Extreme non-conformists. Movies reviewed: Sworn Virgin, Wild Life PLUS Drone and EUFF

Posted in Albania, Clash of Cultures, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, France, Hippies, Italy, Movies, Trans by CulturalMining.com on November 19, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

drone posterThe horrible attacks in Beirut and Paris last week have shaken the world. But how to respond to these attacks? For many governments, the War on Terror is the answer. Others turn toward diplomacy. Some say drone attacks are what keep terrorism at bay. But other experts warn that US drone kills are the best recruitment ads groups like ISIS have. A new documentary that opens today across North Amerioca is called Drone (Dir: Tonje Hessen Schei). It features Brandon Bryant, a former drone pilot turned whistle-blower, as well as the people in the lands where the drone attacks happen — Afghanistan and the Middle East — who experienced drone attacks as “collateral damage”.

Some non-conformists choose to dissociate themselves from mainstream culture. They find non-conformity works better if you live far from other people, away from the mainstream. This week I’m looking at two European dramas about non-conformists who leave it all behind. People who flee the cities but at a price. There’s a French father and two sons who go back to the wild, and an Abanian who heads for the freedom of the mountains, before ending up in Italy.

11807365_970026939685133_7963239791947681248_oSworn Virgin
Dir: Laura Bispuri

Hana (Alba Rohrwacher) lives with her parents in an isolated part of the mountains of Albania. But when her parents die, she is found and adopted by a family in a village. But she runs into trouble almost immediately just for living her life the way she always has. Her new sister Lila (Flonja Kodheli) tells her what’s what.

It’s not good to drink before a man drinks, speak before a man speaks, smoke, touch a rifle, go into the woods, choose a husband, do a man’s work, even look at a man funny. Basically, she has no rights at all. Hana says that’s just not fair, how can she live this way, how can she stand it? Is there a way out? There is. A woman can live like a man does and get all his privileges. BUt there’s a catch. She has to cut her hair, bind her breasts, wear pants and carry a gun. But she has to take an oath and give up all sex and live her life as a so-called sworn virgin.

So the movie picks up many years later in a Tyrolian town in Italy. Mark shows up at Lila’s Italy_SWORNVIRGINdoor direct from the mountains of Albania. He’s still a sworn virgin but wants to give that life up. But Mark is the ultimate fish out of water. Exposed to weird things like women’s bras, nudity, supermarkets, money, and synchronized swimming, it’s almost too much to take in. Lila’s daughter Jonida (Emily Ferratello) finds Mark fascinating, but doesn’t understand him. And for Mark, making the shift back to life as a woman, is overwhelming. The women’s and men’s bodies he sees at the local swimming pool is all a fascinating mystery. Lila is the only person he’s shared a bed with. But Bernhard – the swimming cioach at the pool attracts her. Which way will Mark/Hana choose for their identity, gender and sexuality?

Sworn Virgin is an incredibly fascinating movie, based on a true practice. To this day there are people in Albania – largely unknown in the rest if the world — who choose to live as so-called “sworn virgins” for the advantages it gives them. The movie, especially the performance of Alba Rohwacher, looking like a young KD Lang, is really remarkable, like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

Vie Sauvage afficheWild Life
Dir: Cedric Kahn

Paco and Nora (Mathieu Kassovitz and Celine Sallette) meet in a teepee circle in France, and fall in love. Along with Nora’s own son, Thomas, they have two sons together: Tsali and Okyesa (David Gastou, Sofiane Neveu). They live a nomadic farming life in rural France. A back-to-nature, hippie life. But after about a decade Nora calls it quits and takes the three boys – kicking and screaming – with her. Overnight, their lives change home-schooled hippy-farmers to conservative townies at Nora’s parent’s home. And Paco is forbidden all contact, except on national holidays, until the custody agreement is settled. Which takes many years.

But Paco — and the two youngest sons — decide to go back to living a wild life, back to the woods, with no possessions and only the clothes on their backs. They do the mandated education – French dictee, times tables – but they also learn to catch fish with their bare hands, to tame wild birds, and handle live scorpions and snakes without getting bit. They can catch and skin a rabbit, climb trees, and hide from any passing helicopters.

As they grow older, the boys have to use fake names, and avoid cities, trains, and police at all costs. PacoFrance_THEWILDLIFE is a fugitive. Paco tells them they are allowed to go back to their Mom at any time, as long as they ask. The boys say they choose to be with him… but can ten-year-old boys make such decisions? They eventually settle at a hippy commune and build stone houses from scratch, and live with no electricity.

But as teenagers, Paco is dismayed to see them reading comic books, dancing to rave music, spending cash and hanging out with friends they meet. They want to be accepted, see the world, see their mother again. And they want to meet girlfriends, have sex, move away… just like any other teenager. Can this fragile family stay together?

This is a great movie. It’s doubly interesting because it’s based on true story, a book written by the people who lived it — the Fortin Brothers and their father. The actors playing the briothers as kids, and later as teenagers (Romain Depret, Jules Ritmanic) are all new to the screen. But they seem to be the real thing. Only the troubled idealistic Paco (played by well-known director Matthieu Kassovitz) is familiar. Don’t miss this one.

Sworn Virgin, played last weekend, and Wild Life is opening tonight at the EU mw83vp_brooklyn_02_o3_8667104_1441138255Film Festival. This is a festival that shows movies from each country in the European Union for free at the Royal Cinema on College St. Go to europeanfilmfest.ca for details. Also opening today is the wonderful drama Brooklyn about a young migrant woman in the 1950s (Saorise Ronan) who travels between big city New York and small-town Ireland. Do not miss this movie.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

 

What is a piece of popcorn worth? Movies reviewed: Payback, Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

So did you hear about that poor guy in Michigan? Apparently he just wanted to go to a movie, but when he got into the theatre they literally held a gun to his head and forced him to buy a very expensive bag of popcorn! Literally! Can you believe it? …Oh — wait a sec. I’m wrong. Turns out he just didn’t think the price they were charging for popcorn and candy was fair. So he’s launching a class action suit.

Question: is it fair for movie theatres to charge 6 bucks for a bag of popcorn? Are moviegoers exploited and ripped off? Of course we are – everyone knows that, but we’re OK with it. Right? I mean you’re in that theatre paying to see Images projected on a screen — the ultimate deception.

If the candy’s too much then don’t buy it — they’ll get your money one way or another. I think popcorn is up there with the huge screens, surround-sound, velvet curtains, plush seats, grand lobbies and skeezy washrooms. It’s the movie experience. These seemingly random parts are all part of a larger coherent whole.

This week I’m reviewing two movies that look at fate, morality, destiny, and retribution. One is a documentary about things you must pay back, the other a comedy about paths you must follow.

Payback

Dir: Jennifer Baichwal

Two farmers, Llesh and Ilir live in northern Albania in a lush valley surrounded by grassy hills and snow topped mountains. A few years ago, when Ilir went to complain that Llesh was farming his land, there was a fight, and it may have involved Llesh’s wife… in any case Llesh pulled out a machine gun and shot Ilir in the gut a few times. He survived, but according to the 16th cenutry Albanian ethics code the Kanun, Llesh owes Ilir a debt. So Llesh and his family are poor now, trapped inside a shack and not able to farm.

This is just one of the many tangents this movie takes you on a look at debt – moral, ecological, monetary, and legal debt, — along with penitence, guilt, and retribution. They’re all very interesting stories – Latino tomato farmers in Florida fighting for fair treatment; a fisherman in the gulf enduring ruin after BP’s mishandled oil disaster; and a look at various Canadian prisoners – a petty burglar in Ontario, and Conrad Black (!) in Florida, both serving their time, repaying their debt to society. The documentary parts are alternated with talking heads — like Louise Barbour, Karen Armstrong, and Raj Patel — commenting on law, economics and religion.

This movie is sort of based on the Massey lectures Margaret Atwood gave a few years ago – a brilliant look at the words around lending, borrowing, owing and being owed. I say “sort of”, since it almost seems like one of those romantic thriller movies that say they were inspired by a true story. Jennifer Baichwal’s documentaries usually find a starting point and then, like a Stephen Leacock character, they fling themselves onto a horse and ride madly off in all directions.

Is this a problem? Not really, because even if they’re all over the place, the subjects she chooses are all interesting. And the movie is so visually rich (cinematography by Nicholas de Pencier) with images — from ceramic figures through a pawn shop window, to staggering, long aerial shots of the BP oil slick creeping across the Gulf of Mexico – that are as fascinating as any of the things people are saying.

I do get the feeling that Baichwal realizes it’s all over the place, so, to tie it all to Margaret Atwood’s book she adds long, literal scenes of Atwood hunt-and-pecking on her laptop, or Atwood reading from her manuscript. The talking head expertss are on screen too briefly to stick in the mind, except Conrad Black – who seems to have changed his mind about debt, retribution, and prisons.

In any case, Payback is a great visual riff.

Another movie that seems, superficially, to be about random drifting is

Jeff, Who lives at Home

Dir: the Duplass Brothers

(I reviewed this after seeing it at TIFF, but it held up very well this second viewing — I actually liked it better this time.)

Jeff (Jason Segel) is part of a dysfunctional family that fell apart when the father husband died years ago. Mom works in a lonely office cubicle, douchey Brother Pat (Ed Helms) sells paint and is destroying his marriage, and Jeff, who’s 30, still lives at home – sits around his mother’s basement in his underwear, to be exact. He smokes pot, eats chips, watches TV, and waxes philosophical about the cosmos… while sitting on a toilet. He’s always waiting for “signs” to tell him what to do., like in the Mel Gibson movie.

Well, one day he’s forced to leave home for downtown Baton Rouge to get something for his mother (Susan Sarandon)’s birthday. But, when someone on an infomercial says his life will change by the words “CALL NOW!”; and at the same time a strange, threatening wrong number wanted to talk to “Kevin”, he starts off on a (seemingly) wild goose chase all around the city.

So Jeff embarks on this grand mission – one that eventually ties in with his brother’s failing marriage and his mother’s love life — because he knows, he just knows, that his actions will change the world. Will Jeff find Kevin? Will Pat forget about Hooters and Porsche’s and think about his wife for once? And will Mom ever get to kiss under a waterfall?

This is a good, enjoyable comedy. I like the Duplass brothers, who used to make low-budget, ‘mumblecore”, semi-improvisational super-realistic movies. They have a few quirks – little camera emoticons – I don’t know how else to describe it – where the camera zooms in to nudge-nudge, wink-wink to the viewer that something funny is happening like a visual laughtrack– but the movie’s good enough that it doesn’t bother me after awhile. This one, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, is their biggest budget and most mainstream one so far, with stuntmen, and chase scenes, and big name cast. But I like this direction they’re taking – it’s not a sell-out, just a very funny, light comedy.

Payback and Jeff, Who Lives at Home both open today. And Margaret Atwood and Jennifer Baichwal will be there for a Q&A at the screenings on Friday and Saturday. Worth a trip just for that — Margaret Atwood is very entertaining. Also playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox are the fantastic Japanese animated films Spirited away and Princess Mononoke. And at the newly re-opened Bloor Cinema, look out for the daily HotDocs documentaries playing now. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site CulturalMining.com.

 

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