The search

Michel Hazanavicius’s latest film, The search, is miles away from his Oscar wining film The artist. The search is about the Second Chechen war, this time between the Russian federation and different Chechen fighters. It started in 2000 and lasted 9 long years of atrocities and human rights violations. The film concerns four individuals. One of them is nine-year-old Hadji (Abdul-Khalim Mamatsuiev) who flees his home with his baby brother after he witnesses his parents being killed by Russian soldiers. Soon he finds it too difficult to take care of a baby, trying to feed him and hiding from the army all at once, and he abandons his brother on the doorstep of a suitable family. The second person we follow is human rights worker Carole (Bérénice Bejo, married to Hazanavicius). Carole is working with refugee at a border town. She has been waiting a long time for a chance to speak to the UN and is a bit tired by the lack of actions of governments. Annette Bening plays Helen, a charity worker who does not think the UN is very efficient or care very much. What Helen does is concrete action. One day Carole sees Hadji, who is now homeless and living on the street. She takes him to live with her. The boy is either so traumatized or distrustful that he is not speaking and won’t tell Carole anything. The third character is Hadji’s older sister, Raissa (Zukhra Duishvili), who has found the baby and is now searching for Hadji. The last character is Russian teenager Kolia (Maksim Emelyanov), who finds himself enrolled in the army after he was arrested for smoking pot. Once in, Kolia is brutally harassed and beaten by his superiors. His story is hard to watch as he eventually joins in the violence and the killings (Echoes the saying, “If you can’t fight them, join them.”). The search is a compelling film well directed and photographed. But one of the annoying problem is that Carole is trying in vain to speak to an unresponsive Hadji. It becomes this long, incessant monologue and poor Bejo is not up for the task. And who would? It is lucky then that Hazanavicius found young Abdul-Khalim Mamatsuiev. He seems to be crying on cue and even with no dialogue for most of the film, he relies on his expressive eyes to convey Hadji’s turmoil and tell us his story. Impressive. The screenplay has the kind of concept and structure that I enjoy. But for a film that seeks to be a realistic reproduction of war, the ending is too pat and seems fixed, not real. Russia has been in the news too much lately, as it was then. Oh, well! Plus ça change…

You should know… The search is based on the 1948 Fred Zinneman film starring Montgomery Clift as Steve, an American army engineer who helps a young concentration camp survivor find his mother.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The search

Directed by:
Michel Hazanavicius
Screenplay by:
Michel Hazanavicius
Inspired by Fred Zinneman’s film
Starring:
Abdul-Khalim Mamtsuiev
Bérénice Bejo
Annette Bening
Maksim Emelyanov
Zukhra Duishvili
Lela Bagashvili
135 min.
Rated 14A
In English, French,
Chechen, and Russian
with English subtitles
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Being Canadian

Emmy award wining writer Robert Cohen is from Calgary but works in the US. He wrote for The Simpsons and The big bang theory among others. He has decided to explore what it is that makes Canada such a well liked country wherever you go. Or is that a myth? To do this fun and not very serious analysis, Cohen travels from coast-to-coast. His last stop will be Vancouver on Canada day and he hopes to have found out the answer by midnight that day. He even goes in the dark entrails of (Gasp!) Quebec. Beside a short stay there, Being Canadian is mainly about (or should I say “aboot”?) English Canada. What defines us as a people? Robert Cohen interviews his Hollywood/Canadian friends. People like Michael J. Fox, Mike Myers, Seth Rogen, Alex Trebek, William Shatner, Dave Foley (Showing Cohen and Foley in bed together, a sheet covering the lower half of their seemingly naked bodies.), Catherine O’Hara, Ottawa’s Dan Aykroyd and Martin Short. He asks them about some misconceptions other countries have about Canadians and Canada. Non Canadians are also interviewed: Kathy Griffin and Ben Stiller. Musicians from Rush and the Barenaked Ladies and former Prime Minister Kim Campbell are there as well. Americans think Canada is always extremely cold all year round, with no summer. American university students are asked what they know about Canada and our history, and they know nothing, they’ve been told nothing. Persona non grata. But according to all, we are so nice and polite. And we apologize too much. Some other questions: Why did the Canadian football league allowed two teams with basically the same name? The Saskatchewan Roughriders sometime played against the Ottawa Rough Riders. Kim Campbell has a good laugh about that. Oh, well! Only in Canada. And what about Canadian food? After talking with some experts, it was decided that maple syrup was Canadian’s favorite food. Hey, poutine, beaver tails, tourtière and Quebec’s pets de sœurs (literal translation: farts of nun) were not even mentioned. And I could go on forever. All that to say that Being Canadian may not be the most serious documentary, but it is great fun to watch. Particularly if you are Canadian. Happy Canada day everyone!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Being Canadian

Directed by:
Robert Cohen
Screenplay by:
Robert Cohen
90 min.
Rated 14A
Some French with English subtitles

A brilliant young mind

The 2007 BBC documentary Beautiful young minds centred on the International Mathematical Olympiad. Many of the young mathematicians featured in the film had a form of autism. Now, director Morgan Matthews has now filmed a fiction version of his own film, based on one of the participants we meet in the documentary. Only the names have been changed. Nathan (Edward Baker-Close) is a young boy diagnosed with a mild form of autism that is making it hard for him to understand and connect to people. But Nathan seems to connect better with his dad Michael (Martin McCann) than with his mom Julie (Sally Hawkins). One day Michael is killed in a terrible car accident with Nathan sitting beside him. And Nathan puts even more distance between himself and Julie. Years later, when Nathan is a teenager (now played by Asa Butterfield), Mr. Humphreys (Rafe Spall), a teacher who has multiple sclerosis, enrolls Nathan to compete with the British team at the International Mathematical Olympiad in Taipei, Taiwan. The team’s leader is a colorful character named Richard (played by equally colorful actor Eddie Marsan). In Taipei, Nathan nervously meets his team mates. He does not really connect with any of them, and the film gives them too much importance with unnecessary, boring sub-plots. But at least there are no bullies making life difficult for Nathan. That cliché would have ruined the whole film. While Julie and Mr. Humphreys are falling in love, Nathan meets Zhang Mei (Jo Yang), a young Chinese girl. The two become inseparable. The film that promises to be a simple tear-jerker, turns out to be a better film than I expected. Asa Butterfield gives a sensitive and controlled performance. For Nathan, maths are easy, it is people, relationships and emotions he finds difficult. At the end, with Julie’s help, Nathan solves the equation and it is beautifully done.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

A brilliant young mind

Directed by:
Morgan Matthews
Screenplay by:
James Graham
Inspired by Matthews’s
documentary Beautiful young minds
Starring:
Asa Butterfield
Rafe Spall
Sally Hawkins
Jo Yang
Eddie Marsan
Martin McCann
111 min.
Rated Parental Guidance

Dancing Arabs

Eyad (Razi Gabareen as young Eyad, then Tawfeek Barhom as teenage Eyad) is a young Palestinian living in a small village in Israel. In 1969, his father, Salah (Ali Suliman), got arrested because of his political activities. Now out of prison, Salah has become a fruit picker. When the school teacher asks Eyad what his father do for a living, Eyad answers “Terrorist!”. The teacher knows Salah is a fruit picker, but Eyad insist: “Terrorist!”. As a teen, Eyad is accepted to a prominent Jewish high school in Jerusalem. He nervously goes there thinking he’s not going to fit in at all. Actually, despite some rough patches, he is doing better than he tought. Soon he meets Naomi (Danielle Kitzis), a jewish student, and falls in love with her. They keep their relationship secret as it would not please some people, especially her family. While doing community work, Eyad tutors Yonatan (Michael Moshonov), a young man with muscular dystrophy. They become friends as they seem to have the same taste in music. And there is Edna (Yaël Abecassis), Yonatan’s mother, who welcomes Eyad in the family. She will later ask Eyad to move in with them, when her son’s health worsens. Depending on what side you are, I understand that Dancing Arabs won’t please everyone, but I found it an effective coming of age drama about growing up in a war-torn country. Sure, sometimes Eyad has to hide his own identity, but he still finds allies in the most unlikely places.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Dancing Arabs

Directed by:
Eran Riklis
Screenplay by:
Sayed Kashua
based on his book
Starring:
Tawfeek Barhom
Ali Suliman
Yaël Abecassis
Michael Moshonov
Razi Gabareen
Danielle Kitzis
104 min.
Rated 14A
In Arabic and Hebrew
with English subtitles

Sunshine Superman

Before I saw Sunshine Superman, I had no idea what BASE jumping was. B.A.S.E. is an acronym for building, antenna, span and earth, the four categories you can jump from with a parachute (or nowadays a wingsuit). Carl Boenish is considered the father of BASE jumping. Sunshine Superman is a documentary about him. BASE jumping started in the 60s and Boenish starts jumping off from abandoned or under construction buildings and mountains filming the whole thing with a camera placed on his helmet. In 1969, director John Frankenheimer hires Boenish to film the skydiving scenes in the drama The gypsy moths Because BASE jumping was such a dangerous sport, authorities were wary about allowing jumpers on their sites and even made it illegal. Sunshine Superman is mostly about the love story between Carl and his wife Jean. An unusual couple, pint size Jean and tall Carl would jump off the tallest buildings and the most dangerous cliffs together. Both found BASE jumping to be an exhilarating, life affirming passion. Carl died while jumping from a mountain in Norway in 1984 at age 43. Apart from being about an interesting subject, Sunshine Superman also has beautiful aerial cinematography, both from Carl Boenish’s archives and Sunshine Superman‘s cinematographers.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Sunshine Superman

Directed by:
Marah Strauch
Screenplay by:
Marah Strauch
101 min.
Rated Parental Guidance

Phoenix

Christian Petzold’s Phoenix seems to have all the right ingredients It has a compelling story: Concentration camp survivor, Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss) comes back to Berlin terribly disfigured. With the help of her friend Lene Winter (Nina Kunzendorf), a surgeon performs reconstructive surgery, but as he tells Nelly, she will be unrecognizable. Beside the physical scars, the psychological ones also have their challenges. Nelly lives with Lene and she goes out at night, trying to find her husband, Johnny. Hoss gives quite a physical and emotionally wrenching performance. The way she plays her, Nelly seems unstable, and that awkward, ill-fitting hat makes her look even more peculiar. She finds Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) working as a busboy at the Phoenix jazz club. (Johnny is a pianist and Nelly was a singer.) He does not recognize her, but thinks she could pass as his late wife. He makes her a proposal: He tells Nelly (who now calls herself Esther) that he is unable to have access to his wife’s money because he cannot prove that she is dead. If she pretends to be Nelly coming back from the camps and can fool her family, he’ll split the money with her. She goes along with this scheme mainly because she is convinced that Johnny still loves her. But, if they want this to work, Johnny must teach Esther/Nelly how to walk like his dead wife, what to wear, what to say, and , of course, learn enough about Nelly and her family. But Lena tells Nelly that Johnny betrayed her to the Nazis in order to escape torture. Phoenix is perfect in every way. The brilliant screenplay that surprised me with its meaningful poetic relevance. Nina Hoss is in every scene and the other two main actors who are playing with and her are excellent as well. What makes Phoenix such a great film – beside keeping me on the edge of my seat for most of the film – is that it has a good story and a director that knows a thing or two about telling stories.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Phoenix

Directed by:
Christian Petzold
Screenplay by:
Christian Petzold
Harun Farocki
Based on the novel Le Retour
des cendres by Hubert Monteilhet
Starring:
Nina Hoss
Ronald Zehrfeld
Nina Kunzendorf
98 min.
Rated Parental Guidance
In German with English subtitles

Aloft

The worst thing you can call a film is pretentious. Aloft is the slow-moving story of the estrangement between a mother and her son. Nana (Jennifer Connelly) lives in the cold Canadian country (Aloft was filmed in beautiful Manitoba) with her two sons. The oldest boy, Ivan (Zen McGrath), always bring his pet falcon with him. Twenty years later, Ivan (now played by Cillian Murphy) still has a falcon. He also has a wife and a baby. French journalist Jannia Ressmore wants to interview Nana, who has become a faith healer. Ivan travels with her to find the mother who suddenly abandoned him twenty years ago. We see in flashbacks what events caused this departure. Problem is we don’t get the reason why the characters behave the way they do. As a child, Ivan is a spoiled, annoying brat. And he not much better as an adult. The whole thing is confusing, depressing, boring and frustrating. This is the kind of films some people will call “deep”. “Hollow” is what I call it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Aloft

Directed by:
Claudia Llosa
Screenplay by:
Claudia Llosa
Starring:
Jennifer Connelly
Cillian Murphy
Mélanie Laurent
Oona Chaplin
Zen McGrath
114 min.
Rated 18A

Welcome to me

Quirky comedy Welcome to me stars Saturday night live alumni Kristen Wiig. She plays Alice Klieg, a woman who suffers from some kind of personality disorder. With the support of a few people, like her best friend, Gina (Linda Cardellini), her gay ex-husband, Ted (Alan Tudyk), and her therapist, Dr. Daryl Moffat (Tim Robbins), Alice seems to be happy. Her favorite show is Oprah. She has taped every episodes and memorized lines from them. One day she wins eighty million dollars in the lottery. She moves into a casino hotel in Palm spring and meets TV local producers Rich and Gabe Ruskin (James Paul Marsden and Wes Bentley). Alice pays the two brothers to produce her own talk show, called – what else? – “Welcome to me” and will be all about her. Among the weird idea she has, she wants to come in the studio in a giant swan. At first, Alice is seen as too weird by the staff, but as the show grows in popularity, they are starting to care for her. She even finds love. For Alice, the show serves as a therapy, but it may cause her to lose her support network. Welcome to me does not have what you could call a great screenplay, but it has at least two things going for it. It has enthusiasm and great charms. And it has a winning performance by Kristen Wiig. She can be funny, touching and completely believable as a woman living with a mental illness. As well, I would like to mention a good turn from Joan Cusack as the TV director. A small budget film that could please many people.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Welcome to me

Directed by:
Shira Piven
Screenplay by:
Eliot Laurence
Starring:
Kristen Wiig
James Marsden
Linda Cardellini
Wes Bentley
Alan Tudyk
Tim Robbins
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Joan Cusack
105 min.
Rated 14A

Saint Laurent

Last summer I saw Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent (review here https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/yves-saint-laurent/), the first biopic about the fashion legend. It was a much more conventional biopic than Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent. Bonello covers the designer’s life between 1967 and 1976, his most troubled period of drug addiction and his sexual relationship with gigolo Jacques de Bascher, and then flash forwards to 1989. The film is meant to be an impressionistic re-invention of Saint Laurent’s life and art. Some of the events we see are real or not. Artistically, Bonello’s film is a success. Saint Laurent is cold and clinical. The director has said “We wanted to show what it cost him every day to be who he was…”. Rather than being about specific events, Saint Laurent’s life is shown to have been a series of parties, of nights at the disco and orgies. We understand that to be able to create, Saint Laurent had to have an extreme and complex life of drugs, love and sex. Long scenes of Saint Laurent partying, dancing and drinking with his friends perfectly define his most productive era. Bonello’s occasional use of split screens is exciting and energizing. Bonello’s three main actors cannot really be compared to the acting in Lespert’s film. Pierre Niney and Guillaume Gallienne from Yves Saint Laurent had to recreate what happened in Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé’s lives. Of note, Yves Saint Laurent’s problem with mental illness in his twenties, so well-played by Niney that he won the César. Instead, in Bonello’s Saint Laurent, there is a trio of actors. Gaspard Ulliel as Yves Saint Laurent, Jérémie Renier as Bergé and Louis Garrel as de Bascher. We don’t need much than a few brushstrokes from those actors to understand who they are playing. I salute their artistic integrity. I also must mention the overall excellence of the production, particularly Anaïs Romand’s costume design. Saint Laurent is too long. In the latter part, it switches back and forth between 1976 and 1989, with Helmut Berger playing an older Saint Laurent. It has become by this point this point totally uninteresting. Oh well! Nothing is perfect.

You should know… There was a documentary in 2010. Pierre Thoretton’s Yves Saint Laurent – Pierre Bergé, l’amour fou was of course about the relationship between the two men, but for the most part it was about their personal art collection, and the 2009 auction held at Christie’s. Over a three-day sale in Paris, 733 items were sold for a record-breaking 370 million euros (520 million Canadian dollars), with the proceeds proposed for the creation of a new foundation for AIDS research. In the documentary Thoretton interviews Pierre Bergé and has footage from the auction.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Saint Laurent

Directed by:
Bertrand Bonello
Screenplay by:
Thomas Bidegain
Bertrand Bonello
Starring:
Gaspard Ulliel
Jérémie Renier
Louis Garrel
Léa Seydoux
Amira Casar
Helmut Berger
150 min.
In French and
English with
English subtittles