Graduation (Bacalaureat)

Dr. Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni) lives with his depressed wife Magda (Lia Bugnar), and his daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) in a small Romanian town. Graduation begins with a rock being thrown through a window of their apartment. This the first of unexplained vandalism made on Romeo’s properties. On that day he drives Eliza to school, where she is supposed to take her final exams, before he goes to the hospital for his shift. Once there though he learns that Eliza has been assaulted. While Romeo is working with the police to find the assailant, he’s most sorry that she missed her exam. He tries to fix that by making some “arrangements” with the Exam committee president and other officials at school, not realizing (or not caring) that those men may be corrupt. To one man he even promises an easier organ transplant. Romeo also takes care of his ailing mother. And once in a while Romeo finds the time to visit his mistress Sandra (Malina Manovici). Things gets more problematic when inspectors come to the hospital to ask him questions. This is an intriguing film. But it is made of a series of longish conversations that are meant to show Romeo’s ability to have easy access to special treatments. And though Adrian Titieni and Maria-Victoria Dragus are excellent and the tension and suspense are maintained, at over 2 hours Graduation is too long. Still, it is intriguing.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Graduation (Bacalaureat)

 

Directed by:
Cristian Mungiu

Screenplay by:
Cristian Mungiu

Starring:
Adrian Titieni
Maria-Victoria Dragus
Lia Bugnar
Rare Andrici
Malina Manovici
Vlad Ivanov

128 min.

In Romanian with English subtitles.

Strangers on the earth

Ever since The way directed by Emilio Esteves, the number of Americans pilgrims travelling to Spain and walk the road to the Cathedral to Santiago de Compostela has grown dramatically. In other words: It has become trendy. Films and documentaries on that subject have also been quite popular among certain crowds. Beside The way, there is a Quebec film, Les doigts croches by Ken Scott, Walking the Camino, a first film by Tristan Cook made in 2013. And now Cook in back with Strangers on the earth. The central figure is cellist Dane Johansen, who travels with his cello on his back. His plan is to record Bach’s Cello suites in 36 churches on the Camino. But Johansen was not planning to give concerts to other pilgrims. Johansen is interviewed about having to perform in cold churches after spending all day walking in the cold rain. He’s not the only one being asked to comment. Thankfully Strangers on the earth is not a talking head documentary. We never see the interviewees, they are heard in voice over as we see them walking down the road and interacting with each other, their commentaries serving to narrate the images we see. A series of photos are used to tell the story of a man meeting and falling in love with a woman on the road to the Cathedral. Soon though, the man tells us, the relationship goes sour. Another man angrily decries the false pilgrims who take a bus or a taxi to do part of the pilgrimage. One man (or maybe it‘s the same?) has a long tirade where he pompously theorizes about the meaning and importance of it all. If I would choose a film about Santiago de Compostela, it would be Strangers on the earth. Cinematographer Iskra Valtcheva’s images too are beautiful to ignore. Beside her contribution, there was little that could stir me. This is topic that I find tiresome and has a limited appeal.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Strangers on the earth

 

Directed by:
Tristan Cook

96 min.

Rated General.

In English, Spanish and German with English subtitles.

The wedding plan (Laavor et hakir)

A month before the wedding, Michal (Noa Koller), a Ultra-Orthodox Jewish 32-year-old woman, is jilted by her fiancé. It’s just a small thing, the fiancé says. He then announces that he does not love her. Michal is heartbroken. Everything was booked and she had her wedding dress, so instead of cancelling the wedding, Michal decides to try to find a husband and leave it in the hand of God. The plan is to be married by Hannukah. But Michal is a bit obese so she does not have suitors lining up to marry her. Those she meets are of the bizarre type. There is a deaf psychoanalyst and a man who refuses to look at her. When one asks the reason she wants to meet him, She answers “Despair”. Most men would run away when they learn what Michal’s job is. She own a mobile petting zoo. When she travels to a shrine to pray, Michal unexpectedly meets handsome Israeli pop star named Yos (handsome Israeli pop star Oz Zehavi). When he learns of her quest for a husband, Yos seems to find the idea intriguing. He would certainly be an unlikely candidate. If I was first amused by The wedding plan, soon I became annoyed by the central character. Despite Noa Koller’s comic talent, I found Michal to be indecisive and Rama Burshtein’s writing repetitive. Although there are some good things, this film has a lot of flaws.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The wedding plan (Laavor et hakir)

 

Directed by:
Rama Burshtein

Screenplay by:
Rama Burshtein

Starring:
Noa Koller
Amos Ramam
Oz Zehavi

110 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Hebrew with English subtitles.

A quiet passion

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.”

“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

 

In A quiet passion British director Terence Davies gives us a portrait of American poet Emily Dickinson. When we first see young Emily (then played by Emma Bell) she’s at a Christian boarding school. The stubborn Emily refuses to accept the school’s religious precepts. Her liberal-minded father (Keith Carradine) seems to take Emily’s unconventionality as a folly of youth. This is a way for Davies to say that Dickinson’s refusal to act and think outside of what was expected at the time, will color her life as well as her poetry. All her life, the unmarried Dickinson lived with the family at their home in Amherst, Massachusetts where most of the film is set. Throughout the film, religious zealots and moralists are being rightly ridiculed. There was no way that Emily would let her Aunt Elizabeth (Annette Badland), for instance, dictate what she should or should not say or think. As an adult, Emily (now played in a spectacular performance by Cynthia Nixon) befriends Vryling Wilder Buffum. Played by Catherine Bailey, it is a comic masterpiece of precision. With every flick of the fan, eye rolling insinuations and flirting stares, Vryling is very funny and entertaining to Emily and her sister Lavinia “Vinnie” (the marvellous understated Jennifer Ehle). A quiet passion is actually quite witty. There is joy and exaltation in Emily’s smiles, and laughter in her face and her eyes. But later in life she suffers terribly from the death of her parents. And she feels lonely and think of herself as ugly caused by a lifetime celibacy. She becomes a recluse, seldom leaving her room. The only thing she can rely on is her writing and her sister, also a celibate. Emily has screaming matches with Austin (Duncan Duff), her married brother, after she finds him in the living room with a married woman. Emily gets sick from Bright’s disease and her whole body is taken by terrifying, unstoppable tremors. Although Emily Dickinson wrote close to 1800 poems, fewer than a dozen were published during her lifetime. Because of Dickinson’s innovative use of punctuation and various styles and forms, she is now considered one of the most revered American poet. I remember hearing American composer Aaron Copland’s Twelve poems by Emily Dickinson, and now his use of sudden dissonant outbursts makes sense. Here we see Dickinson in the early scenes bursting with uncontrollable joy, or in later years as sorrows and pain filled her days and nights, being visited by depression and anger. It mirrors the exalted and impetuous nature of Dickinson’s poetry. In A quiet passion, Davies shows the family’s spending quiet evenings with only lamps to light up the living room. These were different times. Davies is not afraid to linger and let the silences create a reflective atmosphere. Those beautiful 360 degree pans of the rooms or, as a complete contrast, the walks in most the sunny and colourful gardens is the work of cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister. The cast is splendid. To name a few, Jennifer Ehle as Emily’s loving sister and Catherine Bailey as her best friend, form with Nixon a trio of unforgettable actresses. What I find most compelling is the respect for Dickinson from all involved. Cynthia Nixon’s complete commitment should be saluted at Oscar time. And let’s hope that the film and Terence Davies will also be remembered.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

A quiet passion

Directed by:
Terence Davies

Screenplay by:
Terence Davies

Starring:
Cynthia Nixon
Emma Bell
Jennifer Ehle
Duncan Duff
Keith Carradine
Joanna Bacon
Catherine Bailey
Jodhi May
Annette Badland
Eric Loren

125 min.

Rated Parental

Song to song

Terrence Malick’s new film is Song to song. Song to song is a mess. The last Terrence Malick film, Knight of cups, was also a mess, but I think Song to song is worse. Song to song is, supposedly, about the Austin, Texas music scene. But what it turns out to be about is people aimlessly walking around. Rich people walking in their rich apartments. They walk in front of large windows. Malick is obsessed by large windows. Large terraces windows. Terraces with pools. The rich people also walk around the pools. Or on terraces. Or balconies. In voice-over we hear poetic passages read by the actors during their scenes. All dialogues are muffled. The story revolves around two couples. Faye is a struggling lyricist. Faye is played by Rooney Mara. Mara is seen on the stage holding a guitar during rock concerts, but she’s not playing. Faye is with BV (Ryan Gosling). Like he did in La la land, Gosling plays the piano, but any music in Song to song is muffled then soon cut and go to the next muffled moment. Then there is music mogul Cook (Michael Fassbender). Cook walks aimlessly with Faye and BV, most of the time looking lonely. Those who were hoping for a threesome (Mara, Fassbender and Gosling! Intriguing isn‘t it?) will be waiting a long time. Cook meets waitress Rhonda (Natalie Portman). Portman and Mara look too much alike. They’re interchangeable. Portman has blond hair, but Mara keeps changing hairstyles in every scenes. Every time the couple are fighting or are having a conversation, we don’t know what is being said because Malick has muffled or cut the sound of the conversations. We can hear traffic, the birds chirping or the dishes clanking. We can see the lips move but we can’t hear the words. The dialogue seems unimportant to Malick. People walking around, followed by a steady cam (a lot of back of heads): Yes. Dialogue : No. When Faye and BV break up, she has a lesbian affair with Zoey (Bérénice Marlohe), and BV an affair with Amanda (Cate Blanchett). We get cameos from music icons like Patti Smith, Iggy Pop and others, but the little music they play is soon muffled. The ghost of Val Kilmer appears in some scenes. Scary! Among the actors cut from the final film were Christian Bale, Benicio del Toro and Arcade fire. A mess! The most frustrating of all is that there is no chance that Malick is going to stop to make these pointless annoying films. If a director has nothing new to say, and only repeats the same failed experiments from film to film, he should shut up. I hate Terrence Malick! There! I said it, got out of my system. It feels so good. Let me say it again. I HATE TERRENCE MALICK!!! To avoid!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Song to song

Directed by:
Terrence Malick

Screenplay by:
Terrence Malick

Starring:
Ryan Gosling
Rooney Mara
Michael Fassbender
Natalie Portman
Cate Blanchett
Bérénice Marlohe
Holly Hunter
Patti Smith

129 min.

Rated 14A

I, Daniel Blake

Internationally renown British director Ken Loach announced in 2014 that he was to retire from filmmaking. But in 2016 something made him angry enough to want to make at least another film. What is he denouncing? In 2008 the British government started an overhaul of their disability support and welfare programs. What was supposed to save billions of pounds a year from the welfare budget, instead cost more money to administer. For some of the claimants, the decisions taken about their benefits were fatal. Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), carpenter by trade, suffered a heart attack at work. He is recovered but, according to his doctor, not well enough to go back to work. After an assessment from a so called “health care professional”, Daniel is deemed “Fit for work”. The assessment was based on an interview with Daniel, and the decision is taken without considering his medical records or any medical expertise. He gets a letter informing him of the decision. He would like to appeal, but is told he has to wait for a phone call before he can appeal. This is Kafkaesque! Daniel is a good man who likes to help his fellow man. At the Jobcentre Daniel meets Katie Morgan (Hayley Squires), a young mother of two. Katie is refused help because she arrived late at a meeting. Daniel tries to help her as much as he can, and he becomes a father figure (or at his age it could be a grandfather figure) for the children. Daniel is told that he has to fill a form… online! Daniel is computer illiterate. He’s never been near a computer. He gets some help from Ann (Kate Rutter), a worker at the Jobcentre. But soon Ann is reprimanded because she helped him. Daniel is forced to look for work or he will lose his benefits. He is also forced to attend a ridiculous class on how to write a CV, with a stupid instruction that the job seekers should also bring a digital copy of the CV. As for Katie, she is a mom who does what has to be done to feed her kids. Dave Johns, a stand-up comedian doing his first dramatic film, is exactly the perfect actor for the part. I, Daniel Blake is a realistic film about a working class man, an ordinary guy. Johns does not seem to be playing at all. His acting is quiet, real and incredibly appealing. Loach;s directing style is simple: don’t get in the way of your characters, who are more important than the camera angles. His screenplay is a bit too structured and formatted. I knew some things would happened before they did, and it clashes with the realistic style of the film. There is a scene where Katie goes to the food bank that caught me completely by surprise. Like Johns, Hayley Squires gives a heart wrenching performance. Everything that Loach says about the welfare system in England is true. If you are a good soul who think that human beings don’t treat other human beings that way, well think again and go see I, Daniel Blake.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

I, Daniel Blake

Directed by:
Ken Loach

Screenplay by:
Ken Loach

Starring:
Dave Johns
Hayley Squires
Dylan McKiernan
Briana Shann
Kate Rutter

100 min.

Rated 14A

Although English is spoken in I, Daniel Blake, all the characters have a different accent and it is hard at times to understand them, as is often the case with Ken Loach. Because of that it will be presented with English subtitles.

The lost city of Z

With a title like The lost city of Z you could expect a cheesy American adventure movie pilling up the clichés. But The lost city of Z is actually a very good biopic about British explorer Percy Fawcett. Earlier in the film, Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) learns that his career in the Royal Artillery is probably at a standstill because of his now deceased father’s drinking and gambling behaviours. In 1905 Royal geographical society asks Fawcett to travel to the jungle between Bolivia and Brazil to map the area. That meant leaving his loving wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and his two years old son Jack at home. Coming along with him Corporal Henry Costing (an underperforming Robert Pattinson) and Corporal Arthur Manley (Edward Ashley). Fawcett also recruits some native guides. This is a dangerous trip with the group being attacked by jungle natives with arrows and piranhas infested waters. In the middle of the jungle makes an archeological discovery that makes him believe in the old theory that a complex civilization once existed in the Amazon region. Back in Britain, his theories are laughed at by some, but embraced by others. James Murray (Angus Macfadyen) was rich and considered himself to be an explorer. He proposed to finance the next expedition, as long as he can join them. But Murray is too fat and becomes a nuisance. There were seven expeditions between 1906 and 1924. They were briefly interrupted by World war II. Fawcett’s oldest son Jack followed his father on the last expedition. This is a fascinating true life adventure film. Except from a few scenes (Nina wanting to go along with her husband, reasoning that they are equals is cute but doubtful), most of it is true. Charlie Hunnam is giving one of those grand bravura performance that is very rare. I would call it sensible machismo. Darius Khondji’s cinematography shows the beauty, darkness and dangers of the jungle. It just looks great. I recommend.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The lost city of Z

 

Directed by:
James Gray

Screenplay by:
James Gray
Based on the book by David Grann

Starring:
Charlie Hunnam
Robert Pattinson
Sienna Miller
Edward Ashley
Tom Holland
Angus Macfadyen
Ian McDiarmid

141 min.

Rated 14A

In English, Spanish, Portuguese, and German with English subtitles.

Paula (Paula – Mein leben soll ein fest sein)

German painter Paula Modersohn-Becker is considered one of the most important expressionist and the first female painter to have a museum devoted to her work. Carla Juri plays Modersohn-Becker as a young woman who is bursting with joy. This is the 1890s in Worpswede, Germany, where Paula went to study painting. Her teacher was Fritz Mackensen (Nicki von Tempelhoff), who taught the “proper” way to hold the brush and the “proper” way to paint a basket of fruits. Paula did not follow any of those instructions. She’d hit her canvas with the brush, or scratch it, and I don’t know what else, to paint the most beautifully unconventional baskets of fruits. Mackensen, who believed women could only bear children, did not like Paula or her paintings. Mackensen liked to paint the perfect lines of the perfect hat worn by the perfect woman with the perfect waistline and the perfect life. Paula Modersohn-Becker went out of her way to find imperfect, poor, fat, old people, who sometimes posed naked for her. Fritz Mackensen hated Paula Modersohn-Becker. But Paula found other allies in Worpswede. Many other artists had followed Mackensen there. Worpswede had become an art colony where she met and befriended sculptor Clara Westhoff (Roxane Duran). At a time where women were expected to behave and not make too much noise, Paula and Clara would have none of those rules. They loudly laughed hysterically, uncontrollably, all the time. And Paula fell in love and married painter Otto Modersohn (Albrecht Abraham Schuch). Otto’s first wife had died while giving birth to a daughter. Because of that the marriage between Otto and Paula was unconsummated for several years. Otto was afraid that Paula would also die in childbirth. A frustrated Paula goes to Paris to study at L’École des Beaux-Arts. In Paris there is Clara studying with Rodin. Back in Worpswede, Otto is being pressured by his friends to bring Paula back. Either that or have her committed to an asylum, says Fritz Mackensen. In Paris, Paula is behaving in erratic ways, but producing a great amount of beautiful masterpieces. The exquisite production values brought on by director Christian Schwochow’s team is one of the great pleasures in this film. The work of cinematographer Frank Lamm who lets the sun shine on the bright colors of the clothes, sets and those colourful Paula Modersohn-Becker paintings. But it is actress Carla Juri who is a joy for us to discover. Juri plays through sustained jolts of raw energy, that I am not sure every audience members will be able to enjoy. But this is highly original acting for a highly original character. Carla Juri lets us see the madness coming through the joy and laughter. A great performance.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Paula (Paula – Mein leben soll ein fest sein)

Directed by:
Christian Schwochow

Screenplay by:
Stefan Kolditz
Stephan Suschke

Starring:
Carla Juri
Albrecht Abraham Schuch
Roxan Duran
Joel Basman
Stanley Weber
Nick von Tempelhof

123 min.

Rated 14A

In German and French with English subtitles.