American Honey

Steady as a preacher

Free as a weed

Couldn’t wait to get goin’

But wasn’t quite ready to leave

So innocent, pure and sweet

American honey

There’s a wild, wild whisper

Blowin’ in the wind

Callin’ out my name like a long lost friend

Oh I miss those days as the years go by

Oh nothing’s sweeter than summertime

And American honey

American honey,

Performed by Lady Antebellum

Songwriters Shane Stevens,

Cary Barlowe, Hillary Lindsey

“I grew up in a working class family, so I guess you could say I write from what I know.”, says British director Andrea Arnold. It’s one thing to make a film about a British working class teenage girl as she did with Fish tank (2009), but to make such a vivid portrait of American youth and American society is simply astounding. To say that the film’s main focus is 18-year-old Star would be an understatement. First time actress Sasha Lane is in every scenes and in almost every shots. The shaky handheld camera follows her everywhere. At time it shoots her from the back of the head, as if it wants to mirror what Star sees. As if Arnold was saying, “I am with you. I see what you see and feel what you feel.”. Star does not have much she can count on. An abusing father and a heartless mother who is running around having fun, while Star has to take care of her younger siblings. She decides to leave it all when she sees a group of teenagers who seems to be having a great time. But mostly, it’s Jake (Shia Labeouf at his best here) that Star is attracted to. He proposes the she comes with them. They are door-to-door magazine sellers. Jake’s cocky assurance wins her over. And us too. The sellers are travelling across several states in a van. They are a diverse group of youth. There is one youth who has a habit of always flashing his penis, whether people want to see it or not. And they listen to a lot of music. American honey has a great collection of songs. Beside Lady Antebellum, there is music by Kevin Gates, Fetty Wap, Bruce Springsteen and E-40 among others. Their boss is Krystal (Riley Keough, Elvis Pressley‘s granddaughter) a young woman a few years older than them. Jake is picked to be Star’s trainer. The job is to knock on doors and convince (and seduce) clients into buying magazine subscriptions. Jake is doing fine, until Star screws up the sale when she gets angry at the woman and start swearing. And then she gets into more possible trouble when she hitch a ride with three middle-aged men wearing cowboy hats. Star seems to be unaware of the danger. These are cringe worthy moments. During a key moment a truck driver asks Star if she has any dreams. There is a smile appearing on her face and she has sparkles in her eyes as she answers that she never thought about that. Another revealing scene has Star buying groceries for children living with a junkie mother but no food in the house. Most of the actors in the film had never acted before. The cast was found in parking lots, construction sites and streets. Lane was spotted sunbathing on a beach while on spring break. She certainly a great talent. Hopefully we’ll see more of her. American honey is an epic travelogue. It clocks in at 2 hours and 42 minutes and it shows an America we never see. The despair, the poverty, but also the hope. Youth like Star, unaware or unafraid of dangers. Taking a plunge. Chancing being touched by a stranger. With sparkles in their eyes.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

American Honey

Directed by:

Andrea Arnold

Screenplay by:

Andrea Arnold

Starring:

Sasha Lane

Shia Labeouf

Riley Keough

Bruce Gregory

162 min.

 

 

 

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Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the devil

In preparation for an exhibit featuring the work of 15th century  Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch, a team of Dutch scholars, technicians and experts from the Bosch research and conservation project have the daunting task of assembling the remaining paintings and drawings from several museum. El Prado museum in Madrid owns probably most of Bosch’s masterpieces, but are not necessary happy to lend them. The exhibit Hieronymus Bosch – Visions of genius was held in 2016 at the Noordbrabants museum in the town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch in The Netherlands. Bosch mostly painted on triptychs, made of three panels hinged together, two smaller side panels folding atop a larger middle panel. The scholars are spending most of the time studying every paintings to assure its place in the exhibit. After many years of research The temptation of Saint Anthony is attributed to have done by Bosch. You could look at Bosch’s paintings and never get bored. There are so many details Even today his work feels, to the uneducated eyes, like the earliest sign of avant-garde. But what do I know about art? But Hieronymus Bosch’s work is fascinating to study as it contains disturbingly bizarre characters. For instance, one panel from The garden of earthly delights is called Hell. It is full of sexual and violent imageries. Every humans are naked and are either harassed by clothed animals and weird creatures or pierced by arrows and knives. Humans are tied to a giant harp, a man is hanging from giant key that itself is hanging from a metal spear. A person is being swallowed by a bird-like creature. I would say this is what hell looks like. The finishing touches of Hell were put in 1505, but it looks like a modern painting to me. I would have liked to see more of his work, but Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the devil seemed more interested with the scholars than with the master. I think it is a mistake, when you do a documentary about a great artist, to look at it mostly from an intellectual angle. Any works of art that has been around for the last 500 years, should be accessible to all. I wanted to know more about Bosch, his life and how his contemporaries reacted to his paintings. Instead, I found the film boring. But I had a good nap.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the devil

Directed by:

Pieter van Huystee

Screenplay by:

Pieter van Huystee

86 min.

In English, Dutch, Spanish, and Italian with English subtitles

 

 

The dressmaker

With that score you’d think you stepped in a screening of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. No, this is not Ennio Morricone, but Australian composer David Hirschfelder. And it’s not Clint Eastwood or Lee Van Cleef but Kate Winslet that is the star of The dressmaker, a film I would characterize as having, to our greatest pleasure, multiple personalities. As stated, because of the Morricone cloned score and the setting (the desert like town of Dungatar in the Australian outback), The dressmaker may seem like a western, but then gallops from one genre to another. The Rosalie Ham novel from which it is based is described as a ‘gothic novel’, but Jocelyn Moorhouse’s film feels more like a parody of a gothic novel. The dressmaker is the campiest film I’ve seen in a long time. Winslet plays Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage who after being banished from Dungatar comes back to town 25 years later. 25 Years earlier Tilly, then a schoolgirl, was accused of killing schoolboy Stewart Pettyman. With a resounding ‘I’m back, you bastards’, Tilly vows to prove her innocence and to exact revenge on those who have falsely accused her. The problem is that Tilly does not remember what happened on that fateful day. She arrives at her mother’s house impeccably dressed, having studied haute couture in Paris. Of course, where else? Her mother is Molly Dunnage (AKA Mad Molly, a moniker that suits her very well). After cleaning her mother’s dump of a house, and fighting with Molly, fighting some more, then some more, Tilly set up shop as a dressmaker. No one is happy to see her again, except Sergeant Horatio Farrat (a great turn by Hugo Weaving), local policeman and closeted cross-dresser. But soon Tilly gets a first client and she’s in business. Tilly also falls in love with hunky Teddy McSwiney (hunky Liam Hemsworth). The dressmaker starts as an absurdist comedy. Along the way it becomes a murder mystery with revenge and drama with pathos added to the mix later. Whatever it is, it is great fun. And there is nothing as fun as watching Kate Winslet and Judy Davis go at each other. Davis has found the perfect comedic part for her unique talent. Mad Molly is a crazy, hash brownies baker, hillbilly, alcoholic, no holds barred woman. I don’t think that Kate Winslet has ever been as good as she is here, nor has she ever had such a difficult  part. This is a most assured performance to date. Both she and Davis are at their best. Hope they are remembered at Oscar time. Let me say it again: Fun! Fun! Fun!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The dressmaker

Directed by:
Jocelyn Moorhouse

Screenplay by:
P.J. Hogan
Jocelyn Moorhouse
Adapted from the Rosalie Ham novel of the same name

Starring:
Kate Winslet
Judy Davis
Hugo Weaving
Liam Hemsworth
Kerry Fox
Sarah Snook

118 min.

Rated 14A

Denial

David Irving is a British self-described historian. But he is really a Holocaust denier and a Hitler apologist. In 1996 Irving sued Penguin books and American author and (genuine) historian Deborah E. Lipstadt for libel. In her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust, Lipstadt made the claim that Irving (Timothy Spall) was twisting the facts in order to promote anti-semitic ideologies. Because the book was published in England, Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) could be sued there where the burden of proof for libel laws falls on the accused. She has to prove that she is not guilty. For an American this is the world upside down. Denial seems to be an accurate description of what really occurred. The legal team was headed by solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), with libel barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) as lead counsel. This is a grand affair. A class act. The screenplay is by British playwright David Hare. Beside a haunting visit at Auschwitz’s gas chambers, most of the scenes consists of lawyers discussing their legal strategies. At first Lipstadt wants to bring Holocaust survivors as witness. Her legal counsel disagrees. They say that Irving, who is representing himself without legal counsel, will make a mockery of the survivors. Denial’s big draw is the acting duel between Spall and Wilkinson. Although Spall has an imposing figure, he paints Irving as a frightened bulldog (if such a thing is possible), with shaking lips and jowls, who stares back at people with the incredulous, confused look of someone who doesn’t know what hit him. Tom Wilkinson is my favorite English actor. Here he exudes warmth and likeability underneath a gruff exterior. But what is most stunning with Wilkinson is that it seemed so easy and natural that I did not see the acting. In other words: completely believable. Irving v Penguin Books Ltd is was a fascinating court case. This film is equally gripping.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Denial

Directed by:
Mick Jackson

Screenplay by:
David Hare
Based on the book by Deborah Lipstadt History on trial: My day in court with a Holocaust denier

Starring:
Rachel Weisz
Tom Wilkinson
Timothy Spall
Andrew Scott
Mark Gatiss
Alex Jennings
Caren Pistorius

110 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

La belle saison (Summertime)

Catherine Corsini’s La belle saison delves into a topic that has rarely been done as successfully as it is here. We are in 1971 and Delphine (Izïa Higelin) helps her parents at the family farm. When asked by her father if she plans to marry some day, Delphine remains silent. Delphine loves women. She has a girlfriend. But soon the girlfriend announces that she wants to marry so that she can lead a ‘normal’ life. Delphine is heartbroken, and she decides to leave her country town and go to Paris to study. She meets and gets involved with a group of feminists. Among them is Carole (Cécile de France). Delphine is instantly infatuated with her. But Carole lives with a man and to fall in love with another woman was not in her plan. Delphine seduces her, and Carole falls in love (and in lust) with Delphine. Of course, her boyfriend is angry, but, just too bad, Carole is now in love with Delphine. And then Delphine gets the sad news that her father suffered a stroke, and she has to go back to the farm to help her mother, Monique (Noémie Lvovsky). Carole is crushed, but she soon joins Delphine on the farm and start helping too. Monique is still hoping that her daughter will marry a boy from the village and give her grandchildren. Monique enjoys Carole;s company. But with the two lovers rolling on the grass, making love, totally naked in the daytime, Monique is bound to find out. And when she does, what will she do? It is difficult for heterosexuals to understand that until recently, gays and lesbians had to live a closeted life. In La belle saison, you see Delphine’s fear of being discovered and her reluctance to break with tradition. La belle saison most effectively shows us how life was for LGBT people in 1971. Of course Higelin and de France are exceptional, but the film belongs to Noémie Lvovsky. At the beginning Lvovsky plays Monique as a very unassertive, unsmiling woman whose beliefs are about to be shaken. Quiet rivers run deep. The film’s first images (the director of photography is Jeanne Lapoirie) showed tree branches and their green leaves moving in the wind. The sun illuminating the faces, the fields and the bodies was one of the films great joys The natural, organic settings completely won me over like few films this year.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

La belle saison (Summertime)

Directed by:
Catherine Corsini

Screenplay by:
Catherine Corsini
Laurette Polmanss

Starring:
Cécile de France
Izïa Higelin
Noémie Lvovsky
Kevin Azaïs
Lætitia Dosch
Benjamin Bellecour

105 min.

In French with English subtitles.

Two lovers and a bear

It is in Nunavut’s capital city of Iqaluit that Kim Nguyen filmed Two lovers and a bear. Lucy and Roman (Canada’s Tatiana Maslany, from Orphan black, and American actor Dane DeHaan) show some signs of mental instability, or at the very least, a dysfunctional past. Roman keeps having those weird encounters with a polar bear. And Lucy is stalked by a frightening old man. But they are in love. This a very isolated place, where things have to be brought in or shipped out by plane. Around them there are miles and miles of land covered in snow and ice. The preferred means of transport is the snowmobile. Lucy and Roman have an opportunity to seek a new life when she gets offered a scholarship to continue her biology studies. But Roman wants to stay. He drowns his sorrows in alcohol and threatens to kill himself until Lucy comes back to save him, and proposes that they leave town and travel on their snowmobiles. A trip without a clear destination is a crazy and potentially dangerous affair in such settings. The road is full magic realism, like that bear who keep popping up at the most inopportune moments. What Lucy and Roman come across is often disturbing. A herd of dead reindeer, their carcasses immobilized in a frozen river. At some point the two lovers seek refuge from an impending storm into an abandoned army bunker. It is like visiting a ghost town, with everything covered in dust and a very old can of (still edible) corn beef. Nicolas Bolduc’s wide lens photography is breathtaking in its beauty and its unending and scary vastness. DeHann’s Roman is an emotionally fragile young man, while Maslany’s Lucy is, on the surface anyway, stronger. The film’s last images are, like the two main actors and the landscape, simply breathtaking.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Two lovers and a bear

Directed by:
Kim Nguyen

Screenplay by:
Kim Nguyen

Starring:
Tatiana Maslany
Dane DeHaan
Kakki Peter
John Ralston
And the voice of Gordon Pinsent

96 min.