Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 13, No. 5, 2014
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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 critics Nancy Snipper and Andrew Hlavacek have seen the following films. Here are their reviews and ratings, always out of 4, reserving 2.5 or more for a noteworthy film, 3.5 for an exceptional film, 4 for a classic.


3.2 -- EVERY THING WILL BE, Julia Kwan
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Vancouver's Chinatown, once a bustling landmark of longtime Chinese merchants, is rapidly changing as its buildings are being demolished into condos. In addition, economic struggles are mercilessly hitting those who wish to keep their businesses and gathering places alive. We meet a friendly security policeman who is pals with everyone. He acts as a guide, taking us into the various shops to meet the old people who have been carrying on their business for over half a century: the cheese shop expert, the 90-year-old newspaper sidewalk sales lady, the young free-spirited artist who has the kids draw on the warehouse walls of his large, but messy renovated studio, the young tea herbalist who is ready to sell her store, the developer who wants to maintain the heritage of the neighbourhood; he has a museum which features architectural elements salvaged from Chinatown's old self. Finally, we meet a non-Chinese poet who lives in a rooming house/hotel, and feels this place is his real home. The neon sign created by a famous artist set atop the museum curator's building says: 'Everything will be Alright' -- an ironic message with a double-edged sword: it captures the free spirit of the neighbourhood and the impending doom about to befall it. This film that makes us all wonder how any city could so dauntlessly destroy one of its enduring cultural epicenters, vividly brought to life for us by the ladies of Chinatown who play mahjong and sing together without a care in the world.

3.0 -- EVAPORATING BORDERS, Iva Radivojevic
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Cyprus has proven to not only be unwelcoming to migrants of all nationalities, especially those from the Arab world, but sadly lacking in adhering to their democratic principles. Fascists demonstrate and nothing is progressing. Many Muslims that seek asylum in Cyprus are not granted working papers and are held indefinitely at the Refugee Centre. They are given small dwellings where the families crowd inside. Life is nto moving for them. The situation is critical -- even before boats reach the island. The film tells of hundreds of bodies that end up dead in the sea on route to this island of their dreams. For so many, Cyprus is the golden gateway into Europe. An immigrant herself from the former Yugoslavia, but raised in Cyprus, Ms. Radivojevic, who now resides in New York examines many of the problems affecting the people on this island with the focus being on immigrants. She narrates throughout the film when others are not talking, and does so in an eloquent manner. The film which is divided into five thematic parts is a microcosm of the hatred that is spreading all over the world beyond. The final poem at the end of the film which was written by an Iraqi poet -- now a refugee in Belgium --speaks of the anguish the displaced feel. He asks why people can not simply live in peace and beauty. The 32-year-old filmmaker is diminutive in size; her humility is remarkable and she is obviously a gifted thinker. It's interesting to note that the film had as one of its producers, Laura Poitras whose film Citizenfour (also about freedom) played at RIDM this year.

1.1 -- TOUR OF DUTY, Dong-Ryung Kim & Kyoung-Tae Park
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This was a directionless, interminably boring film about a period in history that surely merited a far better approach. The topic -- one of the most crucially tragic times in Korea -- examines American soldiers stationed at their base during the Korean War who set up prostitute dens. The women were to 'comfort' the men; the Korean women were told it was their duty to do so. The Americans raped and kept them as chattel in these special 'clubs.' The film introduces three women who within the long 150 minutes barely talk, and the filmmaker used no technique to vividly recreate what happened to them. As a result we can't grasp the gravity of the situation; the film failed to move us. One woman had 25 abortions from this dark ordeal; the other went mad, and the last one was a strange woman in search of her identity and the story of how she came to be born. She is a black Korean who meanders into an abandoned building -- now left in ruins - -to rediscover herself and relive being with the mother she knew only as a newborn when she was taken away from her. There are over twenty ineffectual minutes of her opening and closing doors to the building, walking over dust and rubble as she enters various rooms. Most of the film is silent, and this technique did not prove effective to the cause and traumatic casualties that resulted from this depraved exploitation. What should have been riveting in impact was shamefully replaced by something far more disturbing: the doldrums.

3.7 -- WE COME AS FRIENDS, Serge Sauper
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Almost 250 parcels of land in Sudan represent a legally approved economic raping perpetrated by almost every European nation when this path of colonization was first carved in 1871 during the African Conference in Berlin. Since then terrible conflicts and investments profiting foreign powers have left the country in ruins. The Chinese are there with their oil rigs; the Americans are there with NATO and their own electricity power plant; the Moslems of the north are pitted against the Christians in the southern area. In fact, since South Sudan gained its independence -- this has become one of the most crucially devastating conflicts of war and starvation. There are so many religious and tribal inner factions as well, which intensify the neo-colonialism. Catastrophic consequences continue to plague this rich-in-resources country, plundered by all who stand to benefit. The film presents the whole picture, addressing these events in an intense if not sometimes confusing manner, but one thing becomes so clear in this amazing documentary: Self-interest wears many banners, and the only ones who have not or will never benefit from waving them are the Sudanese themselves.

3.4 -- THE LOOK OF SILENCE, Joshua Oppenheimer
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Following up on his 2012 The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer returns to Indonesia in The Look of Silence to re-open old wounds. The Act of Killing follows a group of men who took active part in the anti-communist purges of 1965-6. These men walk free as honoured heroes and re-enact in minute detail the murders they committed. In The Look of Silence, Oppenheimer expands the scope of his inquiry by following the optometrist-brother of one of the victims of the regime. During his rounds in the village, he questions the old men he measures for new prescriptions. Revealed is an oppressive climate in which victims’ families are forced to live alongside murderers, many of whom occupy positions of authority and honour. Critiqued as thoroughly gratuitous, The Look of Silence, like its preceding chapter, is a horrific albeit subtler spectacle. With each encounter, the camera seems to search, almost desperately, for some signs of remorse finding none. We find, instead, stubborn, often defiant pain leaving everyone involved in a hopeless situation that leaves no room for reconciliation, healing or justice. We must conclude, sadly, that the only true possibility in a system that has so thoroughly dehumanized victims and perpetrators alike is the possibility of more extreme violence. This threat is made explicitly clear. Montreal's 2014 International Documentary Festival (RIDM) runs until Nov. 23th.

3.3 -- THE SECRET TRIAL 5, Amar Wala
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Screened yesterday in collaboration with Cinema Politica, The Secret Trial 5 is a riveting independent work aimed principally at Canadian audiences. Following the 9/11 attacks, five immigrant men were arrested on suspicion of terrorist activities. They were held based on the little known, or understood, security certificates, a Cold War tool conceived to detain and deport suspected spies. Once issued, a security certificate gives the state total control to hold a non-Canadian citizen without charge or the possibility to examine the evidence motivating their incarceration. This disturbing story follows the struggles of these men and their supporters over the course of nearly eleven years as they fight their invisible accusers in a process shrouded in secrecy and studded with bureaucratic absurdity. Described by one of the five as, “Kafka meets George Orwell,” we are pulled into an obscene parallel universe of a security state that has essentially succeeded in subverting our system of traditional legal and human rights protections. Particularly alarming as the current government pushes through legislation expanding the scope of this mechanism to include potential use against Canadian citizens, The Secret Trial 5 is a must-see. Though conventional in its presentation, the film nicely references The Corporation (Achbar and Abbot, 2003) in its clever use of graphics and animation to deliver a sobering message. For more information, see

3.0 -- LIVING STARS, Mariano Cohn & Gastom Duprat
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This doc has no speaking, just the vibrant vibes of American pop music hits which people dance to. Coming from all walks of life, they live in Buenos Aires and its outskirts. No tango here. What a hoot! The long microphone is set on the ground, and we watch individuals dance alone or with their partner. We see the sexy moves of people of all ages and professions, including students (even kindergarten-goers), a teacher, a waitress, a dentist, a female hockey player, a mechanic, housewives and retirees. They can really dance, and with them is their family or a friend who either sits impassively staring on or tending to their own thing, such as reading, cutting onions, fixing watching TV and their computer. They dance in their houses, apartments, outside and at work.

1.2 -- THE IRON MINISTRY, J. P. Sniadecki
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] An endless train full of Chinese people are busy discussing economic woes and social aspects of their culture and the effects on their lives; snippets of conversations about Muslims versus Christians, old and young love, jobs and various sundry topics connected to spontaneous banter are touched upon. We see people of all classes, including the most dramatic shots of people sleeping between train cars, on the bathroom sink, in beds and on each other. We see people cutting like butchers huge piece of cow meat and hanging them on the train knobs. Unfortunately, the filming is a chaotic mess, and the fact all was filmed 'in situ' between 2011 and 2013 makes everything more confusing. We have no idea where the train is heading and if, in fact, these shots are from different trains in China. Ironically, the fast moving train comes off as a boring piece of cinematic laziness. Every film -- no matter its genre -- must be edited. If not, any attempt to capture realism behind the lens risks failure.

3.2 -- THE IRON MINISTRY, J.P. Sniadecki
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] In the running for RIDM’s official selection in the International Feature prize, The Iron Ministry takes us on a journey -- in fact a composite of 55 journeys over three years. Fluent in Mandarin, armed with a compact consumer video camera, director J.P. Sniadecki brings the spectator into close contact with a China in flux. This is a documentary that tells very little, letting its subjects, in various stages of engagement with the filmmaker, tell their story. The story is mostly one of a certain type of endurance that can only be experienced during a long train journey. Without narrative and very little translation, Sniadecki forces an experience that can often feel alienating, claustrophobic, and yet, one that fundamentally leaves room for a multitude of readings. As such, The Iron Ministry becomes a personal voyage for both, filmmaker and spectator, creating a raw point of contact uncluttered by explanation or narrative that draws upon common humanity as a locus of understanding. Nevertheless, the hermetic effect is not total as the voices allowed to be heard (in translation) betray political motivations meant to highlight huge structural inequalities that can only be hinted at by the camera eye. The Iron Ministry is a haunting experience, created in part by forays into abstract cinematography not to mention ethereal sound editing.

3.0 -- STRAY DOG, Debra Granik
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] The director returns to Mississippi to document the trials and tribulations of biker and mobile home park owner Ronnie 'Stray Dog' Hall -- a Vietnam veteran who struggles daily with the horror in which he participated as a young man. Granik’s unrelenting camera follows Stray Dog’s biker tribe of fellow veterans as they ride to dull the pain and keep alive the memory of the perished and the disappeared. There is a purposeful absence of narration and directed interview formats; Granik, instead, choses to let her subjects be themselves as much as her camera will allow. What evolves is a stark portrait of marginal existences: the men and their families who form Stray Dog’s circle are stuck in significant ways, left mostly to their own devices to deal with the long-term effects of war. Though resources may be somewhat available -- Stray Dog has been in therapy for many years -- many don’t know where or how to seek help. Perhaps most tragic is realization that the inherent structural problems are now hitting generations of new veterans from more recent conflicts. Although the film hints at such broader issues, the scope of Granik’s documentary remains more personal and focused on the community these broken men animate to cope their daily existence. Bizarrely, though the system clearly fails them, they show very little bitterness or anger, which is a telling testament to the power of the American mythos, as well as the resilience of the people who have paid most dearly to perpetuate it. See Stray Dog at RIDM (Montreal's International Documentary Festival) November 22 at 21H15.

2.8 -- CITIZENFOUR, Laura Poitras                
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper]   Edward Snowden, a top techie in his late twenties was working for the National Security Agency (NSA) when he decided to expose the massive secret surveillance network of spying on every citizen in the United States by the US government. He holes up in a Hong Kong Hotel and begins to divulge the written and visual meta data of classified documents that allow for indiscriminate silent invasions of privacy by the NSA. Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who writes for the Guardian, orchestrates the interviews and goes on TV to expose the illegal tentacles of spy technology and the access it has to people all over the world The cat comes out of the bag and the mice are now scrambled to preserve their own agendas. Obama is outed as a bad guy, and Snowden seeks refuge in Moscow. Snowden is courageously committed to the protection of civil liberties, knowing full well the consequences of his actions. He has been vilified and is wanted by the US government. A lot of tech talk and little action makes this doc a potential confusion for those who are not cerebral computer experts.

2.1 -- ONCE UPON A TIME, Kazim Öz                
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper]   A family of Kurds leaves for Ankara to work for a nasty Turkish boss in the fields, spending ten hours a day planting lettuce with their bare hands while coming in direct contact with chemically treated soil. Poverty, family feuding, backbreaking work with inhuman scheduled breaks for relieving oneself and eating, and a run-away man with his sweetheart leave their families toiling in the fields as they seek a better life. The father of the girl threatens to take two daughters from the male’s family if the correct dowry cannot be paid. This documentary shows how pathetic the Turks treat the Kurds and the fact that their rights are subverted in a land where they are most unhappy.


For the ratings of 2012 RIDM, HERE.



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