RIDM 2017 Review of documentary film Cielo

The documentary film Cielo takes us to Chile’s Atacama Desert where the stars shine bright and clear.

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 because  she 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!

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RIDM 2017: Review of Zaatari Djinn

 

Syrian refugee Fatma plays with her pet rooster in the documentary film Zaatari Djinn. The film is being shown at the documentary film festival RIDM in Montreal.

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.

Syrian refugee Hammoudi chooses a bicycle in the documentary film Zaatari Djinn. The film is being shown at the documentary film festival RIDM in Montreal.

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)
Witfilm nazima@witfilm.nl

With: Hammoudi Al-Mansour
Maryam Al-Hariri
Ferras Adnan
Fatma Al-Badawy

Duration: 90 minutes, in Arabic with English subtitles.

Zaatari Djinn will be shown on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017 at 5 p.m. in Salle 10 of Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin, 350 rue Émery.

RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) runs until Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017.
Visit the RIDM web site at RIDM.ca for more information.

The 20th edition of RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival, is now underway

Montreal’s documentary film festival RIDM is celebrating its 20th edition this year – hence the joyful and colourful artwork on the catalogue and schedule.

November! Bah, humbug! I dislike November because of its shorter days and colder temperatures. But RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival, is a rare bright spot in the otherwise dreary 11th month.

RIDM’s 20th edition got under way Thursday night with an invitation-only screening of 24 Davids. RIDM continues until Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017.

The festival will show 142 films from 47 countries on screens at Cinéma du Parc, Cinémathèque Québécoise, Cinéplex Odeon Quartier Latin, Pavillon Judith-Jasmin Annexe (the former NFB cinema) and Concordia University.

In no particular order, subjects include family connections (parents, children, siblings, with three films looking at grandmothers), Brexit, agribusiness, immigrants and refugees, animals (dinosaurs, turtles, lions, sheep, donkeys and the rats of Baltimore) live birds and a famous sculpted one by Brancusi, crime victims and perpetrators, musicians, the sea, the universe as seen from Chile’s Atacama Desert, and – smaller than the universe but still quite large – the New York Public Library, through the lens of Frederick Wiseman.

Based on the excerpts shown at the festival’s press conference, the most amusing film is Nothingwood, about Afghanistan’s prolific film director Salim Shaheen. Brimstone and Glory, about a fireworks festival in Mexico, might be the most visually astonishing.

For weirdness, and humour, too, there is Tongue Cutters, about two Norwegian children participating in the world cod-tongue-cutting competition. Dragonfly Eyes, from China, uses surveillance video to construct a narrative about a woman who leaves a monastery to work at a dairy farm.

RIDM is presenting retrospectives of the films by U.S. director James N. Kienitz Wilkins and Tan Pin Pin of Singapore. They will attend the festival as will many other directors. Audience members can ask them questions after film screenings.

RIDM 2017: The documentary film Caniba might be too graphic for some viewers.

You might have seen Leviathan, a film from 2012, set aboard a fishing boat. Directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Veréna Paravel have brought something quite different to this year’s RIDM – Caniba, a film about notorious Japanese cannibal Issei Sagawa. It’s the only film in the festival that has a “viewer discretion advised” tag attached. I did not see it. Friends who did said “That’s a REAL horror film!”

I saw a handful of RIDM films at press screening, and my favourite so far is Bagages, which was made right here in Montreal. Immigrant teens talk about their lives here and in their old country, and the challenges they face.

Visit the RIDM web site at RIDM.ca for more information.

FNC 2017: Review of Hong Sang-soo’s The Day After (Geu-hu)

In this scene from Korean film The Day After, Song Ah-reum (Kim Min-hee) is ready to begin her first day working at a small publishing house. The Day After is directed by Hong Sang-soo.

On her first day at a new job, Song Ah-reum (Kim Min-hee ) is insulted and slapped by the wife of her boss, Kim Bong-wan (Kwon Hae-hyo). Kim runs a small publishing house and Song is his only employee. Song had no way of knowing that Kim had been having an affair with her predecessor, Lee Chang-sook (Kim Sae-byeok). Now that she does know, is she seeing the “getting-acquainted” lunch she just had with him in a new light? Was he grooming her to be his next conquest?

Kim keeps saying “it’s not her!” but his wife, Song Haejoo (Jo Yoon-hee) does not believe him. Song Ah-reum’s forehead is wrinkled in thought as she watches the two of them bicker. Their marriage might be in trouble, but they still have a bond of sorts, after all, while she is the true outsider. As a woman, she might naturally sympathize with Song Haejoo, but not after being hit several times and being called a shameless hussy (or the equivalent.) Her boss HAD seemed like a nice guy (though maybe a bit condescending). Obviously, he isn’t so nice, after all.

“A man behaving badly” would describe most of the Hong Sang-soo films that I’ve seen, and it certainly fits The Day After. While Kim’s wife frequently calls him a liar, he usually just clams up and says nothing at all, or asks “Are you serious?” rather than answer her questions directly.

Confrontation! In this scene from HongSang-soo’s film The Day After, Song Ah-reum (Kim Min-hee) left, watches her boss, Kim Bong-wan (Kwon Hae-hyo) argue with his rightfully suspicious wife, Song Haejoo (Jo Yoon-hee).

The film is shot in black and white, and moves around in time, as Hong’s films usually do, showing Kim Bong-wan at home (not very often!) in his office, and in restaurants eating and drinking (drinking a lot!) with Chang-sook or Ah-reum. We see Kim on the streets, too, walking with one of the women or by himself. He walks a lot, because he’s trying to figure things out, because he lives far from his office, because he has a guilty conscience? Could be any and all of those. Much of this walking takes place in darkness, at night, or in the very early morning hours; it’s not always clear which. At one point he tries to jog, seemingly confirming his wife’s suspicion that he is trying to improve his appearance for someone other than her.

Sometimes Kim Bong-wan even cries on his solitary walks, but I’m not at all convinced that this means he loved Lee Chang-sook, maybe he just misses having someone, other than his wife, to be with. And drink with.

Lee Chang-sook and Song Ah-reum are both young and pretty and Song Ah-reum seems quite brainy, too. While Song does tell Kim that he is one of the best critics in Korea, he doesn’t come across as exceptional in any way. That did lead me to wonder, why did Chang-sook fall for him? Does proximity breed affection? Was she bored? Very lonely, far from home, with no friends in Seoul? Can Kim be really charming when he puts his mind to it? (If Hong had chosen from among my fave actors for this part, I might not wonder as much. Probably that’s exactly why he did not choose them. Sorry, no offence is intended toward actor Kwon Hae-hyo.)

I wonder: Does Hong Sang-soo know about U.S. comedian Stan Freberg? At one point, the two lovers are locked in a passionate embrace while they exclaim “Bong-wan!” “Chang-sook!” over and over. Do a Google search on “John and Marsha,” you’ll see what I mean.

Things I found amusing: When Kwon Hae-hyo eats with his wife, he slurps his soup and munches his kimchi very noisily. He is much more restrained when eating with his assistants.

Meta or gossipy aspect: Director Hong Sang-soo left his wife of many years for actress Kim Min-hee, who has now appeared in four of his films. You might know her from Park Chan-wook’s film The Handmaiden.

Montrealers can see The Day After at the Festival du nouveau cinéma on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017 at 5:30, in Salle 17 of Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin, 360 rue Emery, métro Berri-UQAM.

 

The Day After (Geu-hu, 그 후)
92 minutes long
In Korean with English subtitles
Written and directed by Hong Sang-soo
Cast: Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-hee, Kim Sae-byeok, Jo Yoon-hee

FNC 2017: What to see Thursday, Oct. 12 at the Festival du nouveau cinéma

Anne Gruwez is an examining magistrate in Belgium. She’s smart, funny, sarcastic and many other things, too, as revealed in the Franco-Belgian documentary Ni Juge, Ni Soumise. (The film is being marketed with the English title So Help Me God.)

I was a bit disappointed that I only had time to see two films at the Festival du nouveau cinéma yesterday (Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017). On the other hand, I liked those two very much. In fact, they were among my favourites so far, so things worked out pretty well in the end.

Both films will be shown again on Thursday, so, if you live in Montreal, maybe you can enjoy them, too. Luckily for potential viewers, the two films will not be shown at the same time (I hate when that happens!) though they follow each other quite closely.

I hope to review them properly soon, but for now, here are the synopses and screening times, from the FNC web site.

Ni Juge, Ni Soumise

This documentary is a France-Belgium co-production. Co-directors Jean Libon and Yves Hinant will take part in a Q&A after the film.

“The cult documentary series Strip-Tease adapted for the big screen. Deadpan Belgian humour that pokes at sensitive places. Uneasy laughter abounds. A judge who’s seen all the evil there is to see reopens a deeply sordid cold case. At the same time, a string of cases crosses her desk, reflecting the ills of an entire society and the absurdity of a world where sometimes all you can do is laugh. A relentless exercise in voyeurism, set as a trap for the viewer, who is left with no choice but to question himself.”

Ni Juge, Ni Soumise
Directed by Jean Libon, Yves Hinant
With judge Anne Gruwez and assorted Belgian residents and citizens
In French, with English subtitles
99 minutes
Thursday. Oct. 12, 2017
Program #243 17:00
Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin Salle 17
350 rue Émery, Metro Berri-UQAM

Nyokabi Gethaiga in the Kenyan film Kati Kati, part of the selection at the Festival du nouveau cinéma in Montreal.

Kati Kati

Kenyan film Kati Kati won the FIPRESCI prize at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it’s also Kenya’s entry in the foreign language Oscar race.

“Tormented souls caught in limbo must face their demons and come to terms with their guilt in this poetic, unsettling film from Kenya. For his debut feature, Masya serves up a meditative storyline about spirits stranded in an odd village. A sort of No Man’s Land, the site is really a purgatory where each soul must confront past shame and regrets. A singularly inventive film that’s galaxies away from the more familiar representations of the African continent.”

Don’t let the words “tormented” and “unsettling” in that synopsis scare you. Concentrate on the “poetic” and “singularly inventive” aspects. And feel free to complain to me if you don’t like it. Seriously! It’s quite special, though, so I think audiences will like it very much.

Much of the dialogue is in English. When people speak Swahili or Sheng (Swahili-based slang) there are English subtitles.

Kati Kati
Written and directed by Mbithi Masya
Cast: Nyokabi Gethaiga, Elsaphan Njora, Paul Ogola
75 minutes long
Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017
Program #239 19:15
Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin Salle 16
350 rue Émery, Metro Berri-UQAM

The Festival du nouveau cinéma continues until Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. Visit the festival’s web site for more information about the films, events and ticket prices. You can buy tickets online.

FNC 2017: Review of Thai film Samui Song

In the Thai film Samui Song, Vi (Chermarn Boonyasak) is a troubled sopa-opera star.

Samui Song is a Thai film noir from Pen-ek Ratanaruang, the director of Last Life in the Universe, Invisible Waves, Ploy, and Headshot. At least one reviewer has compared it to The Postman Always Rings Twice, but it’s much twistier than that.

Vi (Chermarn Boonyasak) is a soap-opera actress married to French millionaire Jerome (Stéphane Sednaoui, who is a director himself). Their marriage is in trouble because Jerome has fallen under the influence of a sinister cult leader he calls The Holy One. Jerome is outraged that Vi will not swear allegiance to The Holy One (Vithaya Pansringarm), or at least attend some of his events. Vi thinks the monk is a fraud and doesn’t hesitate to say so. This alleged holy man is usually seen in the company of guys who look even more sinister than he does. Assistants? Bodyguards? Thugs or henchmen would be a better description.

In a hospital parking lot, a mysterious man who calls himself Guy Spencer (David Asavanond) asks Vi for a cigarette. Ah, classic move! What will happen if the world ever gives up smoking altogether? Is Spencer just trying to pick her up, or does he have something else in mind? Does he sense that she might need help with something, from a man like himself? Spencer does not have a TV show, but he’s an actor of sorts, too. Soon enough, Vi will be sorry that she met him. “Out of the frying pan, into the fire,” might come to mind.

Things don’t always play out in chronological order in Samui Song. Sometimes we see an event more than once, with extra details added the second time. There are funny bits, too, as when Vi tells her agent she’d like to work with “that weird director” a nudge-nudge reference to Ratanaruang himself. When Vi goes out at a very late hour and tells her husband she’s “getting milk,” it seemed very unlikely, and therefore hilarious to me. And the details of a particular fight scene had me wondering if director Ratanaruang has watched A Clockwork Orange.

Samui Song (Mai Mee Samui Samrab Ter)
Thailand, Germany, Norway
108 minutes
Original version in Thai
Subtitled in English
Directed by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang
Cast: Chermarn Boonyasak, David Asavanond, Vithaya Pansringarm, Stéphane Sednaoui

Samui Song
Tuesday, Oct, 10, 2017
Program #176 4:00 p.m.
Cineplex Odeon Quartier SALLE 10

Samui Song is being shown at the 2017 Festival du nouveau cinéma. Visit the festival’s web site for more information about the films, events and ticket prices.

 

2017 Festival du nouveau cinéma: Cosmonauts and cowboys, zombies, yakuza and Vincent van Gogh

Loving Vincent, about the artist Vincent Van Gogh, is the closing film at the 2017 Festival du nouveau cinéma, in Montreal.

 

The 46th edition of Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinéma began Wednesday, Oct. 4 with an invitation-only screening of Blade Runner 2049 at Place des Arts.

Things really begin in earnest on Thursday; from then until Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017, 167 features and 181 short films from 68 countries will be shown. There are 35 events, with at least 25 of them being free ones. Films will be shown at Cinéma du Parc, Cinéma Impérial, Cinémathèque québécoise, Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin Agora Hydro-Quebec du Coeur des sciences de l’UQAM / Chaufferie, L’Espace Jeunes de la Grande Bibliothèque, Société des arts technologiques, la Grande Place du Complexe Desjardins.

Man of Iron is one of several films by Polish director Andrzej Wajda that will be shown at the 2017 Festival du nouveau cinema, in Montreal.

In addition to new films from Fatih Akin, Jane Campion, Denis Cote, Todd Haynes, Hong Sang-soo (two of them!) Aki Kaurismaki, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Yorgos Lanthimos, Claude Lanzmann, and Barbet Schroeder (just to name a few) there will be retrospectives and homages featuring the work of Polish director Andrzej Wajda – Le Terre de la Grande Promesse (1975), Man of Iron (1981), Korczak (1990), Katyn (2007) Walesa, Man of Hope (2013); Japanese director Seijun Suzuki – Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards (1963), Gate of Flesh (1964), Tokyo Drifter (1966), Branded to Kill (1967). Takeshi Kitano brings his modern-day yakuza trilogy to an end with Outrage Coda.

There will be Westerns, old and new, from France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, and Spain, including Lonesome Cowboys (1968) from Andy Warhol, El Topo (1970) from Alejandro Jodorowsky, Sukiyaki Western Django (2007) from Takashi Miike, and The Good, The Bad And The Weird (2008) from Kim Jee-Woon.

Korean film The Good, The Bad and The Weird takes the Western genre to Manchuria in the 1930s. It’s one of several Westerns that will be shown at the 2017 Festival du nouveau cinema in Montreal.

Co-directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani will show their latest film Laisser bronzer les cadavres, Amer (2009), L’etrange couleur des larmes de ton corps (2013), some shorts, and give a master class.

There have been several dramatic films made about the U.S. space program, but when did you last see one from Russia? Salyut 7 will show us how two Soviet cosmonauts brought an unresponsive space station back to life in 1985.

Sports fans might enjoy Borg/McEnroe, a drama about the tennis rivals, fresh from screenings at TIFF and the San Sebastian International Film Festival. Black and White Stripes: The Juventus Story is a documentary about the Italian soccer team.

Black and White Stripes: The Juventus Story is one of the films being shown at the 2017 Festival du nouveau cinéma in Montreal.

In Robin Aubert’s Les Affamés, residents of a small Quebec town defend themselves from zombies.

Virtual reality films of various lengths can be seen at Société des arts technologiques and la Grande Place du Complexe Desjardins.

On Friday, Oct. 13, in association with the Montreal Zombie Walk, there will be a dance party at the Agora, starting at the rather unusual time of 9:13 p.m.

The closing film, Loving Vincent, is a feature-length painted animation based on the works of Vincent Van Gogh. The trailer looked great! The screening on Saturday, Oct. 14 is by invitation only, but it will be shown again on Sunday, Oct. 15.

While many films will be shown twice, some will only have one screening. It’s best not to wait until the last minute to buy tickets. The one and only screening of Swedish satire The Square, on Tuesday, Oct. 10, is already sold out.

 

The descriptions above barely scratch the surface of the FNC offerings. Visit the festival’s web site for more information about the films, events and ticket prices.