Maliglutit (Searchers)

In John Ford’s 1956 classic western The searchers, John Wayne plays a Civil war veteran trying to find his niece who was abducted by Comanche Indians. In Zacharias Kunuk and Natar Ungalaaq’s Maliglutit, the action has shifted from 1868 to 1913 in the Northern Canadian territory now known as Nunavut. It was filmed near the small community of Igloolik, with the cast of non-professional actors having to work in -48 °C, many of them suffering from frostbite as a result. The story starts in Kuanana’s igloo. Kuanana (Benjamin Kunuk) has invited Aulla (Jonah Qunaq) and his small band of thugs to his home. But Aulla is drunk and shamelessly flirts with Kuanana’s wife, Ailla (Jocelyne Immaroitok) and his daughter, Tagaq (Karen Ivalu). So he is asked to leave. The next day, while Kuanana and his oldest son are away from home, Aulla comes back to abduct the two women to use them for their sexual pleasures. Upon coming back, Kuanana finds that the rest of the family have been killed. He and his son go on a search to find the killers, avenge the dead and bring back the abducted women. Maliglutit is the latest of a series of films in Inuktitut produced by First Nation artists in Nunavut. The first film directed in 2001 by Zacharias Kunuk was Atanarjuat: The fast runner . Despite a slow beginning and an unsurprising outcome, Maliglutit is very exciting to watch. Zacharias Kunuk was a fan of John Wayne and this film is an homage of sorts to westerns. It is spectacularly shot by cinematographer Jonathan Frantz. An inspired score by Tanya Tagaq and Chris Crilly uses throat singing, electric guitars and an harmonica. The theme is definitely John Ford, but the music is more Ennio Morricone than Max Steiner.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Maliglutit (Searchers)

 

Directed by:
Zacharias Kunuk
Natar Ungalaaq

Screenplay by:
Norman Cohn
Zacharias Kunuk
Inspired by John Ford’s film The searchers

Starring:
Benjamin Kunuk
Karen Ivalu
Jonah Qunaq
Joey Sarpinek
Jocelyne Immaroitok
Joseph Uttak

95 min.

Rated 14A

In Inuktitut with English subtitles.

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I am not your negro

James Baldwin’s Remember this house was his remembrances of Civil Rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Within five years all three were assassinated. The documentary I am not your negro uses the words from the unfinished manuscript (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) as narration, film archives, photos and Baldwin being interviewed on TV to document the history of the American Civil Rights movement. On The Dick Cavett show, Cavett seems caught off guards by Baldwin’s serious tone. It’s as if he expected Baldwin to start joking. But for James Baldwin racial segregation was no laughing matter. Tired of American prejudice against blacks, Baldwin left the US in 1948 to go live in France to continue his writing career in freedom. He came back in 1957, after seeing a photo of a black teenage girl entering a desegregated school. She is surrounded be white teens who are spitting on her. That and other images are powerfully inserted in this film. The violent and racist images of the 50s and 60s (photos of white men and boys holding signs with racist slurs and swastika on them) are sometimes mixed with more recent events: the Rodney King beating (I had no idea that his beating had been so violent and intense) and more recent killings of black people by police officers and the Ferguson, Missouri protest. Once he came back in America, Baldwin started to work alongside Evers, Macolm X and MLK. We see him during the 1963 March on Washington with Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr and white actors Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston. He talked and wrote at length about anything relevant to the African-American experience. This included commenting about groundbreaking films like Guess who’s coming to dinner? and In the heat of the night, both films made in 1967 and starred Sidney Poitier. The most powerful moment in the film comes with a clip of a Technicolor Doris Day film. Whiter than white Day, all teeth glaring, is shown in all her glory while we hear her singing a syrupy song. It is juxtaposed with black-and-white photos of black people hanging from trees. Chilling effect! The fact that James Baldwin was gay is only mentioned in a FBI report, proof that Edgar J Hoover was investigating all Civil Rights activists as possible threats for the nation. This documentary is crucial and might be an eye opener for certain people who think that racism does not exist anymore or, worse still, never existed. It has to be seen.

And the Oscar went to… I am not your negro was nominated for Best documentary feature. It lost to O.J.: Made in America who is more than 7 hours long.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

I am not your negro

Directed by:
Raoul Peck

Screenplay by:
James Baldwin
Raoul Peck
from Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember this house

Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson as James Baldwin

95 min.

Weirdos

“I’m just sick of watching Canadian movies with Canadian actors in Canadian backdrops and then they exchange money and it’s American cash.”

Ottawa born actor, director, screenwriter and producer, Jay Baruchel, Mansbridge One on one, March 2017

Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion on TV about Canadian cinema. Most of the people say that English Canadian films are boring and uninteresting. But to characterize all Canadian films that way, is a disservice to the artists who work so hard to make these films. Bruce McDonald has been making films in Canada for almost thirty years. His latest film, Weirdos, is a sweet coming of age tale. It begins when 15-year-old Kit (Dylan Authors) and his girlfriend Alice (Julia Sarah Stone) decide to run away from home in Antigonish, Nova Scotia , and hitchhike to Sydney, Nova Scotia. This takes place in 1976 during the American Bicentennial weekend. Kit and Alice are pretending to be spending the night at each other’s house. But it’s not long before Dave, Kit’s dad, finds out and is understandably worried. The teens are going to Sydney for an all night beach party. And, for some reasons, Kit wants to go live with his mom. They get lucky when they are picked up by a bunch of friends, who decide to drive with them to Sydney for the party. In the car, Alice witnesses Kit getting closer to Leo (Max Humphreys), the boy sitting beside him. Later at the beach, Alice’s suspicion is confirmed: Kit is gay. After the initial shock, Alice affirms her support for her best friend. Together they go to meet Kit’s mom. Laura, (played with delicately laced hysteria by Molly Parker) it is now clear to us, is suffering from some form of mental instability, and is not the right person to raise a child. Like in most of his previous films, Bruce McDonald has a great selection of Canadian songs everywhere throughout Weirdos. With the film’s innocent outlook and the luminous black-and-white photography (Becky Parsons was the cinematographer), all you need is a songs like Last song by Edward Bear, Carry me by The Stampeders or even Snowbird by Anne Murray to feel you are watching The Andy Griffith show. It does not take much. Kit walks down a country road and one of those songs is playing, and I hear Opie Taylor’s familiar whistling. What I liked about Weirdos is the innocence. The innocence of those black-and-white TV shows, of my teenage years during the 70s. The innocence that is part of Kit’s life and that I hope he’ll never lose. Thanks to Daniel McIvor for his sensitive screenplay and to McDonald for Weirdos and for his contribution to Canadian cinema. Go see Weirdos.

To see… I caught a great interview with Canadian filmmaker Jay Baruchel on (Peter) Mansbridge One on one. Baruchel is as articulate about Canadian culture and cinema as he is on our heritage and hockey. Here is another quote from that interview: “If we were in any other country in the world, it wouldn’t even be a discussion. If someone wanted to make a movie in England that took place in England, no one would ask them why.” Here is a link to that interview:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/mansbridge-one-on-one-jay-baruchel-1.4021480

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Weirdos

Directed by:
Bruce McDonald

Screenplay by:
Daniel McIvor

Starring:
Dylan Authors
Julia Sarah Stone
Molly Parker
Allan Hawco
Cathy Jones
Rhys Bevan-John
Max Humphreys

85 min.

Rated 14A

Kedi

A Turkish documentary about cats? I had no interest in that topic, at all, zero, nada! But once you understand the importance of cats for the Turkish, and you see those beautiful animals, you can’t resist. Director Ceyda Torun filmed in Istanbul with the help of camera rigs to shoot the cats at street level. The effect is simply astounding. As one of the resident says, every cat has his own personality. We have a variety of stories either from the cats or the cat lovers. There is a cat that hunts for food all over the neighbourhood to feed her babies. Two women live with a multitude of cats. After cooking special food and feeding their cats, they go out and feed stray cats. A man who suffered a severe depression says feeding cats helped him. A restaurant owner keeps a cat to get rid of mice. A haute cuisine restaurateur has the most polite and most pampered cat. The cat only eats the finest food. One cat is called “the neighbourhood‘s psychopath” by her owner. We are told that dogs are afraid. And so jealous. We get the proof when another female cat gets close to a male cat she fancies. And that cat has such a scary, evil stare. We also witness cats fighting. But those cats are all magnificent animal. I particularly enjoyed some extreme close-ups that let us see into the souls of the cats. Cinematographers Alp Korfali and Charlie Wuppermann have to be mentioned. A beauty, for cat lovers and others as well.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Kedi

Directed by:
Ceyda Torun

80 min.

Rated General.

In Turkish with English subtitles.

The sense of an ending

The sense of an ending has the advantages of dealing in both the present and the not too distant past. When Tony Webster (the always superb Jim Broadbent) gets the news that Sarah Ford has died, and that he has inherited some money and the diary of his old pal, Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn). Sarah was Veronica‘s mother. Veronica was Tony’s first love. He only met Sarah once, so why would she bequeath him anything? And what was she doing with Adrian’s diary. It’s very intriguing to Tony. Furthermore, when he learns that Veronica refuses to hand out the diary, Tony wants to meet her. Tony Webster is now in his sixties and lives in London. His thirtysomething daughter, Susie (Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery) is pregnant and Tony is accompanying her at her prenatal classes. Tony still maintains a friendly relationship with his ex-wife, Margaret (Harriet Walter). It is through his conversations with Margaret that we will find out what happened 40 years ago. The first meeting with Veronica (Freya Mayor). Tony (played in his youth by Billy Howle) is then invited to spend a week-end with the Fords, where he meets the seductive and enigmatic Sarah Ford. With a few deft brush strokes, Emily Mortimer paints a powerful and delicate portrait of a lonely, bored, on the verge of depression, bourgeois housewife, sexy and full of life who is enjoying the fun of having Tony’s lively presence as a distraction. At school, Adrian Finn is one Tony friends. When news comes that a boy committed suicide, Adrian seems to romanticized the boy’s action. Forty years later, Tony gets to see Veronica (now played by Charlotte Rampling) again. It brings up more questions than it answers. This labyrinthine plot is from a Julian Barnes novel. It s a good screenplay that eliminates most of the confusions with its “no fuss” approach. It is helped by Indian director Ritesh Bitra who has a fine eye to the small details of daily life. It’s fun to watch good actor having a great time with this material. Rampling is making sure that Veronica remains a mystery, as she should be. Jim Broadbent and Harriet Walter have the best moments. Their playful teasing is fun to watch and credible. Although it is not a masterpiece, The sense of an ending is good and fun enough to recommend.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The sense of an ending

Directed by:
Ritesh Bitra

Screenplay by:
Nick Payne
Based on the novel by Julian Barnes

Starring:
Jim Broadbent
Harriet Walter
Billy Howle
Emily Mortimer
Charlotte Rampling
Michelle Dockery
Joe Alwyn
Freya Mayor
Matthew Goode

108 min.

Bitter harvest

The farmers, all impeccably dressed in their (accurate?) Ukrainian folkloric costumes, are joyfully working in the sun drenched golden fields while golden-haired children are playing and laughing and layers upon layers of syrupy music can be heard. As children, Yuri and Natalka were already in love. They are seen joyfully swimming in the river, impeccably dressed in their Ukrainian folkloric costumes, while more sappy music is playing. As an adult, Yuri (Max Irons) has developed an artistic taste and would like to go study art in Kiev. His father Yaroslav (Barry Pepper), and his grandfather Ivan (Terence Stamp) are both Cossack warriors. Before leaving for Kiev, Yuri marries Natalka (Samantha Barks). We are in the Soviet Ukraine in 1933 and Joseph Stalin‘s genocidal famine was killing people in most of the Soviet countries. In Ukraine, it is now called the Holodomor. It was particularly deadly, killing from 2 to 7 million Ukrainians and went virtually unmentioned for 50 years. Yuri is trying to survive in Kiev. He gets imprisoned, escapes, walks miles and miles through the forest in the cold of winter. At home, Natalka and his family have to deal with Sergei (Tamer Hassan), the local Russian villain. At the beginning, Bitter harvest almost seemed like a parody of a bad film. Well, you know what they say, “If it smells like duck…”. And although Bitter harvest gets a bit better, it never regains the credibility it lost in the first few minutes. A cliché never comes alone, and for sure the other ones were never far behind. This important topic is lost among too much bad action films antics and Cossacks-on-horse acrobatics. On top of everything, instead of filming in Ukrainian, Bitter harvest was filmed in English, with an entire cast of British accented actors and actresses. And not the best ones, I can assure you. Dreadful! I understand how important it was for the director and the screenwriter to tell this story, as they have family members that have died and suffered during the Holodomor. I just think that the victims of the Holodomor deserved a much better film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Bitter harvest

Directed by:
George Mendeluk

Screenplay by:
Richard Bachynsky Hoover

Starring:
Max Irons
Samantha Barks
Barry Pepper
Tamer Hassan
Terence Stamp

103 min.

Afterimage (Powidoki)

Afterimage is Andrzej Wajda’s last film. The Polish master died last year a few month . He was 90-year-old. This is a biopic concerned with the later life of Wladyslaw Strzeminski, an avant-garde artist who was censored by the Stalinist Soviet communist regime. In 1950, Strzeminski refused to follow the directives of the Ministry of culture and art. It was clear, either respect the socialist realist doctrine or you can’t teach. Strzeminski (Boguslaw Linda) lost his job at Lódz’s Higher school of plastic arts and also lost his teacher’s permit, and even the possibility of buying paint. At first he is the idol of his young students, but, as the story progresses, he soon finds himself alone. His young daughter, Nika (Bronislawa Zamachowska), is trying as best as she can to help him, but after a while the situation is too hopeless for her. Boguslaw Linda plays the physically demanding part (Strzeminski lost one leg and one arm during World War I) with aplomb and a passionate drive. Strzeminski is convinced about the choices he made and does not have to scream his convictions or rage about them. Linda brings exactly the right amount of minimalist acting the part needs. This is a touching last film. The artist known as Wajda can comprehend Wladyslaw Strzeminski’s plight better than anyone. He probably has lived some of the same situations and made the same sacrifice for his art. Do widzenia i dziękuję, Andrzejowi Wajdzie.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Afterimage (Powidoki)

Directed by:
Andrzej Wajda

Screenplay by:
Andrzej Mularczyk
Andrzej Wajda

Starring:
Boguslaw Linda
Aleksandra Justa
Bronislawa Zamachowska
Zofia Wichlacz

98 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Polish with English subtitles

Land of mine (Under sandet)

In Denmark during World War II, the German occupier had installed over 1.5 million landmines mostly on the Danish west coast. When the war was over, and Germany surrendered, the Danish government decided that the German prisoners of war would detonate the mines. When we first meet Sgt. Carl Leopold Rasmussen (Roland Møller), it is clear he does not like the Germans. It was a long and bloody war and Rasmussen has, in Land of mine’s first scene, a violent outburst where he beats up a young German POW to a pulp. Rasmussen is put in charge of a small group of young Germans POW. Among them is Sebastian Schumann (Louis Hofmann) and twin brothers, Ernst and Werner Lessner (Emil and Oskar Belton). At first Rasmussen is not very sympathetic towards them. But when he was assigned, he had no idea that they would be so young. They are teenagers, kids really. Add to the difficult pressures those boys are under the fact that they do not get any food sent to them. As he sees them getting sick, Rasmussen makes a decision to bring them food, even if that means getting in trouble with his superior, Lt. Ebbe (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard). Based on a little-told story, Land of mine’s director Martin Zandvliet keeps the tension to unbearable levels. Any moment the audience may see a mine blow up and one of the boys killed or badly injured. Land of mine is the most tense film I’ve seen in a while. Møller and Hofmann have great chemistry together. But the excellent acting from the young cast should also be mentioned. This is not an easy film to watch, for sure, but Land of mine is a worthy film that should be seen.

And the Oscar went to… Land of mine lost the Best foreign language film to Asghar FarhadI’s The salesman from Iran.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Land of mine (Under sandet)

Directed by:
Martin Zandvliet

Screenplay by:
Martin Zandvliet

Starring:
Roland Møller
Louis Hofmann
Joel Basman
Mikkel Boe Følsgaard
Oskar Bökelmann

100 min.

In Danish and German with English subtitles.