The salesman (Forushande)

Asghar FarhadI’s The salesman is a modern-day tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions. The main characters are not Kings and Queens, like in a Shakespeare drama, but ordinary Iranians. To make matters clear, FarhadI has husband and wife Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidootsi) acting in a local production of Arthur Miller’s modern tragedy Death of a salesman. In fact, their life has started to take a downward spiral. They had to flee their apartment building in the middle of the night because it was literally crumbling (the windows were starting to crack). They rent an apartment from a friend who hides the fact that the previous tenant was a prostitute. One day, while in the shower, Rana is attacked by a client of the prostitute. Emad feels totally helpless and angry when he sees his wife so traumatized by the violent attack, and he is consumed with finding the man who did such a terrible assault on her. Just as he did with his two previous films, A separation and Le passé, FarhadI proves to be a masterful storyteller. The screenplay is constantly shifting to different points of view to allow for the maximum dramatic impact and tensions. Likewise, Rana who is understandably emotionally distraught after her ordeal, becomes, by the film’s conclusion, the stronger of the two characters and the moral compass of the film. Both Hosseini and Alidootsi are subtle and minimalist in their approach to acting. There is not an ounce of over acting between them. If FarhadI is a tad less focused here than in his two previous films, he makes up for it with a strong sense of drama and tragedy.

And the Oscar went to… The salesman is Iran’s entry as Foreign language film. It won. But Asghar FarhadI decided to boycott the ceremony when Donald Trump issued a Muslim travel ban involving seven Muslim countries, including Iran. To accept the award FarhadI sent two prominent Iranian-Americans: One of the few female astronaut Anousheh Ansari, and former NASA executive Firouz Naderi. Ansari read a statement from FarhadI. “My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the US.” It was the political statement with the strongest impact.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The salesman (Forushande)

Directed by:
Asghar FarhadI

Screenplay by:
Asghar FarhadI

Starring:
Taraneh Alidoosti
Shahab Hosseini
Babak Karimi
Farid Sajjadi Hosseini
Mina Sadati

125 min.

In Persian with English subtitles.

Oscar nominated animated shorts 2016

I found this year’s Oscar nominated animated shorts to be a mixed bag. Some are great, others are OK. And I found one of them dreadful. Even so, it still interested to see and judge for ourself. Like in previous years, the five nominated films are not long enough for a feature-length program. Three films have been added, two of them were among the ten films on Oscar’s short list but did not make the final pick as a nominee. So here it goes.

Borrowed time (Nominee)
An old West sheriff on the decline revisits the past atop a mountain. Strong contender. Computer animation. 7 min.

Pearl (Nominee)
A girl and her dad and their car. Later on she gets to drive the car, own it and live her own life. Well drawn but short on plot. 6 min.

Piper (Winner)
Canadian director Alan Barillaro’s Pixar/Disney amazing computer animated short a cute baby shorebirds trying to find food on a beach. At 6 minutes it is too short. More please!

Blind Vaysha (Nominee)
A girl who sees the past with one eye and the future with the other. She never sees the present. The usual from Canada’s National film board. A bit boring. 8 min.

The head vanishes (Among the ten films on Oscar’s short list)
An elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer and dementia is walking around without a head. A Canada (National film board) and France co-production. 9 min.

Asteria
Two astronauts are ready to plant a flag on a newly discovered planet. But some other species got there before them, Much fun. 5 min.

Once upon a line (Among the ten films on Oscar’s short list)
A man who lives in a black line world comes across a lady from a pink line universe. Chaos follows. Clever. 7 min.

(Please note, this is the last film in the programme and is NOT suitable for young children. A warning card will advise parents prior to the start of this short.)

Pear cider and cigarettes (Nominee)
Canadian animator Robert Valley’s tale of his alcoholic friend Techno Stypes and his health problems. At 35 minutes it is too long and repetitive. Simply dreadful. Does not belong among the nominees.

And the Oscar went to … I predicted that Piper would win, and it did. Sometimes you get it, others you don’t.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Oscar nominated animated shorts 2016

Directed by:
Theodore Ushev
Andrew Coats
Lou Hamou-Lhadj
Patrick Osborne
Alan Barillaro
Franck Dion
Lola Grand
Alexandre Arpentinier
Mathieu Blanchys
Tristan Lamarca
Thomas Lemaille
Jean-Charles Lusseau
Alicja Jasina
Robert Valley

86 min.

Rated 14A

Oscar nominated Live Action shorts 2016

Like every year the Oscar nominated Live Action shorts 2016 showcase offers short fiction films on a variety of topics. Really the best in international films. Some years from now, some of those short film directors may have a significant career in feature films. Those five films are all excellent.

From Hungary Mindenki (Sing). Zsófi is the new girl at school and dreams of joining the choir. But she is heartbroken by what the teacher is asking her to do. In Hungarian with English subtitles. 25 min.

From Denmark Silent nights. A volunteer at a Danish homeless shelter has an affair with a Ghanian refugee. They are surrounded by racism. In English, Danish and Ghanian dialect with English subtitles. 30 min.

El corredor (Timecode) from Spain. A clever comedy about two parking-garage security guards and dancing at work. In Spanish with English subtitles. 15 min.

France’s Ennemis interieurs (Enemies within). An Algerian-French man has to through a difficult interrogation and prodding questions by a young inspector in order to obtain a passport. In French with English subtitles. 28 min.

La femme et la TGV (The railroad lady) is from Switzerland. Stars Jane Birkin as an elderly woman who receives an unexpected letter from a high-speed train engineer. In French with English subtitles. 30 min.

And the Oscar went to… Sing won. All the nominees were good, so it was a good choice.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Oscar nominated Live Action shorts 2016

Directed by:
Selim Aazzazi
Aske Bang
Kristof Deak
Juanjo Giménez Peña
Timo von Gunten

132 min.

Rated 14A

Paterson

“Rigor of beauty is the quest. But how will you find beauty
when it is locked in the mind past all remonstrance?”

William Carlos Williams, Paterson

The latest Jim Jarmusch film, Paterson, is a lovely film about the joy and love of poetry. The film is about bus driver and amateur poet Paterson (Adam Driver) who lives with his girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and her taciturn bulldog, Marvin (Nellie), in Paterson, New Jersey. A week in the life of Paterson. The same repeated routine everyday. Waking up at the same time with Laura asleep next to him, eats Cheerios for breakfast, walks to work taking the same streets, everyday his supervisor is unhappy about something in his life. Always. But not Paterson. Paterson is happy. Seems to be. Paterson writes poems in his little notebook. As you hear the poems read aloud, we see the words appearing on the screen. On the bus, Paterson overhears conversations between passengers. One of them is about that time Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was arrested and charged of a shootout at a bar on Lafayette street. At lunch, Paterson sits near the Great Falls of the Passaic river and writes some more. During his day, Paterson sees a great number of twins. At home, Laura is in a constant state of artistic reinvention and designing. She likes to paint on curtains, directly on the material, on the floors, the walls, the dress that she is wearing. She likes to paint circles, like doughnuts or Cheerios, almost always black on white, white on black. It’s all over the apartment. Black dots or circles. She wants to become a country singer and plans to sell cup cakes (black with black and white icing!) at a week-end fair. In the evening, Paterson takes Marvin for his walk. Marvin takes Paterson to the local tavern. Paterson has a nice rapport with the owner, Doc (Barry Shabaka Henly). Paterson also meets a lot of interesting characters. Jim Jarmusch’s probable inspiration is William Carlos Williams, more precisely Carlos Williams epic poem Paterson. In the film we often see a book of his poem. I slowly got immersed into the rhythm of this film. At times Paterson almost feels like you are in a Fellini film (the twins), but I also saw some images that evokes other directors (Hitchcock?) Full of surrealist details, Paterson is greatly helped by production designer Mark Friedberg and Catherine George’s costumes. Frederick Elmes’s photography never draws attention, but the cinematographer has to walk a fine line between the daily life of the main character and the purity of the poetry. He must not overly underline what is already beautiful. Adam Driver is an appealing actor playing an appealing character. It could be bland or boring, but somehow Driver makes it compelling, I think, because he includes us in, like a joke that nobody else would get. Along for the fun ride is kooky Golshifteh Farahani who will get most of the laugh. That’s when Driver and Farahani are not totally upstaged by Nellie.

You should know… The poems written by Paterson are actually by American poet Ron Padgett. Jarmusch chose four of Padgett poems and commissioned three new poems to be used in the film. Water falls, a poem attributed to another character was penned by Jarmusch himself. The winner of the Cannes film festival Palm dog award was Nellie. Nellie had died a few months before the awards. It was the first time that the Palm dog was posthumously awarded.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Paterson

Directed by:

Jim Jarmusch

Screenplay by:
Jim Jarmusch

Starring:
Adam Driver
Golshifteh Farahani
Barry Shabaka Henly
Cliff Smith
Nagase Masatoshi

118 min.

Rated 14A

All governments lie: Truth, deception, and the spirit of I.F. Stone

“I believe very deeply in freedom of the press and you can’t fulfill your function unless you’re free.”

I.F. Stone

 

The first clip we see is the now famous (or is it infamous?) Richard Nixon (or should it be Tricky Dicky?) “I am not a crook!”. It is followed by US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s weapons of mass destruction lie that sent the US to war with Iraq. But All governments lie: Truth, deception, and the spirit of I.F. Stone is mostly concerned about the state of American journalism as influenced by I.F. Stone. In 1950, Stone was blacklisted and unable to find work. He decided to publish his own independent newsletter. In I. F. Stone’s Weekly he publicly challenged McCarthyism and racial discrimination, he was not afraid to question many politicians and was an early critic of the Vietnam war. There are today independent journalists who, like I.F. Stone was, are working outside of the mainstream media (think FOX, CNN, MSNBC and all network news ) who, the film argues, are afraid to ask the hard questions. People like controversial essayist Matt Taibbi, Democracy now! host Amy Goodman and Cenk Uygur from The young Turks are interviewed and the cameras are allowed to follow them as they are working. To speak about I.F. Stone’s influence, director Fred Peabody has even talked to Ralph Nader, Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky. The film is interesting enough, but one wonders if a true biographical documentary on Stone and his writings would not be better. It is also a shame, or bad timing, that All governments lie arrives at the exact moment that a war against the medias is taking hold in the US. Although we see some of Trump’s fabrications during the campaign, what is happening right now will have to wait to be the subject of another film. As it stands, All governments lie is still compelling.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

All governments lie: Truth, deception, and the spirit of I.F. Stone

Directed by:
Fred Peabody

Based on “All governments lie”: The life and times of rebel journalist I. F. Stone by Myra MacPherson

92 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Toni Erdmann

Initially, Toni Erdmann did not seem to be a film that would appeal to me. But as the film and its characters progressed, I came to like it and occasionally found it very funny. Peter Simonischek stars as Winfried Conradi. Winfried is an elderly music teacher who likes to play pranks on his friends and family. He especially likes to wear makeup and pretend to be someone else. Or the simple act of wearing false teeth is enough for him. He always carries them in his shirt pockets. But when Winfried’s daughter visits him, it is clear that they don’t exactly connect very well. Ines (Sandra Hüller) is a serious outsourcing consultant. Winfried is wearing zombie makeup and, of course, Ines is looking at him as if he was an alien. After she goes back to work, Winfried surprises her in the lobby of the building where she works. He is wearing those false teeth and sunglasses. After the initial shock, Ines invites her dad at a reception and they spend a few days together. But it does not go well. She spends her time on the phone or working, and all he thinks about is making jokes at the most inopportune moment. He soon leaves. But it is clear they love each other. So Winfried is going to call on his favourite persona, Toni Erdmann, to teach Ines how to let loose, let go and relax a bit. I won’t tell you more, except that it is extremely funny, surprising and unconventional. The force of the film is the screenplay and the two main actors. From the start Peter Simonischek creates a character that has the likeness of a sad clown, unafraid to dare the audience, as he does with Ines, to look inward. Hüller’s Ines is an awkward , unhappy woman who wears her heart on her sleeves. In the third act, Hüller surprises us by taking over the film. And the Maren Ade screenplay has a feeling of a comedy of errors of Shakespearean proportion without being too pretentious. At 2 hours and 42 minutes it is a bit long. But we need that build-up. Impressive.

And the Oscar went to… Toni Erdmann lost Best foreign language film to The salesman from Iran.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Toni Erdmann

Directed by:
Maren Ade

Screenplay by:
Maren Ade

Starring:
Sandra Hüller
Peter Simonischek
Michael Wittenborn
Thomas Loibl
Trystan Pütter
Hadewych Minis

162 min.

Rated 14A

In German, English and Romanian with English subtitles.

The red turtle

The red turtle is one of the best animated feature film I’ve ever seen. It is certainly the most beautiful. It tells the tale of a man shipwrecked on a deserted island. After exploring the island, the man realizes that he is indeed alone, except for a small colony of crabs, that acts as the film’s comic relief. The man is comfortably settled into a routine of days at the beach, and sleeping under the stars, on a diet of coconuts and other exotic fruits. After a while though, he feels the desire to rejoin civilisation. He build a raft from bamboo trees and sails away from the island. But he doesn’t go very far because the raft is suddenly attacked and destroyed by an unseen underwater animal. The man does not know what animal that would be. He swims back to the island. Later, he builds a second raft, and again it is destroyed. The man still has no clue what it could be, but it is obvious that something won’t let him leave the island. On his third try he comes face to face with an enormous red turtle just before it breaks the third raft. To tell you more would spoil the film. Let’s just say that I would describe The red turtle as an animated romantic fantasy. Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit’s first feature was funded by Japanese producers. The red turtle shows eastern and western influences, using both hand-drawn and computer-drawn animation techniques. Quiet and poetic one moment (it has no dialogue, except for the occasional international “Hey!”), The red turtle can suddenly become spectacularly powerful. The same could be said about the work of soundmen Sébastien Marquilly, Matthieu Michaux and Florian Fabre, and a magnificent score by Laurent Perez del Mar. Dudok de Wit’s drawings are visually stunning. Images of the sea (waves, underwater sequences and the dangers of the ocean) are particularly effective. Simply breathtaking and jaw-droppingly beautiful. Not to be missed.

And the Oscar went to… Best animated feature film went to Zootopia. Unfortunate.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The red turtle

Directed by:
Michael Dudok de Wit

Screenplay by:
Michael Dudok de Wit
Pascale Ferran

80 min.

Rated General.