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

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from August 18 – 28
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/un-sac-de-billes

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.

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.

Christine

When I write about Christine, I can’t tell what happened in 1974 that made Christine Chubbuck famous because that would be a spoiler. Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) was a 29-years-old news reporter for WXLT-TV in Sarasota, Florida. Christine had her own talk show called Suncoast digest in which she talked about local and social interests. But she is always at odds with news director, Michael (Tracy Letts) who would like the newscast to be more sensational and cover murders and crimes (“blood and guts” someone says) to bring in higher ratings. The news that there might be positions opening in Baltimore, brings even more tensions and competition at the station. If that wasn’t enough, she suffers from sharp pains in the stomach, and as a result will have her ovaries removed. It is clear after a while that Christine’s depression is coming back. At times, it comes very close to manic depression. She lives with her mother, but always picks a fight with her. Her incoherent thinking is all over the map: she wants the job in Baltimore, she’s a virgin but wouldn’t it be nice if she finally had a romantic life now, especially before her ovaries are removed because she wants children, she wants that job in Baltimore, she buys a CB radio to listen to police calls and be the first to report it to the news, she needs that job in Baltimore. She does puppet shows for children at a local hospital, but they get increasingly weird and disturbing. There is a yelling match between Christine and Michael where Christine goes too far. There is a ray of hope when the handsome anchor, George Ryan (Michael C. Hall, no relation to Rebecca) invites her out on a date. The screenplay by Craig Shilowich is successfully showing the slow drip of mental illness. It is a relentless enemy. Shilowich and director Antonio Campos sets the film squarely in a realistic mid-1970s, complete with 70s long dresses, 70s pants, 70s hair and moustaches, and a fun soundtrack of songs from the 70s. Christine is such a difficult part to play, with all her contradictions, her mood swings and sudden shifts. Rebecca Hall’s Christine is an unvarnished portrait of a mentally ill woman, warts and all. With the marvellous Tracy Letts as her boss, there is a feeling of watching a harsher and less likable version of Lou Grant and Mary Tyler Moore (from The Mary Tyler Moore show). Lets hope these two will be remembered at Oscar time.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Christine

Directed by:

Antonio Campos

Screenplay by:
Craig Shilowich

Starring:
Rebecca Hall
Michael C. Hall
Tracy Letts
Timothy Simons
J. Smith-Cameron
Maria Dizzia

118 min.

Rated 14A

Denial

David Irving is a British self-described historian. But he is really a Holocaust denier and a Hitler apologist. In 1996 Irving sued Penguin books and American author and (genuine) historian Deborah E. Lipstadt for libel. In her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust, Lipstadt made the claim that Irving (Timothy Spall) was twisting the facts in order to promote anti-semitic ideologies. Because the book was published in England, Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) could be sued there where the burden of proof for libel laws falls on the accused. She has to prove that she is not guilty. For an American this is the world upside down. Denial seems to be an accurate description of what really occurred. The legal team was headed by solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), with libel barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) as lead counsel. This is a grand affair. A class act. The screenplay is by British playwright David Hare. Beside a haunting visit at Auschwitz’s gas chambers, most of the scenes consists of lawyers discussing their legal strategies. At first Lipstadt wants to bring Holocaust survivors as witness. Her legal counsel disagrees. They say that Irving, who is representing himself without legal counsel, will make a mockery of the survivors. Denial’s big draw is the acting duel between Spall and Wilkinson. Although Spall has an imposing figure, he paints Irving as a frightened bulldog (if such a thing is possible), with shaking lips and jowls, who stares back at people with the incredulous, confused look of someone who doesn’t know what hit him. Tom Wilkinson is my favorite English actor. Here he exudes warmth and likeability underneath a gruff exterior. But what is most stunning with Wilkinson is that it seemed so easy and natural that I did not see the acting. In other words: completely believable. Irving v Penguin Books Ltd is was a fascinating court case. This film is equally gripping.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Denial

Directed by:
Mick Jackson

Screenplay by:
David Hare
Based on the book by Deborah Lipstadt History on trial: My day in court with a Holocaust denier

Starring:
Rachel Weisz
Tom Wilkinson
Timothy Spall
Andrew Scott
Mark Gatiss
Alex Jennings
Caren Pistorius

110 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

The lovers and the despot

The incredible tale of South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee and her husband, film director Shin Sang-ok, being kidnapped by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. As weird as it sounds it did happen. In 1978, Kim felt that North Korean films did not have the prestige of South Korean films, and were not exportable. That was probably because all North Korean culture product were replete with propagandist elements. The tagline for The lovers and the despot is “They were kidnapped by their biggest fan”. Kim Jong-il had a great appreciation for the work of both the director and the actress. First he kidnapped Choi, then her husband. He incarcerated Shin in solitary confinement four long years, until Shin agreed to make films for North Korea. Once reunited, Shin and Choi planned to escape while traveling to film festivals. They were so convinced that once free their stories would be challenged, that Choi carried a tape recorder in her handbag and recorded every meeting she had with Kim. Shin Sang-ok died in 2006, but Choi, now 89, is interviewed in the film. Their son and daughter are also in the film talking about their parents sudden disappearance. We also get to ear those eerie tapes. We don’t need technical wizardry here because the story is so interesting. The lovers and the despot seems to have something for almost everyone: love, human interest and international intrigue.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The lovers and the despot

Directed by:
Ross Adam
Robert Cannan

Screenplay by:
Ross Adam
Robert Cannan

98 min.

In Korean, English, and Japanese with English subtitles.