Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti (Gaugin – Voyage de Tahiti)

Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti is about Paul Gauguin’s first trip to Tahiti. Gauguin (Vincent Cassel) left Paris in 1891 in the hopes of coming back a rich man. But soon after he gets there he becomes very sick. The doctor (Malik Zidi) orders him to stop smoking and change his diet. He doesn’t, but instead he falls for a local girl, and with her parents consent, they move together in a small hut. And with her love he is now cured. The girl is known today as Tehura, Tehamana or Teha’amana. In the film she is played by Tuheï Adams. Tehura will become one of Gauguin’s most important Polynesian model. (his painting D’où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous? is thought to be his most beautiful Polynesian work) But Gauguin is unable to sell his paintings and they get so poor that they can’t feed themselves. So he goes to seek work. By that time Tehura is in love with Jotépha (Pua-Taï Hikutini), a boy closer to her age. Gauguin is jealous and he locks her in the house while he’s gone to work. I found the film to be too slow and, beside the splendid French Polynesian landscape, it did not have anything interesting to say. In doing my research I learned that Tehura, who really existed, but in the film is probably a composite of all of Gauguin’s Polynesian “wife”, was only 13 years old, while Gauguin was 43, and all his companions were about the same age. While it is probably consistent with the mores of Tahiti at the time, today that information is not good material for a biopic. The filmmakers knew it and there is no mention of Tehura’s age. Neither did they tell us that Gauguin suffered from syphilis, probably a deadly disease at the time. In the film the disease is diabetes. I found the filmmaker to be dishonest. Was Gauguin a great artist? Yes. Should his paintings be seen by more people? Yes. But there is no reason to mask the truth. We should see a person for what they are and were, warts and all. Plus the film is a bore.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from July 13 – 22
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/gauguin-voyage-to-tahiti

Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti (Gaugin – Voyage de Tahiti)

Directed by:
Édouard Deluc

Screenplay by:
Édouard Deluc
Étienne Comar
Thomas Lilti
Sarah Kaminsky

Starring:
Vincent Cassel
Tuheï Adams
Malik Zidi
Pua-Taï Hikutini
Pernille Bergendorff

102 min.

In French and some Polynesian languages with English subtitles

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Let the sunshine in (Un beau soleil intérieur)

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

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Let the sunshine in (Un beau soleil intérieur)

 

Directed by:
Claire Denis

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

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

96 min.

In French with English subtitles

Kusama: Infinity

Japanese visual artist Yayoi Kusama started having visions at ten years old. There was dots or flowers engulfing everything, even herself. She called it “self-obliteration”. Already Kusama started painting dots or the “infinity nets” that would become her trademark. In her twenties, when Japanese conventions made it impossible for her to have a career, she moved to New York, where it was hard for any woman to get an exhibition in an important gallery. According to Heather Lenz, this amounted to sexism, and I agree. Every time that Kusama would do something innovative and totally original, although the avant-garde reviews were positive, it did not advance her career. But when, a few months later, male artists (among them Andy Warhol) would copy or imitate what Kusama was the first to do, their careers would blossom. In the film we see a couch with white phallic protrusions (Kusama calls them “soft puppets”). That was copied by a male artists who got all of the credits. Same thing happened with her Infinity mirrors installation. It was a room with mirrored walls with lights (like dots). To get more attention, Kusama started doing street performance art. There were naked people in the street with her, and she may also be naked, and she would paint dots on them. She also staged protests to the Vietnam War. All that fight to be recognized, to be seen was started to weigh in on her. Kusama became more depressive, was hospitalized regularly and even attempted to commit suicide. In 1973 she returned to Japan. Then a series of retrospectives in late 1980s revived her career. Yayoi Kusama is today considered the most important Japanese artist. Since 1977 Kusama took up permanent residence into the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill. It is a short distance from her studios and she walks there every day to produce more infinity paintings. Yayoi Kusama is 89 years old.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Kusama: Infinity

 

Directed by:
Heather Lenz

Screenplay by:
Heather Lenz

77 min.

Rated Parental Guidance.

In English and Japanese with English subtitles

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.

Oh Lucy!

Oh Lucy! is a quirky Japanese-American comedy. It stars Shinobu Terajima as Setsuko, a lonely, loveless middle-aged Japanese woman who lives in a messy apartment in Tokyo. On her niece’s advice, Setsuko signs up for English lessons. John (Josh Hartnett) is the handsome American English teacher, who uses some weird teaching methods. He gives every pupils English names. So Setsuko is renamed “Lucy”, and she has to wear a blond wig during the class. And John likes to give hugs to his pupils. It doesn’t take long before Setsuko/Lucy falls for John. But John soon flies back to California with Setsuko/Lucy’s niece, Mika (Shiori Kutsuna). When Setsuko/Lucy’s estranged sister, Ayako (Kaho Minami) comes to asks her where is Mika, her daughter, both Setsuko/Lucy and Ayako decide to go look for her in California. During the trip one things becomes clear: the sisters will never get along. In California they easily find John, but Mika has already left him. That gives more time for Setsuko/Lucy to get to know John. But she may find happiness in the most unexpected place. The thing with this type of cute quirky film is that it soon gets tiresome. Oh Lucy! is helped a lot by the performances of Terajima and Minami, who seems to be having a great time playing dueling sisters. Although this is far from a perfect film, it is still enjoyable.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Oh Lucy!

 

Directed by:
Atsuko Hirayanagi

Screenplay by:
Atsuko Hirayanagi

Starring:
Shinobu Terajima
Josh Hartnett
Kaho Minami
Shiori Kutsuna
Megan Mullally
Reiko Aylesworth

95 min.

Rated 14A

In English and Japanese with English subtitles.

A Syrian family (AKA Insyriated)

A Syrian family is the most intense film I have seen in a while. Yet what happens is confined to the apartment where Oum Yazan (Hiam Abbass) live with her extended family. There’s her three children (two teenage daughters and a young son), one of the daughter’s boyfriend, her father-in-law Mustafa (Mohsen Abbas), a young couple, Halima (Diamand Abou Abboud) and Selim (Moustapha Al Kar) and their baby, and their maid Delhani (Juliette Navis). They are the only residents of an abandoned apartment building in the Syrian capital Damascus. Around them there is only ruins and desolation. They have barricaded the door, and they rarely venture out. Halima and Selim are planning to leave for Lebanon. When Selim goes to meet the man who is supposed help them, he is shot by a bullet while crossing the parking lot. This is witnessed by Delhani who tells Oum. But Oum wants the maid to wait until night to tell Halima. Nobody must know they live there, as it might put them in danger. During the day there are rockets attacks that causes the apartment to shake and the family take shelter in the kitchen. Then there is a bang on the door. Two men are outside demanding to be let in. Oum refuses and the men leave. Later on they come back and get in through the balcony. Most of the family lock themselves in the kitchen, but Halima and her baby are left in the hall with the two violent intruders. In an almost unbearable scene, Halima is beaten and raped, but Oum and the others do nothing to help her. It’s an impossible situation. Should Oum go help Halima and thus put the whole family in danger? I found the film gripping for several reasons. The simple setting is not really easy to direct effectively. Belgium director Philippe Van Leeuw may have been lucky with his cast. The most familiar face is Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass (The visitor, Lemon tree, Blade runner 2049) who, as always, is marvelous here, But there is one heck of a gutsy performance by Diamand Abou Abboud as Halima that is worth seeing the film. Yes it is not an easy film to watch, but in times of war nothing is easy.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

A Syrian family (AKA Insyriated)

 

Directed by:
Philippe Van Leeuw

Screenplay by:
Philippe Van Leeuw

Starring:
Hiam Abass
Diamand Bou Abboud
Juliette Navis
Mohsen Abbas
Moustapha Al Kar
Mohammad Jihad Sleik
Alissar Kaghadou
Ninar Halabi
Elias Khatter

85 min.

Rated 14A

In Arabic with English subtitles.

Foxtrot (פוֹקְסטְרוֹט)

When Daphna Feldman (Sarah Adler) opens the door of her apartment, she understands and faints. From the living room her husband, Michael Feldman (Lior Ashkenazi), watch as soldiers from the Israeli defence forces (IDF) come in the apartment, sedate his wife and carry her to bed. They have bad news for them: their son Jonathan was “killed in action”. The soldiers are quick to instruct Michael that he has to remain calm. They give him some pills. They tell him that he has to drink water. One of the soldier even sets up an alert on Michael’s phone to remind him when he should drink water. But during the day Michael goes crazy. No amount of water is going to change that. He calls his brother, tries to reach his daughter, kicks the family dog, visits his mother at the retirement home to tell her the news, but he’s not sure if she even knows who he is. Foxtrot, a near perfect film from Israel, has a three-part structure, playing around with time and space. At the end of the first segment, the soldier come back with another devastating news. In the second segment, we find Jonathan (Yonatan Shiray) with three other soldiers manning a roadblock situated to the north of Israel. This is boring work. There are some cars passing on the road, but most of the time they raise the barrier for camels. Their conditions are terrible: They sleep in a container that seem to be slowly sinking into the ground. To get there they have to cross a pond of muddy water. And they eat food directly from boiled cans. There’s a great moment at the beginning of this second segment where Jonathan shows his fellow soldiers how you dance a Foxtrot. But a tragedy comes to disrupt their quiet life. In the third segment we are back at the Feldman apartment. It’s a year later and the house is in disarray, with Michael and Daphna’s marriage almost on the brink of divorce. Foxtrot has been controversial in Israel, mostly for the less than stellar depiction of the Israeli defence forces. If I love that film so much it’s not only because of the structured screenplay. It’s Samuel Maoz’s visually compelling direction. The unusual angles, overhead shots, the close up. Every beautiful shots contribute to the story and create a tension of its own. This is the most fun I had at the movies in a long time. During the first segment Lior Ashkenazi gives a tense, fierce and hysterical performance. So far this is my favorite film this year.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Foxtrot (פוֹקְסטְרוֹט)

 

Directed by:
Samuel Maoz

Screenplay by:
Samuel Maoz

Starring:
Lior Ashkenazi
Sarah Adler
Yonatan Shiray
Shira Haas

108 min.

Rated 14A

In Hebrew with English subtitles.

In between (Bar bahar)

In between is about three young Israeli-Palestinian women sharing a flat in Tel Aviv: At first only two of them are living together. Layla (Mouna Hawa) is a lawyer, and Salma (Sana Jammelieh) works in a restaurant. Oh yes, she’s a lesbian. They’re like all the other young people their age. They hang around a liberal crowd of women and men. There are drugs and booze. Then Nour (Shaden Kanboura) moves in. Nour is a traditional Muslim who wears a hijab and is committed to her fiancé. She’s from another city and she’s coming to live in Tel Aviv to finish her studies. At first, Layla and Salma don’t have much in common with her. Nour’s fiancé is very strict with her. He would like Nour to come back to their city, even if it takes a few hours to drive to school. On one of his visits, he brutally rapes her. That’s when the three women band together to make sure that Nour can get out of this marriage. Layla has met Ziad, a man she thinks will be her soul mate. But soon Ziad start to want to control her. She’ll have none of that, and she’s quick to break off with him. As for Salma, situations get tense in her Christian family when her parents finds out she has a girlfriend. Being afraid for her safety, Salma makes the decision to move to another country. As Palestinians, the daily lives of those women are fraught with danger. A suspicious look at the grocery or when they are buying clothes. But the danger (or the possible dangers) is also coming from their own community. Maysaloun Hamoud has put a much-needed a spotllight on them. Those three actresses are nothing short of amazing. Shaden Kanboura as Nour has the most difficult scenes in the film. The French title is Je danserai si je veux (I’ll dance if I want). And at the end they dance indeed, to celebrate their friendship and their liberty.

Rémi-SergeGratton

In between (Bar bahar)

 

Directed by:
Maysaloun Hamoud

Screenplay by:
Maysaloun Hamoud

Starring:
Mouna Hawa
Sana Jammelieh
Shaden Kanboura

103 min.

Rated 14A

In Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles.