Those that know me will wonder if I will get my shorts fix at the VIFF this year. The answer is ‘Yes.” VIFF had twelve different shorts segments showing online. The shorts I saw were part of a segment titled Programme 2. Nothing fancy this year for the title. However the short films gave a lot of variety to watch and also a lot of Canadian directors to watch out for.
-Toward You (dir. Mayzam ‘Sam’ Motazedi): A young Iranian-Canadian girl dreams of becoming a socially-conscious slam poet. Problem is wherever she tries to do her act, like an Iranian rug store or an Iranian grocery, she gets booted out. Her biggest fan is a family member she lives with. He’s deaf but he can hear her as he puts his hand on her portable speaker. He has a problem. He has a bad health condition and he’s addicted to smoking his hookah pipe. He even forgets about the day she’s to perform at a show she booked. Distraught, she goes to perform at a senior’s center. The nurses find her act hard to deal with and end it. Despite it, she’s applauded by the seniors. She returns home having to deal with the ailing man.
Up until the end, it was a very good film. It shows a good story about a young girl with a creative passion and a dream. It also shows the difficulties she had to deal with in her own life. However the ending didn’t make a lot of sense. I feel it ended on the wrong note, or the ending didn’t appear like its purpose was justified.
-Zoo (dir. Will Niava): Three young adult males of different races are having their ‘fun’ in Montreal. They cause vandalism, act like tough guys and smoke weed al to their pleasure without a care. Then when they’re in a parking lot, a man dressed in normal clothes comes to inspect the boys. He then sets his sights on the black male whom he especially sees him to be a troublemaker. He tries to arrest him, but he does something brutal to him, leaving him what he appears to be unconscious. The man leaves him behind and it’s up to the boys to take him to the hospital.
No doubt the message is about police brutality on black people. That’s a hot topic because of the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. In fact, the film maker makes the message seen at the end. I believe the film maker was sending the message that Canada’s no angel either. The interesting thing is the man who arrested him and assaulted him wasn’t even wearing a uniform. Was the man an undercover policeman? Or was he a citizen taking the law in his own hands? Does get you thinking.
-Even In The Silence (dir. Jonathan Elliott): It’s a film with a poem in an Indigenous language in the background as the story is told of a young girl and her boyfriend. They’re madly in love, but things go wrong at a party involving a lot of drinking. She drives him home but they get into an argument and a car crash happens. Sometime later, through embracing her culture, she’s able to find healing. She goes to the area of the crash to lay flowers, and she feels his spirit again.
This is a very brief film with a lot of focus on both the poem and the visuals. It attempts to send the overall message through both means. It’s use of Indigenous language is also important as it’s about young Indigenous people trying to find healing through tragedy.
-Spring Tide (dir: Jean Parsons): Emily and Hannah are two teen friends who just want to relax during their summer days. Maybe meet some boys. They do attract the attention of two older boys who are doing work for a nearby business. Their names are Zach and Austin. They develop conversation with the two boys and Emily catches the attention of Zach. She tells him a humorous story and she attracts him. One night, Zach brings her to his hotel room. She declines his sexual advances and Zack acts like a jerk. Later on, he confesses something to her. At the end she tells Hannah of her experience.
The film is a reflection of a teen girl and her first sexual experiences. It reminds you of how summer is that time when sexual curiosity and expérimentations happen. At the same time, it’s not just about sexual curiosity. It’s also about the two characters. Both are either a teen or a young adult. Their immaturities are made obvious in how they treat each other privately. However it soon becomes a case where Zach shows his insecurities. He goes from a jerk to being the insecure one almost instantly. That’s pretty much it. It showcases the behaviors as much as it showcases the moment.
-Laura (dir. Kaayla Whachell): Laura is in a detention center. She has been arrested for abandoning her child in a motor vehicle. She is met with an Asian-Canadian lawyer. He tries to ask her about her Indigenous heritage or her family history. Laura tells of her own stories of her childhood and how she met her husband. When their baby was born, she was happy as can be. Sometime soon the marriage was falling apart. Then right in the middle of the road, she has an anxiety attack. The lawyer is trying to get to the root of the problem, to see if it has to do with being in an Indigenous family or community, but all Laura wants is her baby back.
I think the message of the film is trying to say how non-Indigenous in the legal system seem not to be able to deal with Indigenous people well. This lawyer appears well-meaning and seems like he’s trying to get to the root of the problem, but Laura is frustrated. She has a mental condition that causes these attacks. She’s in danger of losing her baby, but she feels the lawyer doesn’t get it. He seems not to be paying attention to her issues and desires. It sends a strong message. Both about the justice system and about problems in Indigenous communities.
-Canucks Riot II (dir. Lewis Bennet): The film consists of found footage during the 2011 riot after the Stanley Cup finals game which the Vancouver Canucks lost to Boston Bruins and a riot ensued. The film shows footage of the crowds before the game, during the game, during the rioting and aftermath.
The film isn’t exactly an original film. However it does show a lot of interesting images of the whole incident. There’s footage of people in the crowds shouting “Riot 2011′ before the game begins, sending a message there were people who came to riot, just like during the 1994 Stanley Cup finals (which Vancouver also lost). There were scenes of acts of human selfishness and chaos. There were scenes of people committing the acts of vandalism and looting. There were scenes of an interviewer interviewing a young student from another country who’s both excited and appalled at what he saw. This film sheds a lot of light on the riot and allows you to draw your own conclusions.
–Parlour Palm (dir. Rebeccah Love) : A woman brings a parlour palm plant into the house she shares with her lawyer husband. It appears the relationship is going fine at first. However time will tell a different story. He is overworked and she feels ignored. She keeps on hearing bad environmental news and that causes her to go deeper in depression. She tries to get his attention with the artistic creations she shows, but she gets interrupted by him. Then one night, she finally decides to give him a show. It’s a show where she just lets it all out ‘everything is falling apart!’ It causes him to want to call the emergency crew. However he gets the message in the end.
This is a bizarre story as it involves a woman who appears to have a lot of artistic dreams of her own. She tries to use her artistic performance passions to get his attention, but it appears not to work until the very end. This is a unique story about a relationship that is doomed to end. Two differing personalities and one personality who appears to just explode all of a sudden. You have to get into the characters to fully understand them and the story. It’s funny that this is the one short that doesn’t have a social message, ends in the heaviest fashion.
The films I saw were seven unique films that had a lot to tell. Some had a social message. Some offered a ray of hope. Some just told a story. Some did on a bad note wondering what will happen next. I admire short films as a way for up-and-coming director to express themselves creatively. Often short films are a means to lead the director to bigger and better projects in the future. I see potential in all the directors here. One would be interested in what the next film they create will be.
I was able to complete another one of my three main VIFF goals of watching a shorts segment thanks to Programme 2. I’m glad I saw them. They were all good to watch. Also who knows? This may lead to something bigger and better in the future.
With every VIFF, it’s a goal of mine to see at least one shorts segment. I had the good fortune of seeing a segment as my first VIFF show. The segment titled Escape Routes consisted of six shorts by Canadian directors. Three of them were filmed in BC. All six were intriguing to watch.
The Subject (dir. Patrick Bouchard): We see a body on the table. We see a spike coming out of a foot at first. Then we see it start to be dissected. What’s happening is a whole lot of imagery happens around his body and coming from out of his body. Then when he’s dissected in his upper chest, we see a steel inside.
What’s happening in this film is the animator dissecting his own body. This film is the animator using self-dissection to show what his works are all about. His emotions, his memories, his fears, all go into his work. A couple of religious entendres may be telling how it plays into his fears. Even the artistic patterns that form around his skin give a picture about what the animator is saying about himself and how it plays into his works.
Girl On A Bus (dir. Matthew B. Schmidt): The film begins with people questioning about a girl who disappeared. Then the film shoots to a scene on a bus. A teenage/young adult female is one of the passengers and she’s just relaxing and looking at Instagram photos. The bus takes a break at a gas station along the highway. She uses the outside bathroom and changes her hair, makeup and clothes to something very different and takes social media pictures. The driver can’t recognize her and thinks a passenger is missing. As police are questioning the ‘missing girl,’ she gets interrogated and gives misleading questions. She mentions she’s running away but doesn’t say why. She leaves the interrogation booth. A picture from a child identifies her as the missing, but she walks away when asked.
At first, it seems like a nonsense film. A girl changes her look but is labeled missing? Then you get the sense of what’s happening. She says she’s running away but gives a vague answer why. When told to stay at the booth as the police leave temporarily, she leaves. When asked if the photo of her on a child’s pad is her, she doesn’t answer and walks away. It makes more sense later on. She comes across as a girl who wants to escape from it all. It’s not apparent exactly the reason or reasons why, but it’s obvious she wants to escape from everything. Only on social media would she want to be around people. I can identify because I had those same feelings when I was her age. A very good short story of a film.
Best Friends Read The Same Books (dir. Matthew Taylor Blais): The film consists of no sound at all, but of images of plants, colors, bushes, parks, coasts, and the director reading a book in various places and various seating positions on a bench. The film ends with a set of colors.
I’ll take it for what it is. This is the director trying to film in an abstract sort of way. The images, around various areas of Greater Vancouver, are meant to tell about his surroundings and reading the same book.
Train Hopper (dir. Amelie Hardy): The film begins with a passage of Allen Ginsberg’s poem America. Then cuts into a video of a young man who’s a customer service agent working at his desk with his headset. Later we catch the young man around trains on the train tracks. Then we see him hopping on the trains between the cars and going along for the ride. We even see his self-recorded videos of him during the trips. Within the second-half of the film and video footage, we hear the man talk about his dreams and his imagination and why he takes these trips, which include trips crossing into the United States. The film ends with audio of Ginsberg’s America.
The film begins with a statement that the Beat Generation is not dead. The whole film is a picturesque reminder that even in this day and age, there are still young people who still dare to dream, who dare to still want to live their dream out. This film shows it with this young man who’s a customer service agent by profession, but dreamer by passion. An excellent cinematic portrait.
Acres (dir. Rebeccah Love): The story begins with a young man working on a farm. Later on, his sister, her husband and a former girlfriend of his join for dinner. They talk about him managing his father’s farm after his death, as well as a dispute over use of the land that will require legal attention. The sister and brother-in-law leave for home but the ex-girlfriend decides to stay overnight. Possibly to help him with his situation. She is a photographer by passion. The two were in love while they were in college. This is happening while they’re talking of a way to properly mark the burial site of his father’s ashes. He had ambitions of becoming a businessman, but passions in his life that involved travelling caused him to leave everyone behind, including the family and even her. She tries to get to the bottom of this. Especially since this caused their break-up. Eventually they do rekindle.
The film is a picturesque way of showing a real-life situation. It’s a quiet situation, but one that needs to be discussed and resolved. The filmmaker does it with good storytelling and honest dialogue.
Biidaaban (dir. Amanda Strong): This is the one short that’s fully animated. There’s one young person of Indigenous decent, Biidaaban, and an older Sasquatch shapeshifter Sabe. They live in the same dwelling. They communicate with what you first think is a smartphone, but is actually a mystic rock that creates images and dialogue. Biidaaban seeks to collect sap from maple trees in a neighborhood. Sabe will assist Biidaaban. As they collect the sap, they are suddenly taken over by spirits and enter into a mystical world.
Upon the film’s Q&A, we learn the film is not just about Indigenous legends and myths. It’s also about gender-fluidity as Biidaaban is a gender-fluid youth. From what I remember about the Q & A, the gender-fluidity does tie in with Indigenous culture. The whole film was very dramatic and very mystical. The genre of animation allows the viewer to feel the imagination of the film and capture the mysticism.
All six shorts were very intriguing to watch. Even with one more thrilling than the other, and one not trying to be thrilling at all, all had something to say. Sometimes you wondered if all six fit the term Escape Routes. Some of the subjects or plots in a film or two didn’t look like physical escapes at all. However many of them turned out to be escapes of the mind. Escaping isn’t just about a road to somewhere.
Escape Routes was an excellent selection of six Canadian shorts. Each were different in their own way. All of them had something to say. And all would come off as an escape from something. You had to see it to know it.
One thing about the VIFF is that you will have the opportunity to see shorts films whether it be a short shown before a feature or a segment of shorts assembled together. They pack a lot of entertainment value for something brief in length. The first shorts segment I was lucky to see was Teen Trouble. It consisted of seven different shorts situated in seven different countries all with a teen-related subject and boy were they entertaining:
-I Love Anna (Finland)- 12 year-old Finnish boy Santeri has always had a crush on Anna: the local farm girl. Anna likes Santeri too. One night Anna’s parents are away and she has to look after her little sister. This could be Santeri’s chance to take it to new levels.
The quality of this short is that it takes you into the excitement of the moment as it progresses without any added music score. It adds to the excitement of the moment. Another added quality is it will remind you of when you fell in love for the first time or even of your own sexual curiosities when you were that age.
-Fabrizio’s Initiation (Argentina)- Sexual feelings many years later. Only Fabrizio is now a 15 year-old Argentinian boy who has been in a relationship with Nadia for over a year. Their chances of doing it for the first time are constantly interrupted. However Fabrizio’s friends derive a plan to make it work by conniving the village elder into giving them his car and fixing it up for the moment. Will this finally be it? The film ends with a surprise in more ways than one.
This is a humorous short about the constant pressure of losing your virginity for the right moment and trying to make it right. Hey, it’s not always prom night! It also will remind you of your own teenage love and of all the stuff you tried to do behind your parents’ back.
-The Law Of Moments (UK)- The lessons of Isaac Newton younger sister Mal studies from physics class play into this drama. Mal and Lucy are teen sisters who lost their closeness as older sister Lucy got involved with partying. It’s been of concern to Mal as she sees Lucy and her mother constantly fighting. One night, Mal goes to the farm to see what kind of crowd she’s hanging with. It’s not pleasant at all. Mal goes to help Lucy only for things to end not as it should.
Here we go from comedy to drama. This is a good story that shows the end at the beginning and how it came to be. The addition of Mal’s physics lesson as well as her childhood memory of her and Lucy on the see saw add style to the story line. Very creative.
-Three Minute Warning (UK/Palestine)- This possibly the darkest short of the segment. Palestinian teen girl Miriam has to look after her mother who has a leg problem. It’s a daily thing which includes cooking for her mother and even assisting her to the bathroom and it robs her of the carefree life most teenage girls have. One night a warning bomb– a bomb sent three minutes before the real bomb is to hit its target– hits their apartment. Miriam has to help her mother make the escape while all the others leave them behind. It’s hopeless and it sets up for the heartbreaking ending.
No doubt Palestinian director Iqbal Mohammed has something to say in this short. It was very well-told and will leave you infuriated with the political situation in the Middle East today.
-On The Roof (Spain)- Five Barcelona teen boys love to go to the top of their apartment balcony to spy on sunbathing women during the summer. Bonus points if they’re topless. One day they go to check out a topless sunbather. One boy, Adrian, spots a naked man showering. He also learns something of himself he never knew. One of Adrian’s friends senses his attraction and reacts with hostility. He even senses it on the youngest of the friends and pressures the young boy to take a photo of the bather standing on the top ledge. Adrian stops and volunteers to do it. The end comes with a surprising result but nothing dreadful.
This short focuses on a teen boy’s discovery of his same-sex attraction which catches him by surprise and causes hostility among one of his friends. The short also focuses on teen male machismo which naturally approaches same-sex attraction with hostile discomfort. A reminder of some of the difficulties gay teens go through.
-Winds Of Furnace (Mexico)- A young Mexican teen boy faces a daily responsibility of looking after his grandmother. One day, two of his friends come to his house with a van they stole. The three go out to have fun in their neighborhood. However you know something will go wrong when they take a body found in the van and dispose of it. It’s the case as a van driven by a cartel crosses their paths and shoots one of the friends. This leads to a vicious chase where the boy fires a gun at the cartel. The ending ends with you thinking this is what’s meant to be.
This short didn’t have its subtitles on at the time so it was hard to make sense. However it was a good story of peer pressure taken to the extreme with the potential for dangerous consequences. The heat of the moment left you wondering if he would be killed by the end. I’m sure a lot of boys in Mexico have gone through this temptation. It’s good to see he was possibly the one who didn’t get killed.
-Aeris (Canada)- A young rising teen snowboarder is seen as a possible future great in the sport. However, the 19 year-old suffers a broken leg during competition requiring plates, screws and months of healing. Months later, she goes snowboarding with her friends to see if she still has it and to get her competitive drive back. This proves difficult as she encounters fans on the mountain and even the fear of her broken leg returning if she tries another jump.
This may be the least heavy short of the seven but it does feature a pressure: a personal pressure young rising phenoms in sport know all too well. It makes for a good snowboarding story. It even gets you fearing for her as well as she questions whether to make that big jump.
In summary, all seven shorts were very good and had a lot to say about teen life in the humorous moments, the tense moments and even tragic moments. All definitely gave an image of what it’s like to be young.
Teen Trouble was an impressive selection of shorts. Anyone can be entertained by something in the selection.
Every VIFF I hope to see at least one film that’s a country’s official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category for the Oscars. I had my first chance when I went to see 100 Yen Love: Japan’s official entry. It was not what I expected for a Japanese film. Nevertheless I was very impressed.
The story starts with Ichiko, a 32 year-old slacker. She became a downer with an I-don’t-care attitude since she dropped out of university. She lives at home with her mother who owns a restaurant and her yet-to-be-divorced sister and young son. For the heck of it, she applies for a job at the 100 Yen Store. During her nightshifts, she deals with her boss, a talkative creepy co-worker named Noma and a homeless woman who comes frequently in the back area to take food past the best before date.
Ichiko doesn’t expect much to happen but walking to work, she passes a boxing gym and there’s a man training there that catches her eye. His name is Yuji and he also visits the store frequently to buy bananas to which Noma calls him ‘Banana Boy.’ Yuji can sense Ichiko’s interest in him. One night Yuji buys the bananas but instead of paying, he gives Ichiko and Noma tickets to the fight. They go with Noma being a creepy partner and Yuji loses. At the dinner after the fight, Noma lies to Yuji claiming he’s her boyfriend. Then Noma goes all berserk overnight on as he rapes Ichiko and takes money from the 100 Yen Store till.
Ichiko changes after the rape. Still an employee at the 100 Yen store, she’s now Yuji’s girlfriend and she takes an interest in the boxing gym Yuji is no longer a part of as he had passed the maximum age of fighting at 37. At first she just goes there for the exercises. However things change after Yuji gets a job with a tofu delivery company and has an affair with a female carter. That infuriates Ichiko to move back with her mother and take her boxing lessons seriously. It even gives her a desire to want to be a fighter herself and even a hunger to win.
She’s given her first and possibly only fight as the maximum age for females is 33. She uses this as an opportunity for Yuji to prove his love to her. At the fight, family gather and Ichiko is hungry to win. However her opponent is one who’s already won four fights with a KO. This sets up for an ending that’s unexpected, bittersweet but positive and humorous.
I know I’ve talked a lot about foreign ‘movies’ being shown at this VIFF and other VIFFs. This goes to show that other countries are in the stage where they want to move away from strictly making films and move onto making movies that delight crowds. And not just movies of anything or something too simple, movies with something. I’m sure I was like a lot of people that think that when they go to see a film from Japan, we expect it to come from a director that wants to be the next Akira Kurosawa. I didn’t see anything in the film that made me think Masaharu Take wanted to follow in Kurosawa’s foot steeps. Guess I should adjust my expectations.
One thing that makes this film succeed as a movie is that there a lot of themes that are universal. There’s people that are slackers. There are slackers that ‘gave up’ because they slipped below expectations, including their own. There are jobs in which they hate doing and are ‘dead ends.’ There’s love and the complicated love triangles that come with it. And there’s the desire to want to move out of the shell of being a misfit and want to succeed. There’s even the 100 Yen Store which would be Japan’s equivalent to our Dollar Stores. I can see people in many countries, including here in North America, identifying with many of the themes in the film despite it taking place in Japan and in Japanese.
However the thing that grabs me most about the movie is that it consists of a lot of underachieve characters and underachiever scenarios but it’s taking place in Japan. I admit it I’m guilty like a lot of other people who have believed in the stereotype of the Japanese as people of high standards, people determined to succeed, people who go through strict competitive education programs to achieve great things. Here we have a slacker who appears done with life, a single-mother sister who returned to living at home, a convenience store owner, a loser who’s a fail at just about everything including making friends, a homeless woman, a person who sells food on a bike-cart and a person who wants to achieve in sports. These are people contrary to what we expect to see in Japan. It’s a reminder there are people like that in every country, even Japan. Sometimes I think that was the point that Take and scriptwriter Shin Adachi was to show the rest of the world. This is a story consisting of Japanese people we all forgot about.
Take and Adachi did a great job with a script that’s relatable and universal. However it was chancy too as including a rape scene in a comedy is very risky. Nevertheless they pulled it off well. Top nods however go to Sakura Ando for playing Ichiko. The whole story rested on her shoulders. She had to make it work. She even had to transform Ichiko from this 32 year-old slacker who couldn’t care less about the world to a woman with ambition and make it work. It paid off even to the point the sudden transition of Ichiko from the walking dead to a woman with a hunger worked. Sudden transitions like that don’t always work out well but Ichiko made it work. Additional kudos go to Hirofumi Arai as the boyfriend who is in the same boat as Ichiko but is romantically confused, Tadashi Sakata as the creepy Noma and Toshie Negishi as the entertaining homeless woman. The addition of a bluesy-sounding score adds to the story and even the humor.
100 Yen Love is an enjoyable Japanese movie. I didn’t know what to expect at first but I ended up enjoying it.
I saw quite a few documentaries at this year’s VIFF. A Syrian Love Story was one documentary that gets one thinking.
This is a documentary filmed year by year over five years. It starts in 2010 while Syria is going through its start of political turmoil. It had been under turmoil since the 1970’s when Hafez Al-Assad took power and any reforms promised by his son Bashar, who succeeded Hafez in presidency after his death almost ten years earlier, doesn’t deliver in the reforms he promised. Images of protest met with a violent response from government forces are too common. Caught in the middle is a married couple of Amer Daoud and Raghda Hasan. They have four sons from 6 to 22. Amer is living in Damascus being a father to the children. Raghda is in a prison for publishing a book about their relationship of all things. Amer and Raghda are no strangers to political oppression in their home country. Raghda has face imprisonment because she’s a communist revolutionary and Amer was once imprisoned with his ties to the PLO. In face they both first met in prison and fell in love through communicating through a prison wall.
Sean McAllister is in Syria looking for something about Syria’s crisis to film but something out of the ordinary. He finds it in Amer and Raghda. McAllister also shows us their four sons. The first year he films Amer’s phone conversations with Raghda while she’s in prison. He gets her sons to talk with her as well. McAllister was even imprisoned for a few days for a journalism crime and was able to listen first-hand to the torture in Syria’s prisons. He even meets the older son who broke up with his girlfriend because she was pro-Assad. Despite all this, McAllister does show a case of hope for the future, for all.
In 2012, Raghda is finally free. She is reunited with her husband, sons and the rest of her family. But they can’t stay in Syria, not while there’s civil war that started once Syrian people revolted against Assad during 2011’s Arab Spring. The family move to a refugee area in Lebanon. They do it not simply for the sake of themselves but their sons too. McAllister is nervous for the couple’s future since he knows behaviors of prisoners after they’ve been freed. He hopes Raghda doesn’t exhibit behavior that will hurt their marriage.
In 2013, they find themselves in Paris, France. Things are definitely better for the two youngest children Kaka and Bob. Bob is in a good school and Kaka is able to become a disc jockey at his high school. Things appear to go well for Amer and Raghda as they’re able to make a living for themselves but there’s a sense that something’s wrong. The children sense it.
In 2014, we get a good sense of what’s wrong. Amer and Raghda’s marriage is crumbling. Amer feels distant from Raghda and has a French girlfriend of his own. It upsets Raghda to the point she changes the password on his laptop. She even attempts suicide by cutting her wrists. No doubt it upsets everyone. She them admits she never had the chance to find herself and she feels that despite her political freedom in France, she still feels she can do more for Syria or for others hurt by war.
The film ends in 2015. They two youngest sons have a promising future in France. Their older son reveals his pro-Assad former girlfriend was killed. Asad runs a chicken farm in France and is without Raghda. He wishes her well in whatever she does. Raghda is now in Turkey in a city 20 miles from the Syrian border. She works with refugees and is happier with her life now.
This is a unique story of love that starts with one hoping for a happy ending. We know Syria won’t turn out for the better but we hope that Raghda will be free and will return to her family and they’ll live happily ever after. We all want that storybook ending. Unfortunately it doesn’t end up that way. McAllister knows the problems prisoners exhibit after they’re free and he lets Amer and all of us know it. Over time, it shows after the moves, after Syria’s continued strife and after one senses the love between the two fading over time. It was unfortunate. The moment of hope doesn’t end up being when Raghda is free but rather when Amer is still in France and Raghda is in Turkey. That’s where the true scene of hope for the better is present.
The story is not just about the couple. It’s also about the surrounding family. This is especially noteworthy of the two youngest sons, Kaka and Bob. Bob is six at the beginning and the youngest. He tried to be a carefree child but the hurt of knowing his mother’s in prison is evident. Kaka is ten at the start and familiar with the realities in Syria. He’s able to tell Sean in good enough English his feeling of the situation, and of how he’d either like to fight or kill Assad. As they grow, the changes are present. Bob is getting bigger but has difficulties fitting into his school in Paris because his long hair causes other boys to call him a girl. Kaka is getting a better education but can’t ignore what’s happening to his parents. He can sense what’s happening and has his own opinions on what he feels should happen. Although the two are not the main protagonists, their presence in this story is vital.
One thing about this documentary is that the story focuses more on the fading marriage than it does in the strife in Syria from civil oppression to public outcry to a civil war to the eventual crisis with ISIS. However it does focus on the couple as they were fighting their own war with each other. They go from loving each other and having a closeness while Raghda’s in prison to the love fading over time after Raghda is free and they’re together again. It’s sad that they were closer together when Raghda was in prison. It’s even hard to pinpoint who’s the bad guy. Is it Amer for his fading commitment? Or is it Raghda for her inner strife? Amer appears like a jerk not even willing to try when he says things like “Syrians love prisoners,” but Raghda’s suicide attempt gets you wondering was she thinking of her family at the time?
Watching this documentary, I believe that this isn’t the type of documentary meant for the big screen. With the camera quality, editing and McAllister’s voice over, it fares much better as something for television broadcast. I’m sure that’s what it intends to be. I have to give McAllister credit for having the ability to do all this filming over time and to present a unique story. I also give Amer and Raghda credit for McAllister willing to film them while their marriage was hitting rock bottom and they were showing terrible behavior such as Amer threatening to smash his laptop and Raghda slitting her wrists. It surprises me that they were willing to show things that personal on camera.
A Syrian Love Story may not be a documentary meant for the big screen but it’s a very revealing story that reminds us not all love story has the fairytale ending. despite the hardships they show, it does end on a hopeful, if not happy, note.
Tough Love is a film that tells a story of a life no one would want to have but turns out shining in the end.
The film begins with 59 year-old Andreas Marquardt heading a karate school in Berlin. He’s a former World champion and he enjoys teaching young children. Parents are very trustworthy of him despite his past. It’s after this introduction that we learn of his shady past.
Andreas was born in Berlin in 1956. His father was abusive to the point he poured a bucket of cold water on him on a winter’s day when he was an infant. His mother divorced his father but that didn’t prevent his father from abusing him again. One time his father taught him how to handshake and squeezed his hand so hard he broke three of Andreas’ bones. Abuse wasn’t just with his father. He lived with his mother and grandparents. His mother would ask him to do sexual favors that were, in a word, unspeakable.
It’s not to say, Andreas was devoid of a proper parent figure. His grandparents played that role. At sixteen, Andreas finally moved out on his own. He pursued a job of pimping as a way to provide a living and pay for his karate training. He also took a job at a funeral home as a way to hide his pimp money from the taxman. One day in the late 70’s, there was a 16 year-old girl who would change his life. Her name was Marion. At first Andreas asked her to do sexual favors and even be one of his hookers under his wing. She agreed however had the feeling she would win his love one day.
This would go on for many years. Marion would continue to work for Andreas but also try to win his love. There were two instances like a Christmas and a breakfast in bed that Marion tried to send him the message of her love but Andreas reacts violently to it and insists she works the business. Later on, Marion takes the witness stand against her father for sexual abuse. Andreas is in the stands and he is surprised to see how her abuse story almost mirrors his own. He’s even given a wake-up call when he sees Marion lying on the streets one night after nearly being beaten to death.
However Andreas’ problems don’t end there. Eventually the police do catch up with his antics and he is arrested in 1994 and put into prison for four years. Marion is able to run a gym that he owns and even sends him a message outside the prison walls that she’s on his mind. Another incident leads Andreas to an additional four years in prison. During that time, he sees his mother for the last time and tells her off just weeks before she dies. Once released from prison, Andreas begins a change of heart and leaves the prostitution business behind. The one thing of it that wasn’t left behind was Marion. It became clear to him she was his soul mate. To this day Andreas doesn’t miss his pimping business.
The thing with this film is that it appears like it’s trying to be both a documentary and a live-action drama. It flashes from Andreas talking of his shady past, in which he also wrote a book on in which this film is based, to the past being acted out by actors. It may have been done before but it’s a question on whether it was done right. I know the director Rosa von Praunheim also included some other creative choices like images of furniture painted on the walls of the setting rather than actual furniture props. I feel that was presented well. I don’t know if the images of furniture worked with this film.
Another choice that had me wondering was if it was a smart choice not to have the actors playing Andy and Marion–Hanno Koffler and Luise Heyer– age. As you probably saw, the actors don’t age chronologically as the timeline passed over the 25 year span. I just wonder in von Praunheim had that as a point to the film.
One choice of von Praunheim’s in which I give her credit for is making the audience Andy during the childhood drama scenes instead of hiring an actor to play Andy. Like how we see Andy’s father looking at us as he gives Andy his bone braking handshake or how his mother looks at us as she’s molesting him or eve oralizing him. Yes, I’m sure people don’t like seeing those kinds of images of children abused whether in fiction or real life. I think it was decided to have the audience be Andy instead for the sake of the sensitive nature. It had to be told but it had to be made watchable.
One thing I think von Praunheim is trying to do in the film is not just tell Andy’s story but also to show how this story is all too common. We hear the story all the time of children who are sexually abused by their parents or other people and they grow up to make the bad choice of going into jobs of ill repute. It’s a story we see all too often. Even seeing what his mother did to him makes you think that where he got his misogyny from. I myself believe that a lot of misogynist men probably adopted that attitude or a hatred toward women from an unhealthy home life. Including Andy’s feelings into the film adds to the theme. You can see in his face why he can’t forgive his parents for what they did to him. Hard feelings run deep. You could easily see in the drama why Andy has feelings to his grandfather when he dies but none to his mother.
However there are times I think of this film to be as much about Marion as it is about Andreas. Andreas became a shady person but it was Marion who felt love for him from the start and knew she would be his one day. It was surprising she was willing to make a prostitute for him of herself during that time. It’s also very unfortunate she had to deal with the verbal and physical abuse from Andreas all those years. Most people would say it would be foolish for a woman to stay with such an abusive man. Even I would want Marion to leave him. However she saw something in him that she knew he was worth loving and worth staying with. The film left me convinced Marion was a godsend to Andreas. The film even left me thinking as well this may be Andreas’ love letter to Marion.
The film does an ambitious job of trying to mesh drama pieces and interview pieces to both make the story come alive and tell the facts. Even taking Andreas back to key places in his life like the prison or the street corner of his arrest or even the cemetery grass area where he scattered his mother’s ashes is another ambitions technique too. I will admit I did question the choices and even the frequency as it goes from drama to documentary. However I would find it hard for me to make better choices. Hanno Koffler and Luise Hayer were good choices to play Andy and Marion. They did well in their roles but they could have aged physically as the time line progressed. Katy Karrenbauer was good as Andy’s mother. She made you want to hate her.
Tough Love tells a story of a life damaged, of a life causing hurt and of a life redeemed, and of the woman that saw the beauty inside the beast. It’s a story that mixes documentary-style interviewing with drama to deliver a story that’s dark and ugly but ends on a beautiful note.
Summertime may be the perfect time for Beach Boys music but the film Love & Mercy isn’t one to give you that summery feeling that comes with their music. Actually it’s a lot deeper.
The film alternates between two time periods: between the mid-60`s and 1987. In the 60`s, the Beach Boys, consisting of brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, cousin Mike Love and high-school friend Al Jardine have hit the big time. Their California sound of girls, cars, beaches and surf have made them a phenomenon. However it`s not to say they face competition from the British Invasion, especially the Beatles.
However something`s not right despite their success. It becomes evident when Brian has a panic attack on an airplane. After the incident, he resigns from touring with the band and goes into seclusion into an attempt to make `the best album ever made.` During the time, he continues to make music but it becomes more his music rather than music of the Beach Boys. Often Brian hires other musicians and usually features the other Beach Boys only in vocals. This leads to a lot of disharmony among the band sensing this may be a vainglorious Brian Wilson solo project. Brian also does other unorthodox things like build a sandbox around his piano and experiment with LSD which even his own wife is comfortable with.
The end result is the album Pet Sounds which received a lot of critical praise but was a commercial failure despite two Top 10 hits. The lack of commercial success is especially rubbed in by his father Murry who acts as their manager and expects the band to succeed just like it was any other act he owned.` He even announces to Brian that the Beach Boys are fired and he manages a new band which he feels has better chart-topping potential. Even after The Beach Boys resume their top-selling ways with songs like Good Vibrations, that changes nothing especially since some of Brian`s other creations are rejected. Brian goes into seclusion after a mental breakdown to the point he alienates everyone including his wife and newborn daughter Carnie.
In 1987, Brian is in a Cadillac store in California where he appears to be shopping for a new car. He stumbles across attractive saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter. However his psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Landy stops him. Brian is able to give Melinda his number. He goes on dates with her in which he was surprisingly honest to the point he even revealed his father`s abusiveness to him and his brothers. It`s obvious Brian is still as troubled mentally as he was back in the 60`s. The accidental death of brother Dennis three years earlier only added to his distress.
Over time, Landy demands more supervision of Brian. Melinda is already sending Landy becoming overbearing and even controlling when he tells Brian out loud to wait for food at a barbecue. Landy`s controlling nature becomes even harsher when Landy supervises his music and even demands that no visitors be with Brian. It becomes especially evident that he has a certain contempt towards Melinda. Melinda tries to get Brian to turn away on many occasions but Brian is too mentally weak to drop Landy. It comes down to Melinda threatening a legal suit to put an end to this and she gets what she needs. The ending tells us that Melinda is the best thing to ever happen to Brian.
The film is not just about Brian`s mental condition but also about the Beach Boys music at the time and even the time in music history when it was happening. Hard to believe the whole time the Beach Boys appeared as the epitome of surfing culture in the early 60`s, only Dennis surfed. They were an act packaged by their father Murry and it paid off into hit record after hit record. However Brian had other creative juices of his own and he felt he had to put it to record.
It showed the inspiration he transpired into the record studio but it also showed the conflict he had with other band members and the commercial pressures expected with every big name act. We often think of the mid-60`s as a time when rock bands did away with the typical `bubble gum` sounds that made them chart-toppers and started getting more creative and changed rock `n roll forever in all angles. True, but it didn`t make them immune to the commercial expectations they faced. Sure, there were albums like Sgt. Pepper that paid off commercially and changed music forever. However there were albums like Pet Sounds that were just as creative but flopped. It`s a gamble no matter how you put it. Even that scene where Murry tells Brian he fired the Beach Boys in favor of a new act, you could tell by the look on Brian`s face it appeared like a case of a father disowning his sons. It sure looked like it.
Without a doubt the mental illness ordeal of Brian Wilson is the focal point of the film. His ordeal is something most of us already know but only few knew the full details. The film gives the story of how it all started especially with Brian`s upbringing and what all happened at its start and most noticeable troubles during the 1960`s. The film also showed why it took so long for it to be resolved. You could easily see why a doctor like Eugene Hardy would make the situation worse than better. It makes you wonder why was Eugene so controlling to Brian? His star status? Landy`s own psychiatrist ego? Or Landy`s own problems?
It also made you wonder why was Brian afraid to leave Landy? Was it because he trusted him? Or was it because Landy appeared to him as the father figure he didn`t get from Murry? Even though the story is about Brian`s mental condition, it`s also a love story as it was Melinda whom Brian meets by chance that becomes the best thing for him. For his life and for his mental well-being. You`re left feeling that way at the end that love really does conquer all.
Director Bill Pohlad and scriptwriters Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner succeed in creating a film that`s both autobiographical and also about the music of the Beach Boys and the time when Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations were released and also about how persistent love solved a decades-long psychological issue. The story however could not shine without the phenomenal acting. Paul Dano was excellent as the younger Brian who was full of music but very troubled and couldn`t be helped. John Cusack was excellent as the older Brian who was still troubled and too afraid to break free from Landy. Also excellent was Elizabeth Banks as Melinda. She was excellent for portraying the one who knew nothing about psychology but knew how to solve Brian with love. Paul Giamatti was good as Eugene Landy but his performance was as typical as most of the other characters he`s done in past films.
Love & Mercy is a biographical film of a musician but it`s a lot more. It`s about the music of the time and a reminder that one who loves you enough to care can see through hard situations.
It was all a result of timing and availability for when I was able to see Love At First Fight or Les Combattants (working title in the US is Fighters). Even though it’s nothing too special, I’m glad I saw it.
Arnaud is a young Frenchman who works for his family’s contractor job in a French coastal city. That all changes when he does work in a family’s yard. He meets Madeleine, a young woman who’s beautiful but has a tough-as-nails personality. It’s tough because she has ambitions of being in the French army. Arnaud on the other hand is more sensitive. Sensitive enough to care for a stray ferret found in the yard.
The first meeting doesn’t go so well. They have as squabble and he bites her! The second time he thinks she’s crazy because she swims with a backpack full of ceramic shingles. Nevertheless he’s still drawn to her despite her negative attitude towards him. He even has army ambitions of his own. However it interferes with the family business while they still have a lot of jobs to do.
The two eventually do things together. However she still maintains a tough hard-as-nails attitude towards everything from a harmless ferret to even nightclubbing. He himself joins the army. The two help each other out and challenge each other along the way. Then an incident happens that causes Madeleine to run away. Arnaud soon finds her. However it’s once they’re out of the training area that they start to reveal their true feelings to each other. Finally Madeleine’s love for him comes out. However all fun ends when Madeleine suffers from food poisoning and Arnaud tries to take her to aid while the town they’re in is engulfed with smoke from a forest fire. The film ends predictably but not as fluffy as your typical Hollywood romance.
This film is an example of how France is making movies of their own. Sure the French are famous for making films. This would qualify more as a movie. Nevertheless there are some film qualities. One is the lack of a score in the background. Yes, there is background music at times but the film is mostly scoreless to get the environment of the story. Even though it’s not as artsy as your typical French film, there are some elements such as when Madeline hits Arnaud during a paintball exercise. Some could say it could resemble cupid shooting an arrow through his heart. Even the place of gender roles as the girl is the hard-ass one compared to the boy can be a French element in film.
As a movie, it’s good. However it’s not all that attention grabbing. It does have a story that can keep one interested once they watch more of the movie but only in that case. One thing I will say is that it does come across way more sensible than most teen romances, especially those from 20 years ago.
The film is devoid of big-name actors, even from France. Nevertheless they did impress. The young actors did well too. Adele Haenel was best as Madeleine. Madeleine could have come across as this stockish hard-ass army girl but her character had dimension to it. She was able to make the transition into the more sensitive feelings of her character very smoothly. Kevin Azais was also good in his role even though he wasn’t given too much of a role to work with. This is the first feature length film by director Thomas Cailley. This film for which he also co-wrote the script with Claude Le Pape is a good story and a good first effort and should lead to more promising work in the future. I can easily see the story itself being made into an American version.
Love At First Fight or Les Combattants is a good young adult romance even if it lacks what would normally bring young adults to the screen. Still it will keep your intrigue.