The wild pear tree (Ahlat Ağacı)

After his college graduation Sinan (Aydın Doğu Demirkol) goes back home to his small country village of Çan. Sinan is an unlikable character who complains and speaks too much. His main problem is that he would like to publish a first novel. But financing proves difficult when you have a gambling father and the debt collectors after your family. Idris, his father (Murat Cemcır), is a teacher who does not seem to care what his family has to endure because of his gambling. Coming home to find out the electricity has been cut is no fun. Of course Sinan has other issues with his father. As he is trying to find the money to publish his book, Sinan meets several people and, in Nuri Bilge Ceylan fashion, has long conversations with them. One is with a writer (Serkan Keskin) he hopes to impress, but annoys him so much that he walks off. He meets two young men, and they have a discussion about religion. At the end there is a nice meeting between father and son that helps to resolve some of their conflicts. The wild pear tree (the title of Sinan’s novel) is too long (over 3 hours), too slow and talkative. But it is also a very beautiful, sunny film with stunning Turkish countryside landscapes. Ceylan’s cinematographer is Gökhan Tiryaki. And Ceylan has used some intriguing poetic images that keeps us guessing. Is it Sinan’s imagination or his paranoia? In other terms, The wild pear tree could be boring to some, but it is not without merit. Your choice.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema December 14 – 19
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/the-wild-pear-tree

The wild pear tree (Ahlat Ağacı)

Directed by:
Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Screenplay by:
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Ebru Ceyland
Akın Aksu

Starring:
Aydın Doğu Demirkol
Murat Cemcır
Bennu Yıldırımlar
Hazar Ergüçlü
Serkan Keskin

188 min.

In Turkish with English subtitles.

Advertisements

Chef Flynn

When he was a young boy, Flynn McGarry started cooking because his mother Meg’s cooking lacked variety. Meg McGarry being a filmmaker, she recorded her son’s evolution as a haute cuisine genius. Flynn has a kitchen set up in his bedroom, and when he was 12, the family started $160-a-head dinning club Eureka in their home in Los Angeles. Chef Flynn‘s director films Flynn as he is preparing to open a pop-up version of Eureka in New York. Opening night was disastrous in the young man’s view, but the second night goes very well and Flynn is happy. Then he moves to live by himself in New York when he is 16. Now Flynn is 20 and Gem, his restaurant, is located at 116 Forsyth street, New York. Director Cameron Yates also uses Meg’s archives to show a younger Flynn, a cute, freckled, red-headed kid. This is a nice story to tell with nice enough people. There is a minimum of dysfunctionality. Except for the facts that his parents are divorced and his dad is a reformed alcoholic, Flynn seems to be a well-adjusted youth who loves his older sister, his mom and his dad. There is the occasional camera weary moments, as Meg doesn’t seem to be able to stop filming. There are things to be thankful for, otherwise we would not get to see these images of a loving family.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from December 14 – 18
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/chef-flynn

Chef Flynn

Directed by:
Cameron Yates

82 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Nothing like a Dame

L´été, quand il fait beau soleil,
Je vois souvent passer deux vieilles
Qui marchent en se tenant le bras,
Elles s´arrêtent à tous les dix pas
Quand j´entends leur éclat de rire
J´ai un peu moins peur de vieillir

Deux vieilles, Clémence Desrochers

 

They occasionally meet for tea. Those four Dames of the British theatre: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Eileen Atkins and Joan Plowright. South African theatre, television and film director Roger Michell had the brilliant idea of filming their conversation where the four ladies are remembering their lives on stage and movies. Laurence Olivier’s widow, Joan Plowright is 89, she has now lost her sight and hasn’t been working since 2014. Maggie Smith remembers how dreadful it was to work with Olivier. And Plowright agrees. Judi Dench says that she started popularity came to her after she played Queen Victoria in the Mrs Brown film, then the following year she played Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in love. The others teasingly call her “the Queen”. Eileen Atkins is the least well-known of the four Dames. They discuss about the traditional way to play Shakespeare, using the iambic pentameter, or a more modern, realistic approach. Dench talks about her James Bond films. Maggie Smith reveals that she does not care much about the Harry Potter movies and that she has never seen an episode of Downton Abbey. “I’ve got the box set.”, she says with a smile. The Dames are a tiny bit nostalgic, not much. Mostly they are very funny and warm. I had a very nice afternoon tea with the Dames.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from December 7 – 14 and 28 & 29
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/nothing-like-a-dame

Nothing like a Dame

Directed by:
Roger Michell

84 min.

Rated General

Transit

In adapting Anna Seghers’s 1944 classic novel Transit visa, Christian Petzold has made the weird and misguided choice to film in modern-day France even though the action takes place shortly after the German occupation. Transit‘s main character is Georg (Franz Rogowski), a German exile who lives in Paris after the end of the Nazi occupation. He flees the Paris authorities to go to Marseilles where he hopes to be able to take a boat to America, “le Montréal”. To do that he has to assume the identity of Weidel, a dead writer. In Marseilles, Georg meets a community of Germans, who like him are awaiting permission to leave. There is also a beautiful woman searching for her lost husband. They keep seeing each other because she mistakenly thinks Georg is her husband. He later finds out she’s Weidel’s wife, Marie (Paula Beer). I really liked Phoenix, Petzold’s previous film. But Transit isn’t very exciting or good. It’s slow and boring and so confusing. We are asked to accept a bizarre convention where the characters live in the 1940s, but everything surrounding them is modern, 2018 cars or people wearing 2018 clothes. Whatever the reason (choice or lack of money), it looks cheap and I did not buy it at all. What a disappointment.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Transit

 

Directed by:
Christian Petzold

Screenplay by:
Christian Petzold
Based on the novel Transit visa by Anna Seghers

Starring:
Franz Rogowski
Paula Beer
Godehard Giese
Maryam Zaree

101 min.

Rated Parental Guidance.

In German, French, and French Sign Language with English subtitles

At eternity’s gate

At eternity’s gate is about the last years of Vincent van Gogh’s life. Living in France with Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) at Auvers-sur-Oise, van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) shows early signs of mental illness. How do we know? We know because director Julian Schnabel’s camera is telling us in no subtle ways, by blurring and discoloring van Gogh’s point of view or overlapping images and dialogue tracks to imitate a sense of confusion (duh!). But he has other camera tricks. At eternity’s gate has the most unstable camera since The Blair witch project (remember?), and the cameraman seems unable to focus or keep his footing and takes extreme close-ups of van Gogh’s face, his nose, his mouth, his head and his scalp. (Oh no! It’s The Blair witch project part 3!) The painter’s disagreements with Gauguin seems to be the cause of all his anguish. He has a very loving relationship with his brother Theo (Rupert Friend) who helps him as much as he can. After spending some time in a mental institution, van Gogh is released and moves to Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône where he will spend his last 80 days and create 75 paintings. Yes Willem Dafoe is great, but his efforts are muffled by Schnabel’s patchwork approach to cinema. It’s annoying and a mess. Avoid!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema on December 30 & 31
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/at-eternitys-gate

 

At eternity’s gate

 

Directed by:
Julian Schnabel

Screenplay by:
Jean-Claude Carrière
Louise Kugelberg
Julian Schnabel

Starring:
Willem Dafoe
Rupert Friend
Oscar Isaac
Mads Mikkelsen
Mathieu Amalric
Emmanuelle Seigner

110 min.
.
In English and French with English subtitles

A private war

Being a war correspondent is a dificult and dangerous occupation. Placing oneself in the middle of battle, in the trenches with the soldiers or meeting the affected population to shine a light on the attrocities of this world is no easy task. American journalis Marie Colvin was one of those fearless reporters. In 2001, While she is covering a conflict in Sri Lanka, Colvin (Rosamund Pike) loses the sight in her left eye and she starts wearing her trademark eyepatch. But she suffered from post traumatic stress disorder throughout the remainder of her life. There are images of the horrors she has seen that keep coming back to her. She has a horrific vision of a dead little girl that is recurent. Colvin is hospitalized for her PTSD, but she soon goes back to war zones as a reporter for British newspaper The Sunday times where her editor Sean Ryan (Tom Hollander) is concerned about Colvin’s mental state. But she goes back again, and again. To cope Colvin drinks. A lot. Sometimes she comes home to get an award and have sex with “friend with benefit” Tony Shaw (Stanley Tucci, in a blink-and-you’ve-misted-it performance. Actually, to be fair if you blink a few times.) But Colvin goes back to report on wars, as if it was a cumpulsion, like she wants to bury the war in her head. Her last assignment was in the Syrian city of Homs in 2012. With photojournalist Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan), they showed photos and films of injured children being treatted under terrible conditions in makeshift hospitals and the grieving parents. On February 21 she is speaking via satelite with Andreson Cooper on CNN. The next day she dies in an attack by the Syrian government. Conroy survived. A private war is a harrowing reminder of the dangerous job of journalists around the globe. It is necessary because of the anti-media rhetoric coming from some. A private war‘s main draw is Pike. Here she gives an even more fierce and complex performance than she did in Gone girl. One of the producer is Charlize Theron and you wonder why she did not keep that juicy part for herself. But Pike is so powerful and moving. But A private war has very good production values and good direction by Matthew Heineman. It will be hard for some to watch, but it is worth it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

A private war

 

Directed by:
Matthew Heineman

Screenplay by:
Arash Amel
Based on the Vanity fair article Marie Colvin’s private war by Marie Brenner

Starring:
Rosamund Pike
Jamie Dornan
Stanley Tucci
Tom Hollander
Corey Johnson

106 min.

Studio 54

Ah, the good old days of disco and New York’s Studio 54. Co-founders Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell bought and renovated an old CBS studio (called then Studio 52) on 54th Street. Studio 54 opened in April 1977 and was an instant success. Why? This was a place where gay people felt safe to be themselves. Gays, lesbians, drag queens, cross dressers, anything goes. And you could not get admitted unless you were famous. We see a lot of photos with Andy Warhol, Liza Minnelli, Elizabeth Taylor, Mick Jagger, Truman Capote, and even Margaret Trudeau. It was THE place to be. The documentary is interested as much with the lives and friendship of the owners than with the Studio. Schrager met Rubell in college and they became lifelong friends. The fact that Rubell was gay was not a problem with Schrager, and it gave them an idea for a new concept for a disco club: diversity. But there was also drugs and liquor sold without a licence. Schrager and Rubell were investigated by the IRS, they pleaded guilty to tax evasion and spent 13 months in prison. The life of Studio 54 was short. In February 1980 it was over. And soon it would be over for disco too. Later Schrager and Rubell had other business opportunities. And then Steve Rubell died of AIDS in 1989. Ian Schrager still remembers his good friend. Ah, those good old days of disco.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Studio 54

 

Directed by:
Matt Tyrnauer

99 min.

Rated 14A

Maria by Callas

Casta Diva, che inargenti
queste sacre antiche piante,
a noi volgi il bel sembiante
senza nube e senza vel…
Tempra, o Diva,
tempra tu de’ cori ardenti
tempra ancora lo zelo audace,
spargi in terra quella pace
che regnar tu fai nel ciel…

English translation:
Pure Goddess, whose silver covers
These sacred ancient plants,
we turn to your lovely face
unclouded and without veil…
Temper, oh Goddess,
the hardening of you ardent spirits
temper your bold zeal,
Scatter peace across the earth
Thou make reign in the sky…

Casta Diva, from the opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini

Before the documentary Maria by Callas, I knew almost nothing about Maria Callas. I am probably too young, or opera has never been very interesting to me. Director Tom Volf does some very clever editing choices. As the title suggest, Callas herself will tell her story in her own words in TV interviews and letters and other writings read by Fanny Ardant and Joyce DiDonato. There are also plenty of photos and archival films. Many aspect of her life is explored. Her frosty relationship with her mother, her education and training as an opera singer, the many scandals, the bad reputation that Callas had as a “difficult” woman, her off and on affair (Callas calls it “friendship”) with Aristotle Onassis (who left her to marry Jackie Kennedy), the love/hate relationship with her fans, her bouts of depression and her poor health toward the end of her life. Volf keeps bringing us back to a 1970 interview with David Frost. Whatever we see, the reputation that followed Callas as a tempestuous artist is I think false. What is true is that Callas had great respect and love for her fans. She did not want to sing unless she felt she could deliver the most stellar performance. The interviews are punctuated by performances that are meant to comment on Callas herself, and her life. The lyrics for Bellini’s Casta Diva are talk about a “pure Goddess” with a “lovely face unclouded and without veil”, who is called to “temper your bold zeal”. For her affair with Onassis, there is Bizet’s L’amour est un oiseau rebelle from Carmen. And for her most depressed period we see her sing Verdi’s Addio del passato from La Traviata. But these performances serve another purpose. The younger generations, who like me knew of Callas but never heard or seen Callas sing, are going to be surprised by her voice and the emotional impact of Maria Callas. Without knowing much about opera, then and now, I must ask the question: Is Maria Callas still the best opera singer? Ever? She’s hard to top. Technically perfect and with such intensity that it must have been hard to maintain that high quality of performance. The demand on her body and her mind might have been what has made her so fragile. We learn as much about Callas when we’re looking at Callas sing than in the interviews. Here we have a complete portrait of the “pure Goddess” of opera “unclouded and without veil”.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Maria by Callas

 

Directed by:
Tom Volf

113 min.

In English, French and Italian with English subtitles.

The cakemaker (האופה מברלין)

The cakemaker starts with a seduction scene between German pastry chef Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) and one of his client at the Berlin café where Thomas works. The client is Oren (Roy Miller), an Israeli businessman. The seduction happens in front of a big slice of Black Forest cake. Few words are softly spoken, a few furtive glances. We don’t need more, we get it, they’ll have sex. That minimalist approach is present throughout the film. It’s a delicate film, accompanied by a delicate score for solo piano by Dominique Charpentier. Although he has a wife and a young son in Jerusalem, Oren comes back to be with Thomas every time he visits Berlin. And when he goes back to his family, Oren brings some cookies or cake to them. Then on one of his trip back, Oren is accidentally killed. naturally Thomas is devastated by the news, but he makes the crazy decision to travel to Jerusalem, and visits the café run by Oren’s widow, Anat (Sarah Adler). First he gets to know Anat, then she hires him as a waiter/barista. One thing leading to another, he then starts baking for the café, and they fall in love and have sex. She still doesn’t know that Thomas was her late husband’s gay lover. If Moti (Zohar Strauss), her Orthodox brother-in-law, voices his disapproval of this German baker, it’s because the café may lose the kosher certification. One thing is clear, when Anat finds out, the cookie dough is gonna hit the fan. This is a most assured debut feature from writer/director Ofir Raul Graizer, who knows a thing or two about restraint and knows exactly what pace he should to give every scenes. The three leading actors are emotionally invested into those characters and their stories. Tim Kalkhof is particularly effective and has to play with very little dialogue. Male sexual fluidity is a new phenomenon in cinema. Films like the artistically acclaimed Call me by your name and others, are an interesting fresh look at the lives of LGBTQ people. A really lovely film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The cakemaker (האופה מברלין)

 

Directed by:
Ofir Raul Graizer

Screenplay by:
Ofir Raul Graizer

Starring:
Tim Kalkhof
Sarah Adler
Zohar Strauss
Roy Miller

104 min.

In English, Hebrew and German with English subtitles.

Bel Canto

Based on actual events (the1996 Lima hostage Crisis) but adapted from an Ann Patchett bestselling novel that has almost nothing left, if anything, from the real events, Bel Canto is a most amusing political drama/soap opera. Amusing to me at least. Among the international cast, the most well-known are Japan’s Ken Watanabe, France’s Christopher Lambert and American actress Julianne Moore. Watanabe plays Japanese industrialist businessman Katsumi Hosokawa who travels to a South American country to celebrate his own birthday. President Ochoa wants Hosokawa to open a plant, but has refused the invitation. Knowing very well that Hosokawa is an opera fan, the President has hired Hosokawa’s favorite singer, Roxanne Coss (Moore, with the singing voice of Renée Fleming) to give a concert in the President’s residence. But Hosokawa has no intention of doing business with the dictator and only come for the concert, and Coss only accepted because of the money they were willing to pay her. The concert has just begun in front of dignitaries, ambassadors and their wives, when a group guerrillas with machine guns crash the party. They keep everyone hostage and they demand that President Ochoa, who could not attend the concert because he was sick, release all political prisoners. At first the relations between the hostages and the guerrillas are tense, but over time, call it Stockholm syndrome if you want, things get friendlier. Hosokawa and the opera singer are obviously in love, so they start an affair. There is also attractions between Hosokawa’s translator (Ryô Kase) and a female guerrillas (María Mercedes Coroy). The film has a lot of credibility issues. Laughable scenes like the one where, after the government has cut off the water, Roxanne Coss goes on the balcony and sing so they’ll get the water back. And they do! Moments like this, and others even crazier, only work if you are good and innocent, or if, like me, you don’t take the film too seriously. Yes, there are beautiful things and marvelous music. Yes, Julianne Moore is very good, as always. I just think that the whole thing could easily have become a parody in the Airplane style. It ends in chaos and predictable tragedy. Predictable, but still disturbing. Your choice.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Bel Canto

 

Directed by:
Paul Weitz

Starring:
Julianne Moore
Ken Watanabe
Sebastian Koch
Ryô Kase
María Mercedes Coroy
Christopher Lambert

Screenplay by:
Paul Weitz
Anthony Weintraub
Based on the novel by Ann Patchett

101 min.

Rated 14A

In English and some Spanish, French, and Japanese with English subtitles