Tag Archives: Canadian content

Bon Cop, Bad Cop

Good-Cop-Bon-CopAs someone who grew up in Ontario (mostly) and now lives in Quebec, I can say with authority that Bon Cop, Bad Cop is a fantastic send up of the occasionally pained relationship between the two provinces.  There’s a lot of history and a lot of angst to be found in that relationship, and somehow we now seem more distant from each other than do the English and French, whose historic animus is the basis for our long-standing conflict.

When I go shopping in Quebec, I do not speak French and neither does Jay even though she’s totally bilingual.  I am not bilingual but I know enough to order a Happy Meal in French if I wanted.  But I DON’T want to – I want Quebec McDonald’s to speak English to me.

That stubbornness goes both ways.  Not only do many frontline retail staff refuse to speak English back to me (especially older ones), Quebecers are consistently terrible drivers who poke along well below the speed limit in the fast lane and refuse to move over for my bright orange racecar no matter how close I get to their bumper.

And yet, we consistently have each other’s back when push comes to shove.  When it rained for what seemed like a month straight in April and May and the Ottawa River started overflowing its banks to the point that it came onto our backyard, those same French bastards from McDonald’s and the highway banded together to deliver sandbags to us (and thousands of other English speakers in our border city) at 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday and then helped us put those sandbags in place, with smiles on their faces as they asked in English whether they could do anything else to help.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop nails that dynamic at every step, as two cops (Ontarian Colm Feore and Quebecer Patrick Huard) are forced to work together to solve a murder in which a body was found straddling the Ontario-Quebec border.  Of course they’re going to try to one-up the other, of course they’re going to set stupid and arbitrary rules about who does what and which language gets used when, and of course their petty squabbles are going to put everything in jeopardy.  Because that’s what we do.  But in the end, we accomplish what needs doing, and we share a grudging respect that binds us closer than geography alone ever could.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop captures our relationship perfectly and pokes fun at it at every opportunity.  That made Bon Cop, Bad Cop enjoyable in spite of its cliches, nonsensical plot, and cheap shots at Gary Bettman (okay, the last bit was enjoyable on its own).   But if you’re not from either province, you probably won’t get it, and truthfully we kind of like that you don’t.   We may argue over which of Ontario and Quebec is better but we agree that both are way better than wherever the hell you live.

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SXSW: Game Of Death

Laurence Morais Lagacé and Sebastien Landry are two young Canadian directors who apparently have wild and sick imaginations.

A bunch of teenagers, who’ve already had the sex and done the drugs, are just bored Game-of-Deathenough to try a dusty old board game, Game Of Death. They should have read the instructions first – once engaged, the game counts down the 24 people necessary TO MURDER in order to “win.” The game doesn’t stop until 24 are dead. When the clock runs out, if no one is killed, the game itself will execute a player. How stoned would you have to be for this to sound fun?

They do what any normal teenagers would: beer bongs. But failing to take this game seriously is a fatal mistake: when the clock runs out, one of the characters’ heads explodes. Like, explosively explodes. Yes, I know, I’m quite the colourful writer! Bow down if you must.

At any rate, this game is For Real. Now there are 23 left to be killed and some interesting choices to be made. Will the kids turn on each other, prey on their neighbours, or sit back and wait for their own skulls to go bust?

Interesting fact about teenagers: they are devoid of morals. Apparently. And video games have definitely made them callous!

Interesting fact about me: I cannot spend an hour and a half listening to a teenaged girl game-of-death-F69597cry. I assume this the same is also true of teenaged boys. I understand that some people cry under pressure, but for the sake of watchable movies, I think film makers need to dispense of this annoying soundtrack.

Interesting fact about this movie: exploding heads are NOT the most disturbing thing about it.

Should you watch it? Hey man, no judgments. There’s no real horror here; no anxiety, no foreboding, no creepiness, just straight up gore and blood lust, plenty of both, and some gratuitous bikini shots thrown in. Perfect guilt-watch?

 

The Art of the Steal

Crunch and Nicky Calhoun are conman brothers, part of a merry little gang who steals art. Crunch (Kurt Russell) gets double-crossed by his own brother (Matt Dillon) when a heist goes wrong and winds up spending 7 years in a Romanian prison where he learns that trust, not cash, is the ultimate currency. When he gets out, he lives a semi-legit life with a new wife, a new sidekick (Jay Baruchel), and a second-rate motorcycle-daredevil career.

hero_artofthesteal-2014-1But then Nicky comes calling. One last heist, he says (is there really such a thing?). And since Crunch is so low on funds, they assemble the old gang and pursue a tricky art swap, even with Interpol (Terence Stamp) breathing down their necks.

I found this movie recently added to Netflix, but not very generously reviewed. I gave it a chance because: Kurt Russell. He’s kind of a badass. And Jay Baruchel, who I have enormous love for. And you know what? It’s not a bad movie. It’s not overly great either, it’s just an easy-watch heist movie that borrows a little to heavily from better movies. But the cast is extremely watchable, and the writing’s not bad, it’s just formulaic. So if you have no time to waste, skip it. But if you like the genre, I think you’ll get along just fine with the film.

Bonus for Canadians: much of the film is not just filmed in Canada but takes place ADMITTEDLY in Canada, and stars a whole bunch of Canadians, aside from Baruchel, including Katheryn Winnick, Niagara Falls, Kenneth Walsh, Chris Diamantopoulous, Quebec City, Jason Jones, Devon Bostick, Tim Hortons, and piles of fluffy home-grown snow.

Short Films Galore!

Candy Skin: Ottawa’s own Kyle Martellacci has a short film that preys on our fear of the unknown. The protagonist, David, wakes up to find himself alone in a deserted world. Visibly alone at least  – something unseen is hunting him, but finding out may be more than he can handle. Watch the trailer here.

Lookouts: a team of young woodland scouts are training in order to defeat a mythical, Opening_Run_Master_2500_v2.jpgdangerous beast called a basilisk. Pehn depends on the guidance of his mentor and the memories of his mother to give him the courage to confront the monster he can scarcely define, let alone identify. Shot in lush coastal California forest, Lookouts is about as beautiful and accomplished a short film as I have ever seen and the acting is superb. It uses practical effects and real locations to elevate this period fantasy based on Penny Arcade’s Lookouts to something truly unique and special. Director David Bousquet has tapped into real magic, and you can share in it by watching the film here. You’re welcome. 😉

Pigskin: a cheerleader’s romance with a football player leads to a walking-nightmare manifestation of her body dismorphia. This body-horror short is stunningly shot, with beautiful, throwback cinematography that will hearken 80s nostalgia while communicating a present-day message about body consciousness, brought to you by the creative team of director\writer Jake Hammond and cinematographer\writer Nicola Newton.

Night of the Slasher: from director Shant Hamassian, this 11 minute short depicts a young girl determined to commit all the usual “horror movie sins” like drinking and dancing half naked in order to attract a serial killer. Why do such a thing? Well, that scar on her neck and the glint of revenge in her eye might serve as clues. Excellently executed and impressively shot in one take, Hamassian wants us to rethink the slasher genre and hopes to turn this short into a full-length, high-profile cinematic piece. You can watch it here, and see for yourself:

The Secret Path

You may have noticed there was a day this summer when Canada “went dark.” It was August 20th, the day the Tragically  Hip performed for the last time. Hip lead singer, front trudeau-the-hip-concert-kingstonman extraordinaire, Canadian superstar Gord Downie had recently announced that he had a brain tumour and was terminally ill. Since making music has always been his passion, he and the Hip went on a farewell tour and despite the ravages of cancer, he performed full-throttle at each and every show, somehow finding the energy and the courage to power through. Their final trudeau-downiedate was in their hometown of Kingston Ontario, just a little ways down the road from Ottawa. Our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was in the front row, and spoke for all of Canada when he thanked Gord and the whole band for their decades of artistic serviced to the country. It was a stirring night. The end is coming for Gord and he knew it, you could see it in his eyes, feel it every time he was overcome by emotion, but instead of making it about him, he chose to use this spotlight (and believe me, about 32 out of our 33 million strong l3z58mkrpopulation were tuned in one way or another) to speak on behalf of Canada’s indigenous population.

Since that night, as Downie inches closer to his final days, he’s still pouring his last energies into speaking up for our Aboriginal people. His latest endeavor is a tribute to Chanie Wenjack – in music, graphic novel, and animated form. 10 poems were turned into an album, which was turned into a graphic novel, which was turned into an animated film. They all tell the story of one boy, who represents the many, many more just like him, our first nations children ripped from the arms of their mothers, out of their communities, and into residential schools. Residential schools were run by church and state with the sole purpose of ‘civilizing’ the savages. gord-downie-sheila-north-wilsonProhibited from speaking their languages, practicing their spirituality, or honouring their cultures, teachers stripped them of their identity. Many children suffered terrible abuse, but all of these kids were deprived of their childhoods, and all of the families suffered terribly as I’m sure you would if your child was removed, perhaps never to be seen again, or if you were lucky enough to be reunited, we can only hope that you can find a common language in which to communicate. Communities were destroyed in what many Aboriginal people refer to as a genocide. It’s a dark part of Canadian history that wasn’t acknowledged until very recently. Today our First Nations peoples often live in poverty and other consequences of this intergenerational tragedy. Healing is not an Aboriginal problem, it’s something we need to address as an entire country. Gord Downie is doing his part.

If you are so inclined, The Secret Path can be streamed here for free (or in fact, down below). I hope you take the time to do so, and to share it with a friend. The images are haunting, but the lyrics will punch you in the gut. I was in tears by the third track.

Chanie Wenjack was only 12  years old when residential school became unbearable to him and he tried to find his way home. Not knowing where he was or where he was going, he walked until he collapsed in the snow, tired, lonely, starving, and he died. But there are dozenssecret-path and hundreds and maybe even thousands of Chanies dotting our countryside. Lonely and miserable, many children made an escape an attempt only to lose digits or limbs to frostbite, arms and legs on traintracks, or lives to exposure, or to punishment when recaputured. How many tiny bodies are still unaccounted for? The fact that we don’t even know is proof of how little white Canada cared for Aboriginal people, and this is a guilty fact we struggle to reconcile even today.

One day, likely sooner than later, Gord Downie will die and our whole country will mourn a great man, and a good man too. But Downie’s using his last work, and his last breaths to remind us that there are many others worth mourning too.

 

 

 

[As great and heartfelt as Gord Downie’s work is, it’s also really great to hear from Aboriginal artists themselves. Check out our coverage of the ImagineNative film fest]

Shorts: ImagineNative Film Festival

God’s Acre

You hear the squelching of his boots before you register much else. An older godsacre_02Aboriginal man is paying his respects at a rustic grave. The mud takes hold of his boots, lets go only reluctantly. He plods back to his humble shack, and sets to work counting stores. His traps are empty. Nothing grows. A way of life very likely already threatened is now near extinction with floods inching ever closer.

Two Mounties shows up to serve him a final evacuation notice; he’s the last hold out. “Even the animals knew enough to get out of here,” they tell him, and though he knows this to be true, he is unable to leave. With less than 15 minutes running time, we can only guess at this man’s bond to the land, why it means so much to him, why he feels so tied to his home that he puts himself in peril just to stay. Likewise we can only guess at what life in the city would be like for him, a man who still finds dinner in a trap he laid in woods he knows like the back of his hand; a man who signs his name with an X.

With very little dialogue, Lorne Cardinal masters the character and gives him dignity as he wrestles with a life-changing decision, with only hinted-at spiritual repercussions. First-time director Kelton Stepanowich shot God’s Acre in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, and manages some striking imagery within his limited budget. The sound mixing is perhaps not what it should be but this is clearly a film maker with something to say about Aboriginal identity, and his is one of many voices that needs to be heard.

Dig It If You Can

This film by Kyle Bell serves as an introductory piece to Native American artist, Steven Paul Judd. Judd is a mostly self-taught man, whether it be film, Photoshop, even writing for television. The need to create drives him but his Native (Kiowa-Choctaw) ancestry is what inspires him.

spj3Growing up on a reservation, Judd had limited exposure to outside influences like film and television, and what little he did see never reflected his own image. Today he creates the kind of images that would have comforted his younger self in a style blending pop culture and Native art that’s all his own. Banksy-esque, even Warhol-esque, his art is at once familiar and thought-provoking. His bold, “indigenized” pieces, overtly or covertly political, give people pause. But more than that, they offer his people representation, a chance to see their own culture and identity as a direct influence on the popular culture of today.

Director Kyle Bell (himself Thlopthlocco/Creek) takes a cool approach to the film’s subject, never quite achieving intimacy, unafraid to use up 2 of the film’s economic 20 minutes keeping Judd at a remove. But he accomplishes what he sets out to do: he gives voice to a subversive Indian artist, and thus gives voice to an entire people.

7 Minutes

Marie’s walk home from her campus library is almost exactly 7 minutes. After being aggressively harassed one night, she can no longer help noticing just how vulnerable a young Native woman in Saskatoon can be. Her experience of reporting the incident, to the seemingly uninterested local police, only makes her feel less safe.

7 Minutes, the 7-minute documentary short from Tasha Hubbard, recreates 7min.pngMarie’s experience through a re-enactment narrated using Marie’s own words.

I’m not always a fan of re-enactments in documentaries. Like most people, for example, I was captivated by 2008’s Oscar-winner Man on Wire, but could have done without the fake footage. The recreation of Marie’s walk home, however, serves 7 Minutes quite nicely. First, it spares its subject, who is already brave enough to tell her story, from having to appear onscreen. Second, it is artfully shot, edited and, though I would have rather they tone down the spooky music, does an excellent job building tension. Lastly, it gives us the chance to imagine what it must have been like for her on that very scary night.

As a film, 7 Minutes turns out not to be long enough; Hubbard is very effective at covering the night in question in great and harrowing detail. Marie’s summary in the film’s final minutes about her experience with the police and her conclusions about violence towards First Nations women feel rushed. As a result the film feels like a short segment of an important and thought-provoking feature-length documentary.

Mannahatta

Films like Mannahatta are always tough to watch as a white male. They serve as a reminder that what’s mine has come at someone else’s expense. Manhattan is the classic example of that, a chunk of land “bought” for nothing where the tiniest square of land is now worth millions of dollars, from high-end department stores to small neighbourhood pizzerias.

mannahatta_fb6a8815_movMannahatta focuses on one of those Manhattan pizzerias. The film maintains a tight focus in order to convey its message, and that is a wise choice. Mannahatta is a small story of a new employee at the pizzeria who is haunted by a man that no one else sees. At first he is confused and annoyed by this ghost but eventually he listens to and understands him. It’s a cooperative awakening and we see that a joint effort is required to truly bury the horrors of the past.

The biggest problems are best dealt with by breaking them down into smaller, manageable bits. Mannahatta takes that approach and it succeeds in its endeavour. It is thought-provoking without being preachy, and its message is both obvious and worthy of repetition. We are all in this together, and while we cannot change the past, we can move forward together if we are guided by compassion and empathy. One step at a time.

 

 

Check out Cinema Axis for more coverage from the ImagineNative film festival.

 

 

TIFF: The Journey Is The Destination

This is supposed to be the inspiring biopic of photojournalist/artist/activist Dan Eldon. But something is lost in the translation between his real-life journals that inform the story, and its appearance on the big screen. Namely, the inspiring part.

Supposedly Dan Eldon was an activist from a young age, raising money for various good causes. British-born but raised in Nairobi, he had a silver-spoon life, having the best in x9kbt0q2zcmaybswkkqklezuxi3education, the ability to visit over 40 countries while still in his teens, and loads of opportunity. He sprinkled his good fortune with charitable acts for others. But in the movie we don’t see a lot of Dan Eldon, activist. Rather we see Dan Eldon, purveyor of white privilege, with a side of white saviour to further sour the milk.

The film is brought alive under Bronwen Hughes’s able direction. She attempts to turn the film into a literal scrap book of sorts, travel-logging his adventures to honour creative source material, though this conceit is used sporadically. And it’s also not a great fit for the film, tonally. By the movie’s end, The Journey Is The Destination will have brought you to some very dark places. Cutesie scribbles and doodle a la Diary of a Wimpy Kid don’t really belong somewhere that ultimately ends up more Hotel Rwanda.

I want to believe in Dan Eldon, good person. It’s just that this movie keeps showing me Dan Eldon, man of many advantages and almost no self-awareness. The cast is strong: Ben Schnetzer is charming as Eldon, plus the likes of Maria Bello and Kelly Macdonald in particular are welcome additions, but they can’t do much with material that’s inconsistent and contradictory. In fact, in researching this guy, I’ve learned that most of what we see in the movie is just plain wrong. And the edits they’ve made, perhaps to make him seem less flighty, more substantial, also make him less sympathetic.

If you’re truly interested in the man, reading his writings is likely the better bet.

TIFF 2016: The Best

 

graduation

Graduation

From time to time, we all have to compromise our own values. It’s part of growing up. But do you remember the first time that you betrayed your own moral code?

According to Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu, director of the brilliant and beautiful 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (which I have not seen), Graduation is about a lot of things. “It’s about family. It’s about aging. It’s about you. It’s about me”. But mostly, as the Cannes Best Director winner articulated at the North American premiere, it’s about that pivotal moment in one’s life where they make a conscious decision for the first time to do what they know in their heart to be wrong.

Romeo (Adrien Titieni) couldn’t be more proud of his daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) when she gets accepted into a fancy British school but he still can’t relax. Despite her stellar grades, she still needs to pass her finals to get out their Romanian town. When a vicious random assault threatens to shake Eliza’s confidence just days before her exams, Romeo can’t help feeling tempted to use his position as a well-respected surgeon to bargain with her educators in exchange for some leniency.

Graduation takes its time. It takes time to establish the relationships, set up the scenario, and let the story play out. Mungiu doesn’t resort to melodrama or even a musical score to beg for our attention. Almost every scene plays out in just one meticulously framed take. It’s an approach that gives his actors plenty of room to shine and his story the time to come alive. If you don’t mind the slow pace, Graduation asks big questions and will get you talking. It’s a very rewarding experience.

my_entire_high_school_sinking_into_the_sea

My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea

Dash Shaw was in high school when James Cameron’s Titanic was in theaters and couldn’t help imaging what it would be like if his school sank like the famous ship with all of his classmates inside. When you think about it, to avoid drowning to death in a sinking building, the smartest would head for the top floor and try to get to the roof. Once Shaw, director of My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea and apparently quite an accomplished comic book writer,  started imaging each floor being occupied by a different grade level, he knew he had a story worth telling.

To see a film called My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea without feeling like you’re seeing something completely unique would be a letdown. So I’m pleased to announce that, whether you love it or hate it, Shaw’s debut feature will not let you down. The unusual animation style takes a little getting used to at first and, even once you get comfortable, there is so much to look at that many of the movie’s jokes- and the jokes are almost constant- can be easy to miss. My Entire High School may eventually be best remember for its carnage (those who are spared from drowning are mostly impaled, electrocuted, or eaten by sharks) but it’s made all the more special by the hilarious and sometimes touching dynamic between three adolescent friends whose bond is in crisis just as their lives are in imminent danger. And it’s all brought to life by some of the best voice acting you’ll hear this year from Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Maya Rudolph, Reggie Watts, and Susan Sarandon.

its-only-the-end-of-the-world

It’s Only the End of the World

I was one proud Asshole walking out of the Toronto premiere of Quebec director Xavier Dolan’s latest family drama. I was genuinely moved by a Xavier Dolan film. I admired Mommy, his last movie, I really did. It was just too self-indulgent for me to really relate to it in any real way.

So I was pleased to find myself loving this movie, more than almost anything else I saw at the Festival this year. I was finally starting to get it. I was quite disappointed to see that not everyone was as impressed as I was. It’s Only the End of the World currently has a score of 48 on Metacritic. If you’re not familiar with that site, let me put that in perspective. That’s only four points higher than Batman v. Superman’s score. Ouch.

I stand by my recommendation though. Based on a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, It’s Only the End of the World tells the story of a family who are easier to relate to than to understand. After a 12-year absence, Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) is finally coming home but he is bringing sad news with him. He is very sick and doesn’t have much time left. He’s not quite sure how to bring it up but it wouldn’t matter anyway because his mother, brother, and sister can’t stop alternating between picking fights with him and each other and awkwardly trying to force reconciliation. They try to bond over trivial things and fight over tiny details but can’t seem to bring themselves to talk about anything important.

The claustrophobic family reunion atmosphere seems to rein Dolan in a bit. He still manages to make Lagarce’s play his own though. For such a talky film, it’s surprisingly cinematic with its unnerving score and great performances from Ulliel, Nathalie Baye, Marion Cotilliard, Lea Seydoux, and Vincent Cassell. Using his signature tight close-ups, Dolan works with the actors to find subtext amid all the shouting. No easy task. Hard to act like you’re holding back when you’re screaming at each other.

I’m still not entirely sure what they were fighting about. But the story feels real and profoundly sad.

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Nocturnal Animals

Careful with this one. The people around me at the TIFF encore screening of Nocturnal Animals were basket cases watching it.

It’s easy to imagine yourself in the same position as Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), a husband and father whose family finds themselves terrorized while driving a lonely Texas highway in the middle of the night. The tension is nearly unbearable as this story unfolds. Those around me could barely sit still watching it and Susan (Amy Adams) is getting even more stressed reading about it. See, the scary part of Nocturnal Animals is but a story within a story. It’s the plot of a manuscript that Susan’s ex-husband (also Gyllenhaal) has sent her of his latest novel. As unnerving as the novel is to watch, it’s even worse for Susan. She’s quite sure the novel is about her.

The three narratives (there are also a lot of flashbacks of Susan’s marriage) are balanced beautifully in the second film from director Tom Ford (A Single Man). Susan is a successful art dealer and everything around her is beautiful and fake. In the story within the story, Tony’s world is harsh and all too real. Nocturnal Animals is sure to be divisive. Ford lays out his themes very clearly and I’m sure I feel comfortable with all of his implications. But there’s so much to look at and so much to feel, think,about, and talk about that you kind of just have to see it.

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Oh, and if you’re not sold yet, Michael Shannon plays a crazy cop in it.

La guerre des tuques

You likely know the Assholes are proud Canadians but you may know not know that I (Jay) am French-Canadian. I didn’t grow up in Québec (the traditionally french-speaking province), but in a small eastern Ontario town that borders it. I grew up speaking both languages but for the first ten years of my life, I was educated solely en français . It was a little school, about 100 kids covering grades from la maternelle (pre-kindergarten or jk) to la huitième année, or grade eight. When the temperatures dipped below -20 into frostbite snowtime_stillterritory, the whole school would assemble into our tiny gym, and one of the few movies screened for us on a 24-inch TV was La guerre des tuques. It was a movie about a bunch of kids who wage an all-out snowball fight in the vicinity of a huge snow fort during their winter break. La guerre des tuques literally translates to war of the tuques, but the English version was called The Dog Who Stopped The War.

This year, a new, animated version of the movie was released so a new generation could appreciate it. I was excited to revisit my childhood. Matt and Sean, dumb anglos, didn’t know it from a baseball cap battle, so they were in for a treat. It’s screening this week as part of Ottawa’s International Animation Festival, conveniently in English and everything (this time the English title is Snowtime!)

Being animated, they can take things a little further than a live-action movie made in the 80s could. The fort is several stories high, with CCTV, a secret railroad, and constantly simmering hot chocolate (though they draw the tech line at telephones: the old tin can method is still used, despite the fact that kids today rarely see a landline with a cord). It’s still got all the things kids look for in a fun movie: fart jokes, slightly crude humour, references to girls being icky and boys being stinky. It’s also quintessentially Canadian: snowtime-still-1yes there are hockey sticks, but also lacrosse sticks and curling brooms.

There’s a lot of good fun to be had and despite it being a “war”, most of it pretty benign. However, the end forcibly inserts a teachable moment and a dog must make the, ahem, ultimate sacrifice. It doesn’t quite fit and I wish it went differently.

Sandra Oh makes her second appearance as a voice actor in this festival (she was in Window Horses as well); this time she plays 4-eyed Frankie, and despite it being a bigger stretch, I’d say she does it more seamlessly this time around. And because this is a shamelessly Canadian production, it wouldn’t be complete without a soundtrack featuring Walk Off The Earth, Simple Plan, and Celine Dion. Is this a great movie? No, it’s not. But I can see kids liking it. And when you have winters as harsh as ours, you need entertainment aimed specifically at getting us through it.

Ottawa International Animation Festival 2016: Window Horses

Young Canadian Rosie Ming has kept her interest in poetry a secret so her grandparents and best friend are shocked when she announces that she has been invited to a poetry festival in Iran. Though she can’t help wishing that the festival was in Paris instead, Rosie soon discovers that she has a lot to learn from her fellow poets from around the world about ancient Persian poetry and her own family history.

Of course, some of my favourite movies are animated but I am realizing lately how little I know about animation itself. I know very little about the different styles of animation and wouldn’t know how to go about describing the look of this film.

Luckily, I have some stills.

Window Horses is as much a story about multicultural identity as it is about family. Rosie was born and raised in Canada to a Chinese-Canadian mother and a Persian father. With her mother now deceased and her father now estranged, she knows very little about either family’s heritage. When asked about her father, she has only one thing to say “My father abandoned me when I was 7”. As she starts to realize that nearly every local she meets in Iran seems to know him, she is forced to revisit the oversimplified story she’s been telling herself about her father.

Yes, the resentments we hold on to, maybe especially when it comes to our own family, are more complex than we let on. We’ve seen this before in movies and I did find the family drama a little played out and predictable. Thankfully, Window Horses has a lot more to offer than just a mystery surrounding Rosie’s family. Window Horses works best when it shows us the transcendent power of art. Rosie spends a lot of the movie discovering Chinese and Iranian culture through poetry and barely even needs to speak a word of Mandarin or Farsi to relate to the words. German, Mandarin, French, and Farsi verses are all brought to life with some beautifully creative animation all without a single subtitle. It is the film’s most brilliant device by far.

Window Horses may drag a little when it relies too heavily on exposition  and voice actress Sandra Oh is badly miscast as Rosie but, for the most part, director Ann Marie Fleming has made quite a nice film. Its unique sense of humour and literally poetic animation more than make up for its any minor complains I might have.