Three Cities: reviews of My Winnipeg, When in Rome, A Prophet
My Winnipeg, directed by the great Guy Maddin, playing this weekend at Cinematheque Ontario (check local listings), is a fantastical B&W pseudo-documentary about that city, told in a mixture of forms, ranging from low-budget NFB short to government mind control messages, to classic melodrama. The movie, narrated by the filmmaker, turns the grey, windswept city, with its empty hockey rink and suburban tracts, into eerie, psychologically-perverse memories of Maddin’s childhood, and the collective unconscious memory of the city itself. Images drift from scenes on a train, to frozen horses, suburban rec-rooms and long gone Eaton’s department stores, to an iced river, with a junction of streams morphing into a woman’s pubic hair. This is one of his best movies, as good as Tales from the Gimli Hospital.
A completely different ode to a city is When in Rome, a romantic comedy, directed by Mark Steven Johnson. It’s a simple movie about Beth, played by Kristen Bell, a woman who is pursued by a series of love-sick men under a spell. On a visit to her sister’s wedding in Rome, Beth ran out of a church just as Italian Morris Dancers were taking over the dance floor, and stole some coins out of the Trevi fountain – hence the love spell. No it doesn’t actually make sense.
Kristen Bell – whom you may remember from the TV series Veronica Mars and Heroes has a good sense of comic timing. And guest cameos from comic actors like Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) and Will Arnett (Arrested Development), are sorta funny for a few seconds. But this can’t rescue a really bad movie. While there are a few good gags, where Kristen Bell is trapped in embarrassing situations, most of the forced laughs come from cheap pratfalls and slapstick headbumps.
The funniest part of the movie is that Bell’s character is supposed to be an art curator at the Guggenheim, but for some reason her job is portayed like a combination wedding planner and security guard.
Look for something better than that for Valentines Day.
A Prophet, directed by Jacques Audiard, is one of the nominees for best foreign language film. I saw this movie last fall at the Toronto European Film Festival. If you’ve never been there, that’s a great annual festival, sponsored by European embassies and consuls to show Torontonians, without charge, great movies from across the European Union.
Actually — and this is a true story – I showed up early for a screening and wanted to makes sure I was in the right line. So I asked the volunteer handing out tickets, “Is this for a Prophet?”
“Mais Non, Monsieur, there is no charge for tickets.”
“No, I mean is this movie “a Prophet”
“No! No profit! If you wish to make a donation, please do so, but the festival
is sponsored by the Ambassadeur.”
“Is the name of the movie that I am going to see “Un Prophete”! (etc.)
Who’s on first…
The movie itself is great. It’s a prison movie, a gangster movie, and a coming of age movie, and just a terrific movie in general.
It starts when Malik, a young street punk, is thrown into prison, and is asked, first thing, if he needs any special diet or religious accommodations. (Malik is French, but is of North African origin.) He brushes it off and asks to be put in with the general prison population. So he finds himself, in that rigidly segregated and hierarchical society, one of the few muslims in the middle of a section controlled by the Corsican Mafia. He gradually adjusts to his new life under Cesar, the top Corsican gangster, amidst harrowing violence and a callous disregard for human life, in which he is forced to be an active participant. As he learns the ins and outs, you see Malik gradually transformed from a scruffy frightened kid to a Scarface- type with a new wardrobe, mustache and hairstyle to match his rising status.
The title of the movie comes from his unusual nature – Malik talks to the dead in his dreams, and carries on conversations with prison ghosts. Despite some shockingly violent scenes this harrowingly realistic look at the French prison system is a great, moving, and haunting film.
– Daniel Garber, February 9, 2010