Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Upscale Mariage Qualms

Chloe (Atom Egoyan, 2009)
*** (A Must-See)

In fifty-year-old bespectacled director Atom Egoyan’s new film Chloe there isa chilling story of marital dysfunction and intrigue between a charming music professor David (Liam Neeson) and his gynecologist wife Catherine (Julianne Moore). The film is about life and death, language and perceptions, orgasms and music, personal obsessions and Canada. Catherine suspects David of extramarital affairs after finding a picture of him with a younger student the night he missed his surprise birthday. Catherine self-destructive paranoid fantasy leads her to hire a young prostitute Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to pursue her husband. From there it is ambiguous if Chloe is fulfilling her duties or just leading Catherine on, the sexual adventures eventually involve the couples son Michael (Max Thierriot).

Chloe is successful at presenting its contemporary period as it showcases Torontonians interconnectivity with new media, urbane privilege, alienation, infantilization of adults, the growing indie-rock movement, transcontinental airplane travel and heath care. The film Chole is attuned to women high fashion. The women are dressed beautifully and revealingly from see-through white t-shirts to dresses to high heels, these items represent gender expectations that are placed on women. The level of success and physical appearance exuded by Catherine makes her plight all the more desperate when Catherine suspects her husband of infidelities. Jonathan Rosenbaum writes about Chloe “I think what’s sneaky and deliberately misleading about the story is that is starts off pretending to be a movie about a husband’s midlife crisis and then winds up as a movie about his wife’s midlife crisis.” The thematic gravity and psychological depth, linear narrative and star power are a mélange of Atom Egoyan’s art-house sensibilities and the Reitman’s populism. Chloe is partly funded by Ivan Reitman’s production company Montecito and Ivan’s son Jason Reitman is executive producer and there was collaboration with Studio Canal and Sony distributions.

Atom Egoyan describes Chloe as “the anti-Adoration” as Adoration (2008) - a film about the stigmatization of ethnic minorities - presented a more desperate Toronto landscape while Chloe – which was supposed to be set in San Francisco - is a travelogue of Toronto’s luxuries. While in Egoyan’s earlier films Toronto was seen as a non-place. The cultural tourism in Chloe is overt as the city is an inherit part of the story from Yorkville and Queen Street, the CN Tower skyline presence, the AGO, the ROM, Allen Garden, Cafe Diplomatico (594 College Street), Rivoli’s (332 Queen Street), and the Royal Conservatory.

Assimilation has been a longstanding theme in the oeuvre of the Armenian-Canadian director. Atom Egoyan was born in Cairo, Egypt and at a young age was relocated with his family to Victoria, British Columbia. Egoyan habitually includes the casting of his wife Arsinee Khanjian in his films. Through the 80s, 90s, 00s the director has been dealing with ethnicity and assimilation, and private obsessions and public issues. Since Next of Kin (1984) - with an Armenian protagonist and a cameo by Atom Egoyan, Family Viewing (1987), The Adjuster (1991), Calendar (1993), Ararat (2002), to Adoration Egoyan has been dealing with what it means to be a foreigner in Canada. This is epitomized in the angry sequence in Family Viewing where a waving Canadian flag is cross-edited alongside an Armenian elderly mother committing suicide through swallowing pills while her daughter prostitutes herself to raise money to take care of her medical expenses. In Calendar there are clear distinctions between the Armenian positions of nationalism, Diasporan, and assimilationist. These ethnic positions have been lost from Chloe as it shows Egoyan assimilated and making a film about hegemonic Anglo-Saxons. Similarly to Egoyan’s non-Canadian productions Felicia’s Journey (1999), his most Antonioniesque film, and Where the Truth Lies (2005). Though, in a Q & A session at the Canadian Film Institute, Mr. Egoyan dismissed the “auteur” theory in which for him would include looking at the themes in work that he has no creative input like his directed late 80’s TV fare of Friday the 13th, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone.

A defining trait in Atom Egoyan oeuvre is the perfuming of scenes with a “cerebral musk”. Even though this is his first film where he did not co-write the screenplay, which is credited to Erin Cressida Wilson as a remake of Anne Fontaine’s French erotic thriller Nathalie... (2003). This brainy tendency comes from Egoyan’s interest in theatre that was apparent since his stint at the University of Toronto. His interest in theater is reiterated in his direction in the Samuel Beckett series of Krapp’s Last Tape (2000) with John Hurt, as well his short film Howard in Particular (1979) seems rooted between the Theater of the Absurd and Maya Deren. The emphasis of his cerebral musk is on psychoanalyticism and language. In the introduction of the Chloe, the prostitute in a voice-over says “I have always been good with words”, this scene and many others are characterized by a meta-discourse of character motivation, which sometimes can seem a little clunky as people are talking about things that people typically do not address in conversation. So even if Chloe appears more as an enigma then a fully rounded character, she confronts Catherine with an alternative position and forces her rationalize the absurd situation.

Reviews of Chloe have already been written in several Canadian publications. In the Katherine Monk’s Ottawa Citizen review she is eagerly positive as she writes “the movie hits a sustained eerie note” and raves of Amanda Seyfried’s performance. In Liam Lacey’s Globe and Mail review he is condescending towards the film, not biased by sharing the filmmakers hometown, he writes “Chloe is director Atom Egoyan’s foray into the realm of what might be called artful trash” and finishes his review with “Chloe has an awfully corny ending, including some lurid high-jinks and shocks that teeter on genre satire”. In the Montreal Gazette John Griffin writes naively “You’re forgiven for failing to realize Chloe is the first Atom Egoyan picture that isn’t an Atom Egoyan picture”. While Brian Johnson’s review in Macleans emphasizes the surprise emerging career of Amanda Seyfried “Hollywood’s new It Girl.” There has also been several critical analyses on Atom Egoyan by writers including Jonathan Romney, Emma Wilson and Tom McSorley.

The casting is spectacular, the acting is titillating, the architecture is sinisterly photographed, and the themes are relevant. One of my problems with this art-house production is its voyeurism. It condones David for cheating and flirting all the while the providing the viewer with enjoying lesbian fantasies. These sexual sequences seduce the audience similarly to the stripteases in Exotica (1994). Chloe is a mixture of pornography, as Amanda Seyfried is frequently naked, and stylization as the film exist in a realm of heightened realism. With Chloe, Atom Egoyan has created a substantial film about extramarital-confusion and it proves to be a really interesting addition to the Egoyan universe.-David Davidson

(Bytowne Cinema, 324 Rideau Street, 26/03 - 8/04)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Studious April Distractions

April Film Listings

Canadian Film Institute
Le Jour Avant Le Lendemain (Marie-Hélène Cousineau & Madeline Ivalu, 2009) 11/04.
Contes de l'Age d'Or (Cristian Mungiu et al, 2009) 17/04.
Revanche (Götz Spielman, 2008) 24/04.

Bytowne Cinema
Les Vacances de M. Hulot (Jacques Tati, 1953) 9/04 - 13/04.

The Mayfair Theatre
The Robe (Henry Koster, 1953) 3/04.
Army of Darkness (Sam Raimi, 1992) 10/04.
Naked Lunch (David Cronenberg, 1991) 25/04.

Cinémathèque Québécoise (Montreal, QC)
Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924) 23/04.
Greed: Reconstruction (Erich von Stroheim, 1924) 25/04.
Blind Husbands (Erich von Stroheim, 1919) 30/04.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

An Unfortunate Kinship

J'ai Tué Ma Mère (Xavier Dolan, 2009)
*** (A Must-See)

J'ai Tué Ma Mère is the first feature of actor-writer-director-coproducer Xavier Dolan-Tadros who completed the project at the age of nineteen years old. This is a thinly veiled autobiographic film where French-speaking Xavier Dolan plays Hubert, an on-screen alter ego, who is a queer Montréal high school adolescent who gets sent off to a boarding school without his consensus.

The conflict in the film arises between Hubert and his Quebecois mother Chantal (Anne Dorval, who looks surprisingly like Shirley MacLaine) and what makes the story so moving is Hubert’s incapability to understand that no matter how badly his mother treats him that it is done out of unconditional love. No matter how tacky is her dress or how safari is her taste or how bland is her cooking. Chantal is irritated by Hubert’s dependency and rejection and easily looses her temper. Her husband left both of them at young age. What increases Hubert’s sense of dismay towards his mother is his jealousy towards his boyfriend Antonin mom who leads an exciting life with young lovers, take-out, and who commissions Hubert to paint her office. What is so contradictory of Hubert’s, and Dolan’s, matricidal urges is that he uses these intense emotions as a source of creativity. In the film, one of his painting’s is entitled “The Son”, interlaced throughout the film are his b/w personal monologues of his yearning to communicate about his love/hate relationship with his mother, and he also writes a story named J'ai Tué Ma Mère.

The closest relationship Hubert seems to have is with his schoolteacher Julie. For a classroom assignment he lies to her stating that his mother is dead and later she picks him up after his mother chases him at school, and later he chooses to stay with her when he runs away. Julie and Hubert similarly have had poor relationships with their parents and they had close relationships with their grandparents. As well they both express a pervading wanderlust. Julie’s comforting of Hubert epitomizes the tenderness of their platonic friendship.

J'ai Tué Ma Mère is similar to Francois Truffaut’s directorial debut Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959) - a film that Xavier included in his personal top ten film list - which is the story of a child Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and his matriarchal issues who decides to run away from the detainee center he is put into and the film ends with a freeze-frame of him on a beach. Xavier transcends any similarities as the films concluding return to his childhood beach house seems fresh and unpredictable. It is also part of the Quebecois tradition of returning to nature and to rural traditions - like Gilles Carles’s La Vraie Nature de Bernadette (1972). J'ai Tué Ma Mère mixes between the lowbrow and highbrow with references to Jean Cocteau, Marquis de Sade, Jackson Pollack, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Some criticisms of J’ai Tué Ma Mère include the narrowness of its scope, as it is limited to individuals’ feelings that are void of politics and social realities. There are only slight suggestions of poverty, as outside a Blockbuster are two homeless men rifling amongst the trash – for creative representations of the Montreal socially assisted poor see the work of Donigan Cumming - and homophobia as Hubert once gets beaten. Dolan grew up as a child actor, had been in TV series, commercials, acted in Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs (2008) and has just completed Les Amours Imaginaire (2010). The world of the actor-director tends to verge on sublime narcissism as the surroundings are seen negatively and it is the protagonist who is the victim. Dolan's smarmy wink’s to the audience eventually gets annoying as he implies his own cleverness in the ways in which he looks at his mother with self-evident disgust and insults her for the most superficial reasons, like the way she eats a bagel and then has cream cheese stuck on the corner of her mouth.

Mark Peranson’s editor’s note in CinemaScope issue 39 writes “Québec’s wunderkind Dolan whose incredibly overrated Quinzaine debut strikes me as a case of mass hysteria” and later in the same magazine Jason Anderson contradictorily writes “should there be more who are as bold and brazen as Dolan”, Atom Egoyan personally expressed admiration for the film, and in the magazine 24 Images Issue 146 Marie-Claude Loiselle writes that Dolan film stands out from his contemporaries because he creates a language of his own that fits his personality, that at times J'ai Tué Ma Mère is border lining disequilibrium, and that hopefully with maturation Dolan films will increase in mastery hopefully without loosing his singularity and to not try to please everyone. Loiselle includes Dolan amongst other contemporary French-Canadian film chroniclers, or the “Nouvelle Vague Québécoise”, that includes Simon Galiero, Denis Côté, Rafaël Ouellet, Robin Aubert, Micheline Lanctôt, Sophie Deraspe, Bernard Émond, Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Madeline Ivalu.

J'ai Tué Ma Mère is similar to Ryan Arnold’s Skidlove as the two 2009 actor-director first-features both reflect the period and present particular youthful experiences of early adulthood and the conflicts between identity and role confusion, intimacy and isolation. Both features are partly co-produced which enables them to be full-length features of home movies material. As such they represent an expansive personal creative expression that is rarely seen is the privatively financed Canadian film industry. The films are painfully personal recognitions of deep feelings of anger, fear, and melancholy. In Skidlove, Ryan's character reaches out to others whether it is to his girlfriend Jaymee or to his friends, people are framed together. In J'ai Tué Ma Mère there are isolating close-ups always distancing Hubert from others. In both films the protagonist present a form of alternative lifestyles that includes smoking pot and painting. In Skidlove, Ryan is a heterosexual and deals with contemporary relationships once in the working world and his solace come from friends and girlfriend. In J'ai Tué Ma Mère, Hubert is 16 and wants to move out. Hubert has an intense Oedipus complex shown threw a fall orange-maple-leaf dream sequence where Hubert chases his mother who is dressed in a wedding gown. Through a Langian dream analysis, which emphasizes that dreams bring out underdeveloped aspect of the psyche, it reveals that Hubert complex desire to be closer to his mother.

The two films together present a diptych of English and French-speaking Canadian cinema of the 2010s as did the 1964 films by Don Owen's Toronto based Nobody Waved Goodbye, and Montrealer Gilles Groulx’s Le Chat Dans Le Sac did for their period. Stylistically Xavier Dolan is closer to someone like the expressive Arnaud Desplechin while Ryan Arnold seems more like the evovative Takashi Miike, though they present a sensibility that is rooted in a local cultural heritage. Ryan Arnold’s Skidlove has not attained the same successes as J'ai Tué Ma Mère that won three prizes at the Director’s Fortnight at the 2009 Cannes but it is a must-see and Skidlove will be having its Toronto premiere in May 2010 at The Royal Cinema.-David Davidson

(Bytowne Cinema, 324 Rideau Street, 19/03 - 25/03)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Montreal Social Margins

I would like to thank Scott Birdwise for leading me to Mr. Cummings oeuvre and providing me with useful information for this piece.-D.D.

Donigan Cumming: Oeuvres Récentes (Donigan Cumming, 2003 - 2009) *Director in Attendance
**** (Masterpiece)

The screening of Montreal documentarian Donigan Cumming’s recent oeuvre at the Cinémathèque Québécoise,in the Salle Claude Jutra, on Wednesday March 17th has been eagerly anticipated, met its expectations, exceeded them and was so exasperatingly original that you wished there were more films. Donigan introduced the screening and you could recognize his familiar voice and face from his earlier works. He is also taller then you would imagine. The screening from a high quality Blue-ray disc included Locke’s Way (2003), Cold Harbor (2003), Voice: Off (2003), Fountain (2005), 3 (2005), Monument (2008), Untitled (2009), and Too Many Things (2010).

Outside the screening hall there is Cumming’s photograph exhibit Kincora 2010. The exhibit Kincora includes the framed photographs Barber’s Music (Ottawa, 1999), Les Pleureurs (which accompanied the video installation of A Prayer for Nettie, 1995), Lying Quiet and a few mixed-materials Kincora sketches. Donigan writes about it:
“The title of this exhibition refers to a street in downtown Montreal that was erased by developers in the late 1980s, destroying a little neighborhood and scattering its residents across the city and suburbs. Nothing was ever built on the site. It remains an urban wasteland, a parking lot. Most of the people who lived there are now dead."
The show will be on display in the Foyer Luce-Guilbeault until March 28th.

Locke’s Way is an epistemological rumination on Donigan’s older brother Julien through a photographic analysis. Donigan speaks out his train of thought as he goes through one picture to the next. Locke’s Way is and apt start to the retrospective as it presents the end of Cumming’s early video period (1995 – 2003), which is available on the DVD set Controlled Disturbance. Similarly to how Cumming's A Prayer for Nettie (1995) presented the end, or at least a transition, from photography to video. Cumming’s photographic publications up to that point included Reality and Motive in Documentary Photography (1986), The Stage (1991), and Pretty Ribbons (1996). The transition from photography to video was highlighted by a decreased sample size and increased attention to the minutia details of his participants and the spontaneity of their collaboration.

Locke’s Way deals with larger philosophical and political issues. An immediate philosophical reference is to the British empiricist John Locke who posited that all knowledge arises from sensory experiences. Locke’s Way also evokes the process of memory and the act of recollection as Donigan looks and thinks about the table full of photographs. Though he tries repeatedly to escape this activity by running up the basement stairs to get away from the memories, he is only able to find that upstairs there are his brother Julien's old medical reports. Julien, the subject of Locke’s Way, seems to represent a repressed subject for the filmmaker and the descent into the basement physically illustrates this concept of delving into the unconscious. There are two photographs of Donigan hidden in the mess. One is a childhood portraiture in a family collection and the second is at a wedding and Donigan is wearing a black suit with dark sunglasses. The film deals with biopolitics - Michel Foucault's term for the style of political power that regulates all aspects of human life - as it is the government policy that deems Julien as unfit. Julien was deemed “mentally disabled” at a young age by the government. His mother and grandmother worried about how his presence would affect his siblings. This is akin to Robert Zajonc’s confluence model, which suggests that children are born into intellectual environments that affect their intelligence. While Donigan is reflecting on these issues, he is also being affected by biopolitics as he runs around his house. This process of running up-and-down stairs directly alternates Donigan’s physiology, how he communicates, and the audio-track through Donigan’s heavy breathing. If you look closely at the edge of the steps when Donigan is moving there are signs of fading on the stairs. The edge of the stairs are missing paint and are grooved. This detail in the mise-en-scène extends the themes of frailty, timeworn, and decrepitness. Finally As Donigan looks over the pictures the audio-track fast-forwards and then slowdowns coming to a creeping close on a picture of Julien.

Cold Harbor is a 3-minute short-film about an ill African-Canadian decrepitly breathing with off-screen voice-over narration reciting facts about the American Civil War (1861 – 1865) and it ends with a radio news report on the Iraq war. The American Civil War was a prominent subject in Donigan Cumming’s childhood growing up in the United States. Fountain is the accumulated video-footage from the earlier videos and photograph with some unseen footage. It is an eulogy for all his past-collaborators (e.g., Pierre, Julien, Gerry, Marty, Nettie, etc) and examines his old friends from multiple perspectives varying from bodily close-ups, to their rooms, neighborhoods, and their reciprocal relationship. This video footage had been also used for the book and grid collage Lying Quiet that was produced with Peggy Gale for the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. It interesting to see the footage that had not yet been released and in it Donigan creates a visual bricolage of live-action and photographs. 3 is interlaced with a lot more intertitles then his previous work. The intertitles include: men asleep, a dream, play, a song; angel and snow, wings and flowers, money and trees; fast then slow, piano decays, laughter. The intertitles and the scenes present dualities that sometime contradict one another. One scene that particularly stands out is an exchange of money between the hands of Donigan and a collaborator where he exposes the monetary transaction side of his film-making while presenting a beautiful image of a green grass and trees background. Untitled, A.K.A. Pencils, Ashes, Matches, Dust, is a commissioned “film haïku” for Visions du Réel International Film Festival in Nyon, Switzerland.
The two most interesting films in the series were Monument and Too Many Things. They represent very transitional works in Donigan’s career. These unexpected illustrations show Donigan’s films in a post-Nettie-Collin-Colleen-Pierre-Albert-Nelson world. There is the passing of an era and the resurrection of another for a new decade.

Monument starts with Donigan kneeling down naked in a white room, he crushes a statue of a flower, there is a quick cut to Julien waking up, and then a sunrise on the water. The strange flower sculture is passed around and people are mourning. In the video interview “Visions du Réel, Atelier with Donigan Cumming” Donigan is critiqued for documenting others instead of himself. In Monument Donigan brings himself more directly into the picture. He creates an angst-ridden portraiture of himself destroying the symbolic flower. Nakedness in art history represents simultaneously a symbol and a true identity. Also while interviewing the new collaborators Donigan implements his presence more as he reflects himself in a mirror and his discussions with his collaborators showcases the slow process of building trust with an unreceptive participant. In Donigan's friendship with his old participants there was a mutual understanding that Donigan guided the behavior and controlled their actions. Now, when Donigan guides the new collaborators, such as asking them to put the destroyed statue in a fridge, there are these moments of hesitancy and ridicule. As if they are surprised to perform such a task. This could possibly be the result of the interviewees temperament or how many takes Cumming’s chose to film.

In Too Many Things, which was produced during Donigan Cumming's 2008 - 2009 artist residency at the Productions Réalisations Indépendantes de Montréal (PRIM), there is such an overabundance of creativity and celebration that the excitement leaks out of the frame. Now that Cumming’s has a firmly established palette and a distinct visual style which includes the socially assisted poor, his Mini-DV mobility, images with an abstract quality, useful trivia, slow-motion, and songs. He can abstractly present these issues through visual stand-ins. The narrative follows Ross (who looks strikingly similar to the late Éric Rohmer) and his friends during their routine weekday two-hour visits to the Salvation Army (880 rue Guy) where they hang out and look at the assortment of objects. They enjoy each others companionship and they incomprehensibly babble on top of each other in a Altmanesque fashion. There are breaks in the narrative for a stop-motion waterpaint-infused dissection of a CPU and Kincora moth-like sketches filling the frame. Where earlier on in his career Cumming’s was investigating the underrepresented now it is the underrepresented examining discarded household objects with the same magnifying precision.

Fountain presents an eulogy for his past-collaborators, in Monument Donigan works through his frustrations, and in Too Many Things there is a rejuvenation. This retrospective showcases Donigan Cumming as an ever-evolving artist who is fully aware and interested of pursuing his career to the brink. He is experimenting with different approaches, meeting new participants and building an evolving body of work. He is a constant extender of the Canadian documentary tradition and now he is also appropriating the NFB animation sector with his use of stop-motion. The theatrical programming really added a narrative to the works and I eagerly anticipate his future endeavors.-David Davidson

Toronto Palliative Care Ward

Dying At Grace (Allan King, 2003)
**** (Masterpiece)

Allan King was one of Canada’s, and the world’s, great vérité documentary filmmakers. He died of cancer in 2009. Mr. King’s actuality dramas were fly-on-the-wall documentaries examining relevant issues through astute portraits of raw psychology. Mr. King was a strong advocate for a Canadian national cinema and his filmography includes critically acclaimed National Film Board documentaries and Canadian fiction films: Skid Row (1956), Rickshaw (1960), A Married Couple (1969), Warrendale (1966), Who Has Seen The Wind (1977), and Whose In Charge (1983). Jean Renoir described him in a letter to Allan King’s publicist as “a great artist” after seeing Warrendale.

In Dying at Grace (Rated #7 in the Macleans top ten Canadian films of the 00’s list), Allan King and his director of photography Peter Walker unobtrusively record the process of dying at the Salvation Army’s Toronto Grace Health Center. Over the course of one winter the film follows five terminally ill patients in its palliative care ward, which is a treatment that concentrates on the reduction of disease severity and suffering. The patients decide what kind of treatment is right for them, which includes declining life support, to smoke cigarettes etc. It is a relevant Canadian subject as the publicly funded health care system is an integral quality of Canada’s political and social infrastructure.

The patients in Dying at Grace are Joyce, Eda, Carmella, Rick, and Lloyd. They all differ in gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, profession, and outlook. The patient’s presence represents lived experiences. The Italian-Canadian Carmella in her home country picked tomatoes to support her family, Lloyd is a minister and his partner Norm desperately hangs bedside with him, Joyce’s life since childhood has been filled with death, Rick used to be homeless drug addict and now has fits of paranoia, while Eda is perseverant as her health fluctuates and her closes relationship is with her step-brother. As some film-critics have noted, Dying at Grace with its treatment of the elderly completes Allan King’s trilogy of man, witch began with childhood in Warrendale and continued onwards to adulthood in A Married Couple.

The diagnosed terminally ill patients go through what psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross describes as the five stage model to deal with grief. The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The patient’s experiences and feelings are shown through conversations with the staff, revealing their subjective descriptions of their phenomenology, while the medical staff objectively describes their behavior in an overheard audio recording. The staff also is perceived to be in pain, as the young nurses look worn-down due to the intensity of their surroundings. The older staff seems both more resilient and ambivalent as they provide authentic support and contact comfort, however desperate the patient’s situation.

The cinematography and dialogue at time adds depth and irony to the people and surroundings. Eda is offered a one-year gym membership, though she will probably not live for that long. Watches and calendars are constant reminders of the impending cessation of life. The walls of the rooms and hospital are filled with images of past lovers and family, tropical sunsets, and television shows filled with “healthy normal people”. There is an apt visual metaphor of Joyce sitting in the shadows, this is a documentary of the people who are brushed over, who are soon forgotten, and whose in place in society have been pushed to the margins - similarly to collaborators in the films of the Montreal social reality documentarist Donigan Cumming.

Though the patient’s condition is fatal their situation is not all that bad. It is a miracle that they are there in a hospital setting. One can just imagine all the people who are not afforded this service. The scenes of the patients enjoying simple pleasures like reading, listening to portable music player, being with friends, praying, and recollecting their life experiences remind the viewer how similar we are to these people and how this transition is an inevitable meta-physical reality. The afterlife idea is accentuated by the morning-after-death establishing shots of the Toronto skyline with the CN has orange sunlight seeping down onto the city, increasing the intensity after each death.

Dying at Grace illustrates the multifaceted issue of death – a similar concept explored in Ottawa filmmaker Frank Cole’s A Life (1986) – as an inescapable haunting experience. In the exhaustive last scene, once all of the other patient have died, there is a close-up of Eda’s shriveling face on her bed sleeping. Her respiratory physiology is slowly deteriorating and with each breath and neck clench there are longer pauses, until they stop.-David Davidson

(Canadian Film Institute, Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, 14/03, 7PM)

Friday, March 12, 2010

On the Tuesday Night Movies at the Imperial

There is a local film club that gets together Tuesday night at 8PM at the Imperial Food & Beverage (329 Bank Street, http://the-imperial.com/). Prior to the screening you can get food at the restaurant and the selection varies from burgers to wraps and pizzas. The beer is good and the local brews vary from Heritage Brewing, John By and Beau’s. The décor is cool and the walls are covered with cult movie posters including snob-worthy titles like Taxi Driver, The Big Bird Cage, Shaw Brother’s films etc.

The Imperial is in the Barrymore’s Music Hall which itself originated as a film theater in 1914. Alain Miguelez in his book “A Theatre Near You: 150 Years of Going to the Show in Ottawa-Gatineau” elaborates on the Imperial. Miguelez reveals interesting facts about the "Imp" including that in its hey-day the theater had a 1200 seat auditorium and its own pipe organ. It closed in 1955. Since then it has gone through several owners and now part of it is a live-music nightclub.

The Imperial Food & Bevarage reopened in November 2008. The movie night at The Imperial resumed July 2009 by Katherine Eastwood, though now it is organized by Rene Kayser. In the future Rene will be collaborating with local film-type and kitchen staff Megan. The future screenings have yet to be determined and for more information you can contact Rene (renepook@gmail.com). The free film screenings are Tuesdays at 8PM once the kitchen closes.

Rene is the programmer of Tuesday Night Movies at the Imperial and a long-term Ottawa resident. When he used to live in Saint John’s, New Brunswick he started exhibiting films with Scott Preston organizing the Saint John’s Avant-Garde Film Festival, it was a success. Previously to the Imperial, Rene ran a film club from his apartment. He started it November 2008 and it ran for about eight months. Turnout varied and if too many people showed up it got cramped.

I recently sat down with Rene Kayser at the Bank and Gilmour Street Bridgehead – where he works – to talk to him about the Tuesday Night Movies at the Imperial. Before each film Rene synopsizes the movie and brings up interesting facts pertaining to the filmmaker, though before that he is very approachable and walks around the restaurant talking to friends and first-timers. Rene describes the movie nights as a way to “present some total of the cinematic experience, from the high point to the low point and everywhere in between, movies with distinctive qualities”. Invisible-Cinematically speaking, Rene’s film affinities lean more towards Nick then Wyatt.

On discussing the Ottawa film-going community, Rene thinks that “you get more enthusiasm from grass-root films, you know people like Lee Demarbre.” And I will add that people are receptive to Rene's own movie nights. When I saw Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) on March 3rd the restaurant was packed.

You can spot posters for Tuesday Night Movies at the Imperial at a few center-town establishments such as the Bridgehead at Bank & Gilmour, Turning Point (411 Cooper St) and Invincible Cinema (319 Lisgar St). Finally, Rene had to say: “I like it when people are moved by the films I show, in some way, or are really entertained. I love it when people come up to me afterwards and say things like: I have never seen anything like that before”.

On March 16th at 8PM Tuesday Night Movies at the Imperial will be playing Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970).-David Davidson

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

First-String Canadian Experimental Cinema

New York Eye and Ear Control, Standard Time, and See You Later/Au Revoir
(Michael Snow, 1964, 1969 & 1990) *Director in Attendance

(Carleton University, St. Patrick's Building, Room 100, Friday March 19th, 7PM)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Stories of Struggle

Nurse.Fighter.Boy (Charles Officer, 2008) *Director in Attendance
*** (A Must-See)

Writer-director Charles Officer’s first feature film Nurse.Fighter.Boy - co-written by Ingrid Veninger - is a moving story of three Jamaican-Canadians during the last week of summer in Toronto. The story follows a boxer, Silence (Clark Johnson), a nurse, Jude (Karen LeBlanc), and her adolescent son Ciel (Daniel Gordon). It was partly financed by the Canadian Film Centre. Nurse.Fighter.Boy is in competition for 10 Genies at the April 12th Canadian film award ceremonies. It the strongest contender with Denis Villeneuve’s Polytechnique, a film about the 1989 Marc Lépine massacre of 18 women at the École Polytechnique in Montreal. Nurse.Fighter.Boy was projected in Ottawa on March 6th at the Library and Achieves Canada as part of the CFI’s Emergence – New Canadian Independents series.

In Nurse.Fighter.Boy, Jude is from a family of Jamaican-Canadian nurses and is resilient in face of her sickle-cell disease. She does her best to look after her son. In the most moving sequence in the film, Jude is finally courted by Silence. She goes up to his place, they listen to a record (music, specifically Canadian music, plays a large role in this film) they slowly dance beside each other. They dance and then they kiss. All her troubles such as her illness, her deep worry for Ciel, her vulnerability, and her yearning are all somehow relieved. This cathartic moment is beautifully prolonged as we relish in the two hurt souls coming together. We enjoy their consolidation vicariously.

Charles Officer previous short When Morning Comes (2000) is an experimental film that touches upon gang activity in Toronto. Nurse.Fighter.Boy is a continuation of that theme with its emphasis on youth violence. Jude worries about her son when he gets into a fight at a park, later she tells him that he should always fight back. Her worrying increases when at the hospital she nurses a dying young adult, who reminds her of Ciel.

Silence runs the Exodus Fighters Gym, the previous owner Horace died of a heart attack. He teaches local kids to box, with an assistant trainer, and purports to be good role model as he denounces gun activity and looks after them when necessary. He still has to come to terms with his past as an illegal street fighter. After winning what-is-a-brutal fight, there is a close-up of the faces of all the on-looking African-Canadian adults. Afterwards Silence vows not to fight again and he tells the bookie to never again show up at his gym.

Charles Officer is best to be approached as a blooming Canadian counter-part of the American independent filmmaker Ramin Bahrani, the director of Goodbye Solo (2009), Chop Shop (2008), and Man Push Cart 2005). In the New York Times A.O. Scott classifies Ramin Bahrani as a “Neo-Neo-Realist” which is an extension of the 1940’s Italian Neo-Realism – a group of filmmakers whose films focused on the lives of the working class in a war-torn country – and is characterized by “Most of the scenes in the film take place outdoors, and while there is a clear, poignant story, it takes shape not through expository dialogue but through gestures, actions and details that the camera absorbs in long, patient shots.” This is an apt description for Charles Officer's style in Nurse.Fighter.Boy. The stylistic traits he does use are restraint and include heartbeat editing, heightening color, and isolating shots to change settings.

Charles Officer is part of the wider landscape of Canadian filmmakers whose narrative go against the archetype caucasian male protagonist. Other filmmakers include Zacharias Kunuk with the Inuit population, Denny Arcand and the Québécois, Atom Egoyan and the Armenian assimilationist, Deepa Mehta and Indo-Canadians, Léa Pool and her women protagonist, and Donigan Cumming with the socially-assisted poor. As a whole these filmmakers better demonstrate Canadian multiethnicity and diversity and it is these types of films that should be promoted and seen within Canada and abroad instead of the Canadian-Hollywood appropriators like Jason Reitman or James Cameron.-David Davidson

(Canadian Film Institute, Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, 6/03, 7PM)

A Quarantine and a Hybrid Western

The Crazies (George A. Romero, 1973)
*** (A Must-See)
(The Mayfair Theatre, 1074 Bank Street, 1/03)


Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Sam Peckinpah, 1974)
**** (Masterpiece)
(The Imperial, 329 Bank Street, 2/03)