far, A & O film critics Robert J. Lewis and Sylvain Richard
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.
Robert J. Lewis' best ever films = (Io Non Ho Pauro (I'm Not
Afraid), Life Is Beautiful, Death In Venice, Babel, Days of
Long Walk, Amadeus, Secrets and Lies, Monsignor Quixote,
Babette's Feast, Fitzcarraldo).
-- DIRTY MIND,
Peter Van Hees
After an accident resulting in brain damage, a wimpish, fearful
man with low self-esteem wakes up to his opposite, now working
as a stuntman. He loves his new self but his medical team considers
him dangerously ill (his behaviour is wreckless and unpredictable)
and they want to operate on his brain and return him to his
former self. Formulaic plot but with enough twists and turns
to sustain interest. Grainy texture didn't help; subtitles at
times difficult to read. Within the genre, doesn't compare to
"Fearless" (Peter Weir).
3.1 -- PERSONA NON GRATA,
Documentary. Power one of man, Franz Wuytack, activist priest,
to inspire hope and political change for the wretched of the
earth in Caracas, Venezuela. Spectacular, shocking (ŕ la Slumdog
Millionaire) arial photography of the hillside barrios that
surround modern, downtown Caracas. Exquisite, haunting guitar
score. An exemplary, must see documentary whose only flaw might
be its lack of objectivity: the director-son paying homage to
his revered father.
-- LEFT HANDED,
A film -- about a boy who has locked himself up in his room
for 18 months -- that doesn't flinch in its harrowing examination
of a growing problem in Japan: self-incarceration. A languidly
paced docudrama whose unsuspected lyricism is a function of
its relentless but ingratiating (affective) melancholy. What
does voluntary self-incarceration tell about the world (its
pressures and imperatives) disaffected young are rejecting?
An at once illuminating and disturbing film that will go nowhere
commercially while more and more of the world's troubled youth
find themselves at the cross roads two nooses before the abyss.
-- PRINCE OF BROADWAY,
The unwitting star of this engaging, low-budget film is a
child not old enough to speak, who is rudely handed over to
the care of his no-papers Ghanese father, a Broadway street
hustler hawking counterfeit brand name clothing and runnning
shoes. The stakes are high: the child's future as predicted
by the cycle of poverty and illegal immigration. Fine acting
performances throughout in a script that allowed for considerable
Sexually graphic, experimental
(no dialogue) film about a morose Hollandaise looking to relieve
her ennuie through one gratuitous sexual encounter (with both
men and women) after another. The repetitive sex is sterile,
the vomiting scenes explicit, the characters thoroughly dislikeable,
which means this film isn't for everybody, especially I Love
Lucy fans. One suspects the director either holds his people
(their mores) in utter contempt (à la "Caresses" by
V. Pons) or he is indicting the catastrophic effects of post-modernism
on its devotees.
-- LES SIGNES VITAUX,
In no small way, this remarkable low-budget film is an homage
to the women and men (Angels
of Mercy) who are there (in palliative
care) for the dying. Outstanding performances throughout.
Warning: shot in Montreal's bleakest winter days, the film
is relentlessly (invasively) depressing, and it includes 30
seconds of totally inappropriate graphic
nudity that I hope the director will see fit to cut
before it comes to a theatre near you.
-- HANDSOME HARRY,
During the Viet Nam War, five Navy buddies beat the living
daylights out of a sixth -- almost killing him -- when they
learn he is gay. Thirty years later, this film explores their
guilt, confession and deepest secrets. Despite a somewhat
fractured script and several awkward, implausible scenes,
the characters are sufficiently developed to carry what could
have been a good film. Excellent jazz score that recalls Tavernier's
masterpiece, "Round Midnight."
She's sleazy, manipulating, a pathological liar, also a student
selling her body to make ends meet; and we like her better than
the scum that provides for her. Sartre has said we are responsible
for our first choices and what follows is often out of our hands.
This fine film explores that hypothesis. Fine performances from
daughter and father. Excellent casting of secondary characters.
A documentary, a poetic rendering/appreciation of Mark, a
film maker and animal rights activist who took his own life.
Hoolboom, close friend and collaborater, weaves into a single
"why" question the disparate fragments of deceased's
life asking how is it that someone who held as sacred all
of life regarded his own not worth living. Film includes gripping
1st-person testimony and narration.
-- MEN ON THE BRIDGE,
A docudrama that follows the life of three sets of people
of varying social/economic circumstance. While the characters
are mostly sympathetic, the film somewhat suffers from a
lack of ambition. It includes memorable, eye-arresting shots
of Istanbul in both its beauty and busyness.
2.6 -- GOODNIGHT IRENE,
Paolo Marinou Blanco
Is Irene a woman for every man's season or a metaphor? A
cantankerous and terminally ill old man makes that question
the central issue of his life which evolves into a philosophical
quest of the highest order. Good attempt marred by occasional
lack of focus and somewhat predictable ending.
-- SHE, A CHINESE,
About a young woman whose world view is forever changed after
being raped in her rural village. Her good looks take her
far (London) and also get her in trouble. Like herself, the
men she meets are out to get what they can take. The use of
clipped dialogue to tell a tough story is effective.
-- THE TIME THAT REMAINS,
An often funny film about the very unfunny Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. Film explores the sometimes odd and bizarre coping
mechanisms that emerge in the face of despair. A good idea
that wears thin half way through.
A painfully slow developing film about a 16-year old girl
looking for her sister who has been missing for a month. Far
too many inane, non-sequitorial scenes; no information (verging
on affectation) given about how or why the sister went missing;
characters woefully under written.
Oxford-bound 16 going on 17-year old girl is seduced by charming
man twice her age who isn't what he seems to be. Refreshing
look at a familiar subject abetted by intelligent, witty script
and excellent performance from Carey Mulligan.
Samuel Mateos & Andrés Luque
Stylistically, the Spanish variation of "El Mariachi"
or "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," about a crazy,
fearless ex-con who cons his way up the hierarchy of a crime
syndicate. Will his ambition be rewarded? The inventive making
and method of the film is not enough to overcome what is formulaic
in its conception.
Lars von Trier
About a couple trying to cope with the loss of their child.
Never in the history of cinema has a relationship been so
artfully, grotesquely, passionately, psycho-sexually rendered.
Informed by Bergman with a nod to Jodorowsky, "Antichrist"
is descent into the Boschian netherworld of the damned. The
symbolism, through which the story unfolds, is excruciatingly
graphic and violent. A memorable film one would like to forget
in its no holds barred baring of two souls-on-ice in a hell
spawned in guilt and recrimination.
Far-fetched satire on the Greek bourgeoisie, who are so isolated
from the harsh realities of the real world they emerge mentally,
socially, sexually and developmentally arrested. As a dumb,
ridiculous comedy, the film might merit a 2.5. As a satire
I could not take seriously, a 1.5. Warning: graphic
Rebelling against a strict father, the beautiful daughter
attempts suicide and disfigures her face. The father hires
a nurse to look after the 'bandaged' one. Falling madly in
love, they begin a passionate, steamy affair until the father
finds out. Despite minuscule budget, the film is remarkably
well made and features breathtaking same-sex love scenes,
but the characters never rise above their stereotypes. Maria
Beatty is a very capable director whose best work lies ahead.
Cole, an aspiring writer from a broke-back dysfunctional
family, falls in love with the ravishing Seraphina, a Black
student from the bourgeois side of the tracks. His friends,
trapped in a nowhere life, under the influence of beer and
the local bud, feel threatened by the written word but won't
let him go. Shot in the pulchritudinous interior of B.C. (Lytton),
the film benefits from solid performances from the five leads
(is MEisner Canada's answer to Dustin Hoffman?), excellent
casting, and ear-arresting homegrown soundtrack. So far, my
FNC pleasant surprise.
Under-achieving son, always being compared to prodigal brother
who died tragically young, visits parents with wife who has
son from her first husband, now deceased. Dysfunctionality
Japanese style: polite language, unforgiving, judgmental parents
that guarantee barbs sharper than wire -- and a family get
together that may or may not see the dawn's early light.
FAUSTA: LA TETA ASUSTADA,
In the unforgettably dessicated hillsides of Lima, Fausta,
a shadow of a person reduced to the sum of her fears imparted
by her deceased mother who was raped during the military junta,
finds work as a servant for a volatile classical woman pianist.
Fausta, invested with an aura of magic realism, sometimes
a person, sometimes a symbol, isn't always convincing as a
TWO LINES, Selim
In Istanbul, a young, hip husband and wife are experiencing
relationship tedium but neither seems inclined to do anything
about it. To change the dynamic, they decide to take a small
trip. They end up in a small hotel where they embark on role-playing
in the the bedroom -- the consequences of which take them
both by surprise. "Two Lines" is moody piece that reveals
a Turkey, for better or worse, losing siginificant contact
with its past.
2.9 -- LA MERDITUDE DES CHOSES,
Felix Van Groeningen
The Strobbe family is from the bottom of the barrel: low class, ignorant, vulgar and alcoholic. Is 13-year old son
Gunther doomed to repeat what is predicted by his degraded milieu? This unpretty film will leave an impression thanks to its excellent
editing, sympathetic directing and brilliant in-your-face camera work which takes on a life of its own. From the spilled drinks, the slobbering, the puking,
the snide remarks, the violence, the camera doesn't miss an ugly moment in a family dynamic that has turned a home into a zoo. No surprise "Merditude" has already
garnered several awards.
-- NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS,
The oppressive Iranian regime as seen through the eyes of
a local Indie group trying to perform its Western influenced
music both at home and abroad. Indicting not Islam but absolute power, the film is a lesson on the freedoms
we in the West take for granted. Evocative sound track that
mirrors the struggle against and despair of being trapped in a police state.
2.7 -- UNMADE BEDS,
Alexis Dos Santos
In foggy London town, film follows the highs and lows of
two unmade young lives looking for meaning and connnection
in life. Dead-on, totally integrated sound track that captures
the getting wasted scene and fear/anxiety that linger when
the day breaks. Sympathetically drawn characters.
-- THE HAPPIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD,
Not yet old enough to drive, Delia wins a car and chance
to do a commercial in Bucharest. Her poor parents want
her to sign over the car so they can build a boarding
house. The daughter refuses and the arguments and recriminations
begin, often humorously. Well scripted, promising directorial
In factory town Turkey, a woman discovers her best friend
is having a steamy affair with her husband. But contrary
to the norm, this knowledge brings them closer to together.
One invites the other to a secret women's club, where
they can dance, sing and exercise freedoms normally off
limits. How will the men react to their daring? Are the
women prepared for their brave new secular world? While
subtlety isn't the films most conspicuous virtue, the
male lead is under-written and the final frames are a
letdown, "Conscience" manages to be more than the sum
of its uneven parts. It includes an unforgettable belly-dancing/percussion
segment and a wedding scene that will register like shattered
glass. Winning performances from both female leads.
3.3 -- TEARS OF APRIL,
During the 1917 Finnish Civil War, a 'White' soldier is bringing in a female 'Red' soldier (Communist) for treason. During an altercation, their small boat sinks, they are temporarily ship-wrecked, she offers herself to him, and later in the film to the humanist judge-turned-executioner. "Tears" forcefully explores war's savage imperatives, the blurring of right and wrong, making soldiers (for sometimes better, mostly worse) strangers unto themselves. The good guys/bad guys binary is 1917's first casualty. Set in Finland's austere outback, the film's deliberately sparse dialogue asks the largest questions of lethal conflict and human nature.
3.0 -- UNITED RED ARMY,
A sometimes confusing mix (first 30 minutes) of documentary and fiction that pries open the mind-set of Japan's JRA terrorist group (sympathetic to Mao) at one of their training camps. A unforgettably harrowing account of the implementation of doctrinaire (by the book) Communism and and the fanaticism and sadism it engenders. This 190 minute must-see film was 70 minutes too long.
2.0 -- ECCENTRICITIES OF A BLOND HAIR GIRL,
Manoel de Oliveira
A moral tale about a hard-working, dignified, honourable man with one flaw: he assumes everyone else, including his the woman he has fallen in love with, is like him. Script was a bit too cartoon-like; main characters more archetypes than real people.
2.3 -- BARBE BLEUE (BLUE BEARD),
"Fairy tales can come true it can happen to you." A children's story that unfolds in real life, we think? Blue Beard's wives keep disappearing. One sister is reading the story of Blue Beard to the other, now Blue Beard's latest bride. Will the telling of the story alter her fate? A well-paced period piece that will appeal to genre afficionados.
-- 8000 MILES,
About small-town, Japanese rappers trying to make it big. This strictly amateur effort, not without moments of humour, has become a cult film in the East. It won't here.
2.9 -- AMER,
Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani
An experimental (almost no dialogue), realm of the senses film that uses amplified audio and invasive camera work (magnified close-ups) to hyper-intensify and exteriorize our most guarded interior life: our fears, desires, social coping mechanisms, fantasies. A sometimes fascinating, highly stylized film that overwhelms the incidental, albeit brutal, plot. If you've never had the opportunity or desire to experiment with LSD, try "Amer" -- the template for a new genre of cinema?
3.1 -- KINATAY,
By film's end, you'll know you have been to Manila. Under Mendoza's heart-stopping, feverish direction -- getting out is the next challenge. A just married man, training to become a cop, is introduced to the seedy, under belly of Manila, where corruption rules and life is just another commodity for trade or hire. The groom is invited to witness the fate of a prostitute who can't pay her debts. His life, and hers, will never be the same. His descent into 'the horror' is superbly wrought from a hand-held, nervous camera that rips open the many facets of Manila. The film's architecture recalls "The Deer Hunter," where after the wedding the protagonists are thrown into and become the permanent possessions of 'the situation' and its no-exit nihilism. Very affecting, outer-limits sound track.
2.4 -- LES DERNIERS JOURS DU MONDE,
Jean-Marie Larrieu & Arnaud Larrieu
Viruses and radiation abound; the world is coming to an end; men and women, often humorously, are living out their fantasies, decadence because there are no consequences. Like the young, who dwell in the NOW, they are finally free. The film couldn't decide if it wanted to take itself seriously as a philosophical take on freedom and responsibility or sell itself short for the easy gag and reflux laughter. Allowing for a windfall of gorgeous naked bodies (Omahyra Garcia barely speaks) on many of the sets speaks volumes on the directors' intentions and limitations.
2.6 -- ÉTREINTES BRISÉES (BROKEN EMBRACES),
An engaging murder mystery that turns on love, jealously,
infidelity and revenge. Fine performance from Penelope Cruz.
Despite PA's undeniable skills as a director, a keen eye
for sets and decoration, he hasn't had much to say since
"All About My Mother" and "Talk to Her," -- both masterpieces.
Sylvain Richard's best ever films = (Babij Jar,
Man Who Wipes Mirrors, Napola, Les Choristes,
The Headsman, My Nikifor, Hell in Tangier, Camaron,
Who Are You, King of the World).
Slow burning psychological drama involving a desperate and
frustrated young woman recovering from an attempted suicide
caused by an overbearing father who is a surgeon preparing a
weird skin graft to repair her severely damaged face. He hires
a nurse with a sordid past to care for her. A forbidden and
passionate love affair develops between her and the nurse.
Despite abrupt ending, erotic scenes and music poetically rendered.
RAPPING WITH SHAKESPEARE,
A look at 2005 graduating class of Crenshaw High School in
L.A. Features the personal stories of five students and English
teacher Andy Molner, who collates Shakespeare with Rap music,
and choral music featuring the work of reknowned musicologist
Iris Stevenson (inspiration behind film "Sister Act").
Title did not match scope of film; editing and script unfocused.
THE RED RACE,
Documentary portrait of a special school in Shanghai training
children to be olympic gold medalists in
gymnastics. Strong propaganda appeal, where
the line between cruelty and rigorous training
is blurred in the 'end justifies the means'
Tragi-comedy about shy and low self-esteemed Diego who has
a serious accident and awakens asunhibited
free-spirited stuntman Tony T. A typical
case of Frontal Syndrome -- a deterioration
of behaviour and personality often caused
by a head injury. Director's intent was
to have the film serve as a metaphor that
examines the struggle with masculine identity
in Western society. He somewhat succeeds.
Funny in parts though main character does
begin to be irritating.
PERSONA NON GRATA,
Portrait of activist priest and artist Franz Wuytack who
fought for social justice in Venezuela
in the 1960s. Hard to keep up with all
of the reading.
Teenage boy locks himself in his bedroom -- hikokomon (self-incarceration)
for 18 months. A serious problem superficially
handled. Slow pacing, black and white
cinema verité style effectively executed.
A Viennese taxi driver leaves his wife and son on his 50th
birthday to search for the woman he
viewed on an Internet S&M site. Exactly
why is unclear. Very low key. Poor character
LES DAMES EN BLEU,
For over 50 years Quebec crooner Michel Louvain has been
hysterically and obsessively adored
by his many mainly female fans. Many
are now grandmothers. Director follows
five of these fans in their day to
day lives. Highly nostalgic for those
who have followed the crooner's career
from the beginning.
MEN ON A BRIDGE,
Using non-professionals, director follows the daily grind
of various Istanbul residents from
all walks of life. Stories are intrically
interwoven with the common link being
the bridge over the Bosphorus between
Asia and Europe.
-- LES SIGNES VITAUX,
Reflective, sombre drama about a young woman, who, after
the death of a loved one, drops everything
in order to work as a volunteer in a
palliative care unit. Difficult to watch
at times yet vital as we must all face
death of either loved ones or our own.
A work of faith.
Jacques Richard, Maîtresse Leïa
A frank and revealing documentary that pries open the universe
of BDSM (bondage, domination,sado-masochism).
At times humourous; definitely not for
romantics. Far superior than the film
"Graphic Sexual Horror."
-- HANDSOME HARRY,
Harry, a Vietnam war veteran, who has been trying to escape
his past, has been living a lie for
the past 30 years. A phone call from
a dying former naval buddy brings back
the past, specifically the beating of
a sixth by the other five. Thus begins
a movement towards the truth and determination
to confront demons from the past. Powerful
and suspenseful plot that twists and
turns with a surprising conclusion.
Wonderful jazz soundtrack.
Urban social drama exploring the issues of trust and integrity
in relationships. Image anddialogue
did not match; editing and plot choppy.
Electro-accoustic score was pleasing
as were accompanying images.
LES BEAUX GOSSES,
High school comedy à la adolescent Charlie Brown/
Peanuts cartoon featuring higher than
high hormone counts and parodies of
"Entre les Murs" and "J'ai
Tué Ma Mere."
VAMPIRES IN HAVANA,
Delightful animated feature that involves two opposing groups
of vampires vying for control of a formula
that will allow vampires to remain in
the sunlight. Set in Havana during the
1930s Cuban revolution. Animation technique
a bit simplistic, lacking depth and
subtle detail. Not for young children.
UN ANGE A LA MER (ANGEL AT SEA),
In a small seaside Moroccon town a 12-year old boy resides
with his parents and older brother.
For him life is a dream until his
severely depressed father reveals
a devasting secret to him. A difficult
and sensitive subject -- the psychological
abuse of children -- not well handled,
the script failing to provide impact.
Performances from principals were
MUSASHI - THE DREAM OF THE LAST
Animated history lesson on the legendary swordsman Miyamoto
Musashi (1584-1645). Entertaining
and informative. Use of multiple
animation techniques effective.
Manuel Perez Paredes
A man on his 60th birthday (Havana, September 2000) reflects
on the key moments of his life for
the past 12 years, as if they were
passages from a diary. Subplot:
the situation in Cuba in the 90s.
Fuzzy subtitles and poor image made
this hard to follow.
MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT,
Tomas Gutierrez Alea
Reflections of a bourgeois man who remains in Cuba after
the revolutionary takeover in 1961.
Shot in B&W and in the collage style
that typified Cuban cinema of the
60s effectively expresses the confrontation
between bourgeois and revolutionary
1952 Japan. A boy wanders into a strange mansion where four
people are awaiting euthanasia
by gas. They have an incurable
disease that prevents exposure
to sunlight. First feature from
well known master of Japanese
Butoh theatre. Surreal and mysterious;
gripping and intense; grotesques
and bizarre -- yet beautiful and
-- DEMAIN DES
An excursion into the world of role-playing as
obsessive and passionate hobby.
Classical pianist -- older brother --
joins his younger brother in a Napoleonic era game which
takes a frightening and dangerous
turn when the game begins to spill
into the real world. Charismatic
performances from leads.
A woman and her nine year old son travel in a horse drawn
cart to face the men who brutally
raped her ten years earlier.
Shot in the breathtaking beauty
of the forests of the Carpathian
mountains in Romania. Though
set in modern times, this somewhat
predictable film has a mythical,
gothic Middle Ages feel. Stellar
LES DERNIERS JOURS DU MONDE (HAPPY
Arnaud Larrieu, Jean-Marie Larrieu
The end of the world is approaching yet some continue to
hold on to what they have and
pursue their dreams and desires.
They live in the moment. Surreal,
humourous at times bordering
on the absurd. High level of
decadence. Chronology of story
line hard to follow.
-- VIVA EL CUBEC
Cronin Gourd, Melanie Ladouceur
Japanese drama centering on a family reunion to
commemorate the 15th anniversary of the death of first-born.
Insightful and full of nuance with tinges of subtle, muted humour
throughout. While the film is occasionally dark, it is offset with the Eastern reverence for the butterfly as a symbol.
Debut feature about a ten year old girl (credibly
played by first timer Bianca Engstrom) left alone in the course of a
summer while her parents are on a aid mission in Africa. Situation and script
inappropriately handled. "Home Alone" comedies far superior.
Documentary tackling the African tradition of
sending a family member to Europe with the expectations that he cannot
return with nothing. We follow Ben -- The lion of Cameroon -- as he
attempts to make it as a professional boxer in Germany. Personalities and
situations explored lacked engagement.
(Tagalog for "butchered"), this film portrays a
reality in Filipino society, an experience more than a story. Like the hero, we are held hostage to what we are seeing unfolding on
the screen. Another example of the how the need for money leads one to
cross the line. The lighting was insufficient -- images were unclear.
THREE WISE MEN,
A tale of male friendship, pain and redemption
(like "Husbands" by Cassavetes). Three old friends, all at crucial
moments in their lives, meet up in a Karaoke bar. Totally improvised,
very wordy leaning on the philosophical side; lacked an element of
Hyperrealist, cyberpunk animation thriller. In
the near future, all of Europe is linked by a vast metro system. Everything is
controlled by a huge conglomerate that wants to control the
thoughts and soul of all individuals. Commonplace concept with an original
ÉTREINTES BRISÉES (BROKEN EMBRACES),
Former film director recounting the events that
led to a serious accident 14-years ago that took the love of his
life and his eyesight. Thriller and film noir that expresses the
director's love for cinema. Top notch performances.
for 2007 Nouveau Cinema Festival.
for 2008 Nouveau Cinema Festival.