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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Globe reviews

Globe and Mail
Wednesday, Sep. 10, 2003

***

Bus 174
Jose Padilha (Brazil)

This wrenching Brazilian documentary is a superior news investigation, using a sensational media event in which a drug-addled young man held a busload of hostages for almost four hours in downtown Rio in 2000. Jose Padilha treats the event as a genuine tragedy, revealing deep layers of social failure in Brazil. He takes news video and weaves it together with God's-eye views of the city, interviews with hostages, social workers and policemen. He reveals how the bungling of the kidnapping was part of a larger problem, where poorly trained cops wage war against homeless street children, who steal for a living and do drugs for escape. — L.L.

Falling Angels
Scott Smith (Canada)
What would a film festival be without a story of three sisters and a dysfunctional family? This one is based on the 1990 novel Falling Angels by Barbara Gowdy, and it tells the story of three teenaged daughters of an abusive father (Callum Keith Rennie) and an often nearly catatonic mother (Miranda Richardson). Scott Smith (Rollercoaster) does a fine job with three young cast actresses — Katharine Isabelle, Kristen Adams and Monté Gagné — each who finds her own survival technique. Rob Gray's set design captures the look of sad, fashionable promise of Sixties suburbia with a sharp poignance. — L.L.

Gaz Bar Blues
Louis Bélanger (Canada)

Aging widower Brochu (magisterial Serge Thériault), hands shaking from Parkinson's, struggles to keep his old gas station going even though the local layabouts (a lively selection of the lazy, the half-blind, the kleptomaniacal and the terminally shy) rob him and clutter the doorway, while his older sons abandon the place and his youngest is nearly killed by an armed robber. A graceful portrait of everyday courage in a ruined Montreal neighbourhood. — R.C.

A Heart Elsewhere
Pupi Avati (Italy)

Written and directed by the veteran Pupi Avati, this is a romance comedy with a classically Italian flavour: funny, sweet, poignant, leaving an aftertaste of delicious melancholy. The setting is the twenties, and our protagonist is a shy, rather homely bachelor who arrives in Bologna to teach at the local high school, and perhaps to find a potential bride. He does, in the person of a gorgeous blind woman, who responds to his gentleness while overlooking his appearance — at least until a medical miracle restores her sight. The story may be slim, but the performances are impeccable. — R.G.

At Five in the Afternoon
Samira Makhmalbaf (Iran/France)

The first feature shot in Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban shows a country devastated by its past and bewildered by its present. Director Samira Makhmalbaf (who at 23, has already had three films in competition at Cannes) uses a mixture of documentary and fiction, as she creates the story of a young woman, Noqreh, of the generation of girls who were denied an education.

Asked by her teacher what career she would like, Noqreh says she aspires to be the president of Afghanistan, but her aged, pious father insists that Kabul has fallen into blasphemy. He spends most of the film seeking shelter, along with Noqreh's older sister, who is nursing a sick baby. The lighter story of Noqreh's academic ambitions, and interest in high-heel shoes, are in dramatic contrast with her family, which is, slowly dying from starvation and lack of shelter. The title refers to a poem about death by Federico Garcia Lorca. — L.L.
(Tues. Sept. 9, 9:15 p.m. Uptown I; Thurs. Sept. 11, 2 p.m., Varsity 2 or 3.)

Belleville Rendez-vous
Sylvain Chomet (France, Canada, Belgium)

If you have even a passing interest in animation, and wish to explore the genre beyond the formulaic charms of Disney et al., then do yourself an immense favour and check out Belleville Rendez-vous. Written and directed by Sylvain Chomet, the story has the Brothers Grimm allure of a dark fable, filled with strange twists and comic turns — a cornucopia of compelling little oddities. The plot begins in Paris with a lonely boy, his club-footed granny, their skittish dog and an expansive dream — the kid hopes to ride in the Tour de France. He does, yet that's just the start of a tale that defies summary. Say only this: It's as beguiling as the animation — a lovely blend of traditional drawing enhanced by photographs and three-dimensional effects, all complemented by an equally eclectic score. This is a cartoon that aspires to art, and very nearly gets there. — R.G.
(Sun., Sept. 7, 3:45 p.m., Elgin; Tues., Sept. 9, 4 p.m., Uptown 1.)

Bright Leaves
Ross McElwee (U.S.)

The creator of Sherman's March profitably lopes again through the American South. This time around, Ross McElwee is invigorated by the discovery that his great-grandfather, a tobacco baron run out of business by the millionaire James Duke, may have been the inspiration for the 1951 Michael Curtiz- Gary Cooper movie Bright Leaf. So Duke may have a university, McElwee opines, but his ancestor's got a Hollywood movie! McElwee has honed the art of the personal documentary to such a fine point that personal touches, including a reliance on his young son as sound recordist, outweigh any preachy documentary impetus; thankfully, McElwee's look at the way tobacco occupies the lives of residents of North Carolina — as an industry and an addiction — never attempts to be a tired exposé of "big tobacco." McElwee winningly continues to find insightful whimsy in the most typical of situations. — M.P.
(Wed., Sept. 10, 6 p.m. Varsity 8; Sat., Sept. 13, 12 p.m., Elgin.)

Dogville
Lars von Trier (Denmark/Sweden/U.K./France/Germany)

Too irksome and coyly artificial to take entirely seriously, but too inventive and strange to dismiss, Dogville is the latest work from the Danish provocateur. Nicole Kidman plays Grace, the young woman who arrives on the run to the Rocky Mountain town of Dogville in the 1930s. Initially, she is treated well and then, when the residents realize she is exploitable, they treat her as their slave and whore. Shot on a football-field-sized theatrical soundstage, the film features chalk outlines for houses and streets and the characters sound, intentionally, as though they're speaking English in translation. There are a lot of stars — from Ben Gazzara to Lauren Bacall, Stellan Skalsgaard, Chloë Sevigny, Paul Bettany and James Caan — though some of them seem underemployed and the dialogue sounds, as it is, like something in translation. The movie peters on for about three hours before a spectacular finale that resolves its religious themes in an Old Testament payoff and David Bowie's Young Americans. —L.L.
(Sun., Sept. 7, 12 p.m., Elgin; Mon. Sept. 8, 2:30 p.m. Uptown 1.)

Evil
Mikael Hafstrom (Sweden/Denmark)

A brooding cross between James Dean and Leo DiCaprio, Andreas Wilson explodes as a rebel with a cause in Mikael Hafstrom's cruelly enjoyable 1950s Swedish boarding-school drama. Perpetually beaten by his sadistic stepfather, Erik Ponti compensates by furiously lashing out in the schoolyard. His last chance comes at the exclusive Sjarnsberg academy, where there's evil at work in the hallowed halls: the school's longtime "traditions" encourage upperclassmen to subject rookies to horrific abuse. If Erik fights back, he'll be expelled, so he's forced to tolerate humiliation. Evil might be considered a superbly crafted guilty pleasure: the film's tension builds as, taunt after taunt, Erik refuses to strike back — yet all along it's inevitable that blood will fly. Far from being hypocritical in his gratuitous presentation of teen brutality, Hafstrom percolates a fascist environment where the slightest sign of individuality is swiftly curtailed, creating a rancorous critique of how systems of privilege list towards tyranny. — M.P.
(Tues., Sept. 9, 9:30 p.m., Cumberland 2; Thurs., Sept. 11, 1 p.m., Varsity 1 or 6.)

Falling Angels
Scott Smith (Canada)

What would a film festival be without a story of three sisters and a dysfunctional family? This one is based on the 1990 novel Falling Angels by Barbara Gowdy (Lynne Stopkewich's Kissed) and it tells the story of three teenaged daughters of alcoholic parents, the abusive father (Callum Keith Rennie) and the mother (Miranda Richardson) is often nearly catatonic from a mixture of booze and grief over a dead child. Scott Smith (Rollercoaster) does a fine job with three young cast actresses — Katharine Isabelle, Kristen Adams and Monte Gagne — each who finds her own survival technique. Rob Gray's set design captures the look of sad fashionable promise of sixites' suburbia with a sharp poignance. — L.L.
(Mon. Sept. 8, 6:30 p.m. Isabel Bader Theatre; Wed. Sept. 10, 3:45 p.m. Uptown 3.)

Gaz Bar Blues
Louis Bélanger (Canada)

Aging widower Brochu (magisterial Serge Thériault), hands shaking from Parkinson's, struggles to keep his old gas station going even though the local layabouts (a lively selection of the lazy, the half-blind, the kleptomaniacal and the terminally shy) rob him and clutter the doorway, while his older sons abandon the place and his youngest is nearly killed by an armed robber. A graceful portrait of everyday courage in a ruined Montreal neighbourhood. —R.C.
(Wed., Sept. 10, 7 p.m.sity 3; Fri., Sept. 12, 2 p.m., Cumberland 1.)

A Heart Elsewhere
Pupi Avati (Italy)

Written and directed by the veteran Pupi Avati, this is a romance comedy with a classically Italian flavour: funny, sweet, poignant, leaving an aftertaste of delicious melancholy. The setting is the twenties, and our protagonist is a shy, rather homely bachelor who arrives in Bologna to teach at the local high school, and perhaps to find a potential bride. He does, in the person of a gorgeous blind woman, who responds to his gentleness while overlooking his appearance — at least until a medical miracle restores her sight. The story may be slim, but the performances are impeccable, especially from Neri Marcore. He takes a stock role — the aging bachelor as nervous buffoon — and humanizes it with a filigree of delicate wit. Watch for the final shot; it's a mini-triumph, a study in bittersweet ambiguity. — R.G.
(Mon., Sept. 8, 6 p.m., Uptown 2; Wed., Sept. 10, 12:30 p.m., Varsity 4.)

James' Journey to Jerusalem
Ra'anan Alexandrowicz (Israel)

Ironic from the get-go, Ra'anan Alexandrowicz's feature debut follows the adventures of James (a very endearing performance by Siyabonga Melongisi Shibe), a devout wide-eyed Christian, as he attempts a pilgrimage from Nigeria to Jerusalem. When the contemporary Candide arrives, he is immediately jailed under suspicion of being an illegal immigrant in search of work. Soon, though, he's bought out of jail by a small-time businessman who, surprise, puts him to work illegally. All James wants to do is see the Holy City — until he gets his first taste of money and power, and soon turns the tables on his boss.

Despite being shot in a drab, made-for-TV style, James' Journey is an appealing — and slyly biting — parable about hypocrisy that confronts the increasing moral bankruptcy of a once-idealistic society. — M.P.
(Sat., Sept. 6, 6 p.m., ROM; Mon., Sept. 8. 3:15 p.m., ROM.

Koktebel
Boris Khlebnikov and Alexei Popogrebsky (Russia)

A father and son slowly make their way from Moscow to a seaport of the title in Crimea, on foot and by box car. The boy, 11, is worried; the dad is a former aircraft designer who, after his wife's death, drank himself out of job and home. Iniitally the father tries to avoid slipping back into drinking but he relapses, recovers and meets a woman — a country doctor who takes a liking to him. The boy decides to go on by himself. The other star of the movie is the Russian and Ukrainian autumn countryside and camerawork that frames this human dilemma against a natural backdrop. — L.L.
(Fri., Sept. 5, 6 p.m. ROM; Sun., Sept. 7, 2 p.m. Varsity 3.)

Imitations of Life
Mike Hoolboom (Canada)

This is the second in a trilogy of films using found footage along with narrative, and given its abstract meditations on childhood, memory, imagery, Hollywood, it's less immediately engaging than last year's first film of the series, the biographical film, Tom. The video is composed of 10 parts, which range in theme and tone but are linked to the idea of how we imagine our own future and how death obsessions are reflected in Hollywood film. The final effect is of an intensely edited, handsomely illustrated lecture. — L.L.
(Thurs. Sept. 11, 8:45 p.m. ROM; Sat. Sept. 13, 1 p.m. Varsity 7.)

Les Invasions barbares
Denys Arcand (Canada)

The most celebrated Canadian film of the year, Denys Arcand's Les Invasions barbares is wryly positive, or at least as much as you could expect from a film that condemns the Quebec hospital system and features a death by cancer as its central theme. A sequel to, and in almost exactly the same tone as his success of 17 years ago, The Decline of the American Empire, the Invasions follows the experiences of the womanizing professor, Rémy (Rémy Girard), as he faces his death from cancer, and how his friends and family manage to thwart the purported horrors of the Quebec hospital system. Remy believes that not only his body, but the world is being pillaged by barbarians of one kind or another. The story is a sentimentally idealized picture of the good death, when friends and lovers are reconciled, pain is kept at a distant and the food and surroundings are heavenly; but it is a sentimentality undercut by wit and rueful humour. — L.L.
(Thurs. Sept. 4, 7: 15 p.m. Uptown 1; Thurs. Sept. 4, 8 p.m. Roy Thomson Hall.)

Lost in Translation
Sofia Coppola (U.S.)

Stranded together in an anonymous Tokyo hotel, a young newlywed (Scarlett Johansson) becomes pals with a mournfully over-the-hill Hollywood actor, in town to shoot a well-paying whisky ad. He's going through a midlife crisis; she's going through an early-life one, and though they're both too decent to upset each other's lives, they dance around it. In this sophomore film from director Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Sucides), the secondary characters are either ridiculous or barely sketched; the films is essentially about mining the particular and distinctive movie charms of Bill Murray, who comes across as a more playful, kinder Robert Mitchum, sad-eyed, meditative and full of care. Johansson does what she did so expertly in Ghost World — she reacts — and sets the star off even brighter. — L.L.
(Fri. Sept. 5, 9:45 p.m., Elgin; Sun., Sept. 7, 3:30 p.m., Uptown 1.)

The Mother
Roger Michell (U.K.)

From from British director Roger Mitchell (Notting Hill, Changing Places) with a screenplay from Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette) comes this oddly insinuating story of an aging English woman, Mary (Anne Reid) who breaks the rules with devastating results. When her elderly husband dies while she is visiting her yuppie son, Mary stays in London to care for her daughter's child. Her daughter, an aspiring writer, is involved with a casual labourer, Darren, who the mother becomes attracted to. Her journey into an erotic craziness is engrossing, tender and more than a little alarming. Startling in interesting ways, The Mother sheds intriguing light on family systems and the precarious cracks that can suddenly become apparent. — L.L.
(Sun., Sept. 7, 9 p.m., Uptown 2; Tues. Sept. 9, 1:30 p.m. Varsity 2.)

Pieces of April
Peter Hedges (U.S.)

The directing debut of the screenwriter of What's Eating Gilbert Grape? is a Thanksgiving reunion story that has some sharp humour that keeps it lively, and the forward momentum keeps from descending into a sitcom. Katie Holmes stars as April, the black sheep of a fractious family, who has declared that Thanksgiving will be at her house this year, a gesture toward her mother (Patricia Clarkson) who is dying of cancer but hasn't lost he edgy humour. Oliver Platt plays her husband, and father of the goody-two-shoes Beth (Alison Pill) and weed-smoking camera buff brother Timmy. For good measure, they've brought along April's senile grandmother. — L.L.
(Sat., Sept. 6, 9 p.m. Varsity 8; Mon., Sept. 8, 1 p.m., Uptown 2.)

Save the Green Planet
Jang Jun-hwan (South Korea)

More proof of why South Korea is considered to have the most vibrant film culture in East Asia, Jung Jun-hwan's confident debut has clear breakout potential. A meek beekeeper (remarkably portrayed by Shin Ha-kyun) is convinced that aliens live among us and it's his duty to kidnap and torture them until they reveal their invasion plans. Yes, the kid's clearly nuts — and heavily medicated — but even the insane have motivations. A box-office flop when released in Korea, the film has since won awards in Moscow and at the fantasy festival in Puchon, and is a cult classic in the making.
Raucously directed with extreme confidence — even if homages to 2001: A Space Odyssey seem a bit tired by now — Green Planet is a jam-packed, very dark film that ends with unforeseen plangency. — M.P.
(Fri., Sept. 12, 11:59 p.m., Uptown 1; Sat., Sept. 13, 11:30 a.m., Cumberland 1.)



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