Clare In The Cheap Seats

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Summertime In Montréal

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I managed to keep myself busy over the summer months in Montréal, here is what I’ve been up to.

New film blog

I’m sure you all know about my Criterion Collection Blog. As another way to broaden my access to films I decided to go “Region Free”, this means I can play Blu-rays & DVD’s from any country in the world. I can now buy from any Studio / Distributor so I have visited the websites for two British companies, Eureka and Arrow Films.

Both work in a similar way to Criterion, releasing films with lots of interesting and informative Extras. Given the exchange rate here in Canada they can be more a lot more attractive in price compared to Canada/USA releases. In order to keep track of all that I buy and watch I decided to start a new Blog which you can find here

Driving Miss Daisy

Once again I have been able to watch a play courtesy of Cineplex. This performance was filmed during the sell-out tour of Australia and as I have never seen the film starring Morgan Freeman as soon as I saw the advert I thought to myself “I have to see this” Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones on stage, yes please!

They certainly did not disappoint; the play was wonderful. It never ceases to amaze me how theatre can create such a vision with bare minimum props. It was two actors sat on chairs yet in your mind you could see them in a car, stunning !

Jazz Festival

When we first knew we would be moving to Montreal several people told me that the city hosts many Festivals. A quick look at the calendar and I found the Jazz Festival. A lot of the venues were free and even those that had a fee it was still reasonable. We managed to get to see a few acts and had a great day. The best by far was a local band called Waiting Game They have an EP available to download at “name your price” This was something I did as soon as we got home. Check them out !

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Toronto International Film Festival – Review # 10

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Ain’t Misbehavin’

Screening: Sunday 15 September 2013 @ Jackman Hall

Director Marcel Ophüls was in attendance

There was a hilarious introduction by Marcel Ophüls before the film. He ripped apart the Producer for cutting the film to pieces and not giving him the finished product as promised. Due to this he had to stay and watch the film with us;

“I have to stay to see all the fucking cuts”

He is not sure if the film will be released but he is doing his best to “get his way”. Hopefully you will have the opportunity to view this excellent insight into the life of Marcel Ophüls.

Before this film (I use the word film but I think this can also be classed as a documentary) I had only watched one of his previous works, the world famous The Sorrow & The Pity. I also knew about his famous Father, Max Ophüls.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ follows Marcel as he visits various people and places as he recounts his life.  He classed his last film as a flop but the critics loved it.  He often wonders if they genuinely do like his work or is it because he is the “Son of Max”?

Childhood – He speaks lovingly of his childhood throughout and how his Father took all the work he could get his hands on.  The move to the USA opened up a whole different world to Marcel and he classes himself as an American film buff.  Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You and the Marx Bros rank at the top of his list.  His Father was always pushing him towards reading and studying Brecht when all he wanted was Humphrey Bogart!!

World War II – At the time of WWII, Max was actually on the Wehrmacht’s hit list and marked for execution by the German Army.  To avoid be branded a traitor the family returned to France.  Despite working in Hollywood the family was not well off and an encounter at a bistro in a small town square left a lasting impression on Marcel.  The kind owner of the bistro made them some food, a simple omelette with ham and peas.  This act of kindness, at a time when food was short, reduced Marcel’s Mother to tears.

Film:

The Sorrow & The Pity – As I mentioned at the start, I have only ever seen The Sorrow & The Pity and this is an area that is given, rightly so, a fair amount of coverage.  I forget the place where this incident occurred but the title of the film was lost in translation.  A banner outside the theatre had been erected but instead of Sorrow they had used the word Shame.  Marcel decided it was easier to do the job himself so they covered it and wrote the word Sorrow.

Hôtel Terminus – The documentary he made about Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo chief of Lyon.  Marcel had an interesting message for anyone thinking of watching:

“Please don’t come and see this shit”

Not exactly what you expect to hear from a Director when talking about his own work.

Famous Directors:

Woody Allen – This is in connection with The Sorrow & The Pity.  If you have seen the film Annie Hall you will know about the numerous occasions where the film the referenced.  One day, after the film was released, Woody wrote a short letter to Marcel thanking him for the film and allowing him to use it in the film.

Stanley Kubrick – A letter was received when his Father died in 1957.  Kubrick wrote to offer his condolences and as a mark of respect, halted production on the set of his classic anti-war film Paths of Glory for a day.

François Truffaut – Marcel talks a great deal about is legendary French Director

“Truffaut has had a great influence on my life. He did a great deal for me. He was like an older brother, even though he was younger than me.”

He also divulged information of alleged “partner swapping” between both couples.  Whilst watching & listening to him speak you clearly understood his infatuation with Madeleine Morgenstern.

Suicide – A personal fact that was revealed, to me anyway, was that on multiple occasions, Marcel has attempted suicide.  It is highly unusual for this subject to be spoken about so openly and in particular, by a man.  It is very unfortunate that even today, mental health still has a stigma attached so I was very impressed that someone would talk about this subject with no shame.  I found this to be a very intimate part of the film for me.

Bosnia – During the film I was actually able to put a name to a face, and that face belonged to Marcel.  I remember watching the news in the 1990’s during the Yugoslav wars and the BBC reports by John Simpson.  I also remember watching an interview with Slobodan Milošević, former President of Serbia.  I now know that the man who interviewed him was Marcel.

Q&A session – After the film Marcel again took to the stage and answered a few questions.

He is most proud of The Sorrow & The Pity

You cannot beat Paris

His favourite time period is “my own time” the 20th century

He is not a fan of modern technology, finds Facebook “indecent” and that information is gained “too fast” and that people do not learn for themselves anymore.

This was a very insightful film and an excellent way to conclude my evening and with it, my TIFF experience.

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Toronto International Film Festival – Review # 9

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Cold Eyes

Screening: Sunday 15 September 2013 @ The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

I was really looking forward to this film and it did not disappoint.  From the start the film had my full attention and was everything I expected and wanted.  This is a high octane, fast moving film as we follow a crack police team and tech wizards as they hunt down a group of bank thieves.

Our heroine is Ha Yoon-joo, also affectionately known as Piglet.  She is put through a rather unusual but interesting job interview where we are introduced to Chief Hwang, the team leader of the covert cops.  He has a wickedly dry sense of humour and I instantly took a liking to him.  As I mentioned, the team is hunting down a group who robs banks and after failing during their last assignment they are determined to make sure that is the last time the man they nickname Shadow gets the better of them.  If you watch the film you will notice that everyone has a nickname, usually an animal.

High-tech gadgets, surveillance equipment, mobile phones, hidden cameras and CCTV are all used throughout the film but it is the power of sight that holds the key. A combination of all these resources results in a sighting of a gang member.  Due to his large frame and eating habits (he is spotted at a convenience store) he is lovingly given the nickname “Hippo”.  Comical moments are also provided by the communication devices each member uses to stay in contact.  During surveillance the team takes a break and Piglet uses the washroom, alas she forgets to switch off her mic!  Everyone hears her “business”, those in the field and back at the control centre.  The incident is called “the best hazing ever”! Chief Hwang provides other lighter moments as he uses his own black humour to terrorise the staff for his own amusement.

It seems that our bad guy Shadow would like a career change and wants out.  That is easier said than done as he is the best and those who he works for dictate the rules.  So the chase is on for Chief Hwang and the Gang to make sure his final job is not a success.  The heat is turned up to the max as we hit the streets and close in on Shadow.  There are bumps along the way, the bullets whizz through air and the sparks literally fly on the tracks when the two leaders finally meet face to face.

The visuals used during the film were very impressive.  Flashback technique, tunnel vision and spoken thought all help you focus on what is important, what you really need to see and what you think you missed but actually saw, all you need is to know where and how to look.  A colleague of mine was present during an earlier screening where the cast was present.  She told me the audience went CRAZY for them and that they are superstars back in their home country of South Korea.  I will be sure to keep an eye out for these superb actors in the future.  This really is a great film and I highly recommend.

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Toronto International Film Festival – Review # 8

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Cannibal

Screening: Saturday 14 September 2013 @Scotiabank Cinema

With this film there is no build-up, it drives straight into action, literally.  Our flesh lover has a different, though genius way, of obtaining his food and a mountain top lodge offers the perfect secluded location in which to process the spoils.  To the outside world Carlos is a normal but shy tailor in a sleepy Granada village.  He goes about his daily work of making suits and shirts, returns to his apartment in the evening and cooks himself a nice slice of human!

He is perfectly content with this existence until a young girl (Alex) moves into the apartment block.  As he lives across the road from his tailor shop he can see her coming and going and starts to take an interest in her.  You get the sense that he is uneasy when around her, is this guilt from his hidden hobby or is he not very good with live people?  Another person arrives in town and soon Alex is asking to be let in his apartment.  Whilst there, she makes a fatal mistake, a mistake that will bring someone else into his life, someone who complicates life more than even he thought possible.

This, for me, heralded the start of the more interesting part of the film.  Yes he still gives in to his dark side, during a trip to the beach where we are treated to some skinny-dipping, but he now has what could be deemed a normal friendship with someone.  Faced with a situations alien to him we see Carlos trying to keep his emotions in check.  He is cooked a simple meal of pasta but he cannot eat.  Is this due to his nerves at such an occasion or can he not stomach normal food?

We take a final trip to the mountain retreat where his killer impulses again rise to the surface.  Something happens though; those newly felt emotions stir and he finds himself unable to act.  There is a final twist to the story when he confesses his crimes but does not receive the expected reaction.  What he does receive is a tragedy, not by his hand and certainly not the one he wants.  For me this was the ultimate act of revenge served to Carlos and one that he found very hard to swallow.

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Toronto International Film Festival – Review # 7

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1982

Screening: Saturday 14 September 2013 @ Scotiabank Cinema

Director Tommy Oliver, Actor Hill Harper & Actress Sharon Leal in attendance

Another true story, this time the childhood of the Director, Tommy Oliver.  He spoke briefly before the film and thanked everyone for “taking the time out of your busy day” in order to watch the film.

As the title suggests, the film is set in the year 1982.  I always find it amusing to watch a film from the not to distant past, i.e. a time I can remember and be able to compare the lifestyles.  No mobile phones, no Internet, a TV without 638 channels that you never watch and music played on a record player.

At the outset our family is a normal, happy household consisting of Dad (Tim), Mum (Shenae) and Daughter (Maya).  This is soon shattered by the arrival of Alonzo, an old flame of Shenae.  He offers her drugs, which she takes, and is soon enough hooked.  I found myself asking, “Why did you taken the drugs”?  Was she an easy target for him?  Did Alonzo see this as a way to get her back, to control her? What was their history?  As the addiction takes hold Shenae is home less until she eventually moves out.  Understandably Maya starts to ask questions.  Not wanting to reveal the true nature for her Mother’s absence, Tim makes the excuse of martial issues.  As the days pass into weeks Maya offers her Dad a few words of comfort, “everything will be ok Daddy”.  A sign of childhood innocence.

The downward spiral for Shenae continues and she is forced to pull tricks in order to pay for her drugs.  In an effort to help his Wife, and after Tim is an unfortunate witness to this, he literally throws her over his shoulder and carries her off to hospital.  As with most addictions, unless the person wants to stop and change they rarely will.  When Tim is talking to a Doctor Shenae skips out and goes back to the streets.

Weeks have now passed and Maya is suffering badly.  She has taken the absence as a sign that she has done something wrong and that Mum no longer loves her.  Maya’s birthday arrives and to try and instil some normality a party is thrown with the neighbourhood kids and school friends attending and enjoying cake etc.  Alas Mum decides to come home ranting and raving whilst looking for money.  Everyone quickly leaves and Maya runs upstairs crying, her birthday ruined.  If the events of the film so far seem tragic, worse was yet to come.  A confrontation between Tim and Alonzo in the playground he uses as his drugstore leads to an act of horrific violence, a revelation and a realisation that brings about the film’s conclusion.

A Q&A session was held after the screening with Tommy Oliver, Hill Harper & Sharon Leal.  As stated earlier this is a film based on the childhood of Tommy, his Mother was a crack addicted.  The house used in the film was his home.  There are a few changes from real events:

He is not a girl

There was no Father

Actual events took place later in the 1980’s

The event of violence did not occur

It was not explained why he added that event to the film but if you watch the film for yourself you will understand his words “there was no need to promote gratuitous violence” And for this he should be commended.  Too often we see violence and swearing almost for the sake of it.  For me everything should have a purpose and not be there just because it is seen as “the thing to do”.  I have no time for films like that.

I used my “time” wisely as I almost did not watch this film.  I changed my mind at the last minute when I was ordering my tickets and I am so glad that I did, this really is a superb film.  After the Q&A the guys posed for photos and signed copies of the movie poster and I was lucky enough to pick up one so a big thanks for that too!  Always good to see people taking the time to thank their audience, it means a lot.

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Toronto International Film Festival – Review # 6

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For Those Who Can Tell No Tales

Screening: Saturday 14 September @ Scotiabank Cinema

It can be difficult to find the right words when reviewing a film that depicts war crimes.  I think the best way for me to describe my thoughts are to say that I found this film to be very compelling.

The film skips (like the frequently mentioned kangaroo) between Bosnia and Australia.  I am uncertain why our character (Kym) visits Bosnia but the phrase “everyone goes to Fiji” is used.  A video is diary is made for the trip and we are introduced to the in-flight reading material.  The Nobel Prize for Literature from 1961, The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić, is taken along with a guidebook to Bosnia.  It is via both these books that Kym arrives in the town of Viŝegrad.  It is only after her return to Australia does she learn the dark secrets of the town, bridge and the hotel.  She is horrified to learn that the hotel were she spent the night was used as a rape camp during the war were approximately 200 women were repeatedly raped then killed.  A letter is written to the author of the guidebook, asking how a place of such horror can be recommended as a place, especially for a single woman, to sleep.  Do people want to “clean up and pretend it never happened”?

Kym returns to Bosnia and takes a tour with the author of the guidebook and confronts him.  He explains his reasons; Bosnia is trying to move on from those times.  That can be a little hard to believe when you see the actions and hear the words from the locals.  My initial thoughts on this were “why recommend the hotel, had it not been advertised she would not have stayed.  To publicise such a place, regardless of any remorse, is in my opinion wrong.  People deserve to know history.  As she walks through the streets you can feel the eyes of the locals on her, they are watching her every move.  She too is watching them and thinking, “what did you do?  Did you partake or just watch”? The bridge that she so happily posed for photos on is now avoided.  Alas she soon learns that the new bridge further along the river too has a bloody history.

A striking feature of this film is that you cannot escape how beautiful the town is.  The surrounding mountains, so stunning in the winter, the river, the old houses that line the bank and even the old bridge itself.  Throughout the town there are yellow flowers in bloom.  I do not know the name but they seem to adorn every house and street.  As an act of remembrance Kym collects the flowers and creates a simple but poignant memorial to the murdered women at the hotel.

History plays a huge part of this film and is used by a local who confronts Kym in a bar, “Turks rules here for 500 years, now we have our freedom”.  Is this justification for genocide?  The sins of the Father passed through the generations, creating a continuous circle of hate and retribution.  Whilst no one who commits war crimes should be allowed to be free, how can a country ever move forward?  After WWII people said “never again” yet today we still have neighbour killing neighbour for no reason other than different race/colour/religion.  For Those Who Can Tell No Tales is a brilliantly acted film and insightful film that makes you question how man can be so cruel.

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Toronto International Film Festival – Review # 5

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Manuscripts Don’t Burn

 Screening: Wednesday 11 September 2013 @ Scotiabank Cinema

Director Mohammad Rasoulof in attendance

I am not quite sure what to say about this film.  I can’t say I didn’t like it but then again I can’t say that I enjoyed.  The film is based on (alleged) true events (Director Rasoulof has yet to confirm this) so in a way his hands were tied.  The incident in question concerns a group of intellectuals, writers and poets who travelled by bus to a conference in Armenia during the 1980’s.  Critical of the Islamic Government, they were marked for eternal silence.  But, for whatever reason, the authorities failed with their first attempt to kill these people and with that we have the film.

The film follows two hired hitmen as they attempt to eliminate several of those who were on the bus and destroy their manuscripts that tell the story of the journey.  There is an attempt to humanise one of the hitmen.  His young Son is ill and needs an operation.  For this he needs money and work.  He spends a lot of the film checking his bank account for his “fee”.  If this was not a true story then I would almost think his family situation was “karma”.

Whilst I have no experience or know how the people being hunted in this film think or feel, I may have had more understanding and indeed sympathy for them if they had used a little common sense.  Someone is after your manuscript so what do you do?  Keep it intact in one place? Seriously, you do that?  No, you break it up, hide it in several locations.  Sure, the authorities can still use methods to extract the information; they may do this regardless, but why make it easy for them.  These men are clearly ones of principle and I would have thought them a little more clever.  Anyway, I stuck with the film as it headed towards it conclusion.

The Director of the film was present and is currently serving a 20-year ban from making films or traveling outside his homeland, a ban he has defiantly broke with this film. As a consequence, the credits for the film are blank.  All those involved bar the Director are anonymous for fear of Government retribution.  Maybe if I had more understanding of Iranian censorship and how life is in this country, even today, I would have enjoyed (if that can ever be the right word given the circumstances) and connected with the film better.

If Iranian cinema/culture is your thing then may I suggest you check out this Blog. The link is to Part 5 of the Series, the links to 1-4 are at the top of the article.

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Toronto International Film Fesitval – Review # 4

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The Amazing Catfish

Screening: Monday 9 September 2013 @ Scotiabank Cinema

Director Claudia Sainte-Luce in attendance

TIFF Award

International Critics’ Prize (FIPRESCI) for Discovery: The Amazing Catfish, directed by Claudia Sainte-Luce.

Another film and another Director in attendance.  Claudia Sainte-Luce spoke briefly as her English is not too good.  Whilst her speech was short, it was spoken in an emotional voice.  She conveyed a real passion for the film and hoped that we would be able to “connect with the joy inside”.

We meet our main focus of the film, Claudia and quickly learn that she has a pretty sad existence, living in a small cluttered room.  She sells sausages at the supermarket and lives on the food she steals from her place of work.  A health problem (appendicitis) takes Claudia into the lives of Martha & her crazy brood of kids.  A bag of crisps (potato chips to my North American audience) is the ice breaker and soon they are chatting away.

From the start it is obvious that Martha is ill.  When she is discharged from hospital you see the affect this has on the lives of her 4 children.  Each of them has a part to play in the running of the household and her care.  They go about their chores whilst keeping their own little worlds spinning.  By all means they are not perfect, the 2 eldest are late teens and can be selfish but they have their own needs and lives to live.  The other two children are maybe too young to express their feelings.  Claudia stays with them; it is almost like she cannot leave.  Actually one time she cannot, as they lock her in the house!  One by one the children slowly start to open up to Claudia, they confide in her and she becomes a part of their lives.

As we move towards the conclusion of the film Martha’s health deteriorates.  She wants to take one final trip to the beach so the whole clan piles into the ancient VW beetle and heads out to the coast.  Everyone has a good time, the highlight being when the kids bury Martha in the sand in the shape of a mermaid.  Sadly the joy is short-lived and soon they are back at the hospital one final time.

Whilst she may be gone, Martha is still able to talk to her children via a video she made.  The scenes show each child standing and looking directly at the camera, as though they are watching the video themselves.  She encourages them to live their own lives, to explore, to try the things they think they don’t like.  The final video is for Claudia, with thanks for entering their family.  Martha’s ashes are scattered across the city by everyone as you hear her speak.  This marks a poignant but fitting end to the film.

The film was not entirely what I was expecting but that did not take away from the experience.  This is a very direct look at the lives of 6 people as they deal with a very real situation.

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Toronto International Film Festival – Review # 3

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Quai D’Orsay

Screening: Tuesday 10 September 2013 @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Director Bertrand Tavernier in attendance

I have never really taken a keen interest in politics.  Sure I understand the basics of how the system works but I find most of the people involved self-serving and to that end barely have time for them.  You may wonder then why I chose a film about the inner workings of a French Ministerial department.  Well, as the Director explained before the film, this is satire.  The film is based on true events in the lead up to the Iraq War.  So whilst I don’t have an active interest in politics, I do enjoy putting the bureaucratic process up for ridicule.

The film revolves around a young man recently employed at the Ministry.  His job is to write speeches for the Foreign Minister, Alexandre Taillard de Vorms.  With this job came 3 main problems:

1: The subject matters are delicate; you cannot speak the truth in case you offend another country.

2: Other staff members are out to get what they can and will resort to underhand tactics and backstabbing to succeed.

3: Most important, the man he is working for is completely incompetent and does not have a clue.

An example of the crazy working environment is when Taillard de Vorms suffers a meltdown due to this obsession with highlighter pens!! That is correct, a high level member of a powerful Government cannot function unless his highlighter pen works.  Until he is in possession of a briefcase full of working pens the world has to stop spinning.  The man is literally a whirlwind of madness, as shown with a running joke throughout the film.  Whenever he approaches a room the floorboards bang, objects bounce on the table and when he enters the room the papers fly into the air as if a hurricane has walked through the door.  As usual, the staff try their best to prevent disaster, this includes paperweights on top of paper and almost lying across the table to save their work from ending up on the floor!

Overall this film is a realistic send-up of the inner workings of a Government department.  Just because the film is French does not mean it is not transferable to probably every other country in the world.  It shows that everything is scripted, and plays like a bad comedy.  If you understand the political world then maybe you will take more from this film than I.  I took the film as reassurance that my view of the political world, as a huge expensive joke, with people out to get what they want whilst having a public and private mask, to be vindicated.

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Visitors – Post Screening Interview

After the World Premiere of Visitors, Director Godfrey Reggio, Composer Philip Glass, Producers Steven Soderbergh & Jon Kane took to the stage to discuss the film.  They do talk about some aspects of the film though I would not class them as “spoilers”

I recorded this conversation on my iPhone so I apologise in advance for the sound quality but it was the best I could do.  I was not aware that in order to upload such recording they can only be a certain length.  This meant me having to crop the conversation into 7 parts.  I apologise again if any of the conversation overlaps/is lost, it will only be a few seconds.  Also included is a short introduction given before the film.

I hope you enjoy!

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