Fantasia 2018: Review of Mon Garçon

Guillaume Canet, left, and Mélanie Laurent in Mon Garçon (My Son.)

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?)

Guillaume Canet does a lot of driving in Mon Garçon.

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

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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?

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 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?

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 2016 Review: Three by Johnnie To

Wallace Chung, left, Vicki Zhao Wei and Louis Koo in the Johnnie To film Three. Everything that happens in the film is a prelude to the madness depicted here.
Wallace Chung, left, Vicki Zhao Wei and Louis Koo in the Johnnie To film Three. Everything that happens in the film is a prelude to the madness depicted here.

Three did not do it for me. I’ve enjoyed many Johnnie To films over the years, thanks to the Fantasia International Film Festival, but I found Three both disappointing and annoying. The film asks us to throw common sense to the wind. I do that all the time, and not just at the movies, either, but I just couldn’t do it for Three.

(However, it’s only fair to point out that both Fantasia screenings were sold out, albeit in the smaller De Sève cinema, and that one of my friends, an esteemed film prof, watched it twice.

My problems with it, in no particular order: a dumb script with many unlikely events, unnecessary carnage, wooden acting.

To elaborate further: Shun (Wallace Chung), the leader of a criminal gang, is shot in the head by a cop (we don’t see it happen) and he’s taken to a hospital. Not only is he still alive, it seems that the bullet hasn’t done any damage – he’s quipping away about philosophy, taunting his police guards, etc. Even so, the doctors say that he needs surgery as soon as possible. Shun refuses that surgery because he wants to be conscious when his gang comes to rescue him. But then what? He’ll still have a bullet in his head, and it’s not like your average mob doc is prepared to deal with that.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the surgery now, and then have the gang rescue him while he’s being taken to prison? Hijack the prison van – should be a piece of cake, right?

If his henchmen are so scary (and we’re led to believe that they are) and he’s in such medical danger you’d think that he’d be held in a private room with many guards, but no, he’s in a ward with several other patients.

Vicki Zhao Wei plays a neurosurgeon and Louis Koo plays a police detective in Three, a film from Hong Kong director Johnnie To. Koo wears that same stone-faced look in 98 per-cent of the film.
Vicki Zhao Wei plays a neurosurgeon and Louis Koo plays a police detective in Three, a film from Hong Kong director Johnnie To. Koo wears that same stone-faced look in 98 per-cent of the film. He doesn’t take that jacket off, either.

Lotsa cops, led by Ken Chan (Louis Koo) are waiting for the gang to arrive so that they can arrest them. Or kill them. It’s a tense waiting game! Never mind that this plan puts all the patients, doctors, nurses, other hospital workers and visitors in extreme danger. The sensible thing to do would be to restrict access to the hospital, as was done in many countries during the SARS outbreak, and to catch those bad guys at some other time, in some other place. But no, Chan is determined to nab them today.

Because this is a Johnnie To film, we know that there will be an over-the-top-shoot out, and, um. . . (SPOILER ALERT!) other kinds of mayhem, as well. The only question is when. But even in the land of make believe, I object to doctors and patients being blown away for such contrived reasons.

Which brings us to the wooden acting. Most of the time Louis Koo looks grim, stoic, stubborn, angry, or determined, which is pretty much the same thing on his face. He barks, snaps and scowls at everybody. Neurosurgeon Dr. Tong (Vicki Zhao Wei), who is having a very bad week, looks glum and exhausted, sometimes on the verge of tears. Not a lot of nuance happening here. Well-cushioned Lam Suet, one of  Johnnie To’s regular actors, plays the guy sent to get lunches, of course. His character can barely speak in sentences.

A patient named “Uncle Chung” provides some comic relief, though he isn’t that funny. Two other patients offer what you might call tragic distraction. There’s a cliffhanger scene, or more precisely a-bedsheet-and-firehose scene, that is just left. . .hanging. Literally. We don’t see how it wraps up. There’s another scene that might remind you of the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin. And why not? Toss it all in!

Every time I look at Louis Koo in his quilted blue jacket I wonder – just how heavy is the air-conditioning supposed to be in this hospital?

For the squeamish: Action-film fans are used to shootouts, but are they used to gruesome surgery? Be warned that even though Shun refuses his operation, many other patients do get theirs. There are scalpels, drills, copious amounts of blood and exposed brains in Three.

Meh. I suggest watching something else by Johnnie To.

THREE
Director: Johnnie To
Writers: Yau Nai-hoi, Lau Ho-leung, Mak Tin-shu
Cast: Louis Koo, Wallace Chung, Vicki Zhao Wei, Lam Suet
Run Time: 87 minutes.
In Cantonese with subtitles in English and Traditional Chinese
Seen at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal

Fantasia 2016 Review: Psycho Raman

Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays a serial killer in the Indian film Psycho Raman (also known as Raman Raghav 2.0) The fim is being shown at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays a serial killer in the Indian film Psycho Raman (also known as Raman Raghav 2.0) The fim is being shown at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Psycho Raman (aka Raman Raghav 2.0) is one tense film. Ramanna is a serial killer, and actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui gives a bone-chilling performance in the part. He kills people because he likes to – men, women, children, it doesn’t matter, he doesn’t make any distinctions. The things that he says, and the look in his eyes when he says them, are extremely unsettling.There’s no telling what he might do next. And when he makes circles with his fingers and looks through them, as you would with binoculars. . .all I can say is Eeek! (The pose reminded me of the poster for The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer’s second documentary about genocide in Indonesia.) Ramanna takes his alias from Raman Raghav, a real-life serial killer in the 1960s.

The character is so disturbing that I felt uneasy watching him, as if my very presence in the theatre was some kind of approval for his (fictional) actions.

We see Ramanna swing a tire iron, and other weapons, but, mercifully, we don’t see them land on his victims. (And that’s just fine with me!) The guy is totally terrifying all the same – a perfect example of less is more.

Raghavan (Vicky Kaushal) is a crooked, violent, doped-up policeman, who got his position via family connections. The guy is so addicted and so callous that he snorts cocaine at the scene of a triple murder. One night, Ramanna sees Raghav kill someone for no reason. He’s convinced that they’re kindred spirits and wants to meet Raghav, maybe even work together? The film switches back and forth between their two worlds.

Ramanna keeps tracks of his victims in a little notebook. There’s no indication that Raghavan does the same, but I couldn’t help but wonder who had the bigger body count.

Like several other films in this year’s Fantasia lineup, Psycho Raman was well received at the Cannes Film Festival.

Psycho Raman (Raman Raghav 2.0), directed by Anurag Kashyap, written by Anurag Kashyap and Vasan Bala.
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Vicky Kaushal, Vipin Sharma, Amruta Subhash, Sobhita Dhulipala, Ashok Lokhande, Harssh A. Singh
127 minutes long, in Hindi with English subtitles.

See Psycho Raman on Wednesday, July 20, 2016, at 5 p.m., in the de Seve Theatre of Concordia University, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

FNC 2015 Review: Coin Locker Girl

Mom (Kim Hye-soo, with cigarette) and Il-young (Kim Go-Eun, centre in khaki T-shirt) in Coin Locker Girl.
Mom (Kim Hye-soo, with cigarette) and Il-young (Kim Go-Eun, centre in khaki T-shirt) in Coin Locker Girl.

The South Korean film Coin Locker Girl plunges us into a cruel and deadly world. It might not stand up to scrutiny, so don’t think about it too much, just go along for the ride.

The coin locker girl of the title was abandoned in an Incheon coin locker shortly after her birth. She is not taken to the police, or a hospital, as you might expect, she is informally adopted by some homeless people. Is this an act of kindness or does her presence make begging a little easier? We never find out. Her story only really begins for us when a crooked cop scoops her up, stuffs her in a suitcase and delivers her to “Mom,” the tough boss of Ma Enterprises, in Chinatown. Someone remarks prophetically that no good will come of this.

The little girl had been named Il-young after the number of the locker she was found in; in Sino-Korean il is one and yeong (or young) is zero. Talk about not having an identity of your own.

As a child, Il-young begs on the subway with other young children who live with Mom. (We don’t learn their back story.) By the time she reaches her teens, she is a very tough, somewhat androgynous young woman (played by Kim Go-Eun), who collects debts for Mom. Woe betide the self-styled tough guy who does not take Il-young seriously and treat her with respect. She is quite handy with fists, feet, knives or ashtrays.

Continue reading “FNC 2015 Review: Coin Locker Girl”

FNC 2015: Film festival offers 8 films made in the two Koreas

 

A scene from the South Korean film The Shameless.
A scene from the South Korean film The Shameless.

The Korean peninsula is in the spotlight as the Festival du nouveau cinéma shows three films made by South Koreans, four made by North Koreans and one documentary shot (mostly) in North Korea by a British company with an American subject (Dennis Rodman) and an Irish narrator.

In alphabetical order, the three South Korean films are Coin Locker Girl, directed by Han Jun-He), The Shameless, directed by Oh Seung-Uk, and Right Now, Wrong Then, directed by Hong Sang Soo. You can read synopses of these South Korean films on the FNC web site.
The North Korean films are A Bellflower, The Flower Girl A Schoolgirl’s Diary, and The Tale Of Chun Hyang. Read synopses of the four North Korean films here.

Former basketball star Dennis Rodman was demonized by some people because he went to North Korea, several times, and met with dictator Kim Jong-un. Montreal's Festival du nouveau cinema will show the documentary, Dennis Rodman's Big Bang In Pyongyang, which takes us along for the ride.
Former basketball star Dennis Rodman was demonized by some people because he went to North Korea, several times, and met with dictator Kim Jong-un. Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinema will show the documentary, Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang In Pyongyang, which takes us along for the ride.

Finally, the documentary, Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang In Pyongyang, gives us an inside view of the several visits the controversial former basketball made to North Korea. Read more about it here. 

The Festival du nouveau cinéma runs until Oct. 18, 2015 in several theatres in downtown Montreal. Consult the FNC web site for schedules, synopses and to buy tickets.