Cold war (Zimna wojna)

Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold war is dedicated to his parents. Although he has named his characters Zula and Wiktor, like his mother and father, the story differs a lot from the real Zula and Wiktor story. In 1949 Wiktor Warski (Tomasz Kot) is a musical director crossing Poland to record folk songs and auditioning young Polish singers and dancers to form a folkoric troupe. He falls in love with young Zula (Joanna Kulig), a lovely girl with a beautiful voice. The fokloric show featuring Zula’s voice is a big success, but soon they are told that they have to be more patriotic. So the troupe start singing military songs and perform in front of giant pictires of Stalin. Zula and Wiktor are both defiant and decide to defect. They have a plan to flee to Paris, but Wiktor waits for Zula, who never shows up. So he leaves alone. They keep meeting each other over the years, once in Yugoslavia where Zula’s troupe is touring. Later they get together again in Paris. Wiktor is then a jazz pianist and Zula plans to record French versions of her Polish folk songs. No matter where they meet, their love is still strong and passionate. Their story spans almost twenty years from the late forties to the mid-60’s. It is rocked by political changes and musical styles. Folkloric, classical, jazz and rock and roll. One amazing momment occurs later in the film when an intoxicated Zula (played by the talented Joanna Kulig) dances to (We’re gonna) Rock around the clock, the classic song by Bill Haley & his comets. She swirls, jumps on tables and on the bar. At this point Pawlikowski can’t do better. In perfect control of his film and in harmony with his actress, who in turn gives a towering performance. But I don’t think that Cold war would be as compelling without its soundtrack. It is a such variety of different styles. Polish folk songs, jazz, modern film music, classical, and others. It’s very enjoyable. And then there is the brilliant black and white cinematography from Łukasz Żal. Żal’s work in Cold war should be seen more than anything. Not to be missed.

And the nominees are... In addition to best Foreign language film as the Polish nominee, Paweł Pawlikowski is nominated for Best director. Łukasz Żal is also nominated for Best cinematography. Żal was previously nominated for Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida, 2013’s winner for Best foreign language film. But this year there is Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from Febrary 15 – 22

Cold war (Zimna wojna)

Directed by:
Paweł Pawlikowski

Screenplay by:
Paweł Pawlikowski
Janusz Głowacki
Piotr Borkowski

Joanna Kulig
Tomasz Kot
Borys Szyc
Agata Kulesza

88 min.

In Polish with some French, Russian, German, Italian and Croatian with English subtitles.


Capernaum (کفرناحوم)

The story of Zain, (Zain Al Rafeea), a 12-year-old Lebanese boy, is framed in court where he makes the stunning statement that he wants to sue his parents “for giving me life”. Zain is accused of stabbing a man. In flashbacks we see what was the life for young Zain. Living with his parents in the poorest section of Beirut, Zain is very aware of his precarious existence. Rather than go to school, he spends his time in the street running errands, some of them criminal, for his parents. To make money, his parents (Kawtar al Haddad and Fadi Kamel Youssef) sell clothes saturated with drugs to prisoners. Zain’s 11-year-old sister is sold in marriage to a man, despite Zain’s desperate attempts to save her. Having had enough, Zain runs away. He meets Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw), an illegal emigrant from Ethiopia who works as a cleaning woman. Zain goes to live with Rahil and her baby in a small shed. In exchange for the food and the roof, Zain becomes the baby sitter when Rahil has to go out. When Rahil is arrested, Zain has to care for the boy by himself. There’s a local merchant that proposes to buy the baby to give up for adoption, he says. But Zain knows better. Zain grows desperate to feed himself and the baby. This is a devastating portrait of children living in poverty. It is done in a most realistic way. Shaky camera, with a cast of non-professional actors. Zain Al Rafeea, a Syrian refugee who moved to Lebanon in 2012, is basically playing his own life. He is literally carrying the film on his shoulder. Capernaum is a call to action for the children of the world as well as a very good film. It is a hard film to watch, at times unbearable, but with a resiliency that is ultimately winning. Compelling!

And the nominees are… Any other year Capernaum a great choice for Best foreign language film. But this year there’s  a phenomenon called Roma.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from February 8 – 18

Capernaum (کفرناحوم)

Directed by:
Nadine Labaki

Screenplay by:
Nadine Labaki
Jihad Hojeily
Michelle Keserwany
Georges Khabbaz
Khaled Mouzanar

Zain Al Rafeea
Yordanos Shiferaw
Boluwatife Treasure Bankolé
Kawtar al Haddad
Fadi Kamel Youssef
Alaa Chouchniye
Nadine Labaki

121 min.

In Arabic and Amharic with English subtitles.

Stan & Ollie

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were one of the most brilliant comedy duos working in silent and early talking films. Those of us who have enjoyed their films will never forget Laurel and Hardy. Some of the most memorable moments are reproduced here with great care by American actor John C. Reilly and British actor Steve Coogan. While they are making their classic 1937 comedy Way out west, Stan refuses to renew his contract with producer Hal Roach and wants to sign with another studio. Oliver disagrees, and because of his refusal to follow his partner’s plan, Stan will feel betrayed and bitter for years. Jump forward to 1953 when they haven’t done a film in two years film. They have accepted a tour of British Music halls. The producer Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones) has booked them in small second class theatres, and with no publicity, the comedians have to play to empty houses. To top it all they have to sleep in cheap hotels or bed and breakfast/ guesthouses. Delfont tells them that unless they do some publicity and public appearances, he can’t promise better venues or that they can even finish the tour. He was right, after small efforts from Stan and Ollie and word of mouth, they start filling the theatres and become a great success. Soon they are joined by their wives Lucille Laurel and Ida Hardy (Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda). Everyone gets along fine, if you don’t count Stan’s resentments from the past rearing its ugly head once in a while, and Ollie’s health. Oliver has gained some weight and at his age, life on the road has become difficult. John C. Reilly (helped by tons of make up) and Steve Coogan look so much like the real Laurel and Hardy and they worked so hard at their timing and the routines. When the two are on stage it’s a tour-de-force. It is less successful when they are seen doing comedy in their daily lives. Stan and Ollie checking in at the hotel and trying to impress an unimpressed the hotel clerk doesn’t quite work. But that’s a small problem that won’t spoil the joy of Laurel/Coogan and Hardy/Reilly. I should also note that Henderson and Arianda have worked out a pleasurable little comic duo of their own. This has been made for people like me who know and have enjoyed Laurel and Hardy, but also for the younger generations to discover them. That’s what I hope.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from February 8 – 14

Stan & Ollie

Directed by:
Jon S. Baird

Screenplay by:
Jeff Pope

Steve Coogan
John C. Reilly
Shirley Henderson
Nina Arianda
Rufus Jones
Danny Huston

97 min.

91st Academy awards

There are no surprise with Roma‘s nomination for Best picture. But it is a pleasant one for Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira’s nominations. And between Cuarón’s nod as Best director there is Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski. And can you believe it’s Spike Lee’s first? That and Lady Gaga makes it exciting… maybe. Oscar night is February 24.


Best picture


Black panther (Kevin Feige)

BlacKkKlansman (Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Raymond Mansfield, Jordan Peele, and Spike Lee)

Bohemian rhapsody (Graham King)

The favourite (Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Lee Magiday, and Yorgos Lanthimos)

Green book (Jim Burke, Charles B. Wessler, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly, and Nick Vallelonga)

Roma (Gabriela Rodriguez and Alfonso Cuarón)

A star is born (Bill Gerber, Bradley Cooper, and Lynette Howell Taylor)

Vice (Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Adam McKay, and Kevin J. Messick)


Best actor


Christian Bale (Vice)

Bradley Cooper (A star is born)

Willem Dafoe (At eternity’s gate)

Rami Malek (Bohemian rhapsody)

Viggo Mortensen (Green book)


Best actress


Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)

Glenn Close (The wife)

Olivia Colman (The favourite)

Lady Gaga (A star is born)

Melissa McCarthy (Can you ever forgive me?)


Best supporting actor


Mahershala Ali (Green book)

Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)

Sam Elliott (A star is born)

Richard E. Grant (Can you ever forgive me?)

Sam Rockwell (Vice)


Best supporting actress


Amy Adams (Vice)

Marina de Tavira (Roma)

Regina King (If Beale street could talk)

Emma Stone (The favourite)

Rachel Weisz (The favourite)


Best director


Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)

Yorgos Lanthimos (The favourite)

Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)

Adam McKay (Vice)

Paweł Pawlikowski (Cold war)


Best original screenplay


The favourite (Written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara)

First reformed (Written by Paul Schrader)

Green book (Written by Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, and Peter Farrelly)

Roma (Written by Alfonso Cuarón)

Vice (Written by Adam McKay)


Best adapted screenplay


The ballad of Buster Scruggs (Screenplay by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen)

BlacKkKlansman (Screenplay by Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee)

Can you ever forgive me? (Screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty)

If Beale street could talk (Screenplay by Barry Jenkins)

A star is born (Screenplay by Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters)


Best animated feature film


Incredibles 2 (Brad Bird, John Walker, and Nicole Paradis Grindle)

Isle of dogs (Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales, and Jeremy Dawson)

Mirai (Mamoru Hosoda and Yūichirō Saitō)

Ralph breaks the internet (Rich Moore, Phil Johnston, and Clark Spencer)

Spider-Man: Into the spider-verse (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, Phil Lord, and Christopher Miller)


Best cinematography


Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)

Caleb Deschanel (Never look away)

Matthew Libatique (A star is born)

Robbie Ryan (The favourite)

Łukasz Żal (Cold war)


Best production design


Black panther (Production design: Hannah Beachler; Set decoration: Jay Hart)

The favourite (Production design: Fiona Crombie; Set decoration: Alice Felton)

First man (Production design: Nathan Crowley; Set decoration: Kathy Lucas)

Mary Poppins returns (Production design: John Myhre; Set decoration: Gordon Sim)

Roma (Production design: Eugenio Caballero; Set decoration: Bárbara Enrı́quez)


Best sound mixing


Black panther (Steve Boeddeker, Brandon Proctor and Peter Devlin)

Bohemian rhapsody (Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin and John Casali)

First man (Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Ai-Ling Lee and Mary H. Ellis)

Roma (Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan and José Antonio García)

A star is born (Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, Jason Ruder and Steve Morrow)


Best sound editing


Black panther (Benjamin A. Burtt and Steve Boeddeker)

Bohemian rhapsody (John Warhurst and Nina Hartstone)

First man (Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan)

A quiet place (Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl)

Roma (Sergio Díaz and Skip Lievsay)


Best documentary – Feature


Free solo (Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin, Evan Hayes, and Shannon Dill)

Hale county this morning, this evening (RaMell Ross, Joslyn Barnes, and Su Kim)

Minding the gap (Bing Liu and Diane Quon)

Of fathers and sons (Talal Derki, Ansgar Frerich, Eva Kemme, and Tobias N. Siebert)

RBG (Betsy West and Julie Cohen)


Best documentary – Short subject


Black sheep (Ed Perkins and Jonathan Chinn)

End game (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman)

Lifeboat (Skye Fitzgerald and Bryn Mooser)

A night at the garden (Marshall Curry)

Period. End of sentence. (Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton)


Best live action action film


Detainment (Vincent Lambe and Darren Mahon)

Fauve (Jérémy Comte and Maria Gracia Turgeon)

Marguerite (Marianne Farley and Marie-Hélène Panisset)

Mother (Rodrigo Sorogoyen and María del Puy Alvarado)

Skin (Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman)


Best animated short film


Animal behaviour (Alison Snowden and David Fine)

Bao (Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb)

Late afternoon (Louise Bagnall and Nuria González Blanco)

One small step (Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas)

Weekends (Trevor Jimenez)


Best original song


“All the stars” from Black panther (Music by Mark Spears, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth and Anthony Tiffith; Lyrics by Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, Anthony Tiffith and Solána Rowe)

“I’ll fight” from RBG (Music and Lyrics by Diane Warren)

“The place where lost things Go” from Mary Poppins returns (Music and Lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman)

“Shallow” from A star is born (Music and Lyrics by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt)

“When a cowboy trades his spurs for wings” from The ballad of Buster Scruggs (Music and Lyrics by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch)


Best original score


Terence Blanchard (BlacKkKlansman)

Nicholas Britell (If Beale street could talk)

Alexandre Desplat (Isle of dogs)

Ludwig Göransson (Black panther)

Marc Shaiman (Mary Poppins returns)


Best film editing


BlacKkKlansman (Barry Alexander Brown)

Bohemian rhapsody (John Ottman)

The favourite (Yorgos Mavropsaridis)

Green book (Patrick J. Don Vito)

Vice (Hank Corwin)


Best costume design


The ballad of Buster Scruggs (Mary Zophres)

Black panther (Ruth E. Carter)

The favourite (Sandy Powell)

Mary Poppins returns (Sandy Powell)

Mary Queen of Scots (Alexandra Byrne)


Best makeup and hairstyling


Border (Göran Lundström and Pamela Goldammer)

Mary Queen of Scots (Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher, and Jessica Brooks)

Vice (Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia Dehaney)


Best visual effects


Avengers: Infinity war (Dan DeLeeuw, Kelly Port, Russell Earl, and Dan Sudick)

Christopher Robin (Christopher Lawrence, Michael Eames, Theo Jones, and Chris Corbould)

First man (Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles, and J. D. Schwalm)

Ready player one (Roger Guyett, Grady Cofer, Matthew E. Butler, and David Shirk)

Solo: A star wars story (Rob Bredow, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan, and Dominic Tuohy)


Best foreign language film


Capernaum (Lebanon)

Cold war (Poland)

Never look away (Germany)

Roma (Mexico)

Shoplifters (Japan)

Shoplifters (Mabiki kazoku)

The latest film from Hirokazu Kore-eda, Shoplifters, won the Cannes festival Palme d’or. It presents an unusual family. We first meet Osamu (Lily Franky) and Shota (Jyo Kairi), a father and son team of shoplifters. While dad/Osamu creates a diversion, son/Shota takes food from the shelves. On their way home they see a little girl, Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), locked out outside on a cold night. From the house they can hear her parents fighting. Osamu decides to take Yuri home. The shed they call “home” is a dump. At “home” there is Osamu’s wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), an aunt, and grandmother Hatsue (veteran actress Kirin Kiki who died in 2018. This was her last film.). Osamu tells a cynical Nobuyo, that they’ll only keep Yuri for super, but they keep her overnight and after they find scars and burns on the girl’s body, it becomes clear that they she’s there to stay. When news reports that police are looking for Yuri, they cut her hair and call her Lin. Although Nobuyo works for a laundry company and Aki in a hostess club, they too are stealing any time they can. And grandma is doing it as well, still collecting the pension from her deceased husband. I cannot say more, otherwise I would spoil it for some. Let’s just say that things are not what they seem, and that a “family” should be defined more by love than biological links. This a well done Comedy/drama, with Kore-eda’s usual knack for casting. He directs with what I would call a minimalist-realistic approach. Shoplifters is another of the Japanese director’s films about families. Those who enjoyed Like father, like son, Our little sister and After the storm are sure to like Shoplifters.

And the nominees are … Japan’s Shoplifters found its way among the five films in the Best foreign language film category. But it will be an almost impossible task to win against Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. But nothing is impossible.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Shoplifters (Mabiki kazoku)


Directed by:
Hirokazu Kore-eda

Screenplay by:
Hirokazu Kore-eda

Lily Franky
Sakura Ando
Mayu Matsuoka
Kairi Jō
Miyu Sasaki
Kirin Kiki

121 min.

Rated 14A

In Japanese with English subtitles

The woman who loves giraffes

Documentary films are a perfect way to complete one’s education. It shows you worlds you did not suspect existed and can make you meet heroes ignored by history books. Anne Innis Dagg is such a hero. A Canadian hero. Born in Toronto, Anne Innis fell in love with giraffes after a first visit at the zoo when she was a small child. As a young woman Anne studied biology, genetics and animal behavior. At 23 she went to South Africa to study giraffes. That happened four years before Jane Goodall went to Africa for her famed chimpanzee studies. If Innis is not as well-known, is may be because Goodall was studying primates, considered more important. A young woman travelling alone to South Africa during apartheid in the mid 50s  was daring and bold. She could see giraffes up close and noticed some peculiar behaviors. She saw male giraffes tasting the female’s urine before mating, and she witnessed homosexual behaviors among giraffes. Back in Canada, after she successfully graduated, Innis couldn’t get tenure at any Ontario Universities. Why? Because she was a woman. She, a respected, published author of over 60 scientific papers and books could not find a job, while she saw male professors with less experience and fewer qualifications get hired. She filed a complaint with the Ontario human rights commission, but the commission ruled against her. She had a husband and children who loved and supported her, but still, it must have hurt. Later she wrote about the gender bias at Canadian Universities. Director Alison Reid is using films of young Anne’s first stay in South Africa and Anne’s diary entries and letters from her, friends and family are read by actors. Among them there is Victor Garber and Tatiana Maslany reading young Anne. Reid follows Innis later in life as she is finally recognized for her work. Reid is also there as Innis returns to South Africa more than 50 years later. Innis is today considered the world’s most influential expert on giraffes and animal behavior. A book on giraffes she wrote earlier in her career was, as the film claims, read by many young people who later considered a career studying, caring and loving animals. This film is a fitting tribute to Anne Innis Dagg, a Canadian hero.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The woman who loves giraffes


Directed by:
Alison Reid

Screenplay by:
Alison Reid

83 min.

Rated General

Mademoiselle de Jonquières

Emmanuel Mouret’s Mademoiselle de Jonquières is an exquisitely fluffy comedy of manners and revenge set in 18th century, France. It stars the marvelous Cécile de France as Madame de La Pommeraye, a young, attractive widow. Spending most of her time on her lavish country estate, Madame takes long walks in her garden with the Marquis des Arcis (Édouard Baer), a houseguest who doesn’t seem to want to leave. Madame knows very well that the Marquis is wooing her, but she finds his attempts amusing. Besides, she enjoys the long conversations they have, and the attention of course. Madame’s friend, Lucienne (Laure Calamy), warns Madame about the Marquis. If she is to become his lover, eventually he will leave her at the first opportunity and go to his next conquest. Madame de La Pommeraye dismisses Lucienne’s warnings, and starts an affair with the Marquis. But Lucienne was right. The Marquis des Arcis tells Madame that he has fallen out of love, but they should remain good friends. She tells the Marquis that she agrees, but she’s terribly vexed. To exact revenge, she hires the help of Madame de Joncquières (Natalia Dontcheva), a woman who was seduced, scandalously became pregnant and had to prostitute herself to feed her daughter, who also became a prostitute. That daughter is the Mademoiselle de Joncquières (Alice Isaaz) of the title. On Madame’s instructions they are to pretend to be religious devout. Madame arranges for the Marquis to meet them, hoping he won’t be able to resist the (false) virgin Mademoiselle. Mademoiselle de Jonquières is inspired from characters in Denis Diderot’s Jacques le fataliste et son maître. It is a lighter, fun version of Les liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. It is a talk fest, a genre of film that I don’t always enjoy. But there is something here that I found irresistible. There is the snappy dialogue and the acting from the two leads. Cécile de France smiling eyes, Baer’s passionate performance. Mouret and Laurent Desmet, his cinematographer, made the brilliant decision to set most of the exteriors, most of the film in fact, in bright and sunny French gardens. The camera has been pulled back to reveal the characters surrounded by spectacular landscapes. The film is at times cruel, yes, but it is also very funny. Mademoiselle de Jonquières is a joy to watch.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Mademoiselle de Jonquières


Directed by:
Emmanuel Mouret

Screenplay by:
Emmanuel Mouret
Based on the stories from Denis Diderot’s Jacques le fataliste et son maître

Cécile de France
Edouard Baer
Alice Isaaz
Natalia Dontcheva
Laure Calamy

119 min.

In French with English subtitles.

If Beale street could talk

There’s talk of Oscar nominations for If Beale street could talk, Barry Jenkins’s follow up to Best picture Oscar winner Moonlight. Adapted from civil-rights activist James Baldwin’s 1974 novel, it is a love story between 19-year-old Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) and 22-year-old Fonny Hunt (Toronto born Stephan James). Their story is set in Harlem during the early 1970s. When Tish announces she is pregnant, her parents Joseph (Colman Domingo) and Sharon (Regina King in an Oscar worthy turn) are surprisingly supportive. They have more problem telling Fonny’s mom (an explosive Aunjanue Ellis) who is not one to mince words. But after they start living together, the couple has other problems. Fonny is falsely accused of rape and arrested by a racist cop. Tish knows that Fonny has an alibi, and she finds out that witnesses claim that a white man was the rapist. Worse, it seems that the victim has suddenly, and conveniently, moved back to her native South-American country. Desperate to help, Sharon flies there and tries to find her. Such is the plight of African-Americans, then and now. As he did with Moonlight, Jenkins chronicles the lives of American black communities. It seems to us that we are watching something new, innovative, and we are unprepared to see something so fresh, new and real. The emotional impact is coming from every directions at once. The production values are exceptional. From cinematographer James Laxton’s bright colors, to composer Nicholas Britell’s jazz infused score, there is not a wrong turn in the film. It has a perfect ensemble cast, headed by the brilliant Ms. King. But what that impressed me most is the screenplay. James Baldwin’s words (Oscar nominated documentary I am not your negro was about Baldwin and his writings) are treated with so much respect, spoken with such reverence, that it felt that the actors were reading poetry. As if Baldwin was a modern-day Shakespeare. That’s one of the best reason to see If Beale street could talk.

And the nominees are… I thought it could have been a very good Best picture nominee, but it only has three nominations. But there are only three: the Barry Jenkins screenplay, Nicholas Britell’s evocative score and Best supporting actress Regina King. I think King might get it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton


Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from February 18 – 20


If Beale street could talk


Directed by:
Barry Jenkins

Screenplay by:
Barry Jenkins
Based on the novel by James Baldwin

KiKi Layne
Stephan James
Regina King
Colman Domingo
Teyonah Parris
Michael Beach
Brian Tyree Henry
Ed Skrein

117 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

2018’s Top Ten

Here we go again. From the films I see at the ByTowne Cinema this is my top ten. I see none of the big blockbusters released in the big Cineplexes. To tell you the truth, I’ve had better years! I did not pick Roma or If Beale street could talk because, although I found them admirable, they were not entirely satisfactory. There were some nice surprises. This year’s gay drama God’s own country was better than 2017 Call me by my name.  It was raw and real. And then there is the other gay film The cakemaker. And I will only say “Aw, Maria Callas!”. There are here some small treasures. Enjoy! There is a link to the full review under each titles. Happy new year!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

1. Foxtrot (פוֹקְסטְרוֹט) by Samuel Maoz

2. God’s own country by Francis Lee

3. The cakemaker (האופה מברלין) by Ofir Raul Graizer

4. Hochelaga, Terre des âmes (Hochelaga, Land of souls) by François Girard

5. Un beau soleil intérieur (Let the sunshine in) by Claire Denis

6. Under the tree (Undir trénu) by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson

7. Les gardiennes (The guardians) by Xavier Beauvois

8. The children act by Richard Eyre

9. Three identical strangers by Tim Wardle

10. Maria by Callas by Tom Volf


Alfonso Cuarón’s hommage to the women who raised him stars Yalitza Aparicio, an amazing performer in her first film, as Cleo, a live-in maid working for Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Doctor Antonio (Fernando Grediaga). Roma is set in 1970 in Colonia Roma, a neighborhood in Mexico City. Four children and Teresa (Verónica García), Sofia’s mother, in addition to Adela (Nancy García), another maid, are living in the household. The workload is heavy. The house is a mess, and it’s up to the maids to make sure it doesn’t get worse. Cooking, cleaning after the two dogs, laundry (no machines, done by hand on the roof), taking care of the kids, including putting them to bed at night and waking them up in the morning and dropping them to and picking them from school. When the family goes on vacation or are invited to visit friends, they bring Cleo with them. On her days off Cleo goes to the movies with her boyfriend Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), Adela and her boyfriend. After having sex with Fermín, Cleo finds out she is pregnant. When she tells Fermín, he disapears and is nowhere to be found. Cleo confides in Sofia, and her employer is very supportive and wants to help Cleo. Antonio, who left to attend a conference in Quebec, has given the news that he met another woman and is not coming back. Sofia, the children and the maids go to a family friend’s hacienda for the New Year’s celebration. While there, a wildfire erupts in the forest. The guests are scrambling to put it out as the new year approaches. Back in town, while Cleo and Teresa are shopping to buy a crib for Cleo’s baby, they are witness to the 1971 Corpus Christi massacre, where 120 protestors were killed by Los Halcones, a clandestine paramilitary group. Among the Los Halcones, she recognizes Fermín. As a result of these events, and others, Cleo’s life is often shaken. Technically the film is most impressive. The sound quality, be it the wildfire, the protest or the sound of waves crashing on the beach, or the stunning black-and-white photography (with Cuarón acting as his own cinematography) are sure to get some awards. Roma is a realistic portrait of a maid’s daily routine. But apart from small dramas and the fact that Cuarón’s film takes place in 1970, Roma doesn’t have much of a story. One of my favorite Quebec entertainer is poet, singer, songwriter and humorist Clémence DesRochers. In one of her most celebrated songs, La vie d’factrie, DesRochers gives voice to a woman who has worked in a factory her whole life. The song ends with a dramatic exclamation. “Maintenant j’ai plus rien à vous dire/J’suis pas un sujet à chanson” (“Now I have nothing else to tell you/ I’m not a topic for a song”) Why can’t Cleo’s life be a topic for a film? Historians will tell you that it’s not only the Kings, Queens and politicians that make history. Ordinary people are, at the very least, witness to their times. Sometimes they put out wildfires, other times they help one another when times are hard. The film ends with a reassuring thought, Cleo is not only a maid, she’s a member of the family, she is loved. Her story is worth telling and seeing.

And the nominees are… Ten nominations for Roma, a lot for a foreign language film. Director Alfonso Cuarón has four nominations. Best picture, Director, Screenplay, cinematography.  Yalitza Aparicio has a Best actress nod and, very rare for a foreign film, Marina de Tavira a Best supporting actress. It probably will win some. Maybe Best picture. Surely Best foreign language film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton


Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from February 8 – 10




Directed by:
Alfonso Cuarón

Screenplay by:
Alfonso Cuarón

Yalitza Aparicio
Marina de Tavira
Nancy García
Verónica García
Jorge Antonio Guerrero
Carlos Peralta
Marco Graf
Daniela Demesa

135 min.

Black & White.

In Spanish and Mixtecan with English subtitles