I’m good at keeping count of all the years I’m able to see all the Best Picture nominees, but I don’t know how many consecutive years I’ve seen the shorts. However I did it again this year. I lucked out and saw all the shorts for this year’s Best Live-Action Short Film and Best Animated Short Film categories. There were a lot of differences of the films, but a lot of similarities too. Here’s my review of the films:
LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILMS:
The col thing about this year is that two films — Fauve and Marguerite — come from Canada. More specifically, Quebec. The five films nominated are very different in genre and story, but all are deserving of their nominations:
Detainment: dir. Vincent Lambe – This is the most controversial of the five films. February 12, 1993 started off as a day in which two 10 year-old boys named Jon Venables and Robert Thompson simply played truant from school and stole items from nearby stores. That all changed when they saw 2 year-old James Bulger standing outside the butcher shop unattended. The film focuses intensely on the police interrogations. Both Thompson and Venables are interrogated separately. Both boys’ parents are in the room listening in, and in complete paralyzing shock.
The film is based off of some of the recorded interrogations of the two boys. The film appears to be a character study of the two individual boys. Thompson appears defiant and remorseless while Venables is constantly lying and frequently cries, even hysterically. The film also relives the moments such as when adults butt in and how they walked Bulger the long distance to the track where he died. It becomes gripping without getting too disturbing.
NOTE: The film has attracted a lot of controversy because of its subject matter. The James Bulger murder is a murder that still upsets the UK, especially Liverpool, to this day. The mother has gone on BBC speaking her anger and demanded the film be removed from the list of nominees. That’s why even though I think it’s the best film of all five, I feel it should not win the Oscar. I don’t see it trying to bring any sympathy to the two boys, but it still upsets many from the UK to this day.
Fauve: dir. Jeremy Comte – Two boys, Tyler and Benjamin, are playing an innocent power game. They first do it around an abandoned train. However they decide to take their game to a surface mine for a concrete factory. Then the game becomes deadly as Benjamin finds himself sinking in the wet cement. Tyler tries to help, but to no avail as it stops him too. Any help from Tyler helps to no avail. Then the aftermath as a woman offers a ride home tells a lot.
The film is a good short story. The story starts off as simple fun and games, but then turns to a dark tragic drama when you least expect it. Even the ending leaves you asking questions at the end. Very good short.
Marguerite: dir. Marianne Farley – Marguerite is an elderly lady nearing the last years of her life at home. She is nursed on a daily basis by a young nurse named Rachel. One day, she overhears a phone conversation between Rachel and another woman. It sounds romantic. Later, Marguerite notices Rachel’s phone in the bathroom and sees romantic photos of Rachel and the other woman. One day, Marguerite unearths a photo album. The photos are back in the 1960’s and are of her and another woman named Cecile. It brings back memories of the two. Cecile would later marry a man. After being put to bed early because of a fall, Marguerite confesses in her bed to Rachel of Cecile and why she never ‘loved’ her.
This is a story that is slow, but it tells a lot. It’s about two women, both lesbians, who are a product of their times. One couldn’t love a woman because it was considered a ‘mortal sin’ and was criminalized. The other is free to love another woman without guilt. It’s there where they share their special bond at the end. That’s why I declare this my Should Win pick.
Mother: dir. Rodrigo Sorogoyen – Marta is relaxing at her place with her mother around. Her son Ivan is on the coast of the French Riviera with his father on vacation. Soon Marta receives a phone call from Ivan. Ivan is alone on a remote area of the coast. The father abandoned him. Nobody except a strange man is around. The battery in Ivan’s phone is dying. Soon Marta calls the police, but the police have no way to locate Ivan as Ivan doesn’t know where he is. Then a second phone call from Ivan happens. That leaves Marta even more frightened and causes Marta to rush out.
The film’s best attribute is that it captures the moment. It’s between cellphones and Marta’s domain. The qualities are what we know and what we don’t know and it builds on the suspense. The weakness is that it appears to be part of a film rather than a full film. It feels like it has a beginning and a middle, but no end. I’m sure the purpose of the director was to give us a film that leaves us in suspense, but it leaves you wondering what was the point of this partial-film? Social message? Suspense story? What?
Skin: dir. Guy Nattiv – Troy is a ten year-old boy growing up in a remote area of the southern USA. The father, Johnny Aldd, is bringing him up to be rough and tough. The father even teaches Troy how to shoot a real gun with the help of his neo-Nazi friends. One day at a supermarket, Troy smiles at an African American man just simply buying groceries. Johnny gets angry and shouts racist slurs, but the black man walks off calm, collect, but angry and lets him know it. Johnny response by getting his friends to rush over and beat the black man up near his van while his family watches in horror, and Troy watches on.
Days later, Troy and Johnny go out somewhere, but the father is captured by a van of African American men. They put a sleeping injection in Johnny and a tattoo artist goes over his racist tattoos, leaving you wondering what will come. After eleven days, Johnny is dropped back at his home. The tattoo artist completely covered him in black, to Johnny’s horror. As Johnny tries to come home, his wife and son react in fear. It ends with a surprise ending.
No question the main theme of the film is about racism. However the film is also about cliques and breeding fear into people. The film can say that the culture of fear can also be why the United States has a gun problem. Seeing how neo-Naziism exposed its face in the Unite-The-Right rally in August 2017, this is a film very relevant to our times. Even with its bizarre story and surprise ending. That’s why I pick it at my Will Win pick.
This makes for a very eclectic five films chosen for this year. One of the films is from a Canadian animation company. However there are two American films that hint they may have some Canadian ingredients:
Animal Behaviour: dirs. Alison Snowden and David Fine – Various animals walk into a psychology group meeting with a dog doctor leading the meeting. All have a problem to confess. However problems arrive when a gigantic ape with an anger problem comes in. He doesn’t want to be helped. The pig, the leech and the moth are all cooperative, but the ape is disruptive. Then the ape confesses his problem, but also throws a fit in the process and all havoc is wreaked. Right at the end, and with all the damage done, the ape appears helped and will be back next week.
This is some clever 2D animation that may appear simple and crude by most, but fits the story well. Also the whole story of all the animals involved and their problems makes for funny hilarity.
Bao: dirs. Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb – A Chinese-Canadian woman makes dumplings for her busy husband, but one comes alive. She raises it to be like her own baby. She mothers it with her caring nature, but the son grows up out to be rebellious and even leaves to marry a white woman he loves. She can’t handle it and eats him. Heartbroken after ‘eating’ him, she wakes up to find out it’s just a dream. She’s a mother going through empty-nest syndrome and the child dumpling in her dream was mirroring her own son’s life. It ends on a happy note.
This is the short shown before Incredibles 2. Once again, Pixar adds another excellent writer to its dream team. Director Domee Shi started as a storyboard artist for The Good Dinosaur and Inside Out. Here she has a chance to let her creativity flow with a charming story which transcends race and delights people of all ages and backgrounds.
Late Afternoon: dirs. Louise Bagnall and Nuria Gonzales Blanco – Emily is an elderly woman who is constantly tended to by Kate. Frequently Emily’s memory goes back to her past from moments in her childhood and her carefree nature and then to moments in her young adulthood. Her memory keeps going in and out. Then at the end, she’s reminded Kate is her daughter.
This does seem like a heavy short as the story appears to be either about Dementia or Alzheimers. The use of animation helps with the drifting of Emily’s mind from the present to the past back to the present again. A very good short, but it may be too deep for some.
One Small Step: dirs. Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas – Luna is a Chinese-American girl with dreams of becoming an astronaut. She lives with her father, a shoe cobbler. He has always let Luna know how much he loves her with the shoes he crafts for her and with his business. He uses his money to promote Luna’s dream. As a young child, Luna cherishes every minute of her father. As she grows up, she becomes more distant from her father and even too busy with her college work. Things take a turn for the worse as she starts failing courses and is denied acceptance into astronaut training. Then one day she comes home and learns that her father has passed. Heartbroken, she then turns her life around and starts a new ambition. This leads to the happy ending we all want.
The story is a very good story as it deals with a common theme of father-daughter relationships. The story may appear heartbreaking, but ends with the positive energy it began with. The animation was excellent and the story, with no dialogue at all, told us a lot. I call this my Should Win and Will Win pick.
Weekends: dir. Trevor Jimenez – A young boy living in downtown Toronto in the mid-1980’s is divided between the time between the homes of his father and his mother. The father is more playful with an imagination into samurai swords. The mother is more serious while she’s dating a man who doesn’t take well to the boy. As the stories shift between the two world, they become intertwined with the boy’s dreams and the dreams tell a lot about the realities of the home lives he’s going through.
Trevor Jimenez has been a storyboard artist for Pixar films and has his chance at doing his own short film. It’s all hand-drawn which adds to the effect of the story. The point of this story was to mix the eerie dreams with the boy’s unfriendly reality. It does a great job in creating the right environment for the film and the drama.
And that’s my look at this year’s Oscar nominated short films. Last year I was better at predicting the shorts winners, but this year looks to be very open. There are some that look like clear winners, but anything can happen in these categories. It will all be decided on Sunday the 24th.
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 of the VIFF I consider to be a treat is whenever I attend a shorts segment. The segment I saw entitled New Skins And Old Ceremonies was a selection of seven shorts from Canadian directors. They were all unique in their own way.
Lost Paradise Lost: dir. Yan Groulx- Two people named Julie and Victor are out of love and find themselves boarding a bus full of strangers to anywhere. Where it takes them is a bizarre place for those out of love and rivals and threats to deal with. An eccentric short nonetheless, but it captures the feel well and makes sense in the end.
Flood: dir. Amanda Strong- It’s an animated short about an indigenous person and how the Canadian system did what it could to make them and their people feel inferior. It’s a story worth telling. The mix of stop-motion for modern images and traditional indigenous art adds to the story. The film ends with a renewed sense of pride.
Cherry Cola: dir. Joseph Amenta- Two drag queens are out on a night to dress up, have fun, and get revenge on an ex-boyfriend. It seems confusing at first, despite being intriguing to watch. You first think it’s a comedy, but the story ends on a dark note. It exposes an overlooked heartache some transvestites have.
The Good Fight: dir. Mintie Pardoe- A young woman goes into a sex toy shop to buy a toy. This woman is a nun about to be ordained. She struggles with her sworn commitment to celibacy, but the secret does get exposed. And with a surprising ending. Directed by a recent UBC graduate, the story is basically for the sake of shock value as it appears no actually research on the Catholic Church and vocations were done. Basically that’s all it is: entertainment for hedonists.
Sea Monster: dirs. Daniel Rocque and Kassandra Tomczyk- Tomczyk co-wrote, co-directed and stars in this short. Charley and Aria are a couple cooped up in a hotel madly in love, but both are coping with trauma. Aria dreams of a squid. Then the two make out on night in the fashion of a squid, followed by a bizarre aftermath. This is a film that’s nothing short of experimental. This film is good at getting creative in its time frame and setting.
Thug: dir. Daniel Boos- We first see how three friends– Eman, Simon and Josh– are shooting a low-budget gangsta film. Director Josh recommends to Eman that he creates a hold-up scene on Simon unexpectedly to make the film more ‘real.’ Eman agrees, despite the risk to their friendship. It does a lot more; it arouses suspicion from the local police. Later, Eman and Simon talk about roles they wish they could play before Eman auditions for a role as a gangster thug. This short film sends a message about how minorities in acting get the short end of the stick in terms of the roles they are offered and are often limited to racial stereotypes.
Let Your Heart Be Light: dirs. Deragh Campbell and Sophy Romvari- Both Deragh and Sophy write, direct and act in opposite names in this short. Sophy is confined to spend Christmas alone after a break-up. Deragh pays a visit and makes her Christmas. The film is slow and lacking in energy, but it does a good job of making use of its time and keeping with the Christmas vibe.
In summary, all seven were different in their own way it terms of both style and quality. There were a couple that were either inconsistent in story or lacking in energy. There were a couple that were eccentric, but the eccentricities worked for the film. There were also some films that made you think. The ones that made me think were my favorites as the messages came across very well and very effectively.
New Skins And Old Ceremonies makes for a unique array of seven shorts by Canadian directors. Some were good, some were bad, but all were an opportunity for the directors to make names for themselves.
I was hoping to see Mommy at this year’s VIFF. It was one of those films I really wanted to see. Unfortunately there was only one showing–I think it was the only film that had a single showing– and this was not open to volunteers and tickets sold out days before. Fortunately I was able to see it when it came out in theatres shortly after. I’m very glad I did.
The film begins telling us it’s 2105 and Canada is under a newly elected administration that has passed a controversial new law. The law states that government agencies can now decide the fate of a minor with mental conditions and the parent has no control over it which includes transporting them to hospitals and facilities.
Diane ‘Die’ Despres, a 46 year-old widow of three years has been given the news. Her 16 year-old son Steve, an ADHD child with a history of violent behavior, has been sent to a long list of list of juvenile institutions over the years. His violent behavior has gotten him constantly kicked out and transferred to the next. However his actions at his most recent institution– setting fire to the cafeteria which left one boy badly burned– led to the final straw: transfer to a more restrictive detention centre where she knows he’ll never be rehabilitated. She goes against all judgment and takes Steve into her own hands.
Die has to be a toughy with Steve if she wants to make this work all on her own. She’s even willing to risk losing her job to keep Steve from the alternative, which does happen. She knows it will be very hard to keep Steve because of his behavior and it’s his first violent outburst since taking him on that’s her first test. She stops him by throwing a bookcase on him and that leads to Steve having a gash. She can’t take him to a hospital but she finds help from Kyla, a neighbor from across the street who’s always been so private and only seen with her husband and children. She gives Steve the stitches.
Die is impressed with Kyla’s nursing skills. The three form a friendship that’s very close as they do many things together. Kyla is especially beneficial as she’s a nurse who knows how to handle the behavior of people with ADHD like Steve. The three of them share many good times together. Die is finally smiling and happy, Steve is able to show off his enthusiasm and a passion for life, and Kyla is able to come out of her shell. Die is even impressed with how she knows how to handle Steve. She doesn’t have to do this alone. However all three know that they have to keep this top secret. Die even meets with a lawyer to work on their case against the institution. It appears to look good until Steve is mocked at a bar during karaoke night. he becomes violent and threatens the heckler with a broken beer bottle. Steve even gives a further outburst towards the lawyer which causes the lawyer to drop the two.
Despite it all, the three continue on even after Die is served. She is given the warning to give Steve up or she will be charged. The three hope to keep things hidden and things continue to go well until Steve tries to slit his wrist in a store. That was the final straw. Die can’t take it anymore and has to take Steve to the institution. Changes also come for Kyla as her husband has a job in Toronto. The film does end not how one would expect.
Once again this is another entertaining film from Dolan. Like many of his films, it gives a lot of focus on the madness of his protagonist’s minds. However this is not just simply that. This is also a focus on the protagonist’s behavior problems associated with the mental condition. It gives some good focus on the ‘wild imagination’ associated with people with ADHD, especially in scenes with Steve having fun in the parking lot and skateboarding feeling free. However it also focuses on behavior problems where Steve gets dangerously violent with his mother, verbally abusive with the lawyer who’s supposed to help the two out, impulsively suicidal in the store and even shows the lack of sexual restraint when Steve tries to come on to Kyla. The character of Steve does a good display of showing the positive side of ADHD but also its weaknesses, especially how many young people act like they don’t know their boundaries. We’re already made aware of the fire Steve set which left another teen badly burned at the beginning. However it’s in the film we get a better sense of the condition and a young person’s behavior patterns from sweet and loving to ruthless and nasty.
The film is also about a mother’s love for such a child and how it’s tested. I remember reading a book on parenting teenagers and it said a sentence that really stuck in my head: “If you can handle a teen with ADHD, you can handle any kid.” We know how much Die loves Steve to the point she’s willing to break the law to keep him. That opening scene when she unapologetically barges into Steve’s bedroom to wake him up even while she catches him masturbating already showed that she’s a tough-as-nails mother. However there’s no doubt that her love for him will be put to the test big time. The story shows the trials Die has to go to in order to keep Steve from his violent outbursts to the point of even throwing a bookcase on him. The story also shows how much sacrifice Die has to deal with to keep Steve such as losing her job and losing the lawyer that can help the two win the case. The story even shows how even the toughest of mothers like Die can just have enough of it all and turn Steve in.
It’s not even strictly about ADHD and a mother’s love. It’s also about the trio of a friendship. Kyla’s presence is also very vital as she is one of the few adults who know how to deal with Steve and she becomes Die’s first friend since the death. And to think Kyla was simply a loner wife and mother before the two met her. The film makes for a fascinating friendship between the three.
Interesting thing about this is that the story is in the near future but by a single year and talks of a law passed by the newly elected administration. The funny thing is that most Canadians, especially British Columbians, would expect a law like that to be passed by our current administration. Okay, enough of that. Back to focusing on the film, the one weakness about the film is that it gets us wrapped up in the story to the point we forget about this law that threatens to tear the two apart. And we’re only reminded of it near the end. I’m sure the law has a lot to do with Die keeping Steve to herself and Kyla keeping things hidden but the story makes it so easy to forget.
Once again, this is another triumph for Quebec wunderkind Xavier Dolan. I still remember five years ago when he burst on the scene as a 20 year-old with I Killed My Mother and caught loads of attention at that year’s Cannes. I saw it. Excellent film. Dolan has since proved he’s no one-trick-pony as he has delivered other consistent films like 2010’s Heartbeats, last year’s Tom At The Farm and this film. It’s no wonder he’s become all the buzz at Cannes these past few years and has even caught the attention of Brad Pitt. However this is something unique as this is the first Dolan film where Xavier does not act at all in it. It’s a very good film and another accomplishment from Xavier.
The funny thing about this film is that there have been times I wanted to compare it to his breakthrough film I Killed My Mother. It’s not an easy thing to do as both have a lot of things in common. I do admit that I Killed my Mother is still my favorite film from Dolan. Also looking back, I’ve been trying to see if Mommy shows a filmmaking maturity in Dolan in the five years since. It was very hard to pinpoint out in all the retrospective thinking I’ve been doing. Mind you for those who saw I Killed My Mother, I’m sure you were all surprised how well-directed it was. It easy makes you forget it was done by a 20 year-old.
Actually there were some differences and even some challenges between the two. And not simply because Xavier doesn’t act here. First was creating a story involving a character with a common mental condition. Dolan had to know it inside out and deliver a character that displayed those traits but didn’t come across as insulting to those that had it. Another difference was the focus of a teen boy’s heterosexual feelings. Most of Dolan’s films have focused on homosexuality. And another trait of the movie was Dolan trying to portray the essence of being a teenager even as Dolan was 24 at the time of making the film. Dolan shows she still hasn’t forgotten that essence five years later.
Antoine-Olivier Pilon did an excellent performance with a character very complex. It’s good to see someone that young do a great acting job. However Anne Dorval was the standout of the film. She also delivered well as a mother who is easily tested despite her rebel side. Suzanne Clement is also excellent as the friend who comes out of her shell. The three of them together had the right chemistry to make the film work. Even the minor characters added to the movie. Like Kyla’s husband added to it as one who could say a lot without speaking a word. The mix of music in the film was an excellent mix of common hits and neo-classical compositions and it fit the film well.
Mommy has already won some good accolades. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and won the Prix du Jury. It even won awards at a Francophone film festival in Namur, Belgium and has made almost $3 million at box offices around the world. It’s also Canada’s official entry in the Best Foreign language Film Category for this year’s Oscars.
Mommy also further confirms my belief about the Canadian motion picture system. For those who don’t know my belief about it, my belief is there are two different types of movies coming from Canada: the films from Quebec and the films from English Canada. The films from Quebec have their own distinct style and consistently display creativity and professionalism. The directors themselves have gained universal recognition and even won awards including an Oscar. The films from English Canada are also professional lack the eye-catching ability of Quebec and have to do lots of effort in order to win attention even in Canada. There isn’t even much of a legacy for the films of English Canada. I believe Mommy further adds to the legacy of Quebec filmmaking and further proves the films of English Canada have a lot of catching up to do.
Mommy is another accomplishment for Xavier Dolan. It quite possibly even makes him the biggest ‘young gun’ director in the world right now. Twenty-five years old and this is his fifth critically-renowned film. I can’t think of another young gun with as much accomplishments right now.
Remember last year when I talked about movies from other countries as much as I talked about films? Well I had the good luck of catching my first movie at the VIFF just recently. It’s a movie from Quebec called 1987 and it’s very entertaining.
The film begins with 17 year-old Ricardo Trogi breaking up an organizational meeting where the ‘powers that be’ organize that a teen should decide at 17 what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Ricardo breaks it up because he knows it won’t work. He’s 17 and he can’t decide.
Flash forward to the plot. Ricardo is about to graduate from high school and he has four big goals for this year: lose his virginity to his girlfriend Marie-Josee, get into night clubs, get a car and strike it rich with his big plan. Sound like big dreams but it’s not going to come true easily. His parents want him to get a job to learn responsibility. All the attempts from him and his three friends to get into Quebec’s top club fail. Marie-Josee is reluctant to go all the way. And his big goal is to open a night club for teens. That takes some doing since he has a $50 bill from Columbia House after falling for their 10 tapes for a penny ‘deal.’ Yeah, I fell for that too.
Things start pretty bumpy. He does get his first car but it’s a shabby Lada. He has a chance to lose his virginity but it’s postponed as he starts work on the one day Marie’s parents are away. His moneymaking chance flops with his first job as a valet. Hey, totaling a BMW will get you out in a record-short two hours. Then it’s by chance with his friends that they notice an expensive car stereo. Fortunately for them, no one’s around to see them steal it. That gives Ricardo an idea of being a stereo peddler to get the money for his night club. It starts to pay off. The more stereos he and his buds get, the more they can sell. Once he reaches 18, he can get into night clubs with his friends and be ‘the man.’ He even gets the notice over there of a Sara, female classmate he liked but the other boys called ‘STD’ behind her back.
However things don’t work as planned. First he finds out Marie-Josee kissed another man. He hears it right on prom night. He leaves her and then goes to the night club where he’s able to win over Sara. However he finds out that ‘STD’ is actually a virgin and confused with life. To make things worse, he finds out his friend and ‘partner in crime’ spends too much time with Marie-Josee. Then comes the Waterloo for him as the police know of his stereo theft. It all ends there. Nevertheless it ends with the director giving a final reflection at the end.
The thing that grabbed me most was that this movie was possibly the most truthful about the 1980’s of all 80’s-themed movies. You know how sometimes when you see a retro movie they don’t entirely get it exactly retro? They include some modern stuff but try to make it look classic? Like those 70’s-like hairstyles worn by the teens of Happy Days? Not in 1987. It grabbed me that this was the 80’s retro film that had to be the most exact when it came to 80’s style from multitude of armbands to plastic glasses on women and aviator glasses on men to girls in big hair to guys in tight jeans. I noticed very little present styles in this. And I’m an 80’s teen! Also that talk of opening a night club for teens. That was a unique 80’s thing. I even remember a teen night club in Winnipeg in the 80’s called Changes.
It’s not just the clothes and teen clubs that made it very precise in depicting the 80’s but also the entertainment they talked about and music played in the soundtrack. They played a lot of signature 80’s songs like Forever Young and Cum On Feel The Noize and there was talk about a U2 song affecting Marie-Josee’s mood. Having the Pet Shop Boys’ It’s A Sin fit the chase scene perfectly and even reminded me that I liked it. There were also a lot of lesser known 80’s gems in there too like Flock of Seagulls’ Space Age Love Song (which I prefer over ‘I Ran’), Run DMC’s It’s Like That and even uniquely Canadian 80’s gems like Luba’s Every Time I See Your Picture and even a Quebec 80’s gem from Martine St.Claire. Another such is the movie poster of The Untouchables which Ricardo thinks it’s about Al Capone being tough. The poster actually is a symbol of Ricardo’s teenage delusion as The Untouchables was about Al Capone getting caught. Eventually the Quebec police would become Ricardo’s Eliot Ness.
Another thing about it is that it was able to make light about a lot of teenager difficulties. Especially the age of 17 when you’re expected to decide what you want to do with your life and a lot of unexpected changes happen. Sure, you graduate high school but often your friends and even your high school sweetheart move on to pursue other things. First off the movie was able to make light of the shitty attitudes in both Nadia’s reclusiveness and Ricardo’s frustrations. It was also to make light of the romantic confusions of Marie-Josee and Sara. It was also able to showcase a lot of the typical teenage stupidities in a funny way. Especially Ricardo’s stupidity of thinking he’s ready to take on the world with his idea and that he can make it big on stealing car radios. The radio heist was especially amusing because he was acting like he was Don Corleone but he was a complete amateur. 16 year-olds in the ‘hood are better at playing the game than Ricardo. Nevertheless it’s funny to watch as most of us have passed the age of 18 and can even see their own past in it. We laugh because all Ricardo and his teen friends go through, even the toughest stuff, are all a case of ‘you live and you learn.’ Even cruel stuff like Sara being nicknamed ‘STD’ can be laughed off as the stupidity we once had.
I didn’t know until recently that 1987 was actually a sequel to 1981, another autobiographical film by Ricardo Trogi in which Jean-Carl Boucher also played Ricardo. I’ve never seen it so I can’t compare 1987 to 1981 at all. I will say it’s a very entertaining film in its own right and Trogi should be very proud of the movie he delivered. Like I say, any 80’s teen can identify with this and laugh along to it. It’s almost like they’re laughing at themselves. Jean-Carl Boucher was very good in his role as Ricardo. He was naturally comedic in the role without coming across as too stockish of a character. He made the comedic side of teen awkwardness look 3D. Actually all the teen actors were very good in their roles as they came off very believable especially in terms of showing teenage confusion and frustration in both comedic and serious lights. The adult actors were also good but it was Sandrine Bisson as the mother who was the best scene stealer. She reminds you of every mother and the crazy frustrated attitude they have. Yeah, juts when you though your mom was weird, it becomes apparent it’s a mom thing.
1987 is a funny movie that can appeal to all sorts of people like teens and grown adults or even people who just like 80’s stuff. It will bring back memories of the time. And of you.
Every VIFF I have a goal of seeing at least one Canadian film. On Friday I chose to see Whitewash, a Quebec production. I didn’t get too big of an accomplishment of a movie but it was suspenseful.
The movie starts with a man walking down a street and a snowplow driving down the road. Then the shocker: the snowplow hits the man. The driver is shocked to see he’s dead. The driver then drives far north to drop the body off into a ditch and cover it with snow. Then the driver travels as far north as he can only to find him stuck in a forested area. The most he can do is make the plow his home and his shelter.
Soon we learn that collision was not a collision between strangers. It was his neighbor Paul. We also learn of the driver’s name: Bruce. Bruce does the first thing he can with whatever money Paul has. Go to a diner to eat. Unfortunately he learns that both he and Paul are in the news as missing people. It becomes apparent Bruce would have to use his stuck plow as a hideout. Over time, Bruce would use other places too like a store to buy all sorts of supplies and a house of a snowmobiling family whom he accidentally scares the daughter and pisses the father off.
It’s in flashbacks that we learn a dark secret of Paul. Paul has a gambling problem and he lost $15,000. He can’t tell his wife. Bruce has problems of his own. He lost his wife to cancer. He also lost his job as a plowman as he drove his plow into a building one night while drunk. He spent time in jail and was suspended from driving anything for one year, His only chance for making money right now are from wholeselling a set of decorations he owns.
It’s after Bruce steals a snowmobile that he accidentally spots a body of a woman frozen to death. Another body to hide, underneath a lake of breaking ice. Then we learn through a flashback of what Paul was doing inside Bruce’s house the night of the accident. This paves way to an ending that is surprising and gets a lot of people guessing their own end to Bruce’s situation.
I don’t think there’s any real social point to make in this film. All it does is tell the story from the protagonist’s point of view of how he’s hiding out and what events led to the fatal collision. Over time there becomes more that meets the eye. The film is mostly about Bruce but it’s also about Paul too. Sometimes it gets one questioning if that was an accident at all or an accident waiting to happen. Did Paul mean to avoid Bruce’s plow or did he think this was his chance for his suicide? The film has us asking.
Another thing to say about the ending is that it is unpredictable. Subtly humorous but unpredictable. We’re all expecting it to end either one way or the other. Instead it ends on a different note. Some will accept the ending for what it is but some will try to draw their own conclusions of what will happen later on. The unpredictable ending is one of the top highlights of the movie. Actually I believe that the unconventionality is the biggest quality of the movie. We all expect that this is one thing but it’s not. We think that the fatal collision was random but it was between two neighbors. We think that it was accidental but it’s possible Paul had a death wish. We all expect Bruce to face some sort of consequence in the end but it ends on a different note.
One thing about the Canadian film industry is that its in a confusing state: a state that’s been like that for decades. There’s the films of Quebec that have been able to chart its own territory and create its own legacy. Then there’s the films of English Canada which has a long way to catch up to Quebec’s level. English Canada knows how to hold its own in music and in television but it’d not able to do as well in film. All too often if they want to create a movie to get attention, they’d have to hire a big name even if it’s American or British. They do hire Canadian name actors but many who had their time in Hollywood that’s past. This is a unique situation where a Quebec director creates an English-language drama/comedy. He hires an American who’s made a name for himself–Thomas Haden Church: most famous for playing a villain in SpiderMan 3 and his Oscar-nominated performance in Sideways– as the protagonist. The rest of the cast are Quebec actors. Even the director and his brother play minor roles.
I don’t know how this will help cinema for English Canada. This may take things forward or this may be a repeat of what’s happening now. I will say it is a very good film in its own part. Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais does a very good job of directing this film. The script he co-wrote with Marc Tulin was very good, very honest and full of moments through both present moments and flashbacks that help make the film very good. In fact Hoss-Desmarais won an award at the Tribeca Film Fest for Best New Narrative Director for his effort. Thomas Haden Church gave a very good performance as Bruce that was very honest. Marc Labreche’s performance as Paul was also very good and honest but the writers could have made more of it. Supporting performances were also good too.
Whitewash is a very good film that may not do anything too new for film from English Canada but it’s a good story all of its own and will keep the audience intrigued from start to finish.
Even though it is a good thing, Canada is not normally famous for its disasters. Yes we’ve had the Halifax Explosion, Hurricane Hazel and the Winnipeg Flood of 1950 but they don’t come that often. These past few weeks were a rare exception as Canada had three sudden disasters to deal with.
The Alberta Floods
Alberta’s rivers are not known for their floods. However heavy rainfall throughout the province of Alberta from June 19th to 22nd led to the worst flooding in the province’s history. Seven major Alberta rivers including the Bow and Elbow Rivers were filled hard and were over flooded to the point they caused huge damage to surrounding cities. The damage done to the city of Calgary received the most coverage especially since the flooding damage hit the downtown core bad. That and the fact that the annual Calgary Stampede was about to start. The stampede grounds endured considerable damage. Even venues like the Scotiabank Saddledome reported flooding up to the tenth row. In fact 26 surrounding neighborhoods around the Calgary area were placed under a mandatory evacuation order for three straight days. The 75,000 evacuees made it the largest evacuation in the city’s history.
It wasn’t just Calgary. The town of High River had to evacuate. The Siksika First Nation east of Calgary had to declare evacuation. Even towns of Banff and Canmore had to be cut off after floods and mudslides cut off much of the Trans-Canada Highway. Even cities like Lethbridge, Red Deer and High River had to declare their states of emergency. The flooding resulted in four fatalities in total.
The towns and cities continue their clean-up in the aftermath. One thing that did happen is that the Calgary Stampede went on as planned. Events planned for the Saddledome however were either cancelled or relocated to other locations in the city.
Toronto Flash Flood
Monday July 8, 2013 was expected to be like any other day in Toronto. If there was to be a thunderstorm, it was expected to be brief and pass by. However the afternoon provided some of the most serious thunderstorm activity faced by Toronto. Rain was delirious. Rainfalls ranging from 97mm in downtown Toronto to 126mm at Pearson Airport caused major flooding in many areas including the freeways and the subway stations. In fact news images showed a GO train with 1400 people that was caught in the floods. Power outages were rampant as 80% of Mississauga was without power as was 300,000 other people who received Toronto Hydro. A big surprise for a city that normally gets an average of 74mm of rain in the whole of July. Fortunately the floods have subsided and fortunately there were no fatalities.
Train Derailment In Quebec
I saved to worst for last. Until a week ago, Lac-Megantic was a simple small town in Quebec close to the Canada/U.S. border. Since the early morning of Saturday July 6th, it’s the centre of possibly the biggest train accident of the year and continues to make more bad news with each day.
It was a simple train trip done many times before: a trip transporting oil from the United States to New Brunswick. Lac Megantic was just simply a town where the train was to pass through without disturbance or incident of any kind. The train set consisted of 72 tanks each filled with 113,000 litres of crude oil and had been transferred from train system to train system.
Two hours before the incident while the train was parked in Nantes, the engineer left the train as he was done his shift. He felt however that it was unsafe since it was spitting oil and thick black smoke and wanted to call an American official about directives for the situation. Actually drivers who were driving along the train 40 minutes earlier complained of thick black smoke coming from the train. The Nantes Fire Department put out the blaze at 11:30pm and the train company employees confirmed the train was safe. However one failed to notice that the locomotive was tampered with. The train tanks, detached from the locomotive, started moving downhill at witnesses considered a dangerous speed. Then the unmanned train derailed in an area of downtown Lac Megantic, the tanks collapsed spilling crude oil on the ground and cause a huge fire 91 to 121 meters in diameter. Between four to six explosions were heard and heat from the fire could be felt as far as two kilometers away. Over 1000 of the town’s 6000 residents had to be evacuated. People in the third floor of burning buildings jumped to avoid being caught in the blaze.
Even as of now, there are no final statistics and new information is being gathered every day. 35 people have been confirmed dead but 15 remain missing. Thirty buildings in the downtown of Lac Megantic have been destroyed by the blaze. Information has surfaced that the locomotive is believed to have been tampered with. I’m sure more clues will come up in the future.
With every disaster comes action. Not just action from emergency crews but action from all those involved including officials from the various industries affected. Here’s some of the action that has been taken so far. Remember these incidents happened three weeks ago at the most so there is still more action to come:
-The province of Alberta has started to create new flood-mapping standards such as categorizing high-risk flood areas. Some homeowners in high-risk areas are offered to move from their current location with financial assistance from the province or risk being ineligible for any future Disaster Recovery Fund assistance. Homeowners will be given new regulations in the future such as notating homes for sale being in a possible flood-risk zone. Even developers will be made aware of high risk areas.
-The City of Toronto will have to do some rethinking and reassessing certain aspects of the city. Especially the drainage system. Also Toronto transit will have to organize a better system of escape from its trains and subways to avoid a worse scenario. One thing is train riders who had to travel on the still-wet trains the following day were given a $100 credit to cover whatever dry cleaning costs. Hydro One had most of its equipment underground. It will soon review its standards and practices in the aftermath including bringing some equipment above ground.
-Once the clean-up and other activities from the Lac Megantic derailment are completed, you can be sure there will be a full inquiry on this incident. Even without the death count being finalized, this has already become the deadliest train accident in Canada since 1864. Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) will definitely face the biggest heat from this as well as Transport Canada. Already the Transport Safety Board of Canada has started an investigation on this. The Red Cross has started emergency efforts in the town. Lac Megantic will have to make efforts to rebuild and have makeshift locations for businesses that used to exist before the disaster. You can be sure that certain people will be prosecuted for criminal negligence and the government agencies will set new regulations for dealing with petroleum-filled tanks.
It is a shock to see all of this happening in Canada in the span of one month’s time but it was possible. Nevertheless it is Canadian nature to take immediate action towards something like this. In fact a roof collapse in an Ontario shopping mall last year that caused the deaths of two people made national news and brought fast action. In some countries, you’d need a bigger fatality result to get major action happening. Only time will tell what the end results are and what actions come of these incidents.
Uncredited Author. “Alberta Unveils New Flood Proofing Rules” CBC News cbc.ca 14 July 2013 <http://news.ca.msn.com/top-stories/alberta-unveils-new-flood-proofing-rules-1>
Ogrodnik, Irene. “By the numbers: 2013 Toronto flood” Global News Global News And The Canadian Press. 9 July 2013 <http://globalnews.ca/news/704015/by-the-numbers-2013-toronto-summer-storm/>
Gheciu, Alex Nino. “Toronto flood: Underground equipment sank Hydro One” Toronto Star 11 July 2013 <http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/07/11/toronto_flood_underground_equipment_sunk_hydro_one.html>
WIKIPEDIA: Lac Megantic Derailment. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lac-M%C3%A9gantic_derailment>