Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
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



So far, A & O film critics Robert J. Lewis 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.


2.7 -- MONSIEUR LAZHAR, Philippe Falardeau
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] A grade six substitute teacher, Bachir Lazhar, just arrived from Algeria, is hired under exceptional circumstances to help a class deal with the suicide of a teacher who hung herself in the classroom. Two of the students, Simon and Alice, witness the hanging. The manner in which the various parties deal with the tragedy is the subject of the film. The new teacher is frustrated in his attempts to confront the delicate subject of mortality because school board policy forbids it, on top of which the tyranny of political correctness has cast a huge shadow over the proceedings. Simon's feelings of guilt are never properly situated (his response to the tragedy is judged abnormal), and the highly problematic state of mind of the deceased is not given its due. We all know that a teacher can loom large in the life and imagination of the student during his or her formative years. To Falardeau's credit, he refrains from turning Lazhar into a hero -- or martyr when he is abruptly asked to leave. He gradually wins the trust and confidence of his students through the constancy of his care and attention to detail. This is a small film with a big heart, and a reminder that policy makers face learning curves no less formidable than that of their students whose best interest they are mandated to serve. A fine performance from Fellag in the role of both teacher and political asylum applicant trying to make a difference.

2.8 -- ABOUT ELLY (À PROPOS D'ELLY), Asghar Farhadi
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] It's a lesson we invariably learn the hard way, a lesson more often than not born in anguish: There is no such thing as 'one' lie. A group of friends living in Tehran decides to spend the weekend at the beach. Sepideh has asked Elly, her daughter's teacher, to join them. We are led to believe that the two have only just met. In the self-appointed role of matchmaker, Sepideh wants to introduce Elly to Ahmad, recently divorced. So far so good, until she disappears in rough seas and is presumed dead. In the first of a succession of lies and deceits, the group democratically decides not to advise Elly's ailing mother until the body is recovered. From therein on, this tightly wound drama consists of unpacking the enigma that is Elly and exposing the willful duplicity of Sepideh, who invited Elly to join the group under false pretences. In especially Iran (or any Muslim country), if you are already engaged, you don't present yourself to another man. Is there a relationship between Elly's fate and/or disappearance (we're never sure) and allowing herself to get talked into misrepresenting herself? With a nod to Edward Albee, the dialogue snaps, crackles and threatens to explode throughout. And while the action is limited to a couple of rescue efforts in unfriendly seas, the film is exhilarating and thrilling thanks to the wonderfully managed ebb and flow of accusation and recrimination as family and friends turn on each other. Except for a single scene where Sepideh gets slapped around by her husband (no objections raised) for withholding the truth, this moral drama is without any obvious political implications, and it succeeds for that very reason.

2.6 -- TAKE THIS WALTZ, Sarah Polley
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] When we are thinking rationally, usually not the stuff of relationships in rough seas, we know perfectly well that sexual infidelity is a much lesser evil than emotional infidelity. If your beloved has fallen in love with someone else, s/he is gone and there's nothing to be done but get on with the next phase of your life. A chance encounter has married Margot, a budding writer, falling in love with Daniel, who is single and just happens to live across the street. He is cocky, confident and eager to consummate but she refuses, insisting that she loves her husband. She is also fearful of the disruption and insecurity that such a decision must entail. The script makes for a very bumpy ride with far too many implausible turns, but we stay the course, in large part, because Michelle Williams delivers such a convincing performance as someone who is helplessly in love and doing everything in her power to hold onto her marriage, which is alright but on a very even keel. As she bounces back and forth between Daniel and her husband, we're not sure if she is refusing an opportunity to enjoy true love or throwing proven love to the wind. We feel for her as she reverts to the baby talk couples invent in their intimate life, and tries to resuscitate, through playful touching, feelings that are no longer there. In the face of growing self-doubt, she returns again and again to drink from the well of memory, only to discover, in an unguarded moment, that it's all a charade, that the well is dry, that she cannot command herself not to love Daniel. There is much that is right and much that is not quite right in Sarah Polley's second film. The lessons learned at the end of the day are formulaic, the insertion of Leonard Cohen's "Take This Waltz" is contrived, and, as an aside, the film version of the song is significantly inferior to the Austin City Limits 1988 recording; but the dilemma, which is the epicentre of the film, is presented with extraordinary sympathy and intelligence. What is poor Margot to do? In misery and heartbreak, does she wait for the passion to dissipate over time or, for better or worse, surrender to it? During a house party, on the subject of infidelity, someone says "everything at the beginning is new and in time becomes old."

1.3 -- GOODNIGHT NOBODY, Jacqueline Zund
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Four people tell what it is like to be an insomniac. They all come from different countries: Ukraine, Burkino Faso, the US and China. Through an eerie soundtrack, repetitive scenes, darkness, very little talking and artsy shots, the director effectively captures the foggy feeling of being awake during the night (Fedor from the Ukraine hasn't slept for 15 years). Unfortunately, this results in one big yawn for the audience. Being an insomniac is not funny, yet the few people I know who are insomniacs have a great sense of humour and are extremely interesting when they talk. The folks in the film were positively devoid of anything that could make us want to listen to them, and considering they have endless hours to improve their minds by reading a good book, I was disappointed by their intense self-absorption, lack of soul and character. Far too serious in tone, this film needed some levity to deal with a problem as old as the invention of the bed.

2.6-- LA GUERRE EST DECLARÉE, Valérie Donzelli
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The film takes us through Romeo and Juliet's ordeal of dealing with their baby Adam's illness. He has brain cancer. From meeting doctors who typically say nothing is wrong, to deciding which doctor to choose, which in turn dictates which city they will be staying in for a very long time -- to managing their own parents reaction, bills, isolation, exhaustion and fear, the film carries us along in the journey. We laugh, cry, feel frustration, admiration and empathy for the couple, especially for the honesty happening between them. One part is really funny when they try to outdo one another while imagining and expressing in a totally clownish way the worst that can happen to Adam post-surgery. It is a true story and is autobiographical, for Donzelli and her former partner, Jérémie Elkaim did indeed go through all of this. Highly original in its approach, the film has a soundtrack that adds humour and heart to the scenes setting a tone of levity and seriousness. We have to admire these two talented and devoted parents who had to relive it all to make this film. Fortunately, the outcome for Adam was life-affirming, though the couple separated in the end.

2.5 -- ACORZADO, Alvaro Curiel De Icaza
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] 'I have a dream' is the push behind this adorable film, wherein Silverio, the hero builds a makeshift raft topped by a car to stride ahead on the ocean in search of American shore. Like Don Quixote, he battles wind and storm to reach his ideal goal -- to leave Mexico, fight for good, and make a difference in the world. He is heading for America. But instead of landing on the land of the free and brave, he lands on the island of brotherly poverty: Cuba. He does make a difference, finds his own sort of home and garners the admiration of his new found friends who treat him with respect -- not like his buddies back in Mexico. Still, there's no place like home, and once again, he builds his car-boat to head for whence he came. It is a fetching movie that touches us; as we laugh we recognize our own noble follies that drive many of us yonder afield. According to the lead actor, Silverio Palacios, "A trip like this is an inward journey into the bowels of every Mexican. It is our nature to have impossible expectations that can range from the most banal to winning the World Cup" dreaming of the impossible.

3.5 - ELENA, Andrei Zvyaginstev
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] What is one prepared to do to attain for your children and theirs what they want and need for a happy life? This finely acted movie shows what ordinary people will do to fulfill their goal. Elena is married to Vladimir, a wealthy but cold man. He treats her more like a maid servant than a beloved wife. While going for his usual swim, he suffers a heart attack, but survives. Bedridden, he informs Elena that his will is to be made the following day, and that all money will be left to his daughter, Katya whom Elena can't stand. Valdamir knows Elena wants him to finance her son's education (her son from a previous marriage), but he won't. It is a recurring topic in their sparse dialogue, but Elena remains the dutiful wife. But soon, this changes when she realizes that his will destroys all her hopes for her son and his grandchildren. She has been totally devoted to her Russian hard-hearted man up until the night she murders him with an overdose of meds that he willingly takes, unsuspecting that his loyal,conservative wife would ever conceive such a notion. Her potion proves lethal enough to kill, and powerful enough to give her son a new chance at life. She burns the draft of the will her husband has drawn up while in bed the night before he is killed. It outlines what the notary is to do upon his visit the next day. That day never comes for him. Elena -- the perfect wife is evil. This movie lets us follow the inner life of a diabolical woman whose love for child pushes her into committing the unthinkable. A fine wholly credible film -- well-acted. A joy to watch, despite it all. Elena is one of those women few can forget. Yelena Lyadova in the main role is breathtakingly understated in her performance.

3.5 -- A SEPARATION, Asghar Farhadi
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] If we can agree that all the major religions of the world, in their own fashion, subscribe to the spirit of the Ten Commandments, the most successful will be the religion that inculcates the notion that our transgressions, large and small, entail very real theological consequences. By that measurement Judaism and Christianity -- and to a lesser extent Buddhism and Hinduism -- are dysfunctional compared to Islam. Asghar Farhadi's award winning "A Separation" casts a radiant light on the meaning of God-fearing and the men and women (a diminishing tribe) who embody that precious notion -- strangers in a strange land.

Nader and Simit, married for 14 years, are separating. Nader has to hire a domestic (Razieh) to look after his father who is suffering from Alzheimer's. One afternoon, she has to leave for a while and ties Nader's father to the bed so he doesn't wander off on his own. Nader returns from work to find his father on the floor, nearly dead, and Razieh disappeared. She can't adequately explain her absence, on top of which money has disappeared from one of the drawers. Nader accuses her of stealing and refuses to pay her daily wage. She refuses to leave without pay and he has to physically push her out the door. The next day he learns that she's in the hospitable, has suffered a miscarriage, and that he is being charged with murder (of the unborn), which the judge later reduces to a three year sentence if found guilty. Nader claims he didn't know Razieh was pregnant. His daughter, on the other hand, at the urging of the mother who has her own agenda, has a different point of view. Will she, should she testify against her father? Simit, guided by self-interest, intervenes and arranges for a financial settlement, the money of which Razieh's indebted husband will use to pay off his creditors and avoid going back to prison. But Razieh has to swear on the Koran that Nader is responsible for the miscarriage. Among the many issues at play in this complex, gripping domestic drama are the arbitrariness and severity of justice in Iran. From the fiery opening exchange between Nader and his wife Simit, the dialogue is absolutely riveting, charged with stuff of life in all its shadings; and the performances are magnificent. Negatively disposed as most of us are toward Islam (sharia law, its intolerance of other religions, systematic debasement of women), we discover in certain situations that the truth, wherever it lies, is the sole preserve of the God-fearing. "A Separation," in part, dedicates itself to the unveiling of these exceptional believers and the sources of their strength and dignity. This is a must-see film.

2.7 -- THREE AND A HALF, Naghi Nemati
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] A sometimes nervous, relentlessly wet-grey lens follows three young Iranian women who are on a 3-day prison furlough. They have made hasty plans to cross the border and leave Iran forever -- for reasons which are left to the imagination: films that threaten to rub Iran's theocratic Islamic Republic Party the wrong way don't get made -- much less shown. In the first scene, we hear gun shots, and then observe Hanieh quickly regaining her composure before joining her friends. We never learn what crimes the young women have committed. We suspect nothing more than refusing to abide by the oppressive dictates of a misogynist regime, since all three of them have no qualms about talking tough to the slippery men they have to deal with at the border. These are obviously young woman who are not planning to live out their lives in the shadows of their men folk. During the first exchange of money for freedom, the male facilitators don't honour their promises and doubt is cast over the venture, the same doubt that provides for our abiding interest in the fate of these ambitious, idealistic young women. Hanieh, who is carrying a child (explaining the numerical title), hasn't been up front with her friends. She is desperately looking for Nassar, whose role in her life is left vague until the very end. The film dwells somewhat too extensively on the hurdles the women have to negotiate and not enough on the characters, especially Hanieh's companions.

3.6 -- THE GIRL IN THE WHITE COAT, Darrell Wasyk
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Based on Gogol's classic story, "The Overcoat," this highly riveting work tells the story of a lonely girl whose only love and company -- for that matter -- is the white coat and tweeting budgie she has in her small Montreal apartment. Her factory work is horribly dull, and she is teased non-stop about her tattered white coat the minute she clocks in. So, one day, she saves enough money to have it repaired. It is much better than before. Its silk lining is stunning, but it soon disappears in a cafe where she has gone up to the cashier to pays for her bill. In her pursuit of chasing down the supposed thief, she ends up catching a girl in a white coat and tearing it off her back. But it is the wrong girl and the wrong coat. Guilt plagues her, and she finds in the coat pocket an address. She decides to go to the dingy place to return the coat to the girl. Her good deed turns into a terrible one. She is raped upon opening the door of the place. What a film -- masterfully made. Gogol would have been pleased.

1.0 -- ABSOLUTELY TAME IS A HORSE, Asb, Heyvan-E-Najibist & Abdolreza Kahani em
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Thank God this film was withdrawn from the festival at the last minute. I do not know why, but here's my take on its sudden disappearance. Still, I was asked to view its screener; I jumped on this, as the write-up in the festival program made this film sound like a must-see. Boy, nothing could be farther from that claim. No one wants to watch a bunch of men at night traipsing around with a cop who is trying to get money from them -- each one having committed some crime, such as having a mixed wedding party, cavorting with a woman or rejecting a wife. In the end, we discover the cop is out on leave from jail. He is no cop at all, just as this movie is no movie at all. An Iranian film fiasco!

1.2 -- DO ME LOVE, Jacky Katu & Lou Viger
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Who needs to watch a young girl fantasize about killing herself during an affair she has with an older man. This film is boring and silly. A poor excuse for the French to reinvent 100 ways to discover sexual excitement between the young and the young. "Last Tango in Paris" was far superior. Not even the seductive attempts of actor Lizzie Brocheré as Juliette could hold our interest. Collective audience yawning was the only sound worth joining in on, despite the supposedly exciting sex scenes.

2.8 -- END OF THE NIGHT, Daisuke Miyazaki
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] What makes this hypnotic film compelling is the ensemble acting that puts the beautiful face of Akira, a young man in every shot. In fact, he is a super shot in more ways than one: he goes around killing people for no apparent reason. Then, we see a glimmer of hope for him when he meets a young prostitute and tries to protect her. But he is in such trouble, the police get to him and to her. He loses her to a bullet. Akira, the young man was in fact found by a hit man when he was a baby while on a job inside a house. Akira doesn't stand a chance of redemption. Not much plot in this film. Still, it is starkly beautiful and the acting thropughout is entrancing. Beauty and violence never looked so compatible. This is the brilliant irony. Melancholy and magnificence make this film completely intriguing to watch. Man is indeed an aberrant concoction.

3.8 -- THE FLYING MACHINE, Martin Clapp, Dorota Kobiela & Geoff Lindsey
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Wondrous, magical and musically hypnotic. What more could one expect from a stop-motion picture that has the great pianist, Lang Lang, playing Chopin's etudes while the two puppet children fly through the sky on a magic piano, visiting all the places where Chopin left his mark. In fact, the little girl is trying to find her dad in London. Real-life characters eventually replace the child puppets as they take a journey along with their business-like mom into the meaning of family, love and magnificent music. Totally inventive, colourful and enchanting, the film's puppet children are so uber-expressive that their 'acting' far surpasses their real human counterparts. Heather Graham as the mother was weak. No matter. This co-production between Poland, England and China is remarkable. Chopin lovers will eat it up.

1.0 -- THE LAST ROAD TO THE BEACH, Fabiano de Souza
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] When road movies go nowhere, as this one did from the very outset, it is usually because the characters are poorly drawn. To that fatal shortcoming, we add a pathetic script that forges together one unconvincing scene after another, as if each pitiable episode was fashioned to outdo its predecessor, resulting in a road trip that drags on endlessly along the deserted beaches east of Porto Alegre, Brazil. Here's an example: The three travelers (two guys and girl) stop in an ice cream shop. The four, which now includes the female employee, all end up on the floor devouring buckets of ice cream, which they smear into each others' hair and face and clothes which they have to remove which (following the law of cause and effect) provokes a ménage à quatre.

3.5 -- HANEZU, Naomi Kawase
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Great beauty and grace infuse the stunning Japanese countryside that cocoons a couple in love. But there is a problem. The woman is married and pregnant. Her husband does not connect to her, except in complimenting her on her cooking; he is obsessed with food, teaching her about herbs and edible leaves. He loves her deeply, but does not show it in meaningful ways. She feels nothing for him, and seeks to be with her lover, a sculptor who cooks for her. She is deceptive in her behaviour to both -- is she or is she not pregnant? A reversal of feeling, fortune and her own frustration, has her returning to her husband who, by now, has committed the sudden act of taking his own life. Without her, life is nothing. She, in turn loses everything. This denouement creates a most unexpected and understated conclusion. In fact, the whole film magnificently, unfolding with sparse dialogue, creates an eternal story that echos a legend born in antiquity. This seventh-century legend is about romance, conflict and ownership.The film opens with Unebi, Miminashi and Kagu -- the three-peak mountain that watches over the village of Asuka -- said to be the birthplace of Japan, itself. One should say -- herself, as the film equates the age-old myth of two men fighting to own the mountain to present day fighting over a woman. Ironically, there is no fighting in this film, just quiet internal emotions that the characters refuse to reveal. Communication equals silence. Hanezu is a precious piece of exquisitely crafted cinema where past and present blend into sublime simplicity. Nature and man seem to share a magnificent respect, but, sadly, man and woman never seem to find peace. Restraint running rapturously though this film aptly earned it a screening at Cannes.  

3.2 -- HANEZU, Naomi Kawazi
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] The film opens with a conveyor belt sluicing through and destroying the pristine country side (Nara, Japan). As it turns out, it's not the work of a mine but an archeological dig, whose findings will illuminate the present. Then we are introduced to an arcane ancient myth that predicts the outcome of man's eternal strife over woman. In the modern version, the protagonists, unlike the ancient gods, are gentlemanly, avatars of civility. Hako, a dye-maker, is caught between two men: the one she lives with (Tetsuya) and her lover, Takumi, who is a sculptor. The rivals never meet. Each in turn prepares scrumptious food for the object of their affection. One day she advises Takumi she is pregnant, and a few days later, Tetsuya. Both show no outward signs of anger, jealousy or torment. Instead, they withdraw into silence that dissolves into the magnificent landscape. The film ends with Tetsuya's suicide. The story is minimal, the symbolism and link between the past and present vague -- at best. But the film is absorbing because of its extraordinary lyricism and exposition of the Japanese sensibility. Nako's face, its softness and radiance, seems a direct issue of the landscape. Kawase, whose marvelous "The Mourning Forest" won Camera D'or and Grand Prix at Cannes, takes the ordinary and transmutes it into poetry. The hypnotic sound track is comprised of the trickling of water, the flutter of wings, the chirping of insects, the music of rain on the surfaces of life, the crunch of a delicious carrot in the mouth. The enjoyment of the simplest foods is raised to a level of appreciation and sensuality that causes us to look inward and beyond. In short, "Hanezu" is why we travel; it's the reason we go to films.

1.9 -- WASTED YOUTH, Argyris Papadimitropoulos & Jan Vogel
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] In the age of the Internet (facebook, twitter), it has become increasingly easier to mobilize popular protest against corrupt governments and financial institutions. In "Wasted Youth" that unfolds in Greece (Athens), the best revolt a group of youths can mount is to print up 'malaka' (wanker) signs which they plaster on buildings, windows and, at the very end of the film, on a police car (spoiler: bad move). Prior to that, we separately follow the lives of a brooding, middle aged man, who, only deep into the film, we discover is a policeman; and a 16-year-old kid who is alienated from his father, hooked to his iPod, soldered to his skateboard and slave to his hormones. They will eventually meet in the ruins of modern Greece where the gods of yesteryear have gone mute. If the directors made the film to cast the police in a bad light, they forgot about making an enlightening film. The only thing they succeed in showcasing is their dubious agenda and vision (lack of). After the 'skata' hit the fan I said to myself, "Wasted Youth," wasted film.

2.7 -- WITHOUT, Mark Jackson
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] There is no getting around the fact that living in isolation will have its effects, be it in the land of the midnight sun or a remote island off Washington State. We don't know why, but Joslyn, young and attractive, has agreed to become a live-in, care provider for Frank, who is suffering from extreme dementia. He is totally unresponsive, confined to a wheelchair, has to be fed, undressed and bathroomed. It's not pretty. Energetic and eager to do well, she soon finds herself coping with not only with Frank's morbid condition, but being 'without' the conveniences of modern life (a computer) and a growing sense of isolation, which she knowingly signed up for. The reasons for this form the basis of a film whose bold and self-assured pacing and withholding of information create mystery and suspense out of the mundane. In and of themselves, Joslyn's actions don't tell much: she is constantly looking at her cellphone, she exercises regularly, is interested in her naked body, is unresponsive to the advances of a man from the mainland who has taken an interest in her, whom she later agrees to meet and shortly after rudely rejects. Then the TV remote begins to act up, a mysterious rash develops on her back, just as her behaviour begins to deviate from the norm: she suspects brain-dead Frank isn't as helpless as he appears and sexually taunts him before slapping him up in his wheelchair -- hardly the stuff of nurse Betty. Prior to that, she has locked all the doors and the windows, but we never learn why. Is there someone out there? The viewer is left to disambiguate how much of this is the product of her imagination (paranoia), while a tease of clues suggests an event in the past might be responsible for her erratic behaviour. With a nod to "The Tenant," (Polanski) this foreboding, but not unnerving, mood piece, doesn't miss a beat, which redounds to a remarkable debut from director Mark Jackson. As a syntactical device, his manipulation of understatement -- in both the dialogue and action which result in an at once a compelling and muted narrative -- is the film's most singular achievement. Stellar performance from Joslyn Jensen in the role of Joslyn whose beguiling stoicism and slippery identity are totally believable. Since art-house films are generally better received in Europe than in North America, "Without" will probably not break out of the festival circuit, at least on this side of the Atlantic

2.2 -- DECHARGÉ, Benoît Pilon
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] Good intentions don't necessarily translate into good films. Benoît Pilon, who gave us "The Necessities of Life," one of the best films ever to come out of Canada, plunges the viewer into the hard scrabble life on the streets of Montreal. Pierre (David Boutin), a reformed delinquent/criminal, is happily married with three kids and is the owner of a fleet of garbage trucks. He continues to live where he grew up, in a mean environment that breeds gangs, criminals, prostitutes, pimps and drug addicts. He takes an interest in eye-catching Ève (Sophie Desmarais), junkie-hooker. He has convinced himself he only wants to help her change her life around -- but she's got a sympathetic face and the kind of body that could bring a statue to life. In the meantime, this good Samaritan doesn't seem to realize that he might be jeopardizing his marriage. From the outset, the film threatens to become formulaic: at the end of the long day's journey into dark and darker we have learned nothing new of any city's mean streets and the relationship between hookers, their pimps and bad habits. What would otherwise be hugely disappointing film is somewhat mitigated by the scenes between Pierre and his wife Madeleine, who fears she is losing her husband.

2.7 -- THE SKIN I LIVE IN, Pedro Almodóvar
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] Any film that gets us to rethink our genre preferences and prejudices is to be taken note of. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am unapologetically negatively disposed toward both the horror/vampire and science fiction genres. Almodóvar's latest, "The Skin I Live In," is a masterly crafted hybrid of science fiction and horror. Roberto, a plastic surgeon, has developed a skin that doesn't burn, that he grafts onto his wife who was badly burned in a car accident. Years later, he witnesses the rape of his daughter who later commits suicide. Roberto captures the rapist, imprisons him and then prepares him for a series of operations -- beginning with the removal of his penis and substitution of a vagina -- that will turn him into a woman who will resemble his daughter, with whom he will eventually have relations in yet another patent Almodóvar conflation of the bizarre and macabre. Spain's, if not Europe's most talented director is clearly familiar with the masterpieces from the past, and continues to explore his favourite subjects: sexual ambiguity, the mystery and instability that define relationships, and of course his disinterested love of the female body: female skin that glows right out of the pages of Vogue. That said, "The Skin I Live In," which will doubtlessly shiver the skin of genre enthusiasts, is at times confusing, and at the end of two hours, we wonder to what end, other than pure entertainment, which the film provides in spades.

2.6 -- TOLL BOOTH, Tolga Karacelik
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] Kenan works at a busy toll booth in Istanbul; his nickname is 'robot.' Elegant in his dress, refined in appearance, he looks more like a doctor than a toll booth operator, which suggests he is either an underachiever or someone who doesn't know where he belongs. "Toll Booth" is a quirky, sometimes comical film with a major existential component. Kenan doesn't mix much with his colleagues, he looks after an ill father who abuses him, he's haunted by childhood memories of his domineering father, the death of his mother -- and he is not married. To supply the deficit of what is missing in his life, he begins to fantasize and even hallucinate on the job, which obliges his manager to transfer him to a remote toll booth where he takes an interest in a woman who passes by everyday. Is it a rule of thumb that what ails a person follows him? In his new environment, will Kenan be able to let go of his past? In the role of Kenan, Serkan Ercan's radiant face is worth the price of admission: his reticence, bewilderment and longing are like fledgling birds you want to hold in your hand. A promising debut film from a young director who is not afraid to take risks.

2.5 -- BLUE BIRD, Gust Van den Berghe
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] Even in rural Togo, it only requires a few essential ingredients for an enchanted childhood: a minimum of one parent who cares, three meals a day and a place to play. "Blue Bird" is part allegory and ode to childhood. "Bafiokadie and his sister Tene are caring for a magnificent blue bird that escapes. We experience their resolve to the find the bird from a child's eye view: the screen's horizontal-vertical ratio is 3:1. When we first encounter their mother who is bathing them, we don't see her head. The literary equivalent of this cinematic technique is writing the word BIG in an exceptionally large font. The entire film is shot through a pale, blue lens, I suppose to best capture the dreamy, idyllic years of childhood. During their journey through mostly arid, parched scrubland, they meet a variety of characters who are more symbolic than real: the King of Pleasure, a coffin maker, their deceased grandparents, a ritualistic assembling of the region's children who have to undergo a long and difficult trek in order to be born. But despite intrusions from the adult world, Bafiokadie and Tene are firmly rooted in the magic of their youth, even though there is no mistaking what kind of life awaits them.

2.2 -- WHITE WHITE WORLD, Oleg Novkovic
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] During the Serbian Siege of Sarajevo (1992-96), 10,000 Bosnians were killed or went missing. Eighteen years have passed but the horrors and the effects from the losses sustained continue to haunt the present such that normal life is impossible, especially in a city choking in industry. To forget, the survivors consume spectacular amounts of alcohol, they smoke dope all day long, they sniff or inject drugs, they are unconscionably rude to each other and the sexual coupling is ugly and profane. These are human beings who have consciously refused their humanity; they have been hurt bad and never want to be hurt again. "Only cry when nobody can see you," someone says. The film unwisely (affectedly) borrows too much from Greek tragedy. The insanely jealous Ruzica, who is madly in love with King, has killed her husband. Her daughter, the hot and often naked Rosa, unwittingly provokes an incestuous relationship with her father, King. When she learns she is pregnant she resorts to patricide. Meanwhile, the spurned boy who loves Rosa commits suicide via an overdose. For the sake of the unborn child, the noble Ruzica confesses to the murder and serves the prison term. There are several musical interludes featuring one of the leads suddenly breaking out into song. Since the film isn't a musical, it doesn't work, especially if the Slavic scale isn't to your liking. King's acting is straight out of the woodwork. Jasna Duricic (Ruzica) gives a strong performance despite a slipshod script and a story that doesn't seem sure of itself.  

3.0 -- ROMÉO ONZE, Ivan Grbovic
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] All parents want their children to be happy -- code for good job, married with kids. Rami works in his strict and fastidious father's Lebanese restaurant. At the same time he's studying to become an accountant. He's under significant pressure to succeed scholastically and find a wife, especially since his sister is now engaged. But Rami is withdrawn and troubled. He suffers from major complexes due to a birth defect which left both legs severely atrophied: he doesn't walk but shuffles -- like an old man. Online, as romeo11 (man of the world), he meets malaury26. They connect and decide to meet in real life. Without tugging at the heartstrings, "Roméo Onze" will break your heart. In its at times excruciating baring of Rami’s fragile emotional state, we are brought face to face with what is universal in the human condition, which for many means learning early in the game that life isn’t fair and that too much depends on the luck of the draw. It's also about the risks of online dating and short shrifting the protocols of disclosure. Shot in the gorgeous reds and yellows of Montreal's celebrated autumn, this is not a formulaic, uplifting, we-shall-overcome-film; we all make mistakes in life, some of us learn from them. Between Rami and romeo11 where does the truth lie? This very affecting and mature film concludes on a sublime Felliniesque note which speaks to an outstanding debut from Ivan Grbovic.

2.8 -- BLACK BLOOD, Miaoyan Zhang
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] The film takes place in northwestern China, in the Gobi desert, but not the dune-pristine Gobi glamourized in National Geographic. Director Miaoyan Zhang's landscape is fissured and pulverized, as if an angry god took a sledgehammer and beat the living daylights out of it. "Black Blood" tells the bleak but very real story of farmers trying to eke out a living from land that won't give. To make dead-ends meet, many of them have to sell their blood. We meet Xiaolin at the side of a dirt road, waiting for the tractor to arrive. It's hauling a flat wooden wagon where the blood is taken. We never see the needle, if it's re-used or not, but we suspect the worst. At home, Xiaolin and later his sweet wife, Xiaojuan, who is also selling her blood, are drinking water by the pail, believing it helps the body to produce more blood. In the background, the radio is reporting every hour on the hour on the many successes China is enjoying under Mao and socialism. Both parents are proud of their 7-year-old daughter who can already read and write. They want to send her to a more advanced school. To raise the money, Xiaolin decides to set up his own blood clinic, which does well enough for him to purchase an indoor toilet and a flock of goats. Then one day his pregnant wife falls ill and life for this loving couple will never again be the same. The entire film is beautifully shot in black and white.

2.6 -- MELANCHOLIA, Lars von Trier
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] "Melancholia" unfolds like a tone poem in three movements. The first that runs ten minutes -- set to Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" which is reprised throughout this very long film -- is comprised of images only. The second and third parts are named after two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), whose cynical, self-absorbed, thoroughly detestable mother we meet at Justine's over-the-top wedding that is extravagantly provided for by Claire's husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland), whose running commentary is one of the few delights in this intractably monotonous and morose film. Each of the daughters, in her own fashion, bears the indelible mark of the mother's genotype as they face their personal fears and fate: waiting to learn if the planet Melancholia will collide with and destroy the planet Earth. The bride is beautiful but clinically depressed. Why handsome Michael, who could have any woman he wants, would marry someone so blatantly unstable defies logic. After the wedding, he completely disappears from the screen, which again flies in the face of logic. Apparently von Trier is willing to sacrifice cause and effect and plausibility for the cinematic equivalent of the poetic. Besides the fractured relationship between Justine and Claire, the film's style, exquisite sets and costumes count for everything -- or too much depending on your taste. Fairly early in the game, we begin to suspect that von Trier has nothing to say while saying it magnificently -- not unlike Tarantino who has become a parody of himself. Nonetheless, the visuals are spectacular and Kirsten Dunst gives the performance of her life.

2.5 -- GIANTS (LES GÉANTS), Bouli Lanners
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] "There are children in the morning, they are leaning out for love, and they will lean that way forever," writes Leonard Cohen. In the deep green countryside of Belgium, three teenagers, whose parents have flown the coup, find themselves with unlimited time and freedom on their hands. They do what kids are expected to do at that age: smoke dope, talk about sex, joke around, steal when they're hungry, break into unoccupied homes when they need a place to sleep - and of course take to the road in search of adventure. On their way, they mess up, they get into trouble, sometimes big trouble, and discover the hard way that with freedom comes responsibility and consequences. But the kids are alright. We care for them, we fear for them and we wish these 'would be giants' all the best as they face an uncertain future without any compass or instruction. A first-rate, folksy sound track accompanies the dreamlike pastoral landscapes that provide the backdrop to the turbulence and longing that is so characteristic of adolescence.

2.8 -- TAKE SHELTER, Jeff Nichols
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] Dark clouds are gathering ominously in the sky. Curtis, in a role nailed by Michael Shannon, gazes into the eye of the storm. It begins to rain, but the drops are translucent and oily. Has the world finally done itself in? We soon learn the tempest that rages is in the mind of the beholder. With the precision of a radar device, "Take Shelter" painstakingly tracks Curtis's gradual descent into madness: the visions and hallucinations. He becomes convinced that a pending disaster is imminent and he decides to build an underground shelter. We see the world crashing into Curtis as if it's real: think "Beautiful Mind." We learn that the mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her early 30s, but Curtis, who's been having horrible dreams, is mostly in denial. However his wife Samantha, played by Jessica Chastain, is becoming increasingly alarmed, especially after Curtis gets fired for having borrowed without authorization heavy equipment to build his shelter. Throughout the film, in wonderful sequences, we see, up close, in the hypnotically expressive faces of Curtis and Samantha, the ballet-like equivalent of a pas de deux, as each in turn registers bewilderment, consternation and deep concern: Samantha over her husband's increasing bizarre behaviour and Curtis over the gathering storm in the skies. At the 2/3 point in the film, during an uneasy sleep, Samantha is awoken by her husband, who is having a seizure that results in significant bleeding. That she doesn't insist that Curtis immediately seek professional beggars credulity. From that point on, at least for me, the film loses its gilt edge and never quite recovers, despite wonderfully nuanced performances from both Chastain and Shannon, and at times mesmerizing cinematography. Kudos and then some to 33-years-young director Jeff Nichols.

2.0 -- SHAME, Steve McQueen
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Shamefully pornographic in content, this sexually turgid film takes every possible plot hook and screws it up. The director completely copped out of creating a plot. I doubt he did any research on the subject of sex addiction. In the film, Brandon is a sex addict. At his work, porno garbage is discovered by his boss. That scene goes nowhere. His sister Sissy is a nympho who has a disturbing attraction towards him. Brandon can't seem to shake her off. That intriguing piece of incest history is never revealed properly -- except that they are Irish. Yes, incest is far more widespread among the Irish than one cares to investigate; however, several academic papers have dared to address this topic, revealing statistics and reasons for its rampant occurrence. Back to the movie: Brandon likes a lady at work, and he goes nowhere with her. In fact, that is the only hope of plot advancement; but neither their relationship nor follow-up of episodes involving the two -- not even their sexual encounter goes anywhere. Ironic indeed. The only real dialogue takes place when they go for dinner, but who cares anyway? In fact, this movie is a series of sex scenes that overwhelm any possibility of making an interesting film about a sex addict. Why couldn't the director examine that aspect -- the psychological making and unraveling of a sex addict rather than focus so repeatedly on the physical aspect of things? Michael Fassbinder as Brandon played his role with taut introversion, and Carey Mulligan was believable as the lost lady without a home or a head -- for that matter. McQueen needs to dig deeper into plot for any future film he may dare to make, but right now, all I can say to him about this film is: "Shame on you."

3.4 -- SHAME, Steve McQueen
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] We first meet Brandon (Michael Fassbinder) in the New York subway; his handsome killer look is aimed at the attractive rider sitting across. He tries to follow her but loses her in the rush. In the next scene, he's relieving himself in the bathroom. We soon learn that Brandon is a sex addict, that his preferences have been informed by porn: his computers at work and at home are full of it and so is his closet. Then his scattered, emotionally volatile, talented sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) drops in on him unannounced, needing a place to stay. She an aspiring singer, and has invited Brandon and his boss to hear her perform, at which point we are treated to one of the highlights of "Shame:" Carey Mulligan singing New York New York like it has never been sung before (keep an eye on youtube where it is sure to appear and take note of the gorgeous piano accompaniment -- the achingly haunting descending chord sequence at the top of the song). It requires no more than a weak pick-up line and a couple of drinks to bed Sissy who, like her brother, is strung out on sex. The next day, Brendan is seduced by a beautiful co-worker but he can't consummate. The killer look we saw in the first frames has become a doubled-up fist of anger and frustration. Brendan is looking at 40 and doesn't know how to connect. As we observe brother and sister trying to shed their skins, we learn nothing of their background and family life and are forced to conclude that something went horribly wrong since they both carry hurts and wounds that will never properly heal. Has Brendan become sexually disabled consequent to his dependency on porn, the film asks? Steve McQueen, who gave us the masterpiece "Hunger," doesn't waste a frame on a subject that is as disconcerting as tiptoed around. By film's end, Brendan's spirit has been broken, replaced by a tragic figure left to its own devices in the unforgiving digital age. "Shame" is an important film and should be included in every high school curriculum.

2.4 -- MONSIEUR LAZHAR, Philippe Falardeau
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] There are many things going on in this film that examines the violence in the world within restrained institutions and in unbridled war. Hatred and despair certainly destroys us all. Starting in the classroom, a teacher has hung herself. A young boy feels he's responsible for her suicide, and in the classroom he acts out his guilt in aggressive words. Even his project about the school reflects his shattered view of school life. Monsieur Lazhar, an Algerian substitute teacher, has taken over over the dead teacher's class. He earnestly wants to deal with the children's emotion about the ordeal, but the director of the school is against this. In fact, his empathy for the kids comes to light when he appears before the immigration hearing during which he must plead his case. He lost his own family in a horrific terrorist act in Algeria. Now he is seeking refugee status. He poses as a teacher to get the job, but we learn that he was in fact a restaurant owner back in his war-torn country. Too much is dealt with in this film to dig deeply into each issue, but the film director successfully examined the troubled psyche of chlldren not allowed to express themselves under dire circumstances in the Quebec education system. I imagine the play by Evelyne de la Chaneliere is riveting and somehow more intimate and powerful.  

3.2 -- ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA, Nuri Bilge Ceylan
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] From the outset, acclaimed director Nuri Ceylan sets out to reverse the paradigm. The title predicts a lush and grandiose cinematic experience, à la Sergio Leone, but where is Anatolia? In point of fact, it's a large province in western Turkey, much of it lying in the low mountains where wheat for its celebrated ekmek (bread) is grown. There has been a murder, it's late at night, and in this 'midnight clear' the local constabulary, an inspector, a doctor, diggers and two murder suspects are looking -- with the only light provided by car headlights -- for the body of the murder victim. Which makes this a detective movie, but one ingeniously stripped of the usual suspects and props: there's hardly any mystery, tension, plot development, discovery, climax, confession and punishment. Instead, we get a movie which, in its unhurried pacing and natural dialogue, seems to play out in real time, where people from different backgrounds have to get along in order to get the job done. It doesn’t take long for the murder story to take a permanent back seat to the highly entertaining relationships and vibrant give and take between the members of the investigating team. The script sparkles from beginning to end; the repartee is priceless. In the cramped quarters of a car rolling along a dirt road, the camera lens, with the chilly breath of the night on its glass, uncovers what is universal in the human condition and is a window into a way of life that explains our fascination with travel. In its cinema verité, “Anatolia” is nothing less than a thorough and thoughtful deglamourization of the detective/mystery genre that both film and TV have commodified for entertainment purposes. That we hardly notice we have lost interest in the "who done it" is testament to Ceylan’s wonderful ear for dialogue that unfolds in the nether regions of a country the film wants to make familiar. As an unintended effect, “Anatolia” makes a very good case why Turkey should be allowed to join the EU. The characters, exhibiting flaws large and small, are all too human, and even in outlying regions Turkey’s commitment to law and order gets top marks. That said, the film doesn't shy away from showing that women, in rural areas, continue to live in the shadow of men. Checking in at two and a half hours, some viewers will find the film very slow going. For the rest of us, it’s a lesson on the art of film making on a shoe-string budget.

2.7 -- OSLO, AUGUST 31ST, Joachim Trier
[reviewed byRobert Lewis] Anders, a troubled young man of 34, is trying to find his way and purpose in Norway's biggest city, Oslo. It's fall, the days are getting shorter, and our very likeable Anders is entertaining suicide -- again. We learn that he was a promising writer, that he comes from a good and well-heeled family, that he fell into the drug scene for five years, checked into rehab, has been clean for ten months, and has a job interview lined up. So far so good, but all is not well, and we're not sure if that's due to Anders's constitution or the narrowing of opportunities in Norway? Anders's disquiet and despair are palpable; his smile, his charm and unsuspected grace betray a fragility that throws into stark relief a city that can (unapologetically) afford to lose some of its citizens, where friends too easily learn to live without their friends. What is left but to fall back and return to a mindset that obliterates the future and all uncertainty. But Anders can't fool himself; he knows what lies ahead, and we're with him every stop along the way.

2.6 -- ELENA, Andrei Zvyagintsev
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] Held up to the proverbial mirror, modern Russia doesn't do well by this film, which does a fair enough job in telling it like it is. Elena, the second wife, has been married to wealthy Vladimir for ten years. She's from the lower classes, her adult son is a loser and in debt. Vladimir has an adult daughter, the sullen and coltish Katia, whom, while in hot pursuit of lucre, he has neglected and pampered. After Vlad suffers a heart attack, he advises Elena that he wants to write up his will, that he is leaving everything to his daughter, a generous monthly stipend to his wife but nothing to her indebted son. Elena, unhappy with the math, decides to take matters (and Viagra) into her own hands. With all due respect to Dostoyevsky, in the new Russia there is nothing to confess. Crime and punishment are in the eyes of the beholder, or in this case, the perpetrator; blood runs thicker than principle and almost everyone lives happily ever after. Top notch casting.

2.4 -- TAKE THIS WALTZ, Sarah Polley
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Margo meets this handsome artist at the Fortress of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia. She works for Parks Canada. There is an attraction that becomes all the more intense when he sits beside her on the airplane, and upon landing and sharing a taxi, they end up on the same street. He watches her from his outside porch in Toronto. It turns out, he lives across the street from her. Margo has a dilemma. She's married to Lou, a chef specializing in chicken dishes. Their marriage is kiddish. There is no sexual tension between them; they opt for playing silly word games and perform childish antics Their physical contact is akin to grade school kids who are best friends. Clearly, life is giving Margo an opportunity to change her direction and her man. Michelle Williams as Margo plays her with enigmatic freshness. She really brought so many aspects to the character of Margo, and quite frankly is deserving of an Oscar. Seth Rogen as her husband is totally boring and dumbs himself down for the role. I'm not sure if he was acting or playing himself. Luke Kirby as Daniel, the man she tries to resist, but can't, brings stirring profoundness, authenticity and humour to the role. The ending is somewhat ambiguous. Canadian music, including a Leonard Cohen song and the Toronto setting clearly imprint a Canadian stamp on tone and understated emotion.  

2.4 -- THE TURIN HORSE, Bela Tarr
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] On January 3, 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche witnessed a coachman continuously whipping his horse. The philospher threw his arms around the horse, and soon after went insane. But who was this mean monster? This startling bleak film, shot in black and white and all of its shades, opens with a farmer and his daughter stuck inside a stone hovel of a house; they are held prisoner by the ferocious wind storm outside. Their horse refuses to take them anywhere. The film repeatedly shows these two unfortuante people eating potatoes, peeling them with their fingers, putting the harness on their unmovable horse, and trying to survive in a sterile environment. They do receive a visit from a friend who talks about Man's acquisition and debasement of all things; this is the pattern of the world, and God has a hand in it all. Man is doomed, and it's been like this for a very long time -- according to this guest of 'good cheer.' This unique film is a masterpiece in art direction. Incredibly powerful, the film nonetheless failed to captivate me. Sparse dialogue and no plot are its downfall; and althoughs effective and authentic, it is still monontonously predictable.

3.0 -- DE BON MATIN, Jean-Marc Moutout
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Wertret has worked his way into a top position, only to be cast down to a low, unimportant department in the French bank to which he has dedicated his professional life. Paul just isn't making the grades when it comes to getting more clients as an accounts manager. To make matters worse, his boss is a steely, no-nonsense guy who tells Paul like it is. Times are tough in France and the whole world feels the mess of the US loan fiasco. He suffers three demotions until he reaches rock bottom. The movie begins with him taking out a gun and shooting his boss and his own replacement for the accounts management position. It ends with him taking drastic measures to ensure he never has to endure such humiliation again. This movie is a brilliant comment on what happens to those who become part of the slicing block when capitalism fails, shamefully ruining lives of those stuck in companies dedicated to capitalism's inevitable doom. Flashbacks related to present action pepper the movie, but not in the most fluid of ways. Jean-Pierre Darroussin in the role of Paul is mesmerizing. A movie with a powerful message!

2.4 -- THE ISLAND, Kamen Kalev
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] For four years, Sophie and Daneel have been in a passionate relationship. Sophie surprises Daneel with tickets to Bulgaria. He doesn't want to go. He then tells her he was born there and was adopted, but know nothing about his early childhood. Daneel decides they should stay on one of the islands. It is a strange place, and things begin to go wrong in their relationship as Daneel's moody and abusive comments cause Sophie to take the first boat back after a few days. Daneel stays on to uncover the truth about his birth mother, who in fact is the wife of the owner of the rooms rented on the island. She admits nothing to him, but he knows it's her. He returns to Paris, gets a role on a TV Big Brother House show, playing a mentally handicapped geek. Sophie misses him so much and she enters the show. They end up together as a couple and have a baby. It was a very strange movie whose plot fell apart once Big Brother entered the picture. It does show how trust takes a back seat in the grand scheme of being in love. The heart wins out defying logic. The movie has a suspenseful feel to it but it sabotages any potential to be a good thriller by taking a wrong turn into inane, absurd territory.

2.5 -- LAURENTIE, Mathieu Denis & Simon Lavoie
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] We first meet laconic Louis in lap dance land, and then he gets drunk and goes on a rampage, and then he makes love to a girl he seems to know, and then we catch him spying on her, then at work (as an audio visual technician) watching over the duplication of porn tapes, we catch him unbuckling his belt, and then he's invited to his neighbour's party but he doesn't connect, but, after spending an unusually long time in the bathroom, he manages to freak out on the dance floor. Even when he's with his two drinking buddies or the girl with whom he has sex, he's hardly there. So where is he? What is eating or eating away at Louis? What family and social forces were at play in the production of the enigma named Louis? Do we want his type in our midst? Is Louis, who likes to read poetry, a poet -- the one who dares to live in the destitution of his times, or is he the destitution? Despite too many drawn out scenes that go nowhere, Louis will get under your skin. Warning: graphic sex.

2.7 -- LA GUERRE EST DECLARÉE, Valérie Donzelli
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] Once you're born, it's a war you don't win; the lucky are the ones who get to go to war. Valérie Donzelli's "La guerre" is waged through the resilience and heartbreak of parents who learn their 2-year-old son has a brain tumour. But they never lose hope, even after discovering the tumour is malignant, and aggressive, and that their son has one in ten chance of surviving. However this commendable film is not about illness or bad luck of the draw. The parents are Juliet and Roméo, and this is their love story, a love that endures through thick and thin. 'Why did this happen to us?' he asks. "Because we can overcome it," she says -- with the help of friends, family and community. In its grit and spirit, the film recalls Roberto Benigni's magnificent "Life Is Beautiful." To be noted, though not necessarily applauded, is the exceptional role asked of the music that is often substituted for dialogue in order to convey the emotional volatility of the parents as they try to get on with their lives while the life that is their issue remains problematic. This is a film the heart (and tear ducts) will not be able to refuse, in large part because from the outset we wholly identify with the leads.

2.6 -- THE LAST CHRISTEROS (Los Ultimos Cristeros), Matias Meyer
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] At the heart of most forms of religious persecution is a power struggle, where the enforcer fears not so much a particular belief system but the power the belief exercises over the hearts and minds of its adherents. In 1926, the Mexican government issued a series of anticlerical decrees that in particular were aimed at Roman Catholics. Shot in the gorgeous Sierra Madre mountains near Aguascalientes, the film "The Last Christeros" follows the plight of a considerably reduced tatterdemalion band of revolutionaries who consider themselves Christ's soldiers. Few shots are fired, we never see the enemy; instead, we enter the thankless day to day existence of the fighters as they scavenge for food, bivouac on the run, are tormented by the elements (deluge-like rains), all the while complaining about the shortage of bullets and horses. As such, their rebellion is test and testimony to the power of faith where the enemy is temptation: to return to wife and children, to accept the government offer of amnesty. The pacing is deliberately languid, the speech laconic, the acting at best unconvincing and the Christ symbolism mercilessly unsubtle. That said, the film asks important questions about faith -- questions the secular world has forgotten how to ask.  

2.9 -- FLYING HOME, Tobias Wyss
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] Documentary. Tobias Wyss has inherited his Uncle Walter's archives comprised of thousands of photos and letters, which contain valuable clues to the life his somewhat enigmatic Uncle lived after he moved, as a young man, from Switzerland to the US where he became an automobile engineer, then a world traveler, followed by a long stay in Japan and finally Hawaii. We learn that despite his success he is often alone, and only in mid-life does he begin an affair with a dancer from Martinique who, on account of her colour, is rejected by Walter's beloved mother. Running parallel to the unfolding of the many phases of Walter's life is the cyclic emergence and obsolescence of technology. But what remains invariable (universal) in Walter's life is his manner of coping with loneliness and the ceaseless quest to forge connection and find meaning in life that is ultimately as fragile and fugitive as time itself. Where does life go and how does it pass so quickly is the subject of this very affecting documentary.

Ratings for 2010 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma.

Ratings for 2009 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma.

Ratings for 2008 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma.

Ratings for 2007 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma.


LONGS MÉTRAGES LOUVE D’OR – Best feature film in the International Selection:
, Rúnar Rúnarsson (Islande/Danemark, 2011)

Prix d’interprétation – meilleure performance d’acteur – Best actor or actress in a feature film in the International Selection:
NADEZHDA MARKINA pour ELENA, Andrei Zvyagintsev (Russie, 2011)

Prix de l’AQCC - meilleur film de la Sélection internationale – Best feature in the International Selection:
VOLCANO, Rúnar Rúnarsson (Islande/Danemark, 2011)
Mention spéciale = BLUE BIRD, Gust Van Den Berghe (Belgique, 2011) 

Grand Prix Focus – Cinémathèque québécoise – Best feature film in the Focus section:
ROMEO ONZE, Ivan Grbovic (Québec/Canada, 2010) 

Prix du public - People’s Choice Award:
NOTRE JOUR VIENDRA, Romain Gavras (France, 2010)
Mention spéciale
THE BALLAD OF GENESIS AND LADY JAYE, Marie Losier (États-Unis, 2010) 

Prix de l’innovation Daniel Langlois - Innovation Award
NUIT #1, Anne Émond (Québec/Canada, 2011) 

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