Two-sentence review: There is some fantastic music in the documentary El Gusto. I heartily suggest that you watch it!
Longer review: The documentary El Gusto is about Algerian chaabi music in general, and some musicians who used to play it, who came together to play it again, after many years apart. The film has been called the Algerian version of the Buena Vista Social Club.
The film has three main elements – a tour through the narrow, twisty streets of old Algiers, anecdotes about chaabi and life in Algeria, before and after the country’s independence from France, and musical performances.
Chaabi music has roots in Arab, Berber and Andalusian music. It was heard at weddings, parties and in the bars and cafés of the Casbah. Have you heard Rachid Taha sing Ya Rayah? That’s a chaabi tune, though Taha is usually described as someone who sings rai.
Chaabi orchestras include piano, violins, lutes, ouds, mandoles, banjos, zithers, accordions, drums and tambourines. People had already been playing it for decades when El Hadj Mohammed El Anka began teaching formal classes at the Municipal Conservatory of Algiers in the 1950s. Back then Muslims and Jews were neighbours and friends who partied together and made music together.
Safinez Bousbia, the film’s director, was studying architecture in Ireland in 2003 when she took a vacation trip to Algiers, the city where she was born. While discussing a purchase in Mohamed Ferkioui’s mirror shop, she learned about his earlier life as a chaabi musician. He was among the first graduates of the El Anka’s course at the conservatory.
Bousbia was so fascinated by his story that she wanted to find out what had happened to the other musicians, and to help them re-connect with one another. It took her several years to locate them. Some were still in Algeria while others had moved to Paris or Marseille long ago. Once the connections were made, they wanted to meet and they also wanted to play together again. They did so under the name El Gusto Orchestra of Algiers. The film includes footage from rehearsals and concerts in Algeria and France. An audience in France enthusiastically sings along to Ya Rayah. (The group went on to perform in the U.S. and the U.K., as well.)
Thursday Oct. 6 was the second day of Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinéma. (It was Day 1 for me though, because I did not attend the opening film Two Lovers and a Bear.)
I saw four films on Thursday and liked three of them. That’s quite decent. Here are very brief descriptions of the films. Real reviews will follow.
In the morning I attended a press screening of the French documentary Merci Patron! Director François Ruffin, who is also the editor-in-chief of alternative news outlet Fakir, put a lot of effort into trying to get Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVHM and the richest man in France, to do the right thing for at least some of the thousands of workers who lost their jobs when he closed their factories and moved the jobs elsewhere.
Merci Patron! is a great film, I’m glad I saw it and I’d certainly recommend it to my friends. It will only be shown once at FNC, and that will be on Sat. Oct. 8, at 5 p.m. at Quartier Latin.You can read more about it here on the festival’s web site. There’s a link for buying tickets online, too.
Next, I saw Welcome to Iceland. In this black comedy from Swiss director Felix Tissi,a suicidal man, a couple and a family of four on a trekking holiday meet each other in an inhospitable Icelandic landscape. They are all German-speaking tourists.
Then I saw The Death of J.P. Cuenca. This falls between documentary and mock doc. Writer, director and star J.P. Cuenca is a highly praised Brazilian author. One day he finds out that he is officially dead, because a dead man’s companion gave the authorities Cuenca’s birth certificate. He sets out to find out who the man really was, how and why he had his birth certificate, etc.
The film got off to an OK start, but it lost my goodwill before it was over. Obviously some people like it, or it would not be in the FNC lineup, or at other festivals, either. But I’m NOT glad I saw it, and I would not recommend The Death of J.P. Cuenca to my friends. I wish that I had watched something else, or gone for a walk in the sunshine.
If you want to see it anyway, The Death of J.P. Cuenca will be shown again on Sunday, Oct. 9 at 9:15 pm at Cinéma du Parc.
Next, I watched Late Shift, an interactive film from England. (Before the film started audience members were invited to download an app to their smart phone or tablets.) Matt is a university student who works the night shift in a parking garage. He is kidnapped and forced to take part in a robbery at an auction house. Every few minutes audience members were invited to make a choice for Matt. Help the tourist in the subway, or ignore him and jump on the train? Do what the kidnapper says, or try to run away? The film has seven possible endings. Directors Tobias Weber and Caroline Feder were here for a Q&A.
I enjoyed Late Shift very much and would certainly recommend it, but sadly, it will not have a second screening at FNC. The filmmakers hope to release a non-interactive version in North America within the next few months. They already have distribution deals for several European countries. Keep your eyes and ears open for this one! Read more about Late Shift on the FNC site.
Staying for the Late Shift Q&A ate into my available travelling time, but I don’t regret doing that. In retrospect, taking the 24 bus on Sherbrooke, instead of continuing down the street to the Place des Arts metro, was a bad decision, though. There is so much construction on Sherbrooke that I could not get off the bus anywhere near St. Denis. Since I was already running quite late, I decided to abandon the attempt. So, don’t take the 24 to go to Quartier Latin.
76 Minutes & 15 Seconds With Abbas Kiarostami will be shown again on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 9 pm at the Pavillon Judith-Jasmin Annexe (former NFB/ONF on St. Denis). With luck I will see it then.
Autumn brings us crisper days, falling leaves, pumpkins, turkey and the 45th edition of the Festival du nouveau cinéma. There will be 138 features and 170 shorts from 62 countries, from Afghanistan to Yemen. On the festival’s web site you can search for films alphabetically, by type of work, genre, or country. (Read about the films here; consult the schedule here.)
The festival opens Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016 with Kim Nguyen’s Two Lovers and a Bear, set in the snowy Arctic. (The closing film, Maliglutit (Searchers) from Zacharias Kunuk is an Arctic film, too.) While the opening and closing events are “invitation-only,” the two films will have other screenings during the festival.
There will be some well-known names among the directors and stars, along with many talents that might be new to us. The well-known directors include “friends of the festival” Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch, along with Andrea Arnold, Lav Diaz, Werner Herzog, Hong Sang-soo, Hirokazu Kore-Eda, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Bruce McDonald, Kim Nguyen, Park Chan-wook, Ulrich Seidl, Sion Sono, and Bertrand Tavernier.
Retrospectives will look at the works of Michael Cimino and Krzysztof Kieslowski, among others.
Documentaries will cover many topics, including music (French electronic music, Iggy Pop) actors (Toshiro Mifune) and filmmakers (Abbas Kiarostami, Sion Sono).
The festival is blessed by its place on the calendar – it can nab hits from other festivals, from Sundance in January right up to the very recent ones in Toronto and Venice.
Those hits include Toni Erdmann, a German-Austrian co-production about a very serious businesswoman who is miffed that her prankster father is more popular with her friends and colleagues than she is. At one point he disguises himself as a Kukeri, a Sasquatch-like creature of Bulgarian folk legend.
In Aquarius, from Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho, Sonia Braga plays a retired music critic who resists ruthless developers who want to tear down the beach-front apartment she’s lived in for decades. The film was expected to be Brazil’s Oscar contender, but it fell victim to politicial wrangling.
The festival will present The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook’s tale of love and deception, with French subtitles. That version is called Mademoiselle.
The festival will also present episodes from TV series that were made in Argentina, Belgium, France, Poland, and the U.S. One of the more bizarre selections is Le Ball Trap, a French production featuring stuffed animals. Not the kind of stuffed animals you buy in a toy store – stuffed as in taxidermy. Formerly living creatures which are now looking somewhat worse for wear.
There will be master classes with directors Ulrich Seidl of Austria, Félix Van Groeningen of Belgium, Nadav Lapid of Israel and Jennifer Reeder of the U.S.
Other events include a cinema quiz and musical evenings. Read about them on the festival’s web site under “All Events.”
In the last few years, many local film festivals have featured virtual reality components and FNC 2016 has lots of them. Read more about virtual reality at FNC here.
This year, locations for films and other events include: Cinema Imperial; Cinema Du Parc; Theatre Maisonneuve; Pavillon Judith-Jasmin Annexe (the former NFB/ONF Cinema); Cineplex Odéon Quartier Latin; Theatre Saint-Denis.
The Festival du nouveau cinema runs from Oct. 5 to Oct. 16. Tickets can be bought online; prices range between $8 and $13. Passes and booklets are available, too. (Click here for FNC ticket information.)
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