Heimat Films. Movies reviewed: Schultze Gets the Blues, Window Horses

Posted in Animation, Canada, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Germany, Iran, Movies, Music, Poetry by CulturalMining.com on March 10, 2017

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

Heimat is the German word for home, homeland and fatherland… with hints of blood and soil. It’s also the name of a particular postwar film genre. Backed with strong American encouragement it helped Germans forget their economic problems and troublesome past, and look blithely forward toward a better tomorrow. Heimat films were made in southern Germany and popular in Bavaria, Austria and Switzerland, depicting traditional small towns filled with girls in blonde pigtails. Heimat films are having a comeback in contemporary Germany, perhaps in response to Conservative governments and feelings of turmoil and insecurity. They concentrate on a mixture of traditional, homogeneous, smalltown Germany, so-called authentic culture, and a longing for a simpler past. Toronto’s Goethe Films: Heimat Now series is running until March 14th.

This week I’m looking at movies about home. There’s a comedy about German man whose accordion leads him to zydeco; and an animated feature about a Canadian woman whose poems lead her to Shiraz.

Schultze Gets the Blues

Wri/Dir: Michael Schorr

Schultze (Horst Krause) is a miner in a small town Germany. This town is so small that the radio traffic report is just a long pause. The village is dominated by a railroad crossing, a motorcross track and an enormous slag pile, expelled from the mine where Schultze works with his two friends Jurgen (Harald Warmbrunn) and Manfred (Karl Fred Muller). But when the three men retire they find they have nothing to do. Chess games end in fights, and trips to the local pub means just the same old faces, over and over.

At least Schultze has his garden gnomes and his trusty accordion. Like his father before him, he’s been entertaining townsfolk with his polkas for two generations. They’re even planning on sending a cultural emissary to its twin city in Texas. Nothing ever changes, until one day, out of nowhere, he hears accordion music on his radio that isn’t quite right. It disturbs him. It’s not a polka, it’s faster, jumpier, and catchier. What is this Amerikanische music? It has entered Schultze’s brain and will not go away. Locals listen in horror and shout the N-word at him. So Schultze sets off for the swamps and bayous of America in search of Zydeco. And he finds the people in small town Texas a whole lot like the ones he left back home.

Schultze Gets the Blues is a simple, endearing comedy about a big-bellied man looking for meaning in music. I have to admit watching this movie felt, at first, like watching paint dry. I guess I’m a city boy used to a faster pace. But once I adjusted to the slower small-town rhythms, it was funnier, fascinating, almost profound. I ended up liking it.

Window Horses

Wri/Dir: Ann Marie Fleming

Rosie Ming (Sandra Oh) is a young woman with pigtails who lives in Vancouver but dreams of Paris. Her mom died, and her dad abandoned her when she was just a little girl so now she lives with her kind but overprotective grandparents.

She works in a fast food joint, and loves poetry, berets and the romance of far-off France. She writes down the words that come to her as she strums at her guitar, and publishes a collection of these poems at a vanity press. Imagine her surprise when she’s invited to a poetry festival far away. Not in Paris, France, but in Shiraz, Iran. With her grandparents consent she arrives there, a Chinese-looking Canadian dressed in a black chador, the most conservative type of Iranian dress, a combination black hijab and full-length gown.

At the poetry festival, she seems out of place. Iran is a land of poetry and Shiraz its poetic capital. At poetry slams she tries to understand what she hears, but the poems in Farsi, German and Chinese evade her. Gradually she meets people who had heard of her… through her father. Far from abandoning her, she discovers her dad was forced to leave her and kept away from her by outside forces. Not only that, but he was Iranian, loved poetry and once lived in Shiraz. His story, and its connection to Rosie May is gradually revealed through the music, the poetry and the people who seek her out. But will she ever discover the truth about her Iranian father?

Window Horses is a visually and musically beautiful movie, portraying a naïve Canadian woman exposed to a colourful and culturally rich country. This is an animated film with simple drawings. Rosie is a stick figure with two lines for eyes, who almost disappears in her Chador. Others have faces decorated with oblong jowls and curlicue eyes. Animation shifts from traditional two dimensional figures to sepia -coloured 3-D frescoes. Voices are provided by Sandra Oh as Rosie, with Don McKellar, Ellen Page and Shohreh Aghdashloo in other roles.

I like this movie.

Window Horses starts today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Schultze Gets the Blues is playing at the Heimat Now series at the Goethe Institute in Toronto.

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

The Wind Will Carry Us: The Films of Abbas Kiarostami. Movies reviewed: Certified Copy, Like Someone in Love

Posted in Cultural Mining, Drama, Iran, Italy, Japan, Movies, Romance, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on March 25, 2016

AnXEQz_likesomeoneinlove_dir01_o3_8907959_1454607476Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Is love real? Are we who we pretend to be? And what is the meaning of life? The great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami deals with giant topics like these in movies that appear to be small and simple. But they’re not.

The Wind Will Carry Us: The Films of Abbas Kiarostami is an extensive, curated retrospective of the director’s work. It’s on now through April at TIFF Cinematheque and the Aga Khan Museum, with screenings, exhibitions and lectures. If you’ve never seen his films before, now’s your chance. Most of his films were made in Iran, many akm-logoinvolving children to avoid government censorship. His movies have an amazing international feel and a distinctive neo-realist look, full of road trips shot through windshields and off-screen voices.

But this week I’m talking about his two most recent features, both shot abroad with non-Iranian actors. There’s a May/December relationship in Japan that might only last a day, and a 15-year-old marriage in Tuscany that may not exist at all.

48vyn1_CertCopy_2_o3_8906737_1454607393Certified Copy (2010)

James (William Shimell) is a British writer and cultural critic who’s in Italy to promote his book. It’s called Certified Copy, and asks: can reproductions of great paintings or sculptures be considered great works of art? But he shows up late for his own speech. And midway through the talk, in walks a beautiful woman with her young son. Elle (Juliette Binoche) sits right in the front k5j0k5_CertCopy_3_o3_8906790_1454607402row. Is she James’s wife? Or just a random passerby? She walks out again before he’s finished, but not before leaving her phone number on a piece of paper.

They meet again the next day. Elle offers James a ride through the lovely Tuscan hills, ostensibly to autograph some of his books. He tells her the meaning of life is having fun. But they use the ride to discuss the book’s meaning. 0gorkX_CertCopy_4_o3_8906843_1454607411She drives him to an old church to show him a painting on the wall. It’s a copy, she says, but one considered to be the original for hundreds of years. The church itself is a popular place for young couples to take wedding pictures, even though they weren’t actually married in that church. Are those wedding pictures real or fake?

Later, they stop in a café, where the owner, a woman, tells Elle, in Italian, how lucky she is to have such a good husband. (James speaks English and a little French). She gets him to play along, and whispers they’ve been married for 15 years.

The rest of the film consists of the two of them continuing their real vs fake art debate, but extending it to real life, taking on the roles of a married couple. But… has the movie been misleading the viewers all along, and are they, in fact, a long-time couple?

This is a fascinating film, the kind that makes you want to walk out of the theatre and talk about it for half an hour. Binoche is her usual fantastic self, and Shimell (a British opera singer), is credible as the husband/not husband.

DRZK8x_likesomeoneinlove_05_o3_8907861_1454607471Like Someone in Love (2012)

Akiko (Takahashi Rin) is a small-town University girl living in the big city. She’s wants to study sociology, but to survive in Tokyo she works as a paid escort. She has money troubles, and is fighting with her boyfriend Noriaki (Kase Ryo). Noriaki is a tough guy with a volatile personality who works in a garage.

Today’s the day her grandma is coming to town to discuss something important. But her boss says she has to meet a new client in Kanagawa who specially requested her services. vgx6jr_likesomeoneinlove_06_o3_8907910_1454607485And no matter how much she protests he won’t let her take time off. The best she can do is get the taxi driver to drive slowly past the train station so she might see her grandma.

Later, she meets Watanabe (Okuno Tadashi), a kindly old university professor at his home. With his white moustache, he looks like everyone’s grandpa. He even cooks her a meal, featuring her hometown specialties. He treats her like family, while she just wants to hop into bed and get it over with.

xGzW29_likesomeoneinlove_04_o3_8907812_1454607457But things heat up the next day when he drops her off at school and waits in a parked car. Through the window he sees her argue with her abusive boyfriend. But Noriaki also sees Watanabe, and when she’s gone he climbs into his car for a chat. He’s clearly nervous to meet Aki’s “grandpa”, and wants to get his approval to marry Akiko. Clever Watanabe plays along, never exactly saying he’s her grandfather, but never denying it. Things get antsy when Akiko joins them for a long ride. She is forced to play along as the faithful y8AWoP_liesomeoneinlove_01_o3_8907713_1454607479granddaughter – a role she had rejected at his home. Will their impromptu role-playing lead to a happy ending? Or will it explode with serious consequences?

This is another great movie from Kiarostami with an intriguing story and a great cast. Even though this one is in Japanese and Certified Copy is in French, English and Italian, they are both unmistakably Kiarostami. The car trips, role-play and false relationships make for an intriguing pair of Iranian films far from Teheran.

Certified Copy and Like Someone in Love are two of the films playing at the Abbas Kiarostami retrospective. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

Creative Help. Movies Reviewed: Desert Dancer, True Story, Masters of Suspense

Posted in comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Dance, Drama, Iran, Journalism, Movies, Quebec by CulturalMining.com on April 17, 2015

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

Do you have a story to tell but need help getting it down on paper? Or maybe you just want to express yourself, but you can’t do it alone – you need other people to work with. This week I’m looking at three movies. An accused murderer looking for a journalist to tell his story; an Iranian student seeking friends to dance with; and a successful Quebec novelist hiring a ghostwriter to write his book for him.

Desert DancerDesert Dancer
Dir: Richard Raymond

Afshin is a little boy in southern Iran who loves to dance. His teacher recognizes his creative nature but knew school wasn’t the place for it. o He signs him up for classes at the Saba Arts Academy. There he learns that in Iran there are two worlds: the outside world where you have to toe the line, and the inside world where you can do what you want… as long as nobody finds out.

Flash forward and Afshin (Reece Ritchie) goes to University in the big city – Teheran. A place where he can go wild, he thinks. But there, too, he learns he 69757-M-166_Still-Request-3834_rgbneeds to be careful. The Basaji – the morality police – keep their eyes out for anything too western or licentious. And thugs who work for President Ahmadinejad’s party – it’s an election year – are even worse, violently suppressing dissent and protest. He must be careful. He meets a circle of friends on campus and they decide to do something creative. With the help of Elaheh (Freida Pinto) the daughter of a modern dancer, they create a dance club on campus. So what? You may be thinking. What’s the big deal? The big deal is that the country is like that small town in Footloose – dancing is forbidden.

_SDM0097.jpgSo they continue dancing secretly, behind closed doors. But for Afshin that’s not enough. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there… So they plan a public performance far away from intruding eyes. They will dance in the desert, among the rocks and sand dunes. But, he doesn’t realize that one member of the club has an older brother who wants him to report on his friends, find out what their up to, and catch them in the act.. Can Afshin and his friends perform their dance? Or will they end up in prison… or worse?

Based on a true story, Desert Dancer is good look at life in present-day Iran. The two stars, Reece Ritchie and Freida Pinto are neither Persian nor dancers, but they are both good actors, so that’s not so important. The movie itself is the problem. It’s too earnest and plodding, and not moving enough. It’s hard to make the personal struggle of one amateur dancer… into a Gandhi.

image-165c3f6f-e645-47fb-8611-a97bc1a663ecTrue Story
Dir: Rupert Goold

Mike (Jonah Hill) is a celebrated reporter who jets around the world writing feature stories for the NY Times Magazine. But when they catch him fudging facts in an article, They fire him. Deeply embarrassed, he goes back home to Wyoming to be with his wife Jill (Felicity Jones). Then something strange happens: a story falls into his lap. An American is arrested in Mexico for fleeing after murdering his wife and three kids. And the name he gives is Michael Finkel – that’s Mike’s name. He’s intrigued so he visits the man in a high security prison. Christian Longo (James Franco) says he used Mike’s name when he was on the lam image-ecb2619b-6986-479a-9948-91d08c2d2f4bbecause he had read all his articles and respected him. So he gives Mike all his handwritten papers that he says show the real story of what happened to his wife and three children. It’s a chilling and scary story, told in scribbles and drawings. They make a deal – the disgraced reporter gets a potential bestseller and a reputation, while Chris gets a professional reporter to tell his image-9f77255b-a544-49bc-89ab-0e1544dc83bcside of the story. But it can’t be released until after the trial. Who’s fooling who? Are Chris’s stories true? Or are they made from whole cloth?

True Story is not a great movie, but it’s not a bad one, either. Hill and Franco have already made two movies together – both silly pothead comedies. This one is serious. So are they believable as accused killer and reporter? Yeah… I guess. It’s the director’s first feature, and you can tell. There are some painfully bad scenes, slow and awkward, especially Jonah Hill’s scenes at the start of the movie. And the film as a whole is a bit of a letdown. Luckily there’s enough meat in the middle to keep you watching and interested.

10662147_685552898180782_20430642239133877_oMasters of Suspense
Dir: Stéphane Lapointe

Hubert Wolfe (Michel Cote) is a rare thing — a rich, successful pulp novelist – out of Quebec. Books and movies about detective Scarlett Noe, has brought him fame and fortune. He might even get to date the actress who plays Scarlett (Maria de Medeiros). But nobody knows — except one man — that he doesn’t actually write the books. Dany Cabana (Robin Aubert) has been his ghostwriter for a dozen years, churning out the novels but getting none of the glory or respect.

Dany is married with a kid, and ready to ready to start on the latest book: “Paradise Zombie”. But his wife leaves him because she considers him a failure — she doesn’t realize he’s a successful ghostwriter – he has a non-disclosure contract). Dany stops writing and drowns his sorrows at the bar. Allyssa the bartender (Anne Hopkins) is a Louisiana expat who in the past kept him up-to-date with story ideas from the swamps back home. But now the ghostwriter has to hire a ghostwriter. He subcontracts to Quentin (Antoine Betrand) a daycare worker who also writes kids books. Quentin is a good storyteller but, 10712657_716892658380139_5127358223572381622_ovirginal and shy around grownups, he still lives with his mom. All three face an imminent deadline: the book must be finished immediately. Somehow they all end up in New Orleans, where the novel takes place. But, in a Romancing the Stone-type reversal, they land up in real trouble, involving criminals, voodoo zombies and redneck cops. They’re all in way over their heads. Will they ever finish the book and escape to the safety of Montreal?

This is a fun, cute, mainstream story out of Quebec. Like a lot of Quebec comedy, it goes for dubious ethnic stereotypes, like scenes involving African Americans as fanatical, half-naked voodoo worshippers. But they’re equal opportunity insulters – everyone in the film is seedy, rude and dubious.  I enjoyed it. See it just for the fun of it.

Desert Dancer and True Story both open today in Toronto: check your local listings.  Masters of Suspense plays tonight – its English Canada debut – as part of the Cinefranco film festival: go to cinefranco.com for details. And be sure to check out the imagesfestival, which continues through the weekend.

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

Cracks in the Foundation. The Continent, Rocks in my Pockets, Rosewater

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

From far away, porcelain looks smooth, shiny and flawless, but look too close and fine cracks appear. This week, I‘m looking at movies that expose the cracks in faraway Latvia, China and Iran. There’s an Iranian man who wants to leave prison; three Chinese men who want to leave their island, and a Latvian woman who, at times, wants to leave life altogether.

TheContinentThe Continent
Dir: Han Han

Three young men have lived their lives on a tiny, windswept island off the east coast of China. But they decide it’s time to check out the continent. Like in the classic Chinese novel, they set out on a “Journey to the West. They each have a different reason. Jianghe (Chen Bolin  [陈柏霖], who also starred in Buddha Mountain [觀音山] — read my review here) a school teacher an”d eternal optimist, is transferred by the government to a remote location far, far away. Haohan (Feng Shaofeng [冯绍峰]) is a blustering young man dying to see the world. He longs to stand on a determined mountaintop and shout to the world about the size of his dick. And he has a childhood pen-pal Yingying TheContinent_still2(Yolanda Yuan [袁泉]), a pretty girl he’ll finally meet face to face. And true love will soon follow. Their third friend, Hu Sheng, is mentally challenged, and depends on the other two to tell him what to do.

But they soon discover life outside their tiny island is bewildering and confusing. They stumble onto a movie set in WWII. And at their first hotel Jianghe is approached by an escort named Sumi, immediately followed by knocks on the door from aggressive police. Bewildered, he plays the hero, HanHanbusting out through a barred window and “saving” Sumi from a fate worse than death. Or so he thinks. And a sketchy, Cantonese hitchhiker helps them with their navigating – but can he be trusted? Maybe not, in a place where anything that you don’t hold onto with both hands when you gp to sleep will likely be gone by morning. But it’s also a country with stunning and empty vast vistas, rockets flying to outer-space, and cool and savvy people at every turn.

The Continent is writer-director Han Han’s (韩寒) first film, but he’s far from unknown. His blog is the best-known one in China which automatically makes him one of the most famous people in the world. This is not just a simple, picaresque road movie. It’s also a slyly humorous — if bleak — cautionary tale about life in contemporary China.

RocksinMyPockets_Poster_MediumRocks in My Pockets
Wri/Dir Signe Baumane

Signe is a Brooklyn artist, originally from Latvia, with a hidden family past. She wants to find out the truth behind the family matriarch, her late grandmother. On the surface, she was a preternaturally hard-worker, known for her Sisyphean feat of carrying endless buckets of water up a steep mountain. She had retreated to a backwoods cabin with her husband, an eccentric entrepreneur, to escape the difficulties of life in the city. But, after a bit of digging, Signe discovers a streak of depression, suicide and mental illness in her family stretching back three generations. The title refers to her grandmother’s attempted suicide by drowning – she was unsuccessful because she forgot to fill her pocket with rocks. Even if the mind wants to end it all, the body – until the last breath — will fight against dying. At the same time, Signe realizes that the many children and grandchildren managed to survive and succeed despite harsh time. In this film, Riga is imagined as a rocksinmypockets-1024x576place with enormous human faces on their buildings, within a country filled with animistic creatures with long tails, dog ears and goggly eyes that lurk everywhere, just out of sight.

Her odd family history is portrayed in a series of short, animated episodes, using panels of sketched characters moving against brightly-tinted Linda_Sc_080_with_WS_Thumbnailbackgrounds. These are interspersed with super-imposed stop-motion images made of rope and papier-mache figurines. This giuves the whole movie an unusual three-dimensional feel, combining classic drawing with computer-manipulated mixes. And omnipresent is the wry and funny –though at times grating – voice of the narrator telling and commenting on her family history. The director shows the deleterious effects of Soviet era psychiatry – one where cures consist of medicinal corrections to chemical imbalances – and how it makes some people long to “erase themselves” and ceasing to exist. A poignant, fascinating and great animated feature.

RW_LM_20130810_0238.jpgRosewater
Dir: Jon Stewart

Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) is an Iranian-Canadian journalist based in London. He lives there with his beautiful (and pregnant) wife. He is assigned to cover the upcoming elections in Iran, but quickly runs unto trouble as soon as he arrives. He quickly makes friends with a politically active and sympathetic taxi driver who takes him to areas fertile with dissent. But after witnessing a potentially explosive event he is arrested. His charge? Spying.

Ironically, a comic TV interview he had given to an American comedian on the Daily Show is used as evidence of his wrong doing. He is quickly thrown into solitary confinement in a notorious prison. He is psychologically tortured until — says the warden — his will is broken and he will lose all hope.

His family, it turns out, is no stranger to death and imprisonment for RW_NK_20130729_0700.jpgpolitical views under earlier regimes. Both his father and his sister had gone through it, and appear, in his mind, to convince him to hold on. But will he make it?

Rosewater is Jon Stewart’s first film, and it shows it. Stewart is known for the brilliant and funny The Daily Show that skewers mass media from a left-ish perspective. But a feature film is not a three-minute sketch. The movie starts out great with exciting scenes of news-gatering, but it starts to drag, heavily, once it moves to the prison. While it conveys the loneliness and suffering,  solitary confinement does not make for good cinema. Bernal and the supporting actors are fine, but the buffoonish prison guard and the sinister administrator seem too much like the evil twins of  Schultz and Klink to take seriously.

The Continent played at the ReelAsian Film Festival which continues for another week (reelasian.com), Rosewood played at TIFF this year and opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; and Rocks in my Pockets opened the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival (which features films on addiction and mental health – with an additional screening tomorrow: go to rendezvouswithmadness.com for times. Also opening: next week at Hot Docs there’s the great documentary called Point and Shoot about a young American traveler/journalist who, despite being non-religious and non-radicalized, nevertheless joins the rebel armies fighting in Libya (listen to my review here). And a surprising story about the Life of Pigeons on CBC’s the Nature of Things.

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

October 12, 2012. Revisionist History? Films reviewed: Argo, Stories We Tell

Posted in 1980s, Canada, CIA, Clash of Cultures, Diplomacy, documentary, Drama, Espionage, Family, Iran, Thriller, TIFF, Toronto, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on October 13, 2012

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, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

History is always changing: it depends a lot on who the storyteller is. And, often, the most recent storyteller owns the story, for the moment at least, and controls that history. This week I’m looking at two movies that retell events in Canadian history. One’s a thriller that retools a famous story of Canadian heroism in Iran; the other is a personal story about a woman who wants to find out what happened when her mother went to Montreal… in order to be in Toronto.

Argo

Dir: Ben Affleck

It’s late 1979 – the Shah of Iran who fled the country, has been allowed into the US, and, because of this, back in Tehran, angry, anti-American demos are in full swing. Furious students storm the walls of the American Embassy even while the staff on the inside are busy shredding all the files. A few manage to escape through a side street and are secretly rescued by Ken Taylor, the Canadian Ambassador, but the rest are all held as hostages inside the occupied US Embassy. The escaped six are safe in the basement of the Canadian diplomat’s home, but for how long? Meanwhile, those darn hostage-takers are sorting through the shredded documents and will eventually discover that there are six missing diplos hiding somewhere, and what they look like.

Meanwhile, back in the States, a young CIA agent named Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with a plan to get them out of Iran – he’ll pretend they are Canadian filmmakers! So he goes to Hollywood and arranges the whole thing with the help of funny and obnoxious industry-types (John Goodman and Alan Arkin), then flies off to Iran with Canadian passports to save his countrymen. Will they pass as Canadians? Will they be able to leave the country? And will the whole Hollywood back-story hold up before the Revolutionary Guards?

Argo is a fun, exciting movie with a cool, unbelievable plot, and lots of thrills and suspense to keep you captive. Audiences were cheering when I saw it at TIFF, and I left feeling good. The acting is fine, the early 80’s look of the film is cool (though I doubt conservative diplomats were dressed like San Franciscans) and the story is exciting.

(Personal connection: in an earlier TV version of the Canadian Caper starring Gordon Pinsent as Ken Taylor they used Toronto’s Polish Cultural Centre on Beverley Street — just down the street from where I lived at the time — as the stand-in for the Canadian Embassy in Tehran.)

It has a few problems though. It makes the CIA into the heroes! Remember, they’re the ones who overthrew the democratically-elected PM Mossadegh in the 50’s when he nationalized their oil industry. They also helped found the Shah’s dreaded SAVAK – whose torturous methods was one of the biggest reasons for the demonstrations and hostage-taking. The movie never makes clear the CIA the skullduggery that led to this crisis.

Second, it falsely makes Ken Taylor and Canada in general into a funny side-kick to the supposed heroism of a low ranked CIA agent (though I understand they’ve changed the very offensive final titles from the version I saw.) Anyway, I shrugged that off when I saw it – it’s just a movie.

But most of all I was disturbed by the way it made all Iranians in 1979 look like evil villains out to destroy a besieged America – a hell of an image to present in an election year when there’s a big political push to bomb that country.

But… whatever, it’s a good movie anyway, well worth seeing.

A very different kind of revisionist history is

Stories We Tell

Dir: Sarah Polley

Sarah Polley’s wild, blonde actress mother Diane died when she was a child, so she was raised by her kindly, stiff-upper-lip dad, Michael. So to find out more about her past and that of her mother, she enlists her brothers, sisters, family friends and relations to tell their versions of their past, and illustrates it all with found Super-8 footage from her dad’s collection. He narrates the story from a recording booth and Sarah documents her own search for history. But… during this search she discovers that, not long before she was conceived, her mother went away to Montreal to act in a play there called “Toronto” (by David Fennario). And while she was there, rumour has it, had an affair with someone from the cast – maybe Sarah’s father isn’t her biological parent!

I am not going to give away Sarah Polley’s family secrets – but, that’s just part of what makes the film so fascinating.

This is an amazing family story told by an unreliable narrator and with lots of misleading half-truths, myths, lies and legends. One of the characters produced the classic Canadian film “Lies My Father Told Me” which sort of sets the tone for this doc. What’s real? What’s a trick? You discover that the big happy family you assume you’re watching at first never really exists as a single unit. Off-the-cuff narration is gently exposed as scripted and directed. And even the found footage is revealed as part genuine, part manufactured.

This is a fantastic blend of truth and re-creation that Sarah Polley keeps small. She does everything right: stays largely off-camera and concentrates on the story. And she’s carefully to occasionally expose the artifice of filmmaking, including docs. This isn’t one of those awful celeb stories with teary revelations and maudlin music. It’s a clever and funny — but still very touching — meditation on Canada, Sarah’s history and the meaning of family.

Great doc!

Argo and Stories We Tell both played at TIFF and are opening tonight in Toronto. Also opening this week is Ira Sach’s Keep the Lights On, an epic drama of love, addiction and gay life in Manhattan.

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

August 12, 2011. Temperatures Rising. Movies reviewed: Devil’s Double, The Help, Rise of the Planet Of The Apes, Final Destination, Gun to the Head

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, and movies that taste good, and what the difference is.

It’s getting into high August, and there are tons of movies playing now, so let me just dive right in and tell you about a few of them. I’m talking about two stories about servants who have good reason not to like their bosses, one where an employee is forced to challenge his boss or die, one where a whole class could challenge the people in power, and one where a group of people attempt to challenge… fate itself.

Devil’s Double

Dir: Lee Tamahori

It’s the 1980’s during the Iran-Iraq war, when Latif, a scruffy, young soldier from a good family in Bagdad, is brought into a palatial mansion. He’s asked whether he wants to work for Uday, Saddam Hussein’s son. Well, not exactly asked: He’s told. If he says no, he, his family and friends will all be tortured and killed. If he says yes, though, he will move into this luxurious palace, wear tailored suits and Rolex watches, drink champagne, drive sportscars, have his pick of the most beautiful women, and hang out at the most exclusive nightclubs in Iraq.

What’s the catch? He’s a near exact double of Uday in height, weight, body-type, and facial features. So he’ll be taking his place at public appearances with the constant risk of being shot at by assassins. So, the movie, (partially based on Latif’s memoir) shows his bizarre double life… as a professional double. This is a violent, scarface-y story with shootouts, coke sniffing, disco dancing, and backstage intrigue.

It’s also a chance for an actor to be or the screen about 140% of the time in the dual roles – when Dominic Cooper isn’t playing the humble, honest Yatif, he’s acting as the profligate, decadent and cruel Uday, and often both at the same time. He does it well enough that the audience immediately knows whether it’s the conceited, aggressive, strutting, whiny-voiced Uday, or Yatif imitating him. They walk differently, think differently and have a different look in their eyes.

Can Yatif find a way out of this crazy life? And can he and his secret love – one of Uday’s mistresses – escape the country?

This is quite a violent movie. And while it paints a generally negative view of a whole country, and gives an inaccurate view of women’s status in Baathist Iraq,  it can be enjoyed as an apolitical drama and as an actor’s tour de force.

Next, another movie about badly treated servants.

The Help

Dir: Tate Taylor

Smart but frowsy Skeeter (Emma Stone) comes home from University to the high-society of heavily segregated Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960’s. She wants to get herself a job as a writer, see her old debutante friends, and take care of her mother who’s dying of cancer. But she soon sees the world is changing, and is disgusted by how black servants are treated by their rich white employers: demeaned, disrespected, badly paid. They essentially raise the white kids from birth, but rarely get to spend time with their own children.

When Skeeter’s friend Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard), the reigning top woman in her set, attempts to pass a bylaw making it illegal for blacks even to use a bathroom inside the homes where they work all day, Skeeter decides something must be done.

She befriends Aibilene (Viola Davis) and asks her to tell her own inside story about life in the south. When another maid, Minnie (a comical Octavia Spencer) — known for her cooking skills — joins her project, it looks like their stories might be published as a book.

This is a richly plotted, multi-charactered, story about life in the deep south, and the subtle and overt racism in every aspect of the lives of the people who lived in this era. This isn’t a movie about KKK lynchings or good ol’ boys with rifles. It gives a calmer view of the segregated, Jim Crow days, right when the civil rights movement was taking off. It’s also a richly moving women’s story – not a chick flick — with terrific acting all around, especially Viola Davis, and Jessica Chastain as Celia, a suddenly rich blonde bombshell from dirt poor origins who seeks help from Minnie. It also has great actresses like Cicily Tyson, Cissie Spacek and Alison Janney in the side roles.

Only quibble? Though some of the black characters slip in and out of dialect, the younger white women’s accents don’t sound much like they would have in Mississippi in the 1960s. But The Help is definitely worth seeing if you like complicated dramas, family secrets, frequent plot turns and funny surprises.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Dir: Rupert Wyatt

Will (James Franco) is a scientist who works for a multinational pharmaceutical corporation who is developing a new medicine that can repair brain functions. They test it on chimpanzees, and he takes home a newborn one when his mother dies in the lab. But he soon discover his ape, Caesar, is special: he’s somehow inherited the new brain skills his mother had gained from the drug testing, and he’s quickly getting better and better. He learns art, sign language, and better motor skills than any human. Will and Caroline (Frieda Pinto) treat him almost like a son… except for the collar and leash they force him to wear outside. But when Caesar tries to rescue Will’s senile father (John Lithgow) from a mean neighbour, he is taken away by the authorities and thrown into an animal shelter that looks more like a federal prison run by cruel guards.

There he interacts with his own kind and discovers he’s not a human but an ape. Caesar has to decide who he can trust and whether he should wait for his former human father to rescue him or strike out on his own.

This is a really enjoyable movie, with fantastic camera work, a great story, and — though largely animated – believable characters with sympathetic faces. (I’m talking the apes here.) Which is why I was surprised at how awful the CGI’s were in some scenes – jerky toy monkey’s bounding up trees like a bad outtake from a third-rate videogame intro – and how excellent in others. In any case, if you want a fun exciting story, this is the one to see. A thousand times better than the awful Planet of the Apes remake.

Final Destination 5

Dir: Steven Quale

A group of eight coworkers on their way to a retreat, manage to escape from an enormous collapsing bridge when one of them, Sam, has a premonition and gets them away in time. But they soon discover they were destined to perish, so are being killed off, one by one, in a series of gruesome Rube Goldberg-esque accidents. Who will live and who will die? And will they succeed in cheating death a second time?

What can I say – this is one of my favourite genres of horror movies: bloody gore but without an identifiable villain. Instead, the danger is everywhere — in a leaky pipe, a dropped match, a speck of dust or a misplaced screw. A restaurant kitchen is filled with potentially dangerous flames, knives, and shish kebab skewers. Ordinary life is fraught with danger!

The lines stink, the characters are predictable, the music is corny, and the acting ranges from humorous to forgettable, to excruciatingly awful. But the special effects are flawless, and the pace is just right. It pulls you forward with stress, fear and tension, then lets you back down again, never knowing for sure whether the next shot is a real danger or just a red herring. And the 3D, especially in the multi-leveled scenes on the bridge and on a factory floor, is amazing. This is a great, super-cheezy “B” or “C” summer movie.

It also has the best non-trailer trailer ever, that shows what Final Destination would look like if it were a pop music video recorded on the set of Saved by the Bell — complete with laugh track.

Gun to the Head

Dir: Blaine Thurier

Trevor (Tygh Runyan) gets away from his own dinner party (complete with creepy, Japanophile swinger guests wearing sleazy kimonos) to pick up a bottle of white wine and talk to his drug dealer cousin, Darren (Paul Anthony). He just wants to give him a bit of help, but he’s soon dragged into this underworld of strip bars, guns and lines of coke. He has to deal with a fickle small-town drug potentate, his deranged guard, and his sexually adventurous, skeezy girlfriend. Can Trevor outsmart the gangsters, rescue his sleazy cousin, and ever get back home to his wife? Or will everything fall apart?

This is a funny very low-budget Canadian thriller. Though not perfect, it has great characters, and some manic — but not hammy — performances, especially Paul Anthony channelling the spirit of Don Knotts, dressed as a Vancouver hood.

Devil’s Double and The Rise of the Planet of the Apes are now playing, check your local listings, The Help just opened in Toronto, and Final Destination and Gun to the Head open tonight in Toronto (Friday, Aug 12, 2011). Also look out for You Are Here, opening today at the TIFF Lightbox.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining

June 2, 2011. Inside-Out Festival: The “L” Word. Films Reviewed: Circumstance, The Evening Dress, PLUS L’Amour Fou

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

Toronto Inside-Out festival, which just finished last weekend, is one of the world’s biggest LGBT film festivals, that shows movies and documentaries from around the world by and about Lesbians Gays, Bisexuals, and Transsexuals. Like every year, it attracted large, enthusiastic crowds, but with the added glamour this year of the films being shown at the epicentre of Toronto film festivals, the Light Box on King St W. This week, I’m going to look at a couple great movies that touch upon the L-Word in LGBT; and a documentary about Yves St Laurent. Two of the movies are directed, written by, and about women. The third is about a man who made things for women.

Also on right now and through the weekend, is the CFC Short Film Festival which is showing a whopping 275 short films this week, at places like the National Film Board on Richmond Street, and at the CN Tower. – to find out more, go to worldwideshortfilmfest.com .

Circumstance

Dir: Maryam Keshavarz

Audience Award Winner, Sundance 2011

This is a movie about two best friends in Teheran, the beautiful Shireen (Sarah Kazemy), who lives with her traditional, conservative relatives after her parents were killed; and sophisticated Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri), who comes from a very rich, western-style, permissive family. As expected, they fall in love, in and out of bed – they’re friends, adventurers in the big city, and lovers. Iran has an ultra- conservative, religious government that forbids certain types of music, flashy clothes, and western films.

So they meet behind closed doors to wear shiny sequined dresses, do classical dancing, or just to watch TV.

Their dream? To go on American Idol and sing Total Eclipse of the Heart. When things get bad, they fantasize about a lesbian paradise with bars where women can dance on tables wearing flashy clothes, or sit in a beach house and gaze in one anothers’ eyes. If things get bad, they say, they can always go to Dubai.

They spend their days at school, but nights in a vibrant, underground Iran, filled with secret discos, drug parties, and clandestine studios hidden behind innocuous barber shops.

But their way of life is threatened when Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai), Atafeh’s musician brother, returns from detox, and finds God. He gradually becomes a more and more devout Musilim, and falls in with the thuggish morality cops, who harass and arrest people, especially women, for crimes like playing loud music in their car, smoking, or not wearing hijab. Will the two young women find happiness together? Or will Mehran, and the conservativism he represents, ruin their lives and loves, and crush their creativity?

Circumstance is an excellent drama that gives a view of the parallel lives of contemporary Iran — sort of a live-action version of cartoonist Marjane Satrapi’s great animated film Persepolis (2007), only newer… and darker.

The Evening Dress (La Robe du Soir)

Dir: Myriam Aziza

Juliette, is a smart and confident tiny French 12 year old girl who lives with her mom. Her older brother picks on her, but she gets to wear his old clothes. She, like the rest of her class, idolize their very beautiful and free-thinking teacher Madame Solenska.

Madame Solenska (Lio) doesn’t shy away from adult words, and sends them right back to the bratty kids who are trying to shock her. She wears beautiful dresses and distinctive perfume. She plays special attention to kids in the class who need it, especially Juliette (Alba Gaïa Kraghede Bellugi) and

When the teacher gives her a paperback book to read that she says was very important to her, Juliette starts to think she has a special connection to the teacher. She saves a hair between to pages, and inhales the teachers scent. She decides to remake herself into something like her teacher – she starts to wear women’s hairstyles, clothes, makeup, and follows her around secretly at night. But she’s shocked to see that some of her teacher’s attention is being “stolen” by Antoine (Leo Legrand), a smart, but rebellious boy who is failing his courses. Is Juliette’s life over? Can she be loved by, or be, like her teacher?

The Evening Dress is more than just a coming-of-age story about a pre-pubsecent school girl – it’s a really moving adult drama about obsession, bullying, conformity, and ostracism. And the acting – especially by the little girl and the teacher – is fantastic.

L’Amour Fou

Dir: Pierre Thoroton

A documentary about an auction that’s selling off all the possessions — paintings, sculptures, and objects d’arts — of a designer after he dies? Isn’t that cruel and incredibly commercial amd superficial?

Oscar Wilde once said it’s only superficial people don’t judge by appearances. So to say that this is a movie about surfaces is not meant to be a negative review. Actually, it’s about both the outward appearances and some of the things that happened behind the scenes in the lives and careers of French Haut Couture fashion designer Yves St Laurent, and his lover and business partner Pierre Berge.

Yves St Laurent when still a very young man, was fired by Christian Dior partly because of a conservative journalist’s criticism of his sexuality. With the help of his new lover Berge, he established his own fashion house where he hand drew every one of the hundreds of the new designs, twice a year. His intense life — filled with drugs, alcohol, and debauchery — shares the screen with his contributions to mode, design and popular culture.

The movie uses photos, fashion show clips — including the wedding march which he used to end all his collections — and perfectly composed new looks at his homes and villas in Morocco and rural France. Every shot In this movie is planned, framed and mounted like a painting on the wall.  And all of the interviews and narration — by Berge, their entourage, and YSL himself — is unusually eloquent — no airheads here. This is not fashion TV chatter; it’s a testament to innovation and a life spent only on the here and now, removed from guilt and worries about the hereafter.

The eloquent documentary about Yves St Laurent, L’Amour Fou, is playing now: check your local listings. Circumstance and The Evening Gown are two great movies that also played at Inside Out — keep an eye out for these movies. To become a member of Inside Out contact here.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, CulturalMining.com.

Post-Cold War. Movies reviewed: Salt, I Am Love, Countdown to Zero

About 20 years ago, something impossible happened. The Berlin Wall came down, the Eastern Bloc crumbled, the iron curtain was lifted, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Almost half a century of mutually assured destruction, of the never-ending threat of nuclear war, was somehow… finished, and the world let out a collective sigh so enormous, satellite photos show it moved a sand dune in the gobi desert.

The lingering anxiety at the back of everyone’s mind — that some nut in the White House or the Kremlin, in a fit of pique or a moment of panic would press a red button and turn the world to dust, and repeat the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on a global scale – that anxiety seemed to disappear. The world was safe again!

So for almost everybody, things seemed to be looking up. Except…except for the movies! How can you make spy movies without the ready-made “us and them” of the cold war, the constant thrust and parry of the two sides in the never ending intrigue of their battle for ideological dominance? Subterfuge, espionage, the arms race, and always, always the threat of nuclear destruction gave cold war movies this background that made them serious and real and scary. Now everyone’s spy movies were for nought. What to do?

This week I’m looking at three movies, each with a very different take on Russia and the post cold war period.

Salt

Dir: Phillip Noyce

“alt is an action/thriller about a CIA agent, Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie), who is accused of being a double agent. A Russian spy walks into the CIA and, just like in the cold war days, says he wants to defect. He claims there was a secret school in the Soviet era, that kidnapped and trained from birth, special sleeper agents who would blend in with the Americans until the moment they are activated. And Salt was one of these agents, old-guard cold-war communist out to assassinate leaders foment nuclear warfare again, to bring things back to the bad old days. The Soviet Union will rise again!

Evelyn denies it, but she knows she has to take the law into her own hands and escape. She says three things to set up the plot:

I didn’t do it! (or did she?)

I’ve been set up! (or was she?)

I have to find my husband.

Her husband is a milquetoast German arachnologist (spider collector), and that part the plot is for sure — she has to find him. Why? I don’t really know, and I just saw the movie. I guess because she loves him.

Meanwhile she’s being pursued by two CIA agents, one, Peabody (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor – the great black British actor from”Kinky Boots” and “Inside Man“) who doesn’t trust her; the other, Ted (played by Liev Schreiber) who does, but still has to bring her in. Toss in a bunch of unsavoury Russians hanging out on the waterfront, a great cathedral scene, some impossible car chases, rooftop jumps and lots of bloody machine-gun shoot outs, and there you have it.

Is she or isn’t she? Not gonna give it away, but suffice it to say, LOTS of holes in the ridiculous plot which doesn’t really hold together. Like her English starts drifting into a Russian accent somewhere in the middle of the movie for no known reason. But never mind. It’s a cold-war redux action movie, lots of fun, but stupid.

(BTW, this movie couldn’t have picked a better time to be released, just a few weeks after that group of undercover Russian spies were discovered to be living and raising families in the States.)

“I am Love”

Dir: Luca Guadagnino

The movie starts with a banquet to honour Edoardo, the patriarch of the immensely wealthy Recchi family, a Milan industrialist who founded his fortune on wartime profits for his textile mills. He’s passing on the business to his heirs. The Trecchi women, all from outside the clan, are also prominent figures, but feel their existence is slightly more precarious. Emma, (wonderfully played Tilda Swinton) the wife of the second generation, flutters around nervously – she’s with the family, but not of the family. She’s actually from the former Soviet Union. Her handsome son, Edoardo, wants to carry on the family’s tradition, while her husband, Tancredo, would rather move it into a post-industrial Italy. And Emma herself feels adrift, with a new name, language, heritage, culture, family. One day, her life changes when, on a trip to San Remo, her eyes catch some Onion domes at a Kremlin-like Russian Orthodox church – and who does she see but her son’s friend, the chef Antonio. Her heart flutters as she takes a step to reclaim her real self, and her real desires.

This is terrific movie to watch. It shows the cold, sterile, but magnificent industrial Milan, the wonderful, fecund countryside nearby. The clothes, the food, the family members and the servants and the shifting relationships, power and identity of all of them. Emma and her sublimated Russian past, the rivalry between father and son for her affections, her daughter cutting herself loose, the longtime friendships with the maid, the Recchi women of three geerations… Wow! So much to take in.

And it’s so amazing looking, with lots of fooling around with camera, recreating the look of early 1970’s Italian movies, with their lush sumptuousness, the slightly smudgy camera-lens, the soft glow of light… along with tons of visual refernces to Japanese films – rain dropping on a pond, insects on a twig… And lots of nice shifts to Emma’s subconscious memories, thoughts and fantasies, but always done visually, not with echo-y voiceovers. Lots of what’s said is off camera, over heard, in the background, or never mentioned – you have to put it together.

“I Am Love” is a simple story, but told so well with great emotional heft. This is a really good movie.

“Countdown to Zero”

Dir: Lucy Walker

is a new documentary on a topic – nuclear warfare — that used to be at the front of everyone’s mnd, but is now nearly forgotten. This movie says: “uh, uh, it’s still very much there, and if you don’t do something about it, we’re all going to die!” And it does its best to scare the bejeezus out of you showing how.

The movie shows some startling old footage of atomic testing, and traces the history of nuclear proliferation. With the Cold War, mutually assured destruction meant that neither side could go ahead with it – any bomb flies, the other side sends there’s off too. But now, the movie says, things are even more precarious. More countries have the bomb, more want it, and with the former Soviet Union in disarray, there all those rich yellowcake ready to be nabbed. There’s a great prison interview with a Russian dude who wanted a Lamboghini or a DeLuxe Buick, and that’s why he was selling uranium to a potential baddy. Luclily he was caught, but all the ones who were caught were caught by chance.

Countdown to zero shows how a bomb is made, who’s after it, how it could be launched – due to stupidity, miscaculation, or madness — and what would happen if it were.

This is a very informative and interesting to watch, especially if you don’t know much about this – lot’s of surprising near misses and near disasters most people ever hear about. But the film is extremely manipulative using repeated images of terrorist attacks followed by similar shots of everyday life in a city – will the terrorists get YOU?? Basically, this is a sheep in wolf’s clothing: a sombre, PBS-style documentary dressed in a Fox News fright wig: Iran! Al Qaeda! P-P-P-Pakistan!!!. The title, Countdown to Zero, sounds like an episode of 24, but what they’re really saying is let’s countdown the number of nuclear warheads to zero instead.

This well made and well-researched documentary is made mainly of archival footage, and the biggest political talking heads there are – Gorbachev, Valery Plame, Oppenheimer, MacNamara, Tony Blair – along with some good animated scenes and a couple amazing new interviews. The thing is – I didn’t walk out of the movie scared of a nuclear holocaust. Disarmament is still a very important issue, I just wished they hadn’t used American fear and paranoia of terrorism as the main reason to support an important cause.

History! Films Reviewed: Max Manus, Summer Camp, Crash and Burn Karaoke, Covered, I Went to the Zoo the Other Day, Women Without Men

There are a whole lot of history-related movies opening in Toronto this weekend, both mainstream releases and films at the Images Festival. First, a new Norwegian movie, an historical spy drama called “Max Manus”, directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg.

Max Manus and his buddies all live in Nazi occupied Norway after the country fell to a Blitzkrieg invasion. The Quisling puppet government is in power, but Max and his friends’ biggest worry seems to be that they’ll soon ban Django Reinhart’s European jazz as ideologically incorrect.

So they form an amateur resistance group, coming up with cool nicknames, distributing propaganda flyers, and having fun time of it… until Max gets caught by the Gestapo when they find some explosives hidden in his apartment. This is where his legendary reputation begins. He escapes (in a beautifully shot sequence) by diving out the second story window onto the street below. He soon becomes known as the “window jumper”. And this is also where the movie becomes more interesting, with Max and his friend Greygers eventually walking across the Swedish border and from there onward to Scotland, (where the King and army live in exile) to become… saboteurs!

Max Manus (the movie) is a real throw-back to old-school war resistance stories, the sort of things you used to find in old british boys’ comics. So you get lots of shootouts, Max hiding in doorways wearing a black toque, or paddling past giant war ships in a wooden rowboat to plant these little underwater magnetic explosives. Cool!

Max’s nemesis is the diabolical Siegfried, the young Nazi head guy who keeps capturing and torturing the resistance fighters, but whom Max has always managed to evade. The movie itself is a very earnest — not camp, not melodramatic — look at a national hero, who I have to admit, I’d never heard of before the movie. For a historical drama, it’s a bit to historical, with not quite enough drama. I think because he’s a national hero, it would have been almost sacrilege to have him hopping out of beds with femme fatales; but I would have liked it pouring on a little more

intrigue, double-crossing, and steamy romance, to fight off the occasional boring factor. Anyway, I had fun, so go see Max Manus — if you like earnest, wartime Norwegian espionage historical dramas.

Images is an annual film festival in Toronto that “showcases moving image culture”, or as I would say, shows art movies. Beware: these are not conventional narrative movies – they’re works of art shown on a screen. I have to keep reminding myself that they’re not movies, they’re art—but I still end up gravitating toward the stories. Also beware, that the pace is slower, I mean much, much slower than a commercial movie you might go to.

Toronto’s Ross McLaren’s works are featured this year. “Summer Camp” is a fun one – it’s a strange piece made up of found footage – black and white glowing rotoscopes of old CBC Toronto audition tapes from the late 60’s. This piece has teenage kids sitting on a stool reciting hokey monologue scripts about the fat cook at a mythical summer camp. Eventually you start anticipating each line you hear over and over: “She was so fat she could hardly get up the basement stairs.” “She’s always saying, Do this! Do that!” “She made me eat porridge!” Then there’s an improv part where they talk to their “brother” (a CBC actor) who says he’s dying of cancer and has three weeks left to live– they’re supposed to cheer him up. So you get to see the auditioning teenagers looking really uncomfortable to be talking about – or denying – death. Toward the end it starts to get really funny when one of the auditioners challenges the whole premise. I don’t know what it is about watching found footage for an hour, but I just ate it up.

Crash and Burn Karaoke, another movie by McLaren, is a real must-see. I’ve seen it lots of times but I love this one. It’s grainy black and white footage he took at a seminal punk concert in a Toronto club in 1977, by the Diodes, The Dead Boys, Boyfriends, and Teenage Head. The movie — with music not synched — has the guitarists (and audience) writhing on the stage, pogoing around, twisting their arms, snarling, drooling. There’s actually a very long shot of — I believe it’s Steven Leckie — with non-stop spittle and drool hanging out of his mouth. At Images, it will be presented in the form of Crash and Burn Karaoke, with lyrics appearing on the screen.

John Greyson has made a short film called Covered: It’s a report on a Gay/Lesbian film festival in Sarajevo that got closed down by right wing protestors. I wavered back and forth between loving and hating this movie. Loving the extremely wide bias and vivid images of stuffed birds, wooden birds, bird bones, alternating with pissed off filmmakers, and assorted musicians simultaneously playing off-key guitar on separate youtube clips… but not at all liking the long, written-out mock quotes by “Susan Sontag” that appear on the screen, or the voice of someone – is it Greyson himself — laboriously repeating the – is it Bosnian? — narration, on the soundtrack, in the manner of an elocution lesson. This is a movie, not a magazine article: I found the written and spoken words interrupted the flow, and distracted from the film’s visual beauty and its message of the danger and indifference of established politicians in the face of threats to marginalized groups. Too much of the film’s meaning relies on a steady stream of written narration in the form of subtitles and constant, superimposed texts.

Hamilton director Luo Li’s hour long film, called “I Went to the Zoo the Other Day”, is a beautifully-shot, black and white film filled with pictures of the Toronto Zoo. A couple are at the zoo. The camera follows them around the fish tanks, the elephants, tigers. We listen to their conversations – all in Serbian with subtitles!

They make comments and tell stories. Like a story of the guy who leaps in to save a drowning animal; or the middle-aged woman who considers some of the zoo animals as her own children, and carries their pictures in her purse. These stories are talked about, not shown. All the animals in this movie look really old – maybe Director Luo Li purposely found extra wrinkly elephants, middle-aged looking gorillas, lazy boa constrictors, surly-looking camels.

Half the time you’re watching the animals through bars or glass walls with the viewers reflected on them… then it’ll switch perspective, and you’re suddenly watching people from inside the glass — what the animals must see looking out. Who’s in the zoo, us or them?

Sometimes I wish the couple in the movie would speak English, so I could forget about reading the subtitles and concentrate on the amazing images – is Li deliberately using a language to increase dissociation or alienation between the viewers and the actors? It works, but why do it? I think the unnecessary putting up of walls between film and viewer is a mistake. Since neither the filmmaker, nor the intended audience, nor the topic, is related to Serbian, why use it? It seems gimmicky.

In any case, the acting is excellent, the stories are good, and the visual side of the movie is amazing – really nice images, from a mosaic of fish through an aquarium window, to the relaxing apes, the milling people. Every shot is perfectly composed and constructed, and pleasing to watch, edited together at the pace of a leisurely stroll through a park. It ends with scene filmed through the windshield as they drive down the highway, with just a recording of whale music providing the soundtrack.

Another event at the festival which I definitely want to go to is the One Take Super Eight, put together by Alex Rogalski of Regina, Saskatchewan, in its first Toronto version. It’s a grab bag of three minute, unedited, super eight movies shown one after another for the first time. From the camera, to the lab, directly to the screen – unseen by anyone. Could be good, could be awful, could be god-awful… might be awful good.

Women Without Men, is directed by video artist Shirin Neshat, based on the novel by Shahrnoush Parsipour. I saw it at the Toronto Film Festival last year, and it’s being featured at Images and being released commercially as well.

Women without Men is a Farsi-language film (shot in Morocco) adapted from the popular novel of the same name. It tells a story about a handful of women in Tehran who manage — during that brief period of nationalist Prime Minister Mossadegh’s government (in the fifties) — to escape a life dominated by men.

An upper-class woman, married to a general, leaves her husband to live in a house in a fruit orchard she has bought. A prostitute who is driven crazy by her work and a young woman who is supposed to become the second wife of a man she doesn’t want to marry, both find there way to her Eden-like orchard. Another woman leaves her home to join the street politics she hears outside, and eventually joins the Communist Party. Through a series of complex, circular scenes the epic gradually unrolls its magic-realism style plot. Certain scenes remain in your mind long after the movie ends, such as party-goers quoting Camus and reciting classical Persian poetry, and women exchanging remarks in a harrowing, foggy bathhouse.

I enjoyed this film but, never having read the novel, it was tough. I found it difficult to keep track of all the characters and plot turns. It also surprised me that the movie was not always successful visually (since the director is a photographer and video artist). I found the excessive use of CGI’s, faded tints and almost sepia tones throughout the movie distracts from, not adds to the drama. Still, the film provides a glimpse at Iranian women’s history and the richly cosmopolitan, intellectual culture seldom seen on a screen.

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