Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 11, No. 1, 2012
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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 Nancy Snipper and Daniel Charchuk have seen the following films. Here are their ratings, always out of 4, reserving 2.5 or more for a noteworthy film, 3.5 for an exceptional film, 4 for a classic.

2.8 -- AUSENTE (ABSENT), Marco Berger
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] It starts off so well, with the restrained camerawork and purposefully obtuse editing leading to the unfurling of a strange, suspenseful story. A teenaged boy lies to his swim instructor in order to spend more time with him -- but to what end? You’re never entirely sure where the film is leading, and so there’s that raw, exciting feeling that comes with the (increasingly rare) sheer uncertainty of a cinematic narrative. But then the story keeps unraveling, and unraveling, and you’re not sure when (or if) it’s going to stop. By the end, it’s clear the filmmakers had no real desire to solve the mystery at the heart of the film -- merely prolong it as long as possible. Some may find the conclusion satisfying, but I thought it a silly, disappointing way to wrap up what had been a decently compelling thriller.

2.9 -- AUSENTE (ABSENT), Marco Berger
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Two superbly acted roles bring to light the fear a swimming coach has when he realizes one of his student's has a severe crush on him. The male student worms his way through lies into staying over at his swim coach's house one night, and the coach begins to feel something isn't right. Yet he doesn't want to leave him out on the street as he has nowhere to sleep. His grandma whom he says takes care of him isn't at home, nor is his friend. Lies begin to surface soon after the coach hears that the student in fact lives with his parents, and that they were worried about what had become of their son one night. However, when the student has a fatal fall off a roof, the coach is overcome with guilt. The student never told anyone about the overnight incident. Still, the coach is very concerned 'word' will get out, and he will lose his job. In fact, nothing ever incriminating comes to light; the student did not want to hurt him, only attempt to get close to him which he did to a certain extent. Lots of suspense and irony make this film a good one to watch, but it moved far too slowly. The ending was a total let down, but only if you don't believe in ghosts. The film is a study in exaggerated fear. It cleverly juxtaposes our need to help someone and at the same time our desire to protect ourselves. Sometimes when these two twains meet, there's a crash and the results aren't pretty.  

3.4 -- NO TENGAS MIEDO (DON'T BE AFRAID), Montxo Arendariz
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] One of the best films I have seen on incest. Little Sylvia never had a chance; her father, a respectable dentist, began molesting her when she was a child. Despite telling her mother, nothing is done to stop it. In fact, her mother thinks she is ill. Indeed, Sylvia becomes mentally ill, yet even as she slowly recovers, her mother clings to denial. Her dentist dad might as well have taken the drill and directed it into his daughter's heart, for as we see through the testimony of real on-screen victims who are filmed in their therapy group, recovery is a constant battle. Sylvia eventually escapes from the clutches of her stalker dad, but it takes a journey into despair and an attempt to kill herself to begin the process of healing. This film offered us the wonderful acting of Michelle Jenner who played the victim with great subtlety. We felt so sorry for her -- locked in her silence of horror.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The collection of five documentaries presented riveting themes: teens who hang around a park in Havana. Some call themselves vampires and werewolves, others are skateboarders, and others are gay. They are talking to the camera and we follow them as they mix and mingle in this park in the Vedado quarter. It was funny because these teens were intensely serious, but what they said was nonsense. In another documentary, we listened to a transvestite talk about her desire to be accepted. We enter her world of loneliness. The most riveting documentary was about the supposed 'illegals' who live in dirt hovels. They have come from the east of Cuba to settle into colonies on the outskirts of Havana. It was very sad to see that these people have no rights and must tolerate the squalor that the government turns a blind eye to. What else is new? The documentary about the neighbourhood organization that is everywhere is Cuba -- formed initially during the Revolution -- showed just how useless it has become, and many people spoke out about this, yet most everyone said it is a must to belong to it. We see the members on the street sweeping away dirt, and that is pretty much their role as members. These documentaries were well made and we must applaud the students for their courage to make such films that surely were not seen by the government.

3.3 -- LAS ACACIAS, Pablo Giorgelli
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Perhaps the most popular film at this year’s Festivalíssimo, it’s a surprisingly small movie, a road movie that never really gets out on the road. Remaining almost entirely inside Rubén’s truck cab as he drives from Asunción del Paraguay to Buenos Aires with Jacinta and her small baby who are along for the ride, it nonetheless captures both the fatigue of long road trips and the growing attraction between two strangers through its claustrophobic camerawork. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an incredibly cute baby mediating the relationship, and indeed she may be the star of the picture. But the film is still an effective romance in its own right, even if its scale doesn’t extend much beyond that.

1.3 -- YOUNG CUBAN CINEMA, SHORTS, various directors
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Based on this collection of short Cuban films, it would seem that either the country is a place of great social unrest and anxiety or the young filmmakers emerging are deeply disturbed individuals (perhaps these two explanations are not mutually exclusive). Whatever the case, it’s clear that these films are both highly troubling and shoddily made. Running the gamut from voyeuristic sexuality to intense torture, they tackle (apparently) important national issues without shying away from depicting explicit nudity and violence; however, the overall quality varies from borderline mediocre to downright awful, betraying the film school sensibility of some of these works and their directors. Perhaps this is simply symptomatic of modern Cuban filmmaking, but I found it amateurish and tiresome.

1.7 -- LA MUJER DE IVÁN (IVAN’S WOMAN), Francisca Silva
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Pedophilia is never an easy topic to tackle in any medium, and even trickier to handle with subtlety and aesthetic effectiveness. This Chilean work, depicting the uncomfortable relationship between 40-year-old Iván and 15-year-old Natalia, unfortunately lacks these latter characteristics, as it is often loud, brash, garish and increasingly inept. There is perhaps an interesting artistic way of depicting this story, and the film occasionally shows flashes of a coherent style, but, ultimately, it degrades into sensationalist drama, helped in no way by the low-grade digital cinematography, a testament to its student film roots. In the end, the questionable quality of the movie frankly doesn’t justify putting up with the disturbing content.

1.2 -- SENTADOS FRENTE AL FUEGO, Alejandro Fernandez Almendras
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Chilean films have got to be the worst in the world. What is it with these filmmakers? Don't they know they need a plot to go along with the rugged scenery they constantly showcase -- perhaps to compensate for the absence of human substance? Evidently, the director passes this off for a plot: Daniel and his homely-looking wife, called sexy by him in the movie (no idea why) are a devoted couple. He works in the fields cutting grain while she lingers in bed with an incurable disease that is never really mentioned. You know when your eyes focus on the mountains rather than the characters in the film you are bored beyond words. Maybe, the motive to make this film is more interesting than the film itself. The music which periodically entered when things got tough was as corny as the grains Daniel was collecting in the fields. The cat in the film was cute, but to have the camera focus on it for 5 minutes as it played on the table was sheer idiocy. Still, I liked the sheep that tried to run away in once scene. Most likely, it knew he was in a dud film and wanted no part of it!

2.3 -- GORDO, CALVO Y BAJITO, Carlos Asuna
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Original without a doubt, but the theme is as old as the hills. Its slant is office politics with a capital B on bullying. Antonio Farfan is bald, stout and short. His heart however is bigger than the great amount of mockery that goes on behind his back and to his face. His brother is the biggest bully of all, constantly demanding that Antonio give him money. He name calls, insults Antonio, even humiliates him in front of all his co-workers when he pays an unexpected visit to the notary office where Antonio works. Thankfully, his new boss takes a shine to him -- maybe because they both have shiny heads (both are bald). A cute side turn in this animation film happens when Antonio reluctantly joins a therapy group to overcome shyness. The animation drawings are not at their best and they wobble constantly; but the voicing of the characters is perfect. I think this film would have been great had it not used animation but made it a 'real' film The potential for even greater humour and pathos would have been maximized with immediate impact. The French would have done a good job of it. Still, it is an unusual film on a subject that will always be relevant.

3.5 -- LA MITAD DE ÓSCAR (HALF OF OSCAR), Manuel Martín Cuenca
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A stark, melancholy and deeply affecting mood piece filmed and set in Almería, a town on the Mediterranenan coast of Spain. The Óscar of the title is a quiet man working as a security guard at an abandoned salt mine, visiting his grandfather in a nursing home and going about his boring day-to-day routine. When his grandfather takes a turn for the worse and ends up in the hospital, Óscar’s sister, María arrives from Paris with a French boyfriend, not having visited in two years. Old wounds are opened and past familial tragedies uncovered, but it’s not until the very end that the true reason for María’s absence, and Óscar’s depression, is revealed. To get to that point, director Cuenca utilizes long quiet sequences, exquisitely composed shots and Óscar’s enigmatic facial expressions to build his mystery and set the stage for a startling conclusion. By the time this gripping film cuts to black, it’s both unsettled and saddened its audience through the sheer power of its controlled aesthetic. A real winner.

2.0 -- RISCADO, Gustavo Pizzi
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A small, almost inconsequential drama focusing on Bianca, a wannabe actress struggling to make ends meet on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Unable to find solid work, she splits time between waitressing, movie star impersonating and unpaid theatre acting, attending auditions and finally scoring a lead role in a French-Brazilian film. The director, inspired by her story, soon shapes his screenplay to reflect Bianca’s real life, with her playing, essentially, a version of herself. The film very nearly takes on a meta quality at this point, with earlier depicted sequences incorporated into the film-within-a-film, and we wonder if the movie we’re watching is the movie being made. But the story never really goes there, choosing to wallow in human emotion and pathos instead of exploring interesting ideas of reality and fiction. Karine Teles, as Bianca, is remarkable, and director Pizzi mixes 35mm, 16mm and 8mm celluloid to craft a unique and varied cinematic style, but, ultimately, the film doesn’t mean much at all.

2.3 -- LA HORA CERO (THE ZERO HOUR), Diego Velasco
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] “This isn’t like the movies,” a character expresses at one point, and yet this Venezuelan hospital hostage film owes much to the cinema, specifically Hollywood. Part "John Q," part "Dog Day Afternoon," with a little "City of God" thrown in for South American spice, it’s an exciting, entertaining action flick, one nonetheless rendered problematic by its glamourization of violence and implication that it is a necessary tool to fight corruption and social inequality. By idolizing the tattooed hitman protagonist Parca as a kind of Robin Hood figure, the film seems to work against its dedication to the victims of crime. Parca is no hero, and yet his final, Christ-like pose leaves no doubt as to his intended depiction as such, despite weak attempts to shade his character with ambiguity throughout; true, hostage films are often centered on law-breaking anti-heroes, but never ones so unsympathetic and unlikeable. This is therefore a troubling picture, despite its obvious aesthetic and technical prowess.  

2.3 -- LA HORA CERO, Diego Velasco
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] In Caracas, the doctors are on strike. Everyone is fighting the government to do something. Enter Pardo, the anti-hero, a hit man whose targeted victim is his girlfriend, but he doesn't know that the woman he shot was the love of his life. He violently barges into a private medical clinic for the rich, demanding doctors save her life. She is also pregnant. But it isn't his baby; it is in fact the director of the police who got her pregnant. His little thing on the side with her was only that. After all, he is married. His mistress threatens to go public about the baby and who the father is and that is why he ordered the hit on her. There is humour in this fast-paced film. In the operating room, we see Miss Venezuela getting a boob job, but that procedure is put on hold while Pardo and his cohorts try to control the doctors and save the mother and her baby. She watches it all as she lies on the operating table. We also see the newscaster lady whose ambition gets the better of her, and she ends up being held hostage along with others. Pardo makes a statement while she holds the camera to him inside the hospital. He tells all the poor to come to the clinic to receive medical attention. This film is so frenetic that the plot twists get lost in the bullet spray that splats on the screen throughout most of the movie. Combining humour with raw edge violence, the film shows absurd aspects that blight Venezuelan life. Still, I felt nothing for the characters dead or alive. This is tautly constructed film; and even though I gave it a so-so rating, it is worth seeing if you want a super speedy ride that has too many bumps along the way.

For the ratings of 2009 Montreal Festivalissimo Film Festival, HERE.

For the ratings of 2010 Montreal Festivalissimo Film Festivial, HERE.

For the ratings of 2011 Montreal Festivalissimo Film Festivial, HERE.



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