown city, Gary tries to find a hiding place. He gets some help from local residents, but they too are in danger of losing their lives. While the trigger happy young Nationalists are still trying to find and kill Gary, older, more reasoned ones are trying to minimise the casualties. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Armitage wants to bring back Gary alive. He gets some help from some covert counter-insurgency unit. But by the end of ’71, we’re not too sure who to trust anymore. And when a mishandled bomb kill innocents, they all start blaming one another. It is a mess. This is a first film from Yann Demange, and he knows that he must keep us as confused as Gary. The young man is unsure who or what he is going to find around the every corner. And so are we. Things gets very tense. But, for a realistic war film, ’71‘s ending is too pat, too much like any Hollywood thriller. I oddly felt I was watching Fatal attraction. Gary, a scared, lost, injured, young soldier, who has to kill in order to survive is a perfect fit for a physical actor like Jack O’Connell. The masterful David Holmes score is the heart of the film. At the very least, it is Gary’s pulsating, throbbing heart, threatening to burst out of our own chest. It connects us to the film more than anything.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 ’71

Directed by:
Yann Demange
Screenplay by:
Gregory Burke
Starring:
Jack O’Connell
Sam Reid
Sean Harris
99 min.
Rated 14A

Gett: The trial of Viviane Amsalem

According to Orthodox rabbinical courts (Beth din), the only way for a woman to obtain a divorce, is for her husband to grant her one. Gett: The trial of Viviane Amsalem is an apt title for Israeli sibling directors Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz’s film (“get” is the Hebrew word for divorce). Even if Viviane’s husband, Elisha (a marvelously taciturn Simon Abkarian), refuses to grant her a divorce, Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz) can sue him to obtain it. From the start, it is clear that this is a loveless marriage, and that Viviane has put up with Elisha for far too long. So why won’t he give her a divorce? Honor, pride, or simply because he’s a mean SOB. The three elderly Rabbis/judges are no help to Viviane. To say that they  decide in favor of the husband is an understatement. In private, Elisha promises divorce, only to refuse once in court. Some times Elisha does not show to court at the schedule time, dragging the case for months and years. Meanwhile all the judges tell a frustrated Viviane is that they can’t do nothing about it. But her husband’s counsel (Elisha’s brother, a Rabbi) and the judges are allowed to question Viviane’s morality, even accusing her lawyer of having sex with her. It has indeed, as the title say, become her trial. If the point of the film was to denounce how misogynist and unjust such laws and tribunals are, the filmmakers have effectively done so. Everything in the Gett: The trial of Viviane Amsalem seems to strike the right balance. The whole film is set inside the court and its waiting room, so the direction is minimalist and restrained. Screenplay and dialogue is most important in such film. One of main the reason the works so well is because of the excellent company of actors, topped by the powerful performance from Ronit Elkabetz as Viviane. Although the film is fictional, not based on an actual trial, this is a believable account of what probably sometimes happen. Unfortunately.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Gett: The trial of Viviane Amsalem

Directed by:
Ronit Elkabetz
Shlomi Elkabetz
Screenplay by:
Ronit Elkabetz
Shlomi Elkabetz
Starring:
Ronit Elkabetz
Simon Abkarian
Gabi Amrani
Dalia Berger
115 min.
Rated Parental Guidance
In Hebrew and Fench with English subtitles

2014 Oscar nominated shorts – Animation

The annual collection of Oscar nominated animation short is back. It is always fun to watch, for the stories they tell and the great variety of animation techniques that are featured. From Canada, Me and my Moulton is the National film board’s 73rd Oscar nomination. Norway born director Torill Kove’s autobiographical depiction of growing up with unconventional parents and her desire to get a bicycle. Although this is well done, the conventional NFB style makes this film less interesting. And technically, it is plain and unexciting. Not so with The bigger picture. British animator Daisy Jacobs paints on walls and furnitures to create life-size characters. This technique looks painstakingly difficult and time-consuming. It tells the touching story of two brothers taking care of their dying mother. Feast is a delight from Disney studio. It focuses on a little dog who is always eating. His life (and food) changes when his owner finds love. In A single life, when Pia plays a single vinyl record, she gets older or younger depending on where the needle lands. At only 2 minutes long, this clever computer animated short is close to perfection. The dam keeper is an allegorical fable about a little pig getting bullied at school. And then he becomes a friend with his new classmate, Fox. A bit like Animal farm. And a bit heavy-handed, with too many topics such as bullying and pollution piled on. Its saving grace is the beautiful animation made by a combination of painting and brush-stroke effects. Those five films being too short, this compilation also include four other shorts. Directed by five French animation students, Sweet cocoon is the story of an overweight caterpillar desperate to get inside his cocoon. It is the funniest and the nuttier film of the bunch. There is also Bill Plympton’s latest film Footprints and Glen Keane’s film Duet. The collection ends with Bus story, another NFB film. Over all this is a better than average collection.

And the Oscar went to… Disney’s Feast won the Oscar. Well deserved.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

2014 Oscar nominated shorts – Animation

77 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

2014 Oscar nominated shorts – Live action

It is always interesting to see the yearly collection of Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts. All the films this were worthy candidates. The program starts with Parvaneh from Switzerland. It is about a young Afghan girl who travels to Zurich where she meets and befriends a punk girl. It is sweet and touching. Next is a fun French-Chinese short called Butter lamp (La lampe au beurre de Yak) where a photographer takes pictures of Tibetan nomads in front of various artificial backgrounds. The phone call from U.K. is the best film. It stars Sally Hawkins as Heather a crisis-hotline worker trying to dissuade a man from suicide. Great work by Hawkins. The longest film (39 minutes) is Aya, a Israel/France co-production. A young woman becomes the unexpected assigned driver for a visiting music critic. This the least interesting of the films as the motivations remains a mystery throughout. A charming little gem from the U.K., Boogaloo and Graham is about two little brothers enamored with the two baby chicks their father gave them. Of course their mother disagree. The two boys are sooooo cute. Not a bad crop this year.

And the Oscar went to… The best film won : The phone call.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 2014 Oscar nominated shorts – Live action

114 min.

Rated 14A

English and other languages with English subtitles

Wild tales (Relatos salvajes)

Wild tales is a collection of six stories who are connected only by its common theme : The world is a dark and awful place, let’s have fun! The film is assured to be an audience favorite no matter where it plays. So far, it is the best film I saw in 2015. Argentine director-screenwriter Damián Szifrón has a vivid imagination with a devilish view of human nature. Here are some example. In the opening short story, “Pasternak”, a young woman boards a plane, and find that every other passengers knew Pasternak, her ex-boyfriend. In another one called “The rats”, a waitress recognizes the usurer who ruined her family. The cook working with her wants to put rat poison in his food. “Little bomb” features a demolition experts who becomes frustrated when his car is towed and he has to pay the parking ticket. My favorite story is “The strongest”. It’s about the stupidity of road rage and two men battling it out to the extreme. I was literally roaring with laughter, amazed by its cleverness. I say ‘my favorite’, but I they are all perfect little films, perfectly developed, Szifrón unexpectedly sending his characters to outrageous places. We never see it coming. An impressive ensemble cast and the technical support (including an excellent score by Gustavo Alfredo Santaolalla) also contribute to the success of Wild tales. The last story is “Until death do us part”. A wedding reception goes to hell when the bride finds out her new husband was having an affair with one of the guess. At least Wild tales ends with a romantic image…well, sort of. This the most fun I’ve had at the movies in years.

And the Oscar went to… Although Wild tales was nominated as Foreign language film, it unfortunately lost to Ida from Poland.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Wild tales (Relatos salvajes)

Directed by:
Damián Szifrón
Screenplay by:
Damián Szifrón
Starring:
Ricardo Darín
Óscar Martinez
Leonardo Sbaraglia
Érica Rivas
Rita Cortese
Julieta Zylberberg
Darío Grandinetti
122 min.
Rated 14A
In Spanish with English subtitles