Tag Archives: foreign films

TIFF19: The Sleepwalkers

The Sleepwalkers is about 3 generations of a family spending a holiday at their summer home. The matriarch is contemplating the house, which angers at least one son and pits the siblings against each other. But it is a daughter-in-law, Luisa (Érica Rivas) who has it worst.

Luisa doesn’t want to be there. Unhappy in her marriage, she vents her frustrations to a brother-in-law rather than her husband. There is not enough space in the house for a relationship that’s falling apart. But most of all she’s worried about her daughter, Ana (Ornella D’elía), who is young enough to be getting her first blood, but looks considerably older. She’s already caught the attention of an estranged cousin, Alejo (Rafael Federman), recently resurfaced and apparently without boundaries. Even more concerning, Ana is a sleepwalker like her father. She has recently been discovered sleepwalking nude in her own home, and her mother is understandably concerned about what this may mean in a strange house full of people. But Ana doesn’t take kindly to restrictions, and her moody temperament causes her to lash out at her protective mother, and question just which one of them is truly sleepwalking through her life.

Director Paula Hernández has something to say about the pressure and position of women in the family, but for me it was obscured by camera work that literally made me sick. Almost always, only one main character would be in focus, while everyone else had constant blur. At first it was merely frustrating but after 107 minutes it made me physically uncomfortable – sick. And that’s unfortunate because there were some good bits, some very interesting stuff to be examined, but I felt unable to truly concentrate on it. Perhaps, by taking away my choice in what to look at or concentrate on, Hernández wants to put me in the shoes of a young, stymied woman. But that just makes me feel like she doesn’t trust enough in her script. It left me feeling angry and frustrated and ready to bolt. The two lead female characters keep looking for safe space to unleash, to vent, but I felt denied that myself. I never had the space to orient myself or digest what was happening. I felt like a horse with blinders on.

Luisa and Ana are going through some tense and important times. Their performances are good, restrained, even. Hernández makes their inner turmoil obvious without being obvious. I just wish she could do it without creating so much in me.

Advertisements

TIFF19: Parasite

The Kim family squats in their dank basement apartment, assembling cardboard pizza boxes and trying not to breathe too deeply as fumes from the street extermination waft in from the open window.  The piece work doesn’t pay well, but since the whole family is out of work, they can’t afford to pass up an opportunity.

And then, a stroke of luck: the Kims’ son is offered a job tutoring a young girl from a rich family.  With some forged credentials, he’s in.  Recognizing an open door when he sees one, the son soon proposes his sister (posparasiteing as a mere acquaintance) as an art tutor.  A few more forgeries later, the Kims have secured two high-paying jobs from a family they increasingly see as gullible.  Do they quit while they are ahead?  They do not.  Mom and Dad are found jobs as well, though by “found”,  I mean they set up other employees to be fired, thus “creating” positions for each other.

Their pursuit is so ruthless, you start to question who, if anyone, you should be rooting for.  Bong Joon-ho, the visionary director of Snowpiercer, has once again presented us with a treatise on class systems; indeed, class warfare.

A parasite is an organism that needs to leech off something else in order to live.  Of course, our impoverished protagonists rely on jobs from their privileged employers, but Bong makes it clear that it works both ways: the rich, unable or unwilling to care for their homes or their children, rely on workers who must do much for little pay.  The degree to which the rich allow virtual strangers into their homes and lives is ripe for abuse, and this posh, architectural marvel of a house soon becomes an upstairs/downstairs rebellion with deadly consequences.

As we’ve come to expect, Bong is a master at ratcheting up the tension.  The film could stand to be a little shorter, but with so many parts working so well to stun and enthrall, it would be a shame to see any of it go.

The Guilty

How many times in your life have you called 911? I hope the answer is none, but for some of you it will be higher than that, and chances are, it wasn’t exactly a happy occasion. Even if you’re calling on behalf of a stranger, you must believe that it’s an emergency situation, and those tend to be adrenaline-filled and on the harrowing side. I call 911 on a very regular basis, and I’m always grateful for the patient expediency of the person on the other end. Mining someone’s abject panic for important, potentially life-saving information, is not an easy thing to do. Distilling that information into its most salient components while managing someone’s fear and distress takes precision and control. Dispatchers will sound cool and confident on the phone, but that doesn’t mean their job isn’t getting to them. They assist people through the darkest of circumstances. They experience vicarious trauma. The Guilty is one of their stories.

Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) is working what seems like a normal shift when he gets a call from what seems like a wrong number. A woman named Iben (Jessica Dinnage) is calling, pretending to be on with her young daughter. Because of his training, Asger manages to ask the right questions in the right way. Iben is making this phone call in front of her abductor, and trying to do it stealthily.

Asger gets more and more attached to the case as he speaks to Iben, to her abductor, to her daughter Mathilde who is not even 7 but home alone covered in someone else’s blood after having seen her mother be dragged violently away. He goes beyond the bounds of his position in order to fulfill a promise to Mathilde to get her mother home safely.

How do you think you’d stack up as a 911 dispatcher? They test for inductive (using specific observations to make broader generalizations) and deductive (using the info you’ve collected to come to a logical conclusion) reasoning, plus memory recall and the ability to read maps and a good old fashioned psych evaluation. And then there’s just necessarily personality quirks like the ability to be still in the face of chaos.

Asger is a flawed hero and not necessarily the best at his job. But he cares about this woman. Tonight, his job goes from hard to nearly impossible. It’s disturbing. The movie will break your heart in a million ways. But if you think it’s hard to watch, imagine how hard it is to live, to take these calls for 12 hours or even 24 hours at a time, day after day, weekends and holidays. It’s a lot to ask of anyone, and Asger is pure proof of the toll this job can take.

Jakob Cedergren is excellent, as he must be, acting almost exclusively against voices over the phone. Through the arc of one telephone call, he experiences a major shift, and almost every high and low on the human spectrum. Director Gustav Moller keeps things very simple and straight-forward, allowing the story’s natural tension to take centre stage.

Despite Everything

Four very different sisters reunite in Madrid for the first time in years upon their mother’s death. A series of profusely weeping men make displays of themselves at her funeral. The next day, at the reading of the will, the four sisters learn that the man who raised them is not their biological father, and that their fathers may be four different men, any or none of the weeping funeral goers. In order to obtain their inheritance, they have to go on a wild goose chase to find their parentage.

The premise is wacky but they play is straight. Or, as straight as possible when the characters are all ridiculous caricatures. Well, the lucky ones anyway. Some of them don’t even get drawn with wild but general cliches. There’s the French artist, the blind priest, and perhaps worst of all, the man with dementia.

The sisters, meanwhile, get an even worse treatment. Claudia (Belen Cuesta) is uptight, MV5BNDdlZDIzZTctZmIwZS00MTljLTg5Y2UtYjc1ODliYWExNDM2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTM2Mzg4MA@@._V1_and her marriage is failing. Sara (Blanca Suarez) is an important New York City businesswoman who left behind her true love, Sofia (Amaia Salamanca) is a lesbian with commitment issues, Lucia (Macarena García) is the baby.

So it’s like Mama Mia, except it’s a funeral, not a wedding, and there’s no singing or dancing or Meryl Streep or reasons to watch. Did I enjoy this movie? Evidently not. I veered from bored to skeptical to mildly offended. Plus there’s the issue of dubbing, which unfortunately is always an issue, one I should probably stop complaining about since it saves me reading subtitles. I don’t mind a subtitled movie at the theatre, in fact my ADD probably embraces it, but at home I’m never just watching a movie – I’m watching a movie and and and and. Which keeps my energy in check and my mind focused enough to absorb things and not get bored. Subtitles make it hard to multi-task. But dubbing makes it hard to take a movie seriously. The lips don’t match! They never match! Still, I can’t help but admire the people who work on these translations – you have not to just turn Spanish into English, but distill the essence of what’s being said into the same amount of syllables, which many languages would make very challenging. Of course it’s a bad sign for a movie when I’m mostly just thinking about how hard it would be to fit all those words and meanings into a set cadence. And from what I’ve seen, Netflix is springing for real professionals, not those TV movie of the week people who keep speaking long after lips stop moving. But back to the movie: should you watch it? No. There are roughly 5500 titles on Netflix – Canada’s Netflix catalogue is third largest in the world, behind Japan and America. So there’s really no excuse. You’re not that desperate.

Who Would YOU Take To A Deserted Island?

Four friends have shared a flat in Madrid for 8 freaking years and have managed not to go insane or kill each other. Now, near the end of the summer, they are celebrating their last day together in the home they’ve shared since they were kids. Life is about to change.

Celeste and Eze are friends who share a passion: Eze’s about to go off to London on a scholarship to study film while Celeste grapples with the fact that nothing is really happening with her life; she’s an actress considering working fast food to get by.

Marta and Marcos seem more solid, relationship-wise if not sex-wise. Marcos is off to med school, and Marta’s planning on following him, to teach ballet rather than dance herself.

Their aim for the night is to get drunk and act out their old tradition of singing loudly from their rooftop.

This is a Spanish movie, and Netflix offers a dubbed version, which has all the pitfalls of a dubbed version. The dialogue often feels a bit stilted and forced. Maybe that’s why the characters never felt accessible to me. I had trouble connecting to any of them.

Anyway, the movie is fully half way over before it gets to the point, ie, the title. Drunk, the 4 friends play a dicey game of Who Would You Take To A Deserted Island? Each of them gets to pick 2 friends, which is just another way of saying NOT choosing one, so the friend who gets left out feels like a piece of shit. Which sounds like a fun party game, no?

Not content to have things just be unbearably tense, they up the ante by making the game even funner. Now you can only choose one friend to take to the deserted island.

I think the premise is kind of interesting but the characters were just too annoying for anything to matter. Secrets are spilled, resentments become painfully clear, sure. Sure. But I just didn’t give a shit. I would 110% rather die alone on a deserted island than spend 10 minutes in the company of any of these people.

 

 

Tomorrow is Another Day

Mrs. Wong (Teresa Mo) is too exhausted to care that her husband is having an affair. She tolerates it in order to keep her family together, especially important since her 20 year old son Kwong (Man-Lung Ling) has autism, and developmental disabilities, that require stability and a lot of care. But one day the young mistress (they’re always young) stops by the house and agitates Kwong. After a terrible fight, Mr. Wong (Ray Lui) leaves. He leaves them. Now the burden of caring for her disabled son falls to Mrs. Wong entirely, and with his father gone, he’s acting out more than ever. If she was tired before, she’s beyond tired now. There’s almost nothing in Mrs. Wong’s life that’s just for her – her only indulgence during these dark days is to plot revenge scenarios against the dreaded mistress.

Teresa Mo, Ray Lui, and Man-Lung Ling make for a very attractive family; you’d hardly MV5BY2U2OTQ2ODQtNjQzMC00YTdiLWJiZTYtOWQ3MGI1OTE3NTJjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzI1NzMxNzM@._V1_believe from the outside all the difficulties they face. But Mo and Lui are good at communicating a marriage strained by years of putting someone else’s needs above their own, of never having the time to honour their coupledom. We know that this is not Mr. Wong’s first dalliance, and we see the toll it’s taken on their marriage.

Ling’s portrayal of special needs is perhaps not the best we’ve seen on screen, but it’s Kwong’s relationship with his mother that is the most essential of the film. He’s normally cheerful and energetic; he skips along, vocalizing sounds more than words. But his meltdowns are ferocious. A full-grown man, when he starts self-harming, Mrs. Wong really can’t cope on her own. By showing us the enormity of her caregiver’s role, director Chan Tai-lee (the guy who wrote Ip Man) highlights a dearth of resources, of respite. Mrs. Wong shoulders it all, without complaint, facing down discrimination like that’s to be expected. All of her anger and resentment are saved for the mistress (a one-note, selfie-taking villain); murder fantasies are her only escape.

Her social life’s only balm is a group of housewives with whom she sews and sings karaoke. But these are the same women who will uncover her plot. And then what? You’ll have to watch to the end to find out.

After The Apology

The stolen generations. That’s what they call the many, many Aboriginal children who were taken out of their homes and put into care outside their families and community. Ten years ago, the government issued an apology for its past transgressions and Aboriginal peoples were gratified for the acknowledgement of their pain and suffering but it didn’t take long to recognize the apology as a hollow one. ‘Sorry’ means you don’t do it again.  But they did. In fact, in the following years, the number of Aboriginal kids apprehended by the system nearly doubled. And even though their own policies in the care and protection act supposedly prevent this, Aboriginal children are 10 times more like than non-Aboriginals to be taken away from their parents, and 70% are removed entirely from their communities.

When I read the movie’s synopsis, I assumed this film was Canadian. It is not. It is Australian. But their story is our story. We have these issues here too.

MV5BM2YyY2EwNTgtNjg2YS00NDk1LWFhZDctYmQ5MWVlMTg0MzVhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTAxNTY0MjI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1509,1000_AL_Aboriginal people have been through a lot, historically, and still. Snatching children from out of their homes is among the most destructive of them. It breaks down their culture, their language, their family ties. It robs them of identity.

In most cases of family and children services, children are removed because of domestic violence, mental illness, and drug/alcohol abuse. It’s hard to argue against those judgments, though individual situations vary. In the case of Aboriginal children, the reason most often cited is ‘neglect’ and that’s a harder one to address. Often this label of neglect is assessed by middle-class white ladies who don’t understand the culture or can’t see beyond the poverty. The cupboards aren’t well stocked but the children are not hungry. There may not be a crib in the house, but the baby is loved and cared for according to the family’s values. The system  is racist. Plain and simple. Its many inadequacies are illustrated (sometimes literally) by the stories in this documentary.

Director Larissa Behrendt focuses on four grandmothers in particular who are taking on the system on behalf of their communities. It’s a brilliant approach that personalizes the cause and leaves us with a bit of hope. It’s a look toward the future, but one informed by the mistakes of the past, which we cannot afford to ignore. This documentary insures we do not.