Films

FFM 2017: Free entry to the closing film, Monday night

The Awards Ceremony for the Montreal World Film Festival / Festival des film du monde will be at 7 pm. Monday, Sept 4, 2017, at the Imperial Cinema, 1430 Bleury St. When the ceremony is over, around 7:30, there will be a free closing film.

Film fans can watch the closing film of the 2017 Montreal World Film Festival / Festival des film du monde free of charge tonight, Monday, Sept. 4, 2017.

The as-yet-unnamed film will be shown after the awards ceremony. That ceremony will begin at 7 pm, and last for about 30 minutes, or so I am told.

Surprises can be nice, but not naming the film in advance does not seem very wise to me. Who will venture downtown for a film if they know nothing about it?

It might make sense to show the winning film, but I have no idea if that is what will happen.

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FFM 2017: My prediction for best film – Y de Pronto el Amanecer

Chilean director Silvio Caiozzi, right, instructs child actors in his film Y de Pronto el Amanecer (And The the Dawn.) The film ran in competition at the 2017 Montreal World Film Festival / Festival des film du monde. The winner will be announced tonight, Monday, Sept. 4, 2017.

UPDATE: Y de Pronto el Amanecer did indeed win the Grand Prix of the Americas, for Best Film.

I predict that Y de Pronto el Amanecer (And Then the Dawn) will win the competition for best film at the 2017 Montreal World Film Festival / Festival des film du monde tonight.

I did not even see all the films in competition, but I really liked The Hidden Sword, from China; Upstream, from Taiwan, was very well done, and friends who saw it told me Anna Karenina: Vronsky’s story was spectacular.

Given all that, it might be rash to predict a win for Y de Pronto el Amanecer, but the story, the acting and the scenery in this Chilean film from director Silvio Caiozzi were all so very impressive. The film is 195 minutes long, but I was never bored for even one second.

A few hours from now I’ll either be saying “Ooops!” or “I told you so!”

The awards ceremony will be at 7 p.m., at the Imperial Cinema, 1430 Bleury St. When it is over, at approximately 7:30 (so I am told) there will be a free, closing film. The name of the closing film will only be announced at the ceremony.

These are the films in competition:

41ST MONTREAL WORLD FILM FESTIVAL
18 films in WORLD COMPETITION

A PROMINENT PATIENT / MASARYK by Julius Ševcík (Czech Republic / Slovakia)
100min; anglais s.t.f & s.t.a

AND SUDDENLY THE DAWN / Y DE PRONTO EL AMANECER by Silvio Caiozzi (Chile)
195min; espagnol s.t.f & s.t.a

ANNA KARENINA. VRONSKY’S STORY / ANNA KARENINA. ISTORIYA VRONSKOGO by Karen Shakhnazarov (Russia)
138min; russe s.t.f & s.t.a

APPENDIX by Hossein Namazi (Iran)
83min; farsi s.t.f & s.t.a

CARDINAL X by Angie Wang (USA)
98 min; anglais s.t.f

DEAR ETRANGER / OSANAGO WARERA NI UMARE by Yukiko Mishima (Japan)
127min; japonais s.t.f & s.t.a

ELVIS WALKS HOME by Fatmir Koçi (Albania / UK)
94min; anglais s.t.f

FALLING IN /OUT OF LOVE by Dominic Bachy (France)
95min; français s.t.a

FOOTPRINTS by Wong Wai (Hong Kong, China)
120min; mandarin s.t.f & s.t.a

FROZEN IGNAT / CINE A UCIS CRACIUNUL? by Dinu Tãnase (Romania)
81min; roumain s.t.f & s.t.a

PATH OF MARYAM by Atia Aldaraji (Iraq / Germany)
76min; arabe s.t.f & s.t.a

RECONCILIATION / ZGODA by Maciej Sobieszczanski (Poland)
87min; polonais s.t.f & s.t.a

SAYAKBAY – HOMER OF 20TH CENTURY by Ernest Abdyjaparov (Kyrgyzstan)
82min; kyrgyz s.t.f & s.t.a

THE BASICS OF KILLING / DRUŽINICA by Jan Cvitkovic (Slovenia / Serbia)
99min; slovène s.t.f & s.t.a

THE HIDDEN SWORD by Xu Haofeng (China)
137min; chinois s.t.f & s.t.a

UNAWARE CONTROL / HUA SE by Xiaoyan Xu (China)
94min; chinois s.t.f & s.t.a

UNSUNG HEROES / NOI ERAVAMO by Leonardo Tiberi (Italy)
90min; italien s.t.f & s.t.a

UPSTREAM by David Chuang (Taiwan)
80min; mandarin s.t.f & s.t.a

The Awards Ceremony for the Montreal World Film Festival / Festival des film du monde will be at 7 pm. Monday, Sept 4, 2017, at the Imperial Cinema, 1430 Bleury St. When the ceremony is over, around 7:30, there will be a free closing film.

FFM 2017: The Montreal World Film Festival is not dead yet, thanks to volunteers!

MONTREAL- Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017 – Film fans stretch to catch a glimpse of director Xu Haofeng and his actors before a screening of Chinese film, The Hidden Sword, at the Imperial Cinema. The Hidden Sword is in competition at the 2017 Montreal World Film Festival / Festival des films du monde. Photo by Liz Ferguson.

This year, like last year, the Montreal World Film Festival/Festival des films du monde is a shadow of its former self. The festival doesn’t seem to be getting any money from any level of government. All the same, it IS still alive, thanks to some wonderful volunteers! I doff my metaphorical hat to them!

You’ll see them selling tickets, working as ushers etc., but there are more unseen workers behind the scenes, as well. Without their work, the cinemas would be dark.

Many of the volunteers don’t even know festival founder Serge Losique, but they do follow his maxim: “It’s all about the films!”

While I didn’t formally interview any of them, I can see that the volunteers range in age from their early 20s to 60s, maybe even 70s. While some of the older volunteers are retirees, others are giving up precious vacation days. They are film fans have enjoyed the festival for decades and they don’t want to see it die. Several people now working for free were on the festival payroll for many years.

The volunteers and the people who are still buying tickets truly appreciate the festival’s dedication to films from the far corners of the globe that are not made in the familiar Hollywood mold. (If I had a nickel for every time I heard that over the years. . .seriously, I really would be rich.)

(Do you care about those film fans, government people? While most of them are tax-paying citizens, some of them are tourists, from other parts of Canada, and the U.S., who have been coming to Montreal for the festival for years.)

Check out the festival this long holiday weekend. Many directors are here with their films, and some brought their actors, too. Sometimes there are Q&As in the cinema right after the screening, but even if there isn’t one, you can usually ask questions in the lobby. At the very least, if you liked the film, you can thank and congratulate the director. They seem quite willing to have their pictures taken with fans, too. A nice souvenir of the festival! Fans are quite friendly, too. If you ask nicely, most will be happy to tell you what they have seen and what they thought of it.

MONTREAL- Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017 – Chinese director Xu Haofeng, second from right, with actors and others associated with his film, The Hidden Sword. The Hidden Sword is in competition at the 2017 Montreal World Film Festival / Festival des films du monde. Photo by Liz Ferguson.

Films are being shown at the Imperial Cinema, Cinéma du Parc and the Dollar Cinema. From my own experience I can say that some of them are very good! And people I trust have said the same about other films. So far, I haven’t seen anything that I regret. I particularly liked The Hidden Sword, from China, directed by Xu Haofeng, and Y de Pronto el Amanecer, from Chile. It was directed by Silvio Caiozzi. Both films are playing in competition.

Links to schedules are below. Unfortunately, there isn’t a fancy printed program this year, nor is there the “big book” of yesteryear, but at Cinéma du Parc, you can pick up a schedule, with synopses, of the films that are being shown there.

The Montreal World Film Festival / Festival des films du monde continues until Monday, Sept. 4, 2017. Tickets are $11 each, or you can buy a booklet of 10 coupons, which must be exchanged for tickets, for $85.

The Imperial schedule is here.
Cinéma du Parc schedule is here.
The Dollar Cinema schedule is here.
To read a film’s synopsis, click on its category, which will be in blue on your screen.

For example, REG is Regards sur les cinémas du monde / Focus on World Cinema, and DOC is Documentaires du monde / Documentaries of the world. (I won’t list all the categories here.)

FFM 2017: Martial arts director Xu Haofeng is in Montreal to show his latest film, The Hidden Sword

Director Xu Haofeng instructs actors in fighting techniques on the set of his film The Final Master. Xu is in Montreal to show his latest film, The Hidden Sword and to meet with film fans.

Xu Haofeng practices martial arts, writes books and film scripts about martial arts, makes martial-arts films AND does the fight choreography, too! Impressive, right? That would be a dream life for some aficionados!

Xu’s previous films are The Sword Identity, Judge Archer and The Final Master. The latter was shown to appreciative audiences here at the Fantasia International Film Festival just a few weeks ago.

Now Xu himself is here in Montreal, at The Montreal World Film Festival / Festival des film du monde to present his latest work, The Hidden Sword.

 The Hidden Sword will be shown at 7 p.m., Sunday Aug. 27, 2017 at the Cinema Imperial, 1430 Bleury St. (H3A 2J1).  Here’s a plot synopsis from an article in Screen Daily: “Based on Xu’s own novella, the film is set in the 1930s when a special sword has helped the Chinese army win the war against Japan. The old man who developed the sword tries to go into hiding with his family, when his martial techniques start to attract too much attention, but eventually the outside world starts to intrude.”

A scene from Xu Haofeng’s film The Hidden Sword.

A few hours before the film, Xu will give a master class at the nearby L’Astral, 305 Ste. Catherine St. W. (QC H2X 2A3). Admission to the master class is free of charge and open to anyone.

Xu will also give a press conference at 4 p.m, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017 at the Intercontinental Hotel, 360 St. Antoine W. (QC H2Y 3X4). That is free and open to all, as well.

Tickets to the film are $11. You can buy them online or at the cinema.

The Montreal World Film Festival / Festival des film du monde is running until Sept. 4, 2017.  Films are being shown at Cinema Imperial. Cinema du Parc and the Dollar Cinema. Consult the FFM/MWFF schedule on the Internet. Tickets are $11, a booklet of 10 coupons, which must be exchanged for tickets, is $85.

The Hidden Sword, 7 p.m., Sunday Aug. 27, 2017 at the Cinema Imperial, 1430 Bleury St.

Fantasia 2017 Review: Have A Nice Day

A stupid guy steals one million yuan from his boss in the Chinese animated neo-noir Have a Nice Day.

Have A Nice Day (Hao Ji Le) is a very clever, animated neo-noir film from China. I don’t remember seeing such a thing before. You?

The character Xiao Zhang, on the other hand, is not clever at all. In fact, he’s dumber than the proverbial sack of hammers. As a fan of movies like The Godfather, he ought to know that stealing from your sadistic, criminal boss, is a very bad idea. Mistake No. 2 was taking the bag full of money (100 million yuan = $187,090.52 Canadian) from a fellow employee at knifepoint, so there’s no mystery about who the culprit is.

Maybe he could have gotten away with this for a short time, but the idiot doesn’t even leave town! And he isn’t any good at covering his physical tracks, nor his digital ones.

The crime boss, Uncle Liu, sends his henchman Skinny, who is also a butcher (gulp!) after Xiao Zhang. Of course, once other people hear about the stolen money, they go looking for him, too. He draws attention to himself by using a large bill to pay for a cheap meal. His rudeness towards a guy at an Internet cafe leads the man’s friends to beat up Xiao Zhang and take the bag.

That bag passes through many hands, rooms and vehicles in the course of Have A Nice Day.

This is Uncle Liu, the baddest bad guy in Chinese animated film Have a Nice Day. Would you mess with this man?

BTW: There’s no question that Uncle Liu is sadistic – early on we see that he’s holding a hostage – a half-naked, bruised and bloodied man who’s tied to a chair. When Uncle Liu tells an embarrassing anecdote about him we realize that they’ve known each other since childhood, though we never do find out exactly why the man is tied to a chair.

In old U.S. films, a guy might do a stupid or dangerous thing (robbery, kidnapping or a boxing match) because a sick mother, brother or sister needs surgery to prevent blindness, replace a failing kidney, etc. But Xiao Zhang has stolen the money because his his fiancée’s plastic surgery did not go well. He wants to take her to South Korea to get the job done right. He must make her happy, so they can marry, have children and make his mother happy. Filial piety is still a thing!

These are just two of the many people chasing after stolen money in the Chinese neo-noir animation Have a Nice Day.

Philosophical remarks about the different levels of freedom, and an animated music video that mocks the iconography of Chairman Mao’s era are among the many things that make Have A Nice Day entertaining. We are so very far from that era now. People dye their hair all sorts of colours, including blue; they wear U.S. T-shirts; they have U.S. film posters on their walls, they struggle to send their children to university in the U.S. or U.K., they talk about Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Brexit. We even hear a few words from Donald Trump on the radio! Some practice Christianity, while others just wear crosses as a fashion statement. I didn’t see anyone riding a bicycle, either!

The Chinese animated film Have a Nice Day contains a music video mocking the iconography from the era of Chairman Mao.

Director Liu Jian also wrote the film and his name appears in several other places in the credits, too. Seems like a multi-talented guy! And I wonder if he jokingly named the villainous crime boss after himself?

Have A Nice Day was shown in competition at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. Variety says that Strand Releasing has bought the distribution rights for the U.S. and the company plans to show the film there in the fall.  Memento Films International has sold distribution rights for Have A Nice Day in the U.K., Spain, Benelux, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey and Eastern Europe.

If you get a chance to see Have A Nice Day you really, really should! (Did I mention that the music is great, too? It includes tunes from the Shanghai Restoration Project.)

Meanwhile, lucky Montrealers can see it on Wednesday, July 19, at 3:15 p.m., in Salle J.A. De Sève of Concordia University, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Have A Nice Day, China, 2017, 77 minutes long
In Mandarin with English subtitles
Directed by: Liu Jian
Written by: Liu Jian
Voice cast: Zhu Changlong, Yang Siming, Ma Xiaofeng, Zheng Yi, Cao Kai
Company: Memento Films International

Visit the Fantasia web site for more information.

Fantasia 2017 Review: Free and Easy

The Chinese film Free and Easy has two screenings at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. The film won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Cinematic Vision at the Sundance Film Festival.

Free and Easy is low-key, black comedy that takes place in an unnamed Chinese town in winter. Many of the town’s buildings have fallen down, while others are in an advanced state of disrepair.

There’s some symmetry in Free and Easy: two con men, two policemen, two guys pasting posters on walls. Eventually we see a con woman, too, and a third person pasting posters.

One con man asks people to smell the soap he’s selling. Something in it quickly renders them unconscious. He takes their money, phones and watches while they’re knocked out. Pretty easy as far as it goes, but the pickings can’t be great in such a rundown place. There aren’t many people out and about, either, though it’s not clear if they’re sticking close to home or if the town is more or less abandoned. If there were more people around, surely they’d warn each other about this guy.

The other con man is an alleged monk who offers “free” amulets, but then requests a “donation,” to rebuild his burnt-out temple. If they don’t want an amulet, people can touch him “for luck.” Of course, he wants money for that, too.

When the monk and the soap man walk along some railroad tracks, there are ugly grey hills in the distance, the kind of scenery we see in films by Jia Zhang-ke. Is this place a former mining town?

The policemen don’t seem to have much to do; they smoke and eat in the station house, even sharing their medications in a weird, comradely way. One of them has plenty of time to make unwelcome visits to a woman who runs a boarding house. Coincidentally, the soap man rents a room from her, and her husband, who’s in charge of a reforestation project, is the man looking for the missing tree. This tree man is a very quiet sort. Slow moving, too. He might be bored out of his. . .tree, exhausted, or suffering from narcolepsy, who knows?

As for the poster-pasters, one is looking for his mother, who has been missing for years, while the other is looking for a very large tree, which vanished more recently.

The jokes in Free and Easy are subtle; there aren’t any martial-arts battles, or car chases (hardly any cars at all, actually). There is a troublesome dead body that has to be dealt with, though. Free and Easy won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Cinematic Vision at the Sundance Film Festival. Music in the film is from Chinese band Second Hand Rose. Second Hand Rose has a web site, and a Facebook page. The New Yorker wrote a profile on the group back in 2014.

Free and Easy
China (2016) 99 minutes long, in Mandarin with English (subtitles)
Directed by: Geng Jun
Written by: Liu Bing, Geng Jun, Feng Yuhua
Cast: Xue Baohe, Gu Benbin, Xu Gang, Yuan Liguo, Zhang Xun, Wang Xuxu, Zhang Zhiyong
Company: FilmRise

Free and Easy will be shown on Thursday, July 20, 2017, at 5:30 p.m. in Salle J.A. De Sève of Concordia University, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Visit the Fantasia web site for more information.

Fantasia 2017 Review: The Senior Class

Jung-woo and Ju-hee are art students in the animated Korean film The Senior Class. (Lee Joo-seung provides the voice of Jung-wwo and Kang Jin-ah plays Ju-hee.)

When I’m watching a horror movie, I often want to yell: “Don’t go in the basement!” While watching The Senior Class I was pulled into the story enough that I wanted to shout: “Don’t do that; don’t say that; don’t go there!”

The Senior Class is not a horror movie, strictly speaking, though many people behave horribly. It was written by Yeon Sang-ho, who wrote The King of Pigs, The Fake, Seoul Station and Train to Busan, evidence enough that Yeon knows plenty about bad behaviour. (Hong Deok-pyo directed the film, and he came to Fantasia to present it to us and to take questions after the screening.)

The story is set in a class of art students in their final year of university. The students all have anxiety over final projects, the evaluation of their year’s work and a coming exhibition of that work.

The main characters are the quiet, slightly nerdy Jung-woo, his loudmouth, jerky friend Dong-hwa and pretty Ju-hee, who concentrates on her work and is rather quiet herself. Some classmates assume she’s a snob because of that. The female students talk about her behind her back, but they put on friendly faces  when they want to know where she bought her handbag.

Jung-woo has had a crush on Ju-hee for a long time. Maybe it’s more like an obsession. She appears as a delicate, ethereal angel in an online cartoon he works on regularly, while he portrays himself as a scrawny, caring, sensitive merman. (Really!) In many belief systems, angels protect us, but this angel seemingly needs the protection of Jung-woo’s alter-ego. In real life, Jung-woo can barely say hello to Ju-hee.

Jung-woo and Ju-hee get to know each other better when he discovers something about her and she begs him to keep it to himself. He agrees to do that, but can he keep his mouth shut? And since he made this discovery while doing an errand for Dong-hwa, it’s quite possible that Dong-hwa will find out, too. We’ve got some tension, now!

In the animated Korean film The Senior Class, Jung-woo, centre, is quite literally stuck in the middle of a dispute between his jerky friend Dong-hwa, left, and the young woman on the right, who was seduced and then rejected by Dong-hwa.

The Senior Class is distressing to watch, because there is so much meanness and betrayal in it. There’s also some “cutting off your nose to spite your face” behaviour, that makes no sense, logically, but people do act illogically all the time.

Though The Senior Class lacks the physical violence seen in the other films written by Yeon Sang-ho, it is like them in that it exposes a rampant hypocrisy that is hardly unique to Korean society. Gossip is harmful, but hypocrisy is so much worse.

I haven’t included a link to the trailer because I think it gives away too much of the story, but you can find it on the Fantasia web site, if you want to. (Link is below.)

Director Hong Deok-pyo will attend the screening and answer questions after. I’m sorry that I did not ask one myself. A certain character reminded me of Marilyn Monroe. I wonder if that was an intentional thing, or just my imagination? I’ll try to find out before he leaves! (The last time I thought I saw something in a Korean film, it WAS all in my head!

At the Q&A for The Senior Class: Fantasia International Film Festival programmer Rupert Bottenberg, translator Noeul Kang, and director Hong Deok-pyo.

The Senior Class, in Korean with English subtitles, 82 minutes long.
Directed by: Hong Deok-pyo
Written by: Yeon Sang-ho
(Voice) cast: Lee Ju-seung, Kang Jin-ah, Jeong Yeong-gi
Company: Contents Panda

The Senior Class will be shown Monday, July 17, 5:10 pm, Salle J.A. De Sève of Concordia University, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., as part of Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival, which runs until Aug. 2, 2017.

Visit the Fantasia web site for more information.

Fantasia 2017 Review: Tilt

Joseph Cross plays a filmmaker names Joseph Burns in the film Tilt, directed by Kasra Farahani and shown at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

In the U.S. film Tilt we watch a man slowly coming unhinged. Joseph Burns (played by Joseph Cross) is a documentary filmmaker, though he has only completed one film so far. His second film will be about the the Golden Age of America, or rather, the myth of it. It was never really more than fairy tale, or propaganda in the first place, right?

His film is a very low-budget, independent project that he’s making in a shed in his backyard, using clips from newsreels and educational shorts from an earlier era, when average citizens were more innocent, or gullible. Among those films is the (in)famous Duck and Cover. Imagine telling school children to hide under their desks if an atomic bomb is dropped on their school. Joe has been watching that stuff for awhile and maybe it’s taking a toll. He empties many cans and bottles while working, too. I don’t think they are soft drinks.

He’s also been watching TV, where the 2016 presidential campaign is underway, so we can cringe along with Joe (well, I cringed) when Donald Trump, still just an inexplicable candidate, talks about losers, etc. Joe’s wife, Joanne, asks why watch if Trump annoys him so much? (A person could write an essay, or entire book about that, I think!)

Joanne (Alexia Rasmussen) is a nurse who will soon be applying to medical school. She is the voice of sanity and reason in their home. Possibly also the voice of conformity, convention and authority. When she semi-sarcastically says “Not everyone is as smart as you,” he gives her a look cold enough to stop your heart. Then he hits her in the face with the cork while opening a wine bottle. He apologizes profusely for this “accident,” but it’s a disturbing moment.

Alexia Rasmussen as Joanne Burns and Joseph Cross, as Joseph Burns, in the film Tilt. This might be the only time that both characters manage to share a smile.

Joanne is pregnant and Joe does not seem ready for fatherhood at all, though he never says it in so many words. Joanne berates him because he’s not super enthusiastic about the baby’s sonogram photo, the way that her friends are.

Joe can’t sleep at night so he takes long walks around his dark, largely empty Los Angeles neighbourhood. (In a city where they say “no one walks” Joe has given up the expense of a car and a smartphone for the sake of his film.)  There’s a definite feeling of danger, tension and unease during these scenes. Each time he went out, I was expecting something bad to happen to Joe. On the other hand, he looks kinda scary himself, with his face half hidden under a dark hoodie. He looks scarier still when paints his face with black stripes before heading out to observe Halloween/ Dia de Los Muertos festivities.

Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festivities in Los Angeles, seen in the film Tilt, shown at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

About those names, Joseph and Joanne, both abbreviated to have the same sound: Jo(e). In real life that could be an amusing coincidence. But in a script? The same name might imply too much togetherness or a loss of identity, I don’t know. But when he tells his wife things like “I don’t know if I’m safe, Jo,” he could just as well be talking out loud to himself. And that sentence could be taken two ways. While the more obvious interpretation is that Joe might be in danger, it could mean that Joe himself is dangerous.

Tilt prompts one to wonder, could trying circumstances totally change a person, or do they allow parts that were hidden and controlled to finally break free?

I give Tilt full marks for mood and cinematography. I will gladly watch another film from Kasra Farahani. My only small complaint is, it seemed a bit long. Perhaps it would be stronger still if trimmed by a few minutes.

No wonder it looks good!: The Internet reveals that director and co-writer Kasra Farahani was an art director or concept artist for many Hollywood films. Check out his imdb page, or his resume.

Tilt

Directed by: Kasra Farahani
Written by: Kasra Farahani, Jason O’Leary
Cast: Joseph Cross, Alexia Rasmussen, Jessy Hodges, Kelvin Yu, Jade Sealey, C.S. Lee, Billy Khoury
Company: Bad Guy Good Guy
100 minutes long, in English

Seen at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, Canada, July 14, 2017

Django review: Go for the music – ignore the plot

Reda Kateb, centre, plays jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt in the film Django, directed by Etienne Comar.

The French film Django presents the life of renowned jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt during the last years of World War II in Occupied France. The music is wonderful, but the plot is disappointing. It features a fictional, generic, femme fatale while all but ignoring Dietrich Schulz-Koehn, a real-life Luftwaffe officer who loved the very music that the Nazis criticized as degenerate. Schulz-Koehn wrote about jazz and even supervised recording sessions under the name Dr. Jazz. More than once he helped Reinhardt and other musicians get out of trouble. Wouldn’t you want to know more about such a conundrum? (Director Stanley Kubrick had hoped to make a film about Schulz-Koehn. The Atlantic wrote an article about that.)

Many German officers attend jazz concerts in Paris, despite that degenerate label. (Signs warn that they’d better not try any dancing, though.) Django (played by Reda Kateb) does not mind playing for Nazis. Music is all he knows and he has to make a living, after all. He also declares “It’s not my war.” On the other hand, he’s in no rush to leave the familiarity of France for an extensive tour of Germany, and the idea of playing for Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels and other bigwigs holds no appeal at all, especially since solos, syncopation, quick tempos and other musical flourishes are strictly controlled, when not banned altogether. (Does that fall under the “banality of evil?”)

Django’s manager reminds Django and his bandmates that saying “No” to the Germans is a very dangerous thing to do. The fictional femme fatale, Louise de Klerk (Cécile de France) points out that travelling into the heart of Nazi darkness would also be dangerous. There’s no happy solution to this problem.

After a certain amount of dithering in Paris, Django and his entourage head for the border in hopes of crossing into neutral Switzerland. It’s a closely watched border, though, so they must wait (and wait and wait) while hoping that members of the Resistance will deign to help them eventually. The film pretty much grinds to a halt at this point. Django plays in local bars to earn some food money, sometimes hiding his face under a hat, sometimes not. It seems extremely foolhardy considering his fame and unique style.

(SPOILER!) In one laughably silly scene Django is being chased by tracking dogs, so he lies down in the snow and sprinkles a few handfuls of the white stuff on top of himself. Somehow, I don’t think that would fool the dogs at all.

As many viewers will already know, Django did indeed survive the war, but as far as I can tell, the film fudges his escape attempt. The implication is that he made it into Switzerland and presumably stayed there until the war was over, but in fact, the Swiss border guards would not let him in.

What I did not know before seeing this film: Django Reinhardt could also play huge honking church organs and compose for them, too.

Things I learned later from Google: Django Reinhardt was touring England with his Quintette du Hot-Club de France when England declared war on Germany on Sept. 3, 1939. Django returned to France immediately, but the Quintette’s violinist, Stéphane Grappelli, stayed in England until the war was over.

In regard to spending the war in France, Django said: “It is better to be frightened in your own country than in another one.”

In France during the war you could trade a Django Reinhardt record for two kg of butter on the black market. Django Reinhardt died May 16, 1953 at the relatively young age of 43.

Django is 115 minutes long

Director: Étienne Comar.

Screenplay: Étienne Comar and Alexis Salatko, based on the novel Folles de Django by Alexis Salatko.

With: Reda Kateb, Cécile de France, Beata Balya, BimBam Merstein, Gabriel Mirété, Vincent Frade, Johnny Montreuil, Raphaël Dever, Patrick Mille, Xavier Beauvois (In French, German, English, Romani dialogue)

Music by the Rosenberg Trio.

In Montreal, Django is playing, with English subtitles, at the Quartier Latin Cinema, 350 rue Emery, H2X 1J1.

Django Reinhardt’s music, as performed by Nomad O Swing, Eclectic Django and Denis Chang, can often by heard at Montreal Jazz Bar Diese Onze, 4115-A, rue St. Denis, H2W 2M7.

Kedi Review: A warm, lyrical documentary about the street cats of Istanbul

A cat from the documentary film Kedi looks wise and regal.

Kedi is a delightful documentary film about the street cats of Istanbul, Turkey, and their human friends. It’s just lovely. The cats are elegant and endearing, the humans are eloquent and kind. (As you might guess, Kedi is the Turkish word for cat.)

Turkish-American filmmaker Ceyda Torun lived in Istanbul until she was 11 years old. Her fond memories of the city’s cats led her to make Kedi. She shows cats strolling, snoozing, and snacking, cajoing, climbing, and cuddling, playful, preening, and pouncing, watching, waiting and leaping. There are males and females; some with kittens, some are long-haired, others short-haired; they are tabby, calico, marmalade, or black-and-white. The cats make themselves at home on sidewalks, in doorways, at outdoor cafés and markets and down at the wharf. They seem to be everywhere, like the little dishes of food and water that people leave out for them.

Some Istanbul cats hang out at cafes, where the owners and the customers are happy to see them and feed them.

Cats have lived in Istanbul for thousands of years. The theory is that the population was regularly augmented by cats arriving on trading ships; they would leap out for a little rest and relaxation and not did not always find their way back to their home ship before it left the port. Cats lived on ships to keep rats and mice out of the cargo and the food supply; no doubt the sailors appreciated their company, too.

Torun introduces us to seven cats, revealing their personalities, special quirks and exploring their day-to-day routine. We also meet the people who help them and love them. In many cases, this help goes beyond just providing food – one man says that everyone in his neighbourhood has running tabs with at least one veterinarian, often several. Another man regularly carries antibiotic drops for cats with infected eyes. Among those who feed them is a woman who goes above and beyond by cooking 20 pounds of chicken every day!

Sari walks purposefully through the streets of Istanbul, in the documentary film Kedi.

 

Sari’s kittens are waiting for her. They’re hungry!

People provide shelters for the cats, too. Some are just cardboard boxes, but one impressive structure looked like a townhouse for multiple cats.

Because of silly stereotypes about women and cats, it’s refreshing that so many of the “cat people” in Kedi are men. In particular, a fisherman shares stories about the low points in his life and how a cat helped him to recover.

Cat-loving cartoonist Bulent Ustun makes a brief appearance, though his name only appears on the credits, not onscreen next to his face. The animated film Bad Cat (also known as Bad Cat Serafettin) is based on his graphic novel Kotu Kedi Sarafettin. Bad Cat was shown at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival in 2016. Kedi and Bad Cat might make a great double bill, something to think about when Kedi is available for purchase. Bad Cat is definitely not family friendly the way Kedi is, though. You couldn’t call Serafettin a model citizen.

Cinematographers Alp Korfali and Charlie Wupperman do a fine job of keeping up with the cats, whether they’re scampering over rooftops, climbing trees or barrelling down the street. (I read somewhere that some footage was shot with miniature cameras mounted on remote-controlled toy cars.)

Kedi is a bit of a travelogue too, with images of Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Galata Tower, sunshine on sparkling waves and soaring seagulls worthy of a tourism brochure. Neighbourhoods visited include Cihangir, Kandilli, Karakoy, Nisantasi, and Samatya, since that’s where the profiled cats live.

Kedi will probably boost tourist visits to Istanbul.

In addition to music that Kira Fontana composed for the film, there are tunes from assorted Turkish artists including Mavi Isiklar who were sometimes called the Turkish Beatles. Here’s a link to the film’s tunes at imdb. While I didn’t look for all of them yet, I found some videos on YouTube.

I’d read many positive reviews before seeing Kedi and it totally lived up to expectations. I felt calm, happy and light-hearted after seeing it. You might find it as beneficial as yoga or meditation. I’m tempted to say, you’d have to be a curmudgeon not to like it, but maybe that would be going too far.

If you don’t live with a cat already, Kedi might put you in the mood to get one, or more. You might want to visit Istanbul as well, but consider checking government travel advisories before doing that.

In Montreal, Kedi is playing at Cinéma du Parc with English subtitles and at Cinema Beaubien (2396 Beaubien E. H2G 1N2) with French subtitles. It is 79 minutes long.