Django

I knew of Django Reinhardt as the inventor of ‘Jazz manouche’ (aka ‘Gypsy jazz’). But, in reality I knew next to nothing about the man. Django centers on Reinhardt’s experiences during World War II in occupied France. It is estimated that the Nazis killed half of Europe’s Gypsy population. Being a Romani, Reinhardt could be in great danger. But he was a popular musician. The Nazis wanted him to play for them. His agent Charles Delauney (Patrick Mille) already agreed that Reinhardt and his musicians, the Quintette du Hot club de France, will tour Germany. But Django Reinhardt (a solid Reda Kateb) does not want to go. Why? Well, the Nazis did not like Jazz, they tolerated it for a while. But if they toured Germany, the group would have to follow ridiculous rules. Like no tapping of the feet while they played, not to play swing and solos could not be longer than 5 seconds. If Reinhardt refused he and his family would certainly be sent to the camps. Upon the advice of Louise de Klerk (Cécile de France), a friend and lover, he escapes with his pregnant wife (Beata Palya) and his feisty mother (Bimbam Merstein, much fun to watch) to a house in the country, in the hopes that they can cross into Switzerland. This is based on a novel rather than being a factual biopic. Some of the story may have been invented, but the film never claimed to be a documentary. Django is quite suspenseful and tense. Director Comar knows how to sustain the dreadful menace that was probably part Django’s life. I did not know that one of Reinhardt’s hands had been injured in a fire and that he could only play with two fingers from that hand. The hands are provided by Jazz guitarist Christophe Lartilleux. The film is good, but the real draw is the music. This beautiful Jazz manouche is played by the Rosenberg trio. And there’s the troubling Mass for the Gypsies at the end of the film. Unfortunately, that piece composed by Django Reinhardt has been lost. Only a few pages have survived. It’s a shame.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Django

 

Directed by:
Étienne Comar

Screenplay by:
Étienne Comar
Alexis Salatko
Based on Salatko’s novel Folles de Django

Starring:
Reda Kateb
Cécile de France
Beata Palya
Johnny Montreuil
Bimbam Merstein
Patrick Mille

117 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In French, German, and Romany with English subtitles.

Churchill

As Winston Churchill walks on the beach, he has visions of death. The water is red with blood, and it gets bloodier and bloodier. His wife, Clementine, calls him back. But the nightmare is not over. As he walks back, the beach is strewed with dead soldiers. The young men who died on the beaches of Gallipoli in 1915. But it’s June 1944 now, and Churchill is the British Prime Minister. As preparation for D-Day is underway, Churchill (Brian Cox) is afraid that the Allied forces are about repeat the same mistake. It is estimated that over 50,000 allied soldiers were killed, 34,000 of them British, in the disastrous 1915 Battle of Gallipoli. Churchill took much of the blame as one of its political and military engineers. So Churchill, 70 years old in 1944, is determined to stop the Normandy landings. He is coming undone. Even more frustrating for him is the fact that nobody seems to agree with him. His assistant, Field marshal Jan Smuts (Richard Durden), is trying to reason with him. His frequent confrontations with American General Dwight D. Eisenhower (American actor John Slattery from TV’s Mad men) and British Field marshal Bernard ’Monty’ Montgomery (Julian Wadham) are only makes him look like an old fool. Even King George VI (a stuttering James Purefoy) visits Churchill and tells him to stop his campaign. D-Day will happen. His wife, Clementine (Miranda Richardson) won’t let her husband out of her grips. Especially when he drinks too much or angrily yells at a young new secretary (Ella Purnell). She forcefully tries to avoid a mental breakdown from happening. But it seems unavoidable. The production values (sets, costumes, photography, score) are tops here. I am not being an expert on the historical accuracy of the story. But screenwriter Alex von Tunzelmann is also a historian, so it may be only a small footnote in history that gave her a cue write this intriguing concept. But the real draw of Churchill is the excellent performances of the two leads. After last year’s disastrous film The carer, it’s nice to see Cox finally find a part worthy of his considerable talent. In Churchill, Cox is in every scenes. He is the symphony orchestra conductor, setting the rhythm and the nuances, making sure the balances of every details are right. Quite a feat. Richardson’s Clementine Churchill is cold, calculating and fierce. She is not to be messed with. But later on she can also be committed to loving her husband no matter what. Soon to come there will be another film called Darkest hour with Gary Oldman and Dame Kristin Scott Thomas as Winston and Clementine, and Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI. And maybe a soon battle royal at the Oscars. Who knows?

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema on August 19 & 20
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/churchill

 

Churchill

Directed by:
Jonathan Teplitzky

Screenplay by:
Alex von Tunzelmann

Starring:
Brian Cox
Miranda Richardson
Richard Durden
John Slattery
Julian Wadham
Ella Purnell
James Purefoy

98 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

The happiest day in the life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä Mies)

Although The happiest day in the life of Olli Mäki is not a really a biopic, it is the story of Finnish boxer Olli Mäki in 1962 as prepares to fight American champion Davey Moore for the World featherweight title. The film covers the few weeks of preparations and training before the match. Olli (Jarkko Lahti) has to travel from his home town of Kokkola to Helsinki. His girlfriend, Raija (Oona Airola), travels with him. From the start Olli has to deal with the considerable demands of his manager Elis Ask (Eero Milonoff). Elis keeps shoving a series of promotional photo shoots and a documentary crew at Olli. Most of the time he pushes Raija aside so that Olli will take photos with models. There are other problems. Olli Mäki was a lightweight, and in order compete as a featherweight he has to lose some weight. In the two weeks before the fight, we see Olli going through lengthy sauna sessions with his clothes on. When he comes out, his clothes are drained with sweat and he’s barely able to walk. We also see him make himself vomit. Frustrated by the treatment she gets from Elis, Raija returns to Kokkola. But Olli loves her, and when he tries to phone her, Elis berates him and mocks his attachment to small town folks. Olli Mäki (who today is 80 years old) is a simple man in love with a girl. I was won over by the charm of this film. It makes the ordinary seem extraordinary. Filmed in grainy black-and-white with a handheld camera as a way to announce its “no fuss“ approach to filmmaking. The acting is realistic and the dialogue seems to be improvised. The two leads are lovely. With his roughed up appearance, Lahti is perfectly cast. But we don’t foresee the emotional impact he carries with him. From the start we are rooting for Raija. That is because Oona Airola is really the heart of the film. That leaves Milonoff as Elis Ask. Well, he is so effectively detestable that I felt I wanted to kick him in the teeth. A simple, lovely little film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The happiest day in the life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä Mies)

 

Directed by:
Juho Kuosmanen

Screenplay by:
Juho Kuosmanen
Mikko Myllyalahti

Starring:
Jarkko Lahti
Oona Airola
Eero Milonoff
John Bosco Jr.

92 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Finnish and Swedish with English subtitles.

A quiet passion

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.”

“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

 

In A quiet passion British director Terence Davies gives us a portrait of American poet Emily Dickinson. When we first see young Emily (then played by Emma Bell) she’s at a Christian boarding school. The stubborn Emily refuses to accept the school’s religious precepts. Her liberal-minded father (Keith Carradine) seems to take Emily’s unconventionality as a folly of youth. This is a way for Davies to say that Dickinson’s refusal to act and think outside of what was expected at the time, will color her life as well as her poetry. All her life, the unmarried Dickinson lived with the family at their home in Amherst, Massachusetts where most of the film is set. Throughout the film, religious zealots and moralists are being rightly ridiculed. There was no way that Emily would let her Aunt Elizabeth (Annette Badland), for instance, dictate what she should or should not say or think. As an adult, Emily (now played in a spectacular performance by Cynthia Nixon) befriends Vryling Wilder Buffum. Played by Catherine Bailey, it is a comic masterpiece of precision. With every flick of the fan, eye rolling insinuations and flirting stares, Vryling is very funny and entertaining to Emily and her sister Lavinia “Vinnie” (the marvellous understated Jennifer Ehle). A quiet passion is actually quite witty. There is joy and exaltation in Emily’s smiles, and laughter in her face and her eyes. But later in life she suffers terribly from the death of her parents. And she feels lonely and think of herself as ugly caused by a lifetime celibacy. She becomes a recluse, seldom leaving her room. The only thing she can rely on is her writing and her sister, also a celibate. Emily has screaming matches with Austin (Duncan Duff), her married brother, after she finds him in the living room with a married woman. Emily gets sick from Bright’s disease and her whole body is taken by terrifying, unstoppable tremors. Although Emily Dickinson wrote close to 1800 poems, fewer than a dozen were published during her lifetime. Because of Dickinson’s innovative use of punctuation and various styles and forms, she is now considered one of the most revered American poet. I remember hearing American composer Aaron Copland’s Twelve poems by Emily Dickinson, and now his use of sudden dissonant outbursts makes sense. Here we see Dickinson in the early scenes bursting with uncontrollable joy, or in later years as sorrows and pain filled her days and nights, being visited by depression and anger. It mirrors the exalted and impetuous nature of Dickinson’s poetry. In A quiet passion, Davies shows the family’s spending quiet evenings with only lamps to light up the living room. These were different times. Davies is not afraid to linger and let the silences create a reflective atmosphere. Those beautiful 360 degree pans of the rooms or, as a complete contrast, the walks in most the sunny and colourful gardens is the work of cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister. The cast is splendid. To name a few, Jennifer Ehle as Emily’s loving sister and Catherine Bailey as her best friend, form with Nixon a trio of unforgettable actresses. What I find most compelling is the respect for Dickinson from all involved. Cynthia Nixon’s complete commitment should be saluted at Oscar time. And let’s hope that the film and Terence Davies will also be remembered.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

A quiet passion

Directed by:
Terence Davies

Screenplay by:
Terence Davies

Starring:
Cynthia Nixon
Emma Bell
Jennifer Ehle
Duncan Duff
Keith Carradine
Joanna Bacon
Catherine Bailey
Jodhi May
Annette Badland
Eric Loren

125 min.

Rated Parental

The lost city of Z

With a title like The lost city of Z you could expect a cheesy American adventure movie pilling up the clichés. But The lost city of Z is actually a very good biopic about British explorer Percy Fawcett. Earlier in the film, Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) learns that his career in the Royal Artillery is probably at a standstill because of his now deceased father’s drinking and gambling behaviours. In 1905 Royal geographical society asks Fawcett to travel to the jungle between Bolivia and Brazil to map the area. That meant leaving his loving wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and his two years old son Jack at home. Coming along with him Corporal Henry Costing (an underperforming Robert Pattinson) and Corporal Arthur Manley (Edward Ashley). Fawcett also recruits some native guides. This is a dangerous trip with the group being attacked by jungle natives with arrows and piranhas infested waters. In the middle of the jungle makes an archeological discovery that makes him believe in the old theory that a complex civilization once existed in the Amazon region. Back in Britain, his theories are laughed at by some, but embraced by others. James Murray (Angus Macfadyen) was rich and considered himself to be an explorer. He proposed to finance the next expedition, as long as he can join them. But Murray is too fat and becomes a nuisance. There were seven expeditions between 1906 and 1924. They were briefly interrupted by World war II. Fawcett’s oldest son Jack followed his father on the last expedition. This is a fascinating true life adventure film. Except from a few scenes (Nina wanting to go along with her husband, reasoning that they are equals is cute but doubtful), most of it is true. Charlie Hunnam is giving one of those grand bravura performance that is very rare. I would call it sensible machismo. Darius Khondji’s cinematography shows the beauty, darkness and dangers of the jungle. It just looks great. I recommend.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The lost city of Z

 

Directed by:
James Gray

Screenplay by:
James Gray
Based on the book by David Grann

Starring:
Charlie Hunnam
Robert Pattinson
Sienna Miller
Edward Ashley
Tom Holland
Angus Macfadyen
Ian McDiarmid

141 min.

Rated 14A

In English, Spanish, Portuguese, and German with English subtitles.

Paula (Paula – Mein leben soll ein fest sein)

German painter Paula Modersohn-Becker is considered one of the most important expressionist and the first female painter to have a museum devoted to her work. Carla Juri plays Modersohn-Becker as a young woman who is bursting with joy. This is the 1890s in Worpswede, Germany, where Paula went to study painting. Her teacher was Fritz Mackensen (Nicki von Tempelhoff), who taught the “proper” way to hold the brush and the “proper” way to paint a basket of fruits. Paula did not follow any of those instructions. She’d hit her canvas with the brush, or scratch it, and I don’t know what else, to paint the most beautifully unconventional baskets of fruits. Mackensen, who believed women could only bear children, did not like Paula or her paintings. Mackensen liked to paint the perfect lines of the perfect hat worn by the perfect woman with the perfect waistline and the perfect life. Paula Modersohn-Becker went out of her way to find imperfect, poor, fat, old people, who sometimes posed naked for her. Fritz Mackensen hated Paula Modersohn-Becker. But Paula found other allies in Worpswede. Many other artists had followed Mackensen there. Worpswede had become an art colony where she met and befriended sculptor Clara Westhoff (Roxane Duran). At a time where women were expected to behave and not make too much noise, Paula and Clara would have none of those rules. They loudly laughed hysterically, uncontrollably, all the time. And Paula fell in love and married painter Otto Modersohn (Albrecht Abraham Schuch). Otto’s first wife had died while giving birth to a daughter. Because of that the marriage between Otto and Paula was unconsummated for several years. Otto was afraid that Paula would also die in childbirth. A frustrated Paula goes to Paris to study at L’École des Beaux-Arts. In Paris there is Clara studying with Rodin. Back in Worpswede, Otto is being pressured by his friends to bring Paula back. Either that or have her committed to an asylum, says Fritz Mackensen. In Paris, Paula is behaving in erratic ways, but producing a great amount of beautiful masterpieces. The exquisite production values brought on by director Christian Schwochow’s team is one of the great pleasures in this film. The work of cinematographer Frank Lamm who lets the sun shine on the bright colors of the clothes, sets and those colourful Paula Modersohn-Becker paintings. But it is actress Carla Juri who is a joy for us to discover. Juri plays through sustained jolts of raw energy, that I am not sure every audience members will be able to enjoy. But this is highly original acting for a highly original character. Carla Juri lets us see the madness coming through the joy and laughter. A great performance.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Paula (Paula – Mein leben soll ein fest sein)

Directed by:
Christian Schwochow

Screenplay by:
Stefan Kolditz
Stephan Suschke

Starring:
Carla Juri
Albrecht Abraham Schuch
Roxan Duran
Joel Basman
Stanley Weber
Nick von Tempelhof

123 min.

Rated 14A

In German and French with English subtitles.

Maudie

Maud Lewis painted on anything she could find. The walls, the steps, the breadbox and the windows. The tiny house she shared with her husband Everett was covered with her drawings. The small house (10 ft × 12 ft) is now at the Art gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. Maud suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. She walked with a slight limp and the arthritis in her hands worsened as she got older. In Maudie she is played by British actress Sally Hawkins. When we first meet her, Maud Dowley is in her thirties and still living with her strict Aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose). This is the repressive 1930s Wanting to be free from Aunt Ida, she seizes the opportunity to leave when she finds an advertisement at the local store looking for a “live-in or keep house”. Everett Lewis (American actor Ethan Hawke) is a grumbling, grumpy man. Not a very nice person. He hires her even if she does not seem to know much about keeping house. He only has one bed, so they have to sleep in the same bed. But Maud is not about to let Everett walk all over her. She demands to be respected. And mutual respect leads to affection and love. According to Everett, it only took several weeks before they married. By that time the house is already covered with her Naïve art painting. She would paint about animals (birds, dogs, horses, cats), flowers, trees, children and outdoors scenes. She set up to sell Christmas cards and her painting in front of the house. Sandra (Kari Matchett), an American neighbor buys some of her paintings, and pretty soon the CBC comes to interview her. Even President Nixon wants to buy her artwork. This is a beautiful love story, simply told but with a grandiose outlook on life and love. My only problem is that they did not cast Canadian actors as the two leads. But this a minute thing. As it is, Hawkins and Hawke are so good. Together they play the most perfectly non-assorted couple. Hawkins has always been a likable actress, but from the early moments until her last scenes, she has us in the palm of her hands and wins us over. Hawke is the surprise here. Playing against his usual typecast of know-it-all, cynical good guy, Hawke now plays a taciturn, gruff man who eventually opens his heart to love. By the end of Maudie, it is clear that Ethan Hawke has never been as good as he is here. Very touching film.

You should know… Everett Lewis died in 1979, nine years after his wife passed away. He was murdered during an attempted robbery at the house.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Maudie

Directed by:
Aisling Walsh

Screenplay by:
Sherry White

Starring:
Sally Hawkins
Ethan Hawke
Kari Matchett
Gabrielle Rose
Zachary Bennett

115 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Afterimage (Powidoki)

Afterimage is Andrzej Wajda’s last film. The Polish master died last year a few month . He was 90-year-old. This is a biopic concerned with the later life of Wladyslaw Strzeminski, an avant-garde artist who was censored by the Stalinist Soviet communist regime. In 1950, Strzeminski refused to follow the directives of the Ministry of culture and art. It was clear, either respect the socialist realist doctrine or you can’t teach. Strzeminski (Boguslaw Linda) lost his job at Lódz’s Higher school of plastic arts and also lost his teacher’s permit, and even the possibility of buying paint. At first he is the idol of his young students, but, as the story progresses, he soon finds himself alone. His young daughter, Nika (Bronislawa Zamachowska), is trying as best as she can to help him, but after a while the situation is too hopeless for her. Boguslaw Linda plays the physically demanding part (Strzeminski lost one leg and one arm during World War I) with aplomb and a passionate drive. Strzeminski is convinced about the choices he made and does not have to scream his convictions or rage about them. Linda brings exactly the right amount of minimalist acting the part needs. This is a touching last film. The artist known as Wajda can comprehend Wladyslaw Strzeminski’s plight better than anyone. He probably has lived some of the same situations and made the same sacrifice for his art. Do widzenia i dziękuję, Andrzejowi Wajdzie.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Afterimage (Powidoki)

Directed by:
Andrzej Wajda

Screenplay by:
Andrzej Mularczyk
Andrzej Wajda

Starring:
Boguslaw Linda
Aleksandra Justa
Bronislawa Zamachowska
Zofia Wichlacz

98 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Polish with English subtitles

Chocolat

Chocolat is the biographical story of one of the earliest successful black entertainers in modern France. The clown Chocolat (real name Rafael Padilla) was very successful at the end of the 19th century. In the film we see Rafael/Chocolat (popular French actor Omar Sy) performing as a stereotypical cannibal named Kananga, complete with tiger skins and bones and teeth necklace, as a freak show in a second-rate circus in 1897. Then white clown George Foottit (circus performer James Thierrée, the grandson of silent film star Charlie Chaplin, and the great-grandson of American playwright Eugene O‘Neill) sees Kananga and has a brilliant flash. He wants to pair the taciturn, authoritative white clown and the gentler and comic Auguste clown. They become a hit and move to Paris to the more renown Nouveau cirque. There are obvious racist elements in their acts. It shows Chocolat being kicked or slapped and acting like a stupid fool. Several times Chocolat tries in vain to fight that stereotype as best he can. Chocolat spends his money gambling, drinking and womanizing. We get flashbacks to his childhood as a slave in Cuba and when he escapes to come to France. Because he does not have any papers he gets arrested, even if he is a famous entertainer, and sent to prison where he is tortured. Finally released, he returns to the circus. He meets Marie, a nurse, and they falls in love. As for Foottit, the film does not tell us much about his private life, but at some point the goes into a gay bar (My research shows that he was married with four kids. Nothing about a double life as a gay man). Most of the time he seems unhappy about something. Despite great performances by the two main actors and production values of the highest qualities, Chocolat suffers from the fictionalization of events. Why? Because reality would be boring, and the filmmakers are aiming for a bigger dramatic punch. Better to have a falsity you can control, than a reality that would be too controlling. So, very few details from Chocolat and Foottit’s lives remain. But it is still a good juicy part for Omar Sy, who impressively matches Thierrée’s choreography. They have obviously carefully studied Chocolat and Foottit’s classic routines. Good job.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Chocolat

Directed by:
Roschdy Zem

Screenplay by:
Roschdy Zem
Cyril Gely
Olivier Gorce
Gérard Noiriel
Based on Chocolat, clown nègre. L’histoire oubliée
du premier artiste noir de
la scène française by Gérard Noiriel

Starring:
Omar Sy
James Thierée
Clotide Hesme
Olivier Gourmet
Frédéric Pierrot
Noémie Lvovsky
Alice de Lencquesaing

119 min.

Rated 14A

In French with English subtitles.

The idol (Ya tayr el tayer)

With The idol, Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad (Oscar nominated Paradise now and Omar) finds a lighter subject than his usual film projects. A fictionalized biopic of Gazan Arab idol winner Muhammad Assaf, The idol has plenty of youthful energy. It start with 10-year-old Muhammad (Qais Atallah) and his band playing at weddings to make a little money. The members of the band are: Muhammad who sings, his 12-year-old sister, Nour (Hiba Atallah) plays the guitar and two other boys. Atallah gives the assured performance of the first half of the film. Nour is a tomboy who is not afraid to push whom ever is in her way, boy or men, and ploughs through, even though girls, she’s told, are not supposed to play guitar at weddings or ride a bike. Nour does ride a bike with her brother and her friends, and they don’t seem to mind. As for playing at weddings, well, that’s another story. She has to play hiding behind a poster. The moment is so perfectly rendered by Atallah, that she manages to make it both sad and comical in the absurdity of the situation. It’s not long though before tragedy hits Muhammad and his family. In the second half, Muhammad is older and played by Tawfeek Barhom (the star of the film). It’s 2012 and Muhammad is driving taxis to help in the family finances. He still wants to make it as a singer, but his effort seems hopeless. Muhammad is auditioning for Palestinian idol, but because of travel restrictions, he has to perform over Skype. That is they could if they had electricity. They get a generator, but other problems keep popping up and piling up. This is a scene of great comic efficiency. But around Muhammad and his family and friends there’s ruins everywhere. And probably the possible threat of another attack at any time. Muhammad has to go to Cairo where the auditions for Arab idol are being held. Everyone he knows believes in him and encourages him to go. But getting there is easier said than done and quite an adventure. Hany Abu-Assad and co-screenwriter Sameh Zoabi have made a popular film, mixing comedy and drama, showing the difficulty of life in Gaza and the sociopolitical and cultural impact of Muhammad Assaf. Now at 27, Assaf has been named a Goodwill Ambassador by the UN. We are told that he can now travel freely across the world. Except in Gaza.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The idol (Ya tayr el tayer)

Directed by:

Hany Abu-Assad

Screenplay by:

Hany Abu-Assad

Sameh Zoabi

 

Starring:

Tawfeek Barhom

Qais Attalah

Hiba Attalah

Ahmad Qasem

Abdel Kareem Barakeh

 

99 min.

 

Rated Parental Guidance.

 

In Arabic with English subtitles.