And for those who want their German up front, the film is Im Labyrinth des Schweigens. Whatever your language, this is a very fine popular art circuit selection about the Holocaust. Set in 1958, it focuses on a post-war reality, the secret, quiet lives of former Nazis who escaped capture and the Nuremberg trials and went about their lives as citizens. A reporter in Frankfurt discovers one of these, working as a teacher, and proceeds to inform the authorities. Obfuscation ensues. A fictionalized version of the paranoia, secrecy, and denial that led to the famous trials of 1963-1965, in which Alfred Eichmann among others, were exposed and condemned, this film turns its spotlight on a dark, fascinating, and all-too recent slice of world history.
Well, for starters, check out the cast. This is a true gay-rights story, enlivened by the powerful performances of talents Moore and Page. A devoted couple, they run up against a whack of bigotry and a lot of bad human behavior when one is facing a bad diagnosis and the other is to be deprived of death benefit pension. This all happened only ten years ago, but it remains a harrowing lesson in how foolish society can be, especially when it masks itself in self-righteousness. Are you listening America? Perhaps most interesting is the actual relationship itself, drawn here with a nuanced understanding of how complex any romantic coupling can be. You’ll cry, you’ll be happy.
A few things you need to know, but not much more. First, this is an amazing tour de force, a two-hour plus movie shot in one take. Yes, you heard me, one take. You can do that now in digital, you know. But it takes guts and a lot of confidence. Second, it takes place over real-time two hours, beginning in a Berlin nightclub where Victoria (the amazing Laia Costa) meets the charming Sonne (Lau) and his friends. Everything is sweet and soft and romantic, and then it is not. Can’t say more, but you will be mesmerized, even while you are conscious of the unrelenting power of the camera. Sure, it shakes a bit, and at first you keep expecting a cutaway, but after a while you’ll let it take you wherever it goes.
Canada’s own indomitable octogenarian Christopher Plummer carries the day here as Zev Guttman, recently widowed and fading. He shares a history of Holocaust victimization with Max, an alert, wheelchair-bound friend in the nursing home. Max asks Zev to track down a much despised Nazi guard. Somebody’s got to do it. And so with resolve and a severely uneven memory, Zev assumes the mission. You can see why the script might have appealed to Egoyan. History and memory are two of his consuming themes, and with the Holocaust in the mix you get the perfect meditation on all of the above.
A strong contender for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, this is one feature you do not want to miss. Voted one of the best films of 2015, SON OF SAUL focuses on the Holocaust, as well (see REMEMBER), but from a decidedly unique point of view, that of Saul Auslander, a Hungarian Jew who survives thus far at a Nazi extermination camp by assisting the Nazis in their extermination project. The subject is horrific, but director Nemes is careful never to show it directly. We do not see it, nor does the film wish to sensationalize an already grotesque reality. Instead, the film is tightly shot, carefully edited, and brilliantly framed to focus on the person of Saul himself, he who must work through trauma to stay alive for as long as possible. Yes, it’s heavy and intense, but you will admire the craft and applaud the genius of the director’s choices. None other than Claude Lanzman himself gave it two thumbs up.
Also favoured in the Best Foreign Film category, MUSTANG is timely and provocative, and bound to make you think about our world—if you like doing that sort of thing. Five sisters live with their grandmother and an unmarried uncle. One day after school they frolic at the beach with a bunch of boys. It’s all innocent, free, and fun, but these people live in a highly regulated religious world. When the girls go home, grandmother accuses them of impropriety and all hell breaks loose. They are confined to the home, ripped from school, and challenged to confront the limits to their freedom. A sobering tale of human rights, MUSTANG is somewhat of a fairy tale grounded in the very real world of conservative Turkey.
“Oscar caliber” is what one wag wrote. TRUMBO is the much anticipated biopic about Dalton Trumbo, a Hollywood hero of sorts, he who refused to incriminate himself or his colleagues before the insidious Congressional Committee of UnAmerican Activities. We know how brilliant Cranston is because we watched him break bad for years. In his first role not as Walter White, Cranston plays the gutsy principled screenwriter with fierce credibility. Trumbo wasn’t perfect. Life hardened him, and prison didn’t help. This is as much a slice of important social history as it is a story about one extraordinary artist, highly entertaining, salty and sweet.
Another important slice of social history that might make you glad the past is past. 60 Minutes journalist Mary Mapes, played by the always compelling Cate Blanchett, produced a news story in 2004 that questioned the privilege George W. Bush had received as a member of the Texas Air National Guard. Remember that? After the story played, the backlash hit the fan. Mapes lost her job and poor Dan Rather was shuffled off the anchor desk. In a way, this cinematic look back to ten years ago sheds light on the kind of news reporting we—or our neighbouring Americans—routinely get. Truth is hardly the goal of most news reporting anymore. And there are consequences for those who dare speak it. With Robert Redford playing Rather we have just about the strongest leads possible on the silver screen.
You will absolutely love this Quebec-based film. The title in English is “My Internship in Canada,” which immediately sets out the difference between Northern Quebec MP Steve Guibord and the Harperesque Prime Minister he is meant to serve. A former hockey hero, Guibord is at the centre of the Prime Minister’s quest to send troops to war. He needs Guibord’s vote in the House, but Guibord has his own local pressures and an anti-war agenda. His wife is a Conservative, his daughter a Liberal—the perfect conditions for full-blown satire made in Quebec. It’s rare to see ourselves so well represented on screen—and so timely. Don’t miss it.
This has the title of a good thriller, and, indeed, it is, albeit in an unconventionally quiet way. The lead character is a guy with a happy family and a bag full of guilt. One evening Sandu Patrascu takes his dog for a walk. Upon returning he sees two neighbours quarreling. The next day one of them is found dead. For whatever reason, although it’s worth asking, Sandu doesn’t identify the other neighbor as a possible suspect. Time passes and he wears his inaction heavily, like Hamlet—but in Romania. The film is a superb, tightly drawn study of a middle-class man thrown from his game. Low-key, psychologically compelling, and intensely entertaining, ONE FLOOR BELOW was adored at Cannes. You can now admire it in St. John’s.
And yet another Best Foreign film candidate, this time the Oscar potential goes to Chile, source of this dark and fascinating parable of sin. It won the Jury Prize at Berlin, and for good reason. Consider it the Chilean version of Spotlight. As in that film, the Catholic Church has a lot to answer for. Set in a small town by the sea, the film features four banished priests who inhabit a house under the watchful eye of a nun. Ostensibly, they have been sent there to work it all out. When a fifth, newly discovered pedophile priest shows up the drama intensifies and much is revealed about these men and the Church that both created and shielded them. At once humourous and shocking, THE CLUB is unlike anything you have ever seen on this subject, just when you thought you had seen it all.
It’s a bit of a kick writing a blurb for this epic saga of life in the bureaucracy of Newfoundland. Many are in it, many have seen it, many more have not. In this, the 40th year of the founding of the Newfoundland Independent Film Co-Op (NIFCO), MUN Cinema celebrates this grandly flawed NIFCO masterpiece about all that makes us maddeningly different. And no one speaks to us more than the well meaning, confused character of Faustus himself, played with typical brilliance by Andy Jones, as he tries to navigate and understand the bizarre workings of the Department of Education. Everyone else you know or were married to is here, too, and so the result is a densely woven story populated by talent and unadulterated bravado. Filmed on a dime over a number of years, FAUSTUS is supremely emblematic of Newfoundland social, cultural, and political history. Not seeing it is a violation of civil duty.
We end the winter season with a kick-ass documentary by indie maestro Michael “Bowling for Columbine” Moore. The title points to Moore’s habit of “invading” countries to learn more about what makes their social and economic practices so innovative. There is an upbeat attitude about all this, as Moore learns of the progressive maternity laws in Europe, the fabulous food habits of French schoolchildren, and the admirable education systems of Germany and Scandinavia. This is a look at lots of the good stuff in the world, not the perniciousness that is so easy to find when you are looking for it. But in seeking best examples Moore is implicitly criticizing his home country for not being as exceptional and advanced as his countrymen would have us—or as they—believe. How timely is this when the USA is torturing itself with soul-destroying oppositional politics! Invade the theatre and treat yourself to a stimulating soul-enhancing journey with Moore as your guide.