August 27, 2011
What we have here is what Italians know how to do best: a comedy that will make you laugh and tons of love, art, religion and food, not necessarily in that order. Checco is an inept mamma’s boy who has failed three times to become a carabiniere until he finally succeeds thanks to nepotism. He keeps getting kicked up in the ranks because nobody wants him and is finally assigned to guard the Madonna that crowns the Milan cathedral. Before long he falls in love with an attractive Arab student who befriends him but she is not who she says she is. She and her brother are actually using him as a patsy to plot a terrorist attack. You’ve guessed it! She has a change of heart, but not to worry, the ending is not “a la ‘Ollywood’. The director introduced his film as politically incorrect. But is it really?
August 26, 2011
This is the story of Alex and Virginia who became victims of real-estate speculation and government corruption. They plan to get married so they borrow over their heads to put a down payment on a condo with a view of the sea. Not only was the skeleton of the building shoddily built but the whole project was halted when an elusive lynx is spotted in the area which is then declared off limits to construction, so the condo project is abruptly halted. Several years down the road they are still homeless and moneyless. Alex loses his job and his marriage and starts losing it. Since the justice system has failed them Alex decides to take desperate measures. A drama with a comedic touch set in Alicante, Spain, but it could have easily been set in La Belle Province, Canada.
It’s Nobody’s Fault. Spain. Short feature film. Director: Esteban Crespo.
We see him driving home, taking his tie off with glee and practicing how to tell his wife that he is leaving her “for the good of both of us, darling”. He’s had enough with the rat race, the suburban commute, the mortgage, domesticity. When he gets there and tries to speak up she shushes him because the baby is asleep so they continue their conversation upstairs. When he finally manages to get the message across, she is at first devastated and then agrees with him and starts packing the children’s clothes so that he and the children can move out temporarily. Then she realizes that she is being selfish, and suggests that he stay home with the kids while she goes to live with her wild friend and join the women’s band they dismantled when she got married. He capitulates and decides to stay married. Hilarious! Except that I’m sure it’s happened to your best friend.
August 25, 2011
Caveat: The Art of Love is a title that has been used by other movies –and books- in the past. In fact when psychoanalyst Eric Fromm wrote a book with a similar title in 1956 the book became a hit because readers thought Fromm was talking about eroticism. This movie, directed by Emmanuel Mouret, is from France and yes, this one is about eroticism although love is a subtext. As can be deduced from the photograph, there are several characters and several love-stories all of them depicting different aspects of that familiar yet incomprehensible illusion called love. It is a smart, entertaining and charming movie with an excellent cast. A great antidote for our depressing times. Go see it. You will be either enlightened or further baffled.
Tatanka is a name with a noble lineage. To the indigenous people of North America it means the great bison, to the Sioux nation it is the name of Tatanka Iyotake, or Sitting Bull, respected medicine man and hero, to contemporary Americans it is the professional name of Chris Davis, a well-known wrestler. Our cinematic hero, however, hails from Italy, more specifically from Naples, from where he is trying to box his way to a more secure future. His efforts take him to Germany where he takes part in illegal boxing matches until he meets a coach willing to train him professionally. The heady mix of brain and brawn packs a powerful punch. Lovers of the sport will be regaled with an actor whose physique looks the part and with stunt-men who do a spectacular job. The movie ends with the exhortation not to fight for oneself, not to fight for money, not even to fight for one’s girl but to fight for all. A message worthy of the original Tatanka of the Sioux Nation.
August 24, 2011
Above Us Only Sky. Germany. Director: Jan Schomburg.
Yet another German film about loss, denial and redemption. In A Family of Three (August 22) a family unravels after the death of the mother. In Above Us Only Sky, it is the husband who dies leaving his widow not only grieving for him but wondering who he really was. But before she can drive off to warmer climes she must face the cold truth.
August 23, 2011
The Real American. Joe McCarthy, docudrama. Germany. Director: Lutz Hachmeister.
This 94-minute movie traces the rise of Senator Joe McCarthy from his dirt-poor farming origins in Wisconsin to the U.S. Senate in Washington. We learn that for McCarthy getting rid of communists was akin to battering to death the skunks that harassed his mother’s chicken coop, a task he performed with glee when he was a young boy. I’m sure it is an informative film, but I did not find it engaging. When the New York earthquake that made its way to downtown Montreal shook me from my lethargy, I fled the scene. I don’t know how the movie ended, but somewhere along the way I did find out that McCarthy died of a liquor-induced hepatitis. If you are too young to know his name, please do see the movie. You will learn that McCarthyism, which is making a comeback, is an insidious process that must be stopped in its tracks.
August 22, 2011
Marry Woody Allan to a beautiful psychologist, give him a daughter as rebellious and beautiful as you can imagine and invite his buddies, his daughter’s chums and a couple of his wife’s patients for a long weekend in Tuscany and you have the makings of a film which is both entertaining and profound. Intergenerational conflicts, fear of death, liberal hypocrisy and pure Italian farce commingle with the wisdom of the world-weary. If you want a break from the usual morbid fare of film festivals, watch Love and Slaps. You might feel like slapping some of the characters, but you will certainly love the film.
This is the story of your average dysfunctional family in which the father fools around, the grown-up son avoids conflict by living as far away as possible and the teenage daughter is doing what teenagers do best: experimenting with sex, alcohol and rock n’ roll, but not very successfully. The only one who has her act together is the mother, an award-winning author who leaves her family bereft when she dies in a car crash. This event is the cue for the family to unravel in the days leading up to the funeral. But not to worry, grief, or rather the expression of grief, can be life-affirming. German cinema has traditionally dealt with issues of guilt over WWII. Younger film-makers want to expiate the guilt of emotional numbness by looking inward into their own hearts. Go see the film. You might find it healing.
Mystery of the Lagoons has been billed as a documentary but it can also be considered a tonal poem with the lagoons of the Andean peaks in Venezuela as backdrop. It is an anthropological study of a population that has remained isolated from modernity by geography and the absence of T.V. and internet, hence it is frozen in time. There is a radio station, however, that creates a virtual sense of community. Through the radio veterinarians are summoned, births and deaths are announced and personal messages are exchanged. And of course music is given wings.
Although the film consists of a series of interviews and episodes with the local peasants, a sense of unity is provided by the narrative voice which in this case is traditional music. The beauty of the Andes, tales of a monster serpent living in the depths of the lagoon, myths about the creation of the earth and old battles are the themes of the lyrics. Almost all the men seem to play string instruments made out of calabashes or armadillo carapaces with the notable exception of the King of the Violin who plays a violin in imaginative ways. In fact, violins are quite common in these remote hamlets even though they are not traditionally played elsewhere in Venezuela. Lore says that perhaps a German potentate who was given land there during colonial times might have introduced the instrument.
Some viewers might, will be, horrified at the sight of some macabre mourning rituals, but these scenes will soon be overwritten by the sight of the mysterious lagoons that nestle in the crevices of the Venezuelan Andes.
August 21, 2011
Khodorkovsky is the story of the rise and fall of Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky, a former Communist Youth League member who rose to become the richest man in Russia, the biggest world billionaire under forty, the czar of Russia’s oil empire and one of the most controversial personalities in his country. He is also known for his philanthropy, self-confidence and intelligence, although he has also been called durak … stupid!
Khodorkovsky is currently serving a second sentence in Siberia for fraud, embezzlement and tax evasion. Both his detractors as well as his admirers augur him a future in national politics if and when released from jail which, according to the documentary, is not likely to happen while Vladimir Putin is still in power.
Cyril Tuschi produced this documentary with a shoe-string budget but somehow managed to obtain an interview with Khodorkovsky during a hearing in court. Others were interviewed as well, including his first-born son, his former wife and notably, Dmitry Gololbov, former deputy head of the legal department of Khodorkovsky’s oil firm Yukos. It is Gololbov who calls him stupid for having allowed himself to get caught, whereas he should have, the legal counsel felt, availed himself of the opportunity offered him indirectly to stay abroad and negotiate for the protection of his former associates.
A very important question that the film raises, albeit does not answer, is the following: Why did Khodorkovsky return to Russia when he was aware of his imminent arrest? According to Christian Michel, a business consultant, Khodorkovsky wanted to become a martyr in the eyes of the Russian electorate before running for office to replace Putin. Such a gambit would fit in with the personality of a man whose residential compound for the Yukos executives in the outskirts of Moscow has been kept in tip-top shape all these years for the imminent return of its tenants. His admirers say that such a stance is proof of his moral character, his detractors consider it proof of his arrogance.
The documentary paints Khodorkovsky as a man who initially acted within the mores prevailing in post perestroika Russia and then went on to become an upstanding Western style businessmen who religiously paid his taxes and followed the rules. It is easy for the viewer to root for Khodorkovsky, forgetting that the documentary mainly interviews his sympathizers and the odd detractor. Why was his second wife never interviewed? Putin, of course, refused to be interviewed. All the public has is a slick, extremely well-crafted documentary that proves this so-called realistic genre is an art form like any other and that art sometimes trumps the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This is especially true when the hero/villain is handsome, sexy and self-confident as well as a friend of Bush and the likes.
Was the hero capable of murder? Will he be let out of jail? Go and find out. Estonian composer Arvo Pärt provides the background music to this thriller worthy of James Bond.
August 20, 2011
Montreal is a festive city, or at least a city afflicted with festivalitis. The 35th Montreal World Film Festival (FFM, 18-28 August 2011, www.ffm-montreal.org) is but one of many manifestations of this fortuitous malady. It is also what makes Montreal what it is: a city rich in culture and joie-de-vivre. Most importantly, it proves that Montreal values cultural traditions that have come from afar and appropriates them. Films allow us to peek into other people’s homes to see how they live and what makes them tick and in so doing, to understand them, so that they stop being them and become us.
Now, having a press pass to watch as many films as you like is both a privilege as well as a responsibility. Moreover, expecting to write about all theses films is a daunting task. A better choice is to single out a film here and there so that exotic sounds and images can permeate one’s senses and make sense.
Let’s start with Moonlight Mask (Gekko No Kamen), signed Itsuji Itao, one of Japan’s leading comedians, actors and debutant directors. WWII is over and a disfigured soldier returns home after a two-year hiatus and is “recognized” and accepted by his former fiancée and theatre family of which he had been a distinguished member. Attempts are made to reintegrate him into his rakugo or story-telling profession. Rakugo is a traditional performance akin to modern stand-up comedy, except that the performer remains seated throughout and plays several characters. In Japanese there is an expression similar to the Spanish “matar/se de risa”, to kill yourself or others through laughter. In Gekko No Kamen, the characters and audience laugh throughout what is a tragic plot: a soldier thought to be dead returns to life but cannot leave behind the dead comrade who in turn thinks he has returned to life not knowing he is dead. It is a film about memory, identity and the evanescent nature of certitudes.
Go see the film, immerse yourself in its moonlit vistas, let go of your Cartesian preconceptions and enjoy a modern-day version of rakugo at its best. And if you are lucky, the director/leading man might be in the theatre, dressed in a pristine white tuxedo, ready to answer the questions that a Japanese might never ask.