Winter 2014

Jan 9  A Touch of Sin (Tian zhu ding)
Jan 16  Good Vibrations
Jan 23  Watermark
Jan 30  Austenland
Feb 6  Blue is the Warmest Color (La vie d'Adéle)
Feb 13  Concussion
Feb 20  The Armstrong Lie
Feb 27  The Invisible Woman
Mar 6  Wadjda
Mar 13  The Past (Le passé)
Mar 20  Empire of Dirt
Mar 27  Tim's Vermeer
Apr 3  The Great Beauty (La grande belezza)

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[IMDb] Follow the links to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) for more information about the films.

January 9   A Touch of Sin (Tian zhu ding) (China 2013) 133 min.
[IMDb] Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles [IMAGE]
Winner of best screenplay at Cannes, this beautiful, violent film has yet to screen in the director's native land. No kidding! The film comprises four short stories, each spinning a brutal take on modern-day China. Each story directly reflects Jia's view of the current culture of greed and selfishness. He has been deemed one of the world's most important filmmakers, and it's easy to see why. The film is gorgeously shot, highly stylized, a cinephile's dream, but it is also compellingly focused on the contradictions of the land of dragons and emperors. Bound by centuries of formal tradition, today's China is also obsessed with a manic thirst for material success. Based on the true stories the director scoured on the internet, the film is shockingly dark and angry. Yes, it contains scenes of astonishing but highly stylized violence. Official China paints one story. This film gets at something beneath that picture. It ain't always pretty, but that's the point.

January 16   Good Vibrations (UK/Ireland 2012) 103 min.
Well, it doesn't get much more fun than this. Essentially a biopic of the Godfather of Belfast Punk, Terri Hooley, GOOD VIBRATIONS lives up to its name. You know the story but you'll smile along for the ride, to be sure. It's the 'seventies and the Troubles are in the air. Smack in the middle of all that violence and fear, Hooley opens up a record shop, the Good Vibrations of the title. He meets a woman of the good counter-culture variety and is hell-bent on making people happy. Not easy when you are living in a war-torn place. This focus gives the film a lot of laughs but there is a dead seriousness to it, too, especially in the way everyone's lives are affected by the conflict. Between the cheap lager and the lively contest of the bands, it sure smells like Irish sprit.

January 23   Watermark (Canada 2013) 92 min.
If you recall MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES you'll love WATERMARK, the latest doc collaboration between the smart filmmaker and the brilliant photographer. Whereas the earlier film traced Burtynsky's discovery of the use and abuse of oil, this feature does the same for and with water. Taking on our relationship to the life-giving element requires a huge canvas, and so it is that we see the impact of water—and our own attempts to harness it—through images at once stunning and terrifying. Burtynsky shoots the big picture, of course, giving us a god's eye view of landscapes wet, wild, and weird. Baichwal can zoom in, however, showing us the human-centred dimension, literally fleshing out the picture. The result is an absolutely riveting, poetic mediation on that on which so much depends. You'll never run the tap again without thinking about WATERMARK.

January 30   Austenland (UK/USA 2013) 97 min.
To be fair, critics are divided about this whimsical take on our current and ongoing obsession with things Austen—Jane, that is. Well, we love its silly indulgences and especially the always credible Keri Russell in the lead as the Austen-absorbed romantic in search of her own Mr. Darcy. Sure, who isn't? Immersing herself in what is in effect an Austen theme park, Russell's Jane is courted and cajoled by an endless supply of suitors, almost all of the vain and inappropriate variety. The whole experience challenges Jane's sense of what's real and what's fantasy, not to mention her suspicion that the only truly good men are all fictional. No comment.

February 6   Blue is the Warmest Color (La vie d'Adéle) (France/Belgium/Spain 2013) 179 min.
Winner of the Cannes Palme d'Or, much discussed for its graphic lesbian sex, admired for its emotional honesty, BLUE is long and lithe. Yes, this is a woman-on-woman film, although in some way it is less about the facts of sexual pleasure than about the class attitudes that complicate that pleasure. Perhaps only the French could have filmed such a relationship, that between a free-spirited working-class young woman and the bourgeois artist with whom she falls in love and by whom she wishes to be mentored. The actors shared the Palme d'Or with the director, largely because their amazingly natural performances seem to have evolved organically in intimate collaboration with his own imagination. And perhaps only the French could have made a controversial three-hour film about sex, love, art, books, and food. Settle in for the experience. You don't see this bildungsroman stuff every day.

February 13   Concussion (USA 2013) 96 min.
Another lesbian story—coincidence or just a trend? Abby and Kate are a married couple. Just like so many married couples, they are deep into routine. They live in the burbs, take the kids to school and soccer, go to the gym, have dinner parties, and so on. One day Abby gets conked on the head. Everything seems innocent enough but things change. Abby starts to disconnect, takes up a secret life, starts exploring sides of herself she never knew existed. This then becomes a movie about such secrets, and how long one can sustain them in a relationship. The unpredictability of that question is fascinating. Director Passon has been praised for the film's naturalistic dialogue and the totally convincing performances of her two leads. It will be interesting to contrast and compare this film with BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR. For starters, CONCUSSION was written and directed by a woman. Discuss.

February 20   The Armstrong Lie (USA 2013) 124 min.
What's really interesting here is that director Gibney started making a doc about Lance Armstrong's comeback Tour (de France) in 2009, essentially a hagiography of one of the world's most successful athletes. But after Oprah's confessional show and the subsequent dethroning of his idol in 2013, Gibney had to rework the film entirely. The result is a kind of schizophrenic study of someone who was so damn good at lying he probably even believed what he was saying after a while. We seem to be as fascinated by Armstrong's then power to get away with it as we once were with his cycling ability. This doc also sets the big lie against the sport's pervasive and historic contamination, showing us the extraordinary lengths athletes have gone to in order to conceal their reliance on illegal enhancers. We lie all the time, sure, but this is about concealment of a whole other order. See it before the dog eats your homework.

February 27   The Invisible Woman (UK 2013) 111 min.
Does everyone know that a 45-year-old Charles Dickens had a mad passionate affair with an 18-year-old? It's not what they tell you when you're studying Great Expectations, now is it? Ralph Fiennes directs himself in the role of that horn-dog Dickens, while Felicity Jones plays the object of desire, a lusting ingénue whose desire is fueled by her admiration of the great writer's talent and his compassion for the Tiny Tims of this world. The film's title suggests just how history treated young Nelly, who was deeply in Dickens' life until he died. She was his favourite reader and arguably his most intimate inspiration, but ultimately the guy got the glory and the missus got this movie, well over a century later.

March 6   Wadjda (Saudi Arabia/Germany 2013) 98 min.
[IMDb] Arabic with English subtitles [IMAGE]
How this hugely awarded film ever got made by a Saudi woman is a story in itself, considering she made it in a country without movie theatres. The name of the title goes to the ten-year-old at the film's centre, a feisty and determined youngster with a modest dream: to own a bicycle. Girls aren't allowed to ride bikes in SA because, you know, that could lead to driving, a definite no no. Getting behind the wheel could lead to Thelma and Louise and so what would all those Saudi men do then? So it is that Wadjda enters a Koran competition for the prize money. Her ambition and purposefulness are set against other older women who have clearly and perhaps even understandably capitulated to an unforgiving patriarchy. But like Malala Yousafzai, Wadjda shows the way of the future, one where stories like this no longer need to be told. Interesting fact: WADJDA won Best Feature at the Dubai International Film Festival.

March 13   The Past (Le passé) (France/Italy 2013) 130 min.
[IMDb] French and Persian with English subtitles [IMAGE]
Arguably the most flawless film in this winter series, THE PAST is perfect. Remember Farhadi's A SEPARATION? Well, this is as good if not even better in the emotion realism department. It features an Iranian who returns to France to give his French wife the divorce she seeks. Not so simple. Marie has two children from a previous marriage, one of whom is a dangerously surly teenager. The estranged husband seeks to make nice in and with the family but his arrival sets off a string of accidents and disclosures. Marie is involved with another guy and he, too, has so much baggage he can barely get through the door. And of doors there are many. THE PAST is about all that historical weight, as well as about cultural displacement, family dynamics, generational shift, and urban reality. It's a complicated, subtle and brilliantly nuanced story—at once intense and familiar. Bejo's Cannes-award-winning performance is also worth the whole night off. Unbelievably good.

March 20   Empire of Dirt (Canada 2013) 99 min.
This might be the first time we've screened a film entirely about and performed by Native Canadians. Women are at the centre of this strong drama. Lena is raising her rebellious daughter on her own. When things break down Lena takes the daughter back to her Northern Ontario community and to her own mother's house. We therefore see three generations of women, each with a history of dreams and challenges. It is implicit that they have inherited a legacy of victimization, and so what we have here is their struggle to transcend that sad history. Not easy to break the cycle, for sure. This is one of those films about which we would use the term "quietly moving." If you have a 13-year old or two, take them to see this film. It's right up their alley.

March 27   Tim's Vermeer (USA 2013) 80 min.
This is an absolutely fascinating doc about the quest to reveal the real Vermeer. Long a subject of controversy in the art world, largely because of the perfect, apparently unrehearsed way his paintings evolved, Vermeer is here under close scrutiny by an innovating engineer and those two famous crazy magicians Penn & Teller. Will the real Vermeer stand up? Tim Jenison, the millionaire techno geek, who aims to reproduce a Vermeer with the exact same materials the painter had access to, really emerges as the lead story here. To say he is committed to this project is like saying Penn & Teller are outrageous. This ain't like watching paint dry. It’s more an astounding study of the way science and the imagination can be wonderfully mutually dependent. Indeed, the magic here really is all done with mirrors.

April 3   The Great Beauty (La grande belezza) (Italy/France 2013) 142 min.
[IMDb] Italian with English subtitles. [IMAGE]
This epic comedy just took home the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Here’s why: the doleful looking Servillo stars as an erstwhile Lothario, now retired from writing and searching for meaning as the days grow shorter and the Italy of his past more elusive. We see modern-day Rome through his jaded eyes, a spectacle of decadence and gorgeous, marble-statue-lined emptiness, but, of course, still so irrefutably Italian and all that that implies. This guy somehow managed to snag an apartment across from the Coliseum and so the scenery is deliciously, persistently alluring. Jep hosts marathon parties to which all the beautiful people come and go, talking of Michelangelo—and of the country’s faded glory. Fellini is stamped all over this picture. It’s the 21st century version of La Dolce Vita, to be sure, albeit a darker, perhaps more cynical scan of the country that still gives us so much aesthetic—and culinary--pleasure.