Hochelaga, Land of souls (Hochelaga, Terre des âmes)

Quebec writer-director François Girard’s Hochelaga, Land of souls is a spectacular film about Montréal’s history. The story starts in modern-day during a football game at Percival Molson stadium (located at the feet of Mount Royal), where a sinkhole opens in the middle of the field. It’s up to Mohawk archaeology student Baptiste (popular Algonquin rapper Samian) to start the archaeological dig. Six years later, Baptiste’s findings are unveiled during his doctoral thesis presentation. With each new discoveries, Baptiste tells the story of how it was found, its provenance and its meaning, and Girard (Thirty two short films about Glenn Gould, The red violin) flashbacks to a related historical event. A piece of metal from a stove goes back to an outbreak of typhus fever that killed 150 people in 1687, among them French trapper Étienne Maltais (Emmanuel Schwartz). During the Lower Canada patriot revolt of 1837, two men fleeing British soldiers seek refuge with supporter Lady Sarah Walker (Siân Phillips). But she’s unable to protect them from Captain Philip Thomas (Law & order‘s Linus Roache). But Baptiste greatest discovery is a crucifix, proof of a 1535 meeting between Jacques Cartier (French actor Vincent Perez) and Chief Tennawake (Wahiakeron Gilbert) at the Hochelaga Iroquois village. The whole thing could be too much, too big and too much of a history class. (and for some, maybe it is), but I found the experience profoundly moving. There are three moments towards the end that makes it gel: as Baptiste finds the crucifix, the figures from the past are standing up from the seats in the stadium, looking at him. Then later as the names of the ancestors are called out (Maltais, Thomas, Tennawake, Lacroix, Walker), their modern-day descendants are revealed. We are all linked together. Nicolas Bolduc’s award-winning cinematography and Terry and Gyan Riley’s score, and the importance given to First nations makes Hochelaga, Land of souls a must.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Hochelaga, Land of souls (Hochelaga, Terre des âmes)

 

Directed by:
François Girard

Screenplay by:
François Girard

Starring:
Samian
Vincent Perez
Gilles Renaud
Raoul Trujillo
Wahiakeron Gilbert
Emmanuel Schwartz
Tanaya Beatty
David La Haye
Sébastien Ricard
Siân Phillips
Linus Roache
Naïade Aoun
Tony Nardi
Karelle Tremblay
Paul Doucet

100 min.

Rated 14A

In French, Mohawk, Algonquin and English with English subtitles.

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The divine order (Die göttliche ordnung)

It is stunning what you learn watching movies. For instance, in The divine order, the new film from Switzerland, you are told that women did not have the right to vote until 1971. This historical event is seen through the fictional story of Nora (Marie Leuenberger), a woman living in a small village with her husband Hans (Max Simonischek), her two boys and her taciturn father-in-law. Nora cleans and cooks for all of them without getting any help. When she tells Hans that she would like to get a job, he refuses, claiming that the law says it is his right. And it was. Everywhere in the village Nora sees that women are taken for granted and are treated unfairly by unjust laws. Soon she gets involved with the local suffragette movement working towards the upcoming referendum that could grant women the right to vote. Coming along with her is Vroni (Sibylle Brunner), a feisty elderly woman, and Nora’ sister-in-law Theresa (Rachel Braunschweig). Together they march in a protest and, in the funniest scene in the film, attend a hippie yoga session in which they are told to “love your vagina”. With the help of a mirror, each women have to look at their vagina and name what animal it looks like (“butterfly”, “bunny” or “tiger”). They come away from the experience with greater sexual awareness. That’s where Nora discover that she never had an orgasm. After being ridiculed by the men of the village and by Frau Dr. Charlotte Wipf (Therese Affolter), leader of the social club, the women leave their family and go on strike. I see no reason not to recommend this film. It is well conceived and directed by Petra Volpe. The three main actresses (Leuenberger, Brunner and Braunschweig) are excellent, as is the whole cast. And the topic is so interesting. It’s a story that has never been told.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The divine order (Die göttliche ordnung)

 

Directed by:
Petra Volpe

Screenplay by:
Petra Volpe

Starring:
Marie Leuenberger
Rachel Braunschweig
Marta Zoffoli
Sibylle Brunner
Ella Rumpf
Bettina Stucky
Max Simonischek
Therese Affolter

96 min.

Rated 14A

In Swiss German and Italian with English subtitles.

Viceroy’s house

Viceroy’s house is a historical drama about Lord Louis Mountbatten’s attempt to oversee the transition of India under a British rule to independent country. Mountbatten (Downton abbey‘s Hugh Bonneville) arrived in 1947 with his wife, Lady Edwina Mountbatten (Gillian Anderson from The X-files) and their teenage daughter Pamela, to be India’s last Viceroy and to assure that the transition would go smoothly. But it is more complex than he had envision. Within India there was several nationalities, religions and political opinions. That was also true of the 500 servants working in the Viceroy’s house. And tensions mount, in and outside the house. Mountbatten’s valet, Jeet (Manish Dayal), is an Hindu. He is in love with secretary Aalia (Huma Qureshi) who is a Muslim. That is not a problem, except that a marriage to another man has been arranged by her father, Ali (the late Om Puri). There is many historical figures, both British and Indian, including Mahatma Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi) and General Hastings Ismay (Michael Gambon), who has an 11th hour surprise for Lord Mountbatten. I don’t know if Viceroy’s house is historically factual. I will leave that to the historians. This is as lavish a production as you could find. Mentions should be made of the incredible work of casting directors Michelle Guish and Seher Latif, who populated the screen with a great variety of interesting faces and good actors. Gillian Anderson is particularly good as the compassionate and dutiful Lady Mountbatten. The only is problem is the fictionalized love story between the two servants. Some of it is OK, but the over-the-top syrupy ending goes too far. What passes for good drama these days, is actually laughable. But the A. R. Rahman string score is subtle and sparse, as it should be.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Viceroy’s house

 

Directed by:
Gurinder Chadha

Screenplay by:
Paul Mayeda Berges
Moira Buffini
Gurinder Chadha

Starring:
Hugh Bonneville
Gillian Anderson
Manish Dayal
Huma Qureshi
Michael Gambon
Om Puri
Neeraj Kabi

106 min.

Un sac de billes (A bag of marbles)

Based on Joseph Joffo’s 1973 autobiographical novel, this new version of Un sac de billes has all the elements to be an instant popular classic film. Living with his French-Jewish family in Nazi occupied Paris, Joe (Dorian Le Clech) was 10 years old when his parents, Roman and Anna (Patrick Bruel and Elsa Zylberstein), decide to send Joe and his slightly older brother, Maurice (Batyste Fleurial), to the de-militarized zone in the South of France. They must travel there alone and never tell a soul that they are Jewish. The two boys are very young and the road is long and dangerous, but they get helped by many courageous people along the way. And the two brothers become even closer than they were before. Once in Nice the family is reunited: their parents and two older brothers, Henri and Albert. They live there until the arrival of Nazis. The two boys are separated from their family again when they are enrolled in a paramilitary camp. Again they must hide their religion, as they come face to face with the Nazis and the violence. Director Christian Duguay delicately handles the difficult aspects of the story with care. It’s an emotional road-movie-slash-adventure-slash-historical-slash-family drama. If that sounds like a joke, it’s not. It’s a way to tell you how many genres within the same film Duguay has to navigate. He does not just make a nice pleasant film. It is tense. The violence of the interrogation scene is hard to watch. Of the two boys, I thought that Batyste Fleurial seemed the most assured performer. Maurice has buried and muffled his emotions in order to find the strengths he needs to take care of his little brother. I thought this was a clever choice. At times we can’t understand what Dorian Le Clech is trying to say. For the film’s lead actor it can be a problem, don’t you think? And as the father, Patrick Bruel is so good here, showing the love and commitment to his family in the smallest gestures, in every minute details. Patrick Bruel is the real thing. This is based on Joseph Joffo’s real story. The names of his parents and his brothers have not been changed.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Un sac de billes (A bag of marbles)

 

Directed by:
Christian Duguay

Screenplay by:
Christian Duguay
Christian Duguay
Benoît Guichard
Jonathan Allouche
Alexandra Geismar
Laurent Zeitoun
Based on the autobiography by Joseph Joffo

Starring:
Dorian Le Clech
Batyste Fleurial
Patrick Bruel
Elsa Zylberstein
Bernard Campan

110 min.

In French with English subtitles.

The journey

The journey is based on the events that led to the 2006 peace agreement in Northern Ireland. The animosities are clearly laid out from the start. The leaders from the two sides arrive at the meeting. Down the hall is Rev. Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) leader of the Democratic unionist party (DUP). On the other side of the same hall stands Martin McGuiness (Colm Meaney). He turns to face Paisley. McGuiness is MP from the Sinn Féin party and a veteran leader of the Irish republican army (IRA). As the two men look at each other, there is nothing but disdain. They hate each other. Then they enter separate rooms to have two separate peace talks. That would be it, except that Ian Paisley has to leave his meeting to go celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary. McGuiness agrees but only if he travels with Paisley. That way if they travel together, neither of them can be singled out for attack. The drive to the airport was long. We are told that it is unknown what was said during that trip. Screenwriter Colin Bateman imagines a conversation that might have changed the course of history. Paisley was an 80-year-old evangelical Protestant minister who hated Catholics. He called the IRA the Antichrist. And McGuiness doesn’t like what Rev. Paisley said about the Pope either. For Paisley, Martin McGuiness and the IRA, are terrorists responsible for the death of innocent people. He can even remember some the names of the victims. ”We were in a civil war”, McGuiness tells Paisley, adding that there were casualties on both sides. As a chauffeur they have baby-faced Jack (baby-faced Freddie Highmore). He’s been put there to spy on them by then Prime minister Tony Blair (Toby Stephens). They have also installed microphones and a camera. The excellent Sir John Hurt appears in one of his last films (he died last January from pancreatic cancer). Hurt plays the operative monitoring the drive and listening to the conversation. This is good acting from Spall and Meaney. The more showy role is Paisley. To play the 80-year-old, 60-year-old Spall has to put a lot of make up and prosthetics. But Meaney holds his own and plays the younger McGuiness as the more tempered and sound of the two statesmen. Colin Bateman has written a good balance of witty and profound repartees. Director Nick Hamm has put the whole thing together with style and a suspenseful build-up that is quite effective. It may not all be factual, but it is pleasurable nevertheless.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The journey

Directed by:
Nick Hamm

Screenplay by:
Colin Bateman

Starring:
Timothy Spall
Colm Meaney
Toby Stephens
John Hurt
Freddie Highmore
Ian Beattie

94 min.

The big sick

The big sick is about Kumail, (Kumail Nanjiani playing himself) a stand-up comic who moonlights as a Uber driver. In his comedy routines Kumail talks about his Pakistani heritage and his Pakistani family. One evening, while performing at the comedy club, Kumail is interrupted by an audience member. It’s Emily (Zoe Kazan), a beautiful young woman. After the show, they connect and soon they are dating. But Kumail is hiding something from her. He does not tell her that, according to his traditional Muslim upbringing, his parents are hoping to arrange a marriage for Kumail. His parents don’t even know he is dating a non-Pakistani girl. When Emily, who thought they might have a future together, finds out the truth, she feels betrayed and angrily breaks off with him. A few weeks later, Kumail gets a phone call. Emily has become very ill and has been transported to hospital. He goes to the hospital and although he’s not her boyfriend anymore the doctors need him to authorize an urgent medically induced coma in order to save Emily’s life, while they investigate what is wrong with her. The arrival of Emily’s parents makes things a bit awkward. Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) know all about the break up and how much Emily suffered as a result. But he sticks around and the relationships between him and Emily’s parents grows as they get know each other. Meanwhile, Kumail’s parents have no knowledge of what is happening in their son’s life. His mother, Sharmeen (the hilariously deadpan Zenobia Shroff), invites a new Pakistani girl every time he comes for super. This is such an unusual film. What sets The big sick apart from other romantic comedies is that it is based on the real life romance between Kumail Nanjiani and his now wife Emily V. Gordon. They wrote the screenplay together. Some of the facts have changed, except that the real Emily really spent a few days in a coma. Yes, a romantic comedy about a comatose girlfriend. But this is such a great film on so many levels. First: It has a screenplay that sparkle with witty, intelligent dialogues. The evolution of the characters and their stories feels real, not forced. It flows. And if it manages to be both funny and touching that’s because of its excellent ensemble cast. The early lively banter between Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan deceptively seems so easy to do. But that is not so. The easier it seems, the harder it must have been for the actors to achieve. And it is the same for every actors in The big sick. There’s SNL’s Aidy Bryant as Mary, a fellow stand up comedienne, who has such a pleasant way with words. Romano and Hunter are the most surprising pairing of the film. Hunter plays a badass mom with a heart and an attitude. Wearing a pair of worn-out jeans with patches and speaking with the thickest southern accent, you know right from the start that Beth is not a person to cross. We remember Ray Romano from his TV show Everybody loves Raymond. We recognize his voice, his way with words, but we never suspected such depth. You just can’t go wrong with a trio like Hunter, Romano and Nanjiani. Kumail Nanjiani is in every scenes, so he has to carry a lot of the emotional weight of the film on his shoulder. It is my hope that The big sick will be the sleeper hit of the year.

And the Oscar went to… Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani’s adapted screenplay lost to Jordan Peele’s Get out.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The big sick

 

Directed by:
Michael Showalter

Screenplay by:
Emily V. Gordon
Kumail Nanjiani

Starring:
Kumail Nanjiani
Zoe Kazan
Holly Hunter
Ray Romano
Anupam Kher
Zenobia Shroff
Adeel Akhtar

119 min.

Rated 14A

In English and Urdu with English subtitles.

Tanna

Imagine Romeo and Juliet set among the Yakel tribes of the island of Tanna in the small nation of Vanuatu. The tribe people speak a rare dialect called Nivhaal, and, except for the grass-skirts that the women wear and the penis-sheaths for the men, they are naked. What is most extraordinary about Tanna is that Australian directors, Martin Butler and Bentley Dean have based their Romeo and Juliet on real events that happened to that tribe 30 years ago. Some of the non-actors in the film are playing their own role. You understand that it is about two doomed lovers. Teenagers Wawa (Marie Wawa) and Dain (Mungau Dain) are in love. The handsome Dain is the grandson of the Yakel chief, and returning to the village after an absence, he reconnects with his childhood crush Wawa. The whole thing is observed by Wawa’s little sister Selin (Marceline Rofit). Selin is a bit of a pest, asking Wawa what is happening (even though she knows that her sister is in love with Dain), following her sister, spying on her. Selin is also able to run barefoot through the jungle faster than most people. Marceline Rofit’s fierce running is reminiscent of Quvenzhané Wallis in Beast of the southern wild. When the sister’s grandfather is attacked by members of a rival tribe, Selin runs to the village to tell them what she saw. After the grandfather dies, a meeting between the two tribes is set to arrange a peaceful truce. To make peace a marriage is arranged between Wawa and the son of the chief the rival tribe. The two lovers escape from the village to avoid being separated. This angers the rival tribe and puts their tribe in danger. Mixing documentary and fiction film techniques is nothing new. The films of Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the north in 1922 or Man of Aran in 1934) are good example. But this was a long time ago. The genre has been dead for quite some time. The cast is entirely made of non-professional tribe people, and they are filmed in their natural habitat, doing the things they probably do every days. It is their rituals, their dances and their chants. There is a minimum of artificiality, if any. It is real. That is maybe why there is not a bad actor among them. They are not acting. And the people are charming. Marie Wawa and Mungau Dain make a lovely couple. But as Salin Marceline Rofit steals the movie. That only would be enough to see the film. The breathtaking landscapes, magnificently photographed by director Bentley Dean, who does double duty as cinematographer, is another reason. Tanna is a beautiful, charming and compelling film. A pure joy.

And the Oscar went to… The Australian entry for Best foreign language film, Tanna made the final list of five films to compete on Oscar night. It is strong enough to have won. But Iran’s The salesman was the winner.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Tanna

 

Directed by:
Martin Butler
Bentley Dean

Screenplay by:
Martin Butler
Bentley Dean

Starring:
Mungau Dain
Marie Wawa
Marceline Rofit
Albi Nangia

100 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Nivhaal with English subtitles.

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.

Land of mine (Under sandet)

In Denmark during World War II, the German occupier had installed over 1.5 million landmines mostly on the Danish west coast. When the war was over, and Germany surrendered, the Danish government decided that the German prisoners of war would detonate the mines. When we first meet Sgt. Carl Leopold Rasmussen (Roland Møller), it is clear he does not like the Germans. It was a long and bloody war and Rasmussen has, in Land of mine’s first scene, a violent outburst where he beats up a young German POW to a pulp. Rasmussen is put in charge of a small group of young Germans POW. Among them is Sebastian Schumann (Louis Hofmann) and twin brothers, Ernst and Werner Lessner (Emil and Oskar Belton). At first Rasmussen is not very sympathetic towards them. But when he was assigned, he had no idea that they would be so young. They are teenagers, kids really. Add to the difficult pressures those boys are under the fact that they do not get any food sent to them. As he sees them getting sick, Rasmussen makes a decision to bring them food, even if that means getting in trouble with his superior, Lt. Ebbe (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard). Based on a little-told story, Land of mine’s director Martin Zandvliet keeps the tension to unbearable levels. Any moment the audience may see a mine blow up and one of the boys killed or badly injured. Land of mine is the most tense film I’ve seen in a while. Møller and Hofmann have great chemistry together. But the excellent acting from the young cast should also be mentioned. This is not an easy film to watch, for sure, but Land of mine is a worthy film that should be seen.

And the Oscar went to… Land of mine lost the Best foreign language film to Asghar FarhadI’s The salesman from Iran.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Land of mine (Under sandet)

Directed by:
Martin Zandvliet

Screenplay by:
Martin Zandvliet

Starring:
Roland Møller
Louis Hofmann
Joel Basman
Mikkel Boe Følsgaard
Oskar Bökelmann

100 min.

In Danish and German with English subtitles.

Lion

Lion is the true story of Saroo Brierly, who at the age of 5 (child actor Sunny Pawar) got into a train that brought him 1600 miles away from his house, his family and his mother (Priyanka Bose). When the train door finally opened, he was in Kolkata (AKA Calcutta), trying to find his older brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate). Homeless in the Indian capital, Saroo often finds himself in trouble. He’s a smart and instinctive boy who runs away when he feels danger ahead. Lion is compelling and heart pounding filmmaking. Sunny Pawar is the star of the first part of the film. The small boy running around dirty Indian streets, amongst the poorest of the poor, desperately calling his brother (“Guddu! Guddu!”) are some of the most troubling, indelible images of 2016 cinema. Then, after many misadventures, Saroo (his real name is actually “Sheru”. “Sheru” means “lion” in English, hence the title.) is found on the street by Indian social services. They try to find Saroo’s mother or his village, but the name of the village, according to the name that Saroo has given to social services, is nowhere on the map. Eventually, Saroo is adopted by a nice Australian couple. John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman) fly with Saroo to their home in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. The film then jumps 20 years. Saroo is in his mid-twenties (now played by Slumdog millionaire’s Dev Patel) and is trying to locate his mother and his village with the support and help of his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara). He uses maps on Google Earth to retrace the footsteps of the 5 years old boy he used to be, and revisit some painful memories. I think that Lion can qualify as a tear-jerker, but it does not feel like a tear-jerker. It doesn’t because the true story is given room to breathe, to simply be an incredible tale of survival. It’s an impressive fiction film debut for director Garth Davis. Everything is done with much restraint without underlining the drama with effects. He is helped by great acting from Pawar, of course, and also Patel and Nicole Kidman, who give sensitive performances. Cinematographer Greig Fraser is an artist, a painter who uses dark tones and colors with a deft eye. Precision and control. Lion is a tear-jerker, but it is also a great film.

And the Oscar went to… Despite 6 nominations, Lion did not win a single Oscar. Oh well!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Lion

Directed by:
Garth Davis

Screenplay by:
Luke Davis
Based on A long way home by Saroo Brierley and Larry Buttrose

Starring:
Dev Patel
Sunny Pawar
Nicole Kidman
Rooney Mara
David Wenham
Priyanka Bose
Abhishek Bharate

118 min.

Rated Parantal Guidance

In English, Bengali, and Hindi with English subtitles.