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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Let the sunshine in (Un beau soleil intérieur)

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

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Let the sunshine in (Un beau soleil intérieur)

 

Directed by:
Claire Denis

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

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

96 min.

In French with English subtitles

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

Disobedience

Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s films are about women who proudly dare to defy conventions. His 2013 film Gloria was about a 58 year-old divorcee who decides to seek love, fun and sex. Last year’s A fantastic woman featured a transgendered woman after the death of her partner. It won the Academy award for Best foreign language film. His new film is Disobedience, an Irish-British-American co-production set in the Orthodox Jewish community of London. Rachel Weisz serves as a producer and also plays Ronit, a New York photographer who goes back home when she learns that her estranged father, Rabbi Krushka, has died. Judging by everyone’s reactions, it seems that she was not expected to return, and some were probably hoping that she would stay away. Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), a Rabbi and her father’s spiritual son, is certainly surprised to see her since nobody, to his knowledge, had sent Ronit the news of her father’s passing. She feels that people are looking at her and judging her. Ronit wears none of the traditional Orthodox Jewish women’s clothing, like a sheitel (a wig that is worn to show modesty). It is clear that some women from the community don’t like her very much. That’s not the case with her old friend Esti (London, Ontario native Rachel McAdams), who is now married to Dovid. The three were friends and they still are, but that does not mean they are not awkward around her. And then we learn that Ronit and Esti were lovers in their youth. Now they fall in each other’s arms again. And when they are seen kissing in public, it puts Esti in an even more awkward position, but that scandal may also liberates her. Maybe she doesn’t want to stop loving Ronit. The most stunning thing about this amazing film is its originality. During Ronit and Esti’s passionate love-making, Ronit drips saliva into Esti’s mouth. There is brilliance in the casting of Weisz, McAdams and Nivola. But it’s McAdams that shines here. It’s an assured performance. She never been as good or as beautiful as she is here. Matthew Herbert orchestral score may be some of the most peculiarly effective music for film. It is hesitant and doesn’t spell out everything neatly for us, it comes in waves and breeze, both sudden and subtle, melodic and atonal, in crescendos and decrescendos. Like this film and Lelio, it marvelously defies conventions.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Disobedience

 

Directed by:
Sebastián Lelio

Screenplay by:
Sebastián Lelio
Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Based on the novel by Naomi Alderman

Starring:
Rachel Weisz
Rachel McAdams
Alessandro Nivola

114 min.

Rated 14

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.

Finding your feet

I don’t know how many British films like Finding your feet I’ve seen. The formula is easy: you take a respectable middle-age/elderly British actress, she’ll play a woman with a dramatic situation who copes by doing something that takes her out of her comfort zone, but makes them feel that they have accomplish a lot. The cynic in me calls that the “embracing life” or “climb every mountain” films. How do you like them clichés? In Calendar girls you had Dame Helen Mirren and Dame Julie Walters posing in a nude calendar to raise money for cancer, Song for Marion starred Dame Vanessa Redgrave as a cancer patient joining a choir. There are many other examples. There is a lot of laughs and pathos. That is why the those films are a big hit. But it has to be British. If Americans tried to do a film like that, it would be called corny, and it would be snubbed and laughed at. If it sounds as if I did not like Finding your feet, it is wrong. Well, I liked it more than I expected. It’s probably because of the three main actors. Imelda Staunton plays Lady Sandra Abbott, who finds out that Mike (John Sessions), her husband of 40 years, has been having an affair with her best friend. Ashamed and hurt she goes to live with her estranged sister, Bif (Celia Imrie, who was one of the Calendar girls). Bif lives on an inner-city apartment building, and the “Lady” lived in a rich mansion. Sandra is snobbish, doesn’t like anyone or anything, especially her life. Meanwhile, Bif is an “embracing life”, “climb every mountain” person. While Bif is going to community dance class for seniors, Sandra mopes around the apartment all day, drinking too much and feeling sorry for herself. It takes time, but with the influence of her older sister, Sandra is slowly getting out of her near comatose state. One of Sandra’s childhood dreams was to be a dancer, so Bif invites Sandra to join the dance class. There Sandra meets Charlie (Timothy Spall) and Jackie (Joanna Lumley). At first Sandra does not like Charlie very much, but he’s a very good dancer, and slowly they become closer. But Sandra ignores that Charlie is married, but his wife is suffering from advance stage Alzheimer, and does not recognize him. It is too much for Charlie and it may cause her more damage than good, so he stops visiting her. When a video of a dance that the group performed as a street celebration has gone viral, they are invited to go to Rome to perform at a festival. But Mike wants her to come back home. A lot of people will like Finding your feet. And so did I. Yes, the actors are good. This is a great part for Celia Imrie, who usually plays the best friend, the ex-wife or the mother. Here she is funny and touching. And so is Timothy Spall. The scenes where Charlie visits his wife are particularly effective and hard to watch. And Imelda Staunton is a great performer. She made me laugh and touched me. She is the main reason to go see Finding your feet. There is one small problem. The dance number in Rome is a big letdown. The expectations were raised quite high, but instead of having something that was extraordinary, we get something that doesn’t even match the quality of the rest of the film. The dance in Rome was such a disappointment. But if you wanna laugh and have a good cry… And it is British!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Finding your feet

 

Directed by:
Richard Loncraine

Screenplay by:
Meg Leonard & Nick Moorcroft

Starring:
Imelda Staunton
Celia Imrie
Timothy Spall
Joanna Lumley
David Hayman
John Sessions
Josie Lawrence

111 min.

The square (Rutan)

The square, Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s masterpiece about the pretentious emptiness of modern art in a Swedish avant-garde museum. The story is build around Christian (Claes Bang), a Stockholm museum curator who is unable to deal with pressures of life or his job. In the first scene Christian is interviewed by American journalist Anne (Elisabeth Moss). When Anne reads him a quote from the museum’s web site and asks for its meaning, Christian seems to be unaware of the quote and since he does not understand it, he answers some platitudes that completely avoids Anne’s initial question. One day as he walks down a street, he tries to respond to a woman cries for help, and soon after finds out that his phone and wallet are missing. (That incident really happened to Östlund.) He tracks the whereabouts of his phone and tries to get the items back. He will be succesful, but not without costs. Outside the museum there are homeless people, Christian does not see them and rarely speaks to them or give them money. At a press conference, a man with Tourette’s syndrome keeps interrupting with obscenities. When Anne invites Christian to the apartment she shares with a chimpanzee. Anne and Christian have sex. After, Christian refuses to throw away his used condom and Anne deduces that he’s afraid she wants to steal his semen. The museum is featuring a new exhibition called “The square”: On the public place outside of the museum, there is an illuminated square with a plaque that reads “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” While Christian is busy recovering his wallet and his phone, the young advertisers hired by the museum are planning to post a shocking Youtube video in wich a little blond girl enters “The square” and gets blown up. Of course, the video goes viral, the campaign is controversial, the young advertisers are overjoyed, but Christian has to resign. At the press conference, some journalists accuse Christian of exploiting violence, others of censorship. Scenes of increasingly disturbing natures create a pulsating feeling of doom and decay. The best, most memorable moment, will inevitably become a classic. During a fundraising reception, a performance artist impersonating an ape takes it too far. In his only short scene American actor Terry Notary gives an Oscar caliber performance. The impressive Bang is in almost every scenes in this 142 minutes film. It’s a cold and calculating turn that is both funny and dramatic and at times tragic. I got so invested in The square, I was surprised at Ruben Östlund’s imaginative cynicism. But also intrigued and amused. I hope you will too.

And the Oscar went to… The square lost Foreign language film to the equally marvelous A fantastic woman (Chile).

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The square (Rutan)

 

Directed by:
Ruben Östlund

Screenplay by:
Ruben Östlund

Starring:
Claes Bang
Elisabeth Moss
Terry Notary
Dominic West

142 min.

In English, Swedish, and Danish 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

Tulip fever

There was a time in the Netherlands during the 17th-century when tulips bulbs were the most priced items. Especially the bulbs with a tulip breaking virus that could produce a multicolored tulip. Those were traded at auction to the highest bidder. Tulip fever, set during that period, is a cross between a Shakespearean comedy and a Moliere comedy. But Tulip fever is more sensual. It stars Alicia Vikander as Sofia Sandvoort, the beautiful wife of rich tulip trader Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz). Sofia, who is much younger than her husband, is desperately trying to get pregnant and give Cornelis an heir, meaning a baby boy. And although there is no doubt that Cornelis loves his wife, he needs an heir and claims that in six month, if Sofia is not pregnant, he’ll have to find another wife. Still, he commissions young portraitist Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to paint her portrait. At first van Loos is such a professional that he fails to notice the beautiful woman posing for him. He also does not see that Sofia would do anything to be noticed by him. And then it happens. Dane DeHaan’s blue-eyed piercing stares is what gives Tulip fever its most potent sensual moments. There is very little nudity in the film, and instead we get more of a romantic love-making than in most films. So they make love and wants to elope together. To make money van Loos goes into the tulip trading business. Meanwhile, Sofia’s maid and confidante, Maria (Holliday Grainger, who also narrates), gets pregnant from the fish monger (Jack O’Connell). The fish monger also went into the tulip trade shortly before he disappeared. And of course, Cornelis is totally unaware that any of this is happening. We are treated here to a fast paced film with enough plots to fill several films. None of these Masterpiece theatre lengthy conversations while sipping tea. The set and costume department have not tried to beautified the 1600s narrow streets of Amsterdam lounging some canals. They are dirty, full of fruits and fish sellers and unsavoury characters. You can almost smell the stench. Tulip fever is not what you would expect from a period comedy/drama. It’s so unusual that some reviewers have completely dismissed it. But to compare it to other period films would be a mistake. Yes, some of the plot is farfetched, but only if you judge it by a modern standard. I saw the film as a 17th-century saucy comedy, or an homage at the very least. It was not meant to be taken literally in a realistic way. There’s a character played by American comedian Zach Galifianakis. He’s a bizarre fit in that type of film, but he knows how to spread himself thin and doesn’t get in the way for most of the film. Dame Judi Dench has a small part as the Mother superior of an orphanage who also likes to grow tulips as a side business. Even when she is under playing, Dench reads her comic lines with a knife-like cutting edge. We’re then taken aback that so much snap can come out unannounced with such ease. That’s what you call perfect timing. I found Tulip fever amusing and beautiful to look at. I recommend.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Tulip fever

 

Directed by:
Justin Chadwick

Screenplay by:
Tom Stoppard
Based on the novel by Deborah Moggach

Starring:
Alicia Vikander
Christoph Waltz
Dane DeHaan
Holliday Grainger
Judi Dench
Zach Galifianakis

105 min.

Rated 14A