Questioning Authority. Films reviewed: Beans, Quo Vadis Aïda?, Shorta, New Order, Night of the Kings at #TIFF20!

Posted in Africa, Bosnia, Canada, Denmark, Indigenous, Mexico, Police, Protest, Quebec, Uncategorized, War by CulturalMining.com on September 18, 2020

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

The Toronto International Film Festival has come to a close, and to tell you the truth – considering it was touch and go since the pandemic hit – I’m especiallly impressed by the 50 movies that made it into the festival. There’s a particular appropriateness to the movies they chose, films that capture the current feelings of uncertainty, impending doom, and a general mistrust of authority. So this week I’m, looking at five fantastic TIFF films about the current malaise. And so as not to end on too bleak a note, I’m throwing in a nicer story at the end.

There’s a blockade in Quebec genocide in Bosnia, police violence in Denmark, a class war in Mexico… and story-telling in a prison in Cote’d’Ivoire.

Beans

Dir: Tracey Deer

 

It’s 1995. Beans (Kiawentiio) is an innocent 12-year-old girl who lives in suburban Québec with her Dad, her ambitious mom, and her little sister. She’s into stuffed animals and hair ribbons – her biggest worry is getting into a posh private school. But when the town of Oka tries to grab Mohawk burial grounds to expand a golf course, protests erupt. Beans and her family leave their cushy life to join the Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawá:ke community in the increasingly tense stand-off. They are blockaded and local stores refuse to sell them food, and police and military stand by when her family is attacked by racist locals throwing rocks and breaking windows. Beans, meanwhile feels rejected by the local kids as too soft, so she asks April (Paulina Alexis) an older girl to toughen her up. With the crisis raging all around her, Beans starts to change – but is it for the better?

Based on true events, Beans is a marvelous coming-of-age story of a girl learning about heritage, identity and sexuality, as she gradually gains self-confidence in a frightening time.

Quo Vadis, Aïda?

Wri/Dir: Jasmila Žbanic

It’s 1995 in Srebrenica, Bosnia.

The three-year Bosnian civil war is coming to an end, and Aida (Jasna Djuričić) a former high school teacher, is worried. Her former students are fighting on all sides. Ratko Mladić’s soldiers have surrounded the town and the locals have fled to a safety zone run by UN Peace Keepers. Aida is now the official translator, a conduit between the locals, the invaders and the ineffectual, Dutch Blue Helmets. Be calm, they promise, there’s nothing to worry about. But she knows they’re not safe at all. It falls on her shoulders to save them, or at least save her husband and two sons. But can Aida save anyone, even herself?

Quo Vadis, Aida? is a fast, tense and deeply moving depiction of the fear, confusion and helplessness of the days leading up to the genocidal Srebrenica Massacre where over eight thousand Bosnians were murdered in cold blood. Though it doesn’t explicitly show the violent acts themselves, it still leaves the viewer drained and shocked by its enormity.

Shorta

Wri/Dir: Frederik Louis Hviid, Anders Ølholm

Tension is mounting in Svalegården, a highrise housing project in Denmark, after police choke a teenager to death. Two cops are called in to keep the peace. Mike Andersen (Jacob Lohmann) is the bad cop – foul-mouthed, corrupt, out of shape and blatantly racist. Jens Høyer (Simon Sears) is the good cop, fit, clean-cut and by the book. They arrest a local teen, Amos (Tarek Zayat) for a minor infraction. Amos was a promising soccer star but has lost hope after being harassed too often by police. But the three of them are forced to work together – or choose sides – when violence erupts leaving them stranded in a dangerous zone, without a car, and no way out. Can Mike and Jens escape, and can Amos get safely home, before something really bad happens?

Shorta is an action/thriller set within a climate of police violence and corruption. Though at first it seems to be full of anti-immigrant stereotypes, it turns expectations on their head in a series of unexpected and shocking plot turns. An intense thriller.

New Order

Wri/Dir: Michel Franco

Marianne (Naian González Norvind) is a woman in a red dress at her own wedding party. They’re waiting for the judge to arrive to start the ceremony, but she’s tied up. Streets are blocked by demonstrators throwing bright green paint at rich people all across Mexico City, though this exclusive neighbourhood remains untouched. Their faithful servant Marta (Mónica Del Carmen) is working hard to make sure everything’s perfect for the wedding. But when Marianne’s family – who are spending lavishly on the wedding – refuse to help a longtime servant pay an emergency medical bill, Marianne is fed up. She says she’ll drive him to the hospital and pay for it herself. So she sets off in a car with Marta’s brother Cristian (Fernando Cuautle). But while she’s away, mayhem breaks loose. Thieves have infiltrated the wedding party and begin killing people. There’s a military coup and the city is under martial law, shooting civilians at random. And when Marianne is “rescued” by soldiers, she is shocked to discover she’s actually their vicim, a captive held for ransom. Can anyone be trusted?

New Order is an extremely violent, dystopian look at class inequality and the deep corruption permeating Mexican society and government. Be warned, this is not an easy movie to watch.

Night of the Kings

Wri/Dir: Philippe Lacôte

It’s a special day in the huge MACA prison in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire in west Africa. A red moon is expected to rise that night, and with it a change of prison government. Not the warden or guards but the real leadership within the prison walls. Barbe Noire/Black Beard (Steve Tientcheu) rules them all. But he’s dying and needs to appoint a successor. First a ritual storytelling must take place. He appoints a new arrival (Koné Bakary) a young newbie arrested that day to be Roman, the storyteller. Roman is baffled – why him? He’s dressed in a shining blue shirt, and given a special potion to drink and a wooden box to stand on. He must tell a constant story, one that never ends or he will be killed and the whole prison will collapse into mayhem. So the story begins.

Night of the Kings is a fantastical prison drama that portrays both the amazing people who live there, and the story he tells. People like a beautiful transwoman who’s also a secret assassin, and wise man with a chicken on his shoulder who poses as a half- wit. That’s within MACA.

Then there’s the story Roman tells. He serves as an impromptu griot, passing on an oral history of a slain local gang leader named Zama King and his ancestors stretching way back in time. There are elephants and armies, queens and magical powers, elaborate costumes and hair styles. And as he tells his story, he’s surrounded by a greek chorus who spontaneously sing, dance and pantomime all around him. Night of the Kings is a fantastic drama, and one of the best films at TIFF this year.

Watch out for it.

Night of the Kings, New Order, Shorta, Quo Vadis Aida?, and Beans all screened at TIFF. Go to tiff.net for more information.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website culturalmining.com.

Critical Mass. Films reviewed: Dolittle, What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael, Les Misérables

Posted in 1800s, 1960s, Animals, Clash of Cultures, documentary, Drama, Family, Fantasy, France, Kids, Language, Morality, Movies, New York City, Police, Protest, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 18, 2020

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

This week I’m looking at three movies. There’s a man who talks to monkeys; a kid who steals a lion, and a movie critic who monkeyed with the way we look at movies.

Dolittle

Dir: Stephen Gaghan

It’s early 19th Century England, in a village called Puddleby-on-the-Marsh. Young Stubbins (Harry Collett) a boy out hunting with his dad  accidentally shoots a squirrel. But instead of “putting it out of its misery” as his father suggests, he tries to save it. Stubbins stumbles on a derelict hospital run by the reclusive Doctor Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr) the legendary animal doctor. The hospital is full of steampunk devices and wild animals — gorillas and polar bears, insects and parrots — wandering around just like people. And even more surprising, Doctor Dolittle can speak all their languages. Stubbins wants to convince the doctor to take him on as an apprentice so he can talk to the animals, too.

But trouble is brewing at Buckingham Palace. Someone has poisoned the Queen! And only the doctor knows the cure, a panacea found in a distant land.  Dolittle and the gang set sail to find it. Can they trick the evil King Rassouli (Antonio Banderas) into giving them the map? And will they defeat a tiger, a  dragon, and various palace villains, and manage to cure the Queen in time?

I grew up surrounded by Hugh Lofting’s books, TV cartoons, and movies, and though I wasn’t a devotee, I knew all about the stories and characters. And I don’t love Robert Downey Jr. So I was all set to be disappointed: where’s the chimp? And what happened to my favourite animal, the two-headed Pushmi-Pullyu?

But you know what? I liked it! It was cute, full of adventures, close escapes, exciting trips to exotic lands, and all the quirky animals (voiced by Octavia Spencer, Rami Malek, John Cena, and Emma Thompson). Keep in mind, this movie is for little kids, not grown ups, who may find the jokes too stupid, but the exciting scenes and the fast-moving action kept me satisfied. Not a terrific movie, but a very cute one.

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

Wri/Dir: Rob Garver

Pauline Kael was a single mom who grew up on a California ranch during the time when movies were still silent and B&W. Her first published review was Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight — she hated it. She ran a movie theatre in Berkeley where she wrote the reviews and descriptions of the films playing there, encouraging locals to see them. She wrote for Macall’s but was fired for not loving big-budget cinema. And she quit her job at The New Repulic because they edited out her writing. She finally found a post at The New Yorker, where she became one of the most influential movie critics in the world.

She’s is known both for the movies she hated (she described The Sound of Music as asexual revisionist treacle, and trashed Kubrick’s 2001!) and those she loved (Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, Scorcese’s Mean Streets, Spielberg’s Sugarland Express). Some directors’ careers were made by her patronage, while others lived in dread of her columns.  She rejected the ennui-ridden academic view of Auteur theory, without falling for manipulative Big-budget schlock. She liked trash, mind you, but it had to be good trash.

What She Said is an immaculately researched,spot-on look at Pauline Kael’s reviews,and her influence on audience and filmmakers. It delves into her fascinating life and and undeniable influence without resorting to endless kiss-assery. This movie is a labour of love,  combining vintage TV interviews with Dick Cavett and Brian Linehan, and talking heads — from Tarantino to David Lean — with readings from her work by Sarah Jessica Parker. Best of all, these voices are illustrated by a barrage of 2-3 second film clips from hundreds of movies over the past century that I haven’t seen in a documentary since Los Angeles Plays Itself (2002). (I grew up reading her reviews in The New Yorker — that and the cartoons were all  read — and while I disagreed with her half the time, I always wanted to see what she had to say.)

If you love movies, I strongly recommend this doc.

Les Misérables

Co-Wri/Dir: Ladj Ly

It’s Paris in the high-rise banlieue that circle the city. It’s 35 degrees outside and the crowds are high on the country’s win on the soccer pitch, singing la Marseillaise at train stations. But trouble is brewing…. it seems a lion cub is missing from a travelling Roma circus and the four brothers that run it are threatening a rumble with the locals.

Power here is shared by the secular — led by community leader called Le Maire (Steve Tientcheu); the religious — Salah (Almamy Kanouté), an Imam who runs a kebab shop; and the criminal — a gang of thieves who work directly with the cops. Attempting to keep the peace are the feckless police who mainly harass kids and sex workers. The regular team — an abrasive white guy Chris (Alexis Manenti) and his calmer black partner Gwada, who grew up in the hood (Djebril Zonga) — is joined by a newbie. the wide-eyed Stephane/Pento (Damien Bonnard) is a hick, straight from the farm. But the only ones who really know what’s going on are the local kids, who know every broken fence, every fire escape and back alley — they are watching everything. Especially Issa (Issa Perica) a feisty 10 year old, and his pal the nerdy Buzz (Al-Hassan Ly). Issa is the one who liberated the cute lion cub, and Buzz who records everything from the rooftops with his trusty drone.

But when the cops overstep their bounds and use weapons — which is caught on camera — things start to go really wrong. Chaos reigns.

Can the trouble be defused by the cops and community leaders? Or will the kids triumph? And could this lead to a repeat of the Paris riots of 2005?

Les Misérables (this is not Victor Hugo’s novel, but the location is the same) is an amazing dive into the lives of Parisians in the outer suburbs, their alienation, and the tension brewing there. The acting and story are superb, and I love the way multiple strands are woven together into a seamless whole. It’s nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, and, though violent at times, it holds a real love and understanding of the characters portrayed. This is a great movie.

Dolittle opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael is opening today at the Hot Docs Cinema, as is Les Misérables at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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