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Vol. 10, No. 5, 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
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



2011 CINEMANIA (Montreal) - festival de films francophone 3-13th novembre, Cinema Imperial info@514-878-0082


So far, A & O film critics Nancy Snipper and Samuel Burd 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.


3.2 -- MY PIECE OF THE PIE (MA PART DU GATEAU), Cedric Klapisch
[reviewed by Samuel Burd] A small-town factory closes, crippling the local working class and sending a single mother of four outside the city limits for employment. Through a co-worker she locates a service that trains immigrants as housemaids and miraculously finds a job cleaning the apartment of the ambitious, egomaniacal trader whose market antics closed her factory in the first place. Slowly the two acclimate to each other and, after the introduction of the trader’s young son, form a kind of unstable surrogate family. As films about male-female, upper-lower class, employer-employee relationships go, “Pie” is refreshingly free of “Pretty Woman’s” degrading, condescending attitude towards its female character, even while it shares that film’s infatuation with money and relative disinterest in the lower class to which she belongs. But the spectacle of privilege also gives the film its greatest strength, which is the pleasure of watching two attractive people flirt in attractive settings, and to experience the tease of them testing the limits of their social roles. “Pie” falters when it tries to transcend this flirtation and explore the big meanings of class difference, banking on absurd scenarios like a long-lost love and a kidnapping to unmask the stubborn class ties beneath its fairytale partnership. Its portrait of upper-class guilt and confusion grows more complex and individuated as its portrait of lower-class frustration snowballs into a clumsy demonstration of worker solidarity, transforming the mother into a symbol and the banker into a tragic, complicated human being. "Pie’s" overinvestment in the spectacle of wealth and underinvestment in everything else humanizes the corporate and generalizes the serf, and dangles the patient flirtation of its two leads against the gathering, palpable need for collective action. It's failure to cohere these two elements has already made it in an odd relic of pre-Occupy frustration, where love and social protest don't yet figure in the same story.

3.6 -- NIGHT CLERK (AVANT L'AUBE) , Dominique Besnehard
[reviewed by Samuel Burd] A powerful sense of place pervades “The Night Clerk,” blanketing its white landscape, encasing its characters in frigid, protective layers. A juvenile offender working the night shift at a secluded winter hotel observes the aftermath and cover-up of a car wreck involving the hotel owner’s son and a stranded motorist. Soon the owner takes the clerk under his wing, promoting him through the hotel ranks and adopting him as a surrogate for his own alienated progeny. Against the advice of his girlfriend, the clerk attaches himself to the owner and begins to enjoy the attention denied him by his orphan past; meanwhile, the owner keeps the clerk close, ostensibly as insurance, against his son’s wishes. Everything points to a set-up, but the plot’s more predictable points are just surface through which the complex allegiances of family members, owners and employees, and the mix of ambitions and frustrations driving them, play out. These frustrations and ambitions accrue on each character like falling snow, further shielding us from them, and they from each other, the more we ostensibly know. “Clerk” injects this respect for the mysteries of character and motivation into the frame of a half-hour television mystery or a short detective fiction, letting the complexities of the former rub against the latter’s drive toward disclosure and tidiness. One bridge between the two is a young, superficially bumbling female detective, a Marple-Holmes mixture whose bemused intelligence, a holdover from the detectives of yore, is given particular sharpness by her youth and working-class affiliations. She is an enigma playing a cliché, comfortably familiar and, like everything in “The Night Clerk,” permanently strange beneath her blanket of snow.

3.4 -- SECOND CHANCE, Nicolas Cuche
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A delicous comedy in the French tradition that is fetching, plot possible and engaging. Julien is an affable marriage counselor who uses unorthodox techniques to bring couples together. Most of his strategy involves getting couples to insult each other, which is very funny, especially because it brings reconciliation in the meetings. When Julien meets Joanna, the gal of his dreams at a party, the lonely therapist reveals to the camera that he is a man cursed -- that every girl friend he has had has ended up close to death or involved in accidents whenever he's around. He takes us through a visual history of these girls starting from the time he was about 6, and it is hilarious. Julien and Joanna get together, but bad things keep on happening to her. When she gets her dream job to design a new car for Dupont, Joanna begins to believe Julien really is cursed; things go really wrong in a series of laugh-out-loud calamities; her future is jinxed with the company and with Julien. But is it really? Everything turns around for her. Julien -- now self-exiled in a monastery where he works as a relationship arbitrator for monks who have their tiffs -- finds out Joanna really loves him, and all's well that ends well despite the bad start. Each character is magnificently cast to create natural ensemble chemistry. No one person steals the show. This film is a refreshing break from the serious Cinemania offerings that focus on social and political issues. Bring on more of these comedies, please! A film will never be a flop if it makes you laugh, and "Second Chance" did just that without relying on superfluous French fluff. This piece is a believable belly-laugh hit.

2.9 -- ALL OUR DESIRES , Philippe Lioret
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A tad too long at the end and somewhat far fetched, nonetheless, the film is worth seeing as it presents two compelling themes. Can the little guy fight big company creditors and can one survive brain cancer in time to do it? Claire, suffering from an inoperable brain tumour, quickly befriends Celine, a mother whose two children play with hers. The woman owes an incredible amount of money and can't pay off the loans. As it happens, Claire, a judge, unexpectedly meets Celine in court as she is the appointed judge to render a decision during a hearing. Claire rules in favour of Celine but the big companies are fighting it. Claire hires the expertise of Stephane, also a judge, and together they plot out a way to put into question the legality and validity of big loan company contracts that defeat the borrower at every turn. Furthermore, their contracts contain legalese in the smallest of print that no one can read. Plus are these credit companies threatening others, thereby creating a situation in the EU based on unfair market competition. As Claire's condition deteriorates and everyone is kept in the dark about it, the clock is racing against time for her and for Celine. She and Stephane find loopholes and ways to bring it to the highest court, bypassing the Court of Appeals that would never rule in favour of Celine. Claire has Celine come and live with the family; she needs help, but won't admit it. She also begins to hoist Celine into her own role as mother to the now four kids int the house, and begins to groom her for the role of future wife to her husband. In the end. everyone finds out Claire is dying. The charismatic Vincent Lindon as Phillipe adds excitement and integrity to events as they unfold. There is a passion and wonder in his acting. Still, "All Our Desires" left little desire in me, other than the desire to meet Vincent Lindon in person.

3.0 -- FREE HANDS, Brigitte Sy
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A true happening that reveals the story behind making this film. Barbara is making a film about inmates in prison, and while doing so she and inmate Michel, who is in for drugs and robbery, fall in love. The film shows us how each of the five inmates she is filming reflect on their lives. She incorporates their exact lines in the script. But the real movie we see is about her relationship with Michel. Barbara does him a favour and delivers some money to him that has been wired to her friend. She gets caught in a web that lands her in jail. The law believes she is in cahoots with Michel and she is denied access to Michel and further filming for a year. After a year they actually get married on the prison premises. Tragically, only one year out of jail to enjoy his marriage, he is killed in a motorcycle accident. We never see them together after the marriage vows taken in jail. The real director of this remarkable story wanted to film the most authentic reality there is in an authentic way, and that is why she chose a jail. So this low key film is really a film within a film. I think Brigitte Sy is a very brave woman to do this film and to risk all in order to be with her love, Michel. The film is well made and all the more powerful when you ponder the fact that all this really happened to Sy. She wanted to make a film about her experience in this Parisian prison. You never know under what strange circumstances love hits you. This film is the oddest yet most moving perhaps in the Cinemania repertoire. The casting of Israeli actress Ronit Elkabets as Barbara and pairing her with actor Carlo Brandt in the role of Michel makes the film strong. Simple in style, and unpredictable, the film speaks quietly. A truly rare love story that transforms into a movie miracle without contrivance nor pretension. Sy's story affects us.

2.3 -- UNFORGIVEABLE, André Téchiné
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] An interesting film made fine to watch because of the enigmatic Carole Bouquet who plays Judith. She is a real estate agent in Venice who, as the movie progresses embarks on a very odd love life. She settles into a relationship with Francis, a best selling author who has hired her to find a house to rent away from the maddening crowd. He rents a house on the island of Saint Erasmo. She takes up his offer to move in with him from the start, but when Francis's daughter arrives, things disappear, including the daughter, trust and love. Judith gets spied upon by an young man out of prison whom Francis has hired. Things take an about face turn when she becomes intimate with the young, violent fellow. She is a woman who never seems to bond with anyone long term. This is an unusual film that is intriguing for its acting and characters as relationships form and dissolve. We want to stay and watch where each person's journey takes him/her. Everyone is connected in the story. After all Venice is not a big place to get lost in, yet these characters do. In the end, each finds their out of this watery city's maze. Sexual ambiguity gives the film its movement and mystery. Still, you have to like films that are propelled by characters, not plot; otherwise, you may not last the full 111 minutes, despite the lovely setting and beautiful face of Bouquet that could surely launch a thousand Venetian canal boats at the wink of an eye.

3.8 -- THE PREY, Éric Valette
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Wow! What a fantastic film! Suspense, great chase scenes, and a hero on the run who has been framed for killing many young women. The intriguing element to the original track-em-down scenario is the fact that the bad guy is the cell mate of Franck. His name is Maurel; he committed the murders, but it is Franck who is accused of these killings. Maurel is a soft spoken psychopath, who through masterful manipulation gets himself freed and cleared for any wrongdoing. Maurel was accused of rape. Once out, he begins his diabolical plan to frame Franck for the murders and get the money he knows Franck has hidden in his father's grave site. Franck finds a fabulous way to escape and track down Maurel, while he himself is being chased by the cops. One particular savvy female cop called called Claire (Alice Taglioni) feels something is amiss -- that Franck is not responsible for the killings. Without her astute observation and her courage to follow her gut instinct, Franck would have ended up as dead meat, just like his wife did. Maurel saw to that. The money has disappeared from the grave site; Franck's daughter is missing, and as for his stunning wife, she's lying dead atop the coffin of Franck's dead dad. It's all too much to take for Franck who makes a mighty muscular fugitive, matched by his cunning and courage. He sure does a lot of running and hiding. Éric Valette is a great filmmaker; he excels in creating clear taut plot twists while the sound and lighting inject the film with ominous layers. Moreover, the totally plausible performance of Albert Dupontel, as Franck, just makes the viewing experience well worth the violence we witness. After all, the prison scenes of being beaten up do take up a good part of the film. The beginning of the plot is so original that we are hooked from the get-go. A Cinemania stand-out worthy of a 4.0 rating save for the fact that some moments in plot were rather quickly treated, and we were left wondering how this person knew that fact and how that fact became evident. Your mind has to work as fast as Franck's feet do. He never stops running for his life and for that of his daughter's.

2.1 -- THE MINISTER, Pierre Schoeller
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Let's hope the government of France is not run the way this movie would have us think. Chaos, mutilation and madness masked under the collective guise of civility characterize the modus operandi of ministers and other politicians trying to save their own careers and not their own country. Transport minister Bertrand Saint-Jean does not wish to see the privatization of trains, but that is what the higher ups want in order to salvage part of the country's debt. The movie begins with a fatal bus crash, and then inserts a fatal car crash towards the end, and basically has everyone heading for a massive transportation disaster where several heads get lopped off. (The good guys always end up on a bad ride of no return). The movie was difficult to keep up with, as the cast of characters never stopped growing. To show the 'what-the heck-is-going-on feeling' of this film one need only ask why a recently hired chauffeur whom few knew was deserving of a near-state funeral when he is killed in a car crash; the minister in that car survives. Here's where the movie cemented the uneasy feeling that most of the events in the film were highly implausible. It is too bad we lost the chauffeur, as he was the only real guy around, and was indeed loved for his humility and discretion -- a fine foil to the politicoes who keep the wheels of the government turning as they fatten their accounts. There were some good scenes, but the lack of focus and the silliness of so many edpisodes (a nude woman putting her body inside the mouth of a crocodile to be eaten) basically means there is no hope for France (or maybe for French cinema for that matter) and that rancour and hopelessness are the food French people are crashing out on. In the leading role, Olivier Gourmet (note his last name-no pun intended) offered food for thought in the film; his acting served up a big portion of the movie, but the best I could manage after it was all over was a big yawn. After all, we usually do that after we've eaten junk food.

2.3 -- POLISS, Maiwenn
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Intensity, laughter and lots of yelling centering around a fragmented plot fraught with child abuse and pornography, plus the star -- a taut team of investigative cops -- all this cannot save this film from hyperactive performances that are not only over the top, but over anyone's decibel level of tolerance. A photographer is hired to follow the team throughout the day as they deal with all the perverts and dangerous situations and people thrown their way. CSI on TV does a better job than this movie, though it features well-known actors including the director herself (she plays the photographer). I found the vulgar language used by the cops to be all part of the shock value that runs throught the film. However, the biggest shock is the suicide ending, and the sad thing is, we don't even care. We are left wondering why a tough team member couldn't take a few personal insults hurdled her way. She was not the main character, but the film left us thinking more about her than the events in the movie. Therefore, the subject matter of the film had little audience impact. A frenetic, noisy movie that lacked deep focus and feeling for such an important issue.

3.8 -- A BETTER LIFE, Cedric Kahn
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Now this is a film worth staying for. Two deep, highly charged hours go by, leaving a fine movie memory. Yann, an immature, impulsive fellow has a flare for cooking and forging out deals. But one deal involves his decision to buy a lakeside cabin in need of much repair. He hires a workman, but asks him to cut sub-standard corners when it comes to the kitchen. Inspectors arrive, and reach the conculsion that he has to redo it. But there is no more money left. He has already maxed out his various loans. His girlfriend, Nadia, leaves him to go to Montreal, and Yann is stuck taking care of her little boy, Slimane. This is really where the movie develops into a story about a relationship between a firey, angry man (Yann), and an adorable boy (Slimane). Yann sinks into depression, is forced to sell the cabin and deal with living in a slum apartment whose owner is as shady as the extreme lack of light in the entire building. Yann mistreats the boy, but as time goes by, he begins to enjoy the youngster, even bond with him. Yann doesn't hear from the mother, and so he must provide for the boy. He is flat broke, but finds a way to get money to travel from France to Montreal to track down the mother. They find her, but she is in some sort of prison, having been set up to take drugs across the border. The movie elegantly develops the transformation of Yann from a frighteningly abusive man to a tender hero intent on doing the right thing. Guillaume Canet stars as Yann, and he plays him masterfully. He is so credible, you forget he is an actor. You feel what he is thinking; you hate, fear and loathe him, and then you begin to forgive him for his terribly belligerent behaviour. Respect, admiration and attraction sneak slowly into your mind and your emotions willfully embrace him. An incredibly nuanced film in all respects, far better than the movie's moniker woudl suggest. Finally, a Cinemania hit on its hands!

2.3 -- FREE MEN, Ismael Ferroukhi
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] What most holds the eyes and ears of the viewer in this slice of history film is the singer/actor Alain-Michel. The Arabic singing which happens in many scenes features his talent in the role of Salim. His wondrous voice and stellar looks are a plus for this otherwise low-key film. Based on historical truth, the story creates heros out of Algerians who lived in France and joined the resistance in a highly clandestine way to fight off the Germans. The premise was that Algerians would be honoured as such, and given full freedom in their own country. The year is 1942. Even the head of the Mosque hid Jews. It is interesting that Salim was actually a Jew who kept his identity hidden. But some friends and foes found out. Still he was able to survive. Younes, an unscrupulous Algerian businessman captured for selling goods on the black market turns spy for the German police. He really is cornered and chooses to save his own skin. This role was artfully played by Tahar Rahim. Still, what could have been a suspenseful film offered only a monotonous reenactment of a page yellowing in a history book. Surely, these brave fighters deserve more than a quietly polite, politically-inspired film.

1.9 -- THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO, Robert Guédiguian.
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Michel has lost his job at the port of Marseille, despite being a union man trying to save his and other workers' jobs. His wife, Marie-Claire, is also left-wing. They feel a tad guilty about living a bourgeois life, but they are middle-aged and have worked hard to get what they want. There is a celebration for their 30th anniversary, and a ticket to Africa is in the surprise gifts (arranged by her husband), along with lots of money given to them by friends. It is presented in a little treasure box during the party.This couple is in love, but a rather violent robbery during a card game with their best firends turns their world upside down. The thief is tracked down. He was one of the workers who lost his job. The couple finds a way to help the young brothers of the thief now on his way to prison. The idea of giving your money over to the siblings of one who has attacked and robbed you, insulted you, never shown remorse, and will rob again, is far-fetched. Left-wingers may have huge hearts, but they have a keen sense of justice for all victims, including themselves. The plot is implausible and the acting flat. The only good part was when the robbery happens out of nowhere and the manner in which Michel finds the thief. I won't give that away, in the event there are fans out there of Jean-Pierre Darroussin who played Michel. He certainly isn't tops in my list of French actors.

1.1 -- THE FAIRY, Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abeil & Bruno Romy Bezancon
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] What is going on with the Cinemania Festival this year? The choice of films is bordering on the ridiculous, save for a scant few. This film is really a total incredulous adventure into the absurd, the silly and the moronic without being funny. It is, in other words, a total flop. Claims that this childish comedy is akin to a Jacques Tati triumph is utterly exaggerated. The plot plunges the protagonists into a world of unreality and thus, humour has no basis to work from; nothing is out of line as reality is irrelevant in this film. Attempts to make us laugh fall flat. A hotel clerk trying to enjoy his sandwich keeps getting interrupted by clients wanting a room. Enter Fiona, a fairy who grants the clerk three wishes. They fall in love and despite committing harmless illegal acts that land one in jail and the other in a mental hospital, they find freedom and bliss in their love which produces a baby. The only original scene was when they were on a motorcycle chasing their baby who was left on the trunk of a car which is speeding along a treacherous mountain highway. The scenery was nice. But perhaps the movie should have had everyone crashing over the mountain into the sea below, except for the baby. At least, it would have provided a welcome end without forcing us to watch a movie trying to be funny. Both a actors are incredibly homely people whose faces are not funny to watch at all. Interestingly, Gordon and and Abeil are a real-life couple. Guess their home is a pile of laughs.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This couple is in love. Then she gets pregnant and then she gets terribly horny and then she loses interest in everything, and then the baby is born and then the baby keeps them up and then she turns her love to the baby in an uber-maternal manner, and then he feels alone, and then they split and then they meet at a cafe and then the camera pans out and they are talking, but we do not hear anything, and then the movie ends. The finely honed film is redeeming by virtue of the superb acting of all the characters and the accurate portrayal of becoming a mother. The movie is mainly light-hearted with a few serious moments. Louise Bourgoin and Pio Marmia make a fine acting duo as the couple in love as they try to cope with the great and not so great moments of having a baby come into their lives.

3.8 -- LE HAVRE, Aki Kaurismaki
[reviewed by Samuel Burd] In the port city of Le Havre, an elderly and hard-drinking shoe-shiner hides a young immigrant boy in his home, searches for members of the boy’s family and plots with the townspeople to get him out of the country. Meanwhile he visits the local grocer and bar, immigration bears down, a local cop offers help and his wife falls ill, everything proceeding with a comically inexplicable inertia that would be farcical if the film wasn’t so matter-of-factly subdued. “Havre” forgoes the sober realism of most “socially-conscious” cinema and opts instead for an artificiality of setting and gesture, investing its characters’ mundane kindnesses with a sense of the miraculous. But if its setting is fantastical, its heart is in the real world, where death in the form of disease or riot-geared repression lurks outside every door. “Havre” understands that the only response to this reality is community, and its exaggerated portrait of small-town French life shows how each person is animated by a responsibility to another. This feeling for community substitutes for the usual character psychology and makes “Le Havre,” in the most basic sense, a very “communist” film, open and automatic in its regard for other people. It transposes its characters outside immigration's obfuscating rhetoric into its own artificial world, where their mutual caring and vulnerability are made visible. Its clear-eyed morality sees people deposited at each other’s feet, demanding help before being washed away.

1.0 -- LE HAVRE, Aki Kaurismaki
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] It held the promise of suspense, intrigue and bravery, but this film fell flat in plot, character and pace. It was about an illegal immigrant boy from Gabon who arrives in a clandestine manner. He knows no one and needsd help as he is chased down by the police. He finds a friend in an older man whose wife is ill. She ends up in the hospital, but is miraculously cured -- and rather suddenly at the end of the film. The boy ends up on a boat heading for Calais to reunite with his mother whom we never meet. It's all thanks to the man who raised enough money for the boy to make the trip. How many places can an immigrant hide and how slow and monotonous can we make a movie? That would have been an appropriate title for this flick that should have been dumped overboard from the get-go. It failed miserably to move us, make us feel for the boy, the man and their relationship. This is bad news, considering stellar actors André Wilms and Jean-Pierre Darroussin took on the leading roles. I will never visit Le Havre again after seeing such a dismal movie which draws its moniker from the port. Swim, swim far away from "Le Havre!"

For the ratings of 2010 Cinemania Film Festival, HERE.

For the ratings of 2009 Cinemania Film Festival, HERE.

For the ratings of 2008 Cinemania Film Festival, HERE.

For the ratings of 2007 Cinemania Film Festival, HERE.



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