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

FNC 2017: What to see Thursday, Oct. 12 at the Festival du nouveau cinéma

Anne Gruwez is an examining magistrate in Belgium. She’s smart, funny, sarcastic and many other things, too, as revealed in the Franco-Belgian documentary Ni Juge, Ni Soumise. (The film is being marketed with the English title So Help Me God.)

I was a bit disappointed that I only had time to see two films at the Festival du nouveau cinéma yesterday (Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017). On the other hand, I liked those two very much. In fact, they were among my favourites so far, so things worked out pretty well in the end.

Both films will be shown again on Thursday, so, if you live in Montreal, maybe you can enjoy them, too. Luckily for potential viewers, the two films will not be shown at the same time (I hate when that happens!) though they follow each other quite closely.

I hope to review them properly soon, but for now, here are the synopses and screening times, from the FNC web site.

Ni Juge, Ni Soumise

This documentary is a France-Belgium co-production. Co-directors Jean Libon and Yves Hinant will take part in a Q&A after the film.

“The cult documentary series Strip-Tease adapted for the big screen. Deadpan Belgian humour that pokes at sensitive places. Uneasy laughter abounds. A judge who’s seen all the evil there is to see reopens a deeply sordid cold case. At the same time, a string of cases crosses her desk, reflecting the ills of an entire society and the absurdity of a world where sometimes all you can do is laugh. A relentless exercise in voyeurism, set as a trap for the viewer, who is left with no choice but to question himself.”

Ni Juge, Ni Soumise
Directed by Jean Libon, Yves Hinant
With judge Anne Gruwez and assorted Belgian residents and citizens
In French, with English subtitles
99 minutes
Thursday. Oct. 12, 2017
Program #243 17:00
Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin Salle 17
350 rue Émery, Metro Berri-UQAM

Nyokabi Gethaiga in the Kenyan film Kati Kati, part of the selection at the Festival du nouveau cinéma in Montreal.

Kati Kati

Kenyan film Kati Kati won the FIPRESCI prize at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it’s also Kenya’s entry in the foreign language Oscar race.

“Tormented souls caught in limbo must face their demons and come to terms with their guilt in this poetic, unsettling film from Kenya. For his debut feature, Masya serves up a meditative storyline about spirits stranded in an odd village. A sort of No Man’s Land, the site is really a purgatory where each soul must confront past shame and regrets. A singularly inventive film that’s galaxies away from the more familiar representations of the African continent.”

Don’t let the words “tormented” and “unsettling” in that synopsis scare you. Concentrate on the “poetic” and “singularly inventive” aspects. And feel free to complain to me if you don’t like it. Seriously! It’s quite special, though, so I think audiences will like it very much.

Much of the dialogue is in English. When people speak Swahili or Sheng (Swahili-based slang) there are English subtitles.

Kati Kati
Written and directed by Mbithi Masya
Cast: Nyokabi Gethaiga, Elsaphan Njora, Paul Ogola
75 minutes long
Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017
Program #239 19:15
Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin Salle 16
350 rue Émery, Metro Berri-UQAM

The Festival du nouveau cinéma continues until Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. Visit the festival’s web site for more information about the films, events and ticket prices. You can buy tickets online.

FNC 2017: Review of Thai film Samui Song

In the Thai film Samui Song, Vi (Chermarn Boonyasak) is a troubled sopa-opera star.

Samui Song is a Thai film noir from Pen-ek Ratanaruang, the director of Last Life in the Universe, Invisible Waves, Ploy, and Headshot. At least one reviewer has compared it to The Postman Always Rings Twice, but it’s much twistier than that.

Vi (Chermarn Boonyasak) is a soap-opera actress married to French millionaire Jerome (Stéphane Sednaoui, who is a director himself). Their marriage is in trouble because Jerome has fallen under the influence of a sinister cult leader he calls The Holy One. Jerome is outraged that Vi will not swear allegiance to The Holy One (Vithaya Pansringarm), or at least attend some of his events. Vi thinks the monk is a fraud and doesn’t hesitate to say so. This alleged holy man is usually seen in the company of guys who look even more sinister than he does. Assistants? Bodyguards? Thugs or henchmen would be a better description.

In a hospital parking lot, a mysterious man who calls himself Guy Spencer (David Asavanond) asks Vi for a cigarette. Ah, classic move! What will happen if the world ever gives up smoking altogether? Is Spencer just trying to pick her up, or does he have something else in mind? Does he sense that she might need help with something, from a man like himself? Spencer does not have a TV show, but he’s an actor of sorts, too. Soon enough, Vi will be sorry that she met him. “Out of the frying pan, into the fire,” might come to mind.

Things don’t always play out in chronological order in Samui Song. Sometimes we see an event more than once, with extra details added the second time. There are funny bits, too, as when Vi tells her agent she’d like to work with “that weird director” a nudge-nudge reference to Ratanaruang himself. When Vi goes out at a very late hour and tells her husband she’s “getting milk,” it seemed very unlikely, and therefore hilarious to me. And the details of a particular fight scene had me wondering if director Ratanaruang has watched A Clockwork Orange.

Samui Song (Mai Mee Samui Samrab Ter)
Thailand, Germany, Norway
108 minutes
Original version in Thai
Subtitled in English
Directed by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang
Cast: Chermarn Boonyasak, David Asavanond, Vithaya Pansringarm, Stéphane Sednaoui

Samui Song
Tuesday, Oct, 10, 2017
Program #176 4:00 p.m.
Cineplex Odeon Quartier SALLE 10

Samui Song is being shown at the 2017 Festival du nouveau cinéma. Visit the festival’s web site for more information about the films, events and ticket prices.

 

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.

The early-bird pass from the 2017 Festival du nouveau cinema is a great deal!

The Festival du nouveau cinéma will run from Oct. 5 to Oct. 15, 2017 in Montreal.

Big film fan? Got time to see lots of films? Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinéma has got a deal for you! Several deals, really. You’ll have to move fast though, because Monday, Sept. 25, 2017 is the last day to take advantage of some extra-special prices.

On Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, the film lineup and schedule will be made public. But until then, you can get an early-bird pass for $150. Students (with a student ID card) and seniors (65 and older) will pay $125. The pass is good for all films except the opening one (Blade Runner 2049!) the closing one, and the Stereoscopic – Dear Criminals 3D show.

On Tuesday, Sept. 26 the price of the regular pass will increase to $200. Students and seniors will pay $160. A single, regular ticket, will cost $13; a student or senior ticket will be $9. A booklet of 6 tickets will be $66. (There is also a discount for films shown before 4 pm. It can get a bit complicated.)

Is it a gamble to buy a pass without knowing which films will be shown? Based on my past experience, I would say, not at all! Last year, the festival showed 138 features and 170 shorts from 62 countries, including works from Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, 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.

There were dramas, comedies, fantasies, documentaries, European TV episodes and films suitable for children. There were two interactive films where audience members made decisions for onscreen characters via apps on their smart phones or tablets.

Blade Runner 20149 is the opening fim of the 2017 Festival du nouveau cinema. Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling are the stars; the film was directed by Montreal’s own Denis Villeneuve.

Apart from Blade Runner 20149, we also know that the zombie flick Les Affamés, from Québécois director Robin Aubert is on the schedule. It won the award for Best Canadian Feature Film at the recent Toronto International Film Festival. Marc-André Grondin, Monia Chokri and Micheline Lanctôt are among the stars.

I’ve never had a problem at the Festival du nouveau cinéma finding enough films that appealed to me, my only difficulty was making a schedule that included as many of them as possible. I have a friend who is a true film festival fiend. He often sees 60 to 70 films at a typical Montreal festival. If he did see 70 films at FNC, each one would cost him a mere $2.14 with the $150 pass or $2.86 with the $200 pass. If he only saw 30 films, that would work out to $5 or $6.66 each. Still a great deal!

The Festival du nouveau cinéma will run from Oct. 5 to Oct. 15, 2017 in Montreal.

Films will be shown at Cinéma du Parc, Cinéma Impérial, Cinémathèque québécoise, Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin.

Buy early bird passes here.

Visit the FNC ticket information page for more ticket options.