Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 11, No. 5, 2012
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nancy Snipper
Farzana Hassan
Daniel Charchuk
Samuel Burd
Andrée Lafontaine
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 critic Nancy Snipper has seen the following films. Here are her 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.



Nancy Snipper

RIDM . . . Get to Know the Real World through a Lens that Doesn’t Lie

Now into its 15th year, the Montreal Documentary Film Festival is mesmerizing. Able to bring the superb talents of veteran masters of the craft to an insatiable public, RIDM continues to astonish, enrage, delight and soothe us all with its unique films – a total of 110 this year from 38 countries. There are 190 sessions including master classes, discussions, special events, panels, and 11 awards. In the programming, the list of premieres is impressive: 16 world and international premieres, 17 North American noteworthy works, 11 Canadian and 43 from Quebec. Guests number almost 100, including 40 decision-makers and panelists and judges from the artistic and business side of the industry. For complete information on the films, their directors, scheduling, festival events, and fun free parties, go to RIDM is a 10-day festival.

3.0 -- LES INVISIBLES, Sebastien Lifshitz
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A close-up and personal kind of documentary that lets us into the lives of six gay and lesbian old time couples -- well into their seventies -- who reveal their coming out stories. It is very funny watching them interact with their partners -- especially the old men who natter at each other. In the documentary, there is also one man who is bisexual. He has the best message of all -- don't ask why; just enjoy. All the people we meet live in France. The countryside is beautiful, their own rural lives have given them longevity and happiness, even if it was a long journey to get there. Old photographs and film clips help to piece together the autobiographical stories each one tells. In the film one 83-year-old man is bisexual. He lives alone -- his own choice. He is a shepherd. He has the best message: don't ask why you homosexual; just accept it and enjoy. It's about love and nothing more.

1.1 -- THE VIRGIN, THE COPTS AND ME, Namir Abdel, Messeeh
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] It's 2009, Christmas night in Bouogne-Billancourt in France. His mother has a videocassette in her purse, and her friend takes it out to show a filmed apparition of the Virgin Mary witnessed by thousands of Copts , Egyptian Christians. We see nothing, but her friend claims to see this apparition. This happened in Egypt. Messeeh decides to go to Egypt to search for witnesses and his mother's family becomes the main focus of his journey. His mother is dead set against him filming her own family, but she ends up meeting up with him in Egypt to ensure he will not film her family members whose poverty she is ashamed of. She adds comedic relief to this movie which is turns into a sham in more ways than one. In the end, Messeeh can't find any proof of any apparition, so he simply decides to stage a film of the Virgin Mary's apparition using his family and the villagers for the cast. They rehearse and the whole thing is a hoax. But Messeeh must do this, as he was funded by some movie producer to uncover and reveal the Virgin Mary goods'. Messeeh is a non-believer and his commentary throughout the film sheds light on his quest that yields nothing but a silly film within a film.

3.8 -- DETROPIA, Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Six million workers lost their jobs in this Motown city. The population is under 720,000; 100,000 homes have been abandoned and 90,000 are being torn down, about 11 per street. In 1930, Detroit was the fastest growing city in the world. Today it is the fastest shrinking city in all of North America. GM and Chrysler building plants are abandoned; the Cadillac plant is now a dumpster site. These plants outsourced in Mexico, but after the 2009 government bailout, thousands are returning to work in the auto industry. That's the good news. America Axle (Chrysler created a 50% job loss) union head fights against wage cuts, and that is why Chrysler opted to close rather than cave into worker demands. Today 50,000 factories in this once glorious city no longer operate. This film follows a former teacher and owner of a downtown hangout, The Raven Lounge, to record his comments about his city of arsonists and foreclosures. At the auto exhibition, he discovers that the electric-run Chevrolet GM Volt can't compete with its Chinese counterpart, the BYD (Build Your Dreams). He realizes America is not awake, and that the disappearance of the middle class is putting capitalism in chaos. It preys upon the have-nots and the weak. We watch blogger Crystal Starr film old run-down once magnificent buildings. We see how easy it is as well to own a fabulous run-down place for under $20,000. David Bing, the mayor of Detroit, proposes a relocation plan to move residents out from downtown to another place where more people live and services exist (they cut down running stoplights and bus services downtown). He suggests an urban farm space will be built once people move out. He offers no relocation money at all. That plan is shot down at a public meeting. It is a buyer's market with empty lots and vast fields and parks lying dormant. Now young people are beginning to move into the city with the hope of starting a life that is almost cost-free, compared to other cities in the United States. It is sad to behold the past glory of stately buildings now sitting in a wasteland where people can barely afford a cup of coffee and where 50% of them have no job to go to.

2.7 -- L'ETHNOGRAPHE, Ulises Rosell
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Anthropologist John Palmer was working on his post-doctorate from Oxford University on the Wichi Indians in Argentina, but he cut the academic apron strings when he ended up marrying a young Wichi Indian and having 4 kids -- another one on the way. He tries to stop the bulldozing of the Wichi land which is being taken over by a Chinese corporation. He also tries to get a Wichi man out of prison for impregnating a nine-year-old girl. His life is full of insoluble problems, and most of them revolve around his commitment to the Wichi with their personal struggles inside the family and as an oppressed group ignored by the government. Nevertheless, Plamer plugs on dogmatically. With basically no salary to live on, he and his wife and kids are nonetheless, utterly fulfilled and content. His conditions are primitive at best, but his life is spiritually rich. He is totally dedicated to his Wichi family, loves children and would do anything to protect the indigenous people he has made his own. An outstandingly gentle soul, 'Juan' Palmer found his purpose in life -- far away from his privileged roots that ironically led him to a land devoid of comforts, but brimming with simple love.

4.0 -- THE SKY TURNS/EL CIELO GIRA, Mercedes Alvarez
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The director was the last child born in this village in the Castilian countryside between Madrid and San Sebastian. Today only 14 hearty old residents live in this hamlet of Aldealseñor. The men tend to the little area of the buried, the sheep and ruminate on death and how the village is really just a memory of those that once lived there. A painter is going blind, but he gets one of the men to describe the scene of the horizon. Always there is an oak tree and rolling hills and a vast blue sky that sometimes turns grey. It is barren yet beautiful in its simplicity and open space. It becomes his next painting. Aldealseñor is a place where the past is really the present: huge dinosaur fossils and vestiges of Celtiberians and Romans remain. Time stands still. Here is where you want to go when you wish to remove yourself from any clatter of modern civilization. Even the bread man and postman rarely show up. The only noise to break the tranquility of this ethereal place comes with the arrival of a wrecking crew. They are renovating the village castle into a hotel: nothing to do with helping these poor inhabitants who live in highly sparse conditions. When two students pull up, blasting music and political slogans from a loudspeaker in their car, they jump out to a put up a poster of a political candidate onto the stone façade of a house. Shortly thereafter, two other students from the opposing party follow suit. They seem ridiculous. The comments, wit and attitude of these old folk of humour and wisdom are poignant. They believe that despite the harsh realities, life here is far better than that in the city. Each tenaciously holds on to their way of life, balking at death and joking about it, for they know their time may soon come. What will be left of the place then? The gentle narration, stillness and poetic landscape of this film is moving. This film was selected by the great Chinese filmmaker Jia Ahang-Ke as one of his all-time favourites. "The Sky Turns" was made in 2003. One hopes that the hotel never got finished, and that these remarkable people are still living there.

3.9 -- THE FOOD HUNTERS, Yung Chang Belvaux
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Yet another success from the director who in 2007 brought us "Up the Yangze." Chang revealed that he became so obsessed with fruit while making his latest film, that he entered the dark side, and that his life was changed forever. The exotic fruit that was 'hunted down' was tasted and enjoyed by the director along with fellow filmmaker Mark Slutsky. Both became fruit fanatics as they took us on a journey around the world while meeting a strange assortment of dedicated fruit hunters, including, actor Bill Pullman. His orchard in Hollywood Hills is amazing. In the film, he tries to buy land with other neighbours to start an exotic community fruit garden, but the owner refuses to sell. We meet adventurers Noris Ledesma and her partner Richard Campbell who slug it out in the jungle of Bali in search of the wawi, a rare mango. Their guide is an aboriginal from the nomadic Penan people. There are about 600 different kinds. But there is only one banana -- the Cavendish eaten the world over. The couple also goes to Borneo to look for the one tree that gives fruit to the kuna kuna dura -- a stinky fruit that is amazing in taste. From Hawaii, Honduras to the monasteries of Umbria, and beyond, we are led on a path where creamy cherimoyas, delicate cloudberries, orange-coloured peanut-butter fruit and silky ice cream fruit beans assault our senses. If only we could taste all the fruit and meet all these eccentric fruit sleuths this delicious film introduces us to.

2.4 -- ROOM 237, Rodney Ascher
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The director uses various elements from scenes from Stanley Kubrick's great horror movie "The Shining" to show that the movie is really referencing both the Indian Genocide and the Jewish Holocaust. He also claims that "2001 Space Odyssey" was making reference to the supposed filming of Nasa's Apollo 11 moon landing. Interestingly, Ascher points to several lights and refractions in the filming of that landing that are in fact reflections and back lights one uses in a film studio. So many objects and motifs in the set and props of "The Shining" (the German typewriter, the Calumet Baking powder tins with an image of an Indian on each, the blood scenes, the launch pad motif in the rug leading to room 237, and the fact that these numbers when their multiplication sums are added is 42 -- the year when Hitler began in Final Solution plan), point to Kubrick's hidden' agenda. So says Ascher. Whether you agree or not, the movie was captivating, and Ascher argued his points vividly.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Twenty-two unendurable minutes of watching five different faces one after the other -- as each listens to women and men prisoners singing songs from behind the walls of an Orléans prison in France. We never see the prisoners, only the static faces listening from outside these prison walls. No artistic cinematic value at all! To add insult to injury, the singing was awful.

2.8 -- ALLÉLUIA, Jean-Simon Chartier
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Four young men, aged 19 to 24, join the Dominican monks to undergo tests of faith and solitude. Their initiation period entails living at a chalet and communing with nature. While there for a week, they share their beliefs and biographies with each other. They play music and the lyric is from the Bible. Within a two-year-period, they transform themselves into true converts, and it is an exciting day in Trois Rivière when they receive their Dominican robes; no longer are they in the apostolate stage. The film is most interesting during those segments where the four men candidly reveal why they have given up: their life of video games, girls and other diversions to devote themselves to God. We see them in their class discussing obedience and chastity. Their lives consist of constant prayer, bell ringing and reading the bible. They find the peace they have been seeking. Faith and goodness are inextricably linked.

3.8 -- WAVUMBA, Jeroen Van Velzen
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Masoud is over 70, but he's not about to let age put a damper on his bare-handed ability to catch a shark, tie it to the side of his boat and row it in to his island village, Wasini in Kenya. Masoud owns a torn T-shirt, a boat and a pole, so he's probably the most adventuresome fearless hero ever to fish in ways (primitive is an understatement) that boggle the mind. Masoud has employed a young strong Kenyan to do most of the pulling in of the fish and to help out, because Masoud's younger days are gone. Still he is obsessed with catching a big shark, just like he did before. His prowess and bossiness is so legendary they call him the commander. He goes in the dark out into the ocean to another island with his helper and lands on its shore in the dark, He uses branches lit on fire to see, he carries them around and looks for sea snakes to whack with his long knife. They are the best bait for shark. Everything he does is with his hands, even catching octopus using a pole, and they actually wrap themselves around his arm before he finishes them off properly. The island they land on is full of spirits and it is very eerie to watch this man walking around in shorts, killing sea snakes. The film is so unique, and as the director revealed, difficult to make. The conditions were cumbersome; Van Velzen followed Masoud's boat keeping a great distance, so the sound of the boat was not picked up in the film. His camera and sound men were in the boat with Masoud. His miracle man is cantankerous -- a stubborn fisherman who doesn't really want to go back until he can get that shark. His helper announces to him he will no longer continue working for Masoud after this outing. They have been together for many years, but his 'younger half' has had enough. Imagine following this remarkable character around in mangroves where everyone is traipsing through water. Imagine hanging out with a person and his ken whose way of life makes yours look far fishier than theirs. They are the real deal. Van Velzen was born in Kenya, but was schooled in England, and lives in Amsterdam. Clearly, his heart belongs to Africa. He is an intrepid filmmaker who goes deep into the Dark Continent to uncover rare secrets where the real with the magical are one and the same.

3.0 -- THE END OF TIME, Peter Mettler
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] What is time? We are taken to a huge underground complex where brilliant physicists are creating particles in eight huge machines that are heated up and energized rapidly so that they smash together to emulate the Big Bang. Words like quarks that have no structure and protons are referred to. I suspect no one really understood what these geniuses were explaining, other than like-minded scientists sitting in the audience viewing this epic film. The Hubble telescope was also part of this complex topic of time. We see it and what it shows, so that was nifty. We are taken to Big Island in Hawaii to watch lava flow; it slides slowly down onto the ground, but that sequence went on far too long. We meet Buddhists and their version of time. Then, we shift to Detroit where we see abandoned buildings and houses left to the dustbin of time. We also witness a gigantic techno happening enjoyed by a sea of teens and those in their twenties, waving their arms in this arena of sounds and colours. Ordinary folk are interviewed -- all revealing what time means to them. I found this film interesting but the editing was shaky and there was an element of artistic pretension in this film. No one seemed to address the metaphoric theme of time standing still, such as when we first get hit with Cupid's arrow, or when we are in shock while watching something horrible takes place, or if we receive terrible news. When we are at one with nature, we also lose our sense of self and when we panic, time goes too fast. Maybe time is subjective for us. This riveting film mentions that mass, time and space are fundamentally one and the same. I often felt that the film was jumping from the esoteric to the mundane -- to unrelated images and ideas that created cinematic fragmentation. In the end, I felt I had spent too much time watching a film on the meaning of time that didn't teach me anything, but some scenes were stunning to the eye.

2.4 - SOLDIER/CITIZEN, Silvina Landsmann
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A classroom of Israeli soldiers are taking courses to get their high school diploma. This documentary puts us inside the classroom with soldiers taking their civics course. The patient, extremely fair teacher discusses the fact that Israel is a Jewish state and a democratic one -- that Arabs and all others must be given fair treatment under the law. But the students are enraged by his lesson. So much comes out in this film: who really should be allowed to live in Israel? What is a nation, and what are the conflicting Jewish ethnic sects within the nation? It also poignantly reveals the confession of some of these soldiers dealing with a tormenting inner conflict that arise when they must face a mother and child who resemble his own/her family. This intimate film not only shows the Israeli problem but the impetuousness of youth. The teacher is a master at calming down his boisterous students, some of whom make very valid points. He slowly gets them to think seriously about their responsibilities and commitment to humanity and world tolerance. The dialectic and arguments that take place between teacher and student embody on a microcosmic level the democratic practice of a nation trying to obtain peace before more damage is done.

3.0 -- INTO THE ABYSS, Werner Herzog
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Michael Perry is on death row for a triple homicide in Texas -- all for the purpose of getting his hands on the owner's (a woman) red car. His accomplice is also in jail, Werner Herzogas is his father who is highly sympathetic about his failure as a parent. This film consists of close-up interviews with the perpetrators, the police detective, the man once in charge of strapping down the patient on the gurney before he receives the lethal injection (he now suffers from post traumatic stress), the chaplain standing outside the huge grassy mole full of crosses with numbers on them -- the opening interview and scene for this documentary. This is the final resting place for the inmates who got the death penalty. The film is a cunning and deeply disturbing look at the death penalty. The murder is reconstructed in vivid detail. The victims' families hold up framed pictures of their murdered family members pertaining to this case. Harrowing and controversial, the death penalty will always be a poignant point of contention -- a double edged sword whose thrust doesn't result in a win-win ending.

4.0 -- VIVAN LAS ANTIPODAS, Victor Kossakovsky
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This stunning cinematic tapestry of geographical and concomitant cultural glory is like no other to date. It makes National Geographic look like a pale piece of pretty pictures. This film holds up mirror images of places that are located in the exact other side to one another -- if you were to dig into the centre of the earth and come out the other side. The film starts with Entre Rios in Argentina with two men living by a river who brings thick mud to the little makeshift bridge for which they collect a 2-peso toll. They are very poor but live right in nature. Their antipode is Shanghai in China -- noisy, dirty and very chaotic -- no open spaces there. It is the complete opposite to Entre Flores. Then we go to Patagonia with a sheep herder, caught in winds and barren landscapes that make his existence a rather lonely one. Its antipode is Lake Baikal in Russia. One single little farm sits amidst an endless roll of hills and a super still lake. It is beautiful. Another antipode is Mila Flores in Spain held up like natural prism to Baku, Botswana. Here wild animals live alongside a small village. Big Island, Hawaii introduces us to a man living right in a volcano. No grass outside -- just a never ending ground covered in lava rock, but away from his house we see spumes of lava rising in the horizon. The volcano is still active. Amazing shots taken of sub- volcanic platelets moving, along with the gooey awesome sliding resembling prehistoric serpents -- all this creates fearsome images that are spellbinding at the same time. One hopes the thick red guck doesn't slide near his little house. He is surrounded in this volcano; he is the only dweller there, save for a woman who lives in an open air shelter far away with her family. Big Island's antipode is New Castle in New Zealand. Here we see a beached whale that is being cut open and eventually moved by a tractor into a dug-out sand grave. It is sad yet compelling. So many strange images whose potent visual and auditory impact is remarkable: those volcano sounds underground are vividly fearsome and rare to the ear. This movie cleverly presents each antipode's place upside down. Each is juxtaposed onto top of the other -- horizontally layered over one another as they slowly turn right side up. The exchange is clever; even the music of one city becomes that of its antipode. The earth is so magnificent in its natural and cultural contrast -- a wonder of mysterious beauty -- vast and sublimely terrible and terrific at the same time. A cinematic masterpiece, this movie is the best of its kind ever to travel across the silver screen. A must-see!


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