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Vol. 15, No. 3, 2017
 
     
 
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  Film Reviews
 
  Bowling for Columbine
Shanghai Ghetto
Talk to Her
City of God
Manic
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
Head-On
The Edukators
Samsara
Big Sugar
Tsotsi
C.R.A.Z.Y.
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
XXY
Poor Boys Game
Finn's Girl
Leaving the Fold
The Mourning Forest
Zift
Beneath the Rooftops of Paris
Truffe
Assembly
Before Tomorrow
Paraiso Travel
Necessities of Life
For a Moment of Freedom
Cryptic
Blood River
Cole
By the Will of Genghis Kahn
The Concert
Farewell
Weaving Girl
Into Eternity
When We Leave
Le Havre
Presumed Guilty
A Separation
Take This Waltz
Beyond The Walls
The Place Beyond the Pines
Lemon
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus
Interstellar
Timbuktu
 
     

montreal's

2017 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL

RATINGS & REVIEWS

 

So far, A & O film reviewer Oslavi Linares has seen the following films. Here are his ratings, always out of 4, reserving 2.5 or more for a noteworthy film, 3.5 for an exceptional film, 4 for a classic.

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PREAMBLE: From the poster commemorating Montreal’s 375 years, to the roster of politically charged films, this 21st edition of Fantasia is ripe with symbolism reflecting the challenges of 2017. Perhaps it is the nature of the films themselves that turns many of the programs into a fantastic collective unconscious; perhaps it is the programmers’ decision to highlight our world’s struggles through Fantasia’s diverse categories; whichever the case, the usual genres of horror, action, science fiction and fantasy are anything but escapist.

Starting with Tilt (Farahani, 2017), one of this year’s openers, Fantasia acknowledges the nefarious reality of the Trump era and its turn towards violent right-wing ideologies (a horror story in its own right). This trend continues with other international films: Spoor (Holland & Adamik), a Polish ecological revenge thriller; the French Le Serpent aux mille coupures (Valette, 2017), an action drama that mixes immigrant and racial issues; M.F.A. (Leite, 2017) another revenge thriller but about and against rape-culture; and the closing film, A Taxi Driver (Jang Hoon, 2017), an international premiere tragicomedy that takes place in Korea (1980s) under military rule.

All this in addition to established sections like Asian cinema (including Fantasia’s first Cambodian action film, Jailbreak), documentaries (from nuclear fusion to Tokyo pop-stars), and animation (ranging from the light-hearted anime Night is Short, Walk on Girl (Yuasa, 2017) and the dark-comedy Have a Nice Day (Liu Jian, 2017)). Moreover, add the international premieres and guest directors of the likes of Takashi Miike and Larry Cohen, who will be receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award as will Turkish director Cüneyt Arkin. To this ecclectic mix are genre films, old masters, unfinished projects, women in film, and several networking events, notably the Frontières International Co-Production Market (in partnership with Cannes Film Festival) and a section for women filmmakers.

Among the festivals many highlights are Canadian premieres for Luc Besson’s latest blockbuster Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) and the official Cannes Selection The Villainess (Jung Byung-Gil, 2017) and the action spectacle Atomic Blonde (Leitch, 2017).

3.2 -- LOWLIFE, Ryan Prows
[reviewed by Oslavi Linares] A twisted tale of redemption bearing the realities faced by Latino immigrants, substance addicts and former felons. Lowlife's dark humour and action stunts allegorize real social problems and the horrors of human trafficking. The story centers around former wrestler 'El Monstruo' (Ricardo Adam Zarate), a Mexican luchador obsessed with continuing his father's larger-than-life legacy, and his pregnant wife Kaylee (Santana Dempsey) as they deal with mobster boss Teddy (Mark Bunrham) and encounter other social outcasts, Crystal (Nicki Micheaux), and two former gangsters (Jon Oswald, Shaye Ogbonna). The films divides its narration according to each set of characters and their aptly titling sections, each of of which are as engaging as they are probing. The scenery itself is subject to examination. Set in Californian suburbia, the film suggests the nefarious underbelly of the American Dream. The camera (often hand-held) mimics the horizontality of the landscape, avoiding aerial long shots and panoramic takes, opting instead to follow the different movements of the cast. The very apropos script and dialogue reveal the characters' social origins and the effects of their immediate environment, with Spanish and slang being strategically used. The music and sound effects in a similar fashion, often diegetic or used as accents for El Monstruo's rage . . . rage against living a lie, against ICE's raids, against corruption, against inner weaknesses. Ryan Prow's directorial debut is set to please fans of luchador and low-profile crime films, and socially concerned cinephiles.

3.5 -- FREE AND EASY, Geng Jun
[reviewed by Oslavi Linares] Minimalist but hilarious, a tale of too many con-men trying to fool each other and falling prey to their situations. Rogue soap salesman Gang Ge walks into a deserted industrial town to prowl its frozen streets in search of unaware victims; nearby, travelling monk Yong Ge offers divine favour in exchange for a donation; the police are unable, and rather unwilling, to track either crook, but as the wandering leads to odd encounters it becomes unclear who the real fools are. Missing people and trees, unusual friendships and striking moods enhance a satire that, like its characters, strays into the empty streets and twists in unforeseen corners. It is a voyage enabled by a cinematography championing the desolation of the town and by camera shots concealing a sucker punch, a gun, or the character's shifting attitudes. Yet, for all its jokes Free and Easy is a tale of spirituality. With a nod to Jim Jarmusch, Geng Jun's drowsy characters and their pathetic actions evoke Herzog's Heart of Glass (1976), but not only for the acting but because the poignancy often turns into poetry and the absurd foregrounds a sense of tragedy. Jun's film is also comparable to other crime tales set in modern China, like A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke, 2013) or Have a Nice Day (another Fantasia screener reviewed below); however, Free and Easy's minimal take on action and décor set it as an art-house crime comedy, rightfully earning it a Special Jury Award for Cinematic Vision at Sundance this year.

3.2 -- HAVE A NICE DAY, Hao Ji Le
[reviewed by Oslavi Linares] "What's going on today? Everything is fucked up." Asks mob boss Uncle Liu as he tries to recover a bag full of chairman bills that can make dreams come true in a nameless city where every low-life and treacherous looser has a dream, tacky or not. An anti-morality tale of greed and confusion full of anti-heroes, from the unlucky thief, Xiao Zhang, to the impassive hitman Skinny, to an odd inventor or a murderous couple. Have a Nice Day is as ironic as its name promises, providing mordant commentary on modern Chinese society but also current world developments, from Trump to spirituality seeping through the radio or the casual conversation of the characters. Indeed, the feature's soundscape contributes to populate the decaying urban environment already rendered with intricate realism, down to the last stain. The mundane scenery, from an Internet Café to a passing hotel, offers constant crossroads for unexpected and bizarre encounters. Unfortunately, the animation is limited and often reduced to still vignettes, but Hao Ji Le's story more than makes up for these constraints. Along the lines of A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke, 2013) and Free and Easy (Geng Jun, 2017), another Fantasia screener, Have a Nice Day addresses modern China's ugly side, while also exemplifying emerging Chinese independent animation.

ANIMATION @FANTASIA

Fantasia has been one of the few spaces where new animated shorts receive a public viewing. The festival happily continued this tradition with Au-Delà De l’Animation, featuring a variety of politically engaged international animations from fantasy to documentary, with an emphasis on the state of the world in 2017.

Perhaps most notorious was the world premiere of Skin For Skin by NFB animators Carol Beecher and Kevin D.A. Kurytnik. This work of seven years in the making reflects in the painterly 3D characters in a partly historical and partly fictional fable based on Canada’s fur trade. While its tale of ecological devastation, human pride and redemption evokes indigenous lore, it is actually based on the Celtic culture of its protagonist. But this is an after the film fact, and the directors’ message that, “We [Canadians] have always been out of balance, our culture is a commercial culture . . . ” can easily transpose to other mythologies and to today’s ecological dilemma.

Equally critical of current capitalist society and likewise historically fed, was the collection of Belgian shorts in Inhibitum, by Atelier Collectif. The compilation used different animation techniques to tell the histories of discarded inventions and scientific developments which were decommissioned by corporate interests. This critique continued in the satire La Bite, by the French Jérôme Leroy and Pierre Tolmer, speaking on the dynamics of oppression, social change, and repetition propelled through the joke of a graffiti dick. Though concerned with other social issues, Quebecois animator Lori Malépart-Traversy’s Le Clitoris and Birdy Wouaf Wouaf by the French Ayce Kartal, addressed female sexuality and (gender?) non-conformity.

Other less socially concerned but dazzling animations completed the program. French animation had additional presence with the party tale Décibels by Léo Verrier, the childish aesthetics of Il Était 3 Fois by Julie Rembourille and Nicolas Bianco-Levrin, and Sébastien Laudenbach proved that animated movement can be erotic with Vibrato. Animators from other parts of Europe and the US were present with the bizarre The Absence of Eddy Table from Norwegian Rune Spaans; Sam Chou’s nostalgic He-Man: First Snowfall; Yin by the Belgian Nicolas Fong drew on M.C. Escher’s impossible geometries; U.K.’s Sophie Marsh’s Untamed Truths revealed the odd facts of animals, while Richard Twice by Matthew Salton from the USA offered tribute to 1960s folk-singer Richard Atkin.

Somewhat disappointing was the absence of the Mexican The Garden of Delights by Alejandro Garcia Caballero, offered in the Festival’s program. This missing work would have been the only one outside of Europe, Canada, and the US – in a festival seeking international scope and politically engaged representation.

3.2 -- TOKYO IDOLS, Kyoko Miyake
[reviewed by Oslavi Linares] A look into the uncanny world of young Japanese girl performers, 'idols,' and the middle-aged men that adore them; Tokyo Idols offers a critical but highly empathetic look into an unusual fan culture. Director Kyoko Miyake takes no side on her comprehensive documentary but rather lets the idols, fans, and critics speak on the billion-dollar industry where cuteness and innocence are the most valued attributes. The film follows the steps of aging idol Ryo (Ryo Hiiragi, at 19 already old) and her fan base, or 'brothers,' to address the dynamics behind the idol phenomenon. From the economic recession and social male fantasies, to sexual grey zones and the need for human contact, Miyake conjoins the opinion of critics and experts with those of the men abandoning everything to follow their ideal of the feminine. It is a story of co-dependence and gender conformity that is shown through interviews, pre-performance rehearsals, autographed merchandise and music videos. But while Miyake aims for a neutral point of view, her camera can't help to note the age gap between the ever-younger performers (some starting at 13) and the older men who 'want to feel childish.' Evocative of Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue and of Japanese anime's sexualized depiction of young girls, Tokyo Idol's presence at Fantasia could be considered self-conscious. A staple of the genre festival are films about fan cultures, usually fictions with nerdy protagonists or documentaries celebrating a certain filmmaker or landmark picture, less often a self-reflective look at the fandoms themselves-Tokyo Idols is one such film.

3.6 -- A GHOST STORY, David Lowery
[reviewed by Oslavi Linares] A Ghost Story is a melancholic tale of loss and remembrance but also an inventive essay on the metaphysics of cinema, on seeing and being unseen. The film's subtle but swift start introduces the main protagonists and plot elements within the first quarter of the film, illuminated by atmospheric daylight and centered by a 4:3 screen ratio -- all of which renders the fantastic story on the plane of the everyday. C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara) are an enamoured young couple living in a suburban house. Without great drama, their lives are interrupted by C's unexpected death, which turns out to be not the end but the start of C's contemplative afterlife. Manifest under a simple but iconic ghost shape, unseen to M, C's ghost returns to their house and observes M mourn him and then carry on with her life, leaving the house that haunts her with memories and leaving C's ghost behind. Although his lover is gone, C continues to be a presence in the house, watching the succession of tenants, haunting them or just listening, until even the house is gone, too, and C's spirit is confronted with time itself. The passage of time is inventively presented and serves to illustrate C's spectral subjectivity but mimics the audience's relation to cinema. The ghost's point of view is akin to the narrative time experienced by the audience and its limitation to observe. As days turn into years, C's experience is divided by singular events and encounters, invisible to the living yet susceptible to their doings. Director and writer David Lowery paces the story through these visits and interventions in C's haunted house, drawing from its inhabitants' beliefs to speak for the spectre and for the audience. The minimal dialogue is expertly aided by the selective use of music (diegetic and non-diegetic), camera positions, and even subtitles which blend to convey a surreal but quotidian experience. A surprising turn from his last feature (Pete's Dragon (2016)), A Ghost Story retakes the romanticism and talent from Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013); however, while Lowery's phantasmagoria departs from the action of his two other films, his minimalistic style attains a new transcendence and universality.

2016 Fantasia Film Festival Ratings
2015
Fantasia Film Festival Ratings

 

 

 

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