Sunday, 27 March 2011

Cinefranco Film Festival: Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert Remain Luminous

Want to start you week off with something different? Why not check out a couple of films at Cinéfranco? This Toronto film festival screens films in French with English subtitles for those of us that need them.

Mammuth (France)
Dir. Gustave Kervern, Benoît Delépine
Monday, March 28th, 9:30 pm
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street at John)

Two big names in French cinema star in two very different films playing at the festival: Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert. In Mammuth, Depardieu stars as a newly retired pork factory worker who is forced to travel to various locations to gather papers that will allow him to claim his retirement benefits. Taking to the road on his 1970s Mammuth motorcycle, Mammuth (Depardieu’s nickname in the film) is accompanied by memories, most significant of which is in the form of Isabelle Adjani, a former girlfriend. Depardieu is an actor that never seems to be bogged down by whatever role he plays. There never seems to be any obvious technique to his performances. Unlike American actors of his stature, he is still able to lose himself in is roles with a credibility that is astounding. His mannerisms and facial expressions never make you doubt that Mammuth has worked in a factory for many years, or at the other blue collar jobs that are revealed as he visits his old workplaces.

Sharing the screen with Depardieu is Yolande Moreau as Catherine, Mammuth’s equally life-weary wife, working away at her supermarket cashier job that she hates. While Mammuth rediscovers life on the road and through his niece-muse, Catherine gets demoted to the fish department dealing with inane questions from customers and going home to an empty house. There are no extreme highs or lows in this film about two middle aged people going through the motions and eventually realizing that there is a bit of verve and love remaining in life to make it a tiny bit sweeter.

Dir. Marc Fitoussi
Tuesday, March 29th, 9:00 pm
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street at John)

Like Gérard Depardieu, Isabelle Huppert is still a pleasure to watch on screen. Huppert excels at playing unconventional characters, yet she always endows them with an individuality that makes them real. You never get the feeling that she is rehashing old roles or that she is just phoning it in.

In Copacabana, she plays Babou, a flighty, restless mother who believes she has shared world experiences with her daughter, Esmeralda. Esmeralda (played by Huppert’s real life daughter, Lolita Chammah), on the other hand, see the move from country to country, city to city not as an adventure, but as interruptions to her life that has prevented her from making friends or getting a formal education. Babou cannot understand why Esmeralda decides to take the bourgeois plunge and get married. When Esmeralda informs her mother that she told her future in-laws that Babou is in Brazil and won’t be able to attend the wedding, Babou is both angry and hurt. Esmeralda justifies her decision by saying that by not coming to the wedding Babou will avoid facing the embarrassment of pitching in for the wedding expenses. Babou, however, knows her daughter is ashamed of her bright clothing and make up, and the fact that she has never been able to hold down a job for any length of time. Escaping to Belgium, Babou takes a job selling timeshares to tourists, dealing with judgemental co-workers and meeting with the locals, including a romantic young man who wants more from Babou than she is prepared to give.

Like Esmeralda, we think we have Babou figured out, but the well-directed, clever script leads us into a journey where at each potentially clichéd sign post we are diverted into emotional territories that are true to Babou’s development and Esmeralda’s maturity. Scenes between Huppert and Chammah are honest in their depiction of this mother-daughter relationship. Despite the conflict between their characters, the actors read each other so well that there never seems to be any tension or on-screen competition between the two. The film belongs to Huppert, but Chammah does an excellent job of holding her own with her legendary maman.


Adults $12. Students and Seniors $10. Up to 18 (in person only, with ID) $8
In Person: TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King Street West (10am-10pm)
Phone: 416-599-8433; 1-888-599-8433 (10am-7pm)
On Line:
Surcharge on online and phone purchases. Visit website for complete details

Friday, 25 March 2011

Cinéfranco Film Festival: Different Flavours of French w/English Subtitles (March 25-April 3)

Cinéfranco International Francophone Film Festival of Toronto opens tonight with two films festival featuring Rémy Girard, Impasse du desire (Switzerland) and Y'en aura pas de facile/Tough Luck (Canada). I recently saw the well-know Québecois actor in the Oscar-nominated, Genie award winning film, Incendie. I’ve been enjoying his performances on screen since seeing him in The Decline of the American Empire. Kudos to Cinéfranco for having him in attendance at tonight’s screenings so that Toronto audiences will have the opportunity to participate in a Q & A with him.

I’ve been busy screening some of the entries to this year’s festival. Here are my thoughts on this week-end's offerings.

Les Conspirationnistes (Canada)
Dir. Fadel Saleh
March 26, 2:00pm
NFB, 150 John Street (at Richmond)

It’s easy to laugh off conspiracy theories as far fetched, and even some of the subjects in this documentary admit that some people go too far, but what you cannot dismiss in watching this film is the fact that we are not always given the complete truth about incidents that take place around us or around the world. Whatever you believe happened on September 11, 2001, you can’t help but wonder about the gap in time between bombings, why immediate action wasn’t taken by the United States, and why passports of the attackers were found on-site in pristine condition when everything around them was burnt beyond recognition. Can we handle the truth? Who is delivering the messages that we receive as truth? The filmmaking is rudimentary, but the content is worth considering and discussing after viewing.

L’épopée de Sumbu Kalambay (Canada)
Dir. Vital Kasongo
March 26, 3:30 pm
NFB, 150 John Street (at Richmond)

Boxer Sumbu Kalambay is one of the nicest guys around and his friends can’t believe he was such a powerhouse in the boxing ring. Kalambay is compared to Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard in the documentary and you can definitely see the similarities: the backwards dancing, the personality. Kalambay was a highly successful boxer and decorated athlete for Italy, yet despite his International and World boxing titles, he was never asked to assist in Italy’s Olympic boxing training. Fans, friends, boxers and coaches share their views on Kalambay the boxer while his daughters and second wife talk about him as a father and husband. Sumbu Kalambay is a fascinating man and this film is an equally fascinating rise-to-fame story that is not just for boxing fans. Thanks to Toronto-based, Vital Kasongo for bringing Kalambay’s story to light.

Il rested u jambon?/Bacon on the side? (France)
Dir. Anne Depetrini
March 26, 6:00 pm
TIFF Bell Lightbox (corner of King and John Streets)

This film is bound to offend some, delight others or offend and delight at the same time. That’s just the way things are in this film about race relations and romance. Justine (Anne Marivin), blonde, white-skinned, Parisienne, and Djalil (Ramzy Bédia), dark haired, brown-skinned, Nanterre resident meet and fall in love after she has an allergic reaction to eating dog food (she’s a lowly journalist) and he (charismatic doctor) treats her in the Emergency room. The film plays with race and racism in an open no holds barred manner that is rarely seen in comedies. Too often questions about inter-ethnic romances are told in a dramatic fashion, never in a high comedic style and never with such frank dialogue. Everyone in the film has to confront their own biases, including the two main characters, who are not as accepting as they think they are.

My favourite characters in the film are the mothers: Nicole played by Marie-France Pisier and Houria played by Biyouna. Pisier does a lot of French television so I rarely get a chance to see her in film, and Biyouna is a discovery that I will not soon forget. Pisier plays the perfect Parisienne woman, chic-ly dressed with a collection of dogs that she adores. She flips flops from hyper acceptability of the Arab culture to insulting them the next by serving wild boar for dinner. Biyouna’s Houria is an interesting woman in her own right, an immigrant woman who is proud of learning English with grade-school children, but who refuses to speak French to Justine at a family gathering. Would love to hear your feedback on this film!


Adults $12. Students and Seniors $10. Up to 18 (in person only, with ID) $8
In Person: TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King Street West (10am-10pm)
Phone: 416-599-8433; 1-888-599-8433 (10am-7pm)
On Line:
Surcharge on online and phone purchases. Visit website for complete details

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Movie Review: Nora's Will

NORA'S WILL (Cinco dias sin Nora) is a wonderful Spanish drama with just a touch of farce that keeps it from being maudlin. This film held my attention from the opening scene where a delicate bit of lace is revealed to be a tablecloth to the very last scene where things come to their natural conclusion. NORA'S WILL is a fine balance of the bitter with the sweet thanks to the economical script and direction of Maria Chenillo and the emotional nuances that actor Fernando Lujàn brings to the role of José.

To everyone in the film, Nora is José’s wife; to José she is his ex-wife, she is dead so let’s bury her already. Under normal circumstances a quick burial would not be a problem, but the timing of Nora’s death (Passover) is complicated by Jewish laws and the fact that after 14 attempts, Nora has succeeded in committing suicide. This is all too much for José: he is in conflict with his son, he offends a very powerful Rabbi, he doesn’t want to eat any of the food Nora stocked in the fridge before her death, and he wants the young man sitting Shiva to leave so he can dig around in Nora’s things and find answers to her secret. Meanwhile, the maid is trying to Catholiize Nora’s dead body, the grandkids are scared of the body but not of the coffin in the living room, and the family has to wear winter coats because the apartment has to be kept cool.

Including elements of farce in the story of a marriage marred by mental illness and separation could not have been easy for this director, even though she wrote the script. So much is still dependent on timing, tone, and performance. Chenillo manages to pull this off exceedingly well because of her experience as an editor. There are no wasted scenes in NORA'S WILL, just a well-told story that satisfies.

NOW PLAYING at the Carlton Cinemas, Sheppard Grand in Toronto and the Rainbow Cinemas Promenade Mall in Thornhill. Check theatre listings for show times.In Spanish with English subtitles.

This review was originally written as part of my coverage of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival 2010.

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