Frantz

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon coeur
D’une langueur
Monotone.

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l’heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure

Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m’emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.

Paul Verlaine, Chanson d’automne, 1866

François Ozon’s Frantz is a rare film that touch you more by what is unsaid than by the what is onscreen. In 1919, Anna (beautiful and talented Paula Beer), a young German woman, visits the grave of her dead fiancé. Frantz was killed during the war, and Anna still lives with his parents. Doktor Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stötzner) and his wife Magda (Marie Gruber) are very fond of Anna and would like her to find another suitor. But she misses him too much, and, like the Hoffmeisters, is still in mourning. One day Anna learns that a strange young man has been visiting the grave and leaving flowers. When she meets him she finds out that he’s French and that he wants to meet Frantz‘s parents. But that’s easier said than done. After a bloody war, there are a lot of anti-French sentiments in Germany. Not surprisingly Hans and Madga are reluctant to talk to him. But they do. His name is Adrien Rivoire (Pierre Niney) and, he claims, he met Frantz in Paris before the war where they were both studying. He is overcome by emotions and starts to cry when he tells Anna and the Hoffmeisters how close he and Frantz were. In a flashback we see Frantz and Adrien visiting the Louvre. For that sequence, Ozon shifts from black & white to color. It is an idealized version of what happened. As if Adrien had romanticized the memories. Those “memories” of Frantz are painted with small touches of homoeroticism. Whatever reluctance the Hoffmeisters had is put aside as Adrien wins their affections. A scene where Adrien plays music on Frantz’s violin, also goes from black & white to color. Now it is Frantz’s parents who are trying to live through an idealized and colorized world, a world where everything is right again. Every characters in Frantz is living a lie, or rather a in make-believe world, the construct of their own fears and desires. This is at a their time when romantic ideas and ideals were the norms. They covered the truths to feel better, often without realizing it. Or they did, as Anna does, to avoid causing pain to their loved ones. And Adrien? You have to read between the lines to decipher Adrien’s truths. Every one will have their own interpretation. Pierre Niney is having fun playing a romantic, delicate young man who may also be a liar. Or is he telling the truth? We can never tell. That’s what I love about Frantz. It is a complex quagmire of unconscious desires. Frantz is a masterpiece.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Frantz

Directed by:
François Ozon

Screenplay by:
François Ozon
Philippe Piazzo
Based on Maurice Rostand’s play L’homme que j’ai tué and the Ernst Lubitsch film Broken lullaby

Starring:
Paula Beer
Pierre Niney
Ernst Stötzner
Marie Gruber
Anton von Lucke

113 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In German and French with English subtitles.

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Citizen Jane: Battle for the city

One of the great things about documentaries is that they present worlds and places you never imagined and extraordinary people doing the unimaginable. Citizen Jane: Battle for the city is about urban journalist and activist Jane Jacobs. Her 1960 book The death and life of great American cities is considered one of the most influential essay about urban planning. Additionally, Jacobs was an earlier example of what you would today call “an activist”. During the 1950s and 1960s, Jacobs’ neighbourhood, Greenwich village, New York, and others were constantly threatened by destruction by urban developers. One of those was Robert Moses, a greedy and power-hungry man who had all the politicians in his pockets. His goal to practise “slum clearance” -expropriate whole neighbourhoods to build mega highways and move the population (mostly black) to public housing projects was thwarted by Jane Jacobs and other activists. When Moses planned to build a road through Washington Square Park, the reaction was immediate and the project was successfully aborted. Manhattan and Greenwich village would have been destroyed and replaced by the Lower Manhattan Expressway or the Mid-Manhattan Expressway were it not for people like Jane Jacobs. She was arrested in 1968. That same year she moved to Toronto, caused by her opposition to the Vietnam war, where she quickly got involved and arrested again. Almost sixty years after it was written, The death and life of great American cities is still pertinent today. In her writing, read in the film by Marisa Tomei, Jane effectively exults her dedication and love of the city.

Quote… “Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance — not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en massa, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any once place is always replete with new improvisations.”

Jane Jacobs, The death and life of great American cities, 1961

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Citizen Jane: Battle for the city

Directed by:
Matt Tyrnauer

With Marisa Tomei reading Jane Jacobs

93 min.

Rated General

After the storm (Umi yori mo mada fukaku)

Yoshiko Shinoda has two children. A son, Ryota (HIroshi Abe), and a daughter, Chinatsu (Satomi Kobayashi). Yoshiko is played by Kiki Kirin. In an early scene, Chinatsu visits her mother who lives in a tiny apartment. The snappy banter between the two woman is too good to resist. But the film centres on her son, Ryota, a middle-aged, divorced, failed writer. Actually, Ryota wrote one successful novel, then that was it. To earn a living, he works as a private eye, spying on cheating husbands and wives. He even follows and spies on his ex-wife, Kyoko (Yoko Maki). He’s still jealous and does not like her new boyfriend. Every time they meet, Ryota and Kyoko fight. Sometimes it’s about their son, Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa), but most of the time it’s about the unpaid child support he owes her. Like his recently deceased father, Ryota is a compulsive gambler. When he visits his mother, he searches through the apartment to see if he can find some money, or if his father left something that is worth selling or pawning. Yoshiko invites the whole family at her house the night of a much talked about and awaited typhoon. Even Chinatsu, who does not get along with her brother, has been invited. While the storm is raging outside, inside they trying to find some peace of mind and understand each other. Hirozaku Kore-eda’s good humoured screenplay is well served by an exquisite ensemble cast, headed by the fabulous Kiki Kirin. The private eye scenes in mid film were too long, but otherwise this is a beautiful, worthy film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

After the storm (Umi yori mo mada fukaku)

Directed by:
Hirozaku Kore-eda

Screenplay by:
Hirozaku Kore-eda

Starring:
HIroshi Abe
Yoko Maki
Kirin Kiki
Taiyo Yoshizawa
Satomi Kobayashi

117 min.

In Japanese with English subtitles.

Their finest

It probably was not easy to make films in London during the Second World War. London was bombed by the German Air Force. At any moment, your neighbourhood, your house and your life could be destroyed. Looking death in the face was a daily occurrence. But all through this, the people at the British Ministry of Information’s film division tried to make propaganda films. Adapted from a Lissa Evans novel, Their finest is a light film that mustn’t be taken too seriously. The central figure is Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) a young woman applying to the Ministry for a job as a typist. But because she previously worked as a copywriter, she’s given the job of writing ‘slop’, dialogue between women in propaganda short films. Catrin is married to Ellis (Jack Huston), a struggling painter hoping that soon he’ll strike it rich. In the meantime, it’s up to Catrin to put food on the table. But she finds that writing ‘slop’ is boring and is snobbishly regarded by her writing partner Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), a handsome but sexist young man. But Catrin is not going to let Buckley belittle her. At the Ministry’s request she travels to the coast to investigate a story about twin sisters who helped soldiers during the evacuation of Dunkirk. But the sisters’ heroism has been overblown by the newspaper. Still, she finds the idea of having two female heroic leads interesting. She makes a pitch to her supervisor, Roger Swain (Richard E. Grant), and it is decided to make it into a feature-length film. To play the twins’ Uncle Frank they hire veteran actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy). Ambrose was once a matinée idol. But that was when he played a dashing detective in a popular series of films. Now, Ambrose resents playing a supporting character, and, worse of all, an old Uncle! But he needs the money. There are a few British character actor that almost never give a bad performance no matter in what film they play. One of those actors is Bill Nighy. In Their finest he effortlessly makes it impossible not to fall in love with Ambrose Hilliard. The writing gets sidetracked a bit when the Secretary of War (a pompous cameo by Jeremy Irons) insist that the film needs an American star (Jake Lacy) to make it more profitable abroad. At home, Catrin is falling out of love with her husband, while she and Buckley are getting closer. Even if the topic and the historical setting is original and might have been interesting, I am not convinced that the treatment is satisfactory. Their finest relies too much on old American film clichés. It’s been done so many times. And so much better. But still, what moved me at the end is the screening of their film. How good filmmaking with a good script can make any audience laugh and cry. I think that the film Catrin and Buckley made in Their finest is better than Their finest itself. Too bad!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Their finest

Directed by:
Lone Scherfig

Screenplay by:
Gaby Chiappe
Based on the novel Their finest hour and a half by Lissa Evans

Starring:
Gemma Arterton
Sam Claflin
Bill Nighy
Jack Huston
Paul Ritter
Richard E. Grant
Rachael Stirling

117 min.

Rated 14A

My Scientology movie

John Dower and Louis Theroux’s in-your-face documentary about the Church of Scientology is intriguing, strange, funny, scary and revealing. Wanting to make a documentary on the church proved difficult when British journalist Theroux was, unsurprisingly, denied access to the church and its leader David Miscavige. They decided to find another approach. They contacted Marty Rathbun. Marty was at one point one of the highest senior member of the church, before he cracked and left everything behind. Rathbun alleges that there is violence within the church, and that Miscavige himself often beats his staff. After Rathbun divulged these affirmation to newspapers, he has been harassed by the church. Rathbun has a temper and sometimes gets frustrated by Theroux’s inquisitive questions. Dower and Theroux’s plan is to audition actors to stand in for Miscavige and actor Tom Cruise, who is the most famous Scientologist. They are going to re-enact some of the speeches and interviews. At audition Andrew Perez impresses everyone and is chosen to read for David Miscavige. And actor Rob Alter looks very much like Tom Cruise. During the filming there are some weird moments. As Theroux and the crew tries to visit some Scientology estates with other former Scientologists, they get a visit from a woman and a cameraman. The lady order them to leave while the cameraman films them, with Theroux’s crew filming the Scientologist’s cameraman, then someone gets out a cell phone and films the whole thing. This is a totally absurd scene. One day Theroux notices that a car is following them. Then, outside of the studio they spot another camera filming them. They refuse to answer why they are filming. If Theroux wanted a reaction from the Church of Scientology, he certainly got it. And trouble maker Theroux is not afraid to be confrontational. Another interesting but nerve-racking look at Scientology. Highly recommended.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

My Scientology movie

Directed by:
John Dower

99 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Maudie

Maud Lewis painted on anything she could find. The walls, the steps, the breadbox and the windows. The tiny house she shared with her husband Everett was covered with her drawings. The small house (10 ft × 12 ft) is now at the Art gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. Maud suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. She walked with a slight limp and the arthritis in her hands worsened as she got older. In Maudie she is played by British actress Sally Hawkins. When we first meet her, Maud Dowley is in her thirties and still living with her strict Aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose). This is the repressive 1930s Wanting to be free from Aunt Ida, she seizes the opportunity to leave when she finds an advertisement at the local store looking for a “live-in or keep house”. Everett Lewis (American actor Ethan Hawke) is a grumbling, grumpy man. Not a very nice person. He hires her even if she does not seem to know much about keeping house. He only has one bed, so they have to sleep in the same bed. But Maud is not about to let Everett walk all over her. She demands to be respected. And mutual respect leads to affection and love. According to Everett, it only took several weeks before they married. By that time the house is already covered with her Naïve art painting. She would paint about animals (birds, dogs, horses, cats), flowers, trees, children and outdoors scenes. She set up to sell Christmas cards and her painting in front of the house. Sandra (Kari Matchett), an American neighbor buys some of her paintings, and pretty soon the CBC comes to interview her. Even President Nixon wants to buy her artwork. This is a beautiful love story, simply told but with a grandiose outlook on life and love. My only problem is that they did not cast Canadian actors as the two leads. But this a minute thing. As it is, Hawkins and Hawke are so good. Together they play the most perfectly non-assorted couple. Hawkins has always been a likable actress, but from the early moments until her last scenes, she has us in the palm of her hands and wins us over. Hawke is the surprise here. Playing against his usual typecast of know-it-all, cynical good guy, Hawke now plays a taciturn, gruff man who eventually opens his heart to love. By the end of Maudie, it is clear that Ethan Hawke has never been as good as he is here. Very touching film.

You should know… Everett Lewis died in 1979, nine years after his wife passed away. He was murdered during an attempted robbery at the house.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Maudie

Directed by:
Aisling Walsh

Screenplay by:
Sherry White

Starring:
Sally Hawkins
Ethan Hawke
Kari Matchett
Gabrielle Rose
Zachary Bennett

115 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Call of the forest: The forgotten wisdom of trees

We’ve seen this type of documentaries before. It seems that Call of the forest: The forgotten wisdom of trees has taken the same approach than National geographic, PBS TV show Nova and David Suzuki’s The nature of things. As narrator, Gordon Pinsent puts an over the top dramatic emphasis on everything he reads, and when the animated title of the film appears, the words are made of tree branches with leaves growing on them and moving in the wind. The film central figure is Diana Beresford-Kroeger, a British-born Ottawa botanist, biochemist and writer. Like Call of the forest, Diana is a bit wholesome and corny but likable. I could go on making jokes about tree huggers, but, truth is, I agree with Diana. Here in Canada almost a billion trees are cut every year. Ms Beresford-Kroeger’s affirmation that the trees and forests are crucial to air and water quality. She travels around the world. We see a sacred forest in Japan where trees are revered and thought to have healing and cleansing powers. In Japan, big cities that are overpopulated don’t have enough green spaces for trees to grow, but some people still find a way and spaces for trees. In every countries Beresford-Kroeger speaks with others scholars and experts that also share her passion and love of trees. Along the way we have seen how beautiful those trees are and the devastating effects that men’s commercialisation has had on the trees and our forests. We must thank and support people like Diana Beresford-Kroeger and Canada’s First Nations for the work they have been doing. It’s now time to start planting trees!.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Call of the forest: The forgotten wisdom of trees

Directed by:
Jeffrey McKay

Screenplay by:
Jeffrey McKay

Narrated by Gordon Pinsent

82 min.

Personal shopper

The last Olivier Assayas’s film was Clouds of Sils Maria. It starred Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart. Stewart was so good that she won the Best supporting actress at the César. But if you have seen the young American star in her best films (see Still Alice), you know that with small nuanced details she can sketch quite a variety of characters and emotions. In Personal shopper she is Maureen, a young American woman living in Paris. She travels all over Europe buying haute couture clothes for high-profile celebrities. One of her client is French model Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten), whom Maureen seldom sees. She just drops by Kyra’s apartment to deliver the clothes. A sort of lost soul, Maureen is waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother, Lewis, who according to Maureen was an amateur medium. He died in France, and somehow Maureen feels she can’t move on unless she gets a sign. So Maureen spends her free time sleeping at Lewis’s house in the hopes that he will reach her beyond death. Lewis is not there, but other ghosts are coming to haunt her at night. And those ghosts also seems to be following her wherever she goes. Or is that her imagination? Then Maureen starts getting weird text messages from a person who refuses to name him/herself. That person is asking too many questions, daring her to wear the clothes she just bought for Kyra. Maureen knows that she is not allowed to do that, but she finds it too hard to resist. She plays along, until one night… I must stop before I reveal too much. Personal shopper is intriguing, but not entirely satisfying. It is slow and a bit depressing. The ghosts special effects are quite good. They are a scary, quiet and calming presence. One thing is sure: Kristen Stewart is quite extraordinary. She’s almost in every scenes in the movie, in every shot. But most importantly, Maureen is, at times, almost a like monologue. Kristen Stewart’s talent is undeniable.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Personal shopper

Directed by:
Olivier Assayas

Screenplay by:
Olivier Assayas

Starring:
Kristen Stewart
Lars Eidinger
Sigrid Bouaziz
Anders Danielsen Lie

105 min.

Rated 14A

In English, French and Spanish with English subtitles.