Movie Review – Monsieur Lazhar

Monsieur Lazhar (2011)
Written by Evelyne de la Chenelière and Philippe Falardeau
Directed by Philippe Falardeau

At school in Montreal, two students discover that their teacher has hung herself in the classroom. The school works quickly to push the class past this event by repainting & rearranging the room while having a psychologist make periodic visits. A new teacher is found in a rush, Mr. Lazhar, an Algerian man who goes on about his experience teaching at a university in his former home country. Lazhar brings an approach unfamiliar to the students, emphasizing the techniques of grammar and spelling over more expressive forms of learning. He reads Balzac to the children and requires them to take dictation. One student, Alice, expresses her still simmering anger and confusion over the suicide of their teacher in an essay. This outburst causes Lazhar to re-evaluate his methods and the needs of his class.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Monsieur Lazhar”
Advertisements

Movie Review – The Captive

a24 visions

The Captive (2013)
Written by Atom Egoyan & David Fraser
Directed by Atom Egoyan

the captive

In rural Ontario, a young girl named Cass vanishes from the back of her dad’s truck. Her father, Matt, and mother, Tina spend the next eight years going through stages of grief and disbelief about the well-being and whereabouts of their daughter. Detectives Cornwall and Dunlap pursue the case as part of their assignment on the Child Exploitation division and discover Cass being used as bait to lure other young girls into a child predator ring. The various people involved in this complex web slowly spiral closer and closer, with Matt pursuing who he believes to be the man behind his daughter’s kidnapping.

Continue reading “Movie Review – The Captive”

Movie Review – The Forbidden Room

The Forbidden Room (2015)
Written by Evan Johnson, Robert Kotyk, & Guy Maddin
Directed by Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson

forbidden room

A bespectacled man hosts an aged and worn instructional film on how to take a bath. After explaining the opening procedures, the camera dives beneath the murky water, and we see a submarine float by. We cut to inside the submarine where the crew is in dire circumstances. They carry onboard an incredibly volatile substance that, if they were to surface, would combust due to air pressure killing them all. They find a portal in one of the dank, humid chambers that should lead them out into the waters, allowing them to abandon ship and swim to the surface. Instead, when they open a door, a lumberjack soaked to the bone tumbles forward. He begins to tell the tale of his quest to save a maiden from a band of cave-dwelling barbarians only to find the maiden is their den mother. In her sleep, the den mother dreams of another life, as a noir nightclub singer…and so on and so on. The Forbidden Room is a Matryoshka doll of short films, one nested within the other, moving up and down the ladder of stories until they become intertwined and lost within each other.

Continue reading “Movie Review – The Forbidden Room”

Movie Review – I Killed My Mother

I Killed My Mother (2009, dir. Xavier Dolan)

jai_tue_ma_mere-1

If you look up the many articles and interviews about Xavier Dolan, you will likely get a picture of an arrogant young artist. These would not be wrong, but I would challenge that this portrayal is negative particularly in cinema. Dolan represents a strong, re-interpretive Millennial energy that was inevitable in film. In the same way, the French New Wave and the iconoclastic American 1970s filmmakers made their mark in the form; Dolan is doing that same type of work. Does he indulge? Damn straight he does. But I challenge anyone to find a single auteur who doesn’t indulge constantly.

Dolan’s first feature, I Killed My Mother is the story of Hubert Minel (played by Dolan), a 16-year-old gay man, still closeted to his mother and who engages in the most vicious arguments and conflicts with this central caretaker. Dad stepped out when Hubert was seven and left Chantale, the mother (Anne Dorval) to raise the boy on her own. Hubert is two months into a relationship with a classmate and looking towards a career in the arts, encouraged by a supportive teacher (Suzanne Clément).

Dolan is a filmmaker influenced by the medium. No moment in I Killed My Mother is simply a moment; they are accented by flourishes of style from Goddard-like framing (off center and with both conversants in the frame), slow motion almost from a perfume ad, black and white confessional close-ups, and myriad of other touches that add emotion to a relatively typical story of parent-child conflict. He also knows the importance of establishing character through setting, as seen in the very opening close-ups of his mother’s tchotchke-filled home. We also learn volumes about her through her hairstyle, clothing, even the manner in which she eats breakfast. And all this if before she even has a modicum of dialogue.

While Dolan is the composer and conductor, Anne Dorval as Chantale is the star player. It would have been very easy for Chantale to slip in caricature, but Dorval does gritty work to keep the character faceted and obscured. In moments of high tension, she will begin to follow the same type of script I imagine all of us remember from our adolescence, which is underscored by Hubert calling her out on this same repetition. She shuts him down in the same manner that frustrated us all and drove many teenagers to those primal, guttural ARGHs! There is a moment near the end of the film where her role as a single mother is blamed as the reason why Hubert is struggling academically and exhibits such rebellious behavior. This is the moment where Dorval lets Chantale crack through the thickly layered makeup and sequined floral outfits. Chantale’s love for her son is beyond the question of outsiders, and she makes that known.

Dolan made I Killed My Mother at the age of 20 and has not tried to hide the fact that it is heavily biographical. He has stated that this is a film he couldn’t have waited decades to make, that it needed the raw emotion of being only steps away from adolescence. And he is completely right. A forty-something making the film in deep retrospect would have let nostalgia slip in between the cracks. There is no wistful memory manifesting falsified beauty here. Through the ugliness of this relationship, we see Beauty and Love. We don’t fight and scream with this level of fervor at people we hate, the type of anger glimpsed in the film born out of intense love and need. It is the attempt to communicate love but failing to do so because the language does not possess the vocabulary to do so.

Hubert states in one of his bathroom confessionals on camera that he doesn’t love his mother like a mother, but he loves her nonetheless. During a late night conversation, Hubert fueled by ecstasy and barging home full of elation to speak to Chantale; he states, “I love you. I am telling you this so that you won’t forget.” This is the moment where the nature of the relationship changes, not profoundly, but both characters redefine the bond. Hubert is no longer the dependent glimpsed in the Super 8 home movies at the old house by the lake. He is an individual coming into his own, intellect, a sexual being, a partner in a relationship, developing complex ideas and emotions. Chantale is reticent to accept that, but by the end of the film, they come to an unspoken understanding. Their relationship will never be what they both remember and wish it could be, something new will form and in that they will find a place for their love.

Tom at the Farm (2015, dir. Xavier Dolan)

xavier-dolan

Frenetic strings screaming. The sound of cornstalks furiously rustling. The blur of figure bursting through them. He enters a clearing in the field. We cut to a tight shot of his face. His bleach blond hair is a tangled mess. A thin line of blood travels from the corner of his lip diagonally down to his chin. He is suddenly thrown to the ground by a man exploding from the corn.

This sort of explosive moment is what Tom at the Farm is all about. It spend the majority of its run time letting tension crank up until the rope is tightly wound. When the tension is allowed to release we’re met with moments of raw brutality that are confusing and upsetting.

Brought to us by Quebecois director, Xavier Dolan, Tom at the Farm follows a young man (Dolan as the lead) as he journeys into the Canadian version of the Midwest. He’s headed there to attend the funeral of his boyfriend, Guillaume. Upon arrival, he quickly learns that Guillaume was keeping a lot of secrets from him and his own family. He meets Agathe, the matriarch, who was lied to about her youngest having a fiance and Francis, the psychotic older brother who believes he can beat Tom into submission about keeping these lies going.

The first time Francis assaults Tom it is shocking and unexpected. But as their aggressive relationship continues it begins to take on a twisted psychosexual tone. At moments, Tom seems to become submissive and seeks out this continued violent treatment from Francis. And even Francis seems to desire Tom despite his protestations. When Tom finally attempts to leave he finds his car dismantled in the barn, stranding him in this desolate farm country. However, he finds himself comforted by the pastoral lifestyle, helping the birth of a calf, and then finding a moment to break down with emotion of what he participated in. In the midst of this tense psychological battle, Tom and Francis end up in an embrace after the latter reveals he took ballroom dancing lessons for a long lost ex.

The tone of the film is balanced somewhere between a lesser Hitchcock picture and The Talented Mr. Ripley. As the film nears its conclusion we discover a secret about Francis that illuminates his virulent anger and rage over Guillaume’s sexuality. The final shot of the film lets up contemplate the consequences of a moment when that rage overflowed. We don’t know what Tom believes about this revelation but we know it will inevitably shake up his world. While as unreal and absurd as the choices are that Tom makes when we, the audience, are likely shouting at him to just leave, these quiet final moments bring the film back to some semblance of a grounded reality.

Film 2010 #12 – My Winnipeg


My Winnipeg (2007, dir. Guy Maddin)

If you aren’t familiar with Guy Maddin’s style of film making, then viewing one of his pictures can be a very jolting experience. Narrative is secondary to a more stream of consciousness style of storytelling. I’ve been very familiar with Maddin’s work, starting with Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, and this oddity of cinema lead me to watch Tales of the Gimli Hospital, Careful, Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, and The Saddest Music in the World.

Maddin has an affinity for German expressionist and Soviet propaganda films from the early days of cinema. As a result, he typically makes black and white pictures that utilize the actual technology of the time period he attempts to recreate. In My Winnipeg, Maddin uses rear-projection and obvious sound stages to create a film that will be unlike anything you see in the theaters. The premise is that Maddin is attempting to psychologically break free from his frigid hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The best way he decides upon doing this is to recreate moments from his childhood, focused around his cold and controlling mother.

Interwoven with these recreations are bizarre, Winnipeg legends. Maddin tells us about the First Nation (would be Native Americans for us) belief that beneath the forks of the rivers that converge in Winnipeg, are a second “forks beneath the forks” that are mystical in nature. This image of a parallel existing underneath what can be seen is crucial to understand what Maddin is doing in this film. All of his anecdotes about Winnipeg involve the idea of a darker side of things, and the world of myth and fable.

Many of Maddin’s claims about Winnipeg are suspect (10 times the number of sleepwalkers than any other city, a city hall built as part of an occult Mason rite) but they act as conduits into the subconscious and representations of the unseen nature of things. The fact that this entire film is a one long poem taking place in the mind of Maddin plays into the examination of a seedy underbelly to things. The film is also able to evoke strong emotion, particularly when Maddin laments the destruction of the city’s professional hockey stadium, a temple to him as he grew up.

What started as a commission by the city of Winnipeg to make a documentary of their city, evolved into an amazing exploration into one man’s psyche. Maddin is a director more interested in making what he likes to see and, if an audience happens to enjoy it, that is simply an added bonus. What Maddin creates as an end result is very similar to the film art created by David Lynch. This is not cohesive story with beginning/middle/end, but is an expression of the artist’s mood.