Chocolat

Chocolat is the biographical story of one of the earliest successful black entertainers in modern France. The clown Chocolat (real name Rafael Padilla) was very successful at the end of the 19th century. In the film we see Rafael/Chocolat (popular French actor Omar Sy) performing as a stereotypical cannibal named Kananga, complete with tiger skins and bones and teeth necklace, as a freak show in a second-rate circus in 1897. Then white clown George Foottit (circus performer James Thierrée, the grandson of silent film star Charlie Chaplin, and the great-grandson of American playwright Eugene O‘Neill) sees Kananga and has a brilliant flash. He wants to pair the taciturn, authoritative white clown and the gentler and comic Auguste clown. They become a hit and move to Paris to the more renown Nouveau cirque. There are obvious racist elements in their acts. It shows Chocolat being kicked or slapped and acting like a stupid fool. Several times Chocolat tries in vain to fight that stereotype as best he can. Chocolat spends his money gambling, drinking and womanizing. We get flashbacks to his childhood as a slave in Cuba and when he escapes to come to France. Because he does not have any papers he gets arrested, even if he is a famous entertainer, and sent to prison where he is tortured. Finally released, he returns to the circus. He meets Marie, a nurse, and they falls in love. As for Foottit, the film does not tell us much about his private life, but at some point the goes into a gay bar (My research shows that he was married with four kids. Nothing about a double life as a gay man). Most of the time he seems unhappy about something. Despite great performances by the two main actors and production values of the highest qualities, Chocolat suffers from the fictionalization of events. Why? Because reality would be boring, and the filmmakers are aiming for a bigger dramatic punch. Better to have a falsity you can control, than a reality that would be too controlling. So, very few details from Chocolat and Foottit’s lives remain. But it is still a good juicy part for Omar Sy, who impressively matches Thierrée’s choreography. They have obviously carefully studied Chocolat and Foottit’s classic routines. Good job.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Chocolat

Directed by:
Roschdy Zem

Screenplay by:
Roschdy Zem
Cyril Gely
Olivier Gorce
Gérard Noiriel
Based on Chocolat, clown nègre. L’histoire oubliée
du premier artiste noir de
la scène française by Gérard Noiriel

Starring:
Omar Sy
James Thierée
Clotide Hesme
Olivier Gourmet
Frédéric Pierrot
Noémie Lvovsky
Alice de Lencquesaing

119 min.

Rated 14A

In French with English subtitles.

Elle

Paul Verhoeven’s Elle. It ain’t no picnic in the park, or anywhere else for that matter. The film starts during a rape. We don’t see it, but we hear the sound of broken dishes, while a cat is witnessing his mistress, Michèle (Isabelle Huppert) being raped in her home by a ski-masked intruder. Then we see Michèle on the floor, her breast exposed and the intruder leaving. And that is it. Shockingly, there is no call to the police or to friends or family members. She does not seem affected at all. She picks up the broken dishes and throw her dress in the garbage can, but she does not cry. The next day Michèle is back at work (a video game company she founded) and does not mention the assault. That bruise on her face? It’s a fall. For a while, David Birke’s screenplay is an exploration of sexism and misogyny in French society. There is in the dialogue a double standard and a more aggressive tone and harsher words are used to speak about women, and to talk to women by men, but by women well as. Video games are replete with images of violence and assault, and Michèle herself is being the target of aggressive behaviour by male employees. Then the film settles into a more traditional thriller, although it is the furthest thing from conventional. Dinning at a restaurant with friends and her ex-husband (Charles Berling), Michèle opens up about the rape. They are supportive, of course, but they wonder why she did not report it. We later find out that when she was a child, her father went on a mass murder spree and killed 27 people. The media frenzy that followed, and still occasionally pops up again, wrongly labelled her a murderer. Understandably, she wants to avoid to attract attention her way again at any cost. So life goes on, along with her difficult relationships with her adult son (Jonas Bloquet) and her cougar of a mother (Judith Magre) and a secret affair with Robert (Christian Berkel), the husband of her best friend and colleague Anna (Anne Cosigny). She gets along well with her new Catholic neighbours, Patrick and Rebecca (Laurent Lafitte and Virginie Efira), and invites them for Christmas dinner. At work Michèle is sent a CGI video of a monster raping her. She wants to find out who did that. The attacker comes back and tries to rape her again. But this time she maims him and uncovers his identity. And now that she knows who he is she still does not report the attack. Instead, she sees him again, and again. I can’t tell you more. The end of the film brought more unanswered questions. Elle is a mind-boggling film for many a reasons. The topic of rape and sexual assault is not usually approached in as casual a manner as it is here. Huppert does not play a victim, because Michèle will not let herself be a victim. I know it is not realistic, but Michèle, as a child, has lived a difficult experience that has made her tougher. And Michèle is not the easiest person to be around. Huppert is totally convincing in a part that would scare off many actresses. She peppers her performance with a wry sense of humour and a deft comic timing. The supporting cast is good, but it is her film. And Verhoven directs without a fuss or pyrotechnics, but with complete control and the precisions of a scalpel. I liked it much more than I expected. But not for everyone.

You should know… Paul Verhoven wanted to make the film in the USA. He proposed the part to Nicole Kidman, Diane Lane, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet. They all turned it down. Marion Cotillard, Sharon Stone and Carice Van Houten (from Verhoven‘s 2006 Dutch film Black book) were also mentioned. Fearless Huppert accepted the opportunity to work with him.

And the Oscar went to… The favorite was Emma Stone for La la land. And Emma Stone won.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Elle

Directed by:
Paul Verhoven

Screenplay by:
David Birke
Based on Oh by Philippe Djian

Starring:
Isabelle Huppert
Christian Berkel
Anne Cosigny
Virginie Efira
Laurent Lafitte
Charles Berling
Judith Magre
Jonas Bloquet

130 min.

Rated 18A

In French with English subtitles.

The carer

Let’s see if that sounds familiar to you. A cantankerous elderly man refuses to accept the personal care providers that his family have hired. Until the right person comes along and touches his heart (insert two or more fingers down the throat to induce vomiting). I’ve seen that type of stories, in plays or films, so many times that it is not funny anymore. There are variations. In some case it is an elderly woman, the hired help can be a chauffeur, a nurse, a security guard, and so forth. In The carer it is Sir Michael Gifford (Brian Cox), a retired Shakespearean actor with Parkinson’s disease. His daughter, Sophia (Emilia Fox) and his lover, Milly (Anna Chancellor) are desperate, until they get young Hungarian Dorottya (Coco König). If she’s in awe of Sir Michael, it’s because she wants to become an actress and is planning an audition for entry at a drama school. When Sir Michael gets the news that he will receive a lifetime achievement award, Sophia refuses to let him attend and fires Dorottya. The biggest problem with The carer, beside the clichéd screenplay, is König’s lame Dorottya. The character is a bore. She is so unexceptional, we wonder what he sees in her. They recite Shakespeare together. Oh wow! And it happens too quickly and easily. Whatever the filmmakers saw in König, has not transposed itself on the screen very well. But in a rare leading part, Brian Cox gets to work those Shakespearean muscles and do scatological jokes about incontinence within the same film, sometimes in the same scene. The director inserts old film and TV Brian Cox archives as if they were Sir Michael ’s. His acceptance speech is a grand affair, he huffs and puffs (How‘s that for clichés?) and goes off stage almost howling at the moon. And Cox hams every bit of it, as if he’ll never get another leading part again. And, judging by the film, he might not. The carer is beneath his talent.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The carer

Directed by:
János Edelényi

Screenplay by:
Gilbert Adair
János Edelényi
Tom Kinninmont

Starring:
Brian Cox
Coco König
Emilia Fox
Anna Chancellor

89 min.

Rated 14A

Un petit boulot (Odd job)

Le plaisir croît avec l’usage

Popular expression

You can call me a cynic. Go ahead , I don’t care. So you can believe me when I tell you that I have fun watching black comedies like Un petit boulot. Jacques (Romain Duris) finds himself unemployed when the factory where he was working closes. Such is the reality in many small cities around the world. As a result, Jacques is crippled with debts and his wife leaves him, and there is no jobs in sight. That’s when local bookie Gardot (Michel Blanc) comes in. Gardot proposes that Jacques kill his wife. In return Gardot will clear the gambling debt Jacques has amassed. Jacques agrees to kill Gardot’s wife, but when the job is done, Jacques finds another person to eliminate. Or Gardot comes with more hit jobs for Jacques. Michel Blanc co-authored the screenplay, and gave himself a good portion of the funny lines. Blanc and Duris are very good, but Alex Lutz is better in a small part. He plays a store manager from hell. Lutz is so good being an a-hole that we feel like kicking him in the crotch. The cynic in me could have enjoyed it all if they did not mess it up with a thing called romanticism. But I still had a good time.

You should know… Director Pascal Chaumeil (1961 – 2015) died from cancer while in post-production. Un petit boulot was his fourth film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Un petit boulot (Odd job)

 

Directed by:

Pascal Chaumeil

 

Screenplay by:

Franz Bartelt

Michel Blanc

Based on the novel Since the layoffs by Iain Levison

 

Starring:

Romain Duris

Michel Blanc

Alice Belaïdi

Gustave Kerven

Alex Lutz

 

100 min.

Rated 14A

In French with English subtitles.

 

Moonlight

Moonlight is an extraordinary film experience about the life of an African-American gay man from boyhood to adulthood. In the blaring, blinding Miami sun, a boy called Little (Alex Hibbert) is hiding from the boys who are harassing him. Heaving chest and panicky eyes tells the story of a boy who has been repetitively bullied. Moonlight tell his story in three segments. The first is called “Little”. Little soon meets Juan (Mahershala Ali). Juan is a crack dealer, but a man with a kind and comforting attitude for the boy. When Juan teaches Little how to swim, it feels like a baptism. Juan takes Little (who’s real name is Chiron) to his home to meet his girlfriend Teresa (singer Janelle Monaë). He needs them as positive forces, like the scene where a distraught Little asks the meaning of a gay slur that’s been obviously thrown at him by his bullies. Words matter. Beside the bullying, Little has a mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), who is falling deeper and deeper into drug addiction. Basically, Little is left to fend for himself, but when she’s at home all that Paula manages to do is make Little feels that he is a burden on her. Little’s only friend at school is Kevin (Jaden Piner), another person that Little can be thankful about. The second segment is called “Chiron”. Chiron is now 16 (and now played by Ashton Sanders). The harassment has increased, and so has his mother’s addiction. When Paula wants him out of the house, Teresa is still around to offer him a place to sleep. But Paula steals the money that Teresa gave to Chiron. And Kevin and Chiron are still friends (teenage Kevin is played by Jharrel Jerome). One early morning on the beach, Kevin kisses Chiron and then masturbates him. Back at school, the violence and the harassment escalates when the bullies pressures and threatens Kevin into hitting Chiron. The third segment fast forwards 10 years and is called “Black”. After time spent in jail, adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) has now muscled up and is now a drug dealer. He now goes by the name Black (That‘s what Kevin used to call him.) and lives in Atlanta. Kevin (André Holland) calls him up one night. When Black goes to Miami to reunite with his friend, you feel the longing and the hurt in their conversation. A touching and heartbreaking finale. This is one of the best ensemble cast I have ever seen, they are all astounding. The entire cast is black. Moonlight is such a beautiful, hard and yes, often desperate film. It is as harsh as the blinding sun. But Chiron’s life has to be told, especially these days. I am now at a loss for words. The only thing left to say is: Moonlight is perfect. Direction: perfect. Screenplay: perfect. So far the best film this year.

And the Oscar went to, well, maybe… You probably heard by now about the major screw up with the Best picture envelope. My comment is that, despite that mistake, Moonlight is a worthy Best picture winner. It can be proud of its African-American cast. It is the only LGBTQ themed Best picture winner. Furthermore, Supporting actor winner Mahershala Ali is the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. Barry Jenkins and Tarell McCraney also won for their powerful screenplay. Bravo!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Moonlight

 

Directed by:

Barry Jenkins

 

Screenplay by:

Barry Jenkins

Tarell McCraney

Based on McCraney’s unproduced play

In moonlight black boys look blue

 

Starring:

Alex Hibbert

Ashton Sanders

Trevante Rhodes

Jaden Piner

Jharrel Jerome

André Holland

Naomie Harris

Janelle Monáe

Mahershala Ali

 

110 min.

Rated 14A

 

The handmaiden (Ah-Ga-ssi)

A lavish erotic lesbian epic mystery. How’s that for a description? Adapted from Sarah Waters’s novel Fingersmith, with the Victorian England settings transposed to Colonial-era Korea, The handmaiden is at times so extreme and big that it threatens to become ridiculous. And that’s the point… I think. In Japanese occupied Korea, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), a pale skinned Japanese heiress hires new Korean handmaiden Tamako (Kim Tae-ri). Tamako’s real name is Sook-hee, a pickpocket whose entire family are con artists. Near the beginning Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) arrives and makes a proposal to Tamako to spy on Hideko so he can seduce her and get some of her money. Lady Hideko has problems of her own. She has to deal with a sadistic and obsessive uncle who vows to marry her. The Count’s plan changes course when the Lady and Tamako become lovers. Like the novel, the story is structured in three books, each from another perspective, completely reassessing what we thought we knew and what was happening. The sex scenes between Lady Hideko and Tamako are quite graphic without being pornographic. I would call it “erotic”. Production values are of the highest order. The actors are quite good, with special mention to Ha Jung-woo, underplaying Count Fujiwara’s cockiness so much that it becomes a cartoon character. The handmaiden is very much like a cartoon. The point is not take what is happening on the screen quite so seriously, and to have fun… I think.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The handmaiden (Ah-Ga-ssi)

Directed by:

Park Chan-wook

Screenplay by:

Chung Seo-Kyung

Park Chan-wook

Based on the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Starring:

Kim Min-hee

Kim Tae-ri

Ha Jung-woo

Jo Jin-woong

Kim Hae-suk

Moon So-ri

145 min.

Rated 18A

In Korean and Japanese with English subtitles.

 

 

The eagle huntress

In The eagle huntress we see what happens when girls are given the same opportunities and encouragements that boys are getting. This documentary follows 13-year-old Aisholpan, a Kazakh girl from Mongolia. Aisholpan dreams of becoming the first-ever Eagle Huntress. In the traditional Altai region, it is unseemly for a teenage girl to help her father at the farm and not her mother in the home. But Aisholpan’s parents understand and love her. We are wowed by her father’s pronunciation of equalities between boys and girls. If Aisholpan wants to be an eagle huntress, he’s going to help her become one. They are hoping that she will be able to be a contestant at the next competition. Meanwhile we get the opinions from a pompous bunch of elders in the eagle hunters community, who bitterly say that a girl has no place being an eagle hunter. At the farm Aisholpan has to prepare for competition. First, she has to climb a steep mountain to find an infant eagle and take it from the nest while its mother is gone. Director Otto Bell knows how to edit for maximum suspense. Here he shows the eagle/mother flying nearby to covey immediate danger. Then Aisholpan has to feed the bird to adulthood, and train it to catch a prey and fly on its master’s gloved hand while she’s riding on a horse. After competition is over, Aisholpan has to prove her worth as an eagle huntress by going in the snow cover wilderness with her eagle and hunt fox. It feels like some of the events we see have re-enacted. The images are too properly framed for most of the film, and the improbable presence of a camera crew while they were training or doing preparation. Still, it is worth seeing for its positive outlook. We need that right now. And cinematographer Simon Niblett’s stunningly grandiose images of Mongolia, are alone worth the price of admission. To see with your teenage children, especially your daughter.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The eagle huntress

Directed by:

Otto Bell

English narration by Daisy Ridley

87 min.

Rated General.

In English and Kazakh with English subtitles.

 

 

Fire at sea (Fuocammare)

At the beginning of Gianfranco Rosi’s documentary Fire at sea, we ear a chilling distress call . One man urgently pleads to a navy dispatcher to come to save their sinking boat.

Dispatcher: How many people? How many people?

Caller: Hundred-and-fifty.

Dispatcher: Your position.

Caller: Please, we beg you, please help us.

Dispatcher: Your position. […] Your position. (No answer. Silence.)

We later learn that this boat and the 150 migrants aboard were never found. Fire at sea was filmed on and around the Italian island of Lampedusa. The island is situated between Sicily and the coast of North Africa. That is why Lampedusa has become a landing point for migrants coming from Syria, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and others. Throughout the film we witness small boats full of people being rescued at sea. Some are so dehydrated that they are barely alive. We see Nigerians holding a prayer chants session about their release from the grips of ISIS. Others play a game of soccer. Unusually, Rosi cuts back and forth between those migrants, and the daily lives of several inhabitants of Lampedusa. The film centres on Samuele, a talkative 12-year-old boy, and his family. Fire at sea is observational, without narrations or interviews. It shows Samuele making himself a slingshot, shooting targets with a friend. He goes fishing with his grandfather, and gets seasick. We also meet Samuele’s grandmother, who likes to cook as she listen to her favourite songs on the radio. Doctor Pietro Bartolo, who treats some of the migrants when they arrive, has seen many casualties. I was troubled by the human suffering Rosi shows us. And I was also touched by young Samuele. Although Fire at sea is a nonlinear documentary, Rosi still manages to establish a captivating rhythm and make it haunting and compelling. Not to be ignored are the beautiful images of Lampedusa, provided by Rosi, who acts as his own cinematographer.

And the Oscar went to… Fire at sea lost the Documentary (Feature) to the 7 hours O.J : Made in America.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Fire at sea (Fuocammare)

Directed by:

Gianfranco Rosi

Screenplay by:

Gianfranco Rosi

Carla Cattani

109 min.

Rated Parental Guidance.

In English and Italian with English subtitles.

Unless

Carol Shields’ final novel is about forty-something writer Reta Winters (Catherine Keener), her husband Tom (Matt Craven) and what happens when they learn that their eldest daughter is now homeless. They find Norah (Hannah Gross) sitting on the sidewalk of a Toronto street wrapped in a blanket with a sign that says’Goodness’. Something must have snapped because Norah does not responds to her parents and her sisters’ questions, and just stares into space or at them quizzically with a faint smile. They are unable to convince Norah to follow them or to seek help. But the novel (my research showed as I have not read it) is as much about Reta’s reflections on her writing than the fate of her daughter. Not much of that here, except a few inconsequential scenes with journalists or agents. It’s as if they belonged in another film. Shields also explores the important relationship between Reta and her mentor, a French Holocaust survivor and poet (German acting legend Hanna Schygulla). It is unfortunate that in her only scene, the character comes off as a bore. So what really happened to Norah? The moment when we are finally showed is a dud. It tries to be spectacular and meaningful, but with god awful special effects, all it manages to be is corny and “What was that?”. Although there is good acting from Keener and Martha Henry, who plays Reta’s mother-in-law, they deserve better. And so does Carol Shields.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Unless

Directed by:

Alan Gilsenan

Screenplay by:

Alan Gilsenan

Based on the novel by Carol Shields

 

Starring:

Catherine Keener

Hannah Gross

Matt Craven

Chloe Rose

Abigail Winter

Martha Henry

Hanna Schygulla

Benjamin Ayres

 

93 min.

 

Rated 14A