Monday, November 6, 2017

WIFF 3: Pricking pretentiousness

(A note: some of the films screened at this year's Windsor International Film Festival are ones seen previously and have been reviewed in earlier posts; they won't be reviewed in  festival coverage.)

My final four films at this year’s festival were The Square, Integral Man, Loving Vincent and At Worst We Will Marry…..First, Ruben Östlund’s The Square (pictured left), which won top prize at Cannes, and follows on his powerful and morally disturbing 2014 Force Majeure. Morally disturbing is this as well, though done in a series of farcical set pieces, all fascinating, though the viewer might wonder what it all adds up to. The film breaks new ground in attacking the pretentiousness of the art world, a subject on which few in the cultural industry dare tread. But the movie is really based around a series of incidents afflicting an art museum director, Christian (Claes Bang), who at turns is robbed, accused of using his power to seduce women, and becomes a lightning rod over a gross publicity campaign. And there is the frightening hilarity of the 11-minute human ape scene…..Integral Man (Joseph Clement) is about Toronto professor James Stewart, who made a fortune writing mathematical textbooks – “the most published mathematician since Euclid” – and his 2009-built Integral House in Toronto’s Rosedale neighborhood. The film is a paean to the house’s intricate and breakthrough design, though a viewer, as I did, might find its atmosphere cold and austere and wonder what the fuss is about. Stewart, who lived only briefly to enjoy the house before dying of a rare form of cancer, also was a classical violinist, and the house remains a space for chamber concerts and philanthropic fundraisers……Loving Vincent (Hugh Welchman and Dorota Kobiela), thankfully, was not a regurgitation of the wonderfulness of one of the world’s best – and best loved - painters. Rather, it explores, in detective fashion, the premise (based on a 2011 book) that Vincent van Gogh did not kill himself but was the victim of an oafish prank by the town’s fool. For some reason, the artist claimed credit, perhaps for aesthetic nobility. Technically, the movie is a richer colored animation paint-over of filmed dramatic scenes than, say, Richard Linklater’s 2001 Waking Life; here 100 artists were involved. In fact, so realistic is it that it’s like watching an animated painting done by van Gogh himself……Finally, Quebec director Léa Pool’s At Worst, We Will Marry, also plays with murder and the heroic. In this case, 14-year-old Aïcha (Sophie Nélisse, an actor born in Windsor), a child of a broken home and sexually abused by her father, one day meets Baz, a man twice her age, and falls for him. He can’t dissuade her that there’s no future in their relationship, given the age difference. But, in a terrific and memorable performance as a very disturbed enfant terrible, she is incorrigible and haunts Baz, committing a crime for which he takes full credit. And that unlikely decision is the movie’s major flaw.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

WIFF 2: Screams from the post-industrial landscape

(A note: some of the films screened at this year's Windsor International Film Festival are ones seen previously and have been reviewed in earlier posts; they won't be reviewed in this week's festival coverage.)

The great Cate (Blanchett, that is) serves up another tour de force (after her 2007 Todd Haynes’s directed I’m Not There) in German director Julian Rosenfeldt’s Manifesto (pictured left)Make that a dozen or so uber performances, as she dons eclectic personas, and surrealistic backdrops, to shout out a melange of some of the world’s greatest art and political manifestos. Breathtaking!....I have truly fallen in love with Diane Lane. Yes, she’s a beautiful woman but it’s her acting skills which are sublime. In Eleanor Coppola’s delightful Paris Can Wait, she’s the bored taken-for-granted wife of a Hollywood tycoon, but who finds pleasure in the wining and dining overtures of a stereotypical French romantic (Arnaud Viard). You can’t take your eyes off Lane’s subtle, understated performance…..After Love (Joachim Lafosse) is a superbly acted film about a couple (Bérénice Bejo and Cédric Kahn) divorcing but due to economic circumstances are still forced to live together. This film could be a textbook for theatrical students…..Ingrid Goes West is an hilarious romp of a film about a young woman (Aubrey Plaza as Ingrid), mentally disturbed, caught up in the semi-real world of social media. She becomes obsessed with a minor LA star (Elizabeth Olsen), eventually stalking and befriending her, in a movie that depicts social media’s toxic extremes……The Only Living Boy in New York has a stellar cast (Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Kate Beckinsale and Cynthia Nixon) and has all the makings of a great film, at least in my book. The setting is New York, the principle character Thomas Webb (Callum Turner) is a young ambitious writer, there’s plenty of scenes among the Upper West Side literary set. But it gets bogged down by an improbable love triangle involving a father, son and the same woman. Moreover, other plot elements aren’t sufficiently explored, such as Webb’s writing talents or that of the gnarly hard drinking W. F. Gerald (Bridges). The film’s audio is also poor with much muffled dialogue…..Thomas Vinterberg’s The Commune is a predictable send-up of early 1970's communal living. Anna (Trine Dyrholm) exuberantly wants to push the envelope of life experiences and recruits a group of people to live together (and share the expensive rent). But when her husband’s lover Mona (Julie Agnele Vang) moves in, Anna’s seeming New Age welcome (it is the Seventies, after all) crumbles in the wake of a traditional broken heart…..What to make of Happy End, Austrian director Michael Haneke’s latest? Could it be subtitled “the family that is malevolent together stays together?” In a typical role, Isabelle Huppert as Anne Laurent is the matriarch of a construction company. Not only does she have to deal with a lawsuit arising from a workplace accident but that of the evil in the hearts of her own family. The great Jean-Louis Trintignant as her father is an irascible aged man and one can’t help feeling sad for the shocking declining physique of the famous real-life actor. The story borders on absurdity, and seems an Haneke throwaway…..A Bag of Marbles (Christian Duguay), based on an autobiographical novel, is a charming tale about two young French Jewish boys’ flight from the Nazis. While the film is sentimental its best features are its meticulously recreated scenes and sets, down to highly authentic newspapers and even splintered wood in nondescript objects like a drain pipe……Aurore (Blandine Lenoir) is a predictable feel good movie about a woman (Agnès Jaoui) entering middle age, with all the jokes about hot flashes, declining looks, and kissing frogs before meeting a prince. The movie’s a crowd-pleaser, especially among a certain demographic set (I counted two other men among the audience). 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

WIFF 1: the ghosts have it

(A note: some of the films screened at this year's Windsor International Film Festival are ones seen previously and have been reviewed in earlier posts; they won't be reviewed in this week's festival coverage.)

The ghosts have it, appropriately enough, given the time of year, so far, at the Windsor International Film Festival. My favorite film in the first couple of days of the seven-day event – now in its 13th year and which ends Sunday - is City of Ghosts (Matthew Heineman), the portrait by a group of brave Syrian underground journalists – many of whom have been killed - under the name RBSS (Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently) who depicted the atrocities by ISIS in their then captured (now liberated) city…..This was followed by A Ghost Story (David Lowery) (picture above left), not so much a horror flick – though there are a few thrill moments – as a meditation on loss and life. The trailer – showing a “ghost” wearing the tell-tale sheet – looked almost laughable but I’m glad I saw the film because it transcends what, in a less competent director’s hands, could have seemed facile and unintentionally humorous…..Churchill (Jonathan Teplitzky) was a disappointment, not from a production or acting POV (Brian Cox as Winston Churchill is excellent) but from an historical narrative. The film makes Churchill, in the last year of the Second World War, out to be an incompetent boob, indeed a drunkard and a dotty old man. I’ve never heard of this description for someone considered perhaps the greatest figure of the 20th century. Indeed, one historian said the movie “gets everything wrong.” It left a bitter taste in my mouth…..Susanne Bartsch: On Top (Anthony Caronna) takes us behind the scenes with this generation’s Andy Warhol, eccentric model and avant-garde fashionista Susanne Bartsch. Why had I never heard of her before? In any case, Bartsch, in the 1980's, took up from where Warhol left off, throwing outrageous parties, celebrating over the top fashion as a way to transform the self as a creative, poetic act. “Life itself,” she says, “is an art form.” ….Heal the Living (Katell Quillévéré) is a well presented dramatic look at the issue of organ transplants. It just shows that even topics that usually are presented in dry didactic ways, if done right, can transcend rudimentary infomercials…..The Odyssey (Jerome Salle), is a biopic about Jacques Cousteau, the great underwater explorer and his “oceanauts.” We may think of Cousteau as a sterling transformative adventurer who opened the undersea world to the general public. But, like many great men, he had some warts – he was a serial cheater on his long-suffering wife, somewhat vain and overly ambitious, threatening financially his far-flung enterprises. ….Graduation (Cristian Mungiu) continues Mangiu’s depiction of Romanian corruption (pre-and post-war Communism). It’s surprising for Westerners to see the kind of greasing the wheel that goes on in some countries, but it’s shown here, where even doctors are offered cash incentives to expedite surgery. Some good, intense acting if a dismal story….Thelma (Joachim Trier) is a slick Danish film about a young woman who has supernatural powers, diagnosed in the film medically as psychogenic non-epileptic seizures, a real phenomenon. It’s unclear why these events take place but often profound things happen during her seizures: people are displaced, set on fire or disappear. It seems this is because Thelma (Eili Harboe) is rebelling against her strict Christian upbringing, an unfortunate cliché that mars an otherwise superb film.