Juste la fin du monde (It’s only the end of the world)

You could say that I’m a Xavier Dolan fan, but Juste la fin du monde is not my favorite of his films. Even so, there are some elements I liked. Dolan adapted the Jean-Luc Lagarce 1990 play. In it Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), a successful writer, pays a visit to his family. He has had almost no contact with them in 12 years. We know from the film’s opening scene that he plans to tell them that he is dying. This is clearly a dysfunctional group of character. Louis has an overbearing, over aggressive (over everything) older brother. Antoine (Vincent Cassel) is loud, interrupts every conversations and bullies the whole family. It soon becomes clear that nothing is going to go smooth. Mother Martine (Nathalie Baye, wearing too much make up and has a Cleopatra haircut) smokes like a chimney and does aerobics in the kitchen. Sister Suzanne (Léa Seydoux) was too young when Louis left. She is a sweet, insecure and sensitive girl. Louis meets Antoine’s wife, Catherine (Marion Cotillard). Catherine has probably been the target of her husband’s aggressiveness. She is so shy that she is unable to carry a full conversation. You can’t fault Dolan or his director of photography, André Turpin, for the beauty of the images and the quality of the directing. They have filmed mostly in close up to accentuate the feeling of claustrophobia. But Juste la fin du monde is hysterical. Not just a bit, all the time. You have every one trying to speak over one another. The worst is Vincent Cassel. I don’t actually (I won‘t because I can‘t) put the blame on Cassel. Antoine is an impossible part to play, and cannot think of an actor who can do it without annoying most people in the cinema. Dolan likes hysteria, but this is too much of it. He wanted to make a film on incommunicability, and boy did he ever. The overbearing Gabriel Yared score is doing all it can to make the dialogue inaudible. I think Dolan is a brilliant director, but not this time. My feeling about Juste la fin du monde can be best describe by that classic retort: “Not tonight, I‘m having a headache!”

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Juste la fin du monde (It’s only the end of the world)

Directed by:
Xavier Dolan

Screenplay by:
Xavier Dolan
Based on the play by Jean-Luc Lagarce

Starring:
Gaspard Ulliel
Nathalie Baye
Marion Cotillard
Vincent Cassel
Léa Seydoux

97 min.

In French with English subtitles.

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The lovers and the despot

The incredible tale of South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee and her husband, film director Shin Sang-ok, being kidnapped by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. As weird as it sounds it did happen. In 1978, Kim felt that North Korean films did not have the prestige of South Korean films, and were not exportable. That was probably because all North Korean culture product were replete with propagandist elements. The tagline for The lovers and the despot is “They were kidnapped by their biggest fan”. Kim Jong-il had a great appreciation for the work of both the director and the actress. First he kidnapped Choi, then her husband. He incarcerated Shin in solitary confinement four long years, until Shin agreed to make films for North Korea. Once reunited, Shin and Choi planned to escape while traveling to film festivals. They were so convinced that once free their stories would be challenged, that Choi carried a tape recorder in her handbag and recorded every meeting she had with Kim. Shin Sang-ok died in 2006, but Choi, now 89, is interviewed in the film. Their son and daughter are also in the film talking about their parents sudden disappearance. We also get to ear those eerie tapes. We don’t need technical wizardry here because the story is so interesting. The lovers and the despot seems to have something for almost everyone: love, human interest and international intrigue.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The lovers and the despot

Directed by:
Ross Adam
Robert Cannan

Screenplay by:
Ross Adam
Robert Cannan

98 min.

In Korean, English, and Japanese with English subtitles.

The idol (Ya tayr el tayer)

With The idol, Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad (Oscar nominated Paradise now and Omar) finds a lighter subject than his usual film projects. A fictionalized biopic of Gazan Arab idol winner Muhammad Assaf, The idol has plenty of youthful energy. It start with 10-year-old Muhammad (Qais Atallah) and his band playing at weddings to make a little money. The members of the band are: Muhammad who sings, his 12-year-old sister, Nour (Hiba Atallah) plays the guitar and two other boys. Atallah gives the assured performance of the first half of the film. Nour is a tomboy who is not afraid to push whom ever is in her way, boy or men, and ploughs through, even though girls, she’s told, are not supposed to play guitar at weddings or ride a bike. Nour does ride a bike with her brother and her friends, and they don’t seem to mind. As for playing at weddings, well, that’s another story. She has to play hiding behind a poster. The moment is so perfectly rendered by Atallah, that she manages to make it both sad and comical in the absurdity of the situation. It’s not long though before tragedy hits Muhammad and his family. In the second half, Muhammad is older and played by Tawfeek Barhom (the star of the film). It’s 2012 and Muhammad is driving taxis to help in the family finances. He still wants to make it as a singer, but his effort seems hopeless. Muhammad is auditioning for Palestinian idol, but because of travel restrictions, he has to perform over Skype. That is they could if they had electricity. They get a generator, but other problems keep popping up and piling up. This is a scene of great comic efficiency. But around Muhammad and his family and friends there’s ruins everywhere. And probably the possible threat of another attack at any time. Muhammad has to go to Cairo where the auditions for Arab idol are being held. Everyone he knows believes in him and encourages him to go. But getting there is easier said than done and quite an adventure. Hany Abu-Assad and co-screenwriter Sameh Zoabi have made a popular film, mixing comedy and drama, showing the difficulty of life in Gaza and the sociopolitical and cultural impact of Muhammad Assaf. Now at 27, Assaf has been named a Goodwill Ambassador by the UN. We are told that he can now travel freely across the world. Except in Gaza.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The idol (Ya tayr el tayer)

Directed by:

Hany Abu-Assad

Screenplay by:

Hany Abu-Assad

Sameh Zoabi

 

Starring:

Tawfeek Barhom

Qais Attalah

Hiba Attalah

Ahmad Qasem

Abdel Kareem Barakeh

 

99 min.

 

Rated Parental Guidance.

 

In Arabic with English subtitles.

 

Life, Animated

Life, Animated is a moving documentary about Owen Suskind, an autistic man who has learned to find a better life through the animated Disney films and characters. Owen, now 23, was three when he was diagnosed with regressive autism, where a child seems to develop typically and then start to lose speech and other social skills. It is troubling to see home movies where Owen is playing just like every other boys. And then what every parents dreads: Owen, their youngest son, gets more and more withdrawn. His parents, Ron and Cornelia talk about the sadness and despair of getting the news. According to Ron, Owen could speak only “gibberish” and was very agitated. The only thing that would calm him was to watch Disney animation with his older brother Walter. Then came a few words. Was it significant? The doctors did not think so. And then complete, complex sentence. The Disney films were the key that open the door into Owen’s brain. Owen even says he learn to read by studying the film’s credits. With family photos and films, interviews with Owen, his family and his doctors we get a glimpse of his evolution. Owen identifies more strongly with the sidekicks characters from Disney animation. Timon (The lion king),, Ariel (The little mermaid) and most particularly Iago (Aladdin) have helped him to understand life. Owen often imitate their voices when he speaks, quoting lines from the Disney films. During a screening of Aladdin at school actor Jonathan Freeman, who voices Jafar, drops by to do a reading. All of a sudden, Gilbert Gottfried pops in. Gottfried is the voice Iago, Owen’s most cherished Disney character. Owen is ecstatic. Owen is now at a crossroad in his life. He just graduated from school and becomes more independent when he moves into his own apartment and start looking for a job. There are setbacks. When he and his girlfriend (also autistic) break-up, it is heartbreaking. His family is concerned about his future. Cornelia and Ron know that they won’t always be there. And brother Walter is aware of the enormous responsibility ahead. This an amazing story to tell. It’s a film about the power of art. And it sheds light on autism like no other film has done. So far, the best documentary this year. And a sure tear-jerker.

And the Oscar went to… Life, Animated  lost Documentary feature to the 7 hours O.J : Made in America.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Life, Animated

Directed by:

Roger Ross Williams

Based on the book by Ron Suskind

Life, Animated: A story of sidekicks, heroes, and autism

92 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Ixcanul (Volcano)

The real force of a film like Ixcanul stems from its non-professional actors. From the start the expressive face of María Mercedes Coroy has enough power to draw us in. Coroy plays 17-year-old Maria, who lives on a farm with her parents. The land is riddled with snakes, making it impossible to grow anything. Because of that, they may soon face eviction. To avoid that fate Maria will have to marry the owner, Ignacio (Justo Lorenzo). But Maria dreams of eloping to the United States with her boyfriend, Pepe (Marvin Coroy). At night she walks through the forest and makes love to trees. One night, Maria and Pepe have sex and Maria becomes pregnant and Pepe leaves without her. Her mother, Juana (María Telón), is surprisingly understanding. She wants Maria to abort. But despite many prayers to the nearby volcano, Maria drinking poisoned drink and other practices to abort the foetus, Maria remains pregnant. The only chances they have of keeping the land is to get rid of the serpents. The family is seeped in religious superstitions, and they believe that pregnant women can chase serpents. Added to the complications are the facts that they only speak Kaqchikel, a Mayan dialect, and that Ignacio is the only person they know who speak Spanish. Ixcanul has such a complex story and complex character developments, that I found it entirely believable. It is also the way Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante, in his first film, frames both his camera and the story he is telling that is compelling. It also has a central performance by María Telón who plays the strong-willed mother. Telón has quite an impressive presence both physically and emotionally. Cinematographer Luis Armando Arteaga has managed to show the Guatemalan landscape’s beauty and savageness. From the start, I was mesmerized by the mysterious beauty of Ixcanul.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Ixcanul (Volcano)

Directed by:

Jayro Bustamante

Screenplay by:

Jayro Bustamante

 

Starring:

María Mercedes Coroy

María Telón

Manuel Antún

Justo Lorenzo

Marvin Coroy

 

92 min.

 

Rated 14A

 

In Kaqchikel and Spanish with English subtitles.

 

 

Equity

Equity stars Breaking bad’s Anna Gunn as Wall street investment banker Naomi Bishop. Naomi is hoping that the share of a tech company under her care are going to go through the roof. To sell her ideas Naomi needs her assistant Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas who co-wrote the script) to use her charm on the CEO. But Erin is getting frustrated. She has asked Naomi to help her get a much deserved promotion., but Naomi is unwilling to do that. Naomi is a cold woman in a cold world. Her claim that the company is totally secure is put in jeopardy when her boyfriend, Michael (James Purefoy), conspires with his friend at a hedge fund. The third female character is Sam, (Alysia Reiner, who co-authored of the screenplay with co-star Sarah Megan Thomas and Amy Fox), a state attorney who is investigating securities fraud. Like most moviegoer, this is a world that is so foreign to me, and the complex labyrinthine screenplay can be off putting for some. But you can’t fault the performances from an excellent cast or Menon’s direction. With the help of cinematographer Eric Lin, the art direction team and a score by Alexis & Sam she effectively underline the dryness and coldness of that world which is exactly what a film like Equity needs.

Rémi-serge Gratton

 

Equity

Directed by:

Meera Menon

 

Screenplay by:

Amy Fox

Sarah Megan Thomas

Alysia Reiner

 

Starring:

Anna Gunn

James Purefoy

Sarah Megan Thomas

Alysia Reiner

Craig Bierko

Samuel Roukin

Margaret Colin

100 min.

 

Rated 14A