Tag Archives: subtitled

TIFF18: Everybody Knows

What I went into the movie knowing: family wedding, family secrets. What I didn’t know, and would come to understand, was the little unifier between the two: kidnapping. Which tends to ruin the wedding part, or dampen it at least, depending on who disappears, but it’s quite fertile in terms of secrets.

Laura (Penelope Cruz) returns to Spain for her little sister’s wedding, her teenage daughter Irene and young son in tow, husband left behind in Argentina for work.

Laura is happy to reconnect with sisters, parents, and dear friend\ex-lover Paco (Javier Bardem), who is himself happily married. Whatever used to be between them seems to have dissolved to merely friendship, though I’m not certain if everyone else is really convinced of that. At any rate, the wedding in the village church is beautiful and nothing can ruin it – not when Irene mischievously rings the bells in the clock tower during mass, and not when the priest takes the opportunity to hint heavily that Laura’s wealthy (but absent) husband should pay for its repair as he did for the church renovations. A MV5BN2ZjNDc3ZTUtZjJiNS00ZTBjLWEyNzYtOTFkMGE1YmYxN2NiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_reception follows in the courtyard of the family hotel. It is high-spirited, with lots of happy guests drinking, dancing, and making merry. Irene steals one too many unattended glasses of wine and retires to an early bedtime, with her little brother. But then the power goes out and Irene goes missing, which is when things get interesting.

Although I felt the film a tad overlong, Everyone Knows is engrossing thanks to its clever trail of breadcrumbs. A terrific ensemble cast helps pull this off, essential when everyone’s a suspect – even the crime itself is suspicious.

As those all-important first 48 hours tick by, we get to know our characters (or should I say suspects?) at their worst, which is an intimate introduction indeed. Old secrets are unfurled as new ones are forged and kept guarded – soon the whole village is under a dark cloud of tension. And sure, they milk the tension a little longer than is fair. It’s moody and captivating but doesn’t quite know when to call it quits.

Seeing real-life lovers Cruz and Bardem act opposite each other is always a treat, and both get to flex a little – if not to impress us, then each other. Cruz has real fire (her real-life children with Bardem likely help ignite her mama bear instincts), and combined with her seductive beauty, imagine the difficulty I had taking my eyes off her long enough to read the subtitles. The struggle is real – multiplied by however many Penelope-lookalikes hired to play her sisters are on screen at any given time. The film’s got some challenges, you bet, but all obstacles can be overcome given sufficient motivation.

Advertisements

TIFF18: Roma

Roma is the kind of movie that births film criticism. It will be used as the golden example in so many future texts I ache to think how many words will eventually be written about it and can’t quite fathom it.

Mexico City, 1971, a young family is having a rough time. Mom and Dad were fighting a lot, before he left, and now they do it on the phone, when he remembers to call. Four young kids are feeling vulnerable and acting out. Two young servants are trying to keep it all from falling apart. But one of them, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), is going through her own private crisis as well. She’s pregnant, and the father has run off. Fearing for her job but unable to return home to her religious family, her current situation is tenuous and her future uncertain.

This is the semi-autobiographical work by Alfonso Cuaron about that crazy time in his MV5BNGEyMTgxZDYtOGUyZC00NDk5LWEwYjUtODcxYmZjNjFmZTFkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTA2ODMzMDU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1502,1000_AL_childhood when his beloved maid’s unexpected pregnancy collided with his parents’ bitter divorce. It marked him for life, and all these years later he’s strung together the haunting images from that period and used his memory to paint in the rest. He’s only a minor character in the film, it’s really an ode to the women who raised him: his mother, the two servants, and Mexico herself.

Cuaron immerses us in Mexico circa 1971. Filmed in starkly beautiful black and white, you can’t help but drink it all in, everything from the airplanes overhead, to the geese in flagrante delicto, the muddy markets and the local cinemas, the grassfires and New Year’s Eve traditions, rooftop laundry and candlelit chores, every scene is packed with loving details to a time and place Cuaron clearly treasures. His camera moves slowly, soaking up detail, lingering lovingly in quiet places. His trademark long takes emphasize time and space – the big house compared to the servant’s quarters, and the time Cleo devotes to undoing the naughty work of busy children. The sound design is incredible. At times I was overwhelmed by the layers of noise in the city – hawkers, vendors, tradespeople, cars, trucks, buses, dogs barking, children playing, marching bands tooting their various horns in seemingly random parades.

Roma is of course shot in Spanish and subtitled with care. It is obviously composed with great care as well, with so many interesting angles and viewpoints (a Christmas party filmed at child height, for example) and depths of field. Lensed by Cuaron himself (Emmanuel Lubezki was unavailable, but his collaboration in pre-production means his DNA’s all over it, Cuaron assures us), he often keeps his entire shot in crisp focus, with as much going on in the background as the foreground – but when the focus goes soft, it’s for good reason. Take note.

This film brims with the kind of personal detail that makes it truly unique. I especially liked seeing the young boys clearly obsessed with outer space – posters, toys, and astronaut costumes – you can’t fail to think that these are the origins of Gravity. Indeed, Cuaron has left a little piece of his heart on the screen. It is not sentimental, but it is affectionate, made with love. And I think it will be received, by audiences and the Academy, with nothing but.

Cornered in Molenbeek

Few things are more ubiquitous than a group of old men chatting about life in a local barbershop.  Cornered in Molenbeek starts innocently enough as it drops us, seemingly randomly, into one of those barbershops.  Sure, the customers are speaking Arabic, but they are also speaking about things that I might talk about with my barber (sorry, stylist).

The shop closes for the day and then, in an instant, everything changes.  News breaks of a terrorist attack on Paris.  It’s November 13, 2015 and when the cornered_in_molenbeek_1dust settles, 130 people are dead and 413 more are injured in a series of coordinated attacks at a number of locations throughout the city.  The investigation quickly determines that the attackers are from Molenbeek, Brussels, the very neighbourhood where this barbershop is located.  Of course, the attack becomes the main topic of conversation here, just like it was everywhere else.

Not surprisingly, this barbershop collective has no real answers as to what made the attackers do what they did.  Because guess what?  I have no real answers either.  The lack of answers here is revealing, though, particularly as the collective’s attempt to find an explanation weaves through a wide variety of possible causes, often looking for someone or something to blame, such as government, poverty, and the attackers themselves, with one notable exception: these people do not try to place blame Muslims as a group for these attacks, because they are Muslims themselves.  Contrary to the torrent of right-wing nationalist propaganda that is so often shouted at me online by a host of faceless idiots (oh, and also by the President of the United States), this group of Muslim acquaintances in this barbershop are just as innocent, just as angry and just as confused about the attacks as the rest of the world, and maybe more so because their religious and geographical association with the attackers draws them personally into the aftermath, exposing them to significant consequences that most people don’t have to worry about.

The phenomenon of terrorism is worthy of examination, and it was a refreshing approach to do so through the familiar lens of this barbershop, which otherwise would be functionally closed to me as a uni-lingual white Canadian (Arabic and French are the only two languages being used in these conversations).  The film’s structure serves to enhance the fly-on-the-wall feeling by letting us experience the barbershop’s normal environment before the attack happens.  The stark contrast in what is being discussed before the attack as opposed to afterward clearly shows that these types of attacks affect everyone regardless of their religion or native language, and really, we all need to be involved in this discussion on terrorism in order to stop it.  Cornered in Molenbeek does its part to start the conversation, and it’s up to us to keep it going.

I Am Not An Easy Man

Damien is a chauvinist and a womanizer. He’s developed an app to enable his douchiness, and that of others: it tracks how much sex you’ve had, and an ever-growing penis marks the progress. It will not surprise you to know that Damien is disgusting to all the women in his life – personal and profession. He’s such an irrepressibly flirty bitch that one day he walks straight into a pole, incurring a head injury that’s going to send this film straight into Freaky Friday territory.

When Damien wakes up, it’s in an alternate universe – one in which women have always been the dominant sex. Suddenly women are treating him the way he treated them – and he doesn’t like it! Not one bit. Everything is backwards – his colleagues are mostly female, and it’s not even fun because they talk openly about periods and don’t shave and are condescending, and the men have to eat quinoa and watch their figures.

At times I could hardly tell whether this film was subversive or offensive, and I suppose i-am-not-an-easy-man-2018they were toeing a very thin line. Still, it was hard for me not to be offended by some of the stereotypes, and I’m sure that men would feel the same. But it’s not until you’re fully submersed in this alternate world that you start to appreciate how ridiculous it all feels, and how the inverse, which is the world in which we live every day, must be equally ridiculous. Except we accept it because it’s what we know. It’s not just about income equality, or splitting household chores – it’s both bigger and smaller and more all-encompassing than that.

The movie is occasionally quite funny, the satire intelligent and well-aimed. But it’s not always so successful. And the truth is, neither protagonist is likeable or even sympathetic. Damien has woken up in a different world but it doesn’t change him, and he doesn’t seem to learn from it. He’s appalled to be treated like the weaker sex but has no sense of irony regarding his previous (and frankly, current) behaviour. In fact, he has the gall to reminisce about being the oppressor. Of course he does.

Je ne suis pas un homme facile is a French film streaming on Netflix right now, and besides the laughs it’s got a pretty blatant message – let it hit you like a penis slap to the face. As if you needed one.

 

24 Snow

We encountered all kinds of interesting documentaries at the Planet in Focus film festival, but I’m admitting a soft spot for 24 Snow.

I have a passion for documentaries anyway. A camera can actually be a transportation device, carrying us away to a world that looks and feels entirely different from our own. Sometimes the lens looks upon a piece of fiction that’s been created to jar your senses (like Blade Runner 2049), other times it encourages you to take a second look at something that’s quite familiar (like The Florida Project), but documentaries can do both while actually reflecting real life back at you.

24 Snow isn’t fiction but it definitely felt foreign to me, and its foreignness informed me on a world I knew little about. With this documentary, we travel to the Siberian Russian territory of Yakutia. I didn’t know there were Russian Inuits, yet there they MV5BOGRkMDk5NjctMmMwZC00YjUxLWExM2QtZDdlY2Y5MzcyZjIzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTA3MzMxMTg@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_were, surviving in that beautiful but frigid (-70C) land. We are introduced to one main in particular: Sergei is a horse breeder, and even his horses will look strange to you. The Yakutian horse has of course evolved to weather the icy temperatures. They are small but sturdy animals, with shaggy coats that hopefully keep them warm. Their thick hair and manes are not unlike those of Shetland ponies but when you see one completely coated in ice, you know you’re in unfamiliar territory. The breeders de-ice the horses the way I de-ice my windshield. It’s a way of life I can’t really comprehend: solitary, isolated. No telephone, no electricity. No cash. No cars (none that can run you through ice and snow anyway – sleds get the job done).

These harsh conditions are a real test of one’s limits and it’s interesting to get to know the kind of person this job attracts. I live in Canada and am not unfamiliar with snowy, even permafrosted terrain, but the Yakutia is something else entirely. It’s stunning if you can separate it from its harshness, and the lush cinematography here certainly helps. The people and beasts of 24 Snow completely captivated me; it’s a fascinating documentary by Mikhail Barynin that’s as informative as it is beautiful.

My Dogs, JinJin and Akida

Jaeyoung is a kid struggling at home to find some space between his abusive father and his religious mother. His dad, remote at best, has little time for any of his kids, but he does seem to have lots of attention for his precious dogs, JinJin and Akida. It’s not all that surprising that Jaeyoung is actually jealous of the dogs, but it is very, very sad to behold, and so kind of understandable when one day Jaeyoung gets it into his head that releasing one of the beloved dogs will, if not actually solve the problem, at least gain his father’s attention.

My_Dogs_JinJinAkida520.jpgDirector Cho Jong-Duck sets his adventure story amid the backdrop of the rapidly changing South Korea of 1983. It’s developing economically but Jaeyoung’s father still works in the fishing industry of a small village. There are lots of such conflicts crossing Jaeyoung’s path. Western influences are crowding in but the traditional Confucian Korean culture still has a stronghold on its people. All of these things put strains on a family already in transition.

The animation style is quite simple but the story is richly observed. There were so many scenes that were really moving in their ordinariness: Jaeyoung’s mother’s use of holy water as a deterrent to her husband’s abuse; the neighbours overhearing but not interfering with the fights going on in Jaeyoung’s house. Make no mistake: this may be an animated film, but it’s no happy-go-lucky Pixar offering. The kid deals with serious, heart breaking issues and there’s no easy out to the problems that plague his family.

TIFF: First They Killed My Father

Angelina Jolie first visited Cambodia in her mid 20s to film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. She fell in love with the country but having to dodge landmines made her realize how much about world history she hadn’t been taught in school. While there, she bout Loung Ung’s memoir for $2 on the street, and it changed her life.

She went back to Cambodia two years later in 2002 for her work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. She spent time with local schoolchildren and realized that her son was in this very country. She adopted Maddox there that same year. The book she’d read always stuck with her, and she knew it was the story she wanted to tell in order for her son to know what his countrymen were like.

Loung Ung is a survivor of what we now call the Cambodian genocide. She was just a child during the deadly rule of the Khmer Rouge led by the dictator Pol Pot. 25% of the MV5BYmI4YzY3MTAtZjk1My00NmYwLTg4MTgtMDdlZjFhZjQzM2NlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkzNTM2ODg@._V1_Cambodian population died from malnutrition, forced labour, and mass murder in the time period between 1975-1979. Almost all Cambodian artists, actors, and film makers were killed during this regime, so getting the story out has been a difficulty. Cambodia’s film community had all but expired and is only now starting to recover. With Netflix fronting $24 million for this film, First They Killed My Father is the biggest movie shot entirely in Cambodia, and director Jolie was careful to use as many Cambodian cast and crew as she could (she herself is a Cambodian citizen since 2005). Some of them are genocide survivors themselves (such as producer Rithy Panh), so therapists were on standby on the set to avoid re-traumatizing the people who’d already lived through events depicted in the film. Jolie’s son Maddox worked on the film as well.

Though the film avoids showing us the worst of the gore, the threat and undercurrent of violence is still there. It sits quite heavily as we watch a young family try to survive the unimaginable, with constant reminders that death isn’t even the worst of it. But the camera lingers on the beauty of Cambodia too – particularly the lush greenery. The cinematography is pretty stunning.

Little Ung was only five when the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh and all of seven whens he made it out, and the film reflects her child’s eye view. Although there are plenty of emotionally powerful moments, there are also times when we struggle to MV5BZDcyYmUyZjItYmUyNS00OWIyLWIwZTQtOTllYWE2MDEyY2FmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkzNTM2ODg@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,937_AL_adsorb all that is happening around her, like she herself must have been at that young age. The film also engages our inner protectors: watching this little girl plant land mines and fire guns is just too much to process.

For the most part, the film’s most tragic scenes are deliberately underplayed, almost but not quite detached, because we come to understand that this story is being told in retrospect. There is a greater context but mostly the film is not so much interested in the historical facts as it is in giving the genuine experience of what it felt like to live (or die) through it. There’s no triumphant spin, no big, redeeming moment. It was a bleak time and it is painstakingly recreated through the camera’s lens. Jolie avoids any typical Hollywood ending and keeps our focus right where it belongs: on a little girl who surived.