Cold war (Zimna wojna)

Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold war is dedicated to his parents. Although he has named his characters Zula and Wiktor, like his mother and father, the story differs a lot from the real Zula and Wiktor story. In 1949 Wiktor Warski (Tomasz Kot) is a musical director crossing Poland to record folk songs and auditioning young Polish singers and dancers to form a folkoric troupe. He falls in love with young Zula (Joanna Kulig), a lovely girl with a beautiful voice. The fokloric show featuring Zula’s voice is a big success, but soon they are told that they have to be more patriotic. So the troupe start singing military songs and perform in front of giant pictires of Stalin. Zula and Wiktor are both defiant and decide to defect. They have a plan to flee to Paris, but Wiktor waits for Zula, who never shows up. So he leaves alone. They keep meeting each other over the years, once in Yugoslavia where Zula’s troupe is touring. Later they get together again in Paris. Wiktor is then a jazz pianist and Zula plans to record French versions of her Polish folk songs. No matter where they meet, their love is still strong and passionate. Their story spans almost twenty years from the late forties to the mid-60’s. It is rocked by political changes and musical styles. Folkloric, classical, jazz and rock and roll. One amazing momment occurs later in the film when an intoxicated Zula (played by the talented Joanna Kulig) dances to (We’re gonna) Rock around the clock, the classic song by Bill Haley & his comets. She swirls, jumps on tables and on the bar. At this point Pawlikowski can’t do better. In perfect control of his film and in harmony with his actress, who in turn gives a towering performance. But I don’t think that Cold war would be as compelling without its soundtrack. It is a such variety of different styles. Polish folk songs, jazz, modern film music, classical, and others. It’s very enjoyable. And then there is the brilliant black and white cinematography from Łukasz Żal. Żal’s work in Cold war should be seen more than anything. Not to be missed.

And the nominees are... In addition to best Foreign language film as the Polish nominee, Paweł Pawlikowski is nominated for Best director. Łukasz Żal is also nominated for Best cinematography. Żal was previously nominated for Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida, 2013’s winner for Best foreign language film. But this year there is Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from Febrary 15 – 22
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/cold-war

Cold war (Zimna wojna)

Directed by:
Paweł Pawlikowski

Screenplay by:
Paweł Pawlikowski
Janusz Głowacki
Piotr Borkowski

Starring:
Joanna Kulig
Tomasz Kot
Borys Szyc
Agata Kulesza

88 min.

In Polish with some French, Russian, German, Italian and Croatian with English subtitles.

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Capernaum (کفرناحوم)

The story of Zain, (Zain Al Rafeea), a 12-year-old Lebanese boy, is framed in court where he makes the stunning statement that he wants to sue his parents “for giving me life”. Zain is accused of stabbing a man. In flashbacks we see what was the life for young Zain. Living with his parents in the poorest section of Beirut, Zain is very aware of his precarious existence. Rather than go to school, he spends his time in the street running errands, some of them criminal, for his parents. To make money, his parents (Kawtar al Haddad and Fadi Kamel Youssef) sell clothes saturated with drugs to prisoners. Zain’s 11-year-old sister is sold in marriage to a man, despite Zain’s desperate attempts to save her. Having had enough, Zain runs away. He meets Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw), an illegal emigrant from Ethiopia who works as a cleaning woman. Zain goes to live with Rahil and her baby in a small shed. In exchange for the food and the roof, Zain becomes the baby sitter when Rahil has to go out. When Rahil is arrested, Zain has to care for the boy by himself. There’s a local merchant that proposes to buy the baby to give up for adoption, he says. But Zain knows better. Zain grows desperate to feed himself and the baby. This is a devastating portrait of children living in poverty. It is done in a most realistic way. Shaky camera, with a cast of non-professional actors. Zain Al Rafeea, a Syrian refugee who moved to Lebanon in 2012, is basically playing his own life. He is literally carrying the film on his shoulder. Capernaum is a call to action for the children of the world as well as a very good film. It is a hard film to watch, at times unbearable, but with a resiliency that is ultimately winning. Compelling!

And the nominees are… Any other year Capernaum a great choice for Best foreign language film. But this year there’s  a phenomenon called Roma.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from February 8 – 18
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/capernaum

Capernaum (کفرناحوم)

Directed by:
Nadine Labaki

Screenplay by:
Nadine Labaki
Jihad Hojeily
Michelle Keserwany
Georges Khabbaz
Khaled Mouzanar

Starring:
Zain Al Rafeea
Yordanos Shiferaw
Boluwatife Treasure Bankolé
Kawtar al Haddad
Fadi Kamel Youssef
Alaa Chouchniye
Nadine Labaki

121 min.

In Arabic and Amharic with English subtitles.

Shoplifters (Mabiki kazoku)

The latest film from Hirokazu Kore-eda, Shoplifters, won the Cannes festival Palme d’or. It presents an unusual family. We first meet Osamu (Lily Franky) and Shota (Jyo Kairi), a father and son team of shoplifters. While dad/Osamu creates a diversion, son/Shota takes food from the shelves. On their way home they see a little girl, Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), locked out outside on a cold night. From the house they can hear her parents fighting. Osamu decides to take Yuri home. The shed they call “home” is a dump. At “home” there is Osamu’s wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), an aunt, and grandmother Hatsue (veteran actress Kirin Kiki who died in 2018. This was her last film.). Osamu tells a cynical Nobuyo, that they’ll only keep Yuri for super, but they keep her overnight and after they find scars and burns on the girl’s body, it becomes clear that they she’s there to stay. When news reports that police are looking for Yuri, they cut her hair and call her Lin. Although Nobuyo works for a laundry company and Aki in a hostess club, they too are stealing any time they can. And grandma is doing it as well, still collecting the pension from her deceased husband. I cannot say more, otherwise I would spoil it for some. Let’s just say that things are not what they seem, and that a “family” should be defined more by love than biological links. This a well done Comedy/drama, with Kore-eda’s usual knack for casting. He directs with what I would call a minimalist-realistic approach. Shoplifters is another of the Japanese director’s films about families. Those who enjoyed Like father, like son, Our little sister and After the storm are sure to like Shoplifters.

And the nominees are … Japan’s Shoplifters found its way among the five films in the Best foreign language film category. But it will be an almost impossible task to win against Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. But nothing is impossible.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Shoplifters (Mabiki kazoku)

 

Directed by:
Hirokazu Kore-eda

Screenplay by:
Hirokazu Kore-eda

Starring:
Lily Franky
Sakura Ando
Mayu Matsuoka
Kairi Jō
Miyu Sasaki
Kirin Kiki

121 min.

Rated 14A

In Japanese with English subtitles

Mademoiselle de Jonquières

Emmanuel Mouret’s Mademoiselle de Jonquières is an exquisitely fluffy comedy of manners and revenge set in 18th century, France. It stars the marvelous Cécile de France as Madame de La Pommeraye, a young, attractive widow. Spending most of her time on her lavish country estate, Madame takes long walks in her garden with the Marquis des Arcis (Édouard Baer), a houseguest who doesn’t seem to want to leave. Madame knows very well that the Marquis is wooing her, but she finds his attempts amusing. Besides, she enjoys the long conversations they have, and the attention of course. Madame’s friend, Lucienne (Laure Calamy), warns Madame about the Marquis. If she is to become his lover, eventually he will leave her at the first opportunity and go to his next conquest. Madame de La Pommeraye dismisses Lucienne’s warnings, and starts an affair with the Marquis. But Lucienne was right. The Marquis des Arcis tells Madame that he has fallen out of love, but they should remain good friends. She tells the Marquis that she agrees, but she’s terribly vexed. To exact revenge, she hires the help of Madame de Joncquières (Natalia Dontcheva), a woman who was seduced, scandalously became pregnant and had to prostitute herself to feed her daughter, who also became a prostitute. That daughter is the Mademoiselle de Joncquières (Alice Isaaz) of the title. On Madame’s instructions they are to pretend to be religious devout. Madame arranges for the Marquis to meet them, hoping he won’t be able to resist the (false) virgin Mademoiselle. Mademoiselle de Jonquières is inspired from characters in Denis Diderot’s Jacques le fataliste et son maître. It is a lighter, fun version of Les liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. It is a talk fest, a genre of film that I don’t always enjoy. But there is something here that I found irresistible. There is the snappy dialogue and the acting from the two leads. Cécile de France smiling eyes, Baer’s passionate performance. Mouret and Laurent Desmet, his cinematographer, made the brilliant decision to set most of the exteriors, most of the film in fact, in bright and sunny French gardens. The camera has been pulled back to reveal the characters surrounded by spectacular landscapes. The film is at times cruel, yes, but it is also very funny. Mademoiselle de Jonquières is a joy to watch.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Mademoiselle de Jonquières

 

Directed by:
Emmanuel Mouret

Screenplay by:
Emmanuel Mouret
Based on the stories from Denis Diderot’s Jacques le fataliste et son maître

Starring:
Cécile de France
Edouard Baer
Alice Isaaz
Natalia Dontcheva
Laure Calamy

119 min.

In French with English subtitles.

Roma

Alfonso Cuarón’s hommage to the women who raised him stars Yalitza Aparicio, an amazing performer in her first film, as Cleo, a live-in maid working for Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Doctor Antonio (Fernando Grediaga). Roma is set in 1970 in Colonia Roma, a neighborhood in Mexico City. Four children and Teresa (Verónica García), Sofia’s mother, in addition to Adela (Nancy García), another maid, are living in the household. The workload is heavy. The house is a mess, and it’s up to the maids to make sure it doesn’t get worse. Cooking, cleaning after the two dogs, laundry (no machines, done by hand on the roof), taking care of the kids, including putting them to bed at night and waking them up in the morning and dropping them to and picking them from school. When the family goes on vacation or are invited to visit friends, they bring Cleo with them. On her days off Cleo goes to the movies with her boyfriend Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), Adela and her boyfriend. After having sex with Fermín, Cleo finds out she is pregnant. When she tells Fermín, he disapears and is nowhere to be found. Cleo confides in Sofia, and her employer is very supportive and wants to help Cleo. Antonio, who left to attend a conference in Quebec, has given the news that he met another woman and is not coming back. Sofia, the children and the maids go to a family friend’s hacienda for the New Year’s celebration. While there, a wildfire erupts in the forest. The guests are scrambling to put it out as the new year approaches. Back in town, while Cleo and Teresa are shopping to buy a crib for Cleo’s baby, they are witness to the 1971 Corpus Christi massacre, where 120 protestors were killed by Los Halcones, a clandestine paramilitary group. Among the Los Halcones, she recognizes Fermín. As a result of these events, and others, Cleo’s life is often shaken. Technically the film is most impressive. The sound quality, be it the wildfire, the protest or the sound of waves crashing on the beach, or the stunning black-and-white photography (with Cuarón acting as his own cinematography) are sure to get some awards. Roma is a realistic portrait of a maid’s daily routine. But apart from small dramas and the fact that Cuarón’s film takes place in 1970, Roma doesn’t have much of a story. One of my favorite Quebec entertainer is poet, singer, songwriter and humorist Clémence DesRochers. In one of her most celebrated songs, La vie d’factrie, DesRochers gives voice to a woman who has worked in a factory her whole life. The song ends with a dramatic exclamation. “Maintenant j’ai plus rien à vous dire/J’suis pas un sujet à chanson” (“Now I have nothing else to tell you/ I’m not a topic for a song”) Why can’t Cleo’s life be a topic for a film? Historians will tell you that it’s not only the Kings, Queens and politicians that make history. Ordinary people are, at the very least, witness to their times. Sometimes they put out wildfires, other times they help one another when times are hard. The film ends with a reassuring thought, Cleo is not only a maid, she’s a member of the family, she is loved. Her story is worth telling and seeing.

And the nominees are… Ten nominations for Roma, a lot for a foreign language film. Director Alfonso Cuarón has four nominations. Best picture, Director, Screenplay, cinematography.  Yalitza Aparicio has a Best actress nod and, very rare for a foreign film, Marina de Tavira a Best supporting actress. It probably will win some. Maybe Best picture. Surely Best foreign language film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from February 8 – 10
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/roma

 

Roma

 

Directed by:
Alfonso Cuarón

Screenplay by:
Alfonso Cuarón

Starring:
Yalitza Aparicio
Marina de Tavira
Nancy García
Verónica García
Jorge Antonio Guerrero
Carlos Peralta
Marco Graf
Daniela Demesa

135 min.

Black & White.

In Spanish and Mixtecan with English subtitles

The wild pear tree (Ahlat Ağacı)

After his college graduation Sinan (Aydın Doğu Demirkol) goes back home to his small country village of Çan. Sinan is an unlikable character who complains and speaks too much. His main problem is that he would like to publish a first novel. But financing proves difficult when you have a gambling father and the debt collectors after your family. Idris, his father (Murat Cemcır), is a teacher who does not seem to care what his family has to endure because of his gambling. Coming home to find out the electricity has been cut is no fun. Of course Sinan has other issues with his father. As he is trying to find the money to publish his book, Sinan meets several people and, in Nuri Bilge Ceylan fashion, has long conversations with them. One is with a writer (Serkan Keskin) he hopes to impress, but annoys him so much that he walks off. He meets two young men, and they have a discussion about religion. At the end there is a nice meeting between father and son that helps to resolve some of their conflicts. The wild pear tree (the title of Sinan’s novel) is too long (over 3 hours), too slow and talkative. But it is also a very beautiful, sunny film with stunning Turkish countryside landscapes. Ceylan’s cinematographer is Gökhan Tiryaki. And Ceylan has used some intriguing poetic images that keeps us guessing. Is it Sinan’s imagination or his paranoia? In other terms, The wild pear tree could be boring to some, but it is not without merit. Your choice.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The wild pear tree (Ahlat Ağacı)

 

Directed by:
Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Screenplay by:
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Ebru Ceyland
Akın Aksu

Starring:
Aydın Doğu Demirkol
Murat Cemcır
Bennu Yıldırımlar
Hazar Ergüçlü
Serkan Keskin

188 min.

In Turkish with English subtitles.

Transit

In adapting Anna Seghers’s 1944 classic novel Transit visa, Christian Petzold has made the weird and misguided choice to film in modern-day France even though the action takes place shortly after the German occupation. Transit‘s main character is Georg (Franz Rogowski), a German exile who lives in Paris after the end of the Nazi occupation. He flees the Paris authorities to go to Marseilles where he hopes to be able to take a boat to America, “le Montréal”. To do that he has to assume the identity of Weidel, a dead writer. In Marseilles, Georg meets a community of Germans, who like him are awaiting permission to leave. There is also a beautiful woman searching for her lost husband. They keep seeing each other because she mistakenly thinks Georg is her husband. He later finds out she’s Weidel’s wife, Marie (Paula Beer). I really liked Phoenix, Petzold’s previous film. But Transit isn’t very exciting or good. It’s slow and boring and so confusing. We are asked to accept a bizarre convention where the characters live in the 1940s, but everything surrounding them is modern, 2018 cars or people wearing 2018 clothes. Whatever the reason (choice or lack of money), it looks cheap and I did not buy it at all. What a disappointment.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Transit

 

Directed by:
Christian Petzold

Screenplay by:
Christian Petzold
Based on the novel Transit visa by Anna Seghers

Starring:
Franz Rogowski
Paula Beer
Godehard Giese
Maryam Zaree

101 min.

Rated Parental Guidance.

In German, French, and French Sign Language with English subtitles

At eternity’s gate

At eternity’s gate is about the last years of Vincent van Gogh’s life. Living in France with Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) at Auvers-sur-Oise, van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) shows early signs of mental illness. How do we know? We know because director Julian Schnabel’s camera is telling us in no subtle ways, by blurring and discoloring van Gogh’s point of view or overlapping images and dialogue tracks to imitate a sense of confusion (duh!). But he has other camera tricks. At eternity’s gate has the most unstable camera since The Blair witch project (remember?), and the cameraman seems unable to focus or keep his footing and takes extreme close-ups of van Gogh’s face, his nose, his mouth, his head and his scalp. (Oh no! It’s The Blair witch project part 3!) The painter’s disagreements with Gauguin seems to be the cause of all his anguish. He has a very loving relationship with his brother Theo (Rupert Friend) who helps him as much as he can. After spending some time in a mental institution, van Gogh is released and moves to Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône where he will spend his last 80 days and create 75 paintings. Yes Willem Dafoe is great, but his efforts are muffled by Schnabel’s patchwork approach to cinema. It’s annoying and a mess. Avoid!

And the nominees are… Willem Dafoe, who was nominated last year as Best supporting actor for The Florida project, is again nominated this year for Best actor.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

At eternity’s gate

 

Directed by:
Julian Schnabel

Screenplay by:
Jean-Claude Carrière
Louise Kugelberg
Julian Schnabel

Starring:
Willem Dafoe
Rupert Friend
Oscar Isaac
Mads Mikkelsen
Mathieu Amalric
Emmanuelle Seigner

110 min.
.
In English and French with English subtitles

The cakemaker (האופה מברלין)

The cakemaker starts with a seduction scene between German pastry chef Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) and one of his client at the Berlin café where Thomas works. The client is Oren (Roy Miller), an Israeli businessman. The seduction happens in front of a big slice of Black Forest cake. Few words are softly spoken, a few furtive glances. We don’t need more, we get it, they’ll have sex. That minimalist approach is present throughout the film. It’s a delicate film, accompanied by a delicate score for solo piano by Dominique Charpentier. Although he has a wife and a young son in Jerusalem, Oren comes back to be with Thomas every time he visits Berlin. And when he goes back to his family, Oren brings some cookies or cake to them. Then on one of his trip back, Oren is accidentally killed. naturally Thomas is devastated by the news, but he makes the crazy decision to travel to Jerusalem, and visits the café run by Oren’s widow, Anat (Sarah Adler). First he gets to know Anat, then she hires him as a waiter/barista. One thing leading to another, he then starts baking for the café, and they fall in love and have sex. She still doesn’t know that Thomas was her late husband’s gay lover. If Moti (Zohar Strauss), her Orthodox brother-in-law, voices his disapproval of this German baker, it’s because the café may lose the kosher certification. One thing is clear, when Anat finds out, the cookie dough is gonna hit the fan. This is a most assured debut feature from writer/director Ofir Raul Graizer, who knows a thing or two about restraint and knows exactly what pace he should to give every scenes. The three leading actors are emotionally invested into those characters and their stories. Tim Kalkhof is particularly effective and has to play with very little dialogue. Male sexual fluidity is a new phenomenon in cinema. Films like the artistically acclaimed Call me by your name and others, are an interesting fresh look at the lives of LGBTQ people. A really lovely film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The cakemaker (האופה מברלין)

 

Directed by:
Ofir Raul Graizer

Screenplay by:
Ofir Raul Graizer

Starring:
Tim Kalkhof
Sarah Adler
Zohar Strauss
Roy Miller

104 min.

In English, Hebrew and German with English subtitles.

1945

August 1945 in a small Hungarian village. It’s a special day for town clerk István (Péter Rudolf), who’s marrying his son, pharmacy owner Arpad (Bence Tasnádi). But Arpad’s drug-addicted mother, Anna (Eszter Nagy-Kálózy), is not happy about the marriage. Anna knows that the bride, peasant girl Kisrózsi (Dóra Sztarenki), is only marrying her son for the money, and that Kisrózsi is still having sex with her ex-fiancé, handsome hunk Jancsi (Tamás Szabó Kimmel). In the middle of all this drama and the wedding preparations, István gets news from the train station master of the arrival of two Orthodox Jews. The whole village goes into a state of paranoid panic. There were Jewish families before the war, but the Nazi send them to the concentration camps. Some of the villagers were quick to grab their properties and everything else they could. The pharmacy doesn’t really belong to István or his son Arpad, it belonged to one of the Jewish family. And now everyone is afraid that the two men, who arrived by train with two wooden boxes, are survivors there to claim what was stolen from their families. A defying István seems ready to do anything to keep the things he says are his. Village drunk Bandi (Jozsef Szarvas) feels so guilty he wants to give everything back. Not so with his wife (Ági Szirtes) who starts hiding things in the basement. This is a very good film with a seldom told story about collective guilt and shame. Ferenc Török doesn’t make the mistake of political correctness, because political correctness did not exist in 1945. So the general discourse is anti-semitic. Török keeps up the tension and the suspense, as he keeps the villagers, and us, guessing. It was shot in beautiful black-and-white, and the ensemble cast of unknown is excellent.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

1945

 

Directed by:
Ferenc Török

Screenplay by:
Gábor T. Szántó
Ferenc Török
Adapyed from The homecoming, a short story by Gabor T. Szanto

Starring:
Péter Rudolf
Bence Tasnádi
Tamás Szabó Kimmel
Dóra Sztarenki
Eszter Nagy-Kálózy
Ági Szirtes
József Szarvas

91 min.

Rated 14A.

In Hungarian and some Russian with English subtitles