Tag Archives: subtitled

SXSW 2021: Fucking With Nobody

After losing a directing gig to her nemesis Kristian, Hanna teams up with her sister and counterculture friends to create a phony Instagram romance between herself and young actor Ekku. Hanna and her friends have lofty ambitions for their Instagram account; self-described ‘social anarchists,’ this “art project” will challenge the traditional, heteronormative power structures of romantic love. Everyone’s super on board, even Hanna’s and Ekku’s current boyfriends, who are both witnesses and participants.

Of course, what starts as a commentary on how easily intimacy can be faked on social media quickly snowballs into something else entirely as Hanna and Ekku begin to rack up views. With a real following, they have a platform to really say something, but instead seem to lose the thread of their original intent.

In a complicated and complicating meta twist, film director Hanna is played by Fucking With Nobody writer-director Hannaleena Hauru. The part of her boyfriend is played by real life boyfriend (and co-writer, and co-cinematographer) Lasse Poser. Fiction and reality blur and the narrative lines become difficult to parse and perhaps more trouble than they’re worth.

This movie about making a movie (about making a movie?) bites off more than it can chew, and though I normally admire hunger, this kind of gluttony was hard to watch and ultimately unsatisfying.

Berlinale 2021: Albatros (Drift Away)

Laurent is a good cop in a small town in Normandy, where little ever happens. The police work may be on the dull side but his recent engagement to Marie means his personal life makes up for it. Laurent (Jérémie Renier) and Marie (Marie-Julie Maille) have already been together long enough to share a home and a daughter, Poulette (Madeleine Beauvois), who was excited to be part of the low-key proposal. But then things take a turn for the more interesting.

A local farmer goes missing, armed with a rifle and seemingly suicidal after a series of failed inspections that threaten his livelihood. This being a small town, the farmer is known to Laurent, a friend. Laurent is obviously very motivated to have this man found safely, but does his familiarity cloud his judgement? When the farmer is eventually located, it leads to an altercation, resulting in Laurent discharging his weapon in an effort to prevent the farmer from taking his own life. Laurent kills him.

The aftermath is as messy as you’d expect. Everyone agrees it was an accident, but was it reckless? Negligent? The farmer’s sister obviously thinks so; she’s suing both Laurent and the force. Thrown into self-doubt, recrimination, and emotional turmoil, Laurent takes off on a journey he must take alone. Which, honestly, is where the film lost me. Up until it veers off into a very different direction, I was enjoying this slow-burn character study. Renier kept things dignified, stoic but just expressive enough to hint at upheaval behind the façade. Unfortunately, director Xavier Beauvois muddies the water with some confusing and unnecessary subplots, taking away from the power and potency of Renier’s performance.

Albatros’s final moments redeem some of its earlier mistakes but there’s no way the film needed to be two hours long, which seems to dilute the urgency and impact of what should have been the movie’s central themes. Albatros is a good idea unevenly executed, not quite saved from a stellar star performance.

Berlinale 2021: Petite maman

Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) is eight years old when her grandmother dies. Nelly and her mother (Nina Meurisse) are both sad as they empty her room at the nursing home and say farewell to her elderly friends. Next they meet Nelly’s dad at Nelly’s mom’s childhood home, which also needs to be packed up. Nelly and her grandma were quite close, and the death has taken a toll on them all. But the next day, Nelly’s mom is gone, and only her dad (Stéphane Varupenne) is left to box up an old woman’s life. The sadness was too much for mom, Nelly is told, though mom is often sad, and Nelly is worried that mom might not come back.

While her father works diligently, Nelly explores the outdoors in search of a cabin her mother constructed out of sticks as a child many years ago. In the woods she finds something even better: a playmate. Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) is also eight years old, and is devoting her time to building a little cabin out of sticks. Nelly knows right away who Marion is; it’s her mother, as a child. When Marion brings Nelly back to her house, grandma is alive and well, and 20-some years younger. The girls, who look like they could be twins (and are indeed played by twins), are immediate best friends. Being eight, Nelly doesn’t much care how or why this time anomaly has permitted her such an intimate new playmate, she just takes it at its face value and enjoys the time with her little mother.

Imagine, if your old brain still has any magic left in it, encountering your own mother as a child, when you yourself are also a child. This is such a beautiful, innocent thought experiment I can’t believe I’ve never seen it done before.

Nelly takes full advantage, asking her mother things that are much harder, and sometimes impossible, to broach between mother and child under normal circumstances. And Marion has questions too. “Did I want you?” she asks in all innocence. “Yes,” comes the reply. “I’m not surprised,” Marion responds, while gently stroking Nelly’s cheek, “I’m already thinking of you.”

Writer-director Céline Sciamma infuses this film with such tenderness that I constantly feel like weeping, though the film is not particularly emotional or fraught. The two young actresses are absolute perfection, like little dolls who are made for each other. It helps us to understand that his manifestation is somehow essential to Nelly’s grief and loneliness during a painful time. This is next-level self-soothing and the whole thing is coated in such a thick layer of loving kindness that I’m pretty sure I want some too.

Minari

This perfect little movie made my heart sing today. It’s humble and understated but flawlessly distills everything that is right about life and love and family and hope into a simple yet effective cinematic microcosm.

Jacob (Steven Yeun) moves his family from their small apartment in California to a farm in Arkansas. Well, a potential farm, at least. It has promise. At the moment it’s a small plot of land, a trailer, and a dream. Jacob’s wife Monica (Yeri Han) isn’t as enthusiastic about this dream, or about the trailer, or about leaving California, but she’s going along with it because finally her mother Soonja (Yuh-jung Youn) will be able to join them. Little David (Alan Kim) isn’t so keen on Grandma Soonja – she smells like Korea and swears like a sailor and prefers to gamble at cards than bake cookies like other grandmothers do. This Grandma’s a dud and she sleeps in his room!

Jacob and Monica work at a local hatchery sexing chickens. David and sister Anne (Noel Cho) go to church to save on babysitting. Jacob and a religious zealot named Paul (Will Patton) plant seeds and irrigate the land. Soonja gets addicted to Mountain Dew. Minari is the story of an immigrant family in search of the American Dream in 1980s Arkansas. It may not be the typical experience, but it does manage to feel universal. At its heart, Minari is about family – about where we plant roots, how we cultivate intimacy, why a home is not the building that houses us but the people who live inside.

Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung allows the story to unfold naturally, never pushing us into emotions but quietly earning them nonetheless. The film is semi-autobiographical and benefits from Chung’s store of intimate details that really make his story come alive. They help establish a sense of time and place, an important backdrop to this family’s origin story. The Yi family is at a critical juncture; these hardships will either pull them apart or cement them together. Their instability puts a lot of stress on them, and what starts as a fight between mom and dad trickles down to insecurity in the children. Only Grandma, who has certainly seen much worse, is a constant source of strength and love. Little David doesn’t always love her back, in fact sometimes he’s downright cruel, but Grandma has nothing but love for him – just not the kind he’s become accustomed to from American sitcoms. It takes him a while to warm up to her, but their relationship is the best part of the movie.

Minari is named after a Korean plant, a resilient little bigger that has the strength and tenacity to grow even in rough soil. The movie, likewise, is deceptively simple, but once you crack the nut, its insides are warm and nourishing. The film is disarming, the cast is uniformly excellent, and Chung finds a perfect balance between the bitter and the sweet.
 

Minari is releasing on all digital and on-demand platforms across Canada on February 26th.

Memories of Murder

Memories of Murder is a 2003 film by recent Oscar darling Bong Joon Ho. A remastered version is coming out this month, a perfect excuse to revisit this remarkable classic.

In 1986, Park (Song Kang-ho) and Cho (Kim Roi-ha) are two humble detectives assigned to a double murder investigation in their small South Korean province, already an unusual occurrence. But when the murderer strikes several more times with the same pattern, the inexperienced detectives realize that they are chasing the country’s first documented serial killer. Their skills and gear are rudimentary, so it’s good old fashioned detecting for these two, piecing together the clues in an attempt to solve this important case.

Bong Joon Ho has a unique and inimitable cinematic voice. The film starts out almost bumbling, with a tendency toward slapstick. His signature satire is ever-present, nuanced and cleverly hidden in plain sight underneath broad comedy. Genres blend and tone veers wildly from the expected course, but neither undermines what is ultimately a serious theme. Bong Joon Ho is slowly building to some very real thrills not to mention one hell of a climax.

The detectives’ increasing desperation is well played by a talented cast, including BJH’s frequent collaborator, Song Kang Ho, reflecting tragedy, futility, and humanity. It’s a complex and gripping story about the people tortured by a case well after the victims’ suffering has ended, with consequences that leak beyond professional borders.

Bong Joon Ho takes the time to find beauty, even amid such a brutal emotional and political landscape. The way he juxtaposes images can be as startling as it is brilliant, the effect culminating in a truly unusual film that transcends genre and communicates a fragile and subtle sympathy.

Memories of Murder is a modern masterpiece; look for the remastered release in select theatres beginning this weekend.

Smog Town

If you think your job sucks, trying being an environmental protection official in China.

In some industrial centres, the smog is so thick you practically need a knife to cut through it. A spork at least. Serious harm is being done to the environment, not to mention to people’s health, but that’s not the main concern of an environmental protection officer. I mean, I’m sure that’s in the official job description, but unofficially, though very seriously, the officer’s job is to make sure their region’s numbers are not among the worst in the country. Beijing keeps a very careful watch on each city’s pollution levels, pitting each regional environmental protection office against the others, and the price of failure is shame. Which, in China at least, is a pretty steep price.

Director Meng Han hangs out with us in Langfang, one of China’s most polluted cities. The officials are fighting an uphill battle, an upmountain battle really, with both hands tied behind their backs, and no shoes, and walking pneumonia. Because the environmental protection office must somehow reduce their numbers significantly without being allowed to touch any of the biggest polluters. Instead, the officials play cat and mouse with small time operations run out of people’s driveways and carports. Their emissions are negligible compared to large industries pumping out noxious fumes and degrading the land and sulllying the water, but this is the only kind of change the regional offices are actually allowed to pursue.

Meng Han’s documentary is really a Trojan horse; on the outside it looks like it’s about environmental protection, but once you crack its shell, you’ll find it’s really a commentary on the futility of the job, the hypocrisy of bureaucracy, and the sham lip service our governments pay to our faces about concern for the environment while always valuing profit and efficiency over everything else.

Given these restrictions, these laughable micro targets, our fight against climate change is destined to be a losing one.

This and other titles are screening as part of the Planet In Focus Film Festival – check out their lineup and buy your tickets (and watch at home!) here.

Apples (Mila)

Any director lucky enough or prescient enough to be working on a movie about global pandemics just as one spread in the real world is probably going to have an automatic in this year, as we are greedy to see our own lives reflected in film, for both the drama and fear instilled by a rapidly spreading virus, and the stillness and isolation as the world shut down in response. These are strange times.

But not all pandemics are created equal. The one writer- (along with Stavros Raptis) director Christos Nikou imagines causes sudden amnesia. After a blinding pain in the head, the victim finds him- or herself void of memory. When Aris, a middle-aged man, wakes to the bus driver shaking him, his wallet is as empty as his head. Transported to hospital by ambulance, he can’t answer any questions, and after a few days on the ward, he is still unclaimed by friend or family. He’s not the only one. In response, a rehab program attempts to fill the void, a recovery method designed to help unclaimed patients build new identities and lives. Living in a sparse apartment and armed with a polaroid camera, he is given daily tasks on a cassette, meant to be performed and captured on film. It’s a strange life, and a lonely one, until he meets a woman on the same path (Sofia Georgovasili).

The treatment is unexpected, jarring, and increasingly bizarre. Just like Nikou’s film. As a feature film debut, it’s bold, and immediately establishes itself as a smoldering new entry among the Greek New Wave of weird cinema. And isn’t it glorious.

More than just memory, Apples is a meditation on nostalgia, reality, grief, and existential reminiscence. But between Nikou and the Disturbed Memory Department of the Neurological Hospital, what Apples really touches deep within its worldwide audience is our collective identity crisis. Sure it’s surreal and inevitably absurdist, but through its analog attempt at rediscovering personality, it’s a subtle condemnation of the hollowness and inauthenticity of the digital age, and it gives us all the space and permission to grieve.

TIFF20: 76 Days

An unidentified and unidentifiable young man is crying, begging to see his father one last time. The mourner is indistinguishable from his comforters as they all wear the same fully encapsulated protective garments. His father is already being wheeled toward a temporary morgue, his corpse zipped up in a special HAZMAT body bag, his remains a possibly infectious hazard that will be cremated unceremoniously in the nearest facility. There will be no last embrace.

We are in a hospital in Wuhan, China, the capital of Hubei Province and home to 11 million people. This is where COVID-19, first known simply as the coronavirus, or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was first identified as a cluster of viral pneumonia in late December 2019. Wuhan entered lockdown on January 23 2020, with WHO declaring it a public health emergency of international concern a week later, and a pandemic by March. Wuhan’s lockdown was an unprecedented bit of grace that would allow the rest of the world to prepare; it would be followed by lockdowns in many other countries the world over.

Wuhan stayed in lockdown for 76 days, and many hospitals, including this one, were simply overwhelmed by 50 000 cases of a disease they didn’t yet know how to treat. The need quickly outstrips the capacity. Doctors and nurses in thrown-together, inadequate PPE are shouting at panicked crowds of sick people, trying to get them to come in only a few at a time, hardly equipped to handle both the people and their ailments. A special ward for COVID patients was quickly separated from the rest, where fear bubbled, and impatience, loneliness, sorrow – not just the patients, but the doctors and nurses who are also locked down, isolated from their families, risking their lives to treat an unknown, highly infectious disease with a higher than average rate of death.

Directors Weixi Chen and Hao Wu try their best to tease out a few narratives from the chaos, but the film is actually at its best when the scenes are random, the pace urgent, its subjects on edge. Loud speakers throughout the city announce lockdown rules to empty streets; “Don’t create or spread rumours,” they say, with no one there to hear them. A bin full of cell phones belonging to the dead sits on a nurse’s desk, some of them still ringing.

It’s incredible that the film makers were able to piece something together so quickly, something that may one day serve as a primary document of this historical event, and even though we are still very much fighting this war and don’t yet know how or if it will end, I was on the edge of my seat watching it unfold at ground zero, where it all began. It is raw, emotional, desperate. It is a human and humane portrait of these troubling times.

For more documentaries about our response to COVID-19, please join us here.

TIFF20: New Order (Nuevo orden)

Marianne (Naian González Norvind) is resplendent in a crimson suit, about to marry her sweetheart at a swanky, high-society affair at her parents’ home, if only the judge would hurry up and get there. At the gate, an old family employee is begging for money. The timing is bad, but his wife will die without surgery, and he needs cash now. Marianne’s parents have offered some but he needs more and need makes him persistent. Marianne takes pity, and since the judge isn’t there yet anyway, she has another employee, Cristian (Fernando Cuautle), drive her to the sick woman so she can get her to a hospital.

Outside the gates of her lavish family home, there is unrest. Wedding guests and their cars have been showing up bearing traces of green paint – the protester’s signature colour. The rumble of rebellion grows louder, the streets chaotic. Back home, the estate walls have been breached, the wedding overwhelmed with “uninvited guests.”* Guests are stripped of their valuables, the house is trashed, the safe cracked. The Have Nots have risen up against the Haves, forcing guests to wire vast sums of money, shooting the ones who won’t. Wealth is being redistributed. For Marianne, things are even worse. The army has “intervened,” meaning they’ve identified high-resource targets like her and including her to be held captive with dozens, hundreds, thousands more who are tortured and held for ransom, all while blaming it on the protesters.

Unapologetically and brutally violent, not to mention unrelentingly bleak, Michel Franco explores what it means when the bottom 99% decide they’ve had enough. It’s a very literal interpretation of class warfare. There are no heroes here, just multiple levels of corruption.

Franco’s film is tough to watch. It starts out boisterous. demanding, pulsating with life and its many needs. His civil uprising is sudden, visceral, vicious. But with little context and no attachment to its characters, the second half loses its way amid the chaos. Franco is more focused on making shocking statements than stories, but even the ability to shock is blunted when it’s overused.

This is the kind of movie that you hope is dystopian rather than prophetic. Although, with the kind of 2020 we’ve been having, this is not a possibility we can afford to rule out entirely. New Order has a heightened capacity to disturb because it feels possible. By keeping the details vague, you could almost imagine any industrialized nation in its place; Franco is issuing a warning for anyone brave enough to see it through. It’s Parasite meets The Purge, weighted a little more toward horror than satire, where the civil war doesn’t so much bring new order as no order, and everyone is vulnerable.

The film, which took home the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize from the Venice Film Festival, is more about awe than answers. Like an electrified cattle prod to the privates, it won’t be for everyone, but at the very least, it should serve as a wake-up call.

*Recently nominated for euphemism of the year.

Cuties (Mignonnes)

Amy is an 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant living in a Parisian apartment with a conservative mother, a strict auntie, and several siblings who await their father’s return with a second wife in tow. Her life is so different compared to the other girls at school, so seemingly easy with their bodies, dancing freely, hardly a care in the world. In Amy’s home, money is scarce, modesty is valued, and things are complicated.

Like pretty much every kid ever, Amy just wants to fit in. “The cuties” are a dance troupe at school that she’d very much like to belong to. They’re the cool kids of course, with maybe just a smidge of mean girls. They’re irresistible. Amy (Fathia Youssouf) is so desperate to belong she does whatever it takes: her baby brother’s tshirt is a crop top on her. A stolen cell phone becomes her portal to a world of gyrating, scantily clad girls, simulating sex and calling it dancing. She learns from them, in secret. And when the cuties have a sudden opening, she’s more than ready to step in.

You may have heard that Netflix has caught some major heat over this film, mostly from people who hadn’t seen it. They’ve called for Netflix to remove the title from its streaming platform, and threatened mass unsubscribing if they don’t. Their complaint: the movie hyper-sexualizes young girls. Is it valid?

Sure it is. But this is exactly the point film maker Maïmouna Doucouré is trying to make. Her film is a social commentary about the pressure young girls face not just from social media, but absolutely from social media, which they are exposed to from very young ages. And we are all in some way contributing to a culture that only finds value in females that can be sexualized, treating all others as if they’re invisible. If a girl wants to be seen, and has access to a tablet or a smartphone or peers, she won’t have failed to notice what her (lack of) options are.

Is it fair or necessary to sexualize these young actresses in order to prove a point? To be honest, I sort of hate putting kids in show business altogether. No matter how carefully a director isolates mature themes from the children on set, kids are notorious sponges and almost always absorb more than we think. Child actor turned director Sarah Polley was in the news this week reflecting on having to kiss a man twice her age on the set of a TV show when she was 13. A show Canada prided itself on for its wholesome family viewing. It’s a valid concern, even if it doesn’t have an easy answer.

If her film has inspired conversation, then Maïmouna Doucouré has done her job. You can’t move the needle if you don’t ask the hard questions. So I don’t think that muzzling Netflix or forcing censorship on an emerging female director flexing her voice for the first time is the answer. I know that Doucouré hasn’t included these scenes to entertain us; they are there to provoke discomfort. So let that be the starting point for the discussion that needs to be had. Let’s talk about why this makes us uncomfortable, and what we can do so this isn’t Amy’s story anymore. So the next time someone writes a movie about a girl like Amy, it won’t be about how the only currency she has is her body.