Leave no trace

Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) live outdoors in a public park in Portland, Oregon. They’ve set up a camp under a tree with a small tarp covering their heads. They can either cook on a fire, when it’s not raining, or on a propane BBQ they have brought with them. This is their home. Tom is 13-year-old. They must be careful not to be seen, as it is illegal to live in a public park. Occasionally they have military drills as a practise in case they are discovered. Will is an army veteran, probably suffering from some form of PTSD. During his sleep he has nightmares, and he wakes with the sounds of helicopters ringing in his head. Then it happens. The cops find them. Authorities get involved. They are submitted to a series of stupid psychiatric tests with stupid questions. A social worker finds them a home where they can live. It’s on a farm where they grow Christmas trees. Will  works at the farm. But “civilization” is not Will’s thing. In a telling scene, he unplugs the TV set and puts it away in the closet. He rejects society and its values. So it’s not long before he decides that they have to leave. By that time Tom has made friends with a local boy who raises rabbits and started to get accustomed to school and a more regulated life. She reluctantly packs up and leaves with him. A series of accidents will make the journey back to wilderness difficult. Debra Granik’s assured direction is remarkable here. She does not need to over-dramatize. She only observes without judging. The characters are already infused with baggage that is so rich. These are people with very few words. There are no long speeches. Although it doesn’t sound like it, it makes it harder for actors to do. McKenzie and Foster have the added task of playing father and daughter, to create a bond out of thin air. I thought that Ben Foster has always been unappreciated, and I hope that he will finally get the acclaim that he deserves. His work here, as well as Granik’s and McKenzie’s should be applauded.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Leave no trace

 

Directed by:
Debra Granik

Screenplay by:
Debra Granik
Anne Rosellini
Based on the novel My abandonment by Peter Rock

Starring:
Ben Foster
Thomasin McKenzie
Jeff Kober
Dale Dickey

109 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

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Boundaries

It doesn’t take a very long time before you realize that road-movie Boundaries is one mother of a messy film. It’s a shame because I really like Vera Farmiga, Lewis MacDougall and Christopher Plummer, the film’s three main actors. Farmiga plays Laura Jaconi, a woman who finds comfort in picking up stray dogs and cats. There’s too many in the house, but every time she sees one, she can’t resist. Laura lives with her 13-year-old son, Henry (Scottish teen actor Lewis McDougall), who got kicked out of school for drawing his female teacher in a sexy pose…  naked. He does that to everyone including his mom lovers. And then there is Jack, Laura’s estranged father. She’s trying to avoid answering his insistent phone calls because she knows he’s trouble. And because she knows he never really loved her. But when she does answer he tells her that he’s been kicked of the retirement home because he was caught selling marijuana. He needs her help. She needs money to send Henry to private school. As played by Christopher Plummer, Jack has the air of a person you cannot help but love even though you damn well know you shouldn’t trust him. And of course he’s got perfect timing. The plan is to drive from Portland to Los Angeles (but it was filmed in Vancouver, BC), where Jack is supposed to stay with his other daughter JoJo (Kristen Schaal), who seems to occupy herself walking dogs. But Laura doesn’t know that in Jack’s luggage there is $200,000 worth of pot. To help him sell it he strikes a deal with Henry, his grandson. The pot is to be carried in adult diapers (Got it? As geriatric humour it’s not very subtle.). Along the way they visit some old friends (Christopher Lloyd and Peter Fonda) and Laura’s ex and Henry’s father (Bobby Cannavale). During the trip Laura starts to reconnect with her dad again. But the whole time he’s taking advantage of her, and enlisting her son to do the same. I found the film mean-spirited, and frankly not funny enough. Yes, I like Farmiga and Lewis MacDougall. and Christopher Plummer is great, as always. The characters are supposed to be quirky, but they are just messy people in a messy movie.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Boundaries

 

Directed by:
Shana Feste

Screenplay by:
Shana Feste

Starring:
Vera Farmiga
Christopher Plummer
Lewis MacDougall
Peter Fonda
Kristen Schaal
Christopher Lloyd
Bobby Cannavale

104 min.

Rated 14A

Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti (Gaugin – Voyage de Tahiti)

Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti is about Paul Gauguin’s first trip to Tahiti. Gauguin (Vincent Cassel) left Paris in 1891 in the hopes of coming back a rich man. But soon after he gets there he becomes very sick. The doctor (Malik Zidi) orders him to stop smoking and change his diet. He doesn’t, but instead he falls for a local girl, and with her parents consent, they move together in a small hut. And with her love he is now cured. The girl is known today as Tehura, Tehamana or Teha’amana. In the film she is played by Tuheï Adams. Tehura will become one of Gauguin’s most important Polynesian model. (his painting D’où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous? is thought to be his most beautiful Polynesian work) But Gauguin is unable to sell his paintings and they get so poor that they can’t feed themselves. So he goes to seek work. By that time Tehura is in love with Jotépha (Pua-Taï Hikutini), a boy closer to her age. Gauguin is jealous and he locks her in the house while he’s gone to work. I found the film to be too slow and, beside the splendid French Polynesian landscape, it did not have anything interesting to say. In doing my research I learned that Tehura, who really existed, but in the film is probably a composite of all of Gauguin’s Polynesian “wife”, was only 13 years old, while Gauguin was 43, and all his companions were about the same age. While it is probably consistent with the mores of Tahiti at the time, today that information is not good material for a biopic. The filmmakers knew it and there is no mention of Tehura’s age. Neither did they tell us that Gauguin suffered from syphilis, probably a deadly disease at the time. In the film the disease is diabetes. I found the filmmaker to be dishonest. Was Gauguin a great artist? Yes. Should his paintings be seen by more people? Yes. But there is no reason to mask the truth. We should see a person for what they are and were, warts and all. Plus the film is a bore.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti (Gaugin – Voyage de Tahiti)

 

Directed by:
Édouard Deluc

Screenplay by:
Édouard Deluc
Étienne Comar
Thomas Lilti
Sarah Kaminsky

Starring:
Vincent Cassel
Tuheï Adams
Malik Zidi
Pua-Taï Hikutini
Pernille Bergendorff

102 min.

In French and some Polynesian languages with English subtitles

The gospel according to André

André Leon Talley (AKA as ALT) is the in-your-face, larger-than-life gay African-American fashion journalist and former editor-at-large of Vogue. Kate Novack’s camera follows Talley for several months. He’s a big man who now mostly wears classy and colorful capes and caftans. Although he was born in Washington, D. C., Talley was raised by his grandmother, Binnie Francis Davis, in North Carolina in the Jim Crow South during the segregation era. After working at Andy Warhol’s Factory in New York in 1974, André started volunteering at Metropolitan museum of art for Diana Vreeland, than worked at Vogue in various functions from 1983 to 2013. With photos, film archives and interviews from his collaborators (among them Anna Wintour from Vogue) The gospel according to André gives us a mildly interesting portrait of what made André a fashion icon. But there’s another dramatic arch that takes over the film. The gospel according to André was shot during the 2016 American election. All I will tell you is that there is devastation the morning after the election. For that and for André Leon Talley, some may want to see it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The gospel according to André

 

Directed by:
Kate Novack

94 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Let the sunshine in (Un beau soleil intérieur)

What is Let the sunshine in suppose to be about? Are we to take this representation of French relations as real? Or as a satire? Director Claire Denis seems to be having a great time with this film. Juliette Binoche plays Isabelle, a painter with a mess of a love life. We first see her with a banker (Xavier Beauvois). A terrible human being who treats people as if he owns them. Isabelle seems at first happy even though he’s unable to sexually satisfy her. She eventually leaves him, but throughout the film the banker stalks Isabelle. Then she meets an actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle). He is hesitant to start a relationship with her, but once he has, he admits that he had more fun “before”. He liked everything that went on “before” the relationship, so let’s do it again. All these people, including Isabelle, talk non-stop. It’s like I was watching a Eric Rohmer film (oh no!) or Jacques Doyon (more fun), except that Let the sunshine is funnier and less annoying. It’s as if Denis was winking at me, “It’s only a joke!”. But there’s more to it than that. Isabelle’s male friends lecturing her on what she should do, how she should feel. Isabelle dating to the point of exhaustion, or being in tears because she can’t find a man. I think it’s a cartoon on French misogyny. Through it all there is the amazing Binoche. I don’t think I’ve ever liked her as much as I do here. She’s cutting and precise. And at the end (during the end credits no less) Gérard Depardieu joins her. It’s a softer Depardieu, and with Binoche, it is pure magic.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Let the sunshine in (Un beau soleil intérieur)

 

Directed by:
Claire Denis

Screenplay by:
Christine Angot
Claire Denis
Based on Fragments d’un discours amoureux
by Roland Barthes

Starring:
Juliette Binoche
Xavier Beauvois
Josiane Balasko
Philippe Katerine
Gérard Depardieu

96 min.

In French with English subtitles

Hearts beat loud

The great chemistry between Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons is one of the main reason to go see Hearts beat loud. Offerman and Clemons play father and daughter Frank and Sam Fisher. As Frank is just about to close his Brooklyn vinyl record store after 17 years, Sam is leaving to college to study medicine. So Dad wants to jam with his daughter a few times before she leaves. Frank plays the guitar and Sam is on some sort of keyboards/samplers. When Frank ask Sam what they should call their band, Sam swiftly answers “We are not a band.”. So the name of the band becomes We are not a band. Sam has several things on her mind. Beside wanting to become a doctor, she’s in love with Rose (Sasha Lane). (Sam’s lesbianism is refreshingly not an issue for anyone in Hearts beat loud.) But Sam was born into music. Frank and Sam’s mom, who died in a bicycle accident, were in a band together, and Marianne, Frank’s mother and Sam’s grandmother (Blythe Danner, who unfortunately only has a few scenes) was a singer in her younger years. So “Music runs in the family” (as the tagline for the film says). Sam is interested enough with music that she writes songs, including a love song for Rose. It’s called Hearts beat loud, and Frank is so enthusiastic about the song that he puts it on Spotify where it becomes a hit. He is already planning for a world tour. Sam will have none of it, she loves singing with her Dad, but she’s leaving for college. Offerman and Clemons are so effective at recreating the love between fathers/mothers and daughters/sons. Their little arguments where Frank is trying to say something to make Sam laugh, but Sam, like all teenagers, never find her Dad funny. It all rings true. Toni Collette plays Leslie, Frank’s vinyl store landlady and possible love interest. And Ted Danson is Dave, Frank’s best friend who also owns a bar (Yes, Danson behind a bar again). But the film belongs to Kiersey Clemons, who, beside being a talented actress, has such a powerful singing voice. Hearts beat loud’s songs were all composed by Keegan DeWitt, including the inspired title song. In my favorite scene, Frank and Sam are recording Hearts beat loud. The arrangement is simple at first with only a few instruments, as more instruments are added, the song builds up layers upon layers. This seems an apt description for this film. It may seem at first a simple, charming film, but it becomes more complex and compelling. Still, it is charming.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Hearts beat loud

 

Directed by:
Brett Haley

Screenplay by:
Brett Haley
Marc Basch

Starring:
Nick Offerman
Kiersey Clemons
Toni Collette
Ted Danson
Sasha Lane
Blythe Danner

97 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Kusama: Infinity

Japanese visual artist Yayoi Kusama started having visions at ten years old. There was dots or flowers engulfing everything, even herself. She called it “self-obliteration”. Already Kusama started painting dots or the “infinity nets” that would become her trademark. In her twenties, when Japanese conventions made it impossible for her to have a career, she moved to New York, where it was hard for any woman to get an exhibition in an important gallery. According to Heather Lenz, this amounted to sexism, and I agree. Every time that Kusama would do something innovative and totally original, although the avant-garde reviews were positive, it did not advance her career. But when, a few months later, male artists (among them Andy Warhol) would copy or imitate what Kusama was the first to do, their careers would blossom. In the film we see a couch with white phallic protrusions (Kusama calls them “soft puppets”). That was copied by a male artists who got all of the credits. Same thing happened with her Infinity mirrors installation. It was a room with mirrored walls with lights (like dots). To get more attention, Kusama started doing street performance art. There were naked people in the street with her, and she may also be naked, and she would paint dots on them. She also staged protests to the Vietnam War. All that fight to be recognized, to be seen was started to weigh in on her. Kusama became more depressive, was hospitalized regularly and even attempted to commit suicide. In 1973 she returned to Japan. Then a series of retrospectives in late 1980s revived her career. Yayoi Kusama is today considered the most important Japanese artist. Since 1977 Kusama took up permanent residence into the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill. It is a short distance from her studios and she walks there every day to produce more infinity paintings. Yayoi Kusama is 89 years old.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Kusama: Infinity

 

Directed by:
Heather Lenz

Screenplay by:
Heather Lenz

77 min.

Rated Parental Guidance.

In English and Japanese with English subtitles

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.

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