Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Easy scapegoat for actor's cancellation

It seems playwright Wajdi Mouawad (left) is a little miffed, to say the least, by the storm of opposition that greeted his decision to cast a convicted murderer from starring in his upcoming musical Des Femmes - based on three Sophocles tragedies - to be staged in Quebec and at the National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa.....Mouawad is the author of the play Incendies (Scorched), made into a successful film by Denis Villeneuve, and which was up for a foreign-language Oscar in February.....When opposition by women’s groups and others arose after Montreal’s Théâtre du Nouveau Monde announced the appearance of French rock musician Bertrand Cantat in the production, Mouawad didn’t have anything to say. I thought that was a little strange - cat caught his tongue, was he seething?..... Cantat, you see, had murdered his girlfriend, rising French actress Marie Trintignant (daughter of legendary star Jean-Louis Trintignant) in 2003. He got out of a European jail early for good behaviour and Mouawad, a friend, hired him in part as a rehabilitation project. The play, Des Femmes, itself is described as challenging "our notions of justice, democracy, law and crime".....But the uproar, which caught theatre producers off guard (see post below), forced Cantat’s cancellation.....This week Mouawad finally broke his silence and, yes, he seems rather sulky.  Mouawad, who is also the NAC’s French theatre artistic director, said that despite the fact Cantat would not appear the play indeed will feature his music. In fact, he said, the production will “radically draw attention to the absence” of Cantat......Mouawad went on to say he was prepared to debate the morality of hiring Cantat. But, strangely, he said that any debate had been shut down by Canadian politicians. That’s a reference to Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Josée Verner, who said her government would make sure immigration laws would be fully applied to keep Cantat out of the country. Said a NAC news release: the production “cannot happen without taking into account recent events as well as declarations by certain political figures who are currently engaged in the national election, regarding the strict application, and as imposed on one of the artists featured in the production of the rules governing entry at the Canadian border. As such, the absence of this artist will be made felt throughout the production that will be unveiled on Canadian stages ? (sic) something that will attest to a unified show of support by the actors, creators and technicians involved in this artistic adventure towards one of their own.”.....In other words, take that opponents! Protesters, after all, had been enraged that Cantat's hiring trivialized violence against women......But what's really interesting is that Mouawad and the NAC (one and the same?) are singling out a federal politician. Mouawad called Verner's stance "political opportunism." But he makes no direct criticism of the grassroots' opposition. (Cantat will continue to star in productions outside Canada).....This seems rather convenient for Mouawad.  To blame anyone else – I.e., women’s groups, members of which probably make up a good portion of the theatrical audience - would be politically incorrect. But it’s  fair game to blame a Conservative government minister.....Mouawad, despite the praise garnered for his challenging play Incendies, has shown us what he is personally made of, and it's cowardice.

Friday, April 15, 2011

When art and human values clash

A couple of posts ago I mentioned the upcoming screening of the film Incendies (Denis Villeneuve). The film is based on the play by Quebec playwright Wajdi Mouawad, and was up for best foreign language film at this year’s Oscars. The film has won general acclaim not least of all in its home country of Canada.....But there was a huge controversy in Montreal over the past couple of weeks surrounding Mouawad. You see, Mouawad is friends with a certain Bertrand Cantat, former lead singer of a group called Noir Désir. In 2003 Cantat beat to death his girlfriend the rising actress Marie Trintignant, daughter of famed French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant. Marie Trintignant had starred in several movies in the 1980s and 90s, at least one of which I probably saw at some place like the DFT. I remember watching the film starring this wonderful and gorgeous actress and thinking astonishingly, “this woman is no longer alive” because of the recent news that she had died as a result of blows from her hideous boyfriend.....Anyway, fast-forward to this year. Mouawad wanted to bring Cantat to Canada to star in a live theatrical rock adaptation of Sophocles’s tragedies. The news generated incredible opposition in Quebec where the first production was scheduled. Cantat had been sentenced to eight years in prison but was released in 2007 for good behaviour. When news of his starring role in the Canadian production was made public, this generated a public outcry. According to one report, “Theatregoers threatened to cancel subscriptions, women’s groups accused the theatre of trivializing domestic violence, and politicians vowed to slam the door on Mr. Cantat."  So, facing overwhelming opposition it wasn’t long before Montreal’s Théâtre du Nouveau Monde announced that it was cancelling Cantat’s appearance.  Nor will he perform in a second production at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre (NAC).....Mouawad has so far remained silent but may speak April 18 when he announces  the NAC’s upcoming French-language program.....The public's anger caught the theatre company off guard. Said Lorraine Pintal, Théâtre du Nouveau Monde’s artistic director, “Never could I have imagined that the presence of Bertrand Cantat, as a musician on stage, was going to raise such a political, social and media debate”.....What strikes me as interesting about this whole affair is the clash between artistic and human values. Ironically, the very same values often championed by the liberal theatre community, such as the degradation of women, gave way to supposedly the higher calling of art. Perhaps a play could be written about that.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Atlas Shrugged scoring in Michigan

The movie Atlas Shrugged (Paul Johansson) is fast becoming a huge breakout hit. For the producers of the classic good-versus-evil (capitalism-versus-the state) 1957 Ayn Rand novel, grassroots' demand has seen the movie go from a few dozen theatres nationwide for its April 15 release to almost 300. The movie’s website lets people participate in calling for the film to be screened in their communities. “Not near you yet? DEMAND Atlas to your town.” A month ago there were no screenings initially set for Michigan. Now the movie will open in 10 communities and 11 theatres. In the Detroit area Atlas Shrugged will be shown in Birmingham, Brighton, Novi, Livonia and Sterling Hts. The official website is where theatres are also listed. This film has been 40 years in the making, a story that perhaps could be made into a flic itself. Deals that could have seen Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Charlize Theron and Russell Crowe act in it fell through. Taylor Schilling plays Dagny Taggart, Grant Bowler as Henry ‘Hank’ Rearden. From all reports – and from the little known production and acting cast - the movie is a knockout: suspenseful and tags highly to the almost 1400-page epic book. And, this, by the way, is only part one of three.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Certified Copy is, well, certifiably good

Of Landmark’s Theatres Detroit's current screenings I have seen only one Certified Copy, which was shown last fall at the Windsor International Film Festival (WIFF). This is a very good film and not least because it stars Juliette Binoche and William Shimell (one of UK’s leading operatic baritones). In the film Elle (Binoche), a foreigner, owns an art gallery in a Tuscan village. One day she attends a lecture by visiting academic James Miller (Shimell) who has just published a book about authenticity in art. This subject ends up becoming a metaphor for the film’s story as a whole. Enough said.  Certified Copy is a fascinating movie which is intimate in a number of ways.  The plot focuses essentially on a prolonged conversation as the two people - who appear attracted to one another - tour the Tuscan town and countryside, and the evolving (such as it is) relationship between this man and woman.  This is Abbas Kiarostami’s first film made outside his native Iran and it’s a winner. The theme is highly Hitchcockian and, yes, Kafkaesque. It plays with identity, memory and it challenges the audience as much as the characters. At the Maple.

Upcoming at Landmark are two French Canadian films: Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats (originally opening April 22, now April 29) and Denis Villeneuve's Incendies.....Dolan’s previous film – made when he was only 20 - was I Killed My Mother (2009), a story of generational identity and culture clash wrapped in a power play between a  young homosexual and his mother. Dolan said the story is partly autobiographical.  Now he is quickly back with Heartbeats, an official selection at Cannes and Toronto. The film is about an increasingly tense ménage-a-trois where the characters’ seeming reach outstrips (literally!) their grasp. Dolan stars in both films.....Further ahead on May 27 Incendies (Scorched), which was up for best foreign Oscar this year and won best Canadian film last year at Toronto, opens. The film takes the viewer from Canada (Quebec) to Lebanon and the Middle East conflict in an ancestral journey that packs an emotional wallop.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Of Davis, Coward, Malle and Moreau

Nothing special. Just a mélange of images from the past couple of weeks of film watching...Of Bette Davis in a tight-fitting yet elegant dress – and her sardonic quips – in All About Eve (1950, Joseph L. Mankiewicz). And a bejewelled very young Marilyn Monroe looking on....Any Wednesday (1966, Robert Ellis Miller) with Jason Robards, Dean Jones, Jane Fonda and Rosemary Murphy, a perfect 1960s (and by today’s standards politically incorrect and crude) farce about a Manhattan cheating executive (Robards as John Cleves) and no doubt an inspiration for the current TV hit Mad Men.....The monumental British war drama In Which We Serve (1942) co-directed by Noel Coward (who also stars fabulously as Capt. Kinross) and David Lean (his directorial debut) about life on ship and on the home front during the fearful early days on World War II when Britain was still pretty much on its own against the Nazi onslaught. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen actors depict fearful, war-weary yet brave servicemen more realistically.....Louis Malle’s first film Elevator to the Gallows (1958) with Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet, about two intertwined murders. Plot holes notwithstanding the film is suspenseful (with a soundtrack by Miles Davis) and reminiscent of classic New Wave cinema though Malle wasn’t really associated with La Nouvelle Vague.....and Jeanne Moreau again in François Truffaut's Jules and Jim (1962), a strange yet engaging story about a love triangle.....