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.

Review of La sociologue et l’ourson: Puppets, politicians and same-sex marriage

French sociologist Irène Théry appears in the form of a stuffed bear in the documentary film La sociologue et l’ourson (The Sociologist and the Bear Cub).

It’s not every day that we can learn about the evolution of the family and changing social mores from a witty, articulate, stuffed bear. So why not take advantage of the opportunity and watch La sociologue et l’ourson?

In the fall of 2012, the video and filmmaking duo Étienne Chaillou et Mathias Théry set out to make a film about the debate over a proposed law that would allow same-sex marriage in France. The law, which had been one the campaign promises of recently elected President François Hollande, would also allow same-sex couples to adopt children. As part of their research for the film, Mathias Théry recorded many phone chats with his mother, Irène Théry, the sociologist of the title. She’s an academic who studies the family and human rights. She was also one of many experts who had advised the French government on the proposed law.

President François Hollande in the French documentary film La sociologue et l’ourson (The Sociologist and the Bear Cub).

Chaillou et Théry wanted to use those chats in the film, but they had no video footage to go with it. What to do? I don’t imagine they wanted to use “Ken Burns technique” of panning over photos. They decided to use stuffed animals to represent Irène Théry and other participants. Irène Théry becomes a Mama Bear with swinging hair, (and Mathias Théry is her  “ourson” – the bear cub, of the title.) President François Hollande looks like some kind of Lego figurine, while newscasters are depicted as birds of various kinds – some halfway realistic ones, along with others that are clearly made from grey socks. This introduces some humour into a situation that became more heated than the filmmakers had expected. Though Chaillou et Théry are on record as saying there is no particular meaning to the animals they chose viewers might wonder about that when they see that some lawyers are depicted as pigs.

In the French animated documentary La sociologue et l’ourson, reporters and newscasters appear as birds.

While there is some footage of the real life Irène Théry on public transit, appearing on TV, at demonstrations, etc., we mostly see her animal avatar in her office, her kitchen, riding taxis, etc., as she explains how much families have changed over the centuries, and how cruel French society once was toward unmarried mothers and their children. There are also some funny bits of a more personal nature, connected with her marriage, her husband, his fish stick errand, etc. I wonder if Chaillou et Théry are fans of the Muppets, because the puppet version of Irène sometimes tosses her hair in a way that makes me think of Miss Piggy.  (Irène Théry is better looking, of course.)

Many people were against the proposed legislation, including religious leaders. Close to 2,000 mayors said they were unwilling to marry gay couples. Between October 2012 and May 2013 thousands of people attended demonstrations for and against same-ex marriage and adoption. Many of the “anti” demonstrations were led by a right-wing satirist and activist known as “Frigide Barjot.” (Her real name is Virginie Tellenne; Barjot means daffy, crazy, nuts, bonkers.) When Irène Théry attends those  demonstrations, her gregarious nature and her network of connections become obvious. Many people come to greet her and more than once she is introduced to “my future husband.”

NOT A SPOILER! Anyone with an Internet connection and an interest in the news will likely know that the legislation did pass. There were 7,000 same sex marriages in 2013, 10,000 in 2014, 7,751 in 2015 and 7,000 in 2016. However, Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing Front national, has said that she would rescind the law if she is elected president this year.

Mathias Théry and Étienne Chaillou, directors of La sociologue et l’ourson, will present their film in Montreal on Friday, April 7, 2017. Irène Théry will be there, too.

La sociologue et l’ourson begins its run at Cinéma Beaubien on Friday, April 7, 2017. Étienne Chaillou, Mathias Théry and Irène Théry will be there to introduce the 7 p.m. screening of the film and answer questions afterward. Will they bring some of their puppets with them? I hope so! When the film was shown by RIDM + at Cinéma du Parc last week, Chaillou and Théry talked to the audience via a glitchy Skype connection. It was the middle of the night for them, as they sat in their respective kitchens. They said they were looking forward to a “real discussion” when they arrived in Montreal.

Cinéma Beaubien is at 2396 Beaubien St E. Visit the Cinéma Beaubien web site for more information about the film and the screening.

FNC 2016 Review of Son of Joseph (Le Fils de Joseph)

Victor Ezenfis, Natacha Regnier, Fabrizio Rongione in Son of Joseph (Le Fils de Joseph).
Victor Ezenfis, Natacha Regnier, Fabrizio Rongione in Son of Joseph (Le Fils de Joseph).

Son of Joseph (Le Fils de Joseph) opens with scenes of Paris, people walking around, etc. Then we see two boys trying to torture a caged rat. I did wonder what kind of film I’d walked into. But those guys are just the idiotic classmates of Vincent, one of the main characters, and we don’t see much of them again. Just as well.

Teenage Vincent (Victor Ezenfis) lives in Paris with his single mother (Natacha Regnier), who’s an almost saintly nurse. In his bedroom he has a poster of Caravaggio’s 1603 painting, The Sacrifice of Isaac. Kinda gruesome!

Vincent’s mother has always refused to tell him who his father is, and on this particular day he is so enraged about it one wonders how his mother put up with him for so many  years.

After rummaging through a rolltop desk, Vincent finds a letter that reveals his father’s identity. You’d think, if he was so determined to know, that he would have found that letter years ago, but never mind, I won’t argue about it.

Vincent bluffs his way into a book-launch party, meets some ditzy and pretentious characters on the literary scene, and gets a glimpse of his father, Oscar Pormenor (Mathieu Amalric) a man so monstrous he can’t even remember how many children he had with his wife. “Details bore me,” he says.

With his red tie, red scarf, wealth, scorn and libidinous attitude, Oscar Pormenor made me think of Donald Trump. (Sorry!) The more Vincent learns about him, the more horrified he becomes. He hatches a plan which is unwise, not to mention illegal, immoral, etc.

On the plus side, Vincent meets Joseph (Fabrizio Rongione), Oscar’s brother and pretty much his polar opposite. Joseph is a really great guy, even if he’s not a success in the business world. More likely he’s a great guy precisely because he’s not a success in the business world.

The people in Son of Joseph speak in a very stilted, serious and unnatural way, almost like. . .inexperienced actors. Of course, the actors are not inexperienced at all, declamation is just part of director Eugène Green’s style. (Apparently, Green has a cult following, just like Hong Sang-soo, whose film Yourself and Yours will be playing at the same time today, just a few blocks away. Both films are on the schedule of the Festival du nouveau cinéma.) At first I found this way of talking rather strange. I got used to it, though I never stopped noticing it, and it made the funny parts funnier still.

Son of Joseph is about serious things, like how to be a good person, the longing for family, connection, and acceptance, but it also offers beautiful Parisian scenery and many laughs as well.

Almost all the interior scenes take place in very old buildings with creaky wooden floors. My congratulations to the sound people for picking up (or maybe recreating) all those creaks.

Coffee and Films was the production company for Son of Joseph. Isn’t Coffee and Films a great name?

Son of Joseph (Le Fils de Joseph)
France, Belgium | 115 Minutes
In French with English subtitles
Written and directed by Eugène Green
With Victor Ezenfis, Natacha Regnier, Fabrizio Rongione, Mathieu Amalric, Maria de Medeiros, Julia de Gasquet, Jacques Bonnaffe

Sunday, Oct.16, 2016
Program #281 15:15
Cinéma du Parc 2, as part of the Festival du nouveau cinéma.

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.

RIDM 2015 Review: The Woods Dreams Are Made Of (Le Bois Dont Les Rêves Sont Faits)

RIDM Bois Woods

Spending more than two hours watching the goings on in Bois de Vincennes of Paris? Wouldn’t that be a bit much? The time passed relatively quickly, actually. The film opens with shots of a park that’s so expansive it looks like part of the countryside. Once upon a time it was, but then Paris grew around it. Other scenes will show that there are apartment buildings close to the edge of the park and that sometimes you can hear the rumble of traffic even if you can’t see it.

There are many reasons to visit the park: to exercise, to relax, to commune with nature, to work, officially or unofficially. Some people set up tents and live in the park in the warmer months.

Director Claire Simon shows us people who do those things; sometimes she talks with them, other times she observes from a distance. I was curious about the man who filled dozens of plastic water bottles from a fountain while thirsty joggers waited for their turn to drink. What was he going to do with them? Sell them to unsuspecting people? Who knows?

A man paints in nature, though not from nature, in a scene from the French documentary film The Woods Dreams Are Made Of (Le Bois Dont Les Rves Sont Faits).
A man paints in nature, though not from nature, in a scene from the French documentary film The Woods Dreams Are Made Of (Le Bois Dont Les Rves Sont Faits).

Some guys who catch a large carp spend a long time examining it; distraught spectators tell them they’re being cruel and urge them to put it back in the water. A man paints outdoors, though he does not paint what he sees. A gay man explains cruising etiquette and laments the advent of smartphone apps; he doesn’t meet as many men in the woods as he used to do.

Workers who clean up the fallen leaves of autumn use horse-drawn wagons to reach places to narrow for trucks. Other employees look more bureaucratic, taking notes on their clipboards, discussing the possibility of redirecting some of the decorative waterways. Yet others, wearing hazmat suits, clear away abandoned tents and other possessions.

In the late 1960s, philosopher Gilles Deleuze was one the professors at an experimental university in the woods; as if in a dream, his daughter shows where the classes took place. It feels like being inside a ghost story.

Claire Simon spent one year shooting the film; if that year was typical, Paris does not get much snow at all – it barely made an appearance.

The Woods Dreams Are Made Of (Le Bois Dont Les Rêves Sont Faits)
Country : France, Switzerland
Year : 2015
Language : French
Subtitles : English
Runtime : 144 min
Production : Jean-Luc Ormières
Cinematography : Claire Simon
Editing : Luc Forveille
Sound : Olivier Hespel, François Musy, Gabriel Hafner

Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, 2:30 p.m., Salle Claude-Jutra, Cinémathèque Québécoise, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd E.
RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) runs from Nov. 12-22, 2015. Visit the web site ridm.qc.ca for more information.


FIFA 2015: Looking at Gustave Courbet’s The Painter’s Studio as a puzzle and a history lesson

Caricature of painter Gustave Courbet from the documentary film Les Petits Secrets Des Grands Tableaux – Courbet, L’atelier Du Peintre
Caricature of painter Gustave Courbet from the documentary film Les Petits Secrets Des Grands Tableaux – Courbet, L’atelier Du Peintre


French painter Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) was admired by some and mocked by others. He was self taught, which earned him the scorn of academicians. He hobnobbed with the rich and powerful though he sided with workers and disadvantaged.

The 26 minute film takes a quick look at Courbet’s life and works before turning to his large and crowded work with the long name – The Painter’s Studio: A Real Allegory of a Seven Year Phase in my Artistic and Moral Life.

The Painter's Studio: A Real Allegory of a Seven Year Phase in my Artistic and Moral Life, by Gustave Courbet.
The Painter’s Studio: A Real Allegory of a Seven Year Phase in my Artistic and Moral Life, by Gustave Courbet.

Courbet created it for a salon at the 1855 Paris World Fair (or Exposition Universelle des produits de l’Agriculture, de l’Industrie et des Beaux-Arts de Paris 1855 to give its full name). The jury refused to accept this painting, though eleven of his other works were shown. (These days, the painting hangs in the Musée d’Orsay.)

In examining the many possible reasons for this refusal, the filmmakers tell us about the many styles that appear in the painting – portraits, still life, history painting – and the people in it, who include George Sand, Charles Baudelaire, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and the Emperor Napoleon III himself. He had been elected president of France but later staged a coup d’etat and declared himself emperor. In the painting he is portrayed as a hunter wearing tall leather boots. Censorship was so strong at this time that the mere mention of “boots” could result in a prison sentence.

This film is filled with a wealth of detail and historical information.

Les Petits Secrets Des Grands Tableaux – Courbet, L’atelier Du Peintre will be shown as part of a double bill with Beatus: The Spanish Apocalypse, which is 90 minutes long, on Friday, March 27, 2015 at 1:30 p.m. at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal – Maxwell-Cummings Auditorium, 1379 Sherbrooke St. W.

Les Petits Secrets Des Grands Tableaux – Courbet, L’atelier Du Peintre
France / 2014 / Color / 26 Min / French
Realisation: Clément Cogitore
Script: Thomas Cheysson, Elisabeth Couturier
Editing: Erwann Chabot, Julien Ngo Trong
Music: Roque Rivas
Narration: Clémentine Célarié
Producer(s): Sophie Goupil, Daniel Khamdamov
Production: Les Poissons Volants, ARTE France, Les petits secrets des grands tableaux
Distribution: ARTE France

The Festival International du Film sur l’Art, known as FIFA, runs until Sunday, March 29, 2015. Visit the web site www.artfifa.com for more information.

FIFA 2015 Review: The Man Who Saved the Louvre

This entrance to the Louvre Museum in Paris was named after Jacques Jaujard, the man who saved the museum's art from destruction during World War II.
This entrance to the Louvre Museum in Paris was named after Jacques Jaujard, the man who saved the museum’s art from destruction during World War II.

The Man Who Saved the Louvre is the intriguing story of Jacques Jaujard. In the late 1930s, with war in Europe looking more and more likely, Jaujard, director of the French National Museums, drew up an elaborate evacuation plan, to keep the country’s cultural heritage safe from bombs and Nazi art collectors, from Hitler on down. This was his own idea, no one asked him to do it.

Near the end of August 1939, 4,000 works of art were packed into crates, ready to be sent to châteaux in the countryside. Art from the Louvre included the Mona Lisa and the sculptures the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo.

During World War II the art treasures of the Louvre were dispersed to a number of chateaux for safekeeping.
During World War II the art treasures of the Louvre were dispersed to a number of chateaux for safekeeping.

While many paintings were removed from their frames and rolled up, others were too delicate for that treatment. Géricault’s huge Raft of the Medusa was loaded onto an open truck, protected only by a tarpaulin. The painting was so large (five metres high, seven metres wide) that it knocked down power lines.

Museum staff members looked after the art works in their temporary homes throughout the war. They protected them from heat, cold and humidity, practiced fire drills every day, and wrote LOUVRE in big letters on the lawns of the châteaux to alert any Allied bombers to the treasures. Some items were moved as many as five times before the war was over.

Louvre warning
Warnings were placed on the ground to alert Allied bombers to the presence of art treasures.


Intrigue and a love interest is provided by one of Jaujard’s contacts in the French Resistance. The agent with the codename “Mozart,” turns out to be a glamourous former actress.

The film uses photos, archival footage, Jaujard’s notebooks and testimony from witnesses to tell the story. An animated version of Jaujard makes the occasional appearance as well.

The Man Who Saved the Louvre is presented in a more engaging way than another FIFA selection about art during World War II, the Austrian film Hitler’s Mountain Of Stolen Art. That film, which will also be shown on Wednesday, March 25 (at 6:30 p.m.) looks at a treasure trove of stolen art that was stashed in a salt mine in Altaussee, Austria.

Once he realized that he was losing the war, Hitler gave orders to blow up the mine and the art with it. His order was not carried out, and the filmmakers look at a number of candidates in an effort to figure out try to find out who saved the art. The film just seems to go around in circles and has far too many interviews where the translation is spoken and not given via subtitles.

The Man Who Saved the Louvre

France / 2014 / Color, B & W / 60 min / English with French subtitles, part of a double bill with:

Grandeur des petits musées
France / 2014 / Color / 47 min, / in French

Wednesday, March 25, 2015, at 4 p.m., at the Maxwell Cummings Auditorium, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1379 Sherbrooke St. W.

The Festival International du Film sur l’Art, known as FIFA, runs until Sunday, March 29, 2015. Visit the web site www.artfifa.com for more information.