I had to see the Nobuhiko Obayashi’s film Hanagatami because I had been gobsmacked by his 1977 film House (Hausu). That incredibly weird outing features a jealous ghost, a maniacal cat, carnivorous furniture and disembodied body parts flying around, playing the piano, etc.
Evidently, others at the Fantasia Festival felt the same way, because the De Seve theatre was packed, despite the film’s 169 minute running time.
The story is set in 1941, though it is based on a book by Kazuo Dan that was published in 1937. Obayashi has wanted to make it for the last 40 years.
The teenager Toshihiko Sakakiyama (Shunsuke Kubozuka) leaves Amsterdam, where he had been living with his parents, and returns to the coastal city of Karatsu,
Japan, to go to high school. His aunt Keiko (Takako Tokiwa) and cousin Mina (Honoka Yahagi) live there, too. The pale and slender Mina, who often wears lacy white dresses, is slowly dying of tuberculosis, like a Victorian heroine.
So, it’s 1941. The Japanese attack on the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbour is yet to come, but Japan had been occupying Manchuria since 1931 and fighting what we call the Second Sino-Japanese War since 1937. Aunt Keiko is a war widow. At that time, Japanese men had to register for military service at 20. So while Toshihiko and his classmates enjoy exploring the area, days at the beach, picnics, dinners, and an autumn festival, sometimes in the company of Mina and her friends, it’s only a matter of time before before the will be fed to the war machine.
Hanagatami is a deadly serious anti-war film, but it’s bursting with quirks, too. It took my brain a few minutes to adjust to all that. The actors often over-emote, in very theatrical way, with both their facial expressions and their physical movements. That made me think of dreams, hallucinations and silent films, depending on the scene.
While Toshihiko is a teenager, actor Shunsuke Kubozuka was in his mid-30s when he played the role. The actors playing his classmates were in their late 20s. This also has a theatrical effect and makes them seem old before their time, or somehow outside of time entirely.
Directed by: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Written by: Nobuhiko Obayashi, Chiho Katsura
Cast: Shunsuke Kubozuka, Honoka Yahagi, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Keishi Nagatsuka, Takako Tokiwa, Tokio Emoto, Hirona Yamazaki, Mugi Kadowaki, Takehiro Murata
In Japanese with English subtitles
169 minutes long
The People’s Republic of Desire is a fascinating (and sad, disturbing and depressing) introduction to China’s livestreaming celebrities. Some people from very humble beginnings have become rich and famous because they are very good at cajoling, begging, browbeating their fans into sending them gifts and money, lots of money.
(I’ll confess, while watching the first few minutes of the film I wondered if “success” could really be this easy? During the Q&A, I found out that I was not the only one. Of course, we later find out that fame can be fickle.)
Some of those fans are filthy rich, and they support their favourite star because they have so much money that they can afford to throw it away. Being a generous patron brings them fame, too. In the case of female celebrities, many of the (male) patrons want to sleep with them. The celebrities walk a tightrope, flirting and teasing without satisfying these guys. (If they succumb, the gifts will stop, the guys will blab, and millions of people will accuse them of being sluttish.)
Other fans are quite poor themselves, but they feel a sense of solidarity with the stars, who were once as poor as they are. Following the stars, and helping to support them, brings some pleasure to their otherwise boring and difficult lives. Collectively, the fans call themselves an “army.”
The People’s Republic of Desire concentrates on “comedian” Big Li, “singer” Shen Man, their families and their fans. I use quotes above because we don’t hear many of Li’s jokes or Shen’s songs. Her voice sounds OK, but director Hao Wu shows us what I think is a vocoder – is that the audio equivalent of plastic surgery? Shen admits that she has had plenty of surgery, too.
On the other hand, Big Li is fat and not handsome, either, but that didn’t prevent him from becoming popular. His wife is his manager which puts a strain on their marriage. He sometimes rebels against her like a kid who doesn’t want to get up or eat his vegetables. He is also under pressure to join a big management company. Yes, there is lots of competition to manage the celebrities and take a cut of their earnings.
Shen Man has pressures of her own – she is the sole support of her father, stepmother and younger siblings. And who bought that furniture, anyway? It’s really quétaine, as we say here in Quebec.
In the Q&A director Hao Wu explains that he had intended to follow the stars for just one year, but that turned into three. An annual competition for most popular celebrity provides a natural focus. Shen Man has won it, and wants to stay on top. Big Li has lost several times and wonders if he should keep fighting or just give it all up. The awards show for the competition looks just as glitzy as Hollywood’s Oscars and Golden Globes. Maybe it has a large audience, too.
The graphics in The People’s Republic of Desire are superlative, immersive and very busy!
The film has won many awards already and will probably continue to do so. See it if you can! Hao Wu will be at the Fantasia screening to answer questions.
DIRECTOR: Hao Wu
WRITER: Hao Wu
CAST: Jiang Congyong, Man Shen, Li Xianliang
PRODUCER: Hao Wu
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Hao Wu
SOUND DESIGNER: Ron Bochar
COMPOSER: Michael Tuller
EDITOR: Hao Wu
ANIMATOR: Eric Jordan
CONTACT: Tripod Media LLC
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: https://www.desire.film
HONORS: Grand Jury Award (Documentary), SXSW 2018, Grand Jury Award (International Documentary), Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival 2018, 21 CF Award, Best Cinematography, CAAMFest 2018
The People’s Republic of Desire, Friday, July 20, 2018, 1:00 PM, Salle J.A. De Sève, 1400 de Maisonneuve W.
P.S. When I read the synopsis of The People’s Republic of Desire I thought that it might be a bit like the film Dragonfly Eyes, shown here in Montreal at the 2017 edition of the RIDM documentary festival. It isn’t really, though the main character does become an Internet celebrity near the end. Dragonfly Eyes has mixed reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, but I thought it was worth watching.
photos: Newlyweds Akiko (Mitsuki Takahata) and Masakazu Isshiki (Masato Sakai) stand in front of their home, in the film Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura. (She looks a bit young for him, no? There’s an explanation for that!)
This Japanese fantasy film is lovely, charming, and funny, without being corny, sweet without being saccharine. It makes marriage look quite nice, too. (Go ahead and laugh, you cynics!)
For me, seeing Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura was the film festival equivalent of winning the lottery – win, win all around! The screening was sold out, or close to it. I knew next to nothing about the story going in, but I suspect that many people there were big fans of the manga series Kamakura Monogatari by Ryohei Saigan that inspired the film.
Now I want to visit the Japanese city of Kamakura, or at the very least spend hours reading about it on the Internet. See the end of this review for more about Kamakura.
As the film opens, mystery novelist Masakazu Isshiki (Masato Sakai) and his wife, Akiko (Mitsuki Takahata) are returning from their honeymoon to live in his hometown of Kamakura. The city looks pretty – we see a beach, amazingly close to the train line, the famous giant Buddha statue, etc. Isshiki’s large car looks quite fancy, too, so I guess his books sell well.
Akiko met Isshiki when she was working for his publisher. According to the English subtitles, Isshiki calls his wife Akiko, she calls him “dear,” and everyone else calls him “professor.” Based on the fashion, and other things, the story seems to be set in the 1960s. (At one point, there was a brief glimpse of a Japanese calendar page, but I could not read it.)
Isshiki tells Akiko that Kamakura is a special place and that time passes there in a different way, compared to Tokyo. He assures her that she will get used to it. Oh yeah, there’s another thing. People, spirits and other creatures have been co-existing in Kamakura for thousands of years. The spirits usually come out in the evening. They even have a colourful night market that’s illuminated by paper lanterns. Something bought at that night market will be problematic at first, and useful later.
In his writing life, Isshiki seems to have a long-standing problem meeting his publishing deadlines. Is this because he prefers to play with his elaborate model-train sets or does he only play with them when he already has writer’s block? Might be one of those chicken-and-egg questions.
Sometimes Isshiki has a valid excuse to pause in his writing; to help the police solve a case, just like Sherlock Holmes. Certainly, his overcoat reminded me of Holmes.
Actor Shinichi Tsutsumi, who frequently portrays comical characters, is relatively subdued here as Honda, Isshiki’s literary agent. (I think that’s what he is. At any rate, he’s the guy who must deliver Isshiki’s manuscripts to the publisher.) Honda does become more excitable after he turns into a frog, though. Ha, I’m not going to explain (spoil) how that happens. You’ll have to watch yourself!
I took pages and pages of notes while watching, but really, Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura is full of details that are best left for audiences to discover. (Some reviews of this film that give away too much of the plot, selon moi.) There are many rules, traditions, legends and monsters to explore in this very special place. There are a few elements in the film that reminded me of the Korean TV drama Goblin. Something to discuss with friends who have seen both.
BTW: Takashi Yamazaki, the director of Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura, has worked with Kamakura Monogatari author Ryohei Saigan before. Saigan also wrote the manga Sanchōme no Yūhi, (Always: Sunset on Third Street) which led to three films, all directed by Yamazaki. Actor Shinichi Tsutsumi played a garage mechanic in all of them.
Masato Sakai (Isshiki) played the main character in Yoshihiro Nakamura’s film Golden Slumber (2010), which was shown at Fantasia that year. (I reviewed it for the Montreal Gazette then, but somehow dozens of my reviews from 2010 had disappeared by late 2012. Oh, well.)
ABOUT KAMAKURA: It takes about one hour by train to get to Kamakura from Tokyo. (Trains are important in the film! ) One site says it’s “the most popular day trip destination from Tokyo.” Is that another way of saying that it can get quite crowded? I think so!
Archeology shows that people have been living there for thousands of years. Some claim that it was the fourth largest city in the world in 1250 AD. To this day Kamakura has many beautiful Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. A large outdoor statue of Buddha, the Kamakura Daibutsu was built around 1252. It used to be inside a temple, but it was destroyed after a storm. The temple was rebuilt several times after storms and one tsunami, but it looks like people gave up eventually!
There’s lots of info on the Internet, but here is a site run by the city of Kamakura itself, with beautiful photos, suggestions, itineraries and weather information. Even winter doesn’t sound bad from a Montreal perspective: the temperature is “rarely below 33°F.” That’s zero Celsius (more or less). I’d take it!
The Internet also tells me that many writers have lived there over the years. “Basically, if you name any famous author in Japan active during the 20th century, chances are that they’ve lived in Kamakura at some point in their lives.”
Destiny The Tale of Kamakura
In Japanese with English subtitles
Runtime: 129 min.
Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Writer: Ryohei Saigan (manga), Takashi Yamazaki
Masato Sakai, Mitsuki Takahata, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Sakura Ando, Min Tanaka, Jun Kunimura
Mon Garçon is so ordinary that I don’t understand how and why it was made. Are stars Guillaume Canet and Mélanie Laurent really popular enough to sell it?
We have seen this plot before: A child has disappeared, presumably kidnapped. The distraught parents are divorced, separated or still together but distant. The authorities aren’t doing enough to find the child, so the father (usually) takes things into his own hands and if that means electronic surveillance, threats, fisticuffs, breaking-and-entering, or whatever, he’s OK with that.
Formulas like that can and do work, but regarding Mon Garçon, all I can say is “meh.”
Julien (Guillaume Canet) and Marie (Mélanie Laurent) are indeed divorced. Their son, Mathys, (Lino Papa), was at a winter camp in the mountains, but he vanished during the night. Did he run away or was he taken? If the former, how long could he survive outdoors in the cold? If the latter, who took him, what do they want, etc.?
There are hints that some people or entities might have a grudge against Julien because of his previous work abroad. He tells the cops that he’s a “geologist” but who knows, really? Whatever he was doing, it kept him away from his wife and child and presumably led to the divorce. Now he’s feeling guilty for being an absent father.
The film is less than 90 minutes long, but it feels much longer because a ridiculous amount of time is devoted to scenes of Julien at the wheel as he drives all over tarnation checking out various clues. It’s like watching several very long car commercials. (Product placement?)
SPOILER: Sort of. Eventually Julien finds some bad guys. Very bad guys. But for me, there were too many boring bits before he found them.
After watching the film, I found some articles that said it was shot in only six days, in chronological order and almost in real time. Director Christian Carion says the film is a story about man who doesn’t know what he will find. Carion wanted Canet to discover things bit by bit, just as his character was doing, so he did not give Canet a script. The actors and crew members were not allowed to tell him anything about the plot, either. There was a lot of improvising. That explains a lot!
After watching the film, I found some articles that said it was shot in a mere six days, in chronological order and almost in real time.
I like to keep things positive around here, so I usually write about films I DO like, rather than spend any time writing about the ones I don’t like. On the other hand, film fans only have so much time and money to spend and there are so many other films at Fantasia that I would recommend over this one.
Mon Garçon (My Son)
Director: Christian Carion
Writer: Christian Carion
Cast: Guillaume Canet, Mélanie Laurent, Olivier de Benoist, Antoine Hamel, Mohamed Brikat, Lino Papa
From: France (shot in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of eastern France.)
Duration: 84 minutes
“Small children, big knives.” That’s one of the tag lines for the Norwegian documentary Tongue Cutters. There are some scary spikes, too. And forklifts zipping back and forth.
Ylwa, 9, leaves Oslo for two weeks to stay with her grandparents in Myre, northern Norway. At a fish processing plant there she will learn to cut cod tongues just as her mother and her aunt (the film’s director, Solveig Melkeraaen) used to do. Tobias,10, is already an old hand at it, and he shows Ylwa how it’s done. The first day, she can’t even bring herself to try it, but as the end of her stay nears, she’s ready to enter the “world cod-tongue cutting competition.” Is that “world” as in “World Series?” Does anyone from outside Norway enter?
When Ylwa and Tobias aren’t cutting cod tongues, they take his cute dog Alvin for walks or hang out at his spacious home, which has wall-to-wall windows with a view of the mountains and the sea. (I couldn’t help wondering – what does it cost to heat that place? Are those triple-paned windows?)
Ylwa and Tobias are such likeable characters I enjoyed watching and listening to them, whatever they were doing. They goof around with his hover board, talk about pets and the hassles of having parents who are divorced or separated. They act like the camera isn’t even there.
Ylwa is a big sushi fan and she’s disappointed that Myre doesn’t have any sushi restaurants. When she was still in Oslo, she was astounded to learn that sushi was not available when her mother was her age. “How did you survive, and not die?” she asked theatrically.
Nowadays, boys and girls cut cod tongues to earn some spending money, but many years ago, when times were harder, a young boy might have to leave school to do it full-time to help support his family. Archival photos from that era show us what life was like back then.
Do Donkeys Act is a charming, calm, contemplative film that just shows donkeys doing what donkeys do when left to their own devices. There are no experts explaining the evolution of donkeys, their place in history, or whatever.
So what do donkeys do? They gallop, they eat, they sleep, sometimes they just stand around, occasionally they’ll kick. Now and then one will decide he isn’t going anywhere and stubbornly dig in his hooves. (“Who enjoys going to the dentist?” asks narrator Willem Dafoe.)
I had a moment of dread when I saw a sign on a wall that said “knock down box.” I thought it was another way of indicating euthanasia, but no, the donkey was being given an injection to knock him out in preparation for surgery, surgery that looked like it was done on an inflatable mattress.
The most surprising thing for me was the great variety of sounds that a donkey can make. Braying, sure, I’d heard that before, but a donkey can also sound like a barking dog, a purring cat, a squeaky door, a foghorn, a whistle, a trumpet, or a wheezing asthmatic.
Do Donkeys Act was filmed at four donkey sanctuaries in Guelph, Ontario, the U.S., Ireland, and the U.K., and it moves seamlessly between them. Sometimes an an Irish accent led me to assume that a scene was in Ireland, otherwise it’s anyone’s guess. (Please excuse me if those places were identified in the first few minutes of the film; I arrived a bit late because the film I saw before Do Donkeys Act did not start on time.)
Most of the talking in this film is done by Willem Dafoe, and I have very mixed feelings about that. He does a fine job and seems to be enjoying himself at times, but I’m not sure that the words he was given to say contribute that much to the film. Sometimes they interrupt the mood. Google tells me there is another version of the film, called Sanctuary, that does not include Dafoe.
Do Donkeys Act?
Directed by: David Redmon, Ashley Sabin
Country: United Kingdom
Duration: 72 minutes
Cinematography: David Redmon, Ashley Sabin
Editing: David Redmon, Ashley Sabin
Production: Deborah Smith, Dale Smith
Sound Design: Tom Hammond
Do Donkeys Act? will be shown Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 at 4 p.m. in Salle Fernand-Seguin of the Cinémathèque Québécoise, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd. E.
RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) ends on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017.
Visit the RIDM web site at ridm.ca for more information.
Dragonfly Eyes is one of my favourite films of RIDM 2017. It’s inventive, fascinating and more than a little disturbing.
While the dialogue in Dragonfly Eyes is read by actors, the video portion of the film is made entirely from snippets of surveillance video found on the Internet. This gives new meaning to “found footage” and it’s more entertaining to me than those films about people who get lost in the woods or the jungle and then spend an hour shrieking at each other until someone drops the camera. (Rant over!)
Qing Ting (Dragonfly) has spent the last few years living in a monastery. She was sent there for its calming effects, and considered becoming a nun, but changes are in the offing at the monastery and she does not feel comfortable there anymore.
She goes to the city and takes a job at a dairy farm. (Sounds weird when you think about it, that’s not a calm place, either. Are there dairy farms in cities? It seems so!) The work is hard, it doesn’t pay much, the bosses are disrespectful and the cows and workers are under constant camera surveillance. The people who watch the screens are watched as well.
At the farm, Qing Ting is noticed by the technician Ke Fan, and they start spending time together, visiting restaurants, and driving out into the countryside. Soon he is calling himself her boyfriend, even though she doesn’t seem to want one. Ke Fan does things that he thinks will please her, again without asking if that’s what she really wants. He’s quite violent, though not towards her. After assorted incidents that I won’t spoil here, Qing Ting loses her job at the dairy. She is insulted in her search for a new job and insulted some more once she gets one.
Ke Fan is sent to jail for several years, and starts looking for Qing Ting as soon as he gets out. It’s not easy, because she does not want to be found.
What do I mean by disturbing? Ke Fan’s violence, other violent instances we see, celebrity culture, an obsession with money and appearances, and all that surveillance video. In many places I couldn’t help but think, why would anyone need to watch or tape those places, or this activity?
Director Xu Bing collected hundreds of hours of video from the Internet to make the film. In many instances, the people who installed the cameras had not changed default passwords and other default settings, and they probably did not even know that they were broadcasting to the Internet.
Country : China
Year : 2017
V.O : Mandarin, English
Subtitles : English and French (depending on the screening date)
Duration : 81 Min
Director: Xu Bing
Editing : Matthieu Laclau, Zhang Wenchao
Production : Matthieu Laclau, Zhai Yongming, Xu Bing
Writer : Zhai Yongming, Zhang Hanyi
Music : Yoshihiro Hanno
Sound Design : Li Danfeng
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017 Dragonfly Eyes, 81 minutes long, in Mandarin with French subtitles, at Cinémathèque Québécoise, Salle Principale, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd E.
RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) runs until Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017.
Visit the RIDM web site at RIDM.ca for more information.
Taste of Cement is a melancholy, sympathetic, and arty documentary about Syrian construction workers in Beirut, Lebanon.
They are building a high-rise apartment building near the Mediterranean shore. When their working day is over, they retreat to bare-bones lodgings in the building’s basement. No commute time! But it’s a dark place, divided into haphazard units, with little privacy, and no security for valuables that I could see. Water dripping from above leaves puddles here and there. The living quarters are quite far from the entrance, which must contribute to a sense of claustrophobia. What’s the air like down there?
Some men have makeshift beds, while others sleep on thin mattresses or pieces of cardboard placed on the floor (ouch).
They wash their clothes in buckets and hang them on the wall. There was at least one TV down there. Many men use their phones to look at photos or news reports on the devastation back home.
Meagre evening meals include oily sardines plonked onto pita directly from the tin, and something that looked like ratatouille, eaten out of a pot. In the morning, a man used a Barbie Pink mirror while shaving. A dollar store find? A gift from a daughter?
This living arrangement is not voluntary – a sign says that there is a 7 p.m. curfew for Syrians and that violators will be prosecuted. Essentially, they are a captive workforce, even if they do get paid. I was hoping they weren’t paying anything to live in that basement.
Nothing could make that basement look welcoming or arty, but the outdoor scenes are another matter. The framing is masterful and many images could be mistaken for still photos if not for waves, or changing images on far-away video billboards. Colours are beautiful – the blue sky, the blue water, orange safety vests, red poles, yellow bulldozers.
The views from the building are stunning, but the men are probably too busy with work, and trying to stay alive, to notice. Many work without hard hats, or gloves, or harnesses; they are welding and running big saws without safety glasses. Just watching is scary.
The film has a narrator – I was not sure if he was supposed to be a specific person, or more of an Everyman. He tells of his father who also did construction work abroad, and whose hands always smelled of cement. He and his father are part of a cycle of destruction and construction. Buildings and cities are destroyed by war and then repaired. Certainly Lebanon has seen its share of destruction. I wonder, the workers must wonder. . .when or if Syria will be repaired? After all, the destruction is still taking place.
Many business owners are eager to do it, not for any humanitarian reasons, but to earn a profit. Even back in 2016 Robert Fisk wrote about that in The Independent. In August of 2017, the Associated Press said that ”markets across the Middle East are anticipating a mammoth reconstruction boom that could stimulate billions of dollars in economic activity.”
Taste of Cement
Country : Germany, Lebanon, Syria, United Arab Emirates
Year : 2017
V.O : Arabic
Subtitles : English
Duration : 85 Min
Cinematography : Talal Khoury
Editing : Alex Bakri, Frank Brummundt
Production : Ansgar Frerich, Eva Kemme, Tobias N. Siebert, Mohammad Ali Atassi
Writer : Ziad Kalthoum, Talal Khoury, Ansgar Frerich
Music : Sebastian Tesch
Sound Design : Ansgar Frerich, Sebastian Tesch
Presented in Collaboration with CSN, Goethe-Institut Montréal, Institute of International Education, Cinema Politica, La Maison de la Syrie, Kazamaza Restaurant and Bell Media
Taste of Cement will be shown Friday, Nov. 17, at 7:00 p.m. at Concordia University,
1455 de Maisonneuve W., Room H-110, Montreal, as part of the RIDM film festival, which runs until Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017.
Visit the RIDM web site at RIDM.ca for more information.
The documentary film Cielo is set in the Atacama Desert of Chile. I put Cielo on my “must-see list” after seeing extracts from the film at the press conference for Montreal’s RIDM film festival.
The film is full of absolutely stunning images of the desert, and night skies full of more stars than you could imagine. And the Milky Way! Just stunning! In time-lapse sequences, the heavens seem to be rotating. The occasional shooting star zips by.
The Atacama desert is one of the driest places on earth. That dryness, the desert’s high altitude, and the lack of air pollution and light pollution make it an excellent spot for scientific star gazing and there are several observatories there. There are traditional ones, with big domes and huge telescopes, along with the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array). That is a single telescope of revolutionary design, composed of 66 high precision antennas located on the Chajnantor plateau, 5,000 meters altitude in northern Chile.” Those antennas look a lot like satellite dishes. When they swivel in time-lapse photography they also look like a field full of disembodied ears. Very weird!
Canadian director Alison McAlpine takes us inside a traditional observatory as the dome opes and the telescope is moved into position (cue metallic noises); she talks to astronomers and to people who live in ramshackle dwellings in the desert. They share some local lore, banter about gravity, etc. Because the desert is so inhospitable, I wondered how they managed to survive there. How far do they have to travel for food, etc? One man is a miner, others are described as algae gatherers in the credits and press kit, while others are described as cowboys. I saw their animals so briefly I could not tell if they were goats, llamas or vicuña. From previous films and reading I did not think there would be anything for those animals to eat, but apparently there are some very scrubby grasses. And maybe these animals live in the edge of the desert?
There is additional astounding imagery of stars and galaxies that I thought was shot through telescopes, but the press kit revealed that most of that footage is really “organic effects” of the kind seen in Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life.
Now for some gentle criticism. Cielo is well worth seeing for the images, but I feel that director McAlpine’s narration does not do it any favours. It might be intrusive no matter what, but becauseshe is addressing the stars, rather than simply sharing them with us, I felt further removed from the film. Hearing her say “Now I can’t stop watching you, I’m trying to understand your crazy beauty,” felt weird, like eavesdropping, maybe.
Atacama Desert, astronomy, voice overs – those ingredients might remind you of Patricio Guzman’s Nostalgia de la Luz (Nostalgia For the Light.) While Cielo is worth watching, it does not approach the level of that masterpiece. Guzman’s narration sounded like poetry, in Spanish and in translation, even when he was talking about the atrocities of the Pinochet era. His film juxtaposed the beauty of the stars, the mysteries of the universe with the evil of the dictatorship and the grief of the bereaved who were still searching the desert for the bodies of their murdered loved ones. You can buy or rent Nostalgia for the Light on iTunes (and elsewhere, I imagine). And you really should! Here is a link to the review of Nostalgia for the Light I wrote for the Montreal Gazette in 2011.
CIELO, directed by Alison McAlpine
Country : Quebec, Chile
Year : 2017
V.O : Spanish, English, French
Subtitles : English And French
Duration : 78 min
Cinematography : Benjamín Echazarreta
Editing : Andrea Chignoli
Production : Carmen Garcia, Paola Castillo, Alison McAlpine
Music : Philippe Lauzier
Cielo will be shown on Monday, Nov. 13 at 5:45 pm at
Cinéma du Parc 3 (the printed schedule says 6 p.m.)
Cielo is part of RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) runs until Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017.
Visit the RIDM web site at RIDM.ca for more information.
(I found some interesting web sites while doing research for this review. I’ll add them later. Please come back to see them!
The documentary film Zaatari Djinn shows us what life is like for two girls and two boys in Jordan’s sprawling Zaatari camp, which is home for 80,000 to 100,000 Syrian refugees.
In the camp, Fatma, Maryam, Ferras and Hammoudi are at the mercy of their parents, circumstances, and the weather. The place is sometimes sunny, sometimes cloudy, often windy and dusty. The future is uncertain. But despite the many hardships, Zaatari Djinn is frequently lyrical and captivating. So far, it is one of my two favourite films on the RIDM schedule.
More than once, we hear a mother telling her children a story, beginning with the familiar: “Once upon a time…”
One tale involves a wicked stepmother – it sounds much like Hansel and Gretel, except that the evil woman plans to abandon the children in the searing desert, not in the deep, dark forest. One boy who has a real-life stepmother declares that she is evil. (After reading the press notes, I realized something I had not grasped while watching the film. The father married again after his wife died, then took yet another wife after moving to the camp. The two women don’t get along.)
Thanks to a drama class, Maryam has discovered the joys of acting, but her father does not approve, he says it is against their culture. Interestingly, the play she was rehearsing is Shakespeare’s King Lear, which has its share of father-daughter discord. The film show her happily playing soccer with other girsl, but the press notes say her father made her stop that, too.
Like girls in many countries, 13-year old Fatma argues with her mother about how old a girl must be before she can wear makeup and how much is too much. Like Maryam, Fatma clashes with her father. Unlike any girls I know, Fatma has a rooster for a pet and confidant. (When the rooster can’t be found, someone says many animals have been poisoned and maybe he was, too. Another indication the place is not warm and fuzzy. Who poisons animals?)
Ferras walks the streets of the camp, selling the sweets that his father makes. It’s the stuff often called Turkish Delight in the West; they call it raha in Syria. Making it requires lots of stirring with a big wooden stick. Ferras also buys the supplies, mostly sugar and cornstarch, which aren’t always available in sufficient quantities. Ferras doesn’t seem to have much choice about doing this work. While reading about the camp, I found an article online about Ferras and his father. The family had a candy factory in Dara’a, Syria, before the war. Most of the people in the camp are from Dara’a, though Fatma is from Damascus.
Hammoudi is happy when his mother offers to buy him a bicycle, and lets him choose it. He clearly knows so much about them I was surprised that the bicycle seller didn’t offer him a job. When Hammoudi accompanies his mother to the camp hospital, we see a place with modern equipment and doctors who are gentle and friendly with the children. There are many aid-group logos on the walls, and US and EU flag decals.
Hammoudi learns that he has a little brother on the way; the doctors ask him if he goes to school and if he is doing well there. (The answer to both questions is yes. Though school is mentioned several times we don’t see the inside any classrooms. Maybe the filmmakers could not get permission, maybe they did not have time for that.)
After his little brother is born, Hammoudi’s vows to protect him are so fierce they’re almost frightening. A paraphrase from memory: “I’ll kill anyone who so much as harms one hair on your head.”
Similarly, I felt distressed and uneasy watching some boys playing what might have been their version of “war“- they pointed toy guns at a playmate, and grabbed him shouting “Lock him up!” I don’t know, seeing children displaced by war playing with (toy) guns, doesn’t seem to bode well for the future.
Zaatari DjinnDirector: Catherine van Campen
Cinematographer: Jean Counet & Jefrim Rothuizen
Sound: Mark Wessner
Editor: Albert Markus
Sounddesign: Marc Lizier
Music: Alex Simu
Producers: Iris Lammertsma & Boudewijn Koole | Witfilm
Distributor: Cinema Delicatessen i.c.w. Herrie Film & TV
Contact: Nazima Mintjes (Production)