FNC 2017 Review: The Other Side of Hope (Toivon tuolla puolen)

In a scene from Aki Kaurismaki’s film The Other Side of Hope, Syrian refugee Khaled (Sherwan Haji), far left, and Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen), far right, wait for customers in Wikstrom’s restaurant.

Would it be possible to describe the films of Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki without using the word deadpan? I guess so, but it’s very handy information for anyone not familiar with his work.

Another thing to know – there isn’t much talking. (We get looks, silences, and lotsa cool tunes, though!) New arrivals in Helsinki say more in their second or even third language than the native Finns do. There’s an amazing amount of smoking, considering how restricted it is Finland. Maybe it makes the chain-smoking Kaurismaki feel more comfortable when shooting.

The Other Side of Hope follows two men, before and after they meet. Khaled (Sherwan Haji), is a Syrian asylum-seeker who reaches Finland on a Polish coal boat, and Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen) is a Finn making some big changes in his life. We see him (wordlessly) leave his alcoholic wife, wrap up his small clothing business, and win big at a poker game filled with menacing undertones. It feels appropriate to refer to Wikstrom by his last name because he initially seems stiff and cold, while Khaled is someone easier to relate to.

Khaled is a mechanic who left Syria after his house was bombed and most of his family members were killed. The fact that he doesn’t even know who blew up his house – the U.S., Russia, Syria, Hezbollah, or Daesh – shows just how chaotic situation is in Syria.

Syrian refugee Khaled (Sherwan Haji) is threatened by vicious thugs in Aki Kaurismaki’s film The Other Side of Hope.

Khaled had jumped onto the boat in Gdansk, Poland while fleeing a gang of skinheads. Sadly, he runs into similar thugs in Helsinki. They keep turning up, like three very bad pennies. Luckily for Khaled and our faith in people, there are others who treat him well. These include Wikstrom and the quirky employees he inherits when he buys a small restaurant called the Golden Pint. Efforts to turn it into a fusion place or a Japanese one are quite funny, in a restrained kind of way. Watch for the scene involving wasabi! Speaking of Japanese, call me crazy, but Sherwan Haji reminds me of Japanese actor Takayuki Yamada. Look him up!

With The Other Side of Hope Kaurismaki is clearly asking his fellow Europeans, and the rest of us, to have a heart, just as he did the with his earlier film Le Havre (2011).

The Other Side of Hope (Toivon tuolla puolen)
Director: Aki Kaurismaki
Cast: Sherwan Haji, Sakari Kuosmanen, Janne Hyytiäinen, Ilkka Koivula, Nuppu Koivu, Simon
Hussein Al-Bazoon, Niroz Haji, Kaija Pakarinen
Languages: Finnish, Arabic, English with English subtitles
Length: One hour, 40 minutes

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FNC 2017 Review: Claire’s Camera, by Hong Sang-soo

Kim Min-hee, left and Isabelle Huppert on the beach in Cannes, France, in Hong San-soo’s film Claire’s Camera.

Claire’s Camera (La caméra de Claire) is one of two Hong Sang-soo films being shown at the Festival du nouveau cinéma this year. (The other is The Day After. You can read my review here.)

Claire’s Camera feels like the thinner, lesser effort to me, even though stars Isabelle Huppert and Kim Min-hee do seem to have a genuine rapport.

The film was shot at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and shown at the 2017 edition. So very meta!

Kim Min-hee plays Jeon Man-hee, a sales agent at a Korean film company. Man-hee is astounded when her boss, Nam Yang-hye (Chang Mi-hee) invites her out for coffee and then fires her in a puzzling, roundabout way. She mentions Min-hee’s good nature and big heart but also accuses her of being dishonest. We have no idea what she’s talking about and clearly Min-hee doesn’t, either. Does the boss think Min-hee has been dipping into the petty cash?

Actually, the problem is love, not money. Though other reviewers have gone into more detail about this, I’ll just say that it would have been more logical for Nam Yang-hye to be angry with Director So Wan-soo (played by Jung Jin-young). He is at the festival to show his film and she is there to promote it and sell its rights. Of course, humans are not always logical and Nam Yang-hye is not in a position to fire Director So, either.

Isabelle Huppert plays the Claire of the title. She is a school teacher on vacation who has come to Cannes for the first time. (Cue laughter from the film audience, since Huppert has been there many times before. More laughter when she tells Director So that French “is a very difficult language to learn.”) The camera of the title is a Polaroid, which makes it easy for Claire to show her photos to others, or to give them away, if she chooses to. She claims, in a New-Agey kind of way, that her subjects won’t be the same after she takes a photo of them. It’s like a cousin of the belief that a photo will steal your soul.

Jung Jin-young, left and Isabelle Huppert in Hong Sang-soo’s film Claires Camera.

As she wanders around the beach and smaller streets of Cannes (no red carpets!) Claire meets and spends time with Man-hee, Nam Yang-hye and Director So, which seems a bit contrived. Claire doesn’t speak Korean; the Koreans don’t speak French, so English will have to do. The results are mildly comical but also genuinely awkward. Ditto for Director So’s remark that “95 % of my mistakes in life were because of alcohol.”

A very large dog sprawls on the sidewalk in several scenes, which gives the characters a chance to make a fuss over him. What a lucky break for Hong Sang-soo! The poor creature seems exhausted and/or bored, though. Or maybe he was too hot? (You can see him in the trailer below, where he is identified as “BoB the café dog.”)

I did not hate Claire’s Camera by any means, I just found it to be a little thin. It’s only fair to say that there are many reviews on the Internet written by people who enjoyed it more than I did. Check them out, too!

Claire’s Camera (La caméra de Claire)
Directed by Hong Sang-soo
Cast: Kim Min-hee, Isabelle Huppert, Chang Mi-hee, Jung Jin-young
Languages: In Korean, French and English with English subtitles
Length: 69 minutes

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.

FNC 2016 Review of Son of Joseph (Le Fils de Joseph)

Victor Ezenfis, Natacha Regnier, Fabrizio Rongione in Son of Joseph (Le Fils de Joseph).
Victor Ezenfis, Natacha Regnier, Fabrizio Rongione in Son of Joseph (Le Fils de Joseph).

Son of Joseph (Le Fils de Joseph) opens with scenes of Paris, people walking around, etc. Then we see two boys trying to torture a caged rat. I did wonder what kind of film I’d walked into. But those guys are just the idiotic classmates of Vincent, one of the main characters, and we don’t see much of them again. Just as well.

Teenage Vincent (Victor Ezenfis) lives in Paris with his single mother (Natacha Regnier), who’s an almost saintly nurse. In his bedroom he has a poster of Caravaggio’s 1603 painting, The Sacrifice of Isaac. Kinda gruesome!

Vincent’s mother has always refused to tell him who his father is, and on this particular day he is so enraged about it one wonders how his mother put up with him for so many  years.

After rummaging through a rolltop desk, Vincent finds a letter that reveals his father’s identity. You’d think, if he was so determined to know, that he would have found that letter years ago, but never mind, I won’t argue about it.

Vincent bluffs his way into a book-launch party, meets some ditzy and pretentious characters on the literary scene, and gets a glimpse of his father, Oscar Pormenor (Mathieu Amalric) a man so monstrous he can’t even remember how many children he had with his wife. “Details bore me,” he says.

With his red tie, red scarf, wealth, scorn and libidinous attitude, Oscar Pormenor made me think of Donald Trump. (Sorry!) The more Vincent learns about him, the more horrified he becomes. He hatches a plan which is unwise, not to mention illegal, immoral, etc.

On the plus side, Vincent meets Joseph (Fabrizio Rongione), Oscar’s brother and pretty much his polar opposite. Joseph is a really great guy, even if he’s not a success in the business world. More likely he’s a great guy precisely because he’s not a success in the business world.

The people in Son of Joseph speak in a very stilted, serious and unnatural way, almost like. . .inexperienced actors. Of course, the actors are not inexperienced at all, declamation is just part of director Eugène Green’s style. (Apparently, Green has a cult following, just like Hong Sang-soo, whose film Yourself and Yours will be playing at the same time today, just a few blocks away. Both films are on the schedule of the Festival du nouveau cinéma.) At first I found this way of talking rather strange. I got used to it, though I never stopped noticing it, and it made the funny parts funnier still.

Son of Joseph is about serious things, like how to be a good person, the longing for family, connection, and acceptance, but it also offers beautiful Parisian scenery and many laughs as well.

Almost all the interior scenes take place in very old buildings with creaky wooden floors. My congratulations to the sound people for picking up (or maybe recreating) all those creaks.

Coffee and Films was the production company for Son of Joseph. Isn’t Coffee and Films a great name?

Son of Joseph (Le Fils de Joseph)
France, Belgium | 115 Minutes
In French with English subtitles
Written and directed by Eugène Green
With Victor Ezenfis, Natacha Regnier, Fabrizio Rongione, Mathieu Amalric, Maria de Medeiros, Julia de Gasquet, Jacques Bonnaffe

Sunday, Oct.16, 2016
Program #281 15:15
Cinéma du Parc 2, as part of the Festival du nouveau cinéma.

FNC 2016: Review of Hong Sang-soo film Yourself and Yours

Lee You-young, centre, as Minjung, with two of her drinking buddies, in the Hong Sang-soo film Yourself and Yours.
Lee You-young, centre, as Minjung, with two of her drinking buddies, in the Hong Sang-soo film Yourself and Yours.

Yourself and Yours, the latest film from Korean director Hong Sang-soo, looks at relationships in a way that’s insightful and hilarious. (Well, I thought it was hilarious.) I guess someone who has recently broken up with a significant other might feel differently.

After hearing gossip from a friend, Youngsoo (Kim Joo-hyuck) accuses his girlfriend Minjung (Lee You-young) of drinking with other men. Quite apart from the jealousy angle, he is upset because she had promised him to cut way back on her drinking.

An offended Minjung denies the accusations and suggests “taking a break.” Self-righteous Youngsoo replies (approximately) “You’re in the wrong and you’re upset with ME?”

Later, Youngsoo regrets his behaviour; he misses Minjung and when he can’t reach her, he fears that “taking a break” is her way of saying “break up.”

Youngsoo starts moping around pathetically. He tells his friends how much he loves Minjung, how special she is, that others don’t understand her, etc. All this might come from genuine love and regret, though I suspect it comes from loneliness or a feeling of having lost control of this situation, and his life in general. Who knows, really? Seeing her had  probably become a habit for him, as well, and habits are notoriously hard to break.

There are several scenes of Minjung, or someone who looks just like Minjung, drinking with other men. When they first speak to her, they claim to know her from some other occasion. Some of them are rather agressive in their insistence that they know her; it verges on creepy. She says that she never saw them before, but does agree to drink with them now.

Minjung seems more humourous and interesting to know than Youngsoo is. Her daring, if slightly rude habit of telling men exactly what she thinks of them is not something we see too often in Korean films; it’s still a patriarchal place.

It’s likely that many of these scenes, maybe all of them, only take place in Youngsoo’s unsettled dreams or waking imagination. That would be consistent with Hong Sang-soo’s style, but I have other reasons for thinking so, too. Sharing those reasons might constitute “spoilers,” though, so I’ll keep them to myself for now.

You could have lots of fun dissecting those scenes, and the film in general, with friends after the film, maybe over a meal at a Korean restaurant. Have some soju! Sadly, you aren’t likely to find the milky alcoholic beverage ( 막걸리 makgeolli, makkoli, makgeoli, etc.) in Montreal restaurants. That’s the stuff that the characters in Yourself and Yours drink from metal bowls, when they’re not having beer or soju.

A little laugh of recognition for people who follow Korean pop culture: At some point, Minjung talks about her “ideal type.” In interviews, Korean singers and actors are always being asked about their ideal type. They usually name other singers and actors and then their fans have fun discussing these choices on the Internet.

I’d read several enthusiastic reviews before seeing Yourself and Yours, and assumed that I would enjoy it, but It actually surpassed my expectations. For those who have heard of Hong Sang-soo, but haven’t seen his work yet, Yourself and Yours would be an excellent place to start. His Montreal fans have probably bought their tickets already.

http://www.nouveaucinema.ca/en/films/yourself-and-yours

Yourself and Yours, directed by Hong Sang-soo, with Kim Joo-hyuck, Lee You-young, Kim Eui-sung.

At the 2016 Festival du nouveau cinéma,
Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016
Program #284 15:00
Cinéma Impérial
1430 Bleury

FNC 2016: Review of French sketch-comedy film Apnée

Thomas Scimeca and Céline Fuhrer in the French comedy Apnee.
Thomas Scimeca and Céline Fuhrer in the French comedy Apnée.

Apnée begins with two men and a woman, each wearing strapless wedding dresses, flouncing into an elegant town hall and asking the mayor to marry them to each other. The mayor explains the available options in a polite and friendly manner. He tells them with regret that they can’t marry each other “yet.” The implication is clear: have some patience and your day will come. But the three don’t want to wait and they begin a collective rant about their rights. Then it’s time for the mayor to express his many frustrations with his job and his family. You had to be there. It was funny!

Apnée is a collection of loosely connected sketches, a bit like the old Monty Python show, though there isn’t any animation and the Spanish Inquisition doesn’t show up, either. In the press notes, director Jean-Christophe Meurisse calls it a road-trip and a “comédie socialo-mélancolique.”

A few of the subjects include: dealing with bankers; the ridiculous price of housing ($1755. for less than 200 square feet!) and the hoops people still have to leap through for the privilege of paying for a tiny, overpriced dump; parent-child relations, expectations and disappointments; a mock job interview at an employment centre that gets stuck at the handshaking part and just gets sillier and sillier (in a good way).

Some outdoor scenes in Apnée were shot in lovely parts of Corsica. That might give the tourist industry a boost.

DirectorMeurisse and the three main actors, Céline Fuhrer, Thomas Scimeca and Maxence Tual, are part of the popular French theatrical troupe Les Chiens de Navarre. (The group presented its latest play, Les armoires normandes, here in Montreal last month.)

I enjoyed some sketches more than others, and the driving scenes went on too long for my taste, but I thought Apnée was pretty damn funny. The description in the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma catalogue already sounded appealing, but then a friend recommended it to me, and that clinched the deal. I’m glad I went!

The English subtitles are a blessing because the actors speak very quickly and sometimes everyone is talking at once. Serge, the friend who suggested Apnée to me, is a francophone, but even he appreciated the English subtitles.

Not sure if I should even mention this but. . .I’m also very glad that I did not see Jay Weissberg’s review in Variety before I went. He called it an “insufferable improvised madcap comedy.”

Of course, people have different tastes, experiences, backgrounds and expectations, but I feel like we did not watch the same film. Maybe he was suffering form “film-festival burnout.” I’ve had that happen right here in Montreal, on my home turf. Imagine the stress and pressures of the Cannes Film Festival. Variety is a very powerful publication, so I hope his negative review does not scare people away from Apnée.

Apnée (or Apnea)
Directed by Jean-Christophe Meurisse
With: Céline Fuhrer, Thomas Scimeca, Maxence Tual, Thomas de Pourquery, Olivier Saladin, Claire Nadeau, Jean-Luc Vincent, Nicolas Bouchaud, Pascal Sangla, Robert Hatisi, Solal Bouloudnine.
88 minutes long, in French with English subtitles.

Seen at the 2016 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma in Montreal.

FNC 2016: Review of A Decent Woman

fnc-2016-a-decent-woman

A Decent Woman was shot in Argentina. The original Spanish title is Los Decentes. It has also been shown under with the English title The Decent. It’s a satire.

Belen is a woman who does not say much. She observes, sometimes warily.

Belen (Iride Mockert) starts working for a rich woman and her spoiled son in a gated community outside Buenos Aires. (The residents inside those gates are wealthy, but in the surrounding area there are rundown streets littered with garbage.) Belen’s employer has a large house, but it presents a blank face to the world – it doesn’t look particularly comfortable or welcoming. It’s very bland, lacking personality, inside and out.

The property is on the far edge of the community and Belen soon notices that there is a nudist colony on the other side of the big hedge, and the (highly-)electrified fence. (She notices because she does everything at that house, buying groceries, washing floors, windows, dishes, doing laundry, cleaning the son’s sport shoes, and clipping that hedge. Belen’s employer, Diana (Andrea Strenitz) signs Belen up for cooking classes, too. (Among other things, they make cupcakes – a “very American recipe” according to the instructor.) When Diana can’t sleep, she wakes Belen to keep her company.

After days, maybe weeks, of watching the nudists, Belen lets her long hair down (literally), sheds her clothes and joins them. When they first see her, she is shyly recreating the pose from Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (the one with the big seashell).

They’re a very welcoming bunch and soon Belen is spending lots of time with them. Is this possible because Diana and her son, Juanchito, go away a lot for tennis tournaments, or could it be that Belen is just imagining herself having a different way of life with these people?

Much of the time, they are calm, quiet and relaxed, hanging out in or beside the water, dozing or reading. I won’t describe all of their activities, to avoid the accusation of “spoilers!” Let’s just say, this isn’t a “family-friendly” nudist club, and the place where the scenes were shot is actually a nudist swingers’ club, in the director’s own words.

The nudists do play loud music at night. It’s so loud that Diana’s windows vibrate and she can’t sleep. Other neighbours are upset about them, too, and they start a petition against the enclave.

Up until this point in A Decent Woman, I had no serious complaints. It had been moving at a  languid pace, possibly too slowly for some people, but I could handle it. (I did not notice anyone leaving, either.)

But. . . call me a coward or whatever, I did not like the abruptness nor the content of the ending. One or two people laughed. Was it serious laughter or nervous laughter? I wonder. I prefer to think that director Lukas Valenta Rinner did not know how to end the film, or that the ending is a dream that Belen has. (Yes, I know, dream sequences are a corny cliché.)

One person near me said “If I had known it would be like that, I would not have come.”

* * *

A FEW HOURS LATER:

(I went to A Decent Woman  because I thought that I had read several rave reviews about it, in reports from other festivals like Sarajevo and TIFF. Maybe I got it mixed up with something else.

The FNC catalogue and web site say that director Lukas Valenta Rinner also made Parabellum, which explains a lot. My brain must have skipped right over that. (Did you see it?) If you intend to see A Decent Woman, it might be better not to read about Parabellum beforehand.

As for not knowing how to end it, Parabellum won a prize at the Jeonju International Film Festival in South Korea. A few months later, the Jeonju Cinema Project offered Valenta Rinner money to make his next film, but that meant he only had six months to write, film and edit a work-in-progress version to show at the next edition of the festival.

On the other hand, in an interview with Cineuropa, Valenta Rinner indicates the abrupt ending was a “deliberate narrative decision,” to provide catharsis. And now that I think about it, abrupt changes of tone happen all the time in Korean cinema.

Lukas Valenta Rinner is an Austrian who went to film school in Argentina and still lives there. He has stated that his film is a comment on inequality and social tensions in Argentina. I’ve watched many films from Argentina, but I’ve never been there, so what do I know?

Final verdict: Mixed feelings. Can’t say I’m happy that I went, but I don’t feel ripped off either. I wouldn’t recommend it to everybody, but I imagine there are people within my extended circle who would like it.

Los Decentes (A Decent Woman)

Country: Austria, Republic of Korea, Argentina

Year: 2016

Genre: Fiction

Directed by: Lukas Valenta Rinner

Length: 104 minutes

Screenplay: Lukas Valenta Rinner, Ana Godoy, Martin Shanly, Ariel Gurevich

Cast: Iride Mockert, Martin Shanly, Andrea Strenitz, Mariano Sayavedra

I saw A Decent Woman at the  in Montreal. The festival will show the film again on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016 at 18h (6 p.m.)