FNC 2016

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.

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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.)

FNC 2016: My Short Report From Day 2

In this screen grab from the French documentary Merci Patron!, director Franois Ruffin reads a Robin Hood story to his children. Merci Patron is being shown at the Festival du nouveau cinŽma in Montreal.

In this screen grab from the French documentary Merci Patron!, director Francois Ruffin reads a Robin Hood story to his children. Merci Patron is being shown at the Festival du nouveau cinŽema in Montreal.

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.

I’m glad I saw it and I’d certainly recommend Welcome to Iceland to my friends. Welcome to Iceland  will be shown again on Saturday, Oct. 8 at 9:30 pm at Cinéma du Parc. Read more about it, buy tickets, on the FNC web site.

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.

Read more about The Death of J.P. Cuenca on the FNC website.

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.

I saw all of the above films at Cinema du Parc. I was hoping to end the evening with 76 Minutes & 15 Seconds With Abbas Kiarostami, over at the Quartier Latin, just off St. Denis. Well. . .

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.

The Festival du nouveau cinéma runs from Oct. 5 to Oct. 16, 2016.

FNC 2016: Festival du nouveau cinéma brings us quality and quirkiness

Claude Chamberlan, left, co-founder of the Festival du nouveau cinŽma, and programmers Philippe Gajan and Julien Fonfrde introduce the festival's 45th edition at a press conference. (Liz Ferguson photo)

Claude Chamberlan, left, co-founder of the Festival du nouveau cinŽma, and programmers Philippe Gajan and Julien Fonfrde introduce the festival’s 45th edition at a press conference. (Liz Ferguson photo)

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.

These critters are the stars of the French TV show Le Ball Trap.

These critters are the stars of the French TV show Le Ball Trap.

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.

The P’tits Loups section offers films for “children of all ages.” They’re mostly animated shorts, but there is a 100-minute live action film called Les Malheurs De Sophie, and a 53-minute presentation of classic Wallace and Gromit films Grand Day Out and The Wrong Trousers.

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.)