Au revoir là-haut (See you up there)

Albert Dupontel’s explosive adaptation of Pierre Lemaitre’s Goncourt-winning novel makes you think you are either watching a film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, The city of lost children, Amélie, and most blatantly A very long engagement) or reading a comic book (AKA graphic novels). The film’s early scenes are a good cue of we are to expect later. In the World War I trenches, we meet Albert Maillard (Albert Dupontel) and Édouard Péricourt (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart). The sadistic and murderous Lieutenant Pradelle (Laurent Lafitte) orders an assault and sends his soldiers to battle. What follows is one of most beautifully choreographed war battle. Maillard almost dies but is saved by Péricourt, just before he is hit himself by an explosion. At the hospital, with Maillard at his bedside, Péricourt discovers that he has a gaping hole where his mouth used to be. Unable to sustain the pain and wanting to escape, Péricourt asks his friend to get him some morphine. Maillard steals the morphine anywhere he can. Péricourt is an artist who was disowned be his rich father (the always marvelous Niels Arestrup). He pretends to be dead and spends his days creating a series of colorful and campy masks to hide his disfigurement. To make money Maillard and Péricourt plan to sell phony war monuments to honour the dead soldiers. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Pradelle is back and he is as mean as ever. This is a spectacular film with excellent production values. Nahuel Pérez Biscayart spends most of the film behind masks with his voice only coming in growls and grunts. This is impressive mime acting. Au revoir là-haut is not to be taken too seriously and is a lot of fun to watch.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from January 12 – 25
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/au-revoir-la-haut

Au revoir là-haut (See you up there)

Directed by:
Albert Dupontel

Screenplay by:
Albert Dupontel and Pierre Lemaitre
Based on the novel by Lemaitre

Starring:
Albert Dupontel
Nahuel Pérez Biscayart
Laurent Lafitte
Niels Arestrup
Heloïse Balster
Mélanie Thierry
Émilie Dequenne

117 min.

In French with English subtitles

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120 battements par minute (Beats per minute)

Robin Campillo’s 120 battements par minute opens with a shocking scene. During an intervention by ACT UP Paris at a pharmaceutical conference, the key speaker is splashed by a balloon filled with fake blood and handcuffed. At the next meeting held in a college lecture classroom, those events are discussed and some are pointing fingers at Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, the film’s most accomplished performance), the young man who threw the balloon with fake blood. But Sean is unapologetic, his health is declining and there is no time for diplomacy. At the meetings there are many HIV-positive (called “poz” by the members) gay men, concerned lesbians, straight women and a mother and her poz son. They all have different positions about how to force government and big pharma CEO’s to listen to them. For a while 120 battements par minute feels like a procedural. In addition to the lively meetings, we also witness some interventions/protests. In one of them, ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to unleash power) take over the offices of a pharmaceutical company, they confront the employees and spray fake blood on the wall. In another one they go to a school with pamphlets and condoms and demand to speak to the students and even stage a kiss-in. This is the early 1990’s and there was no cure for AIDS yet. So we forget how in-your-face ACT UP was. But some people were dying and there was no time to waste being nice. And then the film gradually veers to the more intimate and personal love story between Sean and Nathan (Arnaud Valois, a young handsome actor who, with Biscayart, is the film’s pulsating heart), a new member of ACT UP. In a long bedroom scene, that is the film’s centrepiece, they make love, they talk about their first love as we flashback to those moments, and they also talk about sex and love. Theirs is a tragic story, and there have been plenty in our collective memories since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. There are some stunning moments of pure magic beauty. During a scene at a disco club, Campillo and Jeanne Lapoirie, his director of photography, let the camera focus on the dust dancing on the dance floor. The dust become cells dancing under the microscope. Or in that extended love-making scene where the camera concentrate on the beautiful naked bodies of two young lovers. If 120 battements par minute can be at times didactic, it is never pretentious. It is a passionate, gut wrenching film about love and death.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema on February 20 & 21
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/120-battements-par-minute

120 battements par minute (Beats per minute)

Directed by:
Robin Campillo

Screenplay by:
Robin Campillo
Philippe Mangeot

Starring:
Nahuel Pérez Biscayart
Arnaud Valois
Adèle Haenel
Antoine Reinartz

140 min.

In French with English subtitles.

Call me by your name

And what I’m trying to say isn’t really new
It’s just the things that happen to me
When I’m reminded of you

Is it okay if I call you mine? from the film Fame (1980), music and lyrics by Paul McCrane

Plaisir d’amour ne dure qu’un moment,
Chagrin d’amour dure toute la vie.

Plaisir d’amour (1784), music by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini, lyrics by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian

Awards season is near and one of the films that has been on everyone’s lips is Luca Guadagnino’s Call me by your name. Some people are hoping that Call me by your name is this year’s Moonlight (the film that was eventually named Best picture at the last Oscar cast following a screw up with the envelopes). Moonlight was the first LGBTQ themed film to ever win Best picture, and there’s talk of a repeat in 2017. But will it win? In Call me by your name, Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a 17-year-old Italian-American, lives in the Italian countryside with his parents. We are in the summer of 1983 and Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of archaeology, has hired an American student to help him. Oliver (Armie Hammer), a handsome a 24-year-old man with golden hair, comes to stay with them at their beautiful villa in Lombardy. Oliver will sleep in Elio’s room. Although Elio spends some time with his girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel) and Oliver is seeing a local girl, it soon becomes clear that the young men are attracted to each other. It’s done in small details. When Oliver suddenly touches Elio’s shoulder during a ball game, the teenager’s reaction is to quickly withdraw. But when they are alone, it is Elio’s turn to touch, kiss and grab, and Oliver to hold back. They are both conscious and wary of their feelings. Oliver is ambiguous. He enjoys the game of seduction and the attention, but is also aware of the danger. But what should happen, happens. Call me by your name is actually not as explicit as screenwriter James Ivory originally conceived it. A lot of nudity (read full frontal) was removed at the request of the actors. And then there is a scene of Elio in bed with a peach (yeah, a peach!). There was Marlon Brando and butter in Last tango in Paris, now there is Timothée Chalamet and a peach in Call me by your name. Guadagnino is such an original filmmaker. In Call me by your name he is more concerned with the small gestures, the furtive glances and the tearful face than the long dialogue scenes that will spell everything out for the moviegoers. The way the part is written, it would be almost impossible to play Elio. There are too many things for a young actor to do, too many emotions at once. But Chalamet hits every nails with brilliance make it seems easy, no sweat, and at the end the audience feels emotionally drained. Armie Hammer is Chalamet’s perfect partner, accompanying him, and us in this intense love story. Hammer, like Chalamet, gives a most multi-layered performance. And as Elio’s dad Michael Stuhlbarg delivers a heartfelt speech to help his son cope with his sorrow. The beauty of the Italian landscapes is casually photographed by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom as we go along for a bike ride or for a swim in a river. He knows that however beautiful it is, there is nothing more beautiful than two young lovers.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from January 23 – 25
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/call-me-by-your-name

Call me by your name

Directed by:
Luca Guadagnino

Screenplay by:
James Ivory
Based on the novel by André Aciman

Starring:
Timothée Chalamet
Armie Hammer
MIchael Stuhlbarg
Amira Casar

132 min.

Rated 14A

In English, French and Italian with English subtitles.

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.

The other side of hope (Toivon tuolla puolen)

As he was accepting the 2017 Berlinale Silver Bear for Best Director for The other side of hope, Aki Kaurismäki announced that it would be his last film as a director. The internationally acclaimed director’s type of absurdist tragicomedies are so rare that we are taken aback by the unusual tone of his films. The other side of hope is tell parallel story of two men: Khaled Ali (Sherwan Haji), a Syrian refugee in his thirties who has travelled to Helsinki, Filnland, and Waldemar Wikström (Sakari Kuomanen), a middle-aged traveling shirt salesman. After reporting to authorities, Khaled has to run away when he learns that he will be deported back to Syria. Meanwhile, Waldemar leaves his alcoholic wife, quits his salesman job, sells the shirts, wins a lot of money playing poker and buys a restaurant with the money. When Khaled and Waldemar meet, Waldemar helps him by giving him shelter and a job at the restaurant. Since business is slow, Waldemar tries to save it by serving sushi, but it does not seem that neither he nor the staff know anything about sushi. The scenes dealing with Khaled are mostly serious – being threatened by a gang of racist thugs and receiving the news of deportation – and the Waldemar segments are funnier. But the film is never LOL. Certainly not for everyone. Still, it is good because it often surprises us, and the main actors are fun to watch. Your choice.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The other side of hope (Toivon tuolla puolen)

 

Directed by:
Aki Kaurismäki

Screenplay by:
Aki Kaurismäki

Starring:
Sherwan Haji
Sakari Kuomanen
Kati Outinen
Tommi Korpela
Ville Virtanen

100 min.

Rated Parental Guidance.

In Finnish, English, Arabic and Swedish with English subtitles.

Human flow

To make Human flow, his powerful documentary about refugees, Ai Weiwei has travelled to 23 countries around the world in order and put a human face on the biggest mass exodus since World War II. More than 65 million people worldwide. It’s not just Syrians fleeing from the horrors of ISIS that we see here. It’s also African refugees dangerously migrating by boat to Italy, as we saw in the Oscar nominated documentary Fire at sea, or the Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar that have to escape persecution, death, rape and torture. War, ethnic cleansing, human right abuses, famine, climate change, there are many reasons. I knew about film director, contemporary artist and political activist Ai Weiwei from the 2012 documentary Ai Weiwei: Never sorry. In that film we saw Weiwei put in jail in his native China because he dared, through his art, question the government’s actions. With Human flow we see how relentless he can be as a documentarian and an activist. Ai Weiwei seems to be everywhere. In France when they burned the refugee camps, when some countries have closed their borders, blocking access to Germany, and refugees are forced to stay in front of locked gates for days, weeks, months… And the many refugee camps with the kids playing. We often can see Weiwei, sometimes behind the camera, other times among the refugees. He’s filming with his cell phone, playing with children or having a hair cut. There were more than a dozen camera man/cinematographer that worked on that film. From the impressive overhead shots of camps to the stunning landscapes (and the most beautiful, greenest sea I’ve ever seen), and, of course, some shocking images showing the horrible living conditions of some refugees. The picture is complete. Human flow is a documentary of epic scale.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Human flow

 

Directed by:
Ai Weiwei

Screenplay by:
Chin-Chin Yap
Tim Finch
Boris Chershirkov

140 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In English, Arabic, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Kurdish, Rohingya, Spanish, Turkish with English subtitles.

The square (Rutan)

The square, Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s masterpiece about the pretentious emptiness of modern art in a Swedish avant-garde museum. The story is build around Christian (Claes Bang), a Stockholm museum curator who is unable to deal with pressures of life or his job. In the first scene Christian is interviewed by American journalist Anne (Elisabeth Moss). When Anne reads him a quote from the museum’s web site and asks for its meaning, Christian seems to be unaware of the quote and since he does not understand it, he answers some platitudes that completely avoids Anne’s initial question. One day as he walks down a street, he tries to respond to a woman cries for help, and soon after finds out that his phone and wallet are missing. (That incident really happened to Östlund.) He tracks the whereabouts of his phone and tries to get the items back. He will be succesful, but not without costs. Outside the museum there are homeless people, Christian does not see them and rarely speaks to them or give them money. At a press conference, a man with Tourette’s syndrome keeps interrupting with obscenities. When Anne invites Christian to the apartment she shares with a chimpanzee. Anne and Christian have sex. After, Christian refuses to throw away his used condom and Anne deduces that he’s afraid she wants to steal his semen. The museum is featuring a new exhibition called “The square”: On the public place outside of the museum, there is an illuminated square with a plaque that reads “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” While Christian is busy recovering his wallet and his phone, the young advertisers hired by the museum are planning to post a shocking Youtube video in wich a little blond girl enters “The square” and gets blown up. Of course, the video goes viral, the campaign is controversial, the young advertisers are overjoyed, but Christian has to resign. At the press conference, some journalists accuse Christian of exploiting violence, others of censorship. Scenes of increasingly disturbing natures create a pulsating feeling of doom and decay. The best, most memorable moment, will inevitably become a classic. During a fundraising reception, a performance artist impersonating an ape takes it too far. In his only short scene American actor Terry Notary gives an Oscar caliber performance. The impressive Bang is in almost every scenes in this 142 minutes film. It’s a cold and calculating turn that is both funny and dramatic and at times tragic. I got so invested in The square, I was surprised at Ruben Östlund’s imaginative cynicism. But also intrigued and amused. I hope you will too.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The square (Rutan)

 

Directed by:
Ruben Östlund

Screenplay by:
Ruben Östlund

Starring:
Claes Bang
Elisabeth Moss
Terry Notary
Dominic West

142 min.

In English, Swedish, and Danish with English subtitles.

Visages villages (Faces places)

Agnès Varda, the French Nouvelle vague director is now 89-year-old. Her latest film is Visages villages, a documentary feature  she co-directed with 34-year-old photographer and visual artist JR. Together they travel through France in a small truck. Photos have been glued on the truck to make it look like a camera, with a big camera lens. As the tittle suggests, Varda and JR are going to French villages (places) and taking photos of the people living there or the workers at the local plants (faces). JR’s truck is a photo lab on wheels. There is a photo booth where people can sit and have their pictures taken. On the truck there is an opening through which giant prints of the photos are coming out, a bit like the old Polaroid. Once JR gets the giant photos, they are glued or pasted on houses, buildings, water tanks (fishes), trucks, trains (a giant pair of eyes) and anywhere really. Old photos of miners are glued on their empty houses before they get torn down. Janine, who is refusing to move out, has her face glued next to her front door. Her reaction when she first sees her face pasted on the house she will soon have to vacate is one of the highlights of this film. But there are others: the three wives of dock workers at the Havre, have their photos put up on a of pile of containers. The women sit in containers opened under each of their giant faces. The effect is spectacular. It is clear that Agnès Varda and JR enjoy each other’s company, even though Varda constantly teases JR that he ought to remove his sunglasses because she wants to see his eyes. Together, they are fun to watch. Visages villages shows that art and beauty does not only belong to museum and galleries. It can be done anywhere. It can illuminate every villages and that all faces and people are important. This charming film is one of my favorite this year.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Visages villages (Faces places)

 

Directed by:
Agnès Varda
JR

89 min.

In French with English subtitles

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

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.

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.