Saying It Must Be Heaven is a Palestinian film can give a lot of people the wrong impression at first. It’s a film that is enjoyable and worth seeing.
The film begins with a Christian religious ceremony in Nazareth, Palestine. They’re to enter the church, but it’s locked. It’s locked by the custodians who want to be alone drinking up. The priest and those part of the mass are angry. They barge in and get violent with him.
Life in Nazareth is not a pleasant experience for filmmaker Elia Suleiman. Elia has been experienced some downtime since a close friend of his died. Elia still has their wheelchair, walker and other personal items. Wherever he goes, it appears people have a surly attitude. He goes to a restaurant and there’s an argument over the wine. He lives on the opposite end of an apartment where a father and son live in opposite suites and exchange insults. The few times when the Palestinians are nice to each other are when they know they’re being observed. Once outsiders leave, they go back to being their grumbling selves. The one Palestinian in Nazareth who looks to have a pleasant attitude is a young gardener who tends to Suleiman’s lemon tree, against Suleiman’s will. Suleiman tells him he doesn’t want him to trim it, but he comes back.
Elia seeks inspiration for his script. However he has to seek financial support from outside of Palestine. He goes on a flight to Paris and the flight gets turbulent as is goes over the Dinaric Alps. When he arrives in Paris, the Paris of people’s fantasies is alive. He sees it as a city of romance, a city of nice fashionably dressed women at a cafe having a good time together.
Then the realities of Paris start. His hotel suite is right next to a fashion house and their LED ad shines out a lot of lights that make it hard for Elia to sleep. He sits outside his window and looks out onto the street. He’s on the subway and sees a tattooed punk try to look menacing to him. He sees someone put a plastic bag underneath a car parked just outside. A bomb? The police come on Segways to check, but notice nothing and move away. He sees a homeless man lying around nearby and the police arriving to give him food. Suleiman is there during Bastille Day. He finds himself lost in a crowd during a military parade.
Elia knows he has business to deal with in Paris. He meets with a film producer, but the producer tells him that his film isn’t Palestinian enough. Elia tries to work more on his script. He notices that a bird has flown into his hotel suite. He welcomes the bird at first. However problems arise when Elia is typing on his script and the birds wants Elia’s attention. The bird hops onto his laptop and Elia gently pushes him aside. The bird repeats, but Elia’s had enough. He decides the bird need to fly back out in the open.
Elia then sets his sights on New York. Before he does, he has a day where he just wants to relax. He goes over to a park area, but notices a woman dressed in an angel costume with the Palestinian flag on her torso. A group of police try to pursue her, but she makes it a case of ‘catch me if you can.’ When they do catch her, she mysteriously disappears. Returning to his hotel that evening, he sees the car that had the bag placed underneath it is towed away. The bag is still visible.
When Elia arrives in New York, he is taken to a hotel by a cab driver who tries to develop conversation. The cab driver asks where he’s from, and Elia responds “Palestine.” The cab driver slams on his brakes and talks about how surprised he is to see a Palestinian. He’s never seen one before! He meets with a pretentious film professor. The professor wants his story to embody the Palestinian cause in the best way it can. He goes to a meeting held by a Palestinian-American group. The crowd is too enthusiastic for the leader to handle so she demands they all give one clap for each speaker she announces.
Then the meeting with the producer happens. Before he does, he is met in the waiting room with Gael Garcia Bernal who is his friend. Bernal has read over his script and he is very happy with what Suleiman has written. The exec however is uninterested in funding a ‘Palestinian story.’ Before Suleiman is about to return back home, he walks around New York and notices how Americans everywhere, even in the supermarkets, carry guns over their shoulders. He arrives back in Nazareth and notices that the gardener is back pruning his trees. The film ends with Suleiman in a discotheque with young people dancing to a song celebrating Palestine.
The film has a message to say, but instead of it speaking its message, it allows the message to be told in the images it shows. The film says its messages in what Suleiman sees. We see the world through his eyes. Nazareth looks to be this unhappy place in the middle of nowhere. Suleiman thinks that he will have a better time in the cities he will visit: Paris and New York. He can escape the unpleasant attitudes, the violent actions of others and fear of terrorism. He’s in for a surprise. In Paris, he notices what could be a car bomb placed underneath a car. The bomb never goes off, but it does remind you it has its own threats. Even in New York where there are still memories of 9/11, the threat of terrorism is there too. Bad manners? Suleiman witnesses as a stranger on a Paris subway tries to look menacing to him. Over in the part, an elderly lady tries to get a seat, but a young man on a bike beats her to it with no regrets. He’s reminded there’s rudeness there too. He’s also reminded of military preparedness and vigilance too as the Bastille Day parade has a military march and Americans in New York show their weapons openly. what he thought he’d leave behind in Palestine is still there in Paris and New York.
The film also feels about the difficulty of being a Palestinian in the outside world. Elia may be Christian but he defines himself as a Palestinian. He finds it hard enough living in Palestine, but finds it challenging to define himself to others. The meeting with the producer in Paris shows the French are interested in showing an image of Palestine, but one common or friendly with French audiences. The meeting with the taxi driver also adds to the feelings of confusion with his identity. He goes to a Palestinian-American rally that supports the cause, but doesn’t get too much out of it. How can a Palestinian relate to a Palestinian-American? Even if they share the same cause, they don’t have too much in common.
The film is less about the words spoken that it is about what one sees happening. This is pretty much a film of what Elia Suleiman sees through his eyes and he lets the images and moments do the talking instead of him. There are very few instances when you see Elia talking. It’s very rare in a film where the protagonist doesn’t even utter ten words. Almost all moments of the film, including moments when he appears to be in a conversation, show him being a silent observer or a silent responder. That adds to the humor of the film, and Elia wants the film to blend humor with the theme and message of his story. Yep, even moments where you see Elia being dead silent get us laughing. It’s part of the film’s ironic dry humor. Some could say Elia’s wit is a lot like Woody Allen’s. You be the judge.
This is the first film in seven years for Elia Suleiman. His last one was 7 Days In Havana. This is a film he directs, writes, and plays lead. He does a good job in letting the images tell the story. Even during his mute moments, he adds to the humor of the story. It’s a silent humor that you have to get and understand while you watch this film. The inclusion of music in the various scenes adds to the story and fits it well.
It Must Be Heaven is Palestine’s official entry in the Academy Awards category of Best International Feature Film; a retitling of the Best Foreign Language Film category. The film has won a lot of acclaim. Acclaim includes a win for Special Mention at this year’s Cannes Film Fest as well as a nomination for the Palme d’Or, a nomination for Best Film at the Seville Film Festival, and a nomination for Best Canadian Feature Film at the Toronto Film Festival (film had production in Canada).
It Must Be Heaven is a film with a lot of wit and dry humor. Its silence of much of the story and of its main protagonist actually speaks volumes and is the film’s best quality.
I accidentally came across To Live To Sing when the virtual reality show I wanted to see was in a venue with a low capacity. I’m glad I saw it.
The film begins with a show of local performers in a Chinese city. The show starts with a modern fan dance by schoolgirls. It’s then followed by the Jinli Sichuan Opera Troupe: a local troupe that performs traditional Chinese opera. Right after the show, the opera troupe goes back to their own end of the city where they put on their own daily show. They perform every day at the same time at the same small theatre and entertain the same local crowd they’ve charmed for years. They rehearse well and they get along mostly fine. They have their own disputes on how to do something artistically, but it doesn’t last long. The Troupe is led by Zhao Li whom oversees everything. Her niece Dan Dan, who was orphaned at a young age and raised by Zhao, is seen by Zhao as the future of the troupe as most are aging.
Things are changing in the area they live. A lot of old homes are being crushed under government orders in order to build new developments. The theatre is under threat. This will not only mean the end of the theatre but the end of the opera troupe too. Zhao is frustrated as her theatre doesn’t attract crowds big enough. The others are worried too, but they try to make plans fearing the worst. Dan Dan however sees this as a breakthrough moment as she always dreamt of being a pop star instead of being confined to an opera troupe where she only gets paid 10%. During the time of frustrations, Zhao notices a dwarf in Chinese opera wear. She tries to spot him out, but he runs away.
Zhao is trying to negotiate with the government about keeping her theatre. However she knows it will be uncertain due to the small crowds that come to her theatre. Zhao is very forbidding of any modernisms that come to the theatre. She is strict on tradition. Then one night when she’s out, she notices the dwarf. She tries to follow him but loses focus of him. She is by a night club and she is drawn to the music. Then the announcer announces a singer for her first performance. It’s Dan Dan, and in a showy dress. Dan Dan notices Zhao in the crowd and can’t sing. The two have a fight outside where Dan Dan walks off furiously. The following day, Zhao confessed to Dan Dan that she always saw her as her daughter. Dan Dan becomes more committed to the troupe.
Zhao has another encounter with the dwarf and the dwarf takes her to a restaurant. There she sees one of the men negotiate a future job deal. Feeling the threat harder, Zhao decides one day to break with tradition and do a show that fuses modern with traditional. The troupe is welcoming of it. They perform the show with the mix of modern and traditional. The crowd loved it, but Zhao notices the spirit of the dwarf as it takes her to a mysterious land of Chinese art and culture.
Despite the audience pleased with the performance, Zhao can’t lose focus as an official from the party will be attending a show to see whether to keep the theatre up or not. They get a chance! However it’s a very slim one as the areas nearby are being crushed. The night before, Zhao has the same fantasy of the dwarf taking her to that land. Then the day of the show. The audience is ready. The players are ready, but the official is not to be seen. There has to be a wait and it’s making the crowd impatient. Then the official finally arrives and they are able to put on their show. Just as the show is happening, Zhao is again taken away to that imaginary place. The show she’s in is a dazzling trip of the imagination, until the character played by Dan Dan is stabbed. It all falls apart.
We then learn that the official decided to have the theatre removed. The troupe is heartbroken, even though some talk about plans of what to do after. The next day where there’s no show, members of the local audience show up and wonder why know show? The film flashes five years later with Zhao and Dan Dan returning to the same spot and what’s become of it. They see the development and the ruins. However Zhao sees the dwarf again. Possibly to send one last message.
The film is a common story about art attempting to stay alive. The film also touches on the subject of gentrification. We see it all around us; old buildings being crushed for new developments with big profits in mind. I see it a lot in Vancouver. Here it shows it happening in the People’s Republic of China. In most countries, they have the freedom where they can come bring this issue up to the government. Not all chances work out successfully, but they’re still given a fair chance. In China, you’re chances are very limited with a chance that’s slim to none. When the government says it will happen, it will happen. Zhao was lucky to have that one chance where she could prove to the government the importance of her opera. It was unsuccessful but she still had it.
The film also showed another aspect or battle. It also showcased the battle between traditional art and the more modern art or entertainment that’s the call of the day. Without a doubt, Zhao is a purist of the traditional Chinese opera and starts off as forbidding to the new ways and the new sounds. We should not be surprised that she would be furious if she saw Dan Dan become a contemporary pop star. Despite her belief in traditionalism, she does convince herself to welcome the modern sounds and even mesh it into the traditional opera. We see that a lot in many countries of mixing traditional or classical with the modern. It’s actually very successful in many countries. It proves to be a success here too. However the film sends a message that even with modernisms, the traditional should not be lost. It should still be admired and celebrated.
One thing the film tried to make clear with the story is of the spirits of art and how it exists inside Zhao. You may notice there are many times a dwarf in opera garb is in Zhao’s vision. The dwarf leads Zhao to many images all telling the story of what will happen. However the dwarf doesn’t always lead Zhao to images of a happy ending. That image where the opera comes alive in Zhao’s dreams but leads to the stabbing of Dan Dan is what would send the message of the bad fate of the opera troupe and its house. However it’s right at the end where when it appears all has been long lost at the end, it’s not. The spirit of art still remains even in the ruins.
This is the first film I’ve seen from Chinese-Canadian writer/director Johnny Ma. Living in Vancouver, he’s able to do Chinese stories that would not be the most welcome in the People’s Republic. His first feature from 2016 Lao Shi was about battling bureaucracy and legal manipulation in China. The film was shown at the Hong Kong film festival but not in Shanghai. This film was shown in both Shanghai and Hong Kong. It doesn’t depict the government that bad here. Instead the focus is on art and its attempt to survive. Johnny does a very good story and is good at sending a message, but it is a bit uneven in its storyline. The film also has a real opera troupe as its cast and they all play fictional versions of themselves. That’s another quality to the film. It does make you wonder how they’re doing in their home country. The actors all did well by being themselves when they had to, performers when they had to, and actors when they had to. Zhao Xiaoli and Gan Guidan stood out the most as the two did show a close chemistry in the film that made the aunt/niece relationship look real.
To Live To Sing is a story of artistic ambitions with a bittersweet ending. However it’s a good and colorful, albeit imperfect, reminder that art will triumph.
DISCLAIMER: VIFF 2019 has ended, but I will continue to post reviews of the films I’ve seen as many will be released in theatres later this year or next year.
At first you’ll think I saw The Death Of Dick Long because of the title. In actual fact, I’ve heard so many lewd jokes in my life, I’m no longer charmed by it. I’m actually more bored with lewd humor. As for the film, I found the film to be funny in a bizarre and dark sort of way.
The film begins with Dick Long playing in his band Pink Freud with his bandmates Zeke Olson and Earl. The night consists of playing and partying, especially with fireworks. However overnight, Zeke and Earl leave a severely-wounded Dick by the entrance of the emergency room of a hospital and take his wallet for the sake of ‘anonymity.’ It’s now up to Earl and Zeke to hide everything.
Earl loads up his truck with several items. He tells his casual girlfriend Lake that he’s leaving for a family emergency, but goes to work. Zeke showers to get all the blood off him and lies down next to his wife Lydia to think he slept the whole night with her. Upon waking up, Lydia asks Zeke to drive their daughter Cynthia to school. When she asks for cash, he accidentally pulls out Dick’s wallet . He gives her cash, but puts Dick’s driver’s license on the counter. Before he takes the daughter to school, he sees Dick’s blood from last night on the backseat. He covers it with a sheet to make like nothing’s happening.
Over at the hospital, Dr. Richter, the doctor who discovered Dick at the door, has learned that Dick has died overnight. He notices that his wounds are severe anal wounds and he calls the police over it. The case is handled and investigated by Sherriff Spenser, a vet in the town police department, and she enlists her young inexperienced trainee Officer Dudley to help solve the death.
However Zeke and Earl learn you can’t keep things secret for long. Zeke drives Cynthia to school, but stops to fill the car up with gas. Cynthia leaves the car to go the store and talks with Officer Dudley. Zeke notices Dick’s blood soaked through the cloth and onto Cynthia’s dress. Zeke then rushes in to take Cynthia without Dudley seeing and gives her the wallet.
Before dropping Cynthia off, he makes a call to Earl to see him immediately. Earl has to be away from his girlfriend Lake for the day. The two scrub all the blood off the seat from the car while Cynthia is bathing. Earl offers to drive Cynthia to school and then calls Dick’s widow Jane to see if she knows anything. She knows nothing and thinks Dick is either missing or just away for a long time. This allows Earl and Zeke to fake a scenario that the car was stolen. They try dumping it in the river, but the river is too shallow and it only falls in halfway.
Sherriff Spenser and Officer Dudley get into the case, which they assume it to be a murder, but are unable to keep it a secret from the rest of the town. Word hits Lydia and she calls Zeke in fear of her life. Zeke insists the car is stolen, but he still has to meet with the police. Spenser and Dudley arrive at his house to ask him the questions. The questioning is to be brief as forensics have turned up some positive results. However Cynthia’s in the room. Whenever Zeke tells a lie, Cynthia is the first to point it out and to correct. Lydia is there hearing it all. Lydia tells Cynthia to watch television as she tries to get to the bottom with Zeke about his inconsistencies and demands the truth. Zeke confesses the truth of Dick’s death, by breaking down. Lydia is heartbroken. However Lydia is soon horrified when she learns of the shocking details of Dick’s death and demands that Zeke leave.
Zeke meets up with Earl in a bar and the two resolve that they won’t run away. However there’s a need for tactics as they learn Spenser and Dudley will be heading over to the Olsons for further questioning and then to Jane’s house to tell the news of what happened to Dick. Zeke rushes over to Jane’s house and she finds him in the stable drunk and shirtless. Zeke reassures Jane that Dick’s not having an affair and agrees to take her to his house. There, Officer Dudley and Lydia are there demanding answers. Dudley even just noticed the drivers license of Richard Long on the counter. Zeke agrees to do so with Lydia and Dudley sitting at the dinner table. The various conflicting stories of Zeke and Lydia spiral out of control with Zeke running out with Dudley chasing after him. Lydia is the one to break the news to Jane. Meanwhile Zeke is at Dick’s stable attempting to free Dick’s horse Comet before he will surrender himself to Dudley.
The final scene shows the aftermath. The big shocker to Dudley from Spenser is that Zeke has been released, feeling keeping him incarcerated before the trial would cause more harm than good to Lydia, Cynthia and Jane. Zeke may be a released man before the trial, but he still tries to maintain a closeness with Cynthia despite Lydia wanting him out of their lives. Even Jane’s life is not the same. The film ends with Zeke meeting up at a hotel room with Earl and Lake. The two talk about what the next plan is for all three to survive the aftermath of all this.
This film is an ambitious attempt at a crime comedy. You have a man left for dead at a hospital and you wonder what’s going on. You have the two trying to cover it up and hide from the law, but fail in a spectacularly hilarious way. You have law enforcers that are two opposites– one experienced and relaxed and the other inexperienced and both excited but nervous– at getting the job done. It tries to do it in a slow-but-steady manner. It’s not the most entertaining, but it does it well and will keep your intrigue. Mind you the story of Dick’s death will keep you intrigued, if not weirded out. The whole story leaves you wondering from the very start what’s the main motive of the cover up? Is it their involvement in his death? Or is it because of Dick’s humiliating death? It is bizarre.
Now the redneck stereotype is one people often get a laugh out of. However there are many times in entertainment where the redneck stereotype is often reduced to cartoonish or stock characters. Here, the characters are more three-dimensional. Yes, they have their idiotic moments and comedic moments common with the ‘redneck’ we’re familiar with, but they are more down-to-earth and have more dimension. They come across as common people. One thing that’s surprising is you see a multi-racial couple. Usually redneck couples are nothing but white.
The rednecks aren’t the only characters with more dimension in this film. The police force whose lack of intellect doesn’t come across like your typical stocky ‘dumb cop.’ They are dim-witted, but they don’t cross the line as cartoonish either.
Finally another difference from your typical redneck comedy is the ending is very much in sync with human feelings. The story is about a hilarious way of covering up a friend’s humiliating death and failing, but the human factor is there at the very end. Zeke may have failed in spectacular fashion, but he still knows he has to deal with a daughter he loves very much and a wife who turns against him that faithful night. We have Jane, Dick’s widow, trying to live her life, but it’s hard. Everything changed that night. The film ends Earl and Lake: the two people in the world that understand Zeke and what happened that night best. I think the ending is what best made the film work in being a redneck comedy with actual dimension.
The film is directed well by Daniel Scheinert. He’s the director best known for Swiss Army Man. Here he doesn’t shine as a director, but he does piece together the story by Billy Chew in a way that works. The acting also made the story work. Janelle Cochran and Sarah Baker were good at playing their roles of the two officers with different personalities and different approaches. Michael Abbott Jr. and Andre Hyland were good at playing Zeke and Earl. They did a good job of playing rednecks that had dimension instead of coming off as cartoonish. Virginia Newcomb and Jess Weixler were also good as playing the redneck wives who did lack some smarts at first, but would appear headstrong but hurt in the end.
The Death Of Dick Long is a humorous redneck crime story that is able to make a comedy out of a manslaughter incident, but doesn’t forget the human factor either. This is the least cartoonish ‘redneck comedy’ I’ve seen, and it works.
With the VIFF comes the return of films in the Altered States category: of thrillers, horror and even the paranormal. My first chance came with the film In The Tall Grass. It was worth it.
The film starts with a pregnant Becky DeMuth and her brother Cal traveling to San Diego to find a way to give up her baby. They pass an old bowling alley and stop by a church. Just as they stop by, they hear the voice of a young boy crying for help. The voice is coming from a field of tall grass they’ve parked beside. They also hear the mother of the boy begging anyone to not come in. Becky and Cal are naturally curious and walk in top help the boy. It’s only a matter of time they find themselves lost and even risk getting stuck by the wet sticky mud. Even as they’re distant, they hear each other’s voices which is not really theirs, but mystically transmitted. They decide to leave, but they can’t and are stuck for the night.
During the night, Cal encounters Tobin, the lost boy, who is scared, bruised and holding a dead crow. Becky meets up with a man named Ross, who is very friendly and offers to lead her. Tobin reveals to cal that the field the grass does not move dead things and Becky will not make it out of the field alive. Tobin leads Cal to the centre of the field which consists of cut grass bordering a big mystical rock with hieroglyphics which Tobin tells Cal to touch. Before he does, Becky arrives, but is taken away by an unseen figure.
Travis, the father of Becky’s child, arrives in the same area of Becky and Cal. He notices the car parked by the church. He also notices the field of tall grass. He hears Tobin’s voice and is led into the field. Tobin leads Travis to Becky’s corpse. Travis breaks down, but loses sight of Tobin. At the same time, we see Tobin with his father Ross and mother Natalie at the church along with their dog Freddie. Possibly a reference of what happened earlier. Freddie runs into the field of tall grass and the three chase after him. It’s there where Travis hears Tobin’s voice and the three of the family are scattered around the field. Ross comes to the centre with the rock and touches it as night falls. Tobin is discovered by Becky and cal all all are confused by the timelines.
As the three are one group, Becky and Cal decide to leave and use Tobin to navigate a path back to the road on top of Cal’s shoulders. Becky receives an unknown phone call saying that Cal should quit hunting Travis.The grass soon appears to be entering Becky’s uterus and she becomes unconscious. Cal and Tobin come across Ross, who reunites with Tobin. Ross brings them to the rock but are startled when they see Natalie and she says she saw Becky’s corpse earlier. As they try to make their escape, Ross is chasing them all down and gives them the impression there’s no escape and they’re all under Ross’ control. Ross tells them all the rock shows them of what’s happening.
Becky, Cal, Travis and Tobin succeed in escaping the field into the abandoned bowling alley. As Cal and Travis make their way to the top, they discover the dog Freddie escaped via a hole. However a spat between Travis and Cal brew as Travis brings up he senses incestuous feelings between Cal and Becky. Cal throws Travis off the roof. That succeeds in alerting Ross to their location. Tobin, knowing how this alerted Ross to their whereabouts, runs back into the field. Becky and Cal try to escape together, but Becky won’t leave Travis alone in the field. After she runs off to find Travis, Cal is strangled by Ross. It’s evident anyone in the grass field is affected by a time loop. If anyone dies, there will be another of them alive. If anyone touches the rock, they get a sense of control and invincibility.
During the return to the grass, Becky admits she was going to give the baby up for adoption. Becky is soon captured by Ross who tries to sexually assault her, but she escapes. Grass creatures however emerge and grab a hold of her and carry her to the rock. There, the rock develops imagery that detail the baby will die and Becky will be tortured. Becky passes out in reaction. As she awakens, she is tricked by Ross who poses his voice as Cal. Travis meanwhile stumbles across Becky’s unconscious body. Ross then kills Travis and captures Tobin to get him to touch the rock. Becky stops him, but dies. Travis decides to touch the rock to get a better understanding of the grass.
The film ends with one last scene involving Becky, Cal, Tobin and Travis. It gives the impression that all know what is happening and the film ends with what should be.
This film is a film that is based off of a short story written by Stephen King and his son Joe Hill. We’ve had Stephen King adaptations before and often adapting a Stephen King story to the big screen is hit-or-miss. This is a very complex story. This involves six people who go into a field of grass with paranormal powers. It threatens their lives and creates another life for them. Then there’s the rock that gives whoever it touches a sense of invincibility and control and threatens others.
Overall this film is a maze and a puzzle. Trying to piece this puzzle together is a tricky thing. Trying to create this maze of confusion is also a tricky thing. Watching it, it’s easy to get thrilled by the paranormal and nervous for what will happen next. However in looking back, I felt there were some areas that didn’t make too much sense. Even when it becomes clear that Ross starts as the controlling one and then it becomes Travis, that seemed odd. Even how Ross was the controlling conniving one, that even seemed cheesy at times.
The film does however keep one intrigued in the paranormal elements. Depite its flaws in the script and storyline, it does succeed in grabbing a hold of your attention and keeping you intrigued in the story. The paranormal elements don’t come across as cheeseball as it adds to the thriller aspect of the film. Overall despite its flaws as a film, I feel this is a good story for fans of paranormal fiction. I just feel it could have been done better as a movie.
This story is a mixed bag for Vincenzo Natali. Yes, it’s confusing, but the paranormal will keep one intrigued from start to finish and it will keep one hoping for the best for the main characters. Laysla de Oliveira was very good as Becky. Isn’t it something how the first two VIFF films I saw starred Laysla? She captured the role well in both it’s comedic elements and it’s dramatic elements.
Avery Whitted was also good as Cal. Will Buie Jr. also did an excellent job as Tobin: the frightened boy in the middle of it all. His role was the best at keeping the horror/thriller aspect of the film and was the most no-nonsense performance of all. Patrick Wilson was hard to make sense of as Ross. He came across as a conniver, but I feel he lacked the sinister element. Harrison Gilbertson was good as Travis, but he appeared he could have done more.
In The Tall Grass is a Netflix thriller that works well to be shown on the big screen, if imperfectly. It may not make the most sense, but it does keep people thrilled and intrigued about what will happen next and how it will end.
“We must dare to invent the Future”
Judging by the title, you’ll think The Great Green Wall is about something environmental. You are mostly right. However this film is about something more, just like the wall.
Before I get into the film, I need to explain what the Great Green Wall is. It’s official name is The Great Green Wall Of The Sahara And The Sahel. The Great Green Wall is an environmental project and initiative meant to protect Africa against climate change and desertification. Those most vulnerable to desertification are the lands and people around the areas where the Sahara ends off known as the Sahel. This environmental wall of reforestation is to be done across twelve African countries around the Sahel. The main goal is to prevent the spread of the Sahara that has desertified a lot of green space in the past, strengthen regional resilience and natural systems for a sound ecosystem, and also maintain better living conditions and a better quality of life and even a future for the people’s of Africa around this area.
The idea of a ‘great green wall’ to contain the Sahara was first imagined by a British botanist in 1954, but was never taken seriously. The idea was brought up again in 2002 at an international meeting of the Community Of Sahel-Saharan States and approved in 2005. The African Union endorsed it in 2007 and the first plantings occurred in 2008. Eleven of the countries involved created the Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall (PAGGW) as well as a harmonized strategy to plant out the Wall was adopted by African nations and implemented by the UN in 2012. However by 2016, only 15% of the acreage has been planted. Although many countries have been successful in planting, many of their plans are threatened by civil war.
The film is the Wall as seen through the eyes of Malian singer Inna Modja. She was born Inna Boccum but was called Ina Modja by her mother as a child as Modja is ‘bad girl’ in her native Malian language. Inna grew up in a musical family and was heavily influenced by both the traditional sounds of African pop music and American hip-hop and R&B of her teen years as well as the jazz records owned by her father. When she broke into the music world in 2009, she settled for a pop/soul sound. Her music ranges from themes of common pop songs to songs with strong political messages. Her music is not only big in Africa but also popular in France and Belgium.
Right at the start of the film, Inna talks of her own identity having elements with the Sahel. She grew up around the Malian area of the Sahel. The Great Green Wall is a project she is heavily dedicated to. She states the biggest elements the Wall is meant to combat: desertification, climate-change, poverty and even war. She also talks of her planned trip to visit areas around the Sahel where the Wall is vital to. It’s a trip that will take almost a year and will face the interruptions of her music schedule.
Before she embarks on her trip, she shows areas of Mali where forestation has occurred. She talks of her own childhood growing up on the Sahel. The first country she visits is Senegal. There she learns of the common belief shared by many young Africans: ‘flee to Europe or die trying.’ There’s a common belief in most of the young of Africa that there’s no future here in Africa. That their future is in Europe. Inna sees the importance of the wall as a way to keep the young in their African countries. It’s critical as it’s projected that 60 million young Africans are anticipated to migrate or attempt to migrate to Europe within the next 20 years.
Inna goes into more countries over time. She goes into Burkina Faso. One of her favorite leaders is Thomas Sankara: former president of Burkina Faso. She admires him and also hold dear to his saying ‘we must dare to invent the future.’ She then travels to Chad: a country that has suffered the most environmental damage. We learn of Lake Chad of how it used to be a big lake and it’s dissolved almost into nothing. She tells of the poverty and wars that have come from Chad’s environmental devadtation, including war children.
She then travels to Nigeria: the most populative country in Africa. She meets up with singer Waje who is a top singing star in Nigeria. She uses her fame for good and is just as supportive of the wall. Over in Nigeria she learns of many ugly truths that are common in Africa. The biggest one being children turned into soldiers. She even talks to two former child soldiers that tell their story. She then goes to Niger which has the highest birthing rate in the world: more than seven per mother. She meets with mothers who talk about the hope for their children, including one mother who just gave birth.
Her last trip is to Ethiopia. There she meets with singer Betty G., but she also sees the biggest ray of hope. For most the biggest image of Ethiopia is the famine of 1984. During the famine, hundreds of thousands of people died of starvation. Much of the areas of land that was dry dirt during the famine have seen forestry and horticulture replanted and developed. The area where there was mass starvation and death is now full of plant life. After Ethiopia, Inna returns back to Mali with a new outlook on Africa and ready to send the message out in her performances.
The film is an informative film as it’s a documentary about the wall and how much it means to a singer. We should also know that Inna is also a political activist. She has not only spoken about the Great Green Wall bit also spoken out against violence against women and female genital mutilation, which she herself was against her parents’ will. Inna is not afraid to include these topics in her music.
The film shows how Inna is passionate about the topic and wants to go to many parts of the Sahel to learn more of the issues surrounding the Sahel and to remind all of us why this Wall is important. Especially since only 15% has been planted and grown. We’re reminded of the Wall’s importance. It’s not just to prevent desertification. It’s not only to bring back an ecoculture in Africa. It’s also for the future of these African countries. It’s to give them a livelihood. It’s to prevent or end wars. It’s to give future generation of Africa a future there instead of Europe.
The film, which is co-produced by Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, shows how this Wall is about African countries coming together to make this wall happen. One thing about this Wall is that many treaties and organizations have come about this. This involved many times of leaders of African nations coming together. However through Inna’s eyes we also see musicians coming together to help make this wall a reality and help make for a better Africa. We see as she meets with Malian band Songhoy Blues, we see as she meets with Senegalese rapper Didier Awadi, as she meets with Nigerian singer Waje and as she meets with Ethiopian singer Betty C. In each case, the musicians are people that put messages in their music. We see them bonding with Inna for a common cause as they also share the same concerns. The Wall means a lot to them, and here we see how music unites people for a common cause.
The Great Green Wall is about an ambitious environmental project, but the film shows this wall is a lot more. It’s for the future and liveliness of Africa, to prevent the spread of the world’s biggest desert and for the future people of Africa to have a life of promise. The film, and Inna Modja, do an excellent job in delivering this message.
WIKIPEDIA: Great Green Wall. Wikipedia.com. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. 2019.<Great Green Wall>
WIKIPEDIA: Inna Modja. Wikipedia.com. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. 2019. <Inna Modja>
Many of you remember that I saw When I Walk. When We Walk appears to be the sequel, but it’s a lot more.
The first images we see are images of 1988 when a ten year-old Jason Da Silva is operating a videocamera for the first time and you hear his father instructing him how to use it. Then you hear Jason’s voiceover, but it’s not to us. It’s to his son Jase. You notice Jason’s voice is getting weaker.
The film then goes on to what has happened since When I Walk ended. When I Walk made its debut during Sundance 2013. On February 7, 2013, Jason Da Silva Jr. (nicknamed ‘Jase’) was born. It seemed like Jason’s dream is coming true and Jason, Alice and Jase were ready to be their own all-American family in their home in New York City.
Throughout the film, we see time is always the deciding factor and sometimes time cannot be kind. First off Jason’s MS has worsened to the point he needs 24-hour assistance. When he goes places with Jase, he can’t always follow up because there are many places and park paths people in wheelchairs can’t go. On top of it, Alice is feeling the burnout. 50% of marriages to a person with a disability fail because the fully-able partner gets burnout. Alice is obviously feeling it and the strain in their marriage can be noticed. In addition, Alice has more of a desire to live in Austin, Texas.
Jason tries to make it work by seeing if he can move to Texas. However New York is one of the best states in helping people with disabilities while Texas is one of the worst. Jason can live a normal life in his apartment in NYC with nurses coming to visit him and even do filmwork. In Texas, the most that Jason could get is being confined to a nursing home. Surrounding states are not much better, if any better at all. It becomes clear Jase is better off living with Alice in Texas and Jason in NYC.
Jason tries talking to Jase through Skype. Jase welcomes it at first, but Jase becomes unhappy to the point where he throws the camera. Jason is determined to see Jase more and flies out to Texas once every two weeks. However all the flights are proving to take a physical toll on him.
Jason tries to get the legal system to work for him by having Jase fly out from Texas more to see him. In the meantime, his physical condition worsens so much, he can no longer use his hands. He’s now a quadriplegic. Anytime, the next move will be he will lose his voice and then the next move is Jason will die. Jason tries to adjust to his quadriplegia by getting a new wheelchair and his assistants learning how to handle him. Jason tries to learn new ways of making his films. Then a court ruling happens. The New York family courts decide Jase can make visits once every two weeks to New York. Jason’s at the airport to greet him and Alice each time and their able to spend their quality time together. The film ends with Jason wrapping up the film as if he was wrapping up a letter to Jase. Also leaving the hint that the next film coming is When They Walk.
For those that saw When I Walk, they would have gotten a sense that there would be a continuation. First Alice was asked about being married to a person with a disability. As she answered, she talked of the fear of his worsening condition and breaks down. The film ended with the ultrasound of the successful pregnancy. When We Walk is a continuation. It’s not a sequel, but a new chapter. When I Walk gets released to a lot of acclaim and even an Emmy win. Jase is born. The dream of having his own family is true for only a few years. We see a marriage fall apart. We see Jason’s physical condition get worse. We she Jason try to make the efforts to see Jase as often as they can, even though they live halfway across the U.S. We see Jason reassess his own life and also what kind of husband he was to Alice. We see Jason reach out to his family and to his parents who both live in different cities. We see how others with disabilities struggle in different states. The film is a very telling story about a man with a disability, a family struggling to be together, and a race against time.
The film is also an eye-opener. The film shows the audience what it’s like not just to have a disability but a disability that is taking more and more of a toll on a person. We see as Jason is becoming more and more helpless. Jason even fills in the details of the physical declines that are yet to come. Nevertheless, he’s making the effort to keep his filmmaking skills going. He’s also making the effort to live a better more respectful quality of life by living in NYC. We are made aware just how being a person with a disability state by state can be worlds apart, especially for someone like Jason. We hear from those in Texas of how people with disabilities that are even more able than Jason are denied the type of quality of life Jason is getting. Hearing what the disabled in Texas have to say about what they’re denied adds to the film.
The film is not just a voice of one with a disability, or of many with disabilities. It’s also an intimate letter to his son Jase. Jason knows of his condition and how it will slowly degenerate his body over time. We even see how Jason goes from a paraplegic around the time of Jase’s birth to a quadriplegic around Jase’s fifth birthday. Jason makes clear his voice will be the next to go and then he will die. His condition of MS is a case of him dying slowly and slowly. Jason wants to make it like a letter to Jase if he dies before Jase is ever able to know him. You can understand why Jason narrates the film like a letter to Jase instead of narrated it in basic fashion. We the viewer also grow in knowledge to this letter. We understand Jason’s plight. Also we learn of his secret heartache. It makes pure sense Jason did this film this way.
Also we’re made aware that his next film will be When They Walk. It leaves those of us who know the story eager to see it when it comes out. Also it makes us nervous because we anticipate that this will be Jason da Silva’s last work ever.
When We Walk can be seen as one of many things. It can be seen as a glimpse of life played out, Jason’s personal message to his son, a sequel to When I Walk, a message of advocacy, or even a story about one finding the will to live despite all that is happening. One thing I see it as is a film that gives a voice to those that rarely get heard. I’m glad he does this.
BONUS: Many of you saw the website where Jason contributes. That being the site letting people with disabilities input to places, restaurants and buildings informing if they’re disability-friendly or not. The site is AXSMap. If you have a disability and you would like to contribute to the site, click here.
Those who know my film watching during the VIFF know that I try to watch at least one segment of short films. I saw a segment of seven films by Canadian directors entitled To Live In Infamy. In each of the films, there is some element of crime or taboo. Even some things that don’t qualify as a penal code may be seen as a crime of some sort, or even a simple wrongdoing. All of them are interesting in their own way.
Delphine (dir. Chloe Robichaud): A woman named Nicole looks back to a girl she only encountered for two brief times in her childhood. Her name was Delphine and she was a Lebanese immigrant to Quebec. The first flashback is in a private grade school where Delphine could only say one word in French: ‘oui.’ The other classmates make fun of her. Nicole, who is Lesbian-Canadian, doesn’t participate with her peers, silently shares in Delphine’s ostracism. The vice-principal of the school however does scold Nicole and the girls for lewdness. The second meeting between Nicole and Delphine is at sixteen in a public school. Delphine has a bully named Aminata who appears to try to dominate over every female. She attempts to dominate over Nicole too, but Nicole is physically resistant.
The story leaves us with the necessary questions. Some may ask were Nicole and Delphine lesbians? However the story is reflective of childhood. It reflects on fun memories like of some mischief and of family warmth. But also of upsetting memories like of being made to feel different and facing nemeses either violent or non-violent. We all have those moments in our childhood where we’re reminded how the world is a cruel place. It’s a story many can connect with, even if they didn’t live it exactly.
I’ll End Up In Jail (dir. Alexandre Dostie): A woman named Maureen is frustrated with her life. She tries to cover it up from her son and his boyfriend, but she can’t take it no more. One day, she drives off on an icy hilly road hoping for an escape but crashes into a parked car. It appears the car is parked so that a teen boy and his girlfriend can get stoned in the trunk of a car together. The girlfriend is dead. The boy learns she’s the mother of his classmates. They work to hide the body of the girl, but while Maureen is stuck underneath a tree, she learns a truth. She acts out in a way where she really has to be on the run from the law.
This film is a dark comedy that makes a lot of humorous situations in crime and personal problems. Even the uncovering of a dark truth appears humorously surprising, if not disturbing. The ending however feels a bit incomplete or doesn’t appear clear enough. I know it’s about Maureen’s escape and how it doesn’t go as planned, but it still looks like it’s missing something.
Shadow Trap (dirs. Damien Gillis and Michael Bourquin): In 1909, a white bounty hunter is out searching for Gitxsan business man Simon Gunanoot who is wanted for murder. The bounty hunter stocks up with a lot of supplies ready to find Simon, a reputed trapper and fur-trader, for a big reward. However the frontiers of Okanagan B.C. prove too much for him and he is in danger of freezing to death, until he’s rescued and sheltered by an Indigenous man. Is it Simon in hiding? He returns to the town with hides to trade.
This is a fictionalization of a true incident in Canadian history that says a lot. The message I seemed to get from the story may be about the common perception of Indigenous peoples by whites at the time as ‘savages,’ and how wrong they are. Even now as we’re trying to make reconciliation happen, I feel this story has a lot of value.
The Beach Raiders (dir. Tyson Breuer): A teen couple– the boyfriend having photography ambitions– is savoring the last days of summer at an Ontario beach. They have one last summer goal: steal some beer. They try to get it from the kitchen of a restaurant. However their attempt is not only in danger of being stopped by the owner, but their own relationship as both have differing goals. However their pursuit ends with a bang!
This film is a bit of an ode to the ‘young and stupid’ days. What starts with stealing one beer leads to a chance for something bigger. The film does however focus on a reality, though it is resolved in light fashion at the end.
Main Squeeze (dir. Brendan Prost): It’s Christmas. Benjy and Kiersey, a couple in an open relationship, are having fun in their apartment. However the fun is threatened when a young drunk woman smashes their window. It’s not just any woman, but Jacqui: Kiersey’s ‘other woman.’ He is not comfortable about having Jacqui in, but Kiersey insists. Benjy had every reason to be nervous because Jacqui says things making it clear she’s his rival. This not only threatens the relationship but the Christmas spirit too.
It’s a story that makes good use of a single location. It consists of a lot of moments where you don’t know what will happen next. It surprisingly ends with all conflict over.
Ghoulish Galactic Grievances (dir. Josh Owen): Wanna have some weird fun? A ghoul lives in a swamp, but she has a desire to pursue her friends in outer space. Her swamp friends want her to stay.
This is a fun and entertaining story of ghouls and aliens and creatures. It is definitely a fun comedic story to watch, but it succeeds in delivering a smart message within the theme.
Finding Uranus (dir. Ivan Li): This is the one short of this segment that is animated. A man is lost in a sea of internet porn and desires to find real sexual satisfaction. He pursues it through a very unorthodox trip.
This was entertaining, but bizarre at the same time. However I admire how the animator is not afraid to go crazy and let his creativity tread in territories many would not touch!
All seven shorts were entertaining in their own way. Some had a story to tell, while some were more about the show. Many were dramatic while some aimed more for comedy. All were good at telling their story, even if told in a bizarre style.
At the end, I can understand why this shorts segment is called To Live In Infamy. All of them had an infamy of some kind, whether big or small. Nevertheless all of them told their story well.
The Vancouver International Film Festival usually begins with an Opening Gala of speeches and an airing of a Canadian Feature Film: usually from TeleFilm Canada. This year it is Guest Of Honour: the latest film from Canadian director Atom Egoyan. It was a good film to open with, but not a great one.
The film begins with a priest, Father Greg, consulting with a daughter who lost her father, named Jim. Greg asks her how to best remember him, but she can’t say because she doesn’t remember him that well. She can speak for what he does remember of him.
Jim was a health inspector for restaurants most of his life. He started as a restaurateur, but failed. He had since become a health inspector. He was very strict in his job, especially to ethnic restaurants. As a family man, he married a Portuguese woman and fathered a daughter named Veronica. Veronica possessed a lot of music talent. That all changed one day when Jim introduced Veronica to a new music school. He met the instructor and she met Walter. Walter would become her partner in her glass harmonica instruction and performances, and later her boyfriend. The instructor would eventually become Jim’s mistress. Veronica knew that as she saw Jim sitting between the instructor and her mother, who was dying of cancer, and saw Jim hold the instructor’s hand.
Moving on into the future, the last time Veronica met with her father was while she was in jail for a crime she wants to take responsibility for, even though she may not have committed it. Jim is willing to do whatever it takes to get her out of jail, but she is insistent in serving her time.
Jim has to go to past videotapes and past references in order to get her justice. Sometimes he even confides to her pet rabbit about his problems and issues. As we flash back to the past, we learn more. We learn something bothered both Veronica and Walter inside. It bothered Walter so much, he committed suicide. Veronica would grow up to become a music teacher for a private school. However she has taken aback with the drummer of the school band named Clive. Clive looks so much like Walter. It even appears that she is more intimate with Clive, including to the bus driver Mike who is in love with her.
Mike is upset that Veronica won’t develop a relationship with her so one day, he sends a lewd text to Clive’s phone through Veronica’s phone during one of their performances. Clive and Veronica notice this. They want to do something, but fear they might be caught and accused of something they don’t want to be accused of. However it all falls apart at the hotel as Veronica is reminded of Walter’s suicide. Whatever problem happened at the hotel, it led to Veronica being sentenced to jail time and stripped of all teaching duties.
Jim tries to think of a way to free Veronica. He gets an idea after he sees a video of a rat inside a restaurant he inspected. The owner claimed someone with hard feelings to the restaurant put the rat in there to fix him. Another time, he comes across an Armenian restaurant with dead rabbits. He is about to close the place down, but they insist it’s for a delicacy of rabbit ears to be served at a private party. They plead with him to have mercy on them, and he decided to go to their special party.
Before the party, it’s evident Jim is up to something. He takes rabbit droppings from Veronica’s rabbit and puts them in a tube. He then goes to a German restaurant appearing to order dinner, but then goes to the bathroom to drop the droppings around, and then alert the manager. While talking with the manager, the real reason Jim is here comes out. He wasn’t to speak to his grandson, who appears in conversation to be Jim’s own son. The grandson is Clive. Clive knows why Jim is here, and is not happy. The situation between him and Veronica is just as humiliating.
Then over at the party at the Armenian restaurant, he arrives and is impressed with what he sees. The owners even treat him as a ‘guest of honor,’ despite what almost happened days ago. They ask him to give a speech. Jim tries to give a nice speech despite being intoxicated. However Jim’s feelings of his intended vengeance towards Mike come out during his speech. The speech lands him in trouble with law authorities. After he finds Veronica’s rabbit dead, he decided on one last act, and this involving the Armenian restaurant to assist with it. It is through all Veronica has told that Father Greg is able to give his requiem to Jim at his funeral. The film ends with one last flashback.
Atom Egoyan is a source of pride for Canadian filmmakers. He is one of only ten Canadian directors ever to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Director. Atom has been known for his unique style of filmmaking. At the gala, he flashed back to when he did his first student-film at a school in Victoria. He received a C- and a lot of complaints and ‘advise.’ Some even described it as ‘too artsy.’ Whatever the situation, it would pave the way for his style to have its heyday in the 1990’s and his Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay coming for The Sweet Hereafter.
Times have noticeably changed. His films have been consistently done well and good at telling a story in his own style, but they’re not as well-hailed. Some of the meaner critics could say he is yet another director that had a directing flare and it flared out. This film does feature a lot of mystique in terms of the story. The film mixes the story with a variety of themes like restaurant inspections, music and feeling, family secrets, technology, and rabbits. The film does so in a colorful way, but it’s imperfect. There are some things that don’t make a lot of sense. Sure, Veronica’s music talent would propel her to her career as a musician and teacher, but through glass harmonica? The theme of rabbits also appears to be done in a way that doesn’t make sense. Veronica has a pet rabbit she adores, but also a lucky-rabbit’s-foot keychain. The rabbit becomes a source for Jim to confide in, use his droppings to frame a restaurant for facts, and have the dead rabbit’s feet cut off? Even how his restaurant inspections go from simple inspections to him using them as a way to get justice for his daughter, but pave the way for his downfall? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
It’s not just the confusing elements of those themes, but also the storyline itself. There are a lot of moments in the story that leave many questions unanswered. How did he die? What secret made Walter commit suicide? Did Jim’s affair with his mother have something to do with it? What exactly did Veronica get arrested or convicted for? Is Clive really Jim’s son, or did Jim just say that to the grandfather? What was the significance or Jim’s personal reason of having the rabbit’s feet cut off? Now don’t get me wrong. I know the film is a puzzle and it’s about getting the pieces to fit together. I also know filmmakers leave out certain things to get the audience thinking or even trying to draw their own conclusions or write their own stories. However most of the elements or scenes don’t make a lot of sense. I felt there were a lot of critical things that were missing and it worked against the film rather than for it. Atom does a good job of creating and directing a good story, but I feel he missed in a lot of areas.
Despite the film’s flaws, the acting was one area that did come through well. David Thewlis did a good job of working with his complex role as the inspector/father. He gives his character of Jim dimension and helps it to make the role work for the story. Laysla de Oliveira makes it look like she stole the show. She makes it look like the film is more about Veronica that it is about Jim. She too is able have her role of Veronica make sense and even justify scenes that appear confusing to us. The supporting acting was also good with Rossif Sutherland playing Mike with his hidden inner anger, as well as Luke Wilson as Father Greg and the actors playing the Armenian restaurant owners. The music of Mychael Danna also adds to the feel of the film.
Guest Of Honour is not the best work of Atom Egoyan and has some noticeable flaws, but it does have a lot of qualities too. Especially the acting.