If you like punk music, China, or documentary films, then Never Release My Fist is especially for you. But really, I think this film would appeal to any living, breathing person with an interest in his or her fellow human beings, and how they live their lives, struggle to survive, and try to express themselves. I liked it a lot; if I didn’t have another musical commitment today, I would watch it again!
Montreal documentary filmmaker Shuibo Wang received an Oscar nomination for his NFB short, Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square. In Never Release My Fist he explores the world of Chinese punk, with particular attention paid to Wu Wei, who is often described as the father of Chinese punk. He formed his band SMZB in 1996.
Wu Wei describes himself as unemployed and aimless in the first few years after he finished high school, but he now comes across as very thoughtful and articulate man, distressed by the politics and rampant consumer culture in China. All the same, his lyrics sound quite poetic.
Wu Wei is from the city of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in central China. It’s a city of 10 million people known for heavy industry but it also has several universities, with as many as one million students (potential fans! Though director Wang says that most young Chinese prefer pop music).
While he benefited from some time in Beijing, Wuhan is where Wu Wei played most of his music, and it became the punk hotspot of China.
Musicians everywhere have tough lives, but the punks of Wuhan had little money to buy instruments, few places to play, and they faced government censorship as well. Text messages and email were intercepted.
Wu Wei might be the main star of the film but his bandmates, former bandmates and fellow punk musicians get their share of screen time. Punk in Wuhan was not just a guy thing, either. Women played a big part, too. We see their performances and they share their sometimes harrowing stories and as well.
At some point SMZB included bagpipes and a violin to some songs, a very interesting touch! And Hou Hsiao Hsien uses bagpipes in the closing credits of The Assassin. Are bagpipes a thing in China now?
Filmmaker Shuibo Wang was able to use lots of great vintage footage that was shot before he ever met the musicians. He will attend the screening and answer questions after the film.
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)
Film producer Barry Navidi has worked with actors Marlon Brando, Johnny Depp, John Hurt, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins, Debra Winger and Al Pacino, to name a few. He worked with Pacino on The Merchant of Venice, Salomé and Wilde Salomé. He must have so many interesting stories to tell.
Navidi was born in Iran, and according a recent-ish article in Variety, he hopes to make a Hollywood production there some day.
According to that same article, his next project is a film about the artist Modigliani. Navidi told reporter Nick Vivarelli: “Right now we are casting; we are going to have a couple of big stars. If all goes well we will start shooting early next year in Budapest. There is potential for a cameo role for Al (Pacino). But he is also creatively involved: He is going to help me cast the movie, and he gave the writer a lot of notes.”
Divine Rapture, Navidi’s 1995 project with Winger, Hurt, Depp and Brando, was an ill-fated one. It was a story about an Irish woman who seemed to have risen from the dead. Debra Winger was set to play the woman, Brando would be the parish priest. The residents of Ballycotton, Ireland, hoped that the film would make their town a tourist attraction, but it was not to be. About 24 minutes of film were shot over 10 days before it was discovered that the company backing the film didn’t seem to have any money.
Bally Brando, a 50-minute documentary about the disaster, will be shown before Navidi speaks. The film is in English, and directed by Brendan J Byrne. Navidi will speak for about 40 minutes.
Bally Brando and Master Class with Barry Navidi, free admission
Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, 5 p.m.
Cinémathèque Québécoise, Salle Fernand Seguin
355 de Maisonneuve Blvd E. (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.