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.

Le déclin de l’empire français. Films Reviewed: Run, Corbo, The Gate, Far From Men at TIFF14

Posted in Cultural Mining, Drama, France, Movies, Uncategorized, War by CulturalMining.com on September 4, 2014

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

France was once an imperial power, with colonies in Africa, the Americas and Asia. But much of  it ended with terror, revolution, rival conquest, or all-out war. A chequered history at best, but one that makes for amazing movies. So this week I’m looking at four gripping historical dramas, all about men facing revolutions, of a sort, in former French colonies. One is set in Algeria in the 1950s, just before the Algerian War, another in Montréal in the turbulent 1960s, a third in Cambodia amidst the bombing and revolution of the 1970s, and a fourth in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, during the crises and war of the 2,000s.

pgRO2N_run_01_o3_8344507_1408549867Run
Dir: Philippe Lacôte

A crazed, homeless man dressed in a burlap sack walks into a cathedral in Abidjan. He pulls out a gun and shoots the Prime Minister, pointblank. Who is he? And why did he do it? The film immediately starts on a patchwork of events in the man’s life, forward to the present, back to the past and further still to his childhood.

Run (Abdoul Karim Konaté) is an orphan who wants to apprentice himself to a k5wJD5_run_05_o3_8344690_1408549873master. He quietly observes an old man: a master of the stars, of medicine, of rainmaking and the supernatural. Later Run becomes an assistant to a Liberian woman he meets named “Super Gladys”. She is a glamorous performer with red-tipped hair and elaborate clothes, and she’s a big woman. She’s also a professional eater, a “mangeuse”. With Run as her MC, she performs on a stage, shoveling – with both hands! — massive amounts of rice oYvNO3_run_02_o3_8344550_1408549867and dripping chicken into her pie-hole. Viewers applaud and pay her for the privilege. (“Ivoirians don’t know the meaning of money” she remarks in her mixture of French and English.)

An ultra-nationalistic movement sweeps the country but Run survives again. He joins a paramilitary gang of thugs who attack foreigners. The gang becomes almost an organized crime faction, but one with great political pull. And still later he meets, Assa, a revolutionary (Isaach De Bankolé), and has to decide where his loyalties really lie.

This is a great look at contemporary Ivoirian history, its ups and its down, as seen through the eyes of an everyman; a man called Run.

CORBOCorbo
Dir: Mathieu Denis

It’s 1966 in Montreal. Jean Corbo (Anthony Therrien) is a third-generation Canadian, a francophone, and the grandson of Italian immigrants who were imprisoned by the RCMP as enemy aliens in WWII. His dad’s a successful Italian-Canadian lawyer (Tony Nardi), a stalwart Liberal Party supporter, his mother Quebecoise. His family is rich – they live in Town of Mount Royal – and he’s sent to a Catholic private school, but he keeps getting kicked out for his political views. He likes jazz (jungle music, his family calls it) and doesn’t CORBOfeel connected to the Italian community.

Then he has a chance encounter with two “ruffians” leaving pamphlets in the school. He likes what they say… and especially the young woman, Julie, who works as a waitress in a diner.

Who are they? What do they want? It’s the FLQ (Quebec Liberation Front)! They want to overthrow their “colonial” rulers, seize the means of production, and scare away the Anglo oligarchs. They attempt to do this, first with anonymous posters and graffiti, later escalating to actual JZY7ol_corbo_01_o3_8285564_1408564843explosions. It spurred the first flight of nervous Anglos from Quebec. Jean is allowed into the cel, despite his class, and agrees to hide copies of their secret mimeographed publication, La Cognee, under his bed at home. (He’s only sixteen.)

But violence grows and people are killed. Jean, Julie and others wonder, is it worth dying for? Or killing for? Corbo is an fascinating look at the genesis of the FLQ by a first time director, retelling the true events of the summer of ‘66. Anthony Therrien portrays a passionate but confused 16-year-old, in deeper than he knows. He’s excellent, and so is this movie.

The Gate (Le temps des aveux)
Dir: Régis Wargnier

François Bizot (Raphaël Personnaz: Quai d’Orsay) is a French ethnologist living in the former colony of Cambodia. He is 1j9KJR__gate_01-TEMPORARY_o3__8248934__1406599843married to a Cambodian woman, has a daughter and speaks fluent Khmer. He collects material from Buddhist monasteries for safekeeping as the US war in Vietnam starts spreading to Cambodia and Laos. He embarks on a trip to a “dangerous area” beyond Angkor Wat, with his assistant and a young artist who asks to ride with them.

But they are captured by Khmer Rouge rebels led by Duch (Phoeung Kompheak). He is put in irons, nailed to the ground by child soldiers. He must confess to being a spy for the Americans. But he is French, he protests, not American. I am neutral, he insists. Spies must confess their crimes (after which they are executed) but how can he confess to a crime he didn’t commit. So Bizot and Duch enter a prolongued period of discussion. Both appear rational.

Ironically, Bizot turns to Buddhist scriptures for inspiration, while Duch quotes French political philosophers like Vigny. Bizot os Jesus-like, bearded and dressed in austere black cotton. Will he and his friends ever escape the torture-filled prison camp?

The film continues until the apocalyptic mayhem of the fall of Phnom Penh, and the closure of the French Embassy. Unspoken is the mass murder, the Killing Fields, that would follow. Though selective in its historical blame  (the film doesn’t deal with things like the US bombing of Cambodia or earlier French crimes in Indochina) It’s still an exciting and breathtaking (though darkly beautiful) look at the last days of Europeans in Cambodia.

X67Q6V__farfrommen_04_o3__8272631__1406819725Far From Men (Loin des homme)

Dir: David Oelhoffen (Based on a story by Albert Camus)

It’s 1954. Daru (Viggo Mortensen) is a school teacher in an isolated village. The map on the wall says France, but this is Algeria and the students are all Algerian. (Algeria was a French colony from the early 19th century, and fully annexed by France in 1948. It regained independence in 1962, after a harsh, protracted war with France.) He is ordered to take the prisoner Mohammed (Reda Kateb) — an accused murderer —  to appear before a French judge in a distant city. He refuses at first, but realizes he’s the only one stopping the ElZ8Dm__farfrommen_01_o3__8272418__1406819722lynch mobs, both pied noir and Algerian, from killing him. He urges him to escape and is angered when he insists on facing French justice. Why would any man willingly give up his freedom? Daru wonders. (Though he was born and raised in Algeria, Daru feels apart from both the French and the Arabs.)

So he agrees to accompany the accused on his journey on foot. they set off on a two-day journey. And on the way they both reveal truths about themselves, their desires and regrets. This movie is a classic study in existentialism set at the dawn of the Algerian War. But it’s also a classic Western. Their trip is filled with posses, soldiers — both French and rebel — horsemen, rifles, cliffs, ridges, deserts, and saloons. Even the background music is by Nick Cave (with Warren Ellis) the Sergio Leone of modern-day oaters. Camus meets the old west? An odd combination. But it works.

Run, Corbo, The Gate, and Far From Men are all playing at TIFF. Go to tiff.net for details.

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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