Three identical strangers

Three identical strangers tells a weird story of a “separated at birth” type. It all started in 1980 when 19-year-old Bobby Shafran discovered he had a twin brother. You could not get more “indentical” than Bobby and his brother Eddy Galland. An article is published in a newspaper and David Kellman sees the photos of his two twins. Of course the three boys became media sensations. We see clips from The Phil Donahue show where they list their similarities. Even though they were adopted by couples of different economic classes (a blue collar, a middle class, and an upper class), they practiced the same sports when they were younger, smoked the same brand of cigarette, dated the same type of girls. The triplets and their parents had a lot of questions. When they compared notes they realized that the boys had been placed by the same adoption agency. Louise Wise services placed children with Jewish families. When pressed for answers the directors responded that it was too hard to place triplets or twins, so they had to be separated. It was later revealled that their separation, along with the separations of thousands of twins, had been deliberate in order to conduct a study about twins. Why? That’s the mystery at the heart of this film. The study was never published and the results are locked until 2066. Many of twins suffured from depression or some form of mental illness, leading some to suicide. Although Three identical strangers is interesting mostly because the story is so gripping, it is very well made. We feel for Bobby and David, the two surviving twins, who are at the centre of the film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from July 20 – 24
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/three-identical-strangers

Three identical strangers

Directed by:
Tim Wardle

96 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

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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

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

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

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.

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.

Mountain

Australian director Jennifer Peedom’s new documentary Mountain starts with an anonymous quote: “Those who dance are considered insane by those who can’t hear the music”. Throughout the film we are indeed witnessing how insane those mountain climbers seem to us, mere ordinary, boring people. It’s not only climbers, but skydivers, parachuting off a mountain or free flying (wearing a costume with wings they are amazingly flying like birds), the skiers and snowboarders. Or tempting fate biking in the mountains. It’s all very perilous. We see the bloody noses, fingers, frostbite, climbers freezing in a tent during a snow storm and avalanches. To us it’s foolishness, to them excitement. In one spectacular stunt, a man is walking on a tightrope in the Grand Canyon. When I gasped it was more than the stunt. It was the grandeur, the beauty. As cinematographer, Peedom has asked mountain climber and photographer Renan Ozturk. Some of the footage come from mountain climbers with either their cellphones or cameras. There is one section with old archive films in black-and-white. But most of the footage is from Ozturk. The mountains are majestic, scary and it’s almost impossible to describe their hold on people. The only narration is an homage to mountains from Willem Dafoe (perfect really) reading excerpts from Robert Macfarlane’s Mountains of the mind: A history of a fascination. There is a score by Richard Tognetti, but also music from Vivaldi and Beethoven and modern composers like Arvo Pärt, making it the best soundtrack in a long time. On film it seems all the elements are there. A feast for eyes, a feast for the ears, as they say.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Mountain

 

Directed by:
Jennifer Peedom

Screenplay by:
Robert Macfarlane
Jennifer Peedom

Narrated by Willem Dafoe

74 min.

Human flow

To make Human flow, his powerful documentary about refugees, Ai Weiwei has travelled to 23 countries around the world in order and put a human face on the biggest mass exodus since World War II. More than 65 million people worldwide. It’s not just Syrians fleeing from the horrors of ISIS that we see here. It’s also African refugees dangerously migrating by boat to Italy, as we saw in the Oscar nominated documentary Fire at sea, or the Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar that have to escape persecution, death, rape and torture. War, ethnic cleansing, human right abuses, famine, climate change, there are many reasons. I knew about film director, contemporary artist and political activist Ai Weiwei from the 2012 documentary Ai Weiwei: Never sorry. In that film we saw Weiwei put in jail in his native China because he dared, through his art, question the government’s actions. With Human flow we see how relentless he can be as a documentarian and an activist. Ai Weiwei seems to be everywhere. In France when they burned the refugee camps, when some countries have closed their borders, blocking access to Germany, and refugees are forced to stay in front of locked gates for days, weeks, months… And the many refugee camps with the kids playing. We often can see Weiwei, sometimes behind the camera, other times among the refugees. He’s filming with his cell phone, playing with children or having a hair cut. There were more than a dozen camera man/cinematographer that worked on that film. From the impressive overhead shots of camps to the stunning landscapes (and the most beautiful, greenest sea I’ve ever seen), and, of course, some shocking images showing the horrible living conditions of some refugees. The picture is complete. Human flow is a documentary of epic scale.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Human flow

 

Directed by:
Ai Weiwei

Screenplay by:
Chin-Chin Yap
Tim Finch
Boris Chershirkov

140 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In English, Arabic, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Kurdish, Rohingya, Spanish, Turkish with English subtitles.

Visages villages (Faces places)

Agnès Varda, the French Nouvelle vague director is now 89-year-old. Her latest film is Visages villages, a documentary feature  she co-directed with 34-year-old photographer and visual artist JR. Together they travel through France in a small truck. Photos have been glued on the truck to make it look like a camera, with a big camera lens. As the tittle suggests, Varda and JR are going to French villages (places) and taking photos of the people living there or the workers at the local plants (faces). JR’s truck is a photo lab on wheels. There is a photo booth where people can sit and have their pictures taken. On the truck there is an opening through which giant prints of the photos are coming out, a bit like the old Polaroid. Once JR gets the giant photos, they are glued or pasted on houses, buildings, water tanks (fishes), trucks, trains (a giant pair of eyes) and anywhere really. Old photos of miners are glued on their empty houses before they get torn down. Janine, who is refusing to move out, has her face glued next to her front door. Her reaction when she first sees her face pasted on the house she will soon have to vacate is one of the highlights of this film. But there are others: the three wives of dock workers at the Havre, have their photos put up on a of pile of containers. The women sit in containers opened under each of their giant faces. The effect is spectacular. It is clear that Agnès Varda and JR enjoy each other’s company, even though Varda constantly teases JR that he ought to remove his sunglasses because she wants to see his eyes. Together, they are fun to watch. Visages villages shows that art and beauty does not only belong to museum and galleries. It can be done anywhere. It can illuminate every villages and that all faces and people are important. This charming film is one of my favorite this year.

And the Oscar went to… Visages villages lost Documentary feature to Icarus about the Olympic Russian doping scandal. Too bad!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Visages villages (Faces places)

 

Directed by:
Agnès Varda
JR

89 min.

In French with English subtitles