The documentary film Holy Tour (La Grande Messe) is a gentle and amusing visit with some Tour de France fans who are waiting for the cyclists in the 2017 edition of the race to flash by. They set up a roadside camp almost two weeks before at Col d’Izoard (Izoard Pass) in the French Alps, where the scenery is the scenery is stunning.
Most of the fans are long-married couples who have been following the tour for years, some for decades. They seem old enough to be retired, but then again, France has very generous vacations, so who knows? These fans are comfortably ensconced in recreational vehicles, not roughing it in tents, as the last-minute arrivals will do. (“They look like us, back in the day,” a man tells his wife with a smile. That’s an approximate quote, from my memory.)
The fans are a relaxed, friendly, funny bunch and they pass the days before the Tour arrives with walks, sunbathing, playing cards, reading, chatting, cuddling small dogs, and eating. One man cycles uphill to a scenic restaurant to have a birthday meal. We laugh with them, not at them, as they wonder if it is too early for an aperitif, and struggle to pick up a TV signal, so they can follow the race as it heads their way.
Certainly, there are worse ways a person could spend a vacation. When Holy Tour is over, you might feel light-hearted and relaxed, as if you, too, had just enjoyed some fresh air and camaraderie.
Holy Tour (La Grande Messe)
Directed by: Méryl Fortunat-Rossi and Valéry Rosier
Length: 70 minutes
Languages: In French with English subtitles
You can see it: Saturday October 13, 2018 at 13:15
Cineplex Odeon Quartier Salle 17
350 rue Emery, Montréal, QC, H2X 1J1
Holy Tour (La Grande Messe) is part of the Festival du nouveau cinéma, which continues until Sunday, Oct.14, 2018.
Pig (Khook) is so funny that it might be a big surprise for people who expect Iranian films to be serious, sad, or downright tragic. Added bonus: Leila Hatami, who has been in many sad and serious films gets to have some fun in it, too!
Pig is written and directed by Mani Haghighi. It’s about blacklisted filmmaker Hasan Kasmai (Hassan Majuni), who has not been allowed to make films for the past two years. Luckily for him, his family and for us, he IS allowed to make TV commercials.
His hilarious ad for bug-killer spray features dancing women in red who look much nicer than your average insect pests. (Oh, wait! They are not dancing, they are “moving in unison.” Dancing is not allowed, in real life or in commercials. Censorship, you know!)
Later, Hasan and his tennis-partner friend Homayoun (Siamak Ansari) borrow the insect costumes, antennae and all, to wear to a decadent costume party. (Somehow they remind me of Spanish dandies from the Middle Ages in those costumes…apart from the antennae, of course.)
(When he’s not attending costume parties or funerals, Hasan usually wears T-shirts promoting Western rock bands like AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Kiss, etc. At least one reviewer took that as a sign that Hasan is still a child at heart. Maybe he is, but maybe he also likes those bands and those clothes. Theoretically, they could even be a political statement.)
Hasan was already upset that he could not make films, but now he has new worries. His muse and mistress Shiva Mohajer (Leila Hatami), who became a star through his films, is considering a part in a film by one of his rivals, the highly pretentious and unlikable Sohrab Saidi (Ali Mosaffa).
In a more serious vein, a serial killer is targeting Iranian filmmakers, and leaving their severed heads in public places in Tehran, with the word “pig” carved into their foreheads. Hasan is terrified that he might be the next victim, but he’s also hurt and offended because the killer must think that he’s not important enough to murder. (Pig’s director Mani Haghighi includes himself as one of the murder victims. Hasan has to identify him.)
Things get more complicated when a video of Hasan throwing a public tantrum “goes viral.” Threats uttered in the heat of the moment against two of the murder victims make him suspect No. 1 and he’s arrested by Azemat (Ali Bagheri) the sinister, high-level, pony-tailed policeman who’s been following him around.
I enjoyed Pig immensely, though I thought a few script decisions went too far. Within the first few minutes I was wondering “Censorship? What censorship?” Amazingly enough the script was approved by the Iranian authorities, despite the dancing, the mistress and many other things.
Directed and written by Mani Haghighi
Cast: Hasan Majuni; Leila Hatami; Leili Rashidi; Parinaz Izadyar; Mina Jafarzadeh; Aynaz Azarhoosh; Ali Bagheri; Siamak Ansari; Ali Mosaffa
Language: Farsi with English subtitles
Length: 107 minutes
You can see Pig on Tuesday, Oct 9, 2018, at 9:30 p.m. at Cinémathèque Québécoise (355 de Maisonneuve E.) as part of the Festival du nouveau cinéma.
Dedicated teacher tries to get rebellious high-school students to smarten up and take school seriously. This is a familiar plot, but the teacher in Big Brother is played by martial-arts superstar Donnie Yen, so that’s a big plus.
Even though Yen’s character, first-time teacher Henry Chen Xia, is smart, funny and caring, we know he won’t be accepted right away, he has to win the students over. Watching him do it is part of the fun.
Each student has at least one problem on the home front that has contributed to their seeming indifference to school; Chen tries his best to solve all those problems.
The future of the entire school is in Chen’s hands, since the Hong Kong education department will close it if the dismal pass rate doesn’t improve. On top of that, gangsters are waiting to pounce on the school site so they can build luxury condos on it.
But, but. . .what about the fights? It wouldn’t be a Donnie Yen film without them, but by Yen’s own choice, Big Brother is more about education than anything. It isn’t wall-to-wall fighting that’s barely held together with a paper-thin plot.
Chen’s search for a missing student leads him to a locker room just before a (crooked) mixed-martial arts tournament. This gives Yen a chance to mix it up with burly, scary looking guys played by Kang Yu, Lockhart Ogilvie, Jess Liaudin, Brahim Achabbakhe, Tom Caserto, and Semiquaver Iafeta. “Look, guys, I’m not looking for any trouble,” he tells them in English. Ha, ha! Fans know what to expect next!
Conveniently enough, Kang Yu’s character is also involved in the development scheme, so he and assorted minions will battle Chen again in the schoolyard and inside the school, shattering glass, throwing desks and breaking many things while they’re at it.
A long-ago fight, with Lin Quinan playing the young Henry Chen, is quite impressive, too. Thisyoung man has star potential! In fact, he was in a 2016 film called Long quan xiao zi (Kungfu Boys).
From my description, the film might seem terribly corny but it did not feel that way while I was watching it. There are some “I see what you did there!” moments, and I was fine with them, too.
I appreciated that Yen’s character is not just a fighting machine, he’s a caring human being. Teacher Chen has had his share of problems, and seen many horrific things, but he survived to tell the tale. He doesn’t want his students to give up on themselves while they’re still in their teens. And if life is unfair, why not fight to make it better? Just as important, he doesn’t want the education authorities to give up on the “difficult” students, either. Does closing an underperforming school really solve anything? Why not work to improve them?
Donnie Yen put his money and his star power behind this film, which is obviously dear to his heart. If Big Brother encourages some students to stay in school and leads school administrators to rethink their methods, Yen will have accomplished a lot. And more power to him!
I’ll include other details about Big Brother in a post about Kam Ka-Wai, the film’s director. Kam participated in a Q&A session after the film and granted me an interview as well.
BTW: I saw the World Premiere of Big Brother with lots of Donnie Yen fans at a sold-out screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal – the very best of circumstances! Donnie Yen even sent us a video greeting! He wanted to present the film in Montreal himself but logistics didn’t allow it. (He’s shooting a film in Japan and cannot be away from the set for long.)
Big Brother will open In Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore on August 16, 2018, and in China and Taiwan on August 24. No word about a North American or European release yet, so maybe Donnie Yen fans should get going on social media and ask for it.
Hong Kong, China (2018)
101 minutes, In Cantonese with English and Chinese Subtitles
Director: Kam Ka-Wai
Writer: Chan Tai Lee
Cast: Donnie Yen, Joe Chen, Yu Kang, Lou Mingji
Contact: Mega Vision
“Small children, big knives.” That’s one of the tag lines for the Norwegian documentary Tongue Cutters. There are some scary spikes, too. And forklifts zipping back and forth.
Ylwa, 9, leaves Oslo for two weeks to stay with her grandparents in Myre, northern Norway. At a fish processing plant there she will learn to cut cod tongues just as her mother and her aunt (the film’s director, Solveig Melkeraaen) used to do. Tobias,10, is already an old hand at it, and he shows Ylwa how it’s done. The first day, she can’t even bring herself to try it, but as the end of her stay nears, she’s ready to enter the “world cod-tongue cutting competition.” Is that “world” as in “World Series?” Does anyone from outside Norway enter?
When Ylwa and Tobias aren’t cutting cod tongues, they take his cute dog Alvin for walks or hang out at his spacious home, which has wall-to-wall windows with a view of the mountains and the sea. (I couldn’t help wondering – what does it cost to heat that place? Are those triple-paned windows?)
Ylwa and Tobias are such likeable characters I enjoyed watching and listening to them, whatever they were doing. They goof around with his hover board, talk about pets and the hassles of having parents who are divorced or separated. They act like the camera isn’t even there.
Ylwa is a big sushi fan and she’s disappointed that Myre doesn’t have any sushi restaurants. When she was still in Oslo, she was astounded to learn that sushi was not available when her mother was her age. “How did you survive, and not die?” she asked theatrically.
Nowadays, boys and girls cut cod tongues to earn some spending money, but many years ago, when times were harder, a young boy might have to leave school to do it full-time to help support his family. Archival photos from that era show us what life was like back then.
Do Donkeys Act is a charming, calm, contemplative film that just shows donkeys doing what donkeys do when left to their own devices. There are no experts explaining the evolution of donkeys, their place in history, or whatever.
So what do donkeys do? They gallop, they eat, they sleep, sometimes they just stand around, occasionally they’ll kick. Now and then one will decide he isn’t going anywhere and stubbornly dig in his hooves. (“Who enjoys going to the dentist?” asks narrator Willem Dafoe.)
I had a moment of dread when I saw a sign on a wall that said “knock down box.” I thought it was another way of indicating euthanasia, but no, the donkey was being given an injection to knock him out in preparation for surgery, surgery that looked like it was done on an inflatable mattress.
The most surprising thing for me was the great variety of sounds that a donkey can make. Braying, sure, I’d heard that before, but a donkey can also sound like a barking dog, a purring cat, a squeaky door, a foghorn, a whistle, a trumpet, or a wheezing asthmatic.
Do Donkeys Act was filmed at four donkey sanctuaries in Guelph, Ontario, the U.S., Ireland, and the U.K., and it moves seamlessly between them. Sometimes an an Irish accent led me to assume that a scene was in Ireland, otherwise it’s anyone’s guess. (Please excuse me if those places were identified in the first few minutes of the film; I arrived a bit late because the film I saw before Do Donkeys Act did not start on time.)
Most of the talking in this film is done by Willem Dafoe, and I have very mixed feelings about that. He does a fine job and seems to be enjoying himself at times, but I’m not sure that the words he was given to say contribute that much to the film. Sometimes they interrupt the mood. Google tells me there is another version of the film, called Sanctuary, that does not include Dafoe.
Do Donkeys Act?
Directed by: David Redmon, Ashley Sabin
Country: United Kingdom
Duration: 72 minutes
Cinematography: David Redmon, Ashley Sabin
Editing: David Redmon, Ashley Sabin
Production: Deborah Smith, Dale Smith
Sound Design: Tom Hammond
Do Donkeys Act? will be shown Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 at 4 p.m. in Salle Fernand-Seguin of the Cinémathèque Québécoise, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd. E.
RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) ends on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017.
Visit the RIDM web site at ridm.ca for more information.
Dragonfly Eyes is one of my favourite films of RIDM 2017. It’s inventive, fascinating and more than a little disturbing.
While the dialogue in Dragonfly Eyes is read by actors, the video portion of the film is made entirely from snippets of surveillance video found on the Internet. This gives new meaning to “found footage” and it’s more entertaining to me than those films about people who get lost in the woods or the jungle and then spend an hour shrieking at each other until someone drops the camera. (Rant over!)
Qing Ting (Dragonfly) has spent the last few years living in a monastery. She was sent there for its calming effects, and considered becoming a nun, but changes are in the offing at the monastery and she does not feel comfortable there anymore.
She goes to the city and takes a job at a dairy farm. (Sounds weird when you think about it, that’s not a calm place, either. Are there dairy farms in cities? It seems so!) The work is hard, it doesn’t pay much, the bosses are disrespectful and the cows and workers are under constant camera surveillance. The people who watch the screens are watched as well.
At the farm, Qing Ting is noticed by the technician Ke Fan, and they start spending time together, visiting restaurants, and driving out into the countryside. Soon he is calling himself her boyfriend, even though she doesn’t seem to want one. Ke Fan does things that he thinks will please her, again without asking if that’s what she really wants. He’s quite violent, though not towards her. After assorted incidents that I won’t spoil here, Qing Ting loses her job at the dairy. She is insulted in her search for a new job and insulted some more once she gets one.
Ke Fan is sent to jail for several years, and starts looking for Qing Ting as soon as he gets out. It’s not easy, because she does not want to be found.
What do I mean by disturbing? Ke Fan’s violence, other violent instances we see, celebrity culture, an obsession with money and appearances, and all that surveillance video. In many places I couldn’t help but think, why would anyone need to watch or tape those places, or this activity?
Director Xu Bing collected hundreds of hours of video from the Internet to make the film. In many instances, the people who installed the cameras had not changed default passwords and other default settings, and they probably did not even know that they were broadcasting to the Internet.
Country : China
Year : 2017
V.O : Mandarin, English
Subtitles : English and French (depending on the screening date)
Duration : 81 Min
Director: Xu Bing
Editing : Matthieu Laclau, Zhang Wenchao
Production : Matthieu Laclau, Zhai Yongming, Xu Bing
Writer : Zhai Yongming, Zhang Hanyi
Music : Yoshihiro Hanno
Sound Design : Li Danfeng
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017 Dragonfly Eyes, 81 minutes long, in Mandarin with French subtitles, at Cinémathèque Québécoise, Salle Principale, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd E.
RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) runs until Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017.
Visit the RIDM web site at RIDM.ca for more information.
Taste of Cement is a melancholy, sympathetic, and arty documentary about Syrian construction workers in Beirut, Lebanon.
They are building a high-rise apartment building near the Mediterranean shore. When their working day is over, they retreat to bare-bones lodgings in the building’s basement. No commute time! But it’s a dark place, divided into haphazard units, with little privacy, and no security for valuables that I could see. Water dripping from above leaves puddles here and there. The living quarters are quite far from the entrance, which must contribute to a sense of claustrophobia. What’s the air like down there?
Some men have makeshift beds, while others sleep on thin mattresses or pieces of cardboard placed on the floor (ouch).
They wash their clothes in buckets and hang them on the wall. There was at least one TV down there. Many men use their phones to look at photos or news reports on the devastation back home.
Meagre evening meals include oily sardines plonked onto pita directly from the tin, and something that looked like ratatouille, eaten out of a pot. In the morning, a man used a Barbie Pink mirror while shaving. A dollar store find? A gift from a daughter?
This living arrangement is not voluntary – a sign says that there is a 7 p.m. curfew for Syrians and that violators will be prosecuted. Essentially, they are a captive workforce, even if they do get paid. I was hoping they weren’t paying anything to live in that basement.
Nothing could make that basement look welcoming or arty, but the outdoor scenes are another matter. The framing is masterful and many images could be mistaken for still photos if not for waves, or changing images on far-away video billboards. Colours are beautiful – the blue sky, the blue water, orange safety vests, red poles, yellow bulldozers.
The views from the building are stunning, but the men are probably too busy with work, and trying to stay alive, to notice. Many work without hard hats, or gloves, or harnesses; they are welding and running big saws without safety glasses. Just watching is scary.
The film has a narrator – I was not sure if he was supposed to be a specific person, or more of an Everyman. He tells of his father who also did construction work abroad, and whose hands always smelled of cement. He and his father are part of a cycle of destruction and construction. Buildings and cities are destroyed by war and then repaired. Certainly Lebanon has seen its share of destruction. I wonder, the workers must wonder. . .when or if Syria will be repaired? After all, the destruction is still taking place.
Many business owners are eager to do it, not for any humanitarian reasons, but to earn a profit. Even back in 2016 Robert Fisk wrote about that in The Independent. In August of 2017, the Associated Press said that ”markets across the Middle East are anticipating a mammoth reconstruction boom that could stimulate billions of dollars in economic activity.”
Taste of Cement
Country : Germany, Lebanon, Syria, United Arab Emirates
Year : 2017
V.O : Arabic
Subtitles : English
Duration : 85 Min
Cinematography : Talal Khoury
Editing : Alex Bakri, Frank Brummundt
Production : Ansgar Frerich, Eva Kemme, Tobias N. Siebert, Mohammad Ali Atassi
Writer : Ziad Kalthoum, Talal Khoury, Ansgar Frerich
Music : Sebastian Tesch
Sound Design : Ansgar Frerich, Sebastian Tesch
Presented in Collaboration with CSN, Goethe-Institut Montréal, Institute of International Education, Cinema Politica, La Maison de la Syrie, Kazamaza Restaurant and Bell Media
Taste of Cement will be shown Friday, Nov. 17, at 7:00 p.m. at Concordia University,
1455 de Maisonneuve W., Room H-110, Montreal, as part of the RIDM film festival, which runs until Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017.
Visit the RIDM web site at RIDM.ca for more information.