Disobedience

Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s films are about women who proudly dare to defy conventions. His 2013 film Gloria was about a 58 year-old divorcee who decides to seek love, fun and sex. Last year’s A fantastic woman featured a transgendered woman after the death of her partner. It won the Academy award for Best foreign language film. His new film is Disobedience, an Irish-British-American co-production set in the Orthodox Jewish community of London. Rachel Weisz serves as a producer and also plays Ronit, a New York photographer who goes back home when she learns that her estranged father, Rabbi Krushka, has died. Judging by everyone’s reactions, it seems that she was not expected to return, and some were probably hoping that she would stay away. Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), a Rabbi and her father’s spiritual son, is certainly surprised to see her since nobody, to his knowledge, had sent Ronit the news of her father’s passing. She feels that people are looking at her and judging her. Ronit wears none of the traditional Orthodox Jewish women’s clothing, like a sheitel (a wig that is worn to show modesty). It is clear that some women from the community don’t like her very much. That’s not the case with her old friend Esti (London, Ontario native Rachel McAdams), who is now married to Dovid. The three were friends and they still are, but that does not mean they are not awkward around her. And then we learn that Ronit and Esti were lovers in their youth. Now they fall in each other’s arms again. And when they are seen kissing in public, it puts Esti in an even more awkward position, but that scandal may also liberates her. Maybe she doesn’t want to stop loving Ronit. The most stunning thing about this amazing film is its originality. During Ronit and Esti’s passionate love-making, Ronit drips saliva into Esti’s mouth. There is brilliance in the casting of Weisz, McAdams and Nivola. But it’s McAdams that shines here. It’s an assured performance. She never been as good or as beautiful as she is here. Matthew Herbert orchestral score may be some of the most peculiarly effective music for film. It is hesitant and doesn’t spell out everything neatly for us, it comes in waves and breeze, both sudden and subtle, melodic and atonal, in crescendos and decrescendos. Like this film and Lelio, it marvelously defies conventions.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Disobedience

 

Directed by:
Sebastián Lelio

Screenplay by:
Sebastián Lelio
Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Based on the novel by Naomi Alderman

Starring:
Rachel Weisz
Rachel McAdams
Alessandro Nivola

114 min.

Rated 14

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Never steady, never still

Judy (Shirley Henderson) suffered from advanced Parkinson’s disease. She lives with her husband Ed (Nicholas Campbell) and their 18-year-old son Jamie (Théodore Pellerin) in a house on the edge of Stuart Lake in British Columbia. It has been twenty years since Judy was diagnose with the disease and now she can’t even button her jeans. Ed will do it. It’s clear that they love and understand each other. Ed wants Jamie to go work in the oil fields of Alberta, to earn money of course, but also to give him some responsibilities. Once there though he has to deal the violence of his co-workers. When Ed dies, Jamie goes back home for the funerals. Although Jamie would like to stay to help her mother, she insists that he goes back to Alberta. Life is hard for Judy, but she manages without much problems for now. Jamie’s orientation is unclear. In the shower he is daydreaming being kissed by his best friend. During winter life gets harder for Judy who befriends the grocery’s delivery girl (Mary Galloway). It is actually very hard to watch Scottish actress Shirley Henderson and believe she does not have Parkinson’s. Her body is terribly bent and deformed. It must have been hard on her body.And she’s so thin. She looks like a fragile little bird. Physically Henderson has been perfectly cast. Pellerin, who is a popular actor on Quebec TV and film, is compelling to watch here as a confused, lost teen. Kathleen Hepburn’s film is based on her mother’s life. It is well photographed by Norm Li, who never let’s us forget the harshness of the Canadian winters. Never steady, never still can be depressing and slow, but it may be worth it for certain moviegoers simply because of the great cast. Henderson, Pellerin, Campbell and Galloway.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Never steady, never still

 

Directed by:
Kathleen Hepburn

Screenplay by:
Kathleen Hepburn

Starring:
Shirley Henderson
Théodore Pellerin
Nicholas Campbell
Mary Galloway
Lorne Cardinal

112 min.

Rated 14A

In English.

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.

The party

I’ve never been a fan of director Sally Potter. Her new film, The party, is a uninterresting, annoyance of a film. It stars Kristin Scott Thomas as Janet, a politician from the opposition party, who has received an important promotion. Janet has invited a few friends to celebrate the good news. But her husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), sits around drinking too much and listening to music. He does not look to be in a celebratory mood. Then the guest arrive: cynical April (Patricia Clarkson, the only bright light among the cast), and her life-coach husband, Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), lesbian couple Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer), announcing that Jinny is pregnant with triplets, and millionaire banker Tom (Cillian Murphy). A bunch of hysterical nuts! Tom’s wife, Marianne, will arrive later, Tom says before he goes to the washroom to snort some cocaine. Tom also brought a gun. During the evening Bill tells Janet that he is dying and leaving her for Marianne. Meanwhile, Janet is texting a secret lover. It becomes too busy with life-coach Gottfried trying to save the world, April insulting everyone, the lesbians fighting and Tom’s fits of jealous rage. It’s a mess! Shot in a very ugly black-and-white, it at times feels that it was a stage play. But nope, it’s an original screenplay by Potter. It begs the question: Why was it made? Just put The party in the WTF category and forget about it. It clocks in at only 71 minutes. Quite enough. Avoid!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The party

 

Directed by:
Sally Potter

Screenplay by:
Sally Potter

Starring:
Kristin Scott Thomas
Timothy Spall
Patricia Clarkson
Bruno Ganz
Cherry Jones
Emily Mortimer
Cillian Murphy

71 min.

Rated 14A

A fantastic woman (Una mujer fantástica)

In A fantastic woman transgender actress Daniela Vega gives a stunning performance. Vega plays Marina, a young trans woman who works as a waitress and sometimes sings in a cabaret. She lives in Santiago, Chile with her lover, an older gentleman called Orlando (Francisco Reyes). One night, when Orlando suffers an aneurysm, Marina drives him to the hospital. Right from the start there are problems. Marina is looked at with suspicion and is treated with less respect that other spouses would. After Orlando dies, a female detective (Amparo Noguera), who claims to have worked on the street with other transgender, doesn’t seem to believe Marina’s version of events. Marina is forced to go through a humiliating medical exam. Some exam! Marina is asked to undress, while the doctor takes photos of her naked body. And then there is Orlando’s family. She gets along with Orlando’s brother, who is kind to her. But when she returns Orlando’s car to his ex-wife, Marina is called sick and depraved, and she’s told that she wont be allowed to go to Orlando’s funeral. She has to vacate Orlando’s apartment after his son threatens to throw her out. When against warnings Marina goes to the funeral to pay respect to her lover, she’s met with more threats and violence. It’s quite disturbing. But through it all, Daniela Vega shows us Marina facing society’s prejudice with dignity and defiance. A fantastic woman is quite suspenseful, as this reviewer sat on the edge of his seat for the entire film. When Marina, who has been studying classical singing, goes up on stage and sings Handel’s Ombra mai fu (Vega’s own voice) she is happy. A fantastic woman, indeed!

And the Oscar went to… A fantastic woman won the award for Best foreign language film. On the stage to accept the Oscar Sebastián Lelio introduced the stars of his film, Daniela Vega and Francisco Reyes. Later in the Oscar-cast, Daniela Vega presented the Best song nominee from Call me by my name.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

A fantastic woman (Una mujer fantástica)

 

Directed by:
Sebastián Lelio

Screenplay by:
Sebastián Lelio
Gonzalo Maza

Starring:
Daniela Vega
Francisco Reyes
Luis Gnecco
Aline Küppenheim
Amparo Noguera

104 min.

In Spanish with English subtitles.

Film stars don’t die in Liverpool

In Film stars don’t die in Liverpool, Annette Bening plays Gloria Grahame, a Best supporting actress Oscar winner in 1952 for The bad and the beautiful. The film is based on the memoirs of Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), a young British actor who became Grahame’s lover in the late 70s. There was close to 30 years difference between them. In 1981, soon after their break-up, Turner gets the news that Grahame is ill. She collapsed in her dressing room as she was about to go on stage in The glass menagerie. Turner goes to see her and he learns that she refuses to go to the hospital and does not want chemotherapy. All she wants is to go to Peter Turner’s house in Liverpool where she knows that Peter’s family will take care of her. Peter’s parents, Bella and Joe (Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham) are happy to help their friend Gloria but, along with Peter’s brother, Joe Jr. (Stephen Graham), they think that she should call her children and her doctors in New York. As Peter is making the decision to call them, he remembers the beginning of their love affair. Director Paul McGuigan’s flashbacks are so compelling. It’s like Turner sees his memories. He peeks through a door and peeks, literally, into his remembrance. You don’t often see the “young man in love” as very compelling characters. Those are usually the most boring characters. But there is such an emotional investment, both physical and intellectual, from Jamie Bell that we can’t help cheering for Peter Turner. The film is conceptually quite beautiful. I was surprised to see several scenes with rear projections matte paintings, methods that were in use in movies until the 1960s. It’s as if McGuigan wants to underline that Gloria Grahame was a 40s and 50s movie star. In 1981 her best year are behind her, that’s true. But the way Bening plays her, she’s still a star. Actually, Bening is a star playing a star. Whether she’s dancing disco with Peter or dying of cancer in bed, Gloria Grahame was a star. At some point Matt Greenhalgh’s screenplay switches the flashbacks from Peter’s point of view to Gloria’s. At that moment Annette Bening becomes a tragedienne. A tour-de-force acting from both Bell and Bening.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Film stars don’t die in Liverpool

 

Directed by:
Paul McGuigan

Screenplay by:
Matt Greenhalgh
Based on the memoir by Peter Turner

Starring:
Annette Bening
Jamie Bell
Julie Walters
Vanessa Redgrave
Kenneth Cranham
Stephen Graham

105 min.

God’s own country

The last film I saw in 2017 was Luca Guadagnino’s Call me by your name and my first film of 2018 is God’s own country, two gay films about young men falling in love. Call me by your name has been sold as a possible Oscar contender and a follow-up to last year’s Moonlight. But I think that God’s own country is the much better film. It takes place in present-day Yorkshire, England where twenty-something Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) lives on a sheep farm with his father, Martin (Ian Hart) and his grandmother, Deirdre (Gemma Jones). His father suffered a stroke and Johnny has to work long hours alone to keep things going. He spends his evening drinking at the local pub with occasional gay sex in public washroom. Having been drinking all night, the next day becomes even more of a burden. Some of the work is not being done and Martin and Deirdre chastise him. But what can they do? They have all inherited an unpleasant situation. Johnny is terribly unhappy and lonely. Then the decision is taken to hire some help for the lambing season. Enter handsome Romanian hired hand Gheorghe Ionescu (Alex Secareanu). Initially, Johnny resents Gheorghe’s presence at the farm. They have to spend several days camping nearer to where the animals have moved. Whatever happens during these few day will change their lives. They have sex, but unlike Luca Guadagnino with Call me by your name, director
Francis Lee and his actors seems unafraid to show sex between men or male nudity. It’s raw (don’t worry nothing explicit or pornographic) and it feels real. And Lee has wisely defined the relationship between the two men with an earlier detail. In his previous encounters, Johnny won’t kiss his male partners, but he kisses Gheorghe. But it’s more than that. Gheorghe has a love and appreciation of the beauty of the country, and for Johnny the love of a man and of the country is the only thing that can save his life. After some misstep, Johnny decides that he needs Gheorghe if he wants to be happy. God’s own country has a lot of similarities with Ang Lee’s Brokeback mountain. The two lovers in God’s own country are also masculine men of few words, the movie is raw and rough. O’Connor’s expressive star making performance is riveting. The painful expression of the depressed and unhappy Johnny is heart wrenching. Alex Secareanu’s Gheorghe is an intriguing composition, making him, in Johnny’s eyes, impossible to read. He is forceful and tender all at once. They are well supported by Ian Hart and Gemma Jones, who play characters more concerned with the daily chore and small gestures than the long conversations. Joshua James Richards’s cinematography is most important here. Like a painter, he carefully uses touches of grays and blues for the Yorkshire skies, and browns, oranges and ochre for its trees and leaves. Josh O’connor has said “I loved that this was an unforgiving, bleak view of someone’s life, but which had hope. You don’t see that in any cinema, let alone LGBT.”

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

God’s own country

 

Directed by:
Francis Lee

Screenplay by:
Francis Lee

Starring:
Josh O’Connor
Alec Secareanu
Gemma Jones
Ian Hart
Harry Lister Smith

104 min.

Rated 18A

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

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.

And the Oscar went to… The safest bet for Call me by your name was James Ivory for his adapted screenplay. It was the film’s only Oscar. At 89, Ivory became the oldest-ever Oscar winner. One of many LGBTQ winners that evening, Ivory recalled his late partner Ismail Merchant (d. 2005).

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

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.

Lady Bird

In her semi-autobiographical solo directorial debut, Greta Gerwig tells the story of a complicated teenage girl who, like the teenage Gerwig, lives in Sacramento, California in 2002. Her name is Christine (Saoirse Ronan), but wants to be called “Lady Bird”. Lady Bird hates everything. She hates the Catholic school her parents chose because they could not afford anything else. She’s constantly fighting with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf). At school Lady Bird hangs around with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) and starts a relationship with Danny O’Neill (Lucas Hedges). It is short-lived when she discovers his secret. Then Lady Bird meets musician Kyle Scheible (Timothée Chalamet) and has sex with him. She would like to go an art school in New York, but her dad (Tracy Letts) lost his job and Marion insists that a local Catholic college will be just fine. Lady Bird is mostly about the mother and daughter’s relationship, and this gives us Laurie Metcalf in the best work she has ever done. It feels like Oscar material. The Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan scenes are so real that you think they were improvised. It is clear that, although they fight all the time, Lady Bird and Marion love each other very much and that the possibility that one will get hurt is greater because of that. If I laughed so much during Lady Bird, is that I got myself caught by surprise by the appalling behavior of that teenager. It’s Gerwig’s originality as an actress, screenwriter and director that is apparent here. Of course I’ve seen other films about teenagers. But one so real, funny and touching? I don’t think so.

And the Oscar went to… No awards to Lady Bird.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Lady Bird

 

Directed by:
Greta Gerwig

Screenplay by:
Greta Gerwig

Starring:
Saoirse Ronan
Laurie Metcalf
Tracy Letts
Lucas Hedges
Beanie Feldstein
Timothée Chalamet

93 min.