4/19/2019

'The Grizzlies': A Film that Roars

The Grizzlies
(Canada, 104 min.)
Dir. Miranda de Pencier; Writ. Moria Walley-Beckett, Graham Yosy
Starring: Ben Schnetzer, Paul Nutarariaq, Emerald MacDonald, Anna Lambe, Fred Bailey, Tantoo Cardinal, Booboo Stewart, Will Sasso
Inuit lacrosse team
Photo by Shane Mahood
Mongrel Media

The fearless and inspiring The Grizzlies gives Canadian film the great sports drama that has long eluded it. As The Grizzlies gives its excellent young cast a chance to shine, roar, and spotlight their community, the film provides a significant call to action for the suicide crisis up North and an effective portrait of the complexity of north/south and Indigenous/settler relationships. The film begins with a heartbreaking image of an Inuit youth walking on the tundra, alone save for his faithful dog, as he takes his life. The image returns more than once in The Grizzlies as the film introduces audiences to a community in which literally everyone has lost a friend or family member to suicide.


4/10/2019

Nocturnal Animals: 'Fausto' Re-Imagines Man and Myth

Fausto
(Canada/Mexico, 70 min.)
Written and directed by Andrea Bussmann
Starring: Alberto Núñez, Victor Pueyo, Gabino Rodríguez, Fernando Renjifo, Ziad Chakaroun
If Andrea Bussmann’s previous feature was a tale for those who dreamt, her latest work is a dream realized in its most cinematic form. Bussmann’s Fausto transports the Faust myth to beaches of Oaxaca, Mexico for a loose, free-flowing, and hypnotic meditation. It’s a fleeting film that ebbs and flows in elliptical pauses. Demanding, frustrating, fascinating, and rewarding, Fausto is a richly dense exercise in active viewing. Much like a dream that only makes sense when unpacked and savoured as a metaphorical whole, it’s also a beautifully evocative film that washes over you and enriches the mind.

The uncanny character of the film is complemented by the peculiar hybrid structure with which Bussmann reimagines the fable. Alberto (Alberto Núñez) and Fernando (Fernando Renjifo) laze on the beach playing games and telling stories. The characters include a handful of migrants, some Oaxacan locals, and an ex-pat American who tell their stories in meandering accounts. They tell stories in an indirect manner, never quiet making eye contact with the camera, but rarely having a perceptible recipient for the fables they share. Their yarns unfurl like interview answers or soliloquies—something between the two, perhaps—as they muse upon the mysteries of the world, deals with the devil, the knowable versus the unknowable, either to Bussmann or to the open ear of the midnight air. Their stories contrast with the omniscient narration (by Gabino Rodríguez) who serves as both an all-seeing eye and an unreliable narrator given that too few images are discernable to the viewer’s eye—there are many shots in which one can’t really understand what transpires onscreen.

The film thrives on the interplay of images, the power of storytelling, and on the relationship Bussmann conjures between things the audiences sees and doesn’t see. (Or sees to an extent, in Bussmann’s pitch-black nocturnes.) Storytelling as at the heart of Fausto as Bussmann returns to the image of the men sitting around a bonfire on the beach or a candlelight dinner at night.

The darkness of the images is consistently mesmerizing. Shot on a Sony a7S digital camera, which retails for around $2000 as an affordable prosumer device, and then transferred onto 16mm film, the palettes of Fausto visualize myriad contradictions and tensions that embody Bussmann’s film. The compositions are dark, yet washed out with the strained exposure grain of the digital camera and rendered with a bleachy ghostliness afforded by the images’ reproduction on film. Many of the images are almost entirely black as Bussmann’s camera gazes out to the ocean and takes in a few stars, which pepper the screen faintly, like small pinholes through which the light escapes.

Animals appear onscreen, too, in museum displays and daytime scenes on the beach. Stuffed gazelles stare back from the screen, looking at us as intently as we look at them, while one of Fausto’s more hypnotic moments watches a dog accompany the men on a stroll along the violent beach. Waves crash thunderously as the humans make their way up a rocky cliff and the dog, lacking the proper digits with which to climb the wall, simply jumps and barks as the waves hit the shore. It’s a scene of great indirect violence and a reminder of the world in which we’re all ultimately powerless beings.

Shot like a meditative anthropological or ethnographic film, Fausto invites audiences to consider the creatures that frolic on the screen and the natural environment that engulfs them. The narrator speaks often about the characteristics of nocturnal animals—creatures that see in the dark and generally can’t be tamed—and by enshrouding the film in the dark of midnight, Bussmann challenges a viewer to see the world through the eyes of man, an animal, that is contained by the world in which he thinks he’s free.

The resulting aesthetic suggests that the world of Fausto is some beguiling between-place as the men contemplate their state of limbo. The modern and theoretical take on the classic myth fuses past and present, world and otherworldly, presence and absence. It’s a tale of shadows and men, and people and their environments. It’s hard to say what exactly Fausto is or means, but the spirit of the film leaves an insatiable hunger to know more.

Fausto opens in Toronto on Thursday, April 11 at TIFF Lightbox.


4/02/2019

Interview: Chatting with 'New Homeland' Director Barbara Kopple

It was an absolute thrill to get to chat with Barbara Kopple, the two-time Oscar winning director, who just happens to be my favourite filmmaker working in documentary thanks to films like Harlan County, USA, Miss Sharon Jones!, Shut Up and Sing, American Dream, and more. Over at POV, I got a chance to talk with Kopple about her latest film, New Homeland, which follows five boys--a mix of Syrian and Iraqi refugees--as they experience the Canadian wilderness for the first time. The doc is a thoughtful study about the need to open arms rather than put up walls.