The gardener (Le jardinier)

The last thing you want to see is another documentary about trees or flowers, or gardening, with people going gaga and hugging trees. Well, I did not want to see it. It’s not my thing. And then you see the images that Sébastien Chabot shot at Les jardins des Quatres-Vents in La Malbaie, Quebec. Jaw droppingly beautiful. The 20-acre garden is the work of Frank Cabot. Inherited in 1965, the property was given to Cabot’s grandmother as a wedding gift. And what a gift! Frank Cabot is an American whose ancestors arrived in Salem in 1700. Chabot interviewed Cabot before his death in 2011. British floral expert Penelope Hobhouse, writer Tim Richardson and former Governor General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson are among those who are also being interviewed. But the star is the marvellous Jardins des Quatres-Vents. One part of the garden has a Chinese bridge. In the Japanese section, Cabot built two Japanese houses. Some oddities include a sculpture of a frog orchestra and two rope bridges suspended over a ravine. In the attic of a beautiful tower-like pavilion there is a small love alcove with a small bed and a window overlooking the garden. Somewhere else a stone is coming out the grass, water is streaming out of the stone. Throughout there are arches and windows opening the views to the surrounding fields outside the estate where you can see cows or other animals. And, of course, flowers, lots of flowers. An orgy of color. The garden remained private until a visit was arranged as a fundraiser. It was so popular that it was decided to do more. It is now opened for guided visits only four days in the summertime. The visits are already booked for this summer. But after you see this film, I think you’ll want to visit Les jardins des Quatres-Vents. In December you will be able buy tickets for the 2018 visits. Here is the site http://cepas.qc.ca/jardins-de-quatre-vents

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The gardener (Le jardinier)

 

Directed by:
Sébastien Chabot

Screenplay by:
Sébastien Chabot

88 min.

Rated General.

In English and French with English subtitles

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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

Bitter harvest

The farmers, all impeccably dressed in their (accurate?) Ukrainian folkloric costumes, are joyfully working in the sun drenched golden fields while golden-haired children are playing and laughing and layers upon layers of syrupy music can be heard. As children, Yuri and Natalka were already in love. They are seen joyfully swimming in the river, impeccably dressed in their Ukrainian folkloric costumes, while more sappy music is playing. As an adult, Yuri (Max Irons) has developed an artistic taste and would like to go study art in Kiev. His father Yaroslav (Barry Pepper), and his grandfather Ivan (Terence Stamp) are both Cossack warriors. Before leaving for Kiev, Yuri marries Natalka (Samantha Barks). We are in the Soviet Ukraine in 1933 and Joseph Stalin‘s genocidal famine was killing people in most of the Soviet countries. In Ukraine, it is now called the Holodomor. It was particularly deadly, killing from 2 to 7 million Ukrainians and went virtually unmentioned for 50 years. Yuri is trying to survive in Kiev. He gets imprisoned, escapes, walks miles and miles through the forest in the cold of winter. At home, Natalka and his family have to deal with Sergei (Tamer Hassan), the local Russian villain. At the beginning, Bitter harvest almost seemed like a parody of a bad film. Well, you know what they say, “If it smells like duck…”. And although Bitter harvest gets a bit better, it never regains the credibility it lost in the first few minutes. A cliché never comes alone, and for sure the other ones were never far behind. This important topic is lost among too much bad action films antics and Cossacks-on-horse acrobatics. On top of everything, instead of filming in Ukrainian, Bitter harvest was filmed in English, with an entire cast of British accented actors and actresses. And not the best ones, I can assure you. Dreadful! I understand how important it was for the director and the screenwriter to tell this story, as they have family members that have died and suffered during the Holodomor. I just think that the victims of the Holodomor deserved a much better film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Bitter harvest

Directed by:
George Mendeluk

Screenplay by:
Richard Bachynsky Hoover

Starring:
Max Irons
Samantha Barks
Barry Pepper
Tamer Hassan
Terence Stamp

103 min.

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

Paterson

“Rigor of beauty is the quest. But how will you find beauty
when it is locked in the mind past all remonstrance?”

William Carlos Williams, Paterson

The latest Jim Jarmusch film, Paterson, is a lovely film about the joy and love of poetry. The film is about bus driver and amateur poet Paterson (Adam Driver) who lives with his girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and her taciturn bulldog, Marvin (Nellie), in Paterson, New Jersey. A week in the life of Paterson. The same repeated routine everyday. Waking up at the same time with Laura asleep next to him, eats Cheerios for breakfast, walks to work taking the same streets, everyday his supervisor is unhappy about something in his life. Always. But not Paterson. Paterson is happy. Seems to be. Paterson writes poems in his little notebook. As you hear the poems read aloud, we see the words appearing on the screen. On the bus, Paterson overhears conversations between passengers. One of them is about that time Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was arrested and charged of a shootout at a bar on Lafayette street. At lunch, Paterson sits near the Great Falls of the Passaic river and writes some more. During his day, Paterson sees a great number of twins. At home, Laura is in a constant state of artistic reinvention and designing. She likes to paint on curtains, directly on the material, on the floors, the walls, the dress that she is wearing. She likes to paint circles, like doughnuts or Cheerios, almost always black on white, white on black. It’s all over the apartment. Black dots or circles. She wants to become a country singer and plans to sell cup cakes (black with black and white icing!) at a week-end fair. In the evening, Paterson takes Marvin for his walk. Marvin takes Paterson to the local tavern. Paterson has a nice rapport with the owner, Doc (Barry Shabaka Henly). Paterson also meets a lot of interesting characters. Jim Jarmusch’s probable inspiration is William Carlos Williams, more precisely Carlos Williams epic poem Paterson. In the film we often see a book of his poem. I slowly got immersed into the rhythm of this film. At times Paterson almost feels like you are in a Fellini film (the twins), but I also saw some images that evokes other directors (Hitchcock?) Full of surrealist details, Paterson is greatly helped by production designer Mark Friedberg and Catherine George’s costumes. Frederick Elmes’s photography never draws attention, but the cinematographer has to walk a fine line between the daily life of the main character and the purity of the poetry. He must not overly underline what is already beautiful. Adam Driver is an appealing actor playing an appealing character. It could be bland or boring, but somehow Driver makes it compelling, I think, because he includes us in, like a joke that nobody else would get. Along for the fun ride is kooky Golshifteh Farahani who will get most of the laugh. That’s when Driver and Farahani are not totally upstaged by Nellie.

You should know… The poems written by Paterson are actually by American poet Ron Padgett. Jarmusch chose four of Padgett poems and commissioned three new poems to be used in the film. Water falls, a poem attributed to another character was penned by Jarmusch himself. The winner of the Cannes film festival Palm dog award was Nellie. Nellie had died a few months before the awards. It was the first time that the Palm dog was posthumously awarded.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Paterson

Directed by:

Jim Jarmusch

Screenplay by:
Jim Jarmusch

Starring:
Adam Driver
Golshifteh Farahani
Barry Shabaka Henly
Cliff Smith
Nagase Masatoshi

118 min.

Rated 14A

Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the devil

In preparation for an exhibit featuring the work of 15th century  Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch, a team of Dutch scholars, technicians and experts from the Bosch research and conservation project have the daunting task of assembling the remaining paintings and drawings from several museum. El Prado museum in Madrid owns probably most of Bosch’s masterpieces, but are not necessary happy to lend them. The exhibit Hieronymus Bosch – Visions of genius was held in 2016 at the Noordbrabants museum in the town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch in The Netherlands. Bosch mostly painted on triptychs, made of three panels hinged together, two smaller side panels folding atop a larger middle panel. The scholars are spending most of the time studying every paintings to assure its place in the exhibit. After many years of research The temptation of Saint Anthony is attributed to have done by Bosch. You could look at Bosch’s paintings and never get bored. There are so many details Even today his work feels, to the uneducated eyes, like the earliest sign of avant-garde. But what do I know about art? But Hieronymus Bosch’s work is fascinating to study as it contains disturbingly bizarre characters. For instance, one panel from The garden of earthly delights is called Hell. It is full of sexual and violent imageries. Every humans are naked and are either harassed by clothed animals and weird creatures or pierced by arrows and knives. Humans are tied to a giant harp, a man is hanging from giant key that itself is hanging from a metal spear. A person is being swallowed by a bird-like creature. I would say this is what hell looks like. The finishing touches of Hell were put in 1505, but it looks like a modern painting to me. I would have liked to see more of his work, but Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the devil seemed more interested with the scholars than with the master. I think it is a mistake, when you do a documentary about a great artist, to look at it mostly from an intellectual angle. Any works of art that has been around for the last 500 years, should be accessible to all. I wanted to know more about Bosch, his life and how his contemporaries reacted to his paintings. Instead, I found the film boring. But I had a good nap.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the devil

Directed by:

Pieter van Huystee

Screenplay by:

Pieter van Huystee

86 min.

In English, Dutch, Spanish, and Italian with English subtitles

 

 

Francofonia

Thirteen years ago Aleksandr Sokurov’s Russian ark came out. It was a single-take film, but it was not much of a technical challenge. It is an elongated visit to the Russian Hermitage Museum with historical characters coming in and out of the frame while a narrator (Sokurov) is telling us- we, poor, uneducated souls- what it all means. After seeing it, I observed friends having what I could only describe as artsy-fartsy orgasms. Me? If I want a visit to a museum, I’ll go to a museum. Well, Sokurov is back with another museum film, this time about Le Louvre in Paris. Francofonia is for the most part a documentary, but also uses actors to stand in for historical figures. Napoléon Bonaparte (Vincent Nemeth), who claims that Le Louvre was his creation is there roaming among the paintings, while the symbol of the French republic, Marianne (Johanna Korthals Altes), keeps repeating, ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity’. But the film is mostly concerned with what happened during the German occupation and the meeting between museum director Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do De Lencquesaing) and Franz Wolff-Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath), the German officer put in charge by the Nazi. Their relationship was agreeable as they seem to have shared a common love for art. Scenes between the two actors are made up to look like old films, and when they walk in Paris, they walk among the modern cars and people dressed in modern clothes. A man narrates in Russian (Sokurov again) while the characters speak French or German. The whole thing had very little interest for me and most of the time, I was bored. Artsy-fartsy? No, not me.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Francofonia

Directed by:

Aleksandr Sokurov

Screenplay by:

Aleksandr Sokurov

Starring:

Louis-Do de Lencquesaing

Benjamin Utzerath

Vincent Nemeth

Johanna Korthals Altes

Andrey Chelpanov

Jean-Claude Caër

88 min.

Rated General

In Russian, French, German and English with English subtitles.

Peggy Guggenheim: Art addict

One of the great thing about documentaries, is that you sometimes get to meet interesting people. Peggy Guggenheim: Art addict is such a film. American art collector Peggy Guggenheim is today considered the most influential patron of modern art. It si obvious that director Lisa Immordino Vreeland finds Guggenheim fascinating. Peggy was born into a wealthy, eccentric family. Her father, Benjamin Guggenheim, went down with the Titanic in 1912. In 1938, Peggy Guggenheim opened a first gallery for modern art in London. Called Guggenheim Jeune, it featured Jean Cocteau drawings, then Wassily Kandinsky’s paintings and other abstract and surrealist artists. In 1943, she becomes Jackson Pollock’s patron (Amy Madigan plays her in the film Pollock). In New York she opens the gallery Art Of This Century. She had a voracious sexual appetite, married twice and had countless lovers. We can hear her talking to a biographer in taped interviews. Robert de Niro is interviewed. His parents, Robert De Niro, Sr. and Virginia Admiral were both artists and friends with Ms. Guggenheim. Actress Mecedes Ruehl played Guggenheim on stage and offers small cues that helps us understand who she was. The Peggy Guggenheim collection is a modern art museum on the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy. It is one of the most visited attractions in Venice.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Peggy Guggenheim: Art addict

Directed by:
Lisa Immordino Vreeland

Screenplay by:
Bernadine Colish
Lisa Immordino Vreeland

97 min.

Rated 14A

Trumbo

When the House of Representatives and its Un-American Activities Committee went to Hollywood in 1947, a proud, card-carrying member of the Communist Party like screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) had no chance at all. He was especially uncooperative. Question: “Mr. Trumbo, I will ask various questions, all of which can be answered yes or no.” Trumbo: “I shall answer yes or no if I please to. Many questions can only be answered yes or no by a moron or a slave.” Dalton Trumbo also had to fend off some famous Republicans like actor John wayne (David James Elliott who certainly got the voice and the accent) and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren). Trumbo was among the “Hollywood ten” who refused to answer questions, were cited for contempt and spent time in jail. For years they were all blacklisted and could not find work since no studios would hire them. After jail, Trumbo wrote screenplays under pseudonyms, most of them for producer of B films Frank King (John Goodman). He had to feed his family and he wrote so much that he needed the help and support from his wife, Cleo (Diane Lane) and his three children to answer the phones and the door or type and deliver the scripts. During those years, Trumbo won two Oscars, but could not claim them because they were credited under a pseudonym or a front. One of the film is Roman holiday. Trumbo‘s screenplay by John McNamara is far from perfect. Early exposition scenes are contrived, and later ones involving Trumbo’s relationship with his family are corny. I am sorry to say that I found Trumbo works best when it is about Hollywood history than the main character’s personal life. In between, there is enough fun and laughter to wash all that corniness away. This is funny man Louis C.K.’s first try at playing a dramatic part. He is, unfortunately, not very good. But there are still some amazing performances: Dean O’Gorman plays Kirk Douglas, who was not afraid to openly asks Trumbo to write Spartacus, thus ending the decade long blacklist. Christian Berkel as Otto Preminger has a commanding presence and delivers the funniest line in the film. John Goodman has a memorable outburst (Nothing new about that!). But the film belongs to Helen Mirren and Bryan Cranston. Mirren is having so much fun playing bitchy Hedda Hopper. She savours every lines with obvious pleasure as if the words were diamonds. But Mirren’s Hopper is at her most vicious when she is speaking with Trumbo. And what can I say about Bryan Cranston. Watch him as he easily becomes a giant, an icon, a legend before our very eyes. Cranston is brilliant, perfect.

And the nominees are… Cranston was great, but Leonardo DiCaprio got the Oscar for The revenant.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Trumbo

Directed by:
Jay Roach

Screenplay by:
John McNamara
Based on the biography Dalton Trumbo by Bruce Alexander Cook

Starring:
Bryan Cranston
Elle Fanning
Diane Lane
John Goodman
Louis C.K.
Christian Berkel
Dean O’Gorman
David James Elliott
Michael Stuhlbarg
Helen Mirren

124 min.

Rated 14A