EUFF Review: Vis-à-Vis

(Croatia, 81 min.)
Dir. Nevio Marasovic, Writ. Nevio Marasovic, Rakan Rushaidat, Janko Popović Volarić
Starring: Rakan Rushaidat, Janko Popović Volarić, Kresimir Mikic, Daria Lorenci
Vis-à-Vis is the result of my intensive, hectic and impulsive collaboration with actors Janko Popović Volarić and Rakan Rushaidat,” says director/co-writer Nevio Marasovic in the press notes for Vis-à-Vis. “The film is a mixture of true events, fiction, improvisation, scripted scenes, fights, love, intuition and deep analysis of characters and their motivations in the very process of filming.” Vis-à-Vis is one of the most interesting films screening at this year’s European Union Film Festival, but one seems bound to appreciate the film even more if one reads up on it beforehand or discusses it afterwards. This innovative film riffs on art and life as an anonymous director (Rakan Rushaidat) and an anonymous actor (Janko Popović Volarić) revise a script for an upcoming shoot, improvising and drawing inspiration from the world around them, as they explore their characters. Who knew the Balkans could do mumblecore?


EUFF Review: 'Little Black Spiders'

Little Black Spiders
(Belgium, 90 min.)
Dir. Patrice Toye, Writ. Patrice Toye, Irina Vandewijer
Starring: Line Pillet, Charlotte De Bruyne, Dolores Bouckaert, Ineke Nijssen
Audiences affected by the story behind last year’s Oscar nominee Philomena will want to see Belgium’s Little Black Spiders this week at Ottawa’s European Union Film Festival. Perhaps closer in tone to, say, The Magdalene Sisters than to the cheery, yet devastating Philomena, Little Black Spiders tells an affecting tale about young girls cast away from society and stripped of the joy of motherhood. These young women might need some guidance, but, like the young Philomena Lee, Katarina (Line Pillet), longs to keep her baby even though she agrees unawares to let the nuns at the convent give her baby away once she delivers it. This poetic film by director Patrice Toye, one of several female filmmakers repped at EUFF, is a moving coming-of-age tale.


Notes from the Screener Pile: 2014.2

Shailene Woodley in White Bird in a Blizzard,
a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Notes from the screener pile continue with three very different films: an odd indie, one of the year’s standout docs, and an electrifying lead performance.


EUFF Review: 'Christmas Tango'

Christmas Tango (To tango ton Hristougennon)
(Greece, 102 min.)
Dir. Nikos Koutelidakis, Writ. Yannis Xanthoulis
Starring:  Giannis Bezos, Antinoos Albanis, Yannis Stankoglou, Vicky Papadopoulou
It’s one month until Christmas and love is in the air. Enjoy the festive spirit at the European Union Film Festival on November 25th as it dances a nice little number with its annual trip to Greece. Greece’s Christmas Tango is a sensitive film about forbidden love, and this nice love triangle/tango of desire is truly touching.

Notes from the Screener Pile: 2014.1

Uma Thurman in Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1, a Magnolia Pictures release.
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Photo credit: Christian Geisnaes
It’s that time of year once again! Screener Claus is dropping goodies in the mail (and e-mail) and all the kind little elves in the publicity departments/awards offices of distributors are sending out movies with the magical little letters “FYC.” Moving through the pile is always lots of fun. Last year, I’d actually seen most of the films I received, but this year has oodles that I’ve missed for a variety of reasons, mostly due to different festival commitments and the fact that I was watching films for Cellar Door this year in place of reviews. Also, a lot of these films simply didn’t open in Ottawa, so it’s nice to see them at last!


EUFF Review: 'Block 12'

Block 12
(Cyprus/Greece, 93 min.)
Dir. Kyriakos Tofaridis, Writ. Panos Stathogiannis, Kyriakos Tofaridis
Starring: Costas Demetriou, Carmen Ruggeri, Michaelis Marinos, Yannis Tsimitselis, Neetu Chandra
Block 12 handily nabs the prize for the strangest film of the European Union Film Festival so far. This bizarre and eccentric comedy from Cyprus throws in a little bit of everything: family reunions, crooked governments, evil plots for oil, karmic sex, magical realism, and even a Bollywood dancer number. Block 12 might be the looniest film at this year's EUFF, but the sheer randomness of the film is also its charm.


EUFF Review: 'The Ambassador to Bern'

The Ambassador to Bern
(Hungary, 76 min.)
Dir. Attila Szász, Writ. Norbert Köbli
Starring: János Kulka, Tamás Szabó Kimmel, József Kádas, Rozi Lovas, Rémusz Szikszai, László I. Kish
Enjoy a double-bill of thrillers tonight as Ottawa’s European Union Film Festival screens Poland’s terrific spy thriller Jack Strong back to back with the swift Hungarian political thriller The Ambassador to Bern. Both films are tense and atmospheric thrillers. If Jack is akin to a John le Carré adaptation, then The Ambassador to Bern begs comparison to Ben Affleck’s Argo with its breakneck dramatization of a true hostage situation in the Hungarian embassy Bern, Switzerland in 1958. Expect a gripping night at the movies.

Regent Park Film Fest Review: 'Rock the Casbah'

Rock the Casbah
(France/Morocco, 100 min.)
Written and directed by Laïla Marrakchi
Starring: Morjana Alaoui, Nadine Labaki, Lubna Azabal, Hiam Abbas, Omar Sharif
The dysfunctional family funeral comedy isn’t simply an American phenomenon. The French-Lebanese co-pro Rock the Casbah comes on the heels of American flicks like August: Osage County and This is Where I Leave You, and this fun piece of contemporary world cinema is just as good. Rock the Casbah is a fine ensemble dramedy that tells a tale that feels both specific to the wacky characters of the wealthy Moroccan family mourning the death of their patriarch and universal thanks to the warmth and humour that brings the film to life.

EUFF Review: 'Jack Strong'

Jack Strong
(Poland, 128 min.)
Written and directed by Wladyslaw Pasikowski
Starring: Marcin Dorocinski, Maja Ostaszewska, Patrick Wilson, Dimitri Bilov, Dagmara Dominczyk
Now here’s a full-bodied spy thriller! Jack Strong might be the closest thing to mainstream cinema that one will find at this year’s European Union Film Festival, but hard-core cinephiles shouldn’t feel the least be worried that the beloved EUFF has gone commercial. This Polish spy game is one heck of flick. Jack Strong, made for a modest budget of less than four million dollars and co-financed by the Polish Film Institute, is understandably something that Poland might choose to represent its national cinema at this year’s celebration of EU currents. The film could easily be mistaken for an adaptation of John le Carré, since it’s a steely psychological mind game with riveting atmosphere and crackling suspense.

Regent Park Film Fest Review: 'Waiting for August'

Waiting for August
(Belgium/Romania, 88 min.)
Written and directed by Teordora Mihai
Audiences looking for a slice-of-life character study will appreciate the sober observational doc Waiting for August. August, which screens at the Regent Park Film Festival after emerging with the Best International Feature Documentary Award from Hot Docs earlier this year, is a textbook case for the pros and cons of observational filmmaking, but this levelheaded and objective documentary is bound to connect with audiences thanks to the resilience of its subject.


Like Peas and Potatoes

The Theory of Everything
(UK/USA, 123 min.)
Dir. James Marsh, Writ. Anthony McCarten
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Simon McBurney, David Thewlis, Maxine Peake, Emily Watson.
Felicity Jones stars as Jane Wilde and Eddie Redmayne stars as Stephen Hawking.
Courtesy of eOne Films.
Stephen Hawking probably has one of the most recognizable voices in contemporary history, but few of us have ever heard him speak with his natural voice. The brilliant mind behind A Brief History of Time and other works that are far beyond my limited intellectual grasp, has nevertheless carried his voice throughout his career, making astonishing advances in scientific and philosophical theory, thanks to the computerized voicebox (a Simpsons success) that allowed him to share his work long after his body submitted to Lou Gehrig’s disease. His success is all the more extraordinary if one considers that the doctors gave him two years to live during his formative years at Cambridge almost fifty years ago.

EUFF Review: 'Road North'

Road North (Tie Pohjoiseen)
(Finland, 110 min.)
Dir. Mika Kaurismäki, Writ. Sami Keski-Vähälä, Mika Kaurismäki
Starring: Vesa-Matti Loiri (Leo), Samuli Edelman, Mari Perankoski. Irina Björklund
“In Finland, you can just go knock on your relatives’ door,” says Leo (Vesa-Matti Loiri) to his estranged son Timo (Samuli Edelman) as they arrive unannounced on the doorstep of Leo’s equally estranged daughter (Mari Perankoski). Leo himself had just arrived unexpectedly on Timo’s doorstep the night before, introducing himself as the father who bailed on him thirty years earlier and inviting himself to spend the night, so the Fins seem to be a very trusting people as this droll comedy from writer/director Mika Kaurismäki suggests. Kaurismäki, brother of filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki (Le Havre), offers a quirky and affable road movie that’s bound to delight audiences with its tale of family ties when it screens tonight at Ottawa’s European Union Film Festival.


Regent Park Film Festival Review: 'Québékoisie'

(Canada, 82 min.)
Written and directed by Mélanie Harrier, Olivier Higgins
Any Canadian documentary that confronts the Oka crisis and even mentions the word “Kanehsatake” inevitably invites comparison to Alanis Obomsawin’s landmark doc Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance. Kanehsatake, arguably the definitive film on the liminal space indigenous communities are forced to occupy within Canadian culture, contains some of the most provocative and necessarily confrontational arguments within Canadian documentary. It’s a tough act for any Canadian film to follow while tackling the subject, especially when the subject itself invokes its predecessor’s name. Québékoisie might not have the same cocktail of passion and rage as Obomsawin’s doc does, but the memory of Kanehsatake nevertheless permits Québékoisie resonance since it’s baffling to think that the same conversation needs to be had over two decades since the Oka Crisis and Obomsawin’s film.

EUFF Review: 'Ballymun Lullaby'

Ballymun Lullaby
(Ireland, 72 min.)
Dir. Frank Berry
It’s funny to see Ballymun Lullaby only days after reviewing the short film The Journey for Toronto’s Regent Park Film Festival. The Irish documentary Ballymun Lullaby, which screens Friday, Nov. 21 at Ottawa’s European Union Film Festival, makes a fine companion piece to the Canadian short doc about the arts and life in Toronto’s Regent Park. Each of these documentaries could easily be seen as a fine piece of PR-spin in their own right—and offering a clean, alternative perspective of their respective communities is certainly one of the objectives of each film—yet the similar message of both films underscores a philosophy that extends far beyond the impoverished communities represented on film. Ballymun Lullaby offers a touching portrait of a community taking control of its identity, and its tale about inspiring and empowering the youth through the arts gives the film a universal appeal.

'Are you, Are you, Coming to the Tree...'

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
(USA, 123 min.)
Dir. Francis Lawrence, Writ. Peter Craig and Danny Strong
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland.
Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1.
Photo Credit: Murray Close / eOne Films

Are you, Are you
Coming to the tree
Where they strung up a man they say murdered three
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree…

Are you, Are you
Coming to the tree
Wear a necklace of rope, side by side with me.
Strange things did happen here,
No stranger would it be,
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.
-“The Hanging Tree”