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

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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.

RBG

What I knew about Ruth Bader Ginsburg came mostly from Kate McKinnon’s impersonations on Saturday night live. RBG is a new documentary about the Supreme court justice, her life, her work on behalf of gender equality and exploring just how much of a bad ass she is still today at 85. She was born in 1933 and Celia, her mom, taught her to “Be a lady” and “Be independent”. At Harvard law school, where she enrolled in 1956, there were only 9 women among five hundred men. Later, even though she had graduated first of her class, it proved difficult for Ginsburg to find employment as no one would hire a woman. One thing is sure: she could not have asked for a more supportive husband. Tax lawyer Martin D. Ginsburg (deceased in 2010) was her biggest champion. In the 70s working with the American civil liberties union (ACLU), Ginsbur argued six gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court, winning five. She was nominated to the Supreme court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, where Ginsburg’s dissenting opinions called on Congress to successfully amend unjust laws. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a hero to many young woman. She has been nicknamed “The notorious RBG”, pictured as a super hero on magazine covers, tattoos, coloring book and t-shirts. She knows that the name comes from rapper “The notorious BIG”, she gloats. When she watches Kate McKinnon’s impersonation, although she does not think it looks like her, she finds it funny. She laughs and we laugh. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is fun, and so is this film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

RBG

 

Directed by:
Julie Cohen
Betsy West

97 min.

Itzhak

When you look at Itzhak Perlman as he plays the violin, of course you notice how agile his fingers are, how fast they can move. But you can also see how happy Perlman seems to be. In this new documentary by Alison Chernick, we visit Perlman, his wife Toby and their two dogs in their house in New York. We follow them at different concert venues, at the Juilliard school where he teaches violin and on trips to Israel. As some of you will know, Perlman contracted Polio as a child and there are many TV appearances where he was walking on stage with crutches. Now he uses an electric scooter. During a winter trip outside in the street of New York his entourage has brought a shovel to clear the sidewalks. Through conversations he has with Toby, family and friends we learn about his life. Itzhak Perlman was born in Tel Aviv in 1945. The family emigrated to the USA when he was 10 years old. Because of his disability, many people doubted he could have a career despite the incredible quality of the boy’s playing, so he was mostly ignored. Then in 1958, when he was 13, he made a memorable appearance on The Ed Sullivan show that changed everything. During the course of the film we see Perlman dinning and having fun with his friend actor Alan Alda. He receives the Medal of freedom from Barack Obama and while in Israel he dines with Benjamin Netanyahu. He also plays at a concert with Billy Joel where they are rehearsing We didn’t start the fire. And then there is the beautiful and joyful music that Itzhak Perlman plays. The highlight is Perlman playing John Williams’ Schindler’s list. It confirms the great quality of the film composer’s masterpiece. The meeting of two brilliant artists. Itzhak is a celebration of life. Bravo!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Itzhak

 

Directed by:
Alison Chernick

83 min.

Rated General.

The seagull

This excellent film adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s 1895 classic play seems to have everything right. Screenwriter Stephen Karam has done a great job by opening the play a bit, but has kept the story and the motivations (from what I can tell) pretty much the same. The film stars Annette Bening as Irina Arkadina, an aging actress spending the summer at her brother’s beautiful Russian country estate. She’s accompanied by her lover, well-known playwright Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll), and her troubled son, Konstantin (Billy Howle). There are other characters with them and they all seem to have one thing in common: unrequited love. There is Masha (Elisabeth Moss), daughter of the estate manager, who is obsessed with Konstantin. But Konstantin is secretly in love with Nina (Saoirse Ronan), a young neighbour who dreams of becoming an actress. Konstantin is upset at his mother because she mocked one of his plays. He also dislikes Boris and is resentful of his talent. It gets worse when Boris attempts to seduce an all too willing Nina. It may be impossible for modern audiences to understand this community of 19th century over-the-top dramatic actresses of artists and romantic/suicidal youths, but if there is one cast that can do it, this is the one. Bening in particular understands the bigger than life persona and never misses a chance to strike a pose. She’s grand. A refreshing aspect of this film is that the mostly American cast did not feel the need to speak with an accent. Too many times I’ve seen actors absurdly attempting to take a Russian accent or a British accent. To my ear, everyone spoke a very good English without any accents. Director Michael Mayer keeps it all snappy and frothy. Very enjoyable.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The seagull

 

Directed by:
Michael Mayer

Screenplay by:
Stephen Karam
Based on the play by Anton Chekhov

Starring:
Saoirse Ronan
Annette Bening
Corey Stoll
Billy Howle
Elisabeth Moss
Brian Dennehy
Mare Winningham
Jon Tenney

98 min.

The young Karl Marx

After his powerful documentary I am not your negro, Haitian director Raoul Peck seems to be happy taking difficult and arduous topics. Case in point is this biopic about Karl Marx, the father of communism. We first meet journalist Marx (August Diehl) in 1844 at 26, fleeing German censorship to go to Paris. It’s there that Marx and his wife Jenny (Vicky Krieps) meet Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske). Engels is coming from Manchester, England where he reluctantly helps is father run a textile factory. Engels can see that the workers are exploited, overworked, underpaid and he decries the child labour. at the factory. Together, with the help of Jenny and Engels’ companion, Mary Burns (Hannah Steele), they will write The Communist manifesto. That means lots of meeting with socialist philosophers. Since I know nothing about the birth of the movement, I’ve never heard of them. Two of the most well-known at the time seems to have been Pierre Proudhon and Wilhelm Weitling. The young Karl Marx is a most talkative film. Although the acting from the four leads and the production values are excellent, the subject matter makes this film, unless you are familiar with the subject matter, a bit of a boring affair. Still, it’s intriguing. Your choice.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The young Karl Marx

 

Directed by:
Raoul Peck

Screenplay by:
Raoul Peck
Pascal Bonitzer

Starring:
August Diehl
Stefan Konarske
Vicky Krieps
Olivier Gourmet
Hannah Steele

118 min.

In German, French and English with English subtitles.