On the milky road (На млечном путу)

There is so much happening in Emir Kusturica’s On the milky road that you lose the points that the film tries to make, if any. It takes place during the Bosnian war (1992 – 1995). Kosta (Emir Kusturica), a milkman, tries to avoid the bullets while he delivers the milk from a nearby farm. Everyone  in the village seems to have been traumatized by war. Even the farm animals behave in peculiar ways. Some soldiers at the front spend the time making omelette. In the middle of the craziness, Kosta falls in love with a beautiful Italian-Serb woman (Monica Bellucci) who is hiding from the British NATO general who wanted to marry her. At the end the British arrive, burn the farm and the village, kill all the the humans and the animals (animal lovers be warned). Our lovers escape. Follows a series of futile romantic images. On the milky road‘s directions is frantic and full of energy. But there is frantic and FRANTIC. I know that Kusturica is very popular at film festivals, and that I am supposed to kneel down and kiss the ground he walks on. Oh yeah, and the other reason I should like his films is that they are the antithesis of the Hollywood films. I’ve heard all that before. Despite the violence and the body counts, On the milky road is meant to be funny, and it is, but only in the early scenes. After a while it just becomes tedious. I think one of the point might be “War is hell!”. Yes, I know. But do I have to sit through it?

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from October 20 – 24
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/on-the-milky-road

On the milky road (На млечном путу)

Directed by:
Emir Kusturica

Screenplay by:
Emir Kusturica

Starring:
Emir Kusturica
Monica Bellucci
Sloboda Mićalović
Predrag Manojlović

125 min.

In Serbian and Italian with English subtitles.

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The midwife (Sage femme)

At 73, Catherine Deneuve is still stunning us with those gutsy performances film after film. In Sage femme, Deneuve co-stars alongside Catherine Frot. Frot plays Claire, a compassionate and devoted midwife. Warm and emotionally invested when she’s helping women giving birth, Claire is cold and distant in private. Then one day she gets a phone call from Béatrice (Deneuve). Béatrice was Claire’s stepmom more than 30 years ago. But Béatrice is the last person Claire wants to see. Béatrice caused a great pain to Claire’s dad when she left him without warning or explanations, so Claire is understandably resentful. At the first meeting, Claire tells Béatrice to leave her alone, she does not want her back in her life. But Béatrice won’t be so easily dismissed. Then Claire learns that Béatrice has a brain cancer. Now Claire feels she has to help Béatrice. But Béatrice is a mess. She smokes too much, drinks too much and should not eat red meat, according to Claire. Beside that, Béatrice is a compulsive gambler. You see her going to some seedy poker game, actually winning a lot of money. When Claire disapproves, Béatrice tells her to leave her be, she wants to live. And Béatrice starts rubbing off on Claire, who finds something she had denied herself for far too long : love. Claire boyfriend’s name is Paul (Olivier Gourmet). The fun of a film like Sage femme is to watch those two brilliant French actresses together. Catherine Frot’s precise, almost clinical acting, contrasts Deneuve’s impulsiveness. Every thing her character does seem to happen suddenly, as if Deneuve was improvising. It is real, she’s the real deal. Sage femme is also notable for beautiful, most realistic births I have ever seen in a fiction film. It makes you want to live life to the fullest.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The midwife (Sage femme)

 

Directed by:
Martin Provost

Screenplay by:
Martin Provost

Starring:
Catherine Deneuve
Catherine Frot
Olivier Gourmet
Quentin Dolmaire
Mylène Demongeot

117 min.

In French with English subtitles.

The women’s balcony (Ismach Hatani)

At an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem, the congregation have gathered to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah for Etti and Zion’s grandson. Suddenly, the section where the women sit, a balcony, collapses. No one is hurt, except for the rabbi’s wife who is in a coma. But the rabbi himself is so disturbed by the accident that he has not visited his wife yet and spends his days reading and praying. The congregation can meet in a schoolroom. but they need a new rabbi. Enter Rabbi David (Aviv Alush), a young manipulative rabbi. Trouble starts when Rabbi David has the synagogue repaired, but without the woman’s balcony. The women have to stand outside. He claims a lack of funds. Furthermore, Rabbi David tells the men that their wives should wear the traditional head scarves. Most women refuse. One of them is Etti (Evelin Hagoel). Etti and her husband Zion (Igal Naor), are still very much in love with each other. But now Etti is at odds with Zion and some of her best friends, who have now started to cover their heads. But the women put their differences aside to raise the money to build a new women’s balcony. But first Rabbi David says he wants to replace the Torah scroll destroyed in the collapse. Evelin Hagoel and Aviv Alush give the best performances of the film playing antagonistic polar opposites for much of our, and their, pleasures. This is a charming little film about the power each of us have, either to fight for injustice, or to control and manipulate others.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The women’s balcony (Ismach Hatani)

 

Directed by:
Emil Ben-Shimon

Screenplay by:
Shlomit Nehama

Starring:
Evelin Hagoel
Igal Naor
Aviv Alush
Orna Banai
Itzik Cohen
Einat Sarouf
Yafit Asulin

100 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Hebrew and English with English subtitles

Menashe

“When I thought about making a film in Borough Park, in Yiddish, with real Hasidic Jews, to me it was just as interesting as any documentary I ever made.”, said director Joshua Z. Weinstein. Set in the Borough Park district of Brooklyn, is the story of Menashe (Menashe Lustig), a recently widowed Hasidic Jewish man. Menashe has had his young son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski), taken away to live with his brother-in-law, Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus). Rieven needs a mother, says the Rabbi (Meyer Schwartz). But Menashe is fat, and with his low wage job at a supermarket, it’s very unlikely he’ll find a wife. Still, Rabbi insists, he must marry. He constantly fights with Eizik to be more involved in his son’s life. It is clear that Rieven loves his dad and would rather live with him. Menashe’s life is a mess. He can’t pay his rent, he’s always late for work and his boss is losing patience. But Menashe loves his son and does not care about Rabbi or Eizik. This film is loosely based on Menashe Lustig’s life. And Lustig’s touching scenes with Ruben Niborski seemed so real that you feel that you are indeed watching a documentary. Menashe is slow-moving, but there is also an effective tension and suspense that involves us. The unusual setting of an American film in Yiddish that was shot in the Hasidic community, makes it even more compelling.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Menashe

 

Directed by:
Joshua Z. Weinstein

Screenplay by:
Alex Lipschultz
Musa Syeed
Joshua Z. Weinstein

Starring:
Menashe Lustig
Ruben Niborski
Yoel Weisshaus
Meyer Schwartz

81 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Yiddish and English with English subtitles.

Lost In Paris (Paris pieds nus)

Paris pieds nus is one of the most charming and inventive comedy I have ever seen. It’s certainly this year’s funniest film. It stars the husband-and-wife clown-like comedy duo Abel and Gordon. Fiona Gordon (who would be physically perfect as Olive Oyl, the character from the old Popeye cartoons) is an Australian-born Canadian, and her partner, Dominique Abel is from Belgium. Gordon plays a Canadian named Fiona who leaves her cold and snowy Canadian town to go help her aunt Martha in Paris. Aunt Martha (Emmanuelle Riva, who died this year, a few weeks before her 90th birthday) is afraid that soon, at 88, she’ll be sent to a retirement home. But once Fiona arrives at her aunt’s apartment, she’s not there. That leaves Fiona with no place to stay. And then it gets worst when the accident-prone Fiona falls into the Seine and looses her backpack, her money, her passport and her cell phone. But nothing is ever lost in Paris pieds nus. Everything is re-used for maximum comedy effect. The backpack (with the money and the passport inside) are found by homeless man Dom (Dominique Abel). Later there is a chance meeting between the two and we also discover what happened to Martha. Paris pieds nus is full of little physical-comedy bits that might recall Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati. And it also the clever turns, the esthetics and the French charm akin to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s films. I laughed out loud at the scenes of Martha French-kissing her much younger neighbour. Another moment shows Fiona and Dom sleeping in their respective beds, in split-screens, having an erotic dream about each other. His movements are choreographed with hers, at times her mouth is juxtaposed with his feet, and so forth. It manages to be very funny and poetic. But the whole film is like that. It’s all perfectly performed by Abel and Gordon, who not only play the leads but, have directed, written and co-produced the film. It certainly seems as if the late Emmanuelle Riva had a great time. It was a rare comedy appearance for the French cinema legend and she is wonderful. And as an added bonus, we get another legend: Pierre Richard playing an old friend/lover. Riva and Richard dance a soft-shoe routine together. But long before that I had already fallen in love with Paris pieds nus. And I hope you will as well.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Lost In Paris (Paris pieds nus)

 

Directed by:
Dominique Abel
Fiona Gordon

Screenplay by:
Dominique Abel
Fiona Gordon

Starring:
Dominique Abel
Fiona Gordon
Emmanuelle Riva
Pierre Richard

83 min.

In English and French with English subtitles.

Pop Aye

The first image is quite striking and quirky. We see middle-aged Thana (Taneth Warakulnukroh) on a Thai road trying to hitch a ride for him and his elephant. Thana was depressed when he found Pop Aye the elephant (Bong, the elephant/actor, if such a thing exists). A prominent architect in Bangkok, Thana has been demoted by the firm’s young new owner. And his wife, Bo (Penpak Sirikul), has replaced Thana in the bedroom with a sex toy. Then Thana sees Pop Aye, the elephant he was playing with when he was a child back on his family farm. Thana sees that Pop Aye is mistreated by his owner and decides to buy the elephant. Thana’s plan is to bring back Pop Aye to the rural village where they grew up. The farm is now owned by Thana’s uncle Peak (Narong Pongpab). On the road with Pop Aye, Thana whistles the I’m Popeye the sailor man song from the old animated series. Along the way Thana gets arrested by two cops who say he’s not allowed to have an elephant as a pet. They somehow all finish the night at a karaoke bar where Thana befriends Jenni (the intriguing and mysterious Yukontorn Sukkijja), a transgender prostitute. Thana even sings a song with Jenni. This is an unusual absurdist comedy-drama with lots of charm. The only problem might be some of the flashbacks. They make the film more confusing than it needs to be. Singaporean filmmaker Kirsten Tan’s début feature is full of nostalgia and characters who feel the passage of time weigh on them. Excellent actor Taneth Warakulnukroh is better known in Thailand as popular rock star. And Bong the elephant does everything that is expected from an elephant.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Pop Aye

 

Directed by:
Kirsten Tan

Screenplay by:
Kirsten Tan

Starring:
Taneth Warakulnukroh
Penpak SIrkul
Bong
Yukontorn Sukkijja

104 min.

In Thai with English subtitles.

Une vie (A woman’s life)

In adapting the novel by Guy de Maupassant, Stéphane Brizé has kept the story pretty much intact, but has scrapped the usual modus operandi. Set in in Normandy in 1819, Une vie tells the story of Jeanne Le Perthuis des Vauds (Judith Chemla), a young lady from a noble family living a happy but sheltered life with her parents (Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Yolande Moreau). One day she falls in love with Julien de Lamare (Swann Arlaud) and marries him. He turns out to be a dreadful husband, a miser who has been unfaithful to her. He has slept with their maid, Rosalie (Nina Meurisse), and she is now pregnant. As described in the film, it sounds more like it was sexual harassment. She listen to the priest’s demands, and what were the conventions at the era, and saves the family from scandal by forgiving her husband. Later she discover that Julien has been having an affair with her best friend, the married Gilberte de Fourville (Clotilde Hesme). Later it is her son Paul, who will cause her much sorrow. As an adult (played by Finnegan Oldfield), his constant demands for money will almost ruin her. At the time it was published (1883), de Maupassant’s Une vie was described as a realist novel. Mostly filming with a handheld camera and improvised as well as scripted dialogue, Brizé brings immediacy and urgency to every scenes. If a few moments of heated arguments between some of the characters are too long, those moments add more credibility to the film. It sounds and looks real. And when things become particularly sad for Jeanne, Brizé flashbacks to a time where things were better. Her husband loved her then, her son was a young and lovely boy and she was gardening with her father. Or are they really flashbacks rather than Jeanne reinventing the truth into a more idyllic imagined life. Judith Chemla and her minimalist acting is the perfect casting for playing a French woman in 19th century’s repressed society. She plays the young or the old Jeanne without much makeup, giving the later scenes an eerie quality. Chemla does old age better than anyone using none of the usual tricks. Cinematographer Antoine Héberlé films the bright, sunny days in the garden and the dark, rainy nights in the mud with the same care and craftsmanship. If this a film to value if, like me, you are tired of the same old lace umbrella period drama.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Une vie (A woman’s life)

 

Directed by:
Stéphane Brizé

Screenplay by:
Stéphane Brizé
Based on the novel by Guy de Maupassant

Starring:
Judith Chemla
Jean-Pierre Darroussin
Yolande Moreau
Nina Meurisse
Swann Arlaud
Finnegan Oldfield
Clotilde Hesme

119 min.

In French with English subtitles.

Django

I knew of Django Reinhardt as the inventor of ‘Jazz manouche’ (aka ‘Gypsy jazz’). But, in reality I knew next to nothing about the man. Django centers on Reinhardt’s experiences during World War II in occupied France. It is estimated that the Nazis killed half of Europe’s Gypsy population. Being a Romani, Reinhardt could be in great danger. But he was a popular musician. The Nazis wanted him to play for them. His agent Charles Delauney (Patrick Mille) already agreed that Reinhardt and his musicians, the Quintette du Hot club de France, will tour Germany. But Django Reinhardt (a solid Reda Kateb) does not want to go. Why? Well, the Nazis did not like Jazz, they tolerated it for a while. But if they toured Germany, the group would have to follow ridiculous rules. Like no tapping of the feet while they played, not to play swing and solos could not be longer than 5 seconds. If Reinhardt refused he and his family would certainly be sent to the camps. Upon the advice of Louise de Klerk (Cécile de France), a friend and lover, he escapes with his pregnant wife (Beata Palya) and his feisty mother (Bimbam Merstein, much fun to watch) to a house in the country, in the hopes that they can cross into Switzerland. This is based on a novel rather than being a factual biopic. Some of the story may have been invented, but the film never claimed to be a documentary. Django is quite suspenseful and tense. Director Comar knows how to sustain the dreadful menace that was probably part Django’s life. I did not know that one of Reinhardt’s hands had been injured in a fire and that he could only play with two fingers from that hand. The hands are provided by Jazz guitarist Christophe Lartilleux. The film is good, but the real draw is the music. This beautiful Jazz manouche is played by the Rosenberg trio. And there’s the troubling Mass for the Gypsies at the end of the film. Unfortunately, that piece composed by Django Reinhardt has been lost. Only a few pages have survived. It’s a shame.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Django

 

Directed by:
Étienne Comar

Screenplay by:
Étienne Comar
Alexis Salatko
Based on Salatko’s novel Folles de Django

Starring:
Reda Kateb
Cécile de France
Beata Palya
Johnny Montreuil
Bimbam Merstein
Patrick Mille

117 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In French, German, and Romany with English subtitles.

Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille trilogy: Marius

Like many people in Québec and around the world, I’m very familiar with the films from Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille trilogy (Marius, Fanny and César), as they often played on Radio Canada. I bought the Pagnol plays and read them as a young man. I will focus this review mostly on the first instalment: Marius. The action takes place in the Old Port section of Marseille, France. The waterfront bar is owned by César (Raimu). César’s son, Marius (Pierre Fresnay), a tempestuous young man, is helping his father. Right outside the bar, Honorine (Alida Rouffe) sells mussels with her daughter Fanny (Orane Demazis). Among the bar’s regular clients is César’s friend Panisse (Charpin), a prosperous sail maker. The news that the recently widowed Panisse proposed to Fanny and that Honorine agreed, has angered Marius. He is obviously in love with Fanny. And Fanny seems to be delighted by the jealous attention she gets from Marius. She too is in love with Marius. She breaks off her engagement with Panisse and her and Marius become lovers. But she soon realizes that Marius has another love: the sea. His dreams of sailing and traveling around the world is understandable. He has been living on the waterfront all his life and has seen boats come and go. He has probably heard many stories from sailors about the beauty, the freedom of the sea. The calling is too strong and Fanny sees that it would be pointless to retain him. Even though Marius is still a classic French film, time has not always been kind to older films. It is old-fashioned, of course. But there is a scene in Marius that I found stunning. A declaration of love and affection between father César and son Marius. I certainly was not expecting to find such a scene in that film. You have to take Marius for what it is: a popular melodrama. Like all popular melodrama, Marius has a lot of comedy. The most famous scene is the one when César plays a game of poker with his friends. But his friends all leave one after the other when César keeps insulting them. He even goes so far as calling one of them a cuckold (in French “cocu”). César is an old curmudgeon who likes to argue just for the fun of the argument. They don’t have actors like Raimu anymore, and it is marvellous to see him in the greatest role of his career. His scenes with Alida Rouffe are equally memorable. As the young romantic leads Pierre Fresnay and Orane Demazis are as good as anybody could be. The poetic portions of the play (it is a stage play) about the love of the sea and the desire for freedom are done forcefully and convincingly. Every one speaks with the typical Marseillais accent that is a bit hard to comprehend. So the English subtitles are a good thing. Marius was beautifully restored in its original 35mm format. I am no expert, but I did not see any scratch or imperfections. The saga continues with Fanny and César.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille trilogy: Marius

 

Directed by:
Alexandre Korda

Screenplay by:
Marcel Pagnol
Based on his own play

Starring:
Pierre Fresnay
Orane Demazis
Raimu
Alida Rouffe
Charpin

127 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In French with English subtitles.

The happiest day in the life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä Mies)

Although The happiest day in the life of Olli Mäki is not a really a biopic, it is the story of Finnish boxer Olli Mäki in 1962 as prepares to fight American champion Davey Moore for the World featherweight title. The film covers the few weeks of preparations and training before the match. Olli (Jarkko Lahti) has to travel from his home town of Kokkola to Helsinki. His girlfriend, Raija (Oona Airola), travels with him. From the start Olli has to deal with the considerable demands of his manager Elis Ask (Eero Milonoff). Elis keeps shoving a series of promotional photo shoots and a documentary crew at Olli. Most of the time he pushes Raija aside so that Olli will take photos with models. There are other problems. Olli Mäki was a lightweight, and in order compete as a featherweight he has to lose some weight. In the two weeks before the fight, we see Olli going through lengthy sauna sessions with his clothes on. When he comes out, his clothes are drained with sweat and he’s barely able to walk. We also see him make himself vomit. Frustrated by the treatment she gets from Elis, Raija returns to Kokkola. But Olli loves her, and when he tries to phone her, Elis berates him and mocks his attachment to small town folks. Olli Mäki (who today is 80 years old) is a simple man in love with a girl. I was won over by the charm of this film. It makes the ordinary seem extraordinary. Filmed in grainy black-and-white with a handheld camera as a way to announce its “no fuss“ approach to filmmaking. The acting is realistic and the dialogue seems to be improvised. The two leads are lovely. With his roughed up appearance, Lahti is perfectly cast. But we don’t foresee the emotional impact he carries with him. From the start we are rooting for Raija. That is because Oona Airola is really the heart of the film. That leaves Milonoff as Elis Ask. Well, he is so effectively detestable that I felt I wanted to kick him in the teeth. A simple, lovely little film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The happiest day in the life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä Mies)

 

Directed by:
Juho Kuosmanen

Screenplay by:
Juho Kuosmanen
Mikko Myllyalahti

Starring:
Jarkko Lahti
Oona Airola
Eero Milonoff
John Bosco Jr.

92 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Finnish and Swedish with English subtitles.