Author: Adam Sidsworth

Toronto Japanese Film Festival 2016 Review: Persona Non Grata

Persona Non Grata, which screens as part of the 2016 Toronto Japanese Film Festival, is a sprawling epic movie about the true story of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who during the late 1930s and early 1940s saved over 6000 Jews from the Holocaust by issuing them travel visas to Japan. He effectively risked persona non grata, given that Japan was aligned with Germany during the Second World War. It’s an interesting but unfortunately forgotten tale of the Second War. But then again, Oskar Schindler, the real-life subject of Stephen Spielberg’s 1993 Holocaust movie, Schindler’s List, was largely unheard of until that movie was released. But although Schindler’s List was a carefully crafted and deeply focused tale of one man’s risk of personal safety and wealth to save others, Persona Non Grata lacks Schindler’s List‘s honed message. And that’s a shame, because hidden behind Persona Non Grata‘s excessive 139-minute running time is a compassionate tale of heroism and courage. The film begins in 1935, when Sugihara, working as a spy, successfully prevents a Soviet counteragent from spoiling the Japanese military’s plans to build a railway in Japanese-occupied northern China. When the Japanese army, who’s backing Sugihara up, brutally murders the Soviet counteragent, Sugihara is horrified and quits. Subsequently transferred to Lithuania, he sees daily beatings and round-ups of Jews. Reminded of his experience in China and pained by the accusation...

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Review: Koneline: our land beautiful

Koneline: our land beautiful, directed by Genie Award-winning director Nettie Wild, opens with the construction of hydro lines to remote northwestern British Columbia, aided by the world’s largest helicopter. This part of the province is isolated and underdeveloped, and as we see from the amazing CinemaScope photography, home to a stunning wilderness of trees, rivers and mountains. It’s also the home to the Tahltan Nation, the local indigenous group, who in early scenes protest the increased development in the region, for the hydro lines merely precede planned copper and gold mines. Although the documentary shows some scenes of Native road blocks interposed with the environmental impact of the mines, the documentary isn’t about the impact of development on the Tahltan Nation or their resistance to the encroachment. It is, however, a love poem to the amazing vista, geography and people of northern BC. And, most of all, it’s a reflection of the changing times. The movie isn’t concerned about a strong narrative arc. Nor is it concerned with setting up a dichotomy of Native people versus the rest of Canada. It’s pointed out early that many of the people working on the hydro lines and in the mines are Native, and some of the people opposed to the development aren’t Native. It is, however, a CinemaScope exploration of the land. Because the movie is exquisitely shot and epic in...

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Review: Khoya

Khoya stars Rupak Ginn, probably best known for his role on the tv show Royal Pains, as Roger, a young Toronto man who decides to travel to India to discover his birth family. Adapted by a white-Canadian family, Roger arrives at the Indian agency that handled his adoption. Discovering that his birth records were forged and that he was possibly kidnapped and adopted on the black market, Roger navigates the slums of Mumbai to discover his true identity. Meeting corrupt civil servants, street mobs, homeless kids, and ultimately, the man responsible for his kidnapping, Roger ultimately discovers the connection that he was hoping for. Watching Roger navigate the Indian culture and attempt to relate to the dire poverty that he encounters is fascinating. Roger is somebody who is caught between identity, and although while in India he feels Indian, he clearly isn’t Indian. When a civil servant demands a bribe in exchange for his help, Rogers goes along with it, blissfully unaware that he’s being taken. There are a few problems with Khoya. When Roger first meets the man responsible for his kidnapping as an infant, the scene leads to no resolution. And there is the back story in Canada, which is clumsily edited throughout the film. And that’s unfortunate, because the flashbacks include a scene with Canadian character actor Stephen McHattie (a great actor whose face is probably more famous...

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Review: Lolo

French actor Julie Delpy is best known to North American audiences for her role in the Richard Linklater-directed “Before” movies (Before Sunrise [1995], Before Sunset [2004] and Before Midnight [2013]), in which she co-starred with Ethan Hawke. Aside from her lengthy acting career in European and American movies, Delpy has had a simultaneous screenwriting and directing career that dates as far back as 1995, earning an Academy Award nomination for her writing. So her latest movie, Lolo, which she wrote, directed and starred in, should be a compelling watch. Unfortunately, it’s a confusing melodrama that falls flat on its premise. Delpy plays Violette, a single middle-aged woman with a son, Lolo (Vincent Lacoste), who appears to be in his late teens or early 20s. Still living with Violette, the two have a close and strong relationship. While on a spa vacation with her friend, Violette meets Jean-Rene, a man she initially rejects but for whom she eventually develops a romantic interest. While their courtship blooms, Lolo attempts to end Violette and Jean-Rene’s budding relationship. His actions grow worse and worse, culminating in actually drugging Jean-Rene’s drink at a party, causing Jean-Rene to act drunk in front of Violette’s friends and work colleagues. The novelty of the movie, if its marketing is to be believed, is that because Lolo’s relationship with his mom is obsessive, weird and borderline incestuous, he ruins all of his...

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Review: Hevn

Hevn, which translates to English as revenge, is a Norwegian thriller that screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015. It returns to Toronto for a limited release. Because of the movie’s themes of sexual abuse, its effect on female victims and retribution, the movie may resonate with Canadian audiences who also followed the Jian Ghomeshi saga. Unfortunately, as a suspense, the movie is at best an average thriller that requires a critical suspense of belief. Hevn stars Siren Jorgensen–whose only previous exposure to Canadian audiences was an episode of the Netflix series Lilyhammer–stars as Rebekka, a young woman who’s clearly set on revenge. She drives to a small Norwegian town nestled in a stunningly beautiful fjord to seek violent revenge on local hotel owner Morten, who years earlier raped Rebekka’s then-thirteen-year-old younger sister, Emma, who as an adult, killed herself due to her inability to cope with the pain. However, when Rebekka, who’s hiding a large knife behind her back, knocks on Morten’s door, she discovers that Morten’s happily married to Maya and a father to an infant daughter. Unable to act violently and cause pain to Morten’s family, Rebekka is repulsed that Morten’s a happy and respected businessman who’s running for mayor. Instead, Rebekka embarks on an ad hoc plot to ruin Morten’s reputation. Using a fake identity, she pretends to be a travel writer in...

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Hot Docs 2016 Review: Koneline: our land beautiful

Koneline: our land beautiful, directed by Genie Award-winning director Nettie Wild, opens with the construction of hydro lines to remote northwestern British Columbia, aided by the world’s largest helicopter. This part of the province is isolated and underdeveloped, and as we see from the amazing CinemaScope photography, home to a stunning wilderness of trees, rivers and mountains. It’s also the home to the Tahltan Nation, the local indigenous group, who in early scenes protest the increased development in the region, for the hydro lines merely precede planned copper and gold mines. Although the documentary shows some scenes of Native road blocks interposed with the environmental impact of the mines, the documentary isn’t about the impact of development on the Tahltan Nation or their resistance to the encroachment. It is, however, a love poem to the amazing vista, geography and people of northern BC. And, most of all, it’s a reflection of the changing times. The movie isn’t concerned about a strong narrative arc. Nor is it concerned with setting up a dichotomy of Native people versus the rest of Canada. It’s pointed out early that many of the people working on the hydro lines and in the mines are Native, and some of the people opposed to the development aren’t Native. It is, however, a CinemaScope exploration of the land. Because the movie is exquisitely shot and epic in...

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Review: Francofonia

Russian director Alexander Sokurov apparently has a fascination with art galleries and national identity. In 2002, his Russian Ark, a 96-minute movie shot in one continuous take, spanned 300 years of the history of Saint Petersburg’s Winter Palace, a one-time home to the Russian czars currently functioning as part of the Hermitage Museum. An epic historical opus that depicted Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and the German siege of Lenningrad during the Second World War, it explored both Russian identity and the meaning of art. In his latest movie, Francofonia, Sokurov has returned to similar themes. Focusing on the Louvre, the famed Paris art museum, Sokurov essays mainly–but not exclusively–its strained relationship with the German army during the Second World War. It’s now common knowledge that when Hitler’s armies occupied various European cities, leading Nazi officials would loot and steal works of art for their own personal collections. Francofonia focuses on the precarious relationship of Jacque Jaujard, who was the director of the Louvre during the occupation, and Franz von Wolff-Metternich, a German art historian hired by the German army to create an inventory of Parisian art. Together, the two men successfully hid many of the Louvre’s riches from the Nazis, keeping the museum’s collection largely in tact. That’s the core of Francofonia‘s central narrative. However, this movie is by no means straight forward. Its structure is as...

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