Movie Review – Le Havre

Le Havre (2011)
Written & Directed by Aki Kaurismäki

Marcel Marx is a shoe shiner in the French port city of Le Havre who lives a simple life with his wife, Arletty. Once long ago in his youth, Marcel had ambitions to be a writer and bohemian but time and a need for money put an end to that. Arletty becomes suddenly ill with a dire prognosis that Marcel is kept unaware of. Around this time, a crate of immigrants from Gabon is discovered on the docks and one of them, Idrissa, a young boy escapes the police. Marcel and Idrissa cross paths and the old man decides to house the refugee without question while trying to locate the boy’s family so they can reunite. Inspector Monet is out in the neighborhoods searching for the boy and knows Marcel by reputation as being a scoundrel and liar.

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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.

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Movie Review – Certified Copy

Certified Copy (2011)
Written & Directed by Abbas Kiarostami

James Miller, a British writer, travels to Tuscany to give a talk about his book “Certified Copy” wherein he argues that reproductions and forgeries of art are just as relevant to conversations of art as the originals. This is based on his idea that even the original is a reproduction of a model or an idea and therefore all art is a reproduction of something. He meets up with an unnamed French antique dealer who is incredibly enthusiastic about his book, and they discuss his ideas on art while on a drive to a village in the countryside. Miller excuses himself during a stop to get coffee and a barista mistakes Miller and the woman for a couple, and the woman plays along telling a whole story about her husband being so distant and never spending time with their son. Things take a turn for the strange because after the woman tells Miller about the employee’s assumption, they appear to take on the personas of a real husband and wife, devolving into an argument about long-simmering tensions. So what is the reality? Do we see a roleplay or are they a couple? Alternatively, does it even matter? Are two people who are feeling the genuine emotions associated with this type of relationship just as valid a real married couple?

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Movie Review – Happy End

Happy End (2017)
Written & Directed by Michael Haneke

happy end

Teenager Eve Laurent is suddenly thrust into the home of her estranged father and his family after her mother overdoses on antidepressants and ends up comatose. Thomas Laurent, her father, is married to his second wife who has just had their first child together. He’s also involved in an obscene affair with another woman. Anne, Eve’s aunt, owns a construction firm that has come under litigation after an onsite accident has left one of the workers on the verge of death. Anne’s son, Pierre works as the foreman on the site and appears to have emotional issues that might have led to the dangerous conditions on site. Finally, there is the patriarch Georges who is slipping into dementia and contemplating suicide to avoid what this condition will do to his mind, notably forgetting his late wife. Did I mention this is a dark comedy?

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Movie Review – Call Me By Your Name

Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Written by James Ivory
Directed by Luca Guadagnino

call me by your name

Elio is the son of academics living in northern Italy. He spends his days consuming books and composing piano pieces. He is also in friendship with local girl Marzia where the beginnings of attraction are forming. Summer looks to be a monotonous season until Oliver arrives. Oliver is an American doctoral student who has come to get the aid of Elio’s father in revising his dissertation. Elio finds himself drawn to Oliver and even feeling pangs of jealousy when it appears the older man fancies a woman in town. As Elio explores and discovers himself in this formative year, he becomes aware of his feelings for Oliver. First, with some anger, he tries to push them aside, and finally, he confesses all of this to Oliver who reciprocates.

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Movie Review – Raw

Raw (2017)
Written and Directed by Julia Ducournau

raw

Justine has arrived at veterinary school, like her parents before her and her sister, Alexia, who is in her second year. The family are devoted vegetarians, and Justine attempts to uphold this tradition at the school. However, the hazing of first years leads to her being forced to consume a rabbit’s kidney and being doused in buckets of animal blood. Something begins to change in the young woman, and she finds herself overwhelmed with a hunger for meat, even consuming it raw from the fridge. At momentary slip of scissors beings Justine to a new precipice where she develops a taste for human flesh.

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Movie Review – I Killed My Mother

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

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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.