The last suit (El Último Traje)

When ailing retired  tailor Abraham Bursztein (Miguel Ángel Solá) sees his children sell his house and make plans to place him in a retirement home, Abraham takes a plane to leave Buenos Aires and go to Poland. That’s where he was living during the Nazi occupation. He was Jewish, and young Abraham barely survive the horrors of the concentration camps. The only help he got was from his friend Piotrek, who literally saved his life. Now, Abraham wants to go back to Poland (although he refuses to say Poland or to hear the word) to deliver a suit to Piotrek, who also was a tailor. Abraham doesn’t even know if Piotrek is still alive. Abraham is an unlikable character. He seems to be fighting with everyone. There’s that Poland thing and he won’t take a train that travels through Germany. There is one daughter he has not talked to in years. He did not even know she had a daughter. But maybe that’s how we will all be in our old age. I hope not but maybe. Along the way he meets people trying to help him. Nice people. Some might enjoy this type of film. Apart for Solá who gives it a good try, I did not find the film interesting. It was not awful, but just not good enough.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from September 14 – 19
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/el-ultimo-traje

The last suit (El Último Traje)

Directed by:
Pablo Solarz

Screenplay by:
Pablo Solarz

Starring:
Miguel Ángel Solá
Ángela Molina
Natalia Verbeke

92 min.

Rated 14A.

In Spanish and other languages with English subtitles.

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Le brio

How would I define the French word “brio”? I’d say “brilliance”. An actor’s gives a “tour-de-force performance”. Le brio is a modern-day French Pygmalion. You just replace the dirty flower girl by a French Arab girl, and the misogynist linguist by a racist law professor. Law student Neïla Salah (Camélia Jordana) arrives late on her first day of class. She is met by Professor Pierre Mazard (Daniel Auteuil), who goes on a racist rant in front of the entire amphitheatre. Some students boo him, others cheer him. A video winds up online and Mazard is given an ultimatum. Coach Neïla for the yearly “concours d’éloquence” (a competition where two law students argue opposing sides of an issue), or you’re fired. Mazard is a man who thinks that intellectual knowledge makes him better than everyone else. But he can cite Schopenhauer, Rabelais and Nietzsche, but he has no desire to interact with people he considers inferior to him. Particularly if they are Muslim. He puts on a good show for Neïla, who has no idea he’s doing it to save his job. Still, he teaches her how to win an argument. In Mazard world, it doesn’t matter if you lie, what matters is to convince. (We ear a lot of that these days.) He teaches the art of the well articulated insult. Neïla learns to articulate with a pen in her mouth, or to recite in a crowded Paris subway. At home in the suburb, Neïla loves Mounir. Through the coaching Professor Mazard and Neïla get to know each other. The acting from Jordana (charming) and Auteuil is great, and the screenplay is a good insight into France’s Islamophobia. But it’s so sugar-coated with “fun moments”, well spoken speeches in “good” French. In reality, racism is not fun, no matter how “good” your French is. This film is an apology for someone’s bad behaviors. I’m not buying it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Le brio

 

Directed by:
Yvan Attal

Screenplay by:
Victor Saint Macary
Yaël Langmann
Yvan Attal
Noé Debré

Starring:
Daniel Auteuil
Camélia Jordana
Yasin Houicha
Jean-Baptiste Lafarge

95 min.

In French with English subtitles.

Under the tree (Undir trénu)

In the 1929 comedy classic Big business, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy play door-to-door Christmas tree salesmen. Their potential client (played James Finlayson) becomes so annoyed by their repeated attempts to sell him a tree, that he starts clipping the tree. Stan and Ollie retaliate by doing some damage to the man’s house. The man then turns his attention to Stan and Ollie’s car. And they do that until there is no car and no house. I thought about Big business a lot as I was watching Under the tree, a dark comedy from Iceland. The feud this time is between neighbors. Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) and Baldvin (Sigurður Sigurjónsson), an elderly couple, have a tree growing in their backyard. Their house is attached to Konrad (Þorsteinn Bachmann) and Eybjorg’s house. The tree is casting a shadow on their lawn, and Eybjorg (Selma Björnsdóttir) requests that the tree be trimmed so that she could sunbathe. But Inga hates the too perfect Eybjorg and refuses to have the tree trimmed. Meanwhile, Inga and Baldvin’s adult son, Atli (Steinþor Hróar Steinþórsson), has been kicked out by his wife when she caught him watching a video of Atli having sex with her best friend. So he moves back with his parents while he’s fighting for custody of his four-year-old daughter. Fighting is the right word. He shows up unannounced at the kindergarden, leaves with his daughter without permission, brings her back late and harasses his wife, Agnes (Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir) at work. Like mother like son. Inga becomes paranoid. Everything the neighbors do is suspicious, especially Eybjorg. The truth is that both Inga and Atli are still coping with the recent tragic death of the eldest son, Atli’s brother. When her beloved cat disappears, Inga is sure Eybjorg is responsible. Konrad and Eybjorg have a dog, she could maybe… Under the tree is full of bad people behaving badly. And, thanks to Edda Björgvinsdóttir’s deadpan performance, Inga is one of those classic neighbors from hell. But this is not as funny as Laurel and Hardy’s Big business (Not even close). It is definitely more drama than comedy, but its strong suit is the dark humour. And the last shot is one of the funniest ending I’ve ever seen. Some people might not like the darkness (Warning: Not for every stomachs.), but I did find Under the tree to be most refreshing.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Under the tree (Undir trénu)

 

Directed by:
Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson

Screenplay by:
Huldar Breiðfjörð
Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson

Starring:
Steinþor Hróar Steinþórsson
Edda Björgvinsdóttir
Sigurður Sigurjónsson
Þorsteinn Bachmann
Selma Björnsdóttir
Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir

89 min.

In Icelandic with English subtitles.

Rodin

In 1880 French sculptor Auguste Rodin is 40 year-old. That year, he gets a commission from the French government to produce The gates of hell, which will include two of his most famous masterpieces The kiss and The thinker. Although Rodin (Vincent Lindon) loves his wife/partner, Rose (Séverine Caneele), he has a ten years tumultuous affair with his student Camille Claudel (Izïa Higelin). Rodin and Claudel seems to be fighting a lot. Elsewhere, many of Rodin works are monuments of French literary figures of the time. A commissioned monument of Victor Hugo was unfinished. It is interesting to see Rodin attempting to make a statue of French novelist Honoré de Balzac. First the rotund Balzac is represented naked, with his genitals fully exposed. Then Rodin has the bizarre instinct of covering the naked plaster-cast with a cape drenched with plaster. This monument was controversial at the time (1891), probably because it was outside of the norm. I found Rodin mildly interesting when we see him at work. But the off and on love affair between Rodin and Claudel is boring. There is too much talk. A unintereting talk-fest.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Rodin

 

Directed by:
Jacques Doillon

Screenplay by:
Jacques Doillon

Starring:
Vincent Lindon
Izïa Higelin
Séverine Caneele
Edward Akrout

119 min.

In French with English subtitles

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

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

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

Les gardiennes (The guardians)

This part of the history of World War I has not been told before. It is the story of the women being left behind to manage the family farms. Les gardiennes (based on Ernest Pérochon’s 1924 novel) is set in the French countryside where Hortense (a marvelously stone-faced and hardened Natalie Baye) has seen the young men from her family leave to fight “les boches”, as Germans were called by the French (the subtitles reads “krauts”). Both of her sons as well as her daughter’s husband have been conscripted. That means that it’s up to Hortense and her daughter Solange (Laura Smet, who is Baye’s daughter) to run the farm, called Le Paridier. Hortense hires a young farm-hand to help with the harvest. 20 years old Francine (Iris Bry, a star in the making) is such a capable hard-worker, that she is offered to stay at the farm indefinitely. The days are long and the work is relentless. Director Xavier Beauvois (Of Gods and men) shows us every details of the work and we are struck that we forgot how beautiful films can be. At times the men return on leave and the women notice how they have changed. Solange’s husband, Clovis (Olivier Rabourdin) declares that the Germans are just like the French, teachers and farmers. “The Germans are people like us,”. When Hortense’s younger son Georges (Cyril Descours) comes home on leave he falls for Francine, and they start a secret relationship. But George has already been promised to Marguerite, a local girl. This and the arrivals of American soldiers will turn things around between Hortense and Francine. Throughout the film I was left breathless by Beauvois and cinematographer Caroline Champetier’s images of stunning landscape. For a war film, the calm and the stillness is a welcomed contrast to the usual horrors of the trenches. The women at home were also heroes, let’s not forget it. Bravo to Baye, Bry, Beauvois and Champetier.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Les gardiennes (The guardians)

 

Directed by:
Xavier Beauvois

Screenplay by:
Xavier Beauvois
Marie-Julie Maille
Frédérique Moreau
Based on the novel by Ernest Pérochon

Starring:
Nathalie Baye
Laura Smet
Iris Bry
Cyril Descours
GIlbert Bonneau
Olivier Rabourdin

138 min.

Rated 14A.

In French with English subtitles

Bye Bye Germany (Es war einmal in Deutschland…)

Bye Bye Germany is advertised as a comedy, and although it is of a lighter tone than most films about the Holocaust, it is not a comedy. Actually it’s not much of anything. After World War II, Holocaust survivor David Bermann (Moritz Bleibtreu) would like to restart the linen store his family had in Frankfurt before it was seized by the Nazi. But the American forces refuse to grant him a licence. So Bermann gathers up a group of Jewish salesmen, Holocaust survivors like him, to sell linens door-to-door. At the same time he is interrogated by Special Agent Sara Simon (Antje Traue). American forces think that Bermann seemed to have come through the camps unscathed. Bermann tells Sara he started telling jokes to a Nazi officer, who thought that Bermann was so good that he was kept protected. The officer wanted to use Bermann for a special mission. So his jokes saved him. I did not find the topic or its treatment very interesting. With so many underdeveloped, boring characters, after a while I just stopped caring. But one thing is certain, Bye Bye Germany is not a comedy.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Bye Bye Germany (Es war einmal in Deutschland…)

 

Directed by:
Sam Garbarski

Screenplay by:
Sam Garbarski
Michel Bergmann
Based on Bergmann’s novels

Starring:
Moritz Bleibtreu
Antje Traue
Tim Seyfi
Mark Ivanir
Václav Jakoubek
Antole Taubman

102 min.

In German and English with English subtitles.

The young Karl Marx

After his powerful documentary I am not your negro, Haitian director Raoul Peck seems to be happy taking difficult and arduous topics. Case in point is this biopic about Karl Marx, the father of communism. We first meet journalist Marx (August Diehl) in 1844 at 26, fleeing German censorship to go to Paris. It’s there that Marx and his wife Jenny (Vicky Krieps) meet Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske). Engels is coming from Manchester, England where he reluctantly helps is father run a textile factory. Engels can see that the workers are exploited, overworked, underpaid and he decries the child labour. at the factory. Together, with the help of Jenny and Engels’ companion, Mary Burns (Hannah Steele), they will write The Communist manifesto. That means lots of meeting with socialist philosophers. Since I know nothing about the birth of the movement, I’ve never heard of them. Two of the most well-known at the time seems to have been Pierre Proudhon and Wilhelm Weitling. The young Karl Marx is a most talkative film. Although the acting from the four leads and the production values are excellent, the subject matter makes this film, unless you are familiar with the subject matter, a bit of a boring affair. Still, it’s intriguing. Your choice.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The young Karl Marx

 

Directed by:
Raoul Peck

Screenplay by:
Raoul Peck
Pascal Bonitzer

Starring:
August Diehl
Stefan Konarske
Vicky Krieps
Olivier Gourmet
Hannah Steele

118 min.

In German, French and English with English subtitles.