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MUN Cinema Series
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for more information about the films.
January 15 Madame Satã
(Brazil/France 2002) 105 min.
Portuguese with English subtitles. Rated R. [IMAGE]
Directed by Karim Ainouz
With Lazaro Ramos, Marcelio
Cartaxo, Flavio Bauraqui, Felipe Marques, et al.
Here's the story.
We would have opened with the award-heavy Lost in Translation, but Empire
Theatres happily beat us to it and promises to be showing Sophia Coppola's
little masterpiece early in January, for at least a week of opportunities.
If they don't bring it in we encourage you to protest loudly. Please see
that film on any night but Thursday. For the MUN Series opener please see
Madame Sata, a gorgeous piece of cinema about the real Brazilian
transvestite singer, João Francisco dos Santos. This directorial debut
feature film tracks the early transformation of João from a poor but proud
queer living in the nineteen thirties of Rio de Janeiro's most sordid
underworlds to the famous cabaret singer, Madame Sata. This journey from one
dark sphere to another involves a fascinating set of violent twists and
turns, some fated, some chosen. By the time the famous João/Madame Sata died
in the seventies he/she had lived about 27 years behind bars, endured all
kinds of brutality and prejudice (of the class, race, and sexual variety)
and generated a world of adoring fans mourning a remarkable life. Most
impressive here is the stunning performance of the lead character,
brilliantly enacted by actor Lázaro Ramos who brings a determined, erotic,
and sweaty realism to the character, and whose image you will conjure every
time you ever hear a salsa beat.
January 22 Elephant
(USA 2003) 81 min.
Rated R for disturbing violent content, language, brief sexuality and drug use - all involving teens. [IMAGE]
Directed by Gus Van Sant
With Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson, Elias McConnell, Jordan Taylor, et al.
Gus Van Sant's approach to his art is such that in order to make the
experimental works he prefers (Gerry) he has to turn out a schlocky piece of
drama every now and then (Good Will Hunting). Elephant falls in the
preferred category, to be sure. Small-scale and determinedly not star system
material, Elephant is largely about the horrific shooting of a bunch of high
school students by a couple of their gun-toting peers, shades of --if not
actually about-- Columbine. Elephant looks and feels like a documentary
because the kids are fresh and real, improvising lines and going with the
director's general directions, not a tightly controlling script. This kind
of stagy realism is interesting when compared with Michael Moore's massively
edited and somewhat contrived documentary on the same subject, a film that
masked its own strategies and convinced an entire planet that Moore was
catching the real thing. Buffalo fur. Elephant is deliberately not
documentary pretense, but it does aim at getting something essential about
the Columbine experience. Who are these kids and what are they up to? Played
with eerie menace by Alex Frost and Eric Deulen, the two murderers are not
clearly motivated. Van Sant implies that it's not just guns that make these
kids kill; indeed, there are no discernibly obvious or satisfying motives
for their behaviour. Perhaps this explains why it won a Palme d'Or for best
film at Cannes this year but has been largely buried by American
distributors. Elephant doesn't pretend to have the answers, and that's why
we are interested in its intelligence questioning. The kids aren't all
right, so what's up with that?
January 29 Sylvia
(UK 2003) 110 min.
Rated R for sexuality/nudity and language. [IMAGE]
Directed by Christine Jeffs.
With Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Jared Harris, Blythe Danner, Michael Gambon, Amira Casar, et al.
What becomes a legend most? Sylvia Plath is such a
cultural icon she doesn't even need a last name anymore. And so finally we
get to see not only her but also one of the most interesting love stories of
the last century on the big screen, the one between the icon and her
rakishly handsome beloved, Edward (Ted) Hughes. Fortunately, enough time has
passed since Plath's suicide (1962) and Hughes' own death (1998) to allow
for a calmer rendering of their tumultuous and much analyzed life together.
Who needs another finger-pointing whine about who did what to whom and why?
One fact is clear and unavoidable. Sylvia Plath was one depressed woman, and
in the late 'fifties the treatment for such an illness was not as easy as
popping a pill or getting good therapy. Another fact is that she clung to
Hughes like ivy to brick. Their relationship was hot, explosive, and doomed.
The foundational core of any good love story is a young couple's quicksilver
attraction, the ensuing dynamic of such passion and its often troubling
consequences, but when the characters are legendary and charismatic the
effect is spellbinding. Sylvia doesn't pull any punches but it is resolutely
even handed. This is more of a study of a period and a woman caught in
literary history's grip than an indictment of any one person or issue. The
cast is superb, including the pearl-choker perfect Paltrow, and Daniel Craig
is a fabulously appealing match as the compelling Hughes. Watch for talented
Blythe Danner paying Plath's mother - yeah, you know it, she is also
Paltrow's own mother. Gimmicks aside, our interest in the myth of Plath is
revived here like (Lady) Lazarus.
February 5 My Life without Me
(Canada/Spain 2003) 106 min.
Rated R for language. [IMAGE]
Directed by Isabel Coixet.
With Sarah Polley, Scott Speedman, Deborah Harry, Mark Ruffalo, Leonore Watling, et al.
Sarah Polley has yet to do a dull part, and
here she practically invents herself all over again in her most brilliant
turn to date. What an actor! You might have heard that this film is largely
about a young woman with a terminal illness, but in many ways it is really
about class and the ability--or not--to transcend it. Polley plays Ann, a
twenty something mother of two who works as a night janitor at a local
college. Can it get more bottom rung in film than this? She is married to a
nice guy who doesn't seem to do too much. Her mom helps out. Life is
measured in slices of white bread. The dramatic turn is a cancer diagnosis,
sudden and inevitable. When she gains her composure, Ann decides to make
every day count, but differently. She compiles an ambitious list, including
a desire to fall madly in love (enter the always interesting hunky teddy
bear Ruffalo). Of course, Ann must also think about caring for the family,
raising her daughters, and so on, and so she has a lot on her mind. She
works through her list like a woman with no time on her hands and a firm
sense of purpose. My Life Without Me is always hovering on the sentimental
but because it is also a character study of a woman with a certain working
class history and a modest sense of what is possible we are also caught up
in a bit of interesting sociology. There is a curious mix of Canadian and
Spanish elements here, since the film was a co-pro and involves both an
Amanda Plummer (as Anne's friend Laura) and an Alfred Molina (as her
father). Consider that Pedro Almodovar executive produced and you can
practically hear the cultures cross-pollinating.
February 12 Casa de los Babys
(USA/Mexico 2003) 95 min.
Rated R for some language and brief drug use. [IMAGE]
Directed by John Sayles.
With Daryl Hannah, Lili Taylor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Steenburgen, Susan Lynch,
Rita Moreno, et al.
From Return of the Secaucus Seven to Matewan and Lone Star, John Sayles has
accumulated an impressive reputation as an independent, uncorruptable
director with passion, humour, and a coherent vision of the world. Sayles
has also been interested for some time in the way America borders so
intimately on Mexico, a fact it both exploits and denies. In this, his
latest wonderful film, six middle class women are holed up in a hotel,
waiting to adopt a South American baby. The women are well meaning
bourgeoisie, chatty and needy. Sayles never condescends to them but he does
manage to write the kind of dialogue you know that only they would speak.
It's not clear how this guy channels woman-speak but he sure does it
convincingly. Casa de Los Babys is obviously working a terrific conceit. The
conversations between these sometimes emotional women open the film up to a
range of political and social commentary, all persuasively presented in a
drama about waiting for babies. Perhaps the most important virtue of this
film is its sympathy to the differences in cultures, American and third
world. The waiting US women are held up by bureaucratic necessity. The
Latino women are eager to relieve themselves of too many children. This film
is short and sweetly efficient in its execution and is characterizations,
and, as with all of Sayles' smart fictions, resolutely provocative.
February 19 Falling Angels
(Canada 2003) 109 min.
Directed by Scott Smith.
With Miranda Richardson, Callum Keith Rennie, Kristin Adams, et al.
wonder how much novelist Barbara Gowdy must have made on selling her works
to movie producers (see Kissed)? Okay, even if you haven't, consider that
Falling Angels is also based on one of her novels and captures the typically
off-centre kookiness of her characters. Under Gowdy's pen, Toronto and the
stable middle class life it boasts never looks normal. We like that in a
movie, too. This one focuses on the wacky Fields family. Dad is played by a
grisly Rennie as a frighteningly autocratic loser; Mom (Richardson) is
suffering from the same depression as Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven,
something having to do with the numbing 'fifties, we suspect; and their
three daughters are caught in emerging womanhoods, as if conceived by Emily
Bronte but crossed with Erica Jong. Each daughter copes with her demented
parents in one way or the other, as she must, and the film follows their
'fallen' condition as the natural effect of a family under psychological
siege. The movie is gloomy and fatalistic but it is also wisely punctuated
by bright performances, unpredictable bouts of humour, and a strong sense of
the mysteries of the psyche. Callum Keith Rennie can't really ever make a
false move and so even when he is playing a wildly nutty tyrant he redeems
the role with a sympathy borne of insight. This is a performance of the
highest order. And this is Canadian, so come see what all the darkness is
February 26 The Station Agent
(USA 2003) 88 min.
Rated R for language and some drug content. [IMAGE]
Directed by Thomas McCarthy.
With Peter Linkage, Paul Benjamin, Jase Blankfort, Paula Garcés, Josh Pais, et al.
We are warning you - come early for this multi-award winning indie gem
because everyone wants to see it. This is the kind of film we love. Nothing
happens except the drama in character. The plot can best be described as a
story about three characters becoming friends. A lot of attention has been
poured on one of the actors, small (dwarf) person Peter Dinklage who plays
Finbar McBride. Plagued all his life by annoyingly curious people, he spends
his adult time repairing model trains and watching the real big ones go by.
Happy circumstances involving yet more trains take him to a place called
Newfoundland, New Jersey (could we make that up?) where he encounters an
eccentric local artist, Olivia (the indomitable Patricia Clarkson), and a
cloyingly needy guy, Joe (Bobby Cannavale). These three near freakish
creatures add up to a triangle of lonely misfits, with Finbar desperate to
be left alone and the other two desperate for his company. Inevitably,
however, Finbar finds himself drawn into this community of strangers, and
comes to recognize the need for human interaction. You can see how so much
depends on the script and the interaction between the three, and, indeed,
Station Agent is at times gloriously moving and hilariously funny. It is,
above all, a very centered human story, with nary an Orc or a hobbit or a
Zellweger in sight.
March 4 Les invasion barbares/Barbarian Invasions
(Canada/France 2003) 99 min.
Rated R for language, sexual dialogue and drug content. [IMAGE]
Directed by Denys Arcand.
With Rémy Girard, Stéphane Rousseau, Dorothée Berryman,
Louise Portal, Dominique Michel, Yves Jacques, Pierre Curzi,
Marie-Josée Croze, Marina Hands, Toni Cecchinato, Mitsou Gélinas, et al.
As we write this bets are on that Arcand's
wonderfully comic film will find a berth on the foreign Oscar list. It is
astonishing that Invasion hasn't had a full run in the main theatres, but
this is Canada, hey, and the film is doing amazing box office in Europe and
the States, not in the home country which has trouble supporting its own
artists. But enough lecturing. Let's celebrate the appearance of this
one-time screening that picks up where Arcand's Decline and Fall of the
American Empire left off. It is some 17 years later and the playfully
intelligent characters, some more neurotic than others, have since acquired
a string of lovers and friends and ailments. In particular, the animated
professor with ants in his pants is now dying, and so the friends and exes
have assembled to observe the rites of passing, even while celebrating his
life and all its glorious mistakes. Girard plays Rémy with his typical brio,
borrowing his own name and, no doubt, bringing many aspects of his own
character to the role. The device is clever, sure, but the script is
awesome. Themes range from the Quebec health care system to the human
condition itself, enlivened by a joie and a lust for life in spite of time
passing. Invasion is a gorgeous hymn to the spirit of life and you'd have to
have the heart of a hammer not to appreciate its vigorous appeal.
March 11 Emile
(Canada 2003) 95 min.
Directed by Carl Bessai.
With (Sir) Ian McKellen, Deborah Kara Unger, Theo Crane, et al.
It's great to see Ian McKellen in a role that tests his real acting ability - not that Gandalf
isn't a great construction. But in this ambitious low-budget release
McKellen gets to play someone we actually recognize from our own experience.
Here he plays the title character, a complex man with not so much an
identity crisis as an identity puzzle. We first encounter him in British
Columbia, receiving an honourary degree from U. Vic for a distinguished
career way across the pond in England. He camps out for a time with his only
living relatives, a niece, played with her typical gorgeous edginess by
Deborah Kara Unger, and her precocious daughter (Theo Crane). Emile is
dragging around a past with so much baggage we're amazed the authorities
ever let him on the plane in the first place. Turns out the quintessentially
English professor is actually a good old Saskatchewan farm boy who
reinvented himself in order to escape the oppressions of his childhood and a
particularly dreadful brother. Sure, you can go home again, but you might
not recognize yourself in the mirror. Emile is a wonderfully wrought piece
of understated cinema, intensely moody and emotionally charged. Most
appealing is the outstanding intelligent performance by one of the world's
March 18 9.11.01
(UK/France/Bosnia-Herzegovina/Egypt/Israel/Japan/Mexico/USA 2003) 134 min.
Directed by Youssef Chahine, Amos Gitai, Ken Loach, Sean Penn, et al.
You might already know about the ingenious approach to
this documentary. Eleven well-known directors were asked to each produce a
short movie of 11 minutes, 9 seconds and 1 frame on the subject of September
11th. The result is a fascinating reading of the world itself. The entries
are all interesting, with some more compelling than others, of course, but
the overall effect is a collage of genres, styles, politics, and moods.
Directors Sean Penn, Ken Loach, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Mira Nair and
seven others of note contributed their takes on the event in a variety of
ways. Some are banal, some haunting, some comic, some angry and some
anti-American. Clearly there is no one way to remember or make sense of what
happened, and the strategy of producing a team effort was obviously worthy
of the complexity of the experience - both of being there and of recalling
it. Come see how it all adds up, in many languages with subtitles wherever
March 25 Republic of Love
(Canada/UK 2003) 95 min.
Directed by Deepa Mehta.
With Bruce Greenwood, Emilia Fox, Edward Fox, Connor Price, Martha Henry,
Claire Bloom, Gary Farmer, Rebecca Jenkins, Jackie Burroughs, et al.
The cast doesn't get any more Great Canadian® than this, and when you add a
few British super actors you are bound to have something worthy of
attention. Based on the beloved Carol Shield's novel of the same name,
Republic of Love is not so much a great film as a rich experiment in
literary adaptation with a strong directorial hand. At the center of this
story is the yummy actor Bruce Greenwood playing a three-time divorced
romantic whose life is changed when he falls for an artsy type (Emilia Fox).
Bonus points: she is an expert on mermaids. Can it get better than this? But
into this explosively delicious new relationship a little darkness must
fall, and the drama then twists like a fishtail on the tensions occasioned by
unpredictable turns. Mehta is a fine director (Bollywood/Hollywood) with a
daunting challenge - that is, transforming an accomplished novel by a
cherished novelist into the stuff that screens are made of. It's not a
perfectly executed act but it is stunningly beautiful and full of the kinds
of well-acted performances you want your favourite fictional characters to
April 1 Gaz Bar Blues
(Canada 2003) 115 min.
English sub-titles. [IMAGE]
Directed by Louis Bélanger.
With Réal Bossé, Gaston Caron, Sébastian Delorme, et al.
Recently reviewed with glowing critical approval, this gentle comedy
perfectly captures life on the run. More precisely, it captures life at the
pump. Set in a small traditional Quebec town, the kind you drive through on
the way to Montreal, the movie is all about the gas/gaz station and the
family that manages it. The 'Boss' has three sons, each with his own
attitude and dream. Rejean resents working the pumps and longs to be a
photographer. Guy has equally arty notions about himself, yearning to make
music. The youngest, Alain, simply wants to be a man. Life has its gentle
rhythms; townspeople come and go to fill 'er up and chat about anything and
everyone. Their dialogue, fueled by nicotine, is familiar and hilarious. But
nothing stays the same: the kids age and get restless, the pace of life
accelerates, computers threaten to transform the local operation, and the
family patriarch must cope with modernity whether he wants to or not.
Critics love this film because it shows so effectively how a small-town
focus can be about universal experience It takes a clever director, a good
script, and great sense of the important daily details to produce such an
effect. Gaz Bar Blues is a model of independent filmmaking; perfectly
executed entertainment for the thinking auto mechanic.
April 8 Les Triplettes de Belleville
(France/Belgium/Canada/UK 2003), 81 min.
Directed by Sylvain Chomet.
With the voices of Michelle Caucheteux, Jean-Claude Donda, Michel Robin,
Monica Viegas, Beatrice Bonifassi and Charles Prevost Linton.
Nothing less than an international sensation, a tour
de force of animation that breaks the mould, The Triplets of Belleville is a
masterpiece. Sure there's a plot, something involving a French cyclist named
Champion who is abducted by a gang of mobsters, but it's all about the
telling, not the story. The cyclist's grandmother, the brazen Madame Souza,
seeks to rescue her grandson with the force of a hurricane. With her beloved
dog Bruno and the three titular singing sisters by her side, Souza sets out
to satisfy a heroic quest. There is hardly any dialogue -this ain't no
Nemo-- but there is movement, movement, movement. There is also serious
location, location, location and attendant social realism, astonishing for
an animated film with such fantastic happenings. Madame Souza and Champion
are working class and their lives are informed by small needs and big
dreams. But what really elevates this film to the circles of Oscar-worthy
attention is the cinematic exuberance of it all. That said, the style is
impossible to describe. We have never seen anything remotely like this in
all its magical, haunting, grotesque, dark, comic, melancholy, spooky,
gorgeous fullness, and on the big screen it will simply blow your mind.
Fasten your dentures: Les Triplettes de Belleville is a wild wild ride.