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

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from July 13 – 22
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/gauguin-voyage-to-tahiti

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

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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.

Final portrait

In 1964 Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti wanted to paint a portrait of his American friend and biographer James Lord, and asked Lord to pose for him. Lord met Giacometti in his dirty and dusty studio in Paris. Lord (Armie Hammer) thought it would only take a few days, but Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) only paints a few strokes, stops, looks at what he’s done, swears at it and smears the painting with some white paint. So he has to start again. And that’s not all. Giacometti’s private life is complicated by his love for his wife, Annette (Sylvie Testud) and his model, Caroline (Clémence Poésy), who is also a prostitute. Lord has to cancel his flight back to America several times, hoping in vain that Giacometti will be able to one day finish the portrait. Happily he has Alberto’s brother, Diego (Tony Shalhoub), to keep him company. Final portrait is a mess. Where do I start? Australian actor Geoffrey Rush, as always, is overacting and repetitive. When Giacometti is swearing at his canvas, you would expect a good actor to do some variations. But Rush says the same swear word the same way every time. That action is replayed so many times during the film that it becomes annoying. And several scenes of Giacomett and Lord walking in what looks like the Père Lachaise cemetery are also repetitive. The film is ugly. Everything looks gray (dirty and dusty?) and I could not believe we were really in Paris. And lastly, I found the whole film and the story to be uninteresting. To avoid!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Final portrait

 

Directed by:
Stanley Tucci

Screenplay by:
Stanley Tucci

Starring:
Geoffrey Rush
Armie Hammer
Clémence Poésy
Tony Shalhoub
James Faulkner
Sylvie Testud

90 min.

Rated 14A

In English, Italian and French with English subtitles.

Film stars don’t die in Liverpool

In Film stars don’t die in Liverpool, Annette Bening plays Gloria Grahame, a Best supporting actress Oscar winner in 1952 for The bad and the beautiful. The film is based on the memoirs of Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), a young British actor who became Grahame’s lover in the late 70s. There was close to 30 years difference between them. In 1981, soon after their break-up, Turner gets the news that Grahame is ill. She collapsed in her dressing room as she was about to go on stage in The glass menagerie. Turner goes to see her and he learns that she refuses to go to the hospital and does not want chemotherapy. All she wants is to go to Peter Turner’s house in Liverpool where she knows that Peter’s family will take care of her. Peter’s parents, Bella and Joe (Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham) are happy to help their friend Gloria but, along with Peter’s brother, Joe Jr. (Stephen Graham), they think that she should call her children and her doctors in New York. As Peter is making the decision to call them, he remembers the beginning of their love affair. Director Paul McGuigan’s flashbacks are so compelling. It’s like Turner sees his memories. He peeks through a door and peeks, literally, into his remembrance. You don’t often see the “young man in love” as very compelling characters. Those are usually the most boring characters. But there is such an emotional investment, both physical and intellectual, from Jamie Bell that we can’t help cheering for Peter Turner. The film is conceptually quite beautiful. I was surprised to see several scenes with rear projections matte paintings, methods that were in use in movies until the 1960s. It’s as if McGuigan wants to underline that Gloria Grahame was a 40s and 50s movie star. In 1981 her best year are behind her, that’s true. But the way Bening plays her, she’s still a star. Actually, Bening is a star playing a star. Whether she’s dancing disco with Peter or dying of cancer in bed, Gloria Grahame was a star. At some point Matt Greenhalgh’s screenplay switches the flashbacks from Peter’s point of view to Gloria’s. At that moment Annette Bening becomes a tragedienne. A tour-de-force acting from both Bell and Bening.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Film stars don’t die in Liverpool

 

Directed by:
Paul McGuigan

Screenplay by:
Matt Greenhalgh
Based on the memoir by Peter Turner

Starring:
Annette Bening
Jamie Bell
Julie Walters
Vanessa Redgrave
Kenneth Cranham
Stephen Graham

105 min.

Breathe

With the syrupy and bubbly Nitin Sawhney score and Robert Richardson’s Hallmark card cinematography, it was almost enough to dismiss Breathe as another one of those feel-good, manipulative tear-jerker. But I was wrong. Yes, it is a feel-good manipulative tear-jerker, but one fuelled by a cast of subtle players, and the joyful direction by Andy Serkis (yes, that Andy Serkis, the Gollum Andy Serkis from The Lord of the rings trilogy) in his debut as director. Breathe stars Andrew Garfield as Robin Cavendish. In 1958, at only 28, Robin was diagnosed with polio. Claire Foy (TV’s The crown) plays Robin’s wife, Diana. The early scenes shows Robin, a vibrant young man, being overtaken suddenly by the disease. It can happen to anybody. Robin Cavendish was paralyzed, unable to breathe on his own and was only kept alive with the help of a respirator. Beside the opening scenes and a few dream sequences, Garfield is immobile from the neck down for the remainder of the film, playing only with his head. At first, Cavendish was told that he only three months to live, and that he would have to spend his last days in a hospital bed. But when Diana saw that her husband had fallen into a deep depression and that he refused to see their newborn son (Jonathan Cavendish is producing Breathe), she decided to bring him home. The doctors warned her that she would not be able to manage. But Diana did manage and Robin Cavendish died in 1994 when he was 64. Furthermore, with his friend Oxford University professor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville), Cavendish developed a wheelchair with a built-in respirator. They build more wheelchairs and made available to other polio patients, insuring their independence and a better quality of life. Andrew Garfield’s performance is more than a tour-de-force. Well, it is a tour-de-force, but throughout the film, Garfield is very careful to never overplay the dramatic situations. This is a film of survivals. I think that Claire Foy is even more restrained. We never know what Diana is thinking, but oh boy, if you tell her what to do, she’ll stay silent, then do what she wants, what she feels is right. Diana Cavendish must have been quite a lady. The other player of note is Tom Hollander as Diana’s twin brothers, Bloggs and David Blacker. With the help of excellent special effects, Hollander is duplicated on the screen for most of his scenes. I first thought that the twins were played by real twin actors, but I was surprised to find out that it was Hollander alone. There is a scene that best define what the film is about. The family is traveling to Spain when the respirator’s motor blows up. The truck has stopped on a country road, and Robin is given air through a manual respirator, while they are waiting for Professor Hall to fly to Spain and fix the broken respirator. By the time of Hall’s arrival, a crowd has gathered around Robin and his family. There are tables full of food and wine, musicians, people are singing and dancing. When the respirator is repaired, the crowd applaud. This is a fiesta. A celebration of life.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Breathe

 

Directed by:
Andy Serkis

Screenplay by:
William Nicholson

Starring:
Andrew Garfield
Claire Foy
Tom Hollander
Hugh Bonneville

Rated Parental Guidance

118 min.

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

 

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.