La Tierra Roja is a Belgium-Argentina co-production, shot in Argentina’s Misiones province. It’s fiction, but based on fact. Viewers in Argentina probably see it as a “ripped from the headlines” type of film.
Pierre works for a multinational company that cuts down trees and runs a sawmill and paper plant in northeast Argentina. In his spare time, he coaches a rugby team, and carries on an affair with Ana, a school teacher, who also works a small local medical centre. Pierre finds himself in an awkward position after Ana alerts him to the fact that his company’s use of herbicides is causing cancer, miscarriages, birth defects, learning disabilities and other problems among the workers and their families. The fish hauled from the river have strange bumps on their heads.
The government supports the company with subsidies; the governor will not even meet with Dr. Balza, who has been documenting all the health problems in the area.
When Dr. Balza presents the results of his research at an information meeting for the locals, Pierre’s superiors do what such people usually do – they claim that the man is lying, the chemicals are safe, and hey, what about all these wonderful jobs they are providing? (Even if they are dangerous and dirty.) Where have we heard this before? One worker points out that the company is employing 1,000 but poisoning one million. (Is that the price of progress?) After the doctor is murdered, Pierre realizes that he must take a stand.
While the good-guy/bad-guy situation is presented in a black-and-white manner (and quite justifiably so) the environemnt is quite colourful. The earth is indeed red in La Tierra Roja, in sharp contrast to the lush green forest. Ana’s house is a bright pink, and a local bar is purple. She wears an orange dress when she rides her horse to school.
La Tierra Roja is fiction, but I have seen my share of documentaries exploring similar situations in many countries of the world. We used to have a Human Rights Film Festival here in Montreal; we don’t have one any longer, but the Cinema Politica film series at Concordia University exposes problems like this on a regular basis.
La Tierra Roja has a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/LaTierraRojaFilm/ It seems that the film was shown to residents of El Soberbio in Misiones just a few days ago. Read more about the film and other ecological problems in Argentina on that page.
La Tierra Roja
Argentina, Belgium | 104 minutes | 2015
Original version in Spanish, with English subtitles
Directed by Diego Martínez Vignatti, with Geert Van Rampelberg, Eugenia Ramírez Miori, Jorge Aranda, Alexandros Potamianos
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.
Takashi Miike – that should be enough information for many of you. For others, how about yakuza vampires and Yahan Ruhian, one of the baddest bad guys from Indonesian film The Raid?
What about a fuzzy frog, adept at martial arts? That creature up there at the top of the page?
There’s a female mob boss, too, for some gender equality.
Plot, you want a plot? OK. Lily Franky plays Kamiura, one of those mythical gangsters who protects the townsfolk from harm, and only goes after other gangsters.
Recent recruit Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara) admires him immensely, and hopes to be like him one day. Little does he know how soon that day will arrive.
Kageyama doesn’t know it yet, but Kamiura is a vampire gangster. He seems indestructible until the arrival of two mysterious strangers, who demand that he rejoin some syndicate that he previously abandoned. After his death (!) Kamiura still manages to bite Kageyama, and thereby anoint him as his successor. Mayhem ensues. It doesn’t make much sense, but it’s fun. Nothing like Audition, though!
Yakuza Apocalypse, in Japanese with English subtitles, 115 minutes long. Directed by Takashi Miike, with Hayato Ichihara, Lily Franky, Yayan Ruhian.
Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, 21:00
Cineplex Odeon Quartier SALLE 10, 350 Emery St. (metro Berri-UQAM)
The film High-Rise is being shown twice as part of Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinéma. The first screening was very close to being sold out – I could only see a few empty seats in the large theatre.
What was the attraction? The direction by Ben Wheatley, a story based on a 1975 novel by J.G. Ballard, or British actor Tom Hiddleston? All of the above?
I’d bet on Hiddleston. During a scene that showed Hiddleston sunbathing, naked apart from a strategically placed newspaper, at least one person in the audience let out a loud whoop. (I assumed it came from a friend who had told me she’d be there, but when I wrote her an email later she said no, she had not been able to attend, after all.)
OK, then, what about the plot? The film opens with a very dishevelled Hiddleston. His white shirt is dirty and covered in blood, but he’s still wearing a tie. A dog’s leg is turning on a spit. In voice over, he recites the novel’s opening sentence: “Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the usual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.” Then the words “three months earlier” appear onscreen.
Almost everything happens inside the high rise of the title. The building is a concrete monster looming over the landscape. It’s an apartment block, the first of many; others are under construction nearby. There’s lots of exposed concrete inside, too, which gives the place a cold, brutal and primitive look.
With a gym, a swimming pool and a well stocked supermarket, there’s no need for tenants to go out if they don’t want to. Of course, some people do have jobs to go to, and in the morning they stride purposefully through the expansive lobby to the equally expansive parking lot, where they climb into their cars.
The rich people have the upper floors, while the less well off, the families with their noisy, messy children, live on the lower floors. It’s like a vertical Snowpiercer. (Wish I could be the first to put that in writing.) Unlike the train passengers, the lower classes are not being held prisoner in the building, though. On the other hand, when everything start going to hell in a handbasket, no one considers leaving.
The building was designed by Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons). A symbolic name, I assume. Royal lives on the top floor (the 50th) and has a huge rooftop terrace with grass, trees, a goat, a horse, and who knows what else. Sometimes Royal’s wife wanders around up there dressed like Little Bo-Peep. Royal wears a white, high-collared, shirt-jacket thingy which looks like a cross between white-hunter explorer gear and a retro space-captain uniform.
Tom Hiddleston’s Robert Laing, a man who is looking to “start over, begin afresh.” We never find out exactly what he means by that. As a doctor who lectures at a nearby hospital, Laing falls somewhere in the middle on the social scale, though his suits look quite nice and he obviously has aspirations to move up. He is mocked and insulted by some, for that very ambition.
Far from being a well-oiled machine, the building is plagued by power failures and elevator breakdowns, because “the building is still settling in.” That’s the official explanation and people repeat if often, in an effort to reassure themselves that the problems are only temporary.
But things just get worse instead of better and the social hierarchy starts to fall apart as well, with the lower orders objecting to the lordly behaviour of their “betters.” There are raiding parties, kidnappings and murder. (The Lord of the Flies vibe was strengthened for me by Hiddleston’s trousers – they were rolled up to the knee, approximating the shorts of British schoolboys.)
Philandering TV cameraman Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) wants to capture all the goings on in a documentary. He’s far from an impartial observer, though, he instigates much of the mayhem himself.
Elisabeth Moss, of Mad Men fame, plays Wilder’s very patient, very pregnant wife. (They already have several children.)
Sienna Miller plays multitasking Charlotte Melville. She’s the mother of a geeky son, Toby; she’s Wilder’s lover, and Royal’s assistant, (though that isn’t very clear in the film) but she still manages to find time in her busy days and nights to get to know Hiddleston’s Dr. Laing a little better.
Many of Hiddleston’s fans read the book while they waited for the film to come out. Viewers who have done that will be at a distinct advantage, because the chaos seems to arrive too quickly in the film.
Extra details for the Tom Hiddleston fan-girls: You will see: Steely Tom, Sarcastic Tom, Shirtless Tom, Tom in a suit, Tom in the shower, Tom in nothing and “beardy Tom.” In scenes set in a mirrored elevator, you can see multiple Toms (just as there were multiple Lokis in a scene in the film Thor).
Together again: The film is a reunion for Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston who played father and son in the Shakespeare play Henry IV, Part 1, which was shown on the BBC and PBS. Read more about High-Rise on the FNC web site. You can buy tickets there, too.
High-Rise, in English, 112 minutes.
Directed by Ben Wheatley, written by Amy Jump, J.G. Ballard, with Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Elisabeth Moss, Luke Evans.
Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, 18:15
Cinéma du Parc 1, 3575 Ave. du Parc
The Sandwich Nazi is a documentary portrait of Vancouver deli owner Salam Kahil. His customers call him Sal. Anyone who thinks Canadians are dull and boring has not met this guy.
Sal has a dirty mouth and a big heart. Viewers can assess some of his other parts in the last moments of the film.
Sal was born into a large family in Lebanon. He left home at an early age for assorted reasons. He lived in 18 countries before coming to Canada in 1979 and he has the photos to prove it. I didn’t hear him name our city, but it looks like he lived here in Montreal for a while.
When he was no longer “young and pretty” he went into the deli buiness, with La Charcuterie Delicatessen, a “Scandinavian place with a French name” being the most recent one. In addition to sandwiches, he sells imports you probably won’t find at your local supermarket. Customers are fond of the pickled asparagus from Denmark. When someone calls to ask if he has “Norwegian cooking chocolate” he says there’s probably some in the back. (You can see that chocolate on the La Charcuterie’s web site and lots more – Viking Bread, Norwegian fishballs, many cheeses, condiments, cookies, candy and sweets, including the very yummy Anthon Berg Marzipan Plum in Madeira. The site includes a recipe for Danish meatballs! )
Sal has many stories to tell, most of them crude. He says he used to be a male escort who could be hired by men or women. He says he has also been a very successful sperm donor (twins!) for women who did not have (or want) a male partner.
He tells these stories to his customers as he prepares their sandwiches. They’re an extra garnish, you might say. Are they all true? Are some exaggerated? Who knows? Who cares?
The sandwiches themselves are HUGE. Sal says they’re the best in the world and his customers seem to agree. Don’t go the film on an empty stomach.
The film’s title is a reference to the “soup Nazi” from the Seinfeld TV show. That guy made great soup but customers could be banished forever if they did not obey his many rules. Sal has rules, too; payment is cash only and he demands politeness and respect from his clients. For the most part, he seems to get it. We only hear one or two banishment stories.
As far as I can recall, the “soup Nazi” did not have any redeeming qualities beyond his culinary talents. In contrast, Sal and his army of volunteers prepare meals and distribute them to the poor and the homeless of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on a regular basis. He treats those people with warmth and respect and they are obviously happy to see him and his food. He feeds the volunteers, as well. We learn about many other good deeds in the film.
The documentary was made over several years. On more than one occasion, Sal says he will return to Lebanon to visit his family, even naming a departure date. But he doesn’t go. When he’s finally ready to make the trip, the film crew wants to accompany him, but his family says no. Sal documents things himself, and shares his footage with the filmmaker and viewers upon his return. This includes a hair-raising, high-speed drive through a sniper-infested area – not something that happens on your average vacation.
In 2006 Al Pacino presented a staged reading of the Oscar Wilde play Salomé in Los Angeles. He played King Herod, a role he had played several times before, and the then-unknown Jessica Chastain played Salomé. The actors wore modern dress.
Pacino filmed the play, for a theoretical eventual release. That film is simply called Salomé. (Though back then he was going to call it “Salomaybe.”)
He filmed the rehearsals of Salomé and background material on Oscar Wilde – that film is called Wilde Salomé. It includes remarks about Wilde from Gore Vidal and Bono, among other people, and trips to Wilde’s birthplace in Dublin, his former home in London and the Paris hotel where Wilde died in Nov. 30, 1900 at the young age of 46. We see the infamous wallpaper from his famous quotation: “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.”
As a director, Pacino does not hesitate to show himself acting petulant, confused or even ridiculous, as when he stands in the Mojave Desert with a camel.
He’s very funny, too. He says that during the play’s run no one will be asked to turn off their cellphones, because many of the attendees will be doctors or dentists and people might need to reach them in emergencies. He goes on to add that only doctors and dentists could afford the high ticket prices charged by the theatre and that those high prices were not set by him.
Jessica Chastain is the revelation of Wilde Salomé, she’s just luminous. Pacino’s cranky and querulous interpretation of Herod seems a bit weird, but maybe he has his reasons.
I think Wilde Salomé could appeal to just about anyone. Filmmakers, acting students, fans of Oscar Wilde, Al Pacino and Jessica Chastain would find it especially entertaining. That probably covers a lot of people!
Wilde Salomé is being presented along with Salomé (which I have not seen yet), and BONUS! before they begin, attendees will be treated to video Al Pacino recorded just for them. It’s approximately 23 minutes long, and seems to have been made relatively off the cuff. Looking at his hands I wondered if the jewelry he wore as King Herod came from the costume dept. or from his own personal collection.
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.
Some of the films being shown at the Festival du nouveau cinéma will go into general release here in Montreal within the next few days weeks or months. But others fall into the “now-or-never” category. Unless you are a cinema scholar or have good connections, chances are you won’t be able to see them again. The Tale of Chun Hyang, being shown just once, on Saturday Oct.10, 2015, is one of these “now-or-never” films.
The Tale of Chun Hyang is a Korean folk tale that has been put on film many, many times. (Two thousand times according to the FNC program!) So far, I’ve only seen the one directed by Im Kwon Taek, in 2000. (Guess I’m a slacker!)
But the version being shown at FNC was made in 1980, in North Korea. While that country makes many films, we can’t see them very often.
Im’s film was visually stunning, so I’m wondering how this North Korean version, directed by Yun Ryong-gu and Yu Won-jun will play out.
The Romeo and Juliet story is often invoked when describing The Tale of Chun Hyang to Westerners. It’s only a rough approximation though. (SPOILER: Chun Yang has a much happier ending.) The conflict here is not so much between families as between classes. Many nobles and officials do what they please with the country, its assets and the people lower down on the social scale than they are. And women have the worst deal of all, as happens so often in fairy tales. See The Tale of Chun Hyang with your friends and you could probably have some interesting arty and political discussions afterwards.
Chun Hyang is the beautiful daughter of a woman who became the second wife of an official.
Mongryong, the young, handsome, honest decent son of an official falls in love with her and marries her in secret. Then he has to go away to study for his career advancement and he cannot take Chun Hyang with him. She suffers greatly in his absence. When she refuses to become the mistress of a newly arrived official, she is thrown into prison and threatened with execution, but she values her love and loyalty more than she values her own life. (A topic for further discusion, as well.)
The Tale of Chun Hyang
Directed by: Yun Ryong-gu and Yu Won-jun
Screenplay: Kim Sung-Gu, Paek In-Jun
Cast: Kim Yong-Suk, Choe Sun-Gyu, Yong Suk-Kim
In Korean with French subtitles.
Saturday, Oct.10, 2015, 5 p.m
Salle Fernand Seguin of the Cinémathèque Québécoise, 355 de Maisonneuve Blvd. E.
Click to read more about The Tale of Chun Hyang on the FNC web site.
“Sirens reverberated through downtown Montreal as fire trucks and police cars rushed towards the three-year-old Hall Building. Surrounded by riot police clashing with protestors, the ninth floor of the jewel of Sir George Williams University was on fire. Black smoke billowed from open windows and onlookers watched with horror and disbelief.” (Excerpt from an anniversary article by Justin Giovannetti in the student newspaper The Link, Feb. 10, 2009.)
It’s known in local lore as the “Sir George Williams computer riot.” In May 1968, a biology professor at Sir George Williams University was accused of racism against his Caribbean students. After months passed without action from the university administration, students occupied the ninth floor computer centre in February of 1969. Eventually, computers were trashed, windows were broken, and punch cards floated down onto the snowy street below. The riot squad moved in; someone started a fire. The damage was in the millions of dollars.
On Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 we Montrealers will have a rare opportunity involving time, memory and (physical space). In the ground floor in Room H-110 of the Henry F. Hall Building, of Concordia University, we can watch a documentary about the events that took place all those years ago, just a few storeys above. (Before the occupation, a committee to discuss the complaints against the teacher had taken place in H-110 itself.)
Among the people who attend tonight, some will have little to no knowledge of what happened, some will have watched footage on the nightly news back in the day, some might have been part of the occupation. Some might be second-generation Concordia students.
What will it feel like? I can’t imagine, but I intend to find out. I’m sure there will be many interesting questions and comments. Director Mina Shum and members of the Concordia Caribbean Student Union will be among the guests at the screening.
Ninth Floor was shown at the Toronto Internationl Film Festival (TIFF) and received positive reviews. Some U.S. writers expressed surprise and disappointment that Canada is not always the kinder, more gentle nation that we (and they) might like to think that we are.
For those who cannot go on Friday, Oct. 9, there will be another screening at noon on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in the J. W. McConnell Building across the street.
“Well, that’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back.” It’s not a very original complaint (sorry!) but that’s what I was thinking, long before Love, the latest film from Gaspar Noé, was over. I wasn’t able to appreciate it. And it’s actually two hours and 14 minutes long, strictly speaking.
The film is called Love, but “Clueless Jerk,” might be a more apt title.
The main male character is an American in Paris named Murphy (Karl Glusman). His girlfriend, dark-haired Electra (Aomi Muyock), left him because he got another woman pregnant.
The film opens with Murphy and Electra having sex. Is that Murphy’s dream in the present day, or is that Noé telling us that they used to be a couple? Could be either, I guess. His phone rings and Murphy wakes up. He is in the same room (though it has different decor now) and the woman in the bed beside him is blonde. It’s New Year’s Day and the call is from Electra’s mother. She has not heard from her daughter for two or three months and she’s worried. Does Murphy know where she is?
There’s lots of voice over as we hear Murphy’s thoughts, which are not very interesting and (when it comes to the blonde, the mother of his child), quite rude and crude.
As the story unfolds we see that Murphy behaved very badly on many, many occasions. He wishes he could turn back time, though there’s no indication he would have behaved differently. In his mind, he declares his love for Electra, over and over. I was not convinced. Is he even serious about that, or is it just a story he’s telling himself, now that something bad might have happened to Electra, and she might be permantently out of his reach?
There are so many sex scenes in Love. I hear that you can see that kind of thing on the Internet, at home, for free. No need to go to the cinema! There isnt much laughter between this couple, though. What kind of relationship is that?
Love is in 3D, which added nothing to the experience for me, except for a scene where Murphy blows smoke rings, which was cool for a few seconds.
If you are already a Gaspar Noe fan, Love might be for you, especially since he will be in town to present the film.
LOVE, 134 Min, VOSTF
Written and directed by Gaspar Noé
Cast: Aomi Muyock, Karl Glusman, Klara Kristin, Juan Saavedra
Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015 at 8 p.m.
Concordia University, Alumni Auditorium (H-110), Hall Building, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., Montréal, QC