Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 14, No. 5, 2015
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nancy Snipper
Daniel Charchuk
Lynda Renée
Nick Catalano
Samuel Burd
Farzana Hassan
Betsy L. Chunko
Andrée Lafontaine
  Music Editors
Nancy Snipper
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque
Denis Beaumont
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
Le Havre
Presumed Guilty
A Separation
Take This Waltz
Beyond The Walls
The Place Beyond the Pines
The Past



So far, A & O film critics Robert J. Lewis, Nancy Snipper and Andrew Hlavacek have seen the following films. Here are their ratings and comments, always out of 4, reserving 2.5 or more for a noteworthy film, 3.5 for an exceptional film, 4 for a classic.



3.7 -- YOUTH, Paolo Sorrentino
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Like trying to catch the wind, the subject of time is as fugitive as a breeze that mysteriously lifts the spirit out of the deep. That time seems to cease when we're fully engaged in life is the conundrum, or dichotomy that fuels the extraordinary imagination and films of Italy's Paolo Sorrentino, especially, his latest, Youth, a demographic and world only the old can fully speak of. The film's thin story line magically unfolds in an opulent palace converted into a spa overlooking the verdant Swiss Alps. Its amenities attract the rich and famous, among them Fred (Michael Caine), a music conductor, and Mick (Harvey Keitel), a film director. They are both octogenarians, life-long friends, whose children have just divorced. They meet and chat every day, each, in his own way, trying to make sense of life, and what it means to live authentically. Fred recognizes that his creative juices have dried up, while Mick has convinced himself he's still at his best. What takes this movie to another level is its physicality, its voluptuousness, but not the kind that assaults the senses (à la El Topo by Jodorworsky), but flatters them until they surrender to introspection.
Every morning, Fred and Mick discuss their feeble urine production, measured in drops: both suffer from age-related prostate hyperplasia. There's an unforgettable scene where a naked Miss Universe, her perfect skin and body bathed in golden light, sylph-like enters one of the thermal pools while Fred and Mick, looking on, are speechless. The following day, in close up, a young masseuse is working over Fred's enfeebled body, its loose and sagging skin. The cumulative effect of these immaculately shot scenes is that the viewer comes to realize that what is really happening in this film is taking place off screen, but not entirely, again like the wind we feel but can't grasp. How old do you have to be -- to be old enough for
Youth, asks this film? His daughter makes sure he doesn't get away with blaming his youthful trangressions on his youth.
Sorrentino invests the physical world -- the Alps, the lavish soundtrack, the magnificent sets and their locations -- with a sumptuousness that is so excessive and sensual it comes to speak the language of metaphysics. As we connect the dots, supply the syntax, the language of time passing is being spoken -- in secret alphabets. Just as flamenco -- like no other style -- brings out the dynamic range and possibilities of the guitar,
Youth raises the bar in what is possible in cinema. There has never been anything quite like it. From a director who has studied the masters (Fellini) in order to free himself from them, Youth is its own precedent. By eliminating everything that does not address his immediate concerns, Sorrentino makes sense of the world by recreating it, image by image, which is how he comes to discover his particular style and signature. What emerges is the language he has had to invent in order to share his values with the world. And as his world finds a place in ours, the world of cinema turns a corner.

2.7 -- MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART, Jia Zhangke
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Jia Zhangke's Mountains May Depart is an ambitious, tightly knit narrative epic that covers 25 years of China's "great leap ahead" -- and its consequences. In the opening scene, Shen is teaching modern dance to her students. Her preference for American music symbolizes China's goals and beyond. She is being pursued by Zhang, a young flamboyant, braggadocio capitalist and Liangzi, who works in his coal mine. Torn between the two, she eventually decides on the moneyed-man, and lives to regret it. The first of the film's three chapters is shot with a square lens, usually used for portraiture, or to convey an ideal vision of life, which in this case is the traditional China optimistically looking westward. The second chapter, shot in normal wide screen, leaps ten years ahead and finds Shen divorced, her husband with custody of their child (money talks), and the coal miner, Liangzi, unable to pay for his cancer treatments. But Shen's spirit, despite having lost her son (named Dollar), and then her father, cannot be broken because she remains connected to China's traditional communal values. In the final chapter, Dollar, now grown up, is living in Australia, but doesn't know what to do with his life. He has forgotten how to speak Mandarin, and requires a translator to speak with his father, a development which makes this section the least credible. Father and son are at odds, no one is happy, and the promise of capitalism rings hollow. Only Shen seems to have found happiness, and is seen dancing the dance of Zorba in the final scene. The film was helped by a haunting diatonic sound track (always welcome in Chinese films), and forceful character development: Zhangke's political message never gets in the way of the very credible and compelling relationships.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A pretentious, static presentation of two administrative leaders in charge of the art work inside their respective countries' two most prestigious museums: the Louvre and the Hermitage. Count Franz Wolff-Metternich, representing the Third Reich, and Jacques Jaujard, protector of art work inside the Louvre, meet following Germany's invasion of Paris. Metternich disobeys orders to ship out art work from the Louvre over to Germany. We are basically told everything; there is no drama, no tension, no credibility, and the last scene was a total cop-out of amateurish stature. The art work was nice to look at though.

2.1 -- THE MEASURE OF A MAN, Stéphané Brisé
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Fifty one year-old Thierry (marvelously acted by France's Vincent Lindon) has spent 20 months in a job-training program in construction, yet the course never included anyone going to a site. He seems unemployable. A skype interview seems to be going well, but then the interviewee advises him his resume is poorly written and he stands a slim chance of getting the job -- this after he takes up 10 minutes interviewing him. He and his wife have a 19-year-old son with cerebral palsy. At the bank, he is told to either sell his house or take out life insurance. He needs cash. Finally, he lands a job at a supermarket. He is to survey and catch anyone shoplifting. After two serious incidents at the supermarket, Thierry has had enough, and walks out on the job. Despite Lindon's charismatic acting, the editing and story fell flat. There were some black humour scenes, and though the director tried to make a documentary on the state of affairs in France's hiring market, the pit and sadness we were to feel did not happen.

2.6 -- EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE, Wim Wenders                
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper]  Tomas Eldan is a depressed self-absorbed writer struggling with writer’s block. On the way home from his ice fishing jaunt, he hits Christopher, a little boy whom he brings back to his mother’s house which is just up the little hill the boy was sliding down on his toboggan. Eldan is relieved the car caused no injury. But in fact, his car killed Christopher’s brother Nicolas who got shoved under the wheels. This, he does not know until his mother asks Christopher where his brother is. This tragedy forms the epicenter of the film, but eventually begins to spoke out into every facet of the writer’s life. However, Elden keeps it all together by not talking about it. His feelings are buried deep within. His relationship with his girlfriend falls apart. He forms a friendship with the mother of the boy he killed; she is religious and from the get-go says it was not his fault. It was an accident. Eventually, he becomes a successful writer with his new wife and her daughter basking in his new-found fame. However, Christopher, now an 18-year-old comes back into Elden’s life -- an unwelcome occurrence on Elden’s part. It would seem he’s being stalked. The young man needs to sort things out; he is angry and bitter. Wracked with guilt and pain, both men find a way to finalize their suffering. The slow-moving realism of the film works well, but James Franco as Elden is miscast. Also, (inexplicably) no one aged in this film despite the passing of time. The only ones who did were the two children Christopher and Nina, the daughter of Eldan's wife. Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marie-Jose Croze and Rachel McAdams round out the rich cast of characters. The women in this film are heroines.

[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Novel use of 3D notwithstanding, very little is fine in Wim Wender's plodding, vim and vigourless, going-on-narcoleptic Everything Will Be Fine. The director's first mistake is casting boyish looking James Franco as the lead: we're supposed to believe he's an angst-ridden writer. On two occasions, the film jumps ahead four years, but Franco, and the female leads (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Rachel McAdams) don't age a wrinkle: an odd oversight for someone who's been making films since 1967. Odder yet, the near banalizing of the very weighty subject of guilt -- from a director who gave us the unrivaled metaphysical gem Wings of Desire. Tomas, played by Franco, accidently runs over a child and becomes obsessed over it, and to such a degree that two years later, it's the mother of the deceased child who ends up comforting Tomas. We learn that the mother, too, feels guilty because she couldn't put down Faulkner instead of tending to her kids. Self-absorbed, anally-retentive Tomas's guilt is refracted (not to be confused with illuminated) through his relationships with three woman, and of course his writing, which gets better consequent to his guilt. Towards the end of this endless film, the deceased's brother - with issues of his own (he breaks into Tomas' house and urinates on his mattress) -- tries to make Tomas feel guilty for channeling his guilt into his books. All understanding, compassionate Tomas hugs him for it and all is well. The film was shot in Quebec, Canada. One would have expected the province's architecture and natural beauty to have been given a better showing in 3D, just as one expects Wenders to get back to what he now does best: making documentaries, a genre he has done proud in recent years.

3.2 -- AFERIM!, Radu Jude
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] "We live as we can, not as we want," explains Costandin to his son Ionita. It is 1834 in Wallachia, an impoverished region in southern Romania. They have just captured and returned an escaped gypsy slave. (In Romania, gypsies were enslaved from the 14th to the 19th century, which might explain why, as written in Spain's Royal Language Academy Dictionary, gypsies had to resort to "manoeuvers to cheat.") The cuckolded boyar (feudal lord), bent on teaching the other slaves a lesson in obedience, snips off the slave's genitals and makes his adulterous wife eat them, before sending her back to the tower. But the real story of this film is its authentic historical setting, majestically filmed in sweeping black and white. The simple story line is the device Golden Bear winner Radu Jude employs to lay bare the ugly truths, inequities, superstitions and fierce tribal hatreds that prevailed in the early 19th century. Costandin and Ionita, stripped of all their illusions, are the Wallachian counterparts of Spain's Don Quixote and Sancho. The language delights in ribald metaphor, X-rated cursing, and equal opportunity denouncing of all outsiders (Jews, Turks, Greeks etc) as well as throwing a stark light on the conditions of life where there are only degrees of difference between the beaten down peasant folk and the animals they tend to. Towards the end of this fascinating film there's a shot of pigs peacefully rooting in the mud, while nearby the drunken men have unsheathed their swords and the women are being urged by their husbands to perform sexual favours for a few coins. Much of the story unfolds along the ever dangerous trade routes cutting through the great misty forests in the region, where every meeting with a stranger is a possible confrontation or opportunity to better one's situation. The son Ionita quickly learns from his pragmatically wise and cynical father that it is each man and his tribe or language group for himself. In the peasant villages (deserving awards as set pieces), no one is left untouched by the filth and grime; the women are treated like mules, disease (cholera, plague) is a constant threat, and everything and everyone is for sale. Without a trace of bravado, and on its own cinematic terms, this film is at once an indictment and homage to the way it was in 1834. Aferim in Turkish means well done. Aferim Radu Jude.

2.4 -- AFERIM!, Radu Jude
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A film created from a historical document in Romania, this black and white old-style movie, shows the brutal treatment of gypsies and the slavery they endured. Costandin is a constable who, with his son Ionita, must capture a run-away gypsy slave form his rich master (a boyar, second to Prince in ranking) and bring him back to the master. On the long trip back on horseback, Costandin waxes philosophical about life's cruelty and how men will never change. In following his duty, he is complicit in the fate that awaits the gypsy. A most unusual film with folklore flare and rural harshness. Everyone was oppressed except the keepers of slaves.

3.8 -- HEART OF A DOG, Laurie Anderson
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A hypnotic multi-media tapestry on the screen that features the director's beloved dog Lolabelle and how she viewed the world; it was this dog that she deeply loved. But this deeply moving film transcends all cornerstones of rationality and linear thinking. The film is a reflection on how she cathartically coped with the loss of her mother, her husband, a good friend and the dog -- all leaving her life in the year 2011. Viusal, electronic music, words and fraxel-like images spill onto the screen along with images of reality. It takes us into a deserted area in Utah where a huge matrix of buildings stores electronic information on just about everything any citizen does or says in the US and beyond. This is the post 9/11 information overload in apocalyptic style. Using the Tibetan Book of the Dead to cope with so much in her life, she navigates her way through the big questions of death, reincarnation, regret and love. A gifted artist with a voice to match, Ms. Anderson shares her stream of consciousness thoughts -- not only as expression of art -- but it is her method of processing all that she experiences on a day-to-day level. There is not other film like this; personal, magical and profound. What a brilliant woman.

2.4 -- SPARROWS, Rünar Rünarsson
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Nineteen year-old Ari has a stunning choir voice and he loves Reykjavik, but hhis mother makes him go and live with his loser drunk of a father whom he hasn't' seen in eight years. He must try to fit into a new community of derelicts and deprived teens in an isolated fishing village in Iceland's forgotten out-of reach regions. The only thing he likes doing there is visiting his grandmother, and watching Lara, his childhood friend from a distance. But loss is in store for all three of them. Ari gets caught against his will in the degraded behaviour of the people and witnesses a terrible act. Will he and his father ever find a way to be close? The film is a delicate landscape of barren beauty and daily brutalities reflecting moral decay. It is through Ari that we experience it -- a quiet horror of unrelenting addiction and sexual abberance.

2.9 -- BORN TO BE BLUE, Robert Budreau
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Films that default to biography to explain creative genius tend to be soporific, formulaic affairs: young kid, born into disadvantaged family and/or environment, rises up against the odds to become the genius we all know him/her to be, as if there is a cause and effect relationship between suffering, hardship and deprivation, and creativity. The best films -- and they are few and far between - intuitively grasp that there is no accounting for genius, that it follows its own quirky indiscernible laws, and the best a film director can do is narrow his focus to a slice of the performers life as he responds to the exigencies of his daily life and times, and perhaps then we'll get a glimmer of how experience gets translated into art. In Bertrand Tavernier's unsurpassed Round Midnight, there's a scene where someone shows an abstract painting to saxophonist Dexter Gordon and asks him what he sees: bebop he replies. When asked how he came up with a particular riff, Keith Richards answered that he happened to be awake at that moment. That is perhaps as close as we can get to how and why genius manifests. Robert Budreau's very credible, albeit far from faultless, Born to Be Blue focuses on the life of heroin addict, trumpeter Chet Baker, just after his face has been smashed in by thugs whom Chet owes money. The film opens with a scene of Chet playing in a biopic where he takes his first shot of heroin to the upset of his soon-to-be ex-wife. This is an unnecessary and confusing beginning that only gets on track when Chet hooks up with Jane, an aspiring actress-musician, who nurses him back to health and helps him find the strength to learn how to replay the trumpet with dentures, but under the condition that he gives up heroin and agrees to undergo a medically prescribed methadone treatment. Chet, who has an addictive personality, of course gets hooked on Jane's sympathy and support. For its timeless music, insights into the jazz scene (prejudice against white jazz musicians), and the relationship between Chet and Jane, Born to Be Blue manages to get under your skin despite its very even keel. Chet, played by Ethan Hawke, rarely gets ruffled, even after being snubbed by Miles Davis, rebuffed by his conservative father, and given up on by all those who once supported him. Our interest in Chet is sustained, in large part, through his relationship with Jane, flawlessly played by the pulchritudinous Carmen Ejogo, who brings an unusually generous charisma to the screen: instead of being the strict centre of attraction, her radiance is such that she lights up everyone around her, including, in the early scenes, facially disfigured Chet. If Chet's screen character presences like a ballad on slow burn, Jane is the plucky pizzicato. Audiences should not confuse Born to Be Blue with biography; the film, a work of fiction, is more of an improvisation on the facts of Chet Baker's life than a rendering of them. What Blue, under the keen helmership of Budreau, does best is disclose by indirection the abstruse and tantalizingly mysterious relationship between life and art such that the viewer comes to better understand that the gifted play by a different set of rules, that their choices in life -- which might not make much sense to exercise fanatics -- are guided by their faith and belief in that what survives beyond the grave and allows for intimations of the ineffable is art and only art.

4.0 -- REMEMBER, Atom Egoyan
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Beware the devastating dualistic consequences wrought by a person and inflicted on that person suffering from dementia. Beware the one who manipulates this foggy-headed person in order to serve his own sharply focused vengeful purpose, full of self-interest -- yet somehow justified. Zev is the man who has dementia; Max is the man who manipulates him. Both are very old, and meet in an old age home. Zev sets out on a journey to track down the German SS Nazi responsible for killing both his and Max's family. And what a journey it is. This spellbinding thriller with a slow build has an ending never before masterminded by any screen writer thus far. Christopher Plummer as Zev is hypnotically brilliant. He plays his role with such authenticity, who would ever think none is real. (I won't give away the spoiler) As the sweetest, gentlest man to come out of Auschwitz, Zev is so loveable, and Plummer has created his finest acting job in this brilliantly scripted story. Martin Landau as Max (nothing wrong with his marbles) and Jürgen Prochow (remember him in Das Boot) complete the circle of incomparable casting. Remember is a film you won't ever forget!

2.9 -- THE ASSASSIN, Hsiao-Hsien Hou
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Artfully crafted cinematography that captures the beauty of Chinese palace life in the 9th century -- expect that all is not well. Betrayal of family promises, and conflicting regional politics set asunder the calm beauty of a traditional court life of the Tang Dynasty -- a golden age for China. The forgotten girl of the family, betrothed to her cousin, ends up not as a wife but an assassin. The martial arts are graceful, tense and used to shed light on character, not on chaos. At this year's Cannes Festival, best director was awarded to the Taiwanese Hsiao-Huen.

2.7 -- CORNER OF HEAVEN, Zhang Miaoyan
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] More of a documentary than drama, Zhang's depressing black and white film tells the story of 11-year-old Guo, who has been abandoned by his mother in rural China. A shoulder held camera, like a second skin, follows him (we see more of his back than front) as he searches for his corner of heaven (his mother) in the wasteland that industrialized China has become: debris and detritus are ubiquitous. Beneath brooding skies sucked dry of light, over the buckling remains of abandoned buildings, through rivers that have been reduced to trickles of scum and waste, the all-seeing lens eviscerates the ugly truths of China bent on keeping pace with the West. Along the way, Guo encounters other kids like himself -- easy prey for the lowlifes and criminal element scrabbling to stay alive; it's only a matter of time before Guo loses his innocence, grows a carapace and becomes that someone you don't want to meet. Despite almost never speaking, Guo is a fully developed character whose personality takes its shape in response to the necessity of adapting to his sordid surroundings and an uncaring world. Be as it may that Zhang's third feature is a wholesale indictment of China's heartless capitalism, it's the boy's plight that engages the viewer and not the film's message or agenda. With the implicit blessings of the authorities, Guo and the millions like him will indeed find their 'corner of heaven' because the opium pipe is here, there and everywhere in China -- at a fraction of the cost of social aid.

1.0 -- POLK, Nikos Nikolopoulos & Vladimir Nikolouzos
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Artsy yellowish and black and white still shots that stay on the screen for over five minutes. A total bore that goes for artistic pretension to uncover the mystery surrounding the murder of American journalist George Washington Polk. I mean really -- how long do we want to stare at a screen watching Polk eating a lobster -- sweating away without any explanation to his perspiration? Ironically, the film does not succeed in revealing anything about his murder, but cops out, preferring to film surreal scenes of absurdist impact that have no impact at all, except compelling the viewer to yawn, and to never eat lobster again.

3.0 -- NEON BULL, Gabriel Mascara
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Gabriel Mascara's latest is a plotless, lyrically paced, bullguiling film that is at once an understated celebration of the bodies of both bulls and beings, and a wake-up call to the world regarding Brazil's enlightened attitude towards changing gender norms -- and where you would least expect it: on the macho rodeo circuit. Iremar and his fellow cowboys (vaqueiros) are charged with transporting and grooming bulls for the next show: they look tough, talk tough, walk tough, but Iremar loves to design clothes and dreams of owning a sewing machine, and is very picky when it comes to his perfumes. Galega, the only woman in the group, is the no-nonsense truck and tractor mechanic, and at night, a honky-tonk burlesque dancer, while Junior spends all day in front of the mirror combing out his long hair -- hardly the stuff of macho men and the Chanel Number 5 crowd. Muscular Iremar apparently isn't attracted to the very sexy Galega; instead, in a wonderfully silhouetted scene, he ends up making love on a cutting table to a woman who is eight months pregnant. But this film is much more than an illustration of a paradigm shift. The bull-hands, who share the same working and sleeping quarters as the bulls, and have to perform their daily ablutions outside, are stand-ins for Brazil's growing legion of the working poor. That they don't seem to mind speaks to a director who is more interested in producing a work of art than making a political point. That said, in an overwrought and lengthy homo-erotic scene that beggars credulity, eight naked men are crowded under a single shower head, as if their next wash-down might never come -- unless we're expected to believe that heterosexual men who are truly comfortable in their own skins should have no qualms about taking group showers. The film is deliciously shot in mostly wide-angle; both actors and landscape are given equal say under the beautifully bright Brazilian sun. Since there is no narrative to speak of, the scenes -- mostly vignettes of the cowboy quotidian -- are self-sufficient and their own reward: Iremar trudging through a field of caked mud looking for broken mannequin body parts, or clandestinely stroking a horse for its prized sperm. As a window into a world that is probably on its way out, Neon Bull is a memorable way in.

3.6 -- NINTH FLOOR, Mina Shum
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] The screening of Mina Shum’s new documentary, Ninth Floor, was an auspicious event for not only its subject matter, but also for the location of this Québéc première. Part of FNC 2015 in partnership with Cinema Politica Concordia, Ninth Floor recounts tumultuous events in the history of Montréal’s Concordia University -- ones that helped expose Canada’s problem with race and racism in the afterglow of Expo ’67’s multi-cultural euphoria.
Screened in the legendary Room H110 -- Concordia’s Hall Building auditorium --
Ninth Floor assembles participants of the 1969 student occupation of the university’s computer lab. Following a rupture between students and administration over allegations of racism against biology professor Perry Anderson, students piled into the computer room and staged a protest of civil disobedience, which lasted 14 days and ended in mass arrests, police brutality, vandalism and arson.
The events surrounding the occupation of the computer room are complex. The participants’ testimonies draw out an uneasy history of institutional, social and individual racism that pervaded in the 1960s, manifestations of which continue into the present. Archival footage -- generously provided by Concordia University -- is often damning as administrators and principal players betray their biases by strategically stalling negotiations with the students. Moreover, the film gives voice to credible testimony that casts great doubt on official histories, which blame the student-protestors for the destruction.
Blending present-day interviews, documentary footage and scripted fictional scenes depicting the isolation of the 'Other,'
Ninth Floor propels the political and social issues whitewashed in the 1960s into the fabric of the modern Canadian reality. In so doing, Mina Shum situates the 'Computer Room Incident' -- as it is little-known today -- in the historical context of a broader struggle of the North American civil rights movement as well as the contemporary context in which student movements continue to face the threat of institutional reprisal for justified, democratic protest.
Last Friday’s première screening of
Ninth Floor was a singular event in that it took place on the hallowed ground of its subject matter. The audience participation -- along with the attendance of some of the original complainants -- demonstrated a continual schism between official histories and the popular imaginary. This makes the film even more important in that it transcends its proper scope to interrogate the Canadian reality of today. From the comments made by various spectators, it is clear that Canada needs to reconcile its past with its present practices in order to move forward toward a goal of real equality where the establishment no longer feels threatened by race. Ninth Floor screens again at FNC on Friday October 16 at 1pm.

2.7 -- THE CLUB, Pablo Larrain
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Chilean Pablo Larrain's The Club is a refreshingly original albeit highly disturbing take on the sexual scandals that have brought the Catholic Church to its foot and mouth diseases. In order to spare the church from more public disgrace and, in theory, to allow them the time and space to come to terms with their sins, four very bad priests and a wicked, conniving nun are sent to a half-way house in a small coastal town (La Boca) in Chile. Their regular and jovial noon meal is interrupted when a fifth priest arrives, who is shortly thereafter outed by someone he abused as an alter boy. He commits suicide, at which point the church sends in Father Garcia to investigate the shooting and report on moral rehabilitation of the other priests. What ensues, in ear-shattering, sexually explicit language, is enough to chill the religion out of even your most ardent believer. The dialogue, the confessions, however unsubtle, are as gripping as they are dirty and disgusting. That these now middle aged men were ordained as priests speaks not only to their failings and moral bankruptcy, but the institution itself which should have from the outset weeded them out and sent them straight to hell. All too aware of human nature as it concerns daily reports on the violence and inhumanity of war that we eventually become accustomed and then numb to, Larrain makes sure that we don't become complacent as it concerns priests who plunder little boys, convincing them that when they swallow semen they are taking in the love of god into themselves. This is a film that does not end with the closing credits. Why are these sick criminal priests in a safe house instead of a maximum security prison remains a question in waiting. The theatre-like sets were ideally suited to the superb acting performances from all the leads.

2.7 -- FROM AFAR, Lorenzo Vigo
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Kids that have been abused by their fathers, sexually or otherwise, more often than not become abusive, manipulative adults. Lorenzo Vigas's tight-rope of a film gets full points for making that very point while exploring the unflattering relationship between sex, money and power. Armando is a well-to-do middle-aged homosexual who hits on young men from the barrio (Caracas). Elder, presumably heterosexual, desperate for cash, agrees to a tryst, but can't go through with it: instead, he beats up Armando and steals his money. But despite the beating and band aids, Armando persists, showering Elder with his largesse. In a series of clipped conversations, we learn that both of them have been abused by their fathers: that Armando's has just returned to Caracas and that Elder's is in prison for murder. As Armando strategically becomes the kind and sympathetic father Elder never had, the latter begins to feel guilty, and finally offers himself to Armando and volunteers to kill the father that he wants dead. From Afar is about life-long wounds that won't heal, and the chronic inability of the abused to interrogate their self-destructive behaviour. The edgy, volatile relationship between Armando and Elder sustains the film in which their characters are cleverly, almost by stealth, reversed. Kindly Armando isn't as kind as we are led to believe, just as Elder, an amoral punk thief, isn't all that bad. The unsightly barrios of Caracas that surround the opulent center get a fair hearing as does the blight of Latino homophobia.  

3.4 -- BODY, Malgorzata Szumowska
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Polish forensic pathologist, Janusz (masterfully acted by Januszk Gajos), has his hands full with all kinds of macabre cases that reflect the depressive state of Poland. His daughter Olga suffers from anorexia and bulimia; she can't deal with the death of her mother and the coldness of her father. He has nothing but disdain for Olga which he expresses with a look or a by speaking a single sentence. Their communication is in tatters. Olga eventually joins a clinic where therapist, Anna, a woman who claims to connect with dead souls tries to help her, and eventually and with great reluctance Janusz join the séance arranged at his tiny apartment. Anna falls asleep at the table, and the film ends with a humorous if not endearing twist that salvages the father-daughter relationship. It would seem that body and spirit are one and the same, and if one is out of whack the other is too. The acting is superb. Maja Ostaszewska in the role of Anna resonates with her own quiet despair, but ironically, the character is so far gone that it adds humour to the film. She offers a brilliant interpretation of loneliness, denial and kookiness which finds its own purpose by giving to others.

2.4 -- SONG OF SONGS, Eva Neymann
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Films about Hasidic Jews are invariably criticisms of a way of life that seems excessively harsh and unfairly removed from the vital present. Song of Songs is no exception. Stetl life, presumably in the late eighteen hundreds in Ukraine, is an persistently dreary affair: the stuff of leaden skies, rain and snow mixing with mud, dilapidated buildings, paint peeling off every wall, and joyless inhabitants whose faith, on a good day, offers only scraps for comfort. Shimek and his adopted sister Buzya revert to bathed-in-light fantasies to escape their confinement and religious protocols, and swear their eternal love. Their relationship is torn asunder when Shimek is sent away to the big city to study medicine. When he returns ten years later, thoroughly citified, to claim Buzya, he rudely discovers she is already betrothed, and that their enduring love cannot be consummated. Song of Songs is a weighty, depressing film that features exquisite sets and luminous cinematography: every scene is a museum piece -- but at the expense of character development. Sometimes painfully sharp, sometimes exquisitely diffuse, the focus reveals -- even more than the physical reality -- the psychological universe of the shtetl. As to the rationale behind this tortoise paced film, it is not at all clear if the director wants the audience to feel thankful not to have been born into that modest way of life, or if she is making a more general statement that clinging to an ethos that is out of step with the present is a recipe for tragedy. An award goes to the casting and the gallery of memorable faces that grace the screen.

1.9 -- SONG OF SONGS, Eva Neymann
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A shtetl in the Ukraine introduces us to Rabbis, the Yeshiva and most importantly, to Buzya and Shimek. The young boy has an overactive imagination and a desire to wed Buzya when time comes. Alas, he goes away to study medicine and she is betrothed to another. This theatrical, stylized portrayal of Jewish life was not credible. Taken from the Song of Solomon that declares his love for the Queen of Sheba, the lyric in the film, spoken by Shemik, alludes to this love story in the Old Testament. The film dragged and its portrayal of Hasidic life did not ring true. Too theatrical and manipulative, the director tended to turn the screen into a gallery of photographic stills of certain scenes. It just wasn't realistic.

3.3 -- EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT, Ciro Guerra
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] In 1909, Karamakate, an indigenous shaman living in Amazonia, agrees to help Theodor, a German ethnographer who is so ill, he's dying. The cure lies in a plant called yakura -- also used as a hallucinogenic with powers over dreams. They must travel deep into the jungle to find it. But Karamakate strikes a deal with the European scientist. He must lead him, in turn, to his people whom he thought had been wiped out by colonists. Theodor convinces him that they still exist, and he will bring the shaman to them. Along the way, they land at a religious outpost whose leader is a torturer of young aboriginal children. Karamakte tells them to follow the lessons from the ancestors, whose teachings he tries to impart to them in an hour. Things do not go well there. Fast forward to 1944, and Evan, a young botanist, is seeking the same plant; he has read the diary of Theodore. Now we see the shaman much older, and together through conflicts and mistrust, they end up finding the plant, but to Evan's horror, the shaman destroys it. It turns out, Evan has not been honest, and the whites continue to rape the jungle. The film is visionary and very compelling. Primitive in feel and artistically daring, it creates a sensory palette of experiences while painting a venomous message about the nature of 'civilized' Man.

3.2 -- IXCANUL, Jayor Bustamante
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Maria's life is a rough and regimented one. She works alongside her hard-working, devoted mother whose husband oversees the coffee plantation workers in a 2000-metre-high village in Guatemala. The family toils endlessly on the snake-infested grassy plantation. But 17-year-old Maria has her heights set as high as Pacaya, the volcano that hovers over the area and the house they are renting from the man betrothed to her. Maria dreams of going, with her lousy 'boyfriend' Pepe, to America where everyone has cars and a house with white fences. Pepe gets her pregnant, but abandons her. This, she was not expecting. Her life spirals down even further when she gets bitten by a snake in the plantation. Here again she was tempting her fate, as she thought that being pregnant wards off the snakes. Maria is rushed to the hospital, and is saved, but is told by her betrothed that the fate of the baby includes a funeral. He ends up being as lousy as Pepe -- a liar who betrays everyone. When the family finds out there is no baby inside the coffin during the funeral, they go to the authorities, trying to communicate that they must find the baby. Unfortunately, the family only speaks the language of the Kaqchikel community in the remote region where they live. So they must rely on Maria's fiancé to translate for them in the office of the official. Her fiancé completely deceives them -- misleading the family and the authorities. Maria's dreams are dashed in every way -- a message form the director that the modern world and the primitive can't converge in a way that fulfills the hopes and aspirations of those living in the mountains, eking out a living with their bare hands. This is the director's first feature. Impressive indeed, the work offers a sensitivity that is subtly woven into a compelling, totally credible narrative.

3.0 -- IXCANUL, Jayro Bustamante
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] One of the unintended insights offered up by Jayro Bustamante's mesmerizing debut film shot in the upper reaches of Guatemala is that travelers who exoticize primitive places never want them to change regardless of how the locals feel. Ixcanul privileges the viewer by transporting him to a 2000 meter high Mayan village that is nestled along the fertile slopes of an active volcano. We quickly learn that village life and its inviolable traditions are no longer immune from the effects and temptations of modernism. Maria, whose family has arranged for her marriage to a coffee plantation owner, wants to get away. Word of the outside world, in the form of publicity and magazine images, has made her envious of the place and person she thinks she wants to be, so she agrees to give herself away to Pepe, a good for nothing coffee picker who works for Maria's foreman father, because he plans to go to America, which as he describes it corresponds more to myth than an actual place. Maria gets pregnant and then gets bitten by a snake, and has to be taken to an hospital in a big city. The bewildered family's first contact with the modern world, wonderfully captured by a harried camera, exposes both its material compensations and moral shortcomings; Maria is saved by modern medicine but loses her baby who did not -- as she was led to believe -- die. Among the delights of this fascinating film, which unfolds like an allegory, is the austere beauty of the landscape, the highly entertaining pragmatic marriage deliberations when the two families meet to discuss Maria's future, and from the very first frames of the film, Maria's remarkable face and its persistently sullen glow, which wordlessly speaks for the hopes, fears and fate of all primitive people caught between the past and present.

3.4 -- JAFAR PANAHI'S TAXI, Jafar Panahi
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A charming film that sounds the alarm on the state of affairs in Iran -- all via a taxi and the passengers who are consecutively picked up by the kind-hearted film-maker Jafar Pahani now stuck driving a taxi on the streets of Teheran, subsequent to his interrogation and ultimately, the banning of his films -- all viewed as subversive to Islamic culture by the authorities. The taxi Jafar drives has three hidden cameras that film Hana, Jafar's 10-year-old precocious niece who has a film class project that is 'screenable,' approved by the conservative oppressive regime. She films right from the car as her uncle drives her around. She uses a little camera from the car. In the taxi, we meet a man injured in a car accident, a deformed man hawking illegal American DVDs, and then two old ladies carrying two beloved gold fish (the bowl breaks in the taxi, but Jafar picks them up and pours water in a plastic bag to save them). We also meet a mugger who states every thief should be hung, a teacher, and a disbarred lawyer who now sells roses, but still defies the system by helping those illegally thrown into jail. The ending of the film takes a turn for the worse, as brutality and spying converge on the innocent, including our heroic taxi driver. This unique and valuable piece reveals the gritty reality of Iran's punitive system, yet it does so with humour and pathos. The film makes a big statement, nailing a poignant message without hammering us along the way. Sometimes, a quiet style produces the loudest effect. This film does.

3.7 -- HEART OF A DOG, Laurie Anderson
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] It is the story of a story -- perhaps it is a story of the story -- of writer/director Laurie Anderson’s relationship with her rat terrier Lolabelle. More profoundly, Heart of a Dog is a complex, multi-layered rumination on Anderson’s relation to death, dying and the ever-deepening reality of a society under constant surveillance. A multi-disciplinary artist, Anderson has her hand in all aspects of production, including animation and music. The result is a beautifully haunting film-scape that draws together dream, reality, poetry and philosophy. There are multiple intervening narratives, which are only loosely connected; more precisely, each strand of narrative acts like a departure point for further musings on the difficulty of mindful existence in the swirl of human and animal relationships. Several overarching themes anchor Heart of a Dog: the transformation of America into a police state following the 9/11 attacks, Anderson’s profoundly meaningful relationship with her beloved dog and her long-time practice of Tibetan Buddhism. Queer, exciting, complex and visually stimulating, Heart of a Dog is a personal masterwork that will beg multiple viewings.

2.8 -- ANNA, Charles-Olivier Michaud
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Anna (Anna Mouglalis), a Montreal-based investigative reporter, pursues a story of human trafficking in Thailand. Her guide into the world of forced prostitution is Xiao (Xiao Sun), a woman who has experienced the dehumanizing system of serial rape and confinement, and who is now forced to take care of the girls the Triad thugs control. As she digs deeper into the Bangkok netherworld, Anna finds herself in increasingly riskier circumstances. Attracting too much attention, Anna becomes a victim of the same treatment, waking up weeks later in a Montreal hospital, beaten, gang-raped and scarred for life. Charles-Olivier Michaud attempts to bring light to the plight of thousands of Asian women and girls who are forced into prostitution and slavery in a global Triad-controlled industry of human trafficking. The film follows Anna on a disturbing journey of self-realization through violence, rage, vengeance and fear as she comes face to face with the same ugly realities half a world away in Montreal’s Chinatown. Michel Corriveau’s powerful score drives a tense, creeping narrative whose revelations cause more than a little discomfort as Anna comes to terms with her trauma and begins to piece together a means to reclaim her life and her work. Though Michaud tries hard to do justice to a serious humanitarian crisis, his film nevertheless feels a little forced, not to mention sadistic, by manipulating his Caucasian protagonist into the fate of her subjects -- as if a woman should not be able to empathize with traumatized women of another culture and race without directly experiencing their ordeals. The film ultimately begs the questions: Is Anna needlessly sensationalistic in forcing its female heroine into such a position and, can this be viewed as a cynical ploy that assumes that audiences would no be able to empathize were the film’s primary victim not white?

3.0 -- 600 MILES, Gabriel Ripstein
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] There are enough Mexican-US border films to fill (and then burn) a catalog. The best ones (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) wisely avoid the banal good guy-bad guy binary, off the charts body counts, and the gratuitous, cheap-thrill violence that invariably erupts between drug lords and wannabes and of course the authorities on their heels. 600 Miles is a gripping character study with drugs and gun-running in a supporting role. Among the film's austere pleasures are its laconic script, a sound track that uses the natural elements to great effect, and unbowdlerized look at American gun culture. Young Arnulfo is charged with purchasing guns in the US and smuggling them into Mexico. He is eager to impress the capo, just as agent Hank Harris, played by Tim Roth, is eager to nail him. All goes well for the very likeable kid until the two meet, at which point we begin to learn that Arnulfo is way over his head, that he isn't constitutionally cut out for a life of crime. When things don't go to plan, Arnulfo tries to stay calm but the camera, like a predator closing in on its prey, catches him as he truly is -- agitated, anxious, panting like an animal fearing for its life. When his cartel Uncle reprimands him for daring to bring Hank (now his prisoner) to his home, he breaks down and begins to whimper and cry like a little boy. When he is ordered to kill Hank, he refuses, and when his Uncle calls him a "faggot" (he is in fact gay) the kid kills him for it, and then breaks down. Hank, steely and calculating, takes over and the two of them find themselves on the same side, with the cartel in hot pursuit. The ending is at once a shocker and exposition of Darwinism and its uncompromising modus operandi. Despite a few slip-ups in respect to plot credibility, Ripstein's debut feature film speaks to a director who is very much in command of his craft and vision.

2.2 -- JOURNEY TO THE SHORE, KiyosiI Kurosawa
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A slow lyrical-moving lyrical film that elegantly explores how deeply we miss our beloved ones when they pass away. Yusuko, the dead husband of Mizuki, a piano teacher, suddenly appears in her house. Together they explore the past, go to places that he once loved, but the inference is, he never brought her along. In reliving the past, regrets are revealed on both their parts, but become transformed as another chance to right the wrongs are presented and followed through. The film's intriguing theme enriched with lovely music and fine acting is gently and elegantly explored, but confusing moments, artsy symbolism and some sentimentality diminish the impact it could have had. Still, we are left feeling the loneliness Mizuki feels when, at the end of the movie, she sits alone staring at the ocean at the spot where he drowned. Revisiting the past and reinventing it with departed one by your side is indeed a wish we would all like to come true.

2.8 -- VANISHING POINT, Jakrawal Nilthamrong
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Opening striking black and white photos of a deadly automobile accident, a sometimes cloudy, nervous, invasive camera hovering over a police investigation of a rape combine to predict a whodunit film, but then the scene abruptly shifts to a young man trysting with an older, compassionate sex worker, which again segues to a another aspect of life in southern Thailand where Buddhists and aggrieved Muslims were recently at arms over minority rights issues. Just as we think we've figured out what the film is about, the tectonic plates shift and we're left dangling over an existential abyss such that by film's end the only possible conclusion to Nilthamrong's haunting, non-linear film is that it's about the daily preoccupations of life in Thailand caught between modernism (iPhone culture) and ancient ways (Buddhism). In the accumulation of its details, Vanishing Point is a sullen, brooding affair with the camera skillfully supplying the amorphous metaphysical grid. The viewer-generated syntax is comprised of a deflating mix of ennui and resignation. As a meditation on life, the film forces the conclusion that like a fountain whose flow is constant but form never changes, life goes on, and we are merely its very ephemeral and replaceable parts, each of us a 'vanishing point' paused before eternity. The film is an invitation to transform that bleak inevitability into a point of departure, and, with a nod to Blake, "hold infinity in the palms of your hand." Full marks to Nilthamrong who aimed high, and despite a shoe-string budget never lost sight of his objective.

1.5 -- VANISHING POINT, Jakrawal Nilthamrong
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The film opens with policemen forcing a young offender tracked down in the forest to reenact -- using a big stuffed bear -- the rape and murder he committed. The victim's body we never see. Set in an area in Thailand, the film takes us into a brothel hotel, a condom factory owned by a fifty-year-old man who never speaks to his wife and daughter, but does with his mistress. He tells her how bloody the area used to be -- an embattled bastion for gangs and rival political factions. The film moves too slowly and is poorly edited, yet it is raw in tone and comes off with authenticity.

1.1 -- LOVE, Gaspar Noé
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Sheer non-stop sexual exhibitionism of a couple in love. Interestingly, the main fellow in the film -- 25-year-old Murphy who is in love with Electra -- gets a girl pregnant, and names the babe Gaspar. If this film is a take on his own father's life, then no wonder he made such an aberrant film which is an insult to any sort of subtlety in love and sex. Contrary to its motive, it does not inspire the desire to love -- but to leave the theatre. The plot trudges along going nowhere except between the sheets.

2.0 -- SALOME, Al Pacino Director
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Want to watch Al Pacino make a fool of himself -- unintentionally? Then, go see this disaster of a film. I gave it 2 rating for the sheer laughability of it, and also because it delves deeply into the critical turning points in Wilde's life. Pacino has set out to do a play -- a reading of the famous play, Salome, written by Wilde, and at the same time make a movie from the play along with filming his own exploration into Wilde's erudite and sad life. Pacino travels to Dublin, London, the desert and of course most scenes take place in L.A. where the play is being produced in Wadsworth Theatre -- under the auspices of Estelle Parsons. What we end up with his the ageing actor's histrionics, his utterly dismal failure to take on the role of Salomé's step-father, and to treat others with the civility he so admires in Wilde. He begins to identify with the playwright, even suggesting, he too is a martyr, and he furthermore implies that he is bisexual; watch the film carefully and what he says in one line. The good thing about the film is the information he explores on the life of this great genius, his suffering and his lousy taste in choosing a no-good-nick lover named Bose who betrays him. The film sheds more light on Pacino's high-strung temperament than it does on his directorial talents. There's even a scene where he gets angry about not being able to just perform on demand -- he needs to wait for 'the moment.' The final scene wherehe sports a turban and is walking in the desert towards actors in another film that he splices from as clips is hilarious -- and it isn't supposed to be. The question arises, why he made this film. He himself does not know but reveals he is being led to do it by a force. Is Pacino coming to grips with his own sexuality? When he equates himself in some parts to understanding the poet as if they are both half of the other, this is not only arrogant, but deeply misguided. I, for one am pleased that in the L.A. Times headline review, the critic wrote: Pacino is over the top . . . What was he thinking? Fortunately yet ironically, Jessica Chastain as Salomé saved the day - even though she had John the Baptist's head served to her on a silver platter.

3.2 -- ROOM, Lenny Abrahamson
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] In making the case of the superiority of European literature, the critic Lionel Trilling proposes what sets apart great literature is that it competes with philosophy in the setting forth and elaboration of its ideas. There are occasions when the same can be said of certain films of a certain genre.
Lenny Abrahamson's absorbing drama,
Room, is one of those occasions. It of course cannot hope to compete with philosophy's open ended Being and Nothingness issues, but it does tackle the weighty concepts of freedom and confinement. If you have already read Emma Donoghue's novel of the same title, try to forget about it when watching the film; better yet not to have read the book. Films based on novels, regardless of their excellence, invariably disappoint. With the exception of Hal Ashby's Being There, I've always been let down by film versions of books.
In the dialectic tradition,
Room constitutes the being-there where 5-year-old androgynous looking Jack and his mother Joy have to negotiate the hazards of both confinement and freedom. Joy Larson has been held captive in a backyard shed for seven years. Her captor, a sexual predator, provides them with the necessities of life. Daily life unfolds from the perspective of Jack, who in point of fact doesn't feel confined within the certainties of the shed, an ersatz womb. "Ma" schools him, feeds him, exercises him, and is always there for him. Her challenge, an epistemological one, is to explain the existence of the outside world to a boy whose only knowledge of that unreal place comes from television. The second half of the film begins after a nerve-fraying escape. Despite his initial fear and reticence, there are wonderful scenes of young Jack discovering the poetry and mystery of the world and its entities that now includes him. But like prison lifers, for especially the mother, adapting to freedom poses its own challenges as responsibilities multiply in proportion to the ever-increasing complexity and unpredictability of a largely indifferent world. If not in his resilience, young Jack, in his adaptability, recalls the amazing Hushpuppy from the brilliant Beasts of the Southern Wild. Without a trace of the maudlin, this film will break your heart by opening it up to the limitations and confinements we all must come to terms with in life. High marks go to the casting, the performances of both mother and son, and especially to Donoghue's situationally adroit, empathetic script.

3.5 -- THE SAVER, Wiebke Von Carolsfeld
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Once in a rare while there comes along a film that steals our heart because of its honesty and simplicity. Yet the subject matter is pretty serious. Fern, a 16-year-old aboriginal girl, living in Montreal, has just lost her mother who spent her life cleaning houses and taking care of her only daughter. Fern has to start cleaning those houses. She finds a book about how to become a millionaire and reads it, but saving money just doesn't get her far. She ekes out a living cooking in an African little restaurant, avoiding a terrible landlady, and doing odd jobs for her as a janitor, and then must suddenly put up with her Uncle jack who appears at the door. He wants to become her guardian. Fern is on her last rent money and is told to get out, but not only does she do a great deed to help the mean landlady and her autistic son, but takes in Uncle Jack once again; after she kicked him out, and gets herself rehired at the restaurant she is told to leave for having almost burnt down the kitchen. As Fern begins to deal with the loss of her mother, she enters a happier stage of her life, and this is where the film ends. It's a moving little film that turns victimhood into a reverse state of victory. Imajyn Cardinal is a great actor who deliberately underplays her role in order to fully inhabit the psyche of Fern and vibrate the pathos buried in our hearts

2.5 -- MUCH LOVED, Nabil Ayouch
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] If the lusty camera angles, the burqa-defiant bevy of exposed breasts, and storyline are predictably trite and titilating, the proposition that we are all equidistant from God gets a striking telling in Nabil Ayouch's Much Beloved, a Moroccan film that boldly lays bare both the seedy and banal truths of prostitution. Like with real estate, "location location" is the value or is event maker, which in this film is Muslim Marrakesh -- and not Protestant Amsterdam. Round the clock news channels have made us familiar with Islam's near absolute injunctions as they concern moral conduct: the politically outspoken are subject to public lashings, thieves risk getting their hands chopped off, and women infidels are still stoned to death -- but when it comes to fallen women, their procurers and clients, human nature is accorded exceptional latitude, which in the context of Islam makes for a film that closes the distance between us and them and challenges the validity of the "law of small differences." Director Nabil Ayouch, who gave us the memorably harrowing and much better Horses of God (2012), outs his religion (its hypocrisy) and people, undresses them in public, to the effect that he is now persona non grata in his own country. His film makes the case that in respect to our recurring appetites and passions, the lies we tell our loved ones, and the manner in which money and power are inextricably linked, Christians and Muslims have much more in common than what they have been told. What gives Much Loved its edge and lustre, despite the in your face familiar tropes and conventional narration, are its spicy henna-and-milk scenes, and fidelity to the truism that "no man is a hyprocrite in his pleasures."



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3.5 -- THE SAVER, Wiebke Von Carolsfeld
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Once in a rare while there comes along a film that steals our heart because of its honesty and simplicity. Yet the subject matter is pretty serious. Fern, a 16-year-old aboriginal girl, living in Montreal, has just lost her mother who spent her life cleaning houses and taking care of her only daughter. Fern has to start cleaning those houses. She finds a book about how to become a millionaire and reads it, but saving money just doesn't get her far. She ekes out a living cooking in an African little restaurant, avoiding a terrible landlady, and doing odd jobs for her as a janitor, and then must suddenly put up with her Uncle jack who appears at the door. He wants to become her guardian. Fern is on her last rent money and is told to get out, but not only does she do a great deed to help the mean landlady and her autistic son, but takes in Uncle Jack once again; after she kicked him out, and gets herself rehired at the restaurant she is told to leave for having almost burnt down the kitchen. As Fern begins to deal with the loss of her mother, she enters a happier stage of her life, and this is where the film ends. It's a moving little film that turns victimhood into a reverse state of victory. Imajyn Cardinal is a great actor who deliberately underplays her role in order to fully inhabit the psyche of Fern and vibrate the pathos buried in our hearts

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