First reformed

Paul Schrader is, for those who don’t know, the hard-hitting screenwriter of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi driver, Raging bull, and The last temptation Of Christ. As a director Schrader has been less successful. First reformed is probably his best film in a very long time. Ethan Hawke plays Reverend Ernst Toller, a newly appointed priest at the First reformed church in Snowbridge, New York He has started writing down his thoughts and feelings in a journal. Ernst has just come out of a very difficult time in his life. His only son, whom encouraged to enlist in the army, has been killed, and his marriage failed as a result. He drinks a bit too much, and although he has pains in the abdomen he won’t see a doctor. In other words: he’s a mess. Ernst is a soft-spoken man who rejects all of the bombastic over-the-top preachings heard at other evangelical churches. Because of that only a handful of people are attending mass at First reformed. But the 250th anniversary celebrations of the church are coming and some parishioners would like Ernst to adopt a more spectacular form of pulpit preaching. That’s when Mary (Amanda Seyfried) comes to seek Ernst’s help. Michael (Philip Ettinger), her husband, is a radical environmentalist who refuses to bring a child into the world and wants Mary to get an abortion. Ernst goes to talk to Michael but he remains convinced that there is no hope and that the world will come to an end. Ernst pleads with Michael to be hopeful even if things look desperate, but even he is not convinced that this is true. When Ernst shows up for a second meeting he finds Michael dead. He has shot himself. Among her husband’s belongings Mary finds a suicide vest, which Toller removes and takes with him to church. On Michael’s computer Ernst finds some proofs of the environmental disaster that Michael was predicting. His drinking gets worse and he gets more frantic as the 250th anniversary are approaching. This is a very strong screenplay by Schrader. In the words used, in the directing as well as the acting there is both a minimalism and an intense despair, a gentleness and a harshness. And Schrader has the perfect actor to play all the complexities and the contradictions of Reverend Ernst Toller. From film to film Ethan Hawke has been getting stronger, and here he espouses the life and the words of his character with such force that it kept me riveted to the screen. Perfect.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

First reformed

 

Directed by:
Paul Schrader

Screenplay by:
Paul Schrader

Starring:
Ethan Hawke
Amanda Seyfried
Philip Ettinger
Cedric Kyles

108 min.

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Leaning into the wind – Andy Goldsworthy

Documentary filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer was so fascinated with Andy Goldsworthy that 16 years after making a first film about the British sculptor (Rivers and tides – Andy Goldsworthy), he made another film about him. And I agree with Riedelsheimer, Goldsworthy is worth the four years it took to finish this film. The director followed his subject all over the world. Goldsworthy is what you would call an environmentalist and landscape sculptor and photographer. Among other things, Andy Goldsworthy goes into forests to find dead trees that have fallen to the ground, and with leaves (lots of yellow leaves) he underlines the cracks that have formed them. It’s all natural. The leaves have not been tampered or colored, and he wets the leaves with water to fix them on the trees. He knows that soon rain will fall or a wind will remove the leaves. So he takes photos. He does the same on rocks. In the city, with the help of his daughter, he puts some leaves (green, red, yellow) on concrete staircases. His more elaborate works includes stones arranged to make outdoor open caskets, in the form of elongated eggs. They are large enough that a person can lie in them. But Goldsworthy also uses himself, his body to make art. Whenever it is raining, he lies down on the rocks/concrete/sidewalks. After he gets up the dry spot shows his silhouette for a short time since the rain continues. But the strongest moment happens near the start, when Andy Goldsworthy crawls atop prickly barren hedges. It looks painful and cold, and we think “Why in the world would anyone do that?”. Documentaries makes you meet crazy people you would not meet in real life. The score by Fred Frith is well suited. Although it at times very weird, it is also organic, like Andy Goldsworthy and this film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Leaning into the wind – Andy Goldsworthy

 

Directed by:
Thomas Riedelsheimer

93 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Les gardiennes (The guardians)

This part of the history of World War I has not been told before. It is the story of the women being left behind to manage the family farms. Les gardiennes (based on Ernest Pérochon’s 1924 novel) is set in the French countryside where Hortense (a marvelously stone-faced and hardened Natalie Baye) has seen the young men from her family leave to fight “les boches”, as Germans were called by the French (the subtitles reads “krauts”). Both of her sons as well as her daughter’s husband have been conscripted. That means that it’s up to Hortense and her daughter Solange (Laura Smet, who is Baye’s daughter) to run the farm, called Le Paridier. Hortense hires a young farm-hand to help with the harvest. 20 years old Francine (Iris Bry, a star in the making) is such a capable hard-worker, that she is offered to stay at the farm indefinitely. The days are long and the work is relentless. Director Xavier Beauvois (Of Gods and men) shows us every details of the work and we are struck that we forgot how beautiful films can be. At times the men return on leave and the women notice how they have changed. Solange’s husband, Clovis (Olivier Rabourdin) declares that the Germans are just like the French, teachers and farmers. “The Germans are people like us,”. When Hortense’s younger son Georges (Cyril Descours) comes home on leave he falls for Francine, and they start a secret relationship. But George has already been promised to Marguerite, a local girl. This and the arrivals of American soldiers will turn things around between Hortense and Francine. Throughout the film I was left breathless by Beauvois and cinematographer Caroline Champetier’s images of stunning landscape. For a war film, the calm and the stillness is a welcomed contrast to the usual horrors of the trenches. The women at home were also heroes, let’s not forget it. Bravo to Baye, Bry, Beauvois and Champetier.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Les gardiennes (The guardians)

 

Directed by:
Xavier Beauvois

Screenplay by:
Xavier Beauvois
Marie-Julie Maille
Frédérique Moreau
Based on the novel by Ernest Pérochon

Starring:
Nathalie Baye
Laura Smet
Iris Bry
Cyril Descours
GIlbert Bonneau
Olivier Rabourdin

138 min.

Rated 14A.

In French with English subtitles

Bye Bye Germany (Es war einmal in Deutschland…)

Bye Bye Germany is advertised as a comedy, and although it is of a lighter tone than most films about the Holocaust, it is not a comedy. Actually it’s not much of anything. After World War II, Holocaust survivor David Bermann (Moritz Bleibtreu) would like to restart the linen store his family had in Frankfurt before it was seized by the Nazi. But the American forces refuse to grant him a licence. So Bermann gathers up a group of Jewish salesmen, Holocaust survivors like him, to sell linens door-to-door. At the same time he is interrogated by Special Agent Sara Simon (Antje Traue). American forces think that Bermann seemed to have come through the camps unscathed. Bermann tells Sara he started telling jokes to a Nazi officer, who thought that Bermann was so good that he was kept protected. The officer wanted to use Bermann for a special mission. So his jokes saved him. I did not find the topic or its treatment very interesting. With so many underdeveloped, boring characters, after a while I just stopped caring. But one thing is certain, Bye Bye Germany is not a comedy.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Bye Bye Germany (Es war einmal in Deutschland…)

 

Directed by:
Sam Garbarski

Screenplay by:
Sam Garbarski
Michel Bergmann
Based on Bergmann’s novels

Starring:
Moritz Bleibtreu
Antje Traue
Tim Seyfi
Mark Ivanir
Václav Jakoubek
Antole Taubman

102 min.

In German and English with English subtitles.

Beast

Although it is promising at the starts, Beast piles up the melodrama and the clichés so high that by the end it has become a unwatcable mess. Meet Moll (Jessie Buckley), a young woman living with her refined family on the British island of Jersey. Moll seems to be under the strict control of mom Hilary (Geraldine James) because of something terrible she did in her teen. We’re not told what it was, but it is almost certain that we’re going to know by the end of the film. During her own birthday party, Moll runs away to go drink and dance at a bar. The young man she meets there will later become a bit too insistent. Moll is saved from rape by Pascal (Johnny Flynn). When Moll falls for Pascal, her family tries to dissuade her from seeing him: he’s not from the same class as they are, to them he’s unkempt. And it gets worse when news comes that a serial killer has been raping and killing young women. Hilary and the family thinks it might be Pascal. So does the police. A detective (Trystan Gravelle) starts asking Moll some questions. Moll lies to cover for her lover. With his disheveled head of blond hair, his unshaved and scarred face (The scar may be a real one. The South African-born British Flynn has facial scarring from an attack by a dog when he was a child in South Africa.), Pascal may be the “beast” of the title, but there are many beasts in the film.: Moll is a beast because of her violent past, but also for the way to acts just in defiance of her mom’s constraints; mom/Hilary is also a beast, who is unfairly rigid with her daughter while trying to maintain the perfect picture of a good family. There are certainly good performance from Buckley and James. Buckley has such a busy part with some of it at such an emotional high pitch, that it would be hard not to see the quality in her acting. If she were a bad actress , it would be laughable, but not her. I a smaller part, Geraldine James is a minimalist by comparison to Jessie Buckley, but of course the two parts are different. What is so frustrating is that the film never seem to know how or when it’s going to end. Is he guilty? No he’s not. Then: Yes he is. No. Yes. What is she doing? Why? Does she think he’s the serial killer? No. Yes. Maybe. It’s like a daytime American soap, not much better. Is that what passes for good dramas in England these days? Unless you’re a lover of everything and anything British, avoid.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Beast

 

Directed by:
Michael Pearce

Screenplay by
Michael Pearce

Starring:
Jessie Buckley
Johnny Flynn
Geraldine James
Trystan Gravelle

107 min.

Rated 14A

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami

A fan: Would you ever do another movie?
Grace Jones: My own!

Well, this as close as you can get. Sophie Fiennes’s documentary is a small glare into the personality of the legendary singer. Do we really know who is Grace Jones after this film? I don’t think so. But we can see that she can’t be easily defined. She’s strong-willed when we see her on the phone trying to reach an agreement to get the musicians she hired to the recording studio. She’s producing her own album with her own money, there is no time waiting around the studio while the musicians are waking up from an all-night party. She travels back to her native Jamaica with her son to be with her mother and her family. There she is laughing as they reminisce about the past and attends church where her mother is singing a gospel song. In Paris, she sings (or rather lip sync) her famous La vie en rose for French TV. This is France, so of course the choreography (?) shows sexy young girls in pink baby dolls while Jones sits on a stool. She does not like it, she tells the producer it’s tacky and corny and she wants it scrapped. But it’s when Jones is on-stage that the film comes alive. The pulsating beats of the music, her incredible stage presence wearing the weirdest hats, masks and costume. On the stage Grace Jones is a giant. Fiennes was allowed to follow Jones in most aspect of her life. We even see Jones naked several times. At 70, Jones doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything.

You should know… The “bami” in the title is a traditional Jamaican flatbread very popular in rural communities.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami

 

Directed by:
Sophie Fiennes

115 min.

In English and French with English subtitles.

Disobedience

Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s films are about women who proudly dare to defy conventions. His 2013 film Gloria was about a 58 year-old divorcee who decides to seek love, fun and sex. Last year’s A fantastic woman featured a transgendered woman after the death of her partner. It won the Academy award for Best foreign language film. His new film is Disobedience, an Irish-British-American co-production set in the Orthodox Jewish community of London. Rachel Weisz serves as a producer and also plays Ronit, a New York photographer who goes back home when she learns that her estranged father, Rabbi Krushka, has died. Judging by everyone’s reactions, it seems that she was not expected to return, and some were probably hoping that she would stay away. Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), a Rabbi and her father’s spiritual son, is certainly surprised to see her since nobody, to his knowledge, had sent Ronit the news of her father’s passing. She feels that people are looking at her and judging her. Ronit wears none of the traditional Orthodox Jewish women’s clothing, like a sheitel (a wig that is worn to show modesty). It is clear that some women from the community don’t like her very much. That’s not the case with her old friend Esti (London, Ontario native Rachel McAdams), who is now married to Dovid. The three were friends and they still are, but that does not mean they are not awkward around her. And then we learn that Ronit and Esti were lovers in their youth. Now they fall in each other’s arms again. And when they are seen kissing in public, it puts Esti in an even more awkward position, but that scandal may also liberates her. Maybe she doesn’t want to stop loving Ronit. The most stunning thing about this amazing film is its originality. During Ronit and Esti’s passionate love-making, Ronit drips saliva into Esti’s mouth. There is brilliance in the casting of Weisz, McAdams and Nivola. But it’s McAdams that shines here. It’s an assured performance. She never been as good or as beautiful as she is here. Matthew Herbert orchestral score may be some of the most peculiarly effective music for film. It is hesitant and doesn’t spell out everything neatly for us, it comes in waves and breeze, both sudden and subtle, melodic and atonal, in crescendos and decrescendos. Like this film and Lelio, it marvelously defies conventions.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Disobedience

 

Directed by:
Sebastián Lelio

Screenplay by:
Sebastián Lelio
Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Based on the novel by Naomi Alderman

Starring:
Rachel Weisz
Rachel McAdams
Alessandro Nivola

114 min.

Rated 14

On Chesil Beach

Un vol d’oiseau traverse un ciel trop beau.
Tu pars avec eux sans retour,
Et pour moi il, ne fait plus jour.

Ton départ, Clémence DesRochers

For their wedding night in 1962 Florence Ponting and Edward Mayhew (Saiorse Ronan and Billy Howle) have rented a room in a small hotel at Chesil Beach. From the delicious dinner, served in their room by two waiter from room service, to the bed, memories from their disfunctional lives come rushing back to blur the deep love they share for each other. At times they look like two deers caught in the headlights. Yes, I repeat: this is 1962, England. Two words: sexual repression. They are too young, naive and both are virgins. This a “love at first sight” affair. They met as he was studying history and she the violin. Through the flashback we see that they are very much in love. But Edward’s mother (Anne-Marie Duff) suffered a mental illness and several times he witnessed her walking around the house naked. And there are hints that Florence was sexually abused by her father and because of that she is repulsed by sex. On Chesil Beach is basically a two character, minimalist screenplay by Ian McEwan, who adapted his own novel. He keeps it simple, and it works pretty well as he effectively gets into each characters head. And this can’t work unless the two young leads (who we first saw together in The seagull) are well casted and directed. We’ve seen what Saoirse Ronan can do, how much of a range she has as an actress. Billy Howle is the revelation here. Edward is such a fragile young man that when he arrives at Chesil Beach on his wedding night he is just about to explode. Howle gives a much detailed performance. It has a pleasant soundtrack with a mix of classical music and 60s rock-and-roll. Production values are excelent, though the makeup in the later scenes could have been much better. On Chesil Beach is helped greatly by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt who shows us that sad stories seem even sadder on a sunny summer beach.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

On Chesil Beach

 

Directed by:
Dominic Clarke

Screenplay by:
Ian McEwan
Based on his own novel

Starring:
Saoirse Ronan
Billy Howle
Emily Watson
Anne-Marie Duff
Samuel West

110 min.