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Vol. 10, No. 4, 2011
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Nancy Snipper
Andrée Lafontaine
Samuel Burd
Sylvain Richard
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Emanuel Pordes
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque
Denis Beaumont
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Film Reviews
  Bowling for Columbine
Shanghai Ghetto
Talk to Her
City of God
Magdalene Sisters
Dirty Pretty Things
Barbarian Invasions
Fog of War
Blind Shaft
The Corporation
Station Agent
The Agronomist
Maria Full of Grace
Man Without a Past
In This World
Buffalo Boy
Shake Hands with the Devil
Born into Brothels
The Edukators
Big Sugar
A Long Walk
An Inconvenient Truth
Sisters In Law
Send a Bullet
Banking on Heaven
Chinese Botanist's Daugher
Ben X
La Zona
The Legacy
Irina Palm
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Poor Boys Game
Finn's Girl
Leaving the Fold
The Mourning Forest
Beneath the Rooftops of Paris
Before Tomorrow
Paraiso Travel
Necessities of Life
For a Moment of Freedom
Blood River
By the Will of Genghis Kahn
The Concert
Weaving Girl
Into Eternity
When We Leave






A & O film critics Andrée Lafontaine and Nancy Snipper have seen the following films. Here are their ratings and comments, always out of 4, reserving 2.5 or more for a noteworthy film, 3.5 for an exceptional film, 4 for a classic.


2.5 -- TATANKA, Giuesppe Gagliardi
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Based on a true story about the boxer Climente Russo (he actually is the star in the film, a tough kid (itonivslly his name has been changed to Michele) growing up in in the stark streets of the Napolitan Camorra mafia crowd. In 2007, Russo was World Amateur Champion and won a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Tatanka is the word for bison in Sioux; he fought with all the power of one. The snappy pace and editing of this film creates a gritty reality with suspense. One feels the tension of crime in the streets. Russo was part of that crime until he discovered boxing in his late teens.

3.3 -- HIS MOTHER'S EYES, Thierry Klifa
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] I loved the plot. A mother and daughter (famous newscaster and ballerina respectively) end up meeting the same sleezy journalist who is secretly taping conversations each has with him. He wins their trust. What a great book he is going to write! But they do not know his real intentions. And neither woman knows this sneaky journalist has contact with the other. Mother and daughter are not close. The daughter is seeking to find her adopted son and sends the journalist to find him. All hell breaks loose, when the son falls for the journalist, and his biological mother -- the ballerina -- is in a car accident. It sounds complicated, but each new plot twist keeps us totally engaged -- not to mention that Catherine Deneuve in the role of the mother is her usual captivating self.

3.1 -- STAR AND THE SEA, Li Qian Kuan & Xiao Guiyun
[ reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Xian Xinghai is a Tanka -- a boat boy -- raised in his home on the water by his hard working mother. She recognizes his musical talent made most noticeable when he plays a bamboo flute, and later on the piano which he learns from a teacher who encourages him to continue playing despite his mother's protests. His mother, however, want him to drop his musical dreams. Their life becomes a series of moves from Macau to Singapore and then back home again. It is on the boat home that the soon-to-be-teen plays a piece he composed for his mother -- thereby rocking the boat and startling listeners with the applause he receives from all those in the dining room where the piano is kept. Known in China as "The People's Composer," this young gifted musician died at the age of 40, but his legacy lives on. He is best known for his "Yellow River Cantata" written in a cave in six days. His music was a source of inspiration during the Sino-Japanese War. Chinese patriots are well aware of the story. There are many fine moments in this epic film, but some scenes are too poetically artsy and realism is lost. Two directors seem to have created two different styles in creating a picture on the screen that lacked cohesion.

2.4 -- THE STRAWBERRY TREE, Simone Rapisarda Casanova
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A documentary filming the remote village of Juan Antonio in Cuba before the hurricane hit and destroyed everything. The film starts with several of the key people from the village talking about the hurricane, and with typical Cuban humour, catastrophe is made funny. It is so interesting to follow their lives enjoyed under the most primitive of conditions. Still, love, playfulness and hard work is the message in this tale of Cuban resilience, before and after the hurricane.

4.0 -- HASTA LA VISTA, Geoffrey Enthoven
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Brilliant! Touching! Honest! Funny! Sad! This comedy has it all. Three fellows, one blind, one completely paralyzed in a wheelchair, and another in a wheelchair who is grappling with the final stages of cancer, decide to sneak out all the way to Spain from Belgium to experience sex for the first time at a special club fro the handicapped. Their driver, a two-ton Annie, named Claude ends up being their fourth big gal buddy who helps them achieve their dreams. Based on a true story, this Belgian film turned the impossible dream into a reality meant to be shared by the whole world. What a treat!

2.9 -- HIS WIFE, Yukinari Hanawa
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A young Japanese married woman is dying of cancer. Her husband lost the factory he once ran in Nanao due to economic hardship. Now the wife no longer wishes to stay in the hospital after her operation. She wants to see her country and return to the first place where their first date took place. The husband gives her a road trip like none other. They sleep and eat in the van. It is a touching movie and a tribute to marital devotion. There are those whose love endures the test of life's cruelty and st ays on forever even after the loved one is gone.

2.0 -- FISH N' CHIPS, Elias Demetriou
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A great premise for a moive: an immigrant from Cyprus running a fish and chips eaterie in London returns to his roots on the island to open up a fish and chips joint there. Surely filmatic food for a comedy. Alas, this movie misses the boat, and we end up with a ticket to that takes us to a series of unfunny blunders and family feuds that fuel tempers. Thanks to a party gone wrong, the whole place ends up in flames. So much for fish and chips. Andy, the names of the immigrant who takes the plunge back into his native Cyprus realizes the errors of his ways, and returns to London to resume the business he should never have left in the first place. Not even the scenery (flat and sparse) could wet my appetite.

3.4 -- ROMEOS, Sabine Bernardi
[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] Lukas, 20, is in the process of medically transitioning from female to male. After wanting it for so long, he finally appears as male to everyone he meets. These are exciting time, all the more so since they coincide with Lukas’s move to a bigger city with a lively gay culture. But prejudices do not stop at the city limits. Well-researched, “Romeos” tackles its subject with sensibility and intelligence.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The length of the title tells it all. Over two hours of viewing how many times a peasant woman can get raped in the village she inhabits with her drunk husband during the late 1800s. As time progresses into Communist takeover, nothing in her life really changes. She starves, gets raped, tries to gain back her property, but nothing other than unrelenting degradation. Still she survives, that is until she loses her life in a massive flood. Religion, riots, repulsive attitudes towards women, thievery and desperation chronicle horrid periods of Russian history. Marked by violence and bitterness, the film would have us believe that the Russian psyche has been irreparably profaned, that redemption is a non-starter. So much torment has its own way of numbing the viewer; we are hoping for a second of humour, but it never happens. Sadly, this film becomes insufferable for the wrong reasons. Simply put, it turns into a monotonous leitmotiv.

3.0 -- MYSTERY OF THE LAGOONS, Atahualpa Lichy
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] In the Venezuelan Andes there lives a variety of people whose rich cultural heritage includes so many religious customs for burial, Christmas, god worship, love of the lake spirits and village idiosyncrasy. It is a world so strange to the urban dweller, that when looking at all these rituals, the most bizarre being -- the Paloma, (boiling a dead child to preserve her/him in an offering to God; the child is surrounded in a sea of flowers in the coffin), we realize the world is run on magical faiths that provide sturdy happiness to those we can only meet through such rare documentaries as this one.

3.5 -- CHINESE TAKE-AWAY, Sebastián Borensztein
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Roberto runs and small hardware store. His life is pretty miserable. His supplier of nails always cheats him and his customers rarely end up purchasing what they need from him. He spends his days cutting out absurd stories from newspapers -- one of which involves a Chinese man sitting in a boat with his financé. She is instantly killed when a cow falls on her from an airplane that has been shot down. Will wonders never cease? This Chinese fellow named Jun ends up in Buenos Aires on the street, and poor Roberto ends up taking him in for a day. But a day soon becomes two weeks. Roberto hates company and desperately tries to find a man named Qian, who is Jun's uncle. During this time, we discover just how funny things can get when a certain Qian turns up, but it's not Jun's uncle. There are so many priceless moments between these two men who can't communicate to one another, and yet they marvellously reveal the sadness and humour that is so true of the human condition. Life is absurd all right, but all is well in the end, and Roberto gets his Qian and the girl lusting after Roberto, gets her man. Once again Argentina brings us a delightful film that features the brilliant acting of its greatest star, Ricardo Darin.

3.3 -- THE FIRE, Brigitte Maria Bertele
[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] How far can one go to find justice when the law refuses to deliver? A woman (Judith, Maja Shoene) who was raped by a stranger after an evening out identifies the attacker who nevertheless remains unprosecuted. Ultimately, there were no witness and her injuries are not severe enough. Her words do not measure up to those of a respected doctor and family man. Coping, she tries to move on without simply forgetting, which is what those around her would prefer: her rape, her presence as a rape victim, disturbs them. A well-made film, whose script and male characters would have benefited from more nuance and ambiguities. Shoene offers a impressive performance, her body transforming through the different stages of the recovery process. Difficult to watch, and at times frustrating, "Der Brand" remains an important film.  

3.5 -- THE FIRE, Brigitte Maria Director
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] When Judith goes salsa dancing, she ends up in the arms of Ralph Nester, a charming man who wins her trust. She can't get her bike lock to open upon taking leave of the dance club. Ralph suddenly appears to rescue her and then escorts her to the town's river to show her something. He rapes her; Judith barely recovers from the ordeal. To make matters worse, this horrid man -- a doctor -- turns the tables on her, accusing her of harassment and more. Her lawyer and live-in partner prove ineffective in helping her regain justice. Judith plots how to take down her attacker. Her strategy includes visits to his office, to his home and constant threats to him that she will divulge the attack to his wife. Getting nowhere, she hatches a plan -- a most brutal one -- but evidently necessary one to bring him down. She provokes him into beating her up. Only then, will he be prosecuted. This German film masterfully illustrates the full-scale disintegration process of a rape victim on several levels: physically, emotionally and legally. A finely crafted film, it deserves to be in the festival's World Competition category.

3.4 -- THE ART OF ROMANCE, Emmanuel Mouret
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Although Cupid's arrow can strike within a second, it can take weeks for those in love to admit they are and handle it according to what their hearts yearn for. We follow four women -- one in need of reassurance that the man she loves expresses it to her minute by minute. But when he does, she rejects him; another who wants to be sexually active with other men other than her partner. Yet it is her partner she adores and beds every night. Still another woman attempts an open relationship, but alas neither she or her live-in hunk follow through n the arrangement. The most unusual of all involves a woman whose gal pal is in need of love. Her friend hatches a clever covert plan to deliver her this badly needed love, but it literally and figuratively keeps the lonely lady and her nameless love partner in the dark. Lots of twists, humour and irony as only the French can conceive illustrate so lovingly the whimsy and wonder of this exhilarating emotion we call romantic love.

3.1 -- L’ART D’AIMER, Emmanuel Mouret
[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] This ensemble film, a collection of vignettes about the many faces of love and desire, succeeds in engaging the audience where many have failed before (“Love Actually,”“Valentine's Day”). Contrary to his Anglo-American counterparts, Mouret understands that a multi-story film can succeed only if it doesn't rely solely on big names and attractive actors. Quintessentially French, “L'art d'aimer” cleverly harnesses the fabulous talent of its cast and the famously fast-paced dialogue of the French comedy tradition. Light, smart and contemporary, “The Art of Love” is a joyful ride.

2.5 -- THE LAW OF ATTRACTION, Zhao Tianyu
[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] The second ensemble film of the FFM International Competition, “Wan You Yin Li” presents four mini-stories about the different stages of love. We are in comfortably familiar territory though this new take seems to bring nothing new to the genre. A good soundtrack and cool characters give the movie a very contemporary feel, as do the situations presented. Unfortunately, and whether due to its slow pace, repetitiveness or overall hollowness, the film seems to be running on empty most of the time. The movie would have most definitely benefited from tighter editing, not to mention more substance.

2.8 -- PLAYOFF, Eran Riklis [reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] Danny Huston, son of John, incarnates Ralf Klein, basketball coach for Germany's national team between 1983 and 1985, the team’s golden age. Klein is also an Israeli Jew who fled Germany as the Nazis rose to power. The return home brings back many memories and unresolved family mysteries. Now living in Klein's old apartment, Amira Casar plays a Turkish-born single mother on a work visa, who is looking for her estranged husband. Ultimately, it is this story that takes centre stage all the while relegating the basketball -- much less interesting because unexplored -- to the bench.

2.4 -- BLACK THURSDAY, Antoni Krauze
[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] The FFM is known for making odd choices when selecting films for its main competition and “Czarny Czwartek” is this year’s striking example. Though not a bad film, it is simply very . . . ordinary. It is also much less interesting than many of the other films shown outside the competition. The film successfully recreates the aesthetic we associate with the 1970s, which has the unfortunate effect of also giving the film a 'made for television' feel. About the December 1970 confrontation between workers and government, following a hike in food prices, the film is nevertheless informative. Even by festival standards, the English subtitles are absolutely terrible, which should also have given some indication to the programmers that this might not be world competition material after all.

2.7 -- LESSONS FROM A DREAM, Sebastian Grobler
[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] “Der Ganz Grosse Traum” feels dated both from an aesthetic standpoint and in terms of subject matter. Set in 1874 Germany, it presents us the ever familiar boys' school. As the story goes, a new instructor with unusual methods is hired, bringing havoc into the boys' routine and the entire education system. This time, however, the troublesome but well-intended teacher doesn't bring discipline to chaos, but rather chaos to a much too well regimented school (hints of the upcoming rise of the Nazis are numerous). “Lessons from "Dream”’s well-known story about the virtues of rebellion is moreover told in too conventional a style.

3.0 -- HERE WITHOUT ME, Bahram Tavakoli
[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] Much like Kurosawa, who made Dostoyevsky's “The Idiot” a truly Japanese film,Tehran-born Bahram Tavakoli turns Tennessee Williams’ “Glass Menagerie” into a piece of Iranian folklore, showing the similarities between American and Persian society. Deeply entertaining, “Here Without Me” is well-paced and acted, and presents an interesting dimension of Persian culture.

3.2 -- LA RUN, Demian Fuica
[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] Despite its grittiness and difficult subject-matter, “La run” was surprisingly well-received by the FFM crowd. Shot in 22 days on a $400 000 budget, with no help from public institutions (not even during post-production), the film certainly does not have the gloss of a big production; however, this 'independent' touch turns out to be exactly what this story about the drug underworld needed. “La run” tells the story of Guillaume (Jason Roy Léveillé), a young man living with his father, who joins a drug ring in order to pay for his father’s gambling debts. Montreal’s underbelly isn’t glamourized by any stretch and parents should fear not: their kids will certainly not be tempted to explore what drugs have to offer after watching this film. This is not to say that the film is preachy, and although the voice-over narration tends to be somewhat moralistic, it does makes sense in context. “La run”'s strength lies above all in its dialogues and pacing. Its slang-ridden exchanges and patois always genuine, never forced. Editing is tight, dynamic and fast-paced, and music (interestingly, mostly diegetic) is well-chosen and captivating. Acting by principal actors, notably Pierre-Luc Brillant (as the jealous pusher Butch), Nicolas Canuel (as big boss Rivière) and Roy Léveillé, is impressive and believable, while the supporting cast -- in good part non-professional due to lack of funding -- is unfortunately much less credible and over-the-top. The extensive research that went into this film has certainly paid off as “La run” feels very authentic, a feeling that is reinforced by the numerous unusual exterior shots of Montreal and its surroundings.

3.4 -- A FAMILY OF THREE, Pia Strietmann
[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] Grief has many faces, and “A Family of Three” explores some of the least common ones; withdrawal and anger. Once a successful writer and mother of two dies, her emotionally scarred family breaks apart, unable to cope with the loss and the secrets which consequently surface. This is a mature and intelligent first film by Pia Strietmann, a director to keep an eye on.

3.1 -- PHANTOM FATHER, Lucian Georgescu
[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] Part Romanian fantasy about America, part American fantasy about the old country, this quest for origins embodies the idea that a journey is more important than its destination. An American professor travels the Romanian countryside in search of information about his family, who left shortly before WWII. Though not a comedy, “Tatal Fantoma” nevertheless keeps it light and has fun with Romanian folklore and traditions.

3.6 -- COME AS YOU ARE, Geoffrey Enthoven
[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] Heartwarming, if at times simplistic, “Come As You Are”’s synopsis sounds like a joke: “Three Belgians -- a quadriplegic, a blind man and one in a wheelchair -- decide to go to a Spanish brothel . . . ” Much funnier than a punch-line, the film had the audience laughing from start to finish. However, it also is much more than a joke: Loosely based on Asta Philpot’s life, the film convincingly defends handicapped people’s sexual rights.

2.0 -- DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, Troy Nixey
[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] A remake of a 1973 ABC telepic, Troy Nixey and Guillermo del Toro’s long-awaited “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” brings us back to the slow pacing and familiar grounds of the best 1980s horror flicks complete with the ever-so-familiar scary Victorian house as a setting for the action. As the convention goes, the action takes place between the moment the family moves in, and when they finally decide to pack it up and leave. Predictably, the parents are too busy with financial concerns to properly attend to their curious and troubled daughter Sally -- (Bailee Madison). Though the mother figure (Katie Holmes) -- being a woman -- is (surprise!) more receptive to Sally’s warnings, she is completely helpless and ineffectual until the skeptical father (a soporific Guy Pearce) “gets it” (which, being a man, he only does (surprise!) after seeing the evildoers with his own eyes). “Don’t be Afraid of the Dark”’s uniqueness -- to use the term liberally -- resides principally in the way it conceives its scary villains. Rodent-like, ghoulish creatures creeping up in the dark, they’re the stuff that kids’ nightmares are made of, though for adults, they do very little to scare, our interest being primarily drawn to the artistry behind their lifelike appearance. Admirably, very few explanations are provided to justify their presence, something which, in any case, always ends up being silly. Bailee Madison gives by far the strongest performance of this small cast with Holmes and Pearce coming off incredibly flat on characters that were already both predictably and thinly drawn. The film contains many references to cult horror flicks which fans of the genre may enjoy identifying -- that is, if their patience keeps them in their seats.

2.4 -- DAVID, Joel Fendelman
[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] “David” is a well-intentioned film with a big heart. Its premiss is as interesting and funny as it is unlikely. A Brooklyn boy of 11 ( Daud), raised in a strict and religious Muslim family, is devoting a good part of his life to follow in his Imam father’s footsteps. A series of misunderstandings and unfortunate events lead Daud straight into a Jewish religious school for boys, where he easily passes for one of the students and makes friends. Hence starts Daud -- now David's -- double-life: Jewish by day, Muslim by night. The director described his approach as “realistic optimism,” an approach that will likely have as many supporters as detractors. The film remains light and unpolitical, which sometimes translates into characters being too unidimensional, and narrative elements and dialogues wanting for nuance. The movie would have also benefited from a better balance of the two religious universes: while we find out very little of the Muslim family’s origin, we are treated to long monologues about Jewish roots and community. Moreover, its Muslim world is strict and restrictive, while its Jewish world is cool and liberal, a contrast that may rankle.

[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] Katrin Laur’s second feature, “The Graveyard Keeper’s Daughter,” is an extremelly powerful and accomplished work. The film explores the day-to-day existence of a young girl -- Lucia -- living with her alcoholic parents in rural Estonia. Opting for a realistic aesthetic, Laur never averts her camera away from daily miseries, shooting them in all their simplicity and avoiding unecessary pathos. In this way, the camera replicates Lucia’s own way of looking at a life she has grown used to.

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