Blood in the Snow 2016 Review: Streamer

Jared (Jared Bratt) is a lonely man living a solitary existence. He’s got no friends, has never had a girlfriend, and moves through his life in repetitive actions as if he’s waiting for the moment he can finally stop. He begins frequenting an adult online chatroom where he becomes enamoured with one of the women (Tanya Lee). He soon realizes that she actually lives in the same building as he does, and he goes out of his way to strike up a friendship with her. While their relationship seems to be growing, Jared finds out that his new love has a boyfriend, and he’s not sure if there’s actually something between the two of them, or if this women is just stringing him along.

Directed by Jared Bratt and Vincent Pun, Streamer won’t necessarily satisfy viewers looking for a demented, disturbing, and horrific genre film. Streamer is purely psychological, showing its character’s slow descent into full on madness. This works both for and against the picture. While Bratt’s performance as the unstable lead is well done, it’s also nothing new. Many scenes are simply viewers watching Jared stare longingly into the distance while he stumbles through his life. It’s not exactly the most riveting film during these moments.

Once he finally meets with the unnamed woman who he’s had encounters with online, things start to pick up. Her intentions aren’t ever really clear, but Jared’s mental state makes things even more confusing. You’re never quite sure if what has happened between Jared and this woman are true, or if some of the events are things that have only happened in Jared’s mind.

The scenes with Lee and Bratt together are filled with uncomfortable moments, due mainly to the fact that Jared has never been with a woman before, so his actions are always awkward and tinged with a kind of subtle instability. Where the story is lacking in originality and surprises, it’s made up by the performances and chemistry of Lee and Bratt. Viewers may find themselves wishing things moved along a little more quickly, or that things turned out a little more horrific, but what’s here is still a great start.

EUFF 2016 Review: Eva Nova

Eva Nova (Emília Vášáryová) was once a prominent, well-respected actress. At 62, she is a recovering alcoholic who is desperate for a connection with her children and to rediscover herself. In the pursuit to begin a new chapter in her life and pick up the pieces in the process, she goes to visit her son, Dodo (Milan Ondrík), his wife, and their two children. She has not seen her son or her grandchildren in seven years, as a result she is met with resentment upon entering their house. Her son despises her for abandoning him and for her behaviour while she was famous.

Directed by Marko Skop, Eva Nova gives a fascinating, yet sad account of the life Eva leads now. She endures both the pressures of attempting to reconnect with her family again, and returning to acting. She is met with struggle every way she turns. With her toxic encounters with her son and her moment of self-destruction after seeing her ex-lover at a gala with his very young and pregnant wife, as audiences, we cannot help but wish for Eva to find strength in taking control of her life.

Eva Nova leaves us with a deep understanding of how we all search for a place of belonging and desire for a connection when we feel disassociated and disconnected from others.

EUFF 2016 Review: Home Care

Czech director Slavek Horak makes his feature-length debut with Home Care, a depressing tale about a middle-aged woman in small-town Czech Republic holding it together after a grim medical diagnosis.

Home Care follows nurse Vlasta (Alena Mihulova), a home-care nurse who, as we see in the film, visits patients in their homes, doing rather unglamorous work, including bathing elderly and obese patients, taking them to hospital appointments and acting as a friend. She goes out of her way to care for her patients for little pay, much to the dismay of her husband (Bolek Polivka), who miserably points out that she spends more on transportation than she earns in pay. When Vlasta goes to her doctor for a check up, she discovers that she has a terminal disease and only a few months to live. Not wanting to let the diagnosis get the worst of her, she takes dance lessons and seeks alternative medical treatments from a daughter of a patient. At the same time, she continues to care for her own patients. Despite facing many obstacles, she faces death with dignity.

The film’s aesthetic and pacing is slower and perhaps duller than most Hollywood features, and this may be a turn off for a Canadian audience. But it’s a joy to watch Vlasta take pleasure in things that she hadn’t thought of doing pre-diagnosis: dyeing her hair, taking dancing lessons, and more fully appreciating her own patients’ needs and anxieties. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s easy to see why this film was the Czech Republic’s official choice for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards.

EUFF 2016 Review: Head Full of Honey

Head Full of Honey is a bittersweet tale about a family dealing with their grandfather’s Alzheimer’s disease. After his mother’s death, Nico (Til Schweiger) becomes concerned with the deteriorating mental health of his father (Dieter Hallervorden). Nico encourages his father to move in with his own wife and daughter Tilda (Emma Tiger Schweiger — Til’s real-life daughter). Grandfather and granddaughter develop a strong relationship, and they fill their days with stories and adventures. As her grandfather’s behaviour becomes more erratic and dangerous, Tilda learns that bringing dementia patients to meaningful places from their younger days can sometimes help their memory. So Tilda takes her beloved grandfather on one last adventure — a visit to Venice, where he and his late wife honeymooned — before he is put in a nursing home.

This film is a touching drama that ultimately expresses the uncertainties that a family feel when a member has Alzheimer’s. It’s a heartbreaking account, but also filled with comedic moments — the grandfather is charismatic and loveable even when almost burning the house down. There’s also a fair amount of tenderness here. The grandfather’s attempt to recreate his honeymoon with his late wife, whom he still adores, is romantic, and the relationship he has with his granddaughter is cute to say the least.

Til Schweiger — who many of you will be most familiar with as the tough Nazi-killer from Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009) — is right for the role as the sometimes aloof father and son who is trying his best to deal with the demands of his family. He has double duty in this film, acting also as co-director. Along with Lars Gmehling, they do a great job conveying the sadness and humour that sometimes surrounds Alzheimer’s.

Freedom First Film Festival Review: The Fifty-Sixers

Screening at the Freedom First Film Festival, commemorating 60 years since the Hungarian uprising over the Soviets in 1956 which brought 37,000 refugees to Canada, The Fifty-Sixers gives an in depth look at the uprising that started this historic moment, and the ways in which Canada aided the refugees by offering a new home. Not everything was smooth though, and we hear from some of the people who moved to Canada about their highs and lows in their new country.

What Young Rebels briefly looked at at the Freedom First Film Festival, The Fifty-Sixers explores in a more in depth and historical point of view. Exploring the actual uprising, the film gives a brutal look at what Hungarian people were subjected to during the reign of the Soviets. The uprising was violent and deadly, for both sides of the battle, but it was the Hungarian people who quickly lost to the much more powerful Soviets.

The race to escape was on, and while the overall idea of Canada helping sounds beautiful and hopeful, it was not something that happened quickly. This is where The Fixty-Sixers excels in its storytelling. It doesn’t hide that fact that while Canada was certainly a country who was willing to help the refugees, they were also not quick to do so. The political landscape led to a bit of feet dragging when it came to finding these refugees a home, and it wasn’t until things were almost at their lowest point that Canada stepped up.

Eventually, the aid they needed was given, and in massive numbers. These new Canadians still faced some uphill battles with racism, but many of them were simply glad to have a place to live where they weren’t being terribly oppressed. As the years have passed, some of the struggles have faded, and listening to the stories of these one time refugees shows just how happy they are to be in their new home of Canada.

Freedom First Film Festival Review: Young Rebels

This brief documentary tells the story of teenage revolutionaries in Hungary as they attempt to overthrow the Soviets who have occupied their home in 1956. This moment led to 37,000 refugees fleeing to Canada, becoming the first group to be welcomed into Canada, changing their lives and our country for the better.

Commemorating 60 years since the uprising in Hungary that led to a mass of refugees entering Canada, the Freedom First Film Festival begins with a screening of Young Rebels, and it’s a relatively quick introduction to this historic moment. At just 45 minutes long, there’s not a lot of in depth knowledge to be found here, but there’s plenty of inspirational messages that can, and should, be applied to our thinking today.

Following a brief uprising that only lasted 12 days, Hungary was quickly taken back from the rebels by the Soviets, leaving thousands dead and wounded, and forcing the citizens to flee their homes. Young Rebels focuses on the students and children, some of them as young as 11-years-old, who took part in the revolution before being forced to flee. Their part in the revolution isn’t exactly as powerful as you may imagine. Their youth mainly kept them from participating in a major way, but their race to escape is as dangerous as everybody else’s.

It’s when these teens become refugees searching for a home that Young Rebels truly stands out. Canada is quick to accept them, allowing them free travel and quick acceptance into the country. With over 37,000 of them accepting and making their new home in Canada, we hear from the people themselves what their lives became, and see how they started with absolutely nothing to make themselves important members of society. This is certainly something we need to think about at this time in our world.

Reel Asian 2016 Review: The Lockpicker

Toronto high-school student Hashi (newcomer Keigian Umi Tang) is mourning the loss of a close friend, Tess. She killed herself, and now Hashi cannot focus in class or outside the school’s walls. The teen starts stealing money from his peers and dreams of an escape from his lower middle-class life. As visions of Tess flood his head, the troubled teen tries to grapple with his own mortality.

The feature debut from Canadian director Randall Okita is a startling and absorbing drama. The Lockpicker captures the angst of a young man trying to figure out his life as he recovers from immense trauma. The camera rarely leaves the protagonist’s side, and slowly, Hashi’s fears become palpable and even unsettling. In his first performance, Tang capably anchors this heavy film on his shoulders, projecting rage and vulnerability. Okita’s decision to limit Hashi’s dialogue in the first third attaches us to the actor’s wavering moods and expressions. This deepens our interest as Hashi descends into hurt and heartbreak more violently.

The Lockpicker is harsh and harrowing. Audiences should be prepared for some uncompromising explorations of teenage insecurity. Manipulated audio (muffling and sharpening certain noises) and drowsy visuals masterfully bring us into Hashi’s state of mind. Tech triumphs aside, there are a few storytelling blips. For instance, there is too little about Hashi’s family life. The initial vagueness of these relationships eventually undercut plot developments in the final third.

Reel Asian 2016 Review: The Bacchus Lady

The Bacchus Lady requires a bit of context for a Toronto audience. A bacchus lady, typically an older woman in her 50s and 60s, and even up into her 80s, frequents parks where elderly men gather to socialize and play chess. There, the bacchus ladies sell men bacchus, a Korean energy drink, and typically also offer sexual favours for a price. In traditional Korean society, families readily embraced the responsibility of caring for their elderly parents, but because of the rapid modernization in Korea in recent decades, the Korean welfare system has failed to effectively embrace the care of elderly people, who now face the highest rates of poverty in the OECD. Elderly Korean women are acutely effected: roughly three quarters live in dire poverty.

The Bacchus Lady follows Youn So-young (Youn Yuh-jung), a woman in her 60s who works as a bacchus lady. She spends her days trolling parks for prospective clients, often servicing them in cheap motels or, quite often, in the parks themselves. She lives in a small, worn-down apartment; her closest neighbours include a young transgender woman and a young man with a prosthetic leg. A side story involves Youn taking in the young boy of a Filipino woman who accuses a Korean doctor of being her son’s father.

The film is a slow-paced, seemingly randomly episodic narrative that involves Youn encountering clients, other sex workers, and the families of long-time clients. But the payback is sitting through the entire film, for it is actually a meditation of loneliness, death, relationships and sacrifice. Youn, who gave up her family early in life, has deep, meaningful physical and emotional connections with her regular clients; in some cases, Youn sacrifices at great cost to herself to help these elderly men find happiness.

It’s a sad story, so prepare for it. It’s a film that will leave you haunted.

EUFF 2016 Review: Mom and Other Loonies In the Family

Mom and Other Loonies in the Family is a multigenerational story featuring 94-year-old Berta, spanning four generations of family tales. Part wiry drama, part Hungarian history lesson, we experience the trials and tribulations of evolving values, religious persecution, and national identity through their experiences.

Ibolya Fekete’s film tells not only of a single woman’s life but the history of the nation covering 100 years that include two world wars, a revolution, and other political and religious strife. She paints a picture of familiarity to many Hungarian and Central and Eastern European families, but one that is less familiar to many in North America.

The film strikes a balanced tone, utilizing a mix of historical and newly created footage. It’s interesting to see the bustle of a city that is also in ruins at the same time, as well as dated propaganda in a country caught between communism and fascism. All these elements combine nicely to enhance the “storytelling” angle of the narrative. Fekete also encapsulates well in a few short conversations, the heartbreak of suddenly becoming a ‘foreigner’ without stepping outside your front door in a reality of war, border disputes, and political instability.

Initially it takes some effort to digest the events in the lives of Bertha, her family, and friends, not because they’re not believable but because theirs is a world so far removed from our own. As well, the constant barrage of new characters being introduced in the first half of the film, some mentioned and some shown, combined with the fast-paced narration, can make it impossible to keep up at times. Once we settle on Berta and a small circle of loved ones, it’s much more easy to focus on the story.

EUFF 2016 Review: The First, The Last

Belgian actor, writer, and filmmaker Bouli Lanners’ fourth directorial feature, The First, The Last is a weird one that intersects varying surreal stories against an overcast, possibly apocalyptic, definitely otherworldly backdrop.

Cochise (Albert Dupontel) and Gilou (Lanners, rocking a pretty epic beard) are a pair of bounty hunters tasked by a shadowy businessman to retrieve his stolen cell phone, one that contains a wealth of sensitive information. The current holders of the phone are a couple of drifters named Esther (Aurore Broutin) and Willy (David Murgia), who seem more than a bit off, insist the world is ending, are potentially unaware of the phone’s contents, and they only keep turning it on and off, making Cochise and Gilou’s tracking of the device nearly impossible. Both pairings are being subtly tormented by a bigger pair of jerks, and they keep stumbling across a drifter who may or may not be Jesus (Philippe Rebbot).

Steeped in metaphor, bleak tones, and bone dry humour, The First, The Last is a hard movie to define or peg down, and it definitely won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. But about a third of the way in when Esther goes missing, Gilou falls ill, and the stories start splintering off into different directions (one including Suzanne Clement as a woman who befriends Cochise), things start to get more narratively interesting than the surreal set up lets on. It’s clear that Lanners has built his austerely comedic chase film around a grand reveal that a key line of dialogue all but gives away, but it never fails to remain intriguing.

EUFF 2016 Review: Irreplaceable

The sweet and subtle French drama Irreplaceable tells of the interplay between a long time rural family doctor and his soon-to-be replacement. Dr. Jean-Pierre Werner (always reliable veteran actor François Cluzet) has been carrying on his small town practice for years, still making house calls and dealing with psychiatry, palliative care, physical therapy, paediatrics, and everything in-between. After Jean-Pierre is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour and he’ll be forced to take time off for rest and chemotherapy, he’s sent Dr. Nathalie Delezia (Marianne Denicourt) as a replacement to take the reign of the practice. A former veteran nurse who dabbled in being an ER doctor after finishing medical school as a mature student, Dr. Delezia is knowledgeable, but doesn’t have the same bedside manner and relationship to the patients that Dr. Werner has.

Most of director and co-writer Thomas Lilti’s film deals with the professional differences between Werner and Delezia, while subtly outlining the personal character traits that make them who they are. Such material could have been handled for melodramatic purposes, but Irreplaceable finds a comfortable middle ground between the austere and the manipulative. The characters, their approaches to their job, and their environment are all captivating enough, and Lilti and the cast know they don’t have to embellish anything to make it more engaging.

The push-and-pull chemistry between Denicourt and Cluzet remains the main attraction here, but the story slowly becomes moving over time. It’s not a “slow burn,” but a subtle one.

Reel Asian 2016 Review: Seoul Station

Seoul Station is the animated prequel to Train to Busan from director Yeon Sang-ho. While the connections between the two films seems almost non-existent, Seoul Station definitely delivers an equally entertaining zombie film. After a homeless man collapses in front of Seoul’s central subway station, basically ignored by those around him, a deadly zombie outbreak begins. Trapped in the middle is Hye-Sun, a young woman who has left her boyfriend behind after an argument. Trapped in the middle of the zombies, Hye-Sun is forced to survive while her boyfriend and her father search desperately for her.

On the surface, Seoul Station is a straight up zombie film, and entertains in the ways that you would expect from the genre. If you care to dig a little deeper, you can start to see comments on the way we treat those around us, especially people who may not be in the same position financially. Either way you view it, the film is tense and exciting, and features more than enough zombie action to please fans of the genre.

Not content to just offer up a simple zombie story, Yeon Sang-ho’s script offers some great twists and makes sure to show us that the uninfected can be just as terrifying and horrible as the zombies that threaten them. It’s something that every great zombie story is quick to point out now, and Seoul Station is no exception. The only downside to this film may be the animation. It’s not always as smooth and detailed as some viewers could want, and there are a few scenes that lack the tension they deserve because of this, but it’s a small complaint for a largely successful film.

Reel Asian 2016 Review: Tsukiji Wonderland

The Tsukiji Fish Market is renown as being the biggest fish market in the world, a well deserved title but some feel that doesn’t even properly describe Tsukiji as it is in many aspects one of a kind. In Tsukiji Wonderland we get an in-depth look at the market and its inner-workings, from the 14,000 people that play various roles working within the market, to chefs who reap the benefits of their expertise, to researchers and archivists looking to encapsulate into words the magic that exists within this institution.

Much of Tsukiji Wonderland feels like it’s dedicated to the praise of their ‘Intermediate Wholesalers’, which is not unfounded given the importance of their role in selecting the fish that is best suited for their clientelle. Celebrity chefs, fishmongers, and virtually everyone they interact with comments on their distinct knowledge and the great focus they place on relationships with their customers, recognizing how that is even more important than the fish itself. From their different perspectives, we gain an understanding of how complex the role of the Intermediate Wholesaler really is, and how they may be the unifying element within the market. Truly the compliments are endless throughout the film, it drives the message home but at points reach redundancy for the audience.

Audiences are also given a glimpse of the different areas of the market, from the ice manufacturing workers, to multiple auction halls for every variance of fresh and processed seafood imaginable. Some nice breaks from the long string of interviews include footage on tricks of the trade to keep fish fresher for longer, explanations about the practice of aging fish intentionally to bring out their best flavours, and a run down of how seasonality affects the availability and characteristics of the fish resulting in Japan’s distinct seasonal menus.

As far as filmmaking technique goes, portions of the interviews in Tsukiji Wonderland employs a sound design wherein the background noise of the market is optimally mixed with interview soundtracks. We see interview subjects and shots of the market unrelated to the sound sources but they tie nicely together to recreate the ambience of Tsukiji Market. Also included is an 80 year old film on the construction of the first market, which again, nicely breaks up any monotony from the continuous interviews with the market workers.

The Tsukiji Market was and is still revolutionary in its market operations, as well as groundbreaking in its methods of commerce and architecture design.  Tsukiji Wonderland is a loving salute to all of the above.

EUFF 2016 Review: A Noble Intention

Kicking off the European Union Film Festival for 2016 is Joran Lursen’s A Nobel Intention, based on events from the book “Publieke Werken” (Public Works) by Thomas Rosenboom about the troubles encountered during the construction of the famed Victoria Hotel in Amsterdam. The story is told from the perspective of cousins Vedder, a cabinet turned violin maker, and Anijs, a chemist overstepping his bounds in his medical practices.  When each of the two men encounter their own set of troubles, Vedder with negotiating the sale of his house on the site of the future Victoria Hotel, and the threat of malpractice looming over Anijs after he tries to help a family of peat farmers, the two men come up with an idea that exercises social conscience and gets them out of their binds all at the same time.

Though events were partially fictionalized, A Nobel Intention is an interesting story to behold, giving us glimpses from different perspectives. The narrative drags for the first half of the film, as audiences are introduced to an array of characters. The plot meanders as we’re left guessing who the important people are, and who we’re meant to sympathize with. For example, we begin with one cousin, out for personal gain but well-meaning in relationships with his neighbour and family, who descends into deception and mental instability as time goes on. However as the film progresses, one becomes more emotionally invested as characters develop, and the second half draws the multiple storylines to a satisfactory conclusion.

A Noble Intention opens with a disturbing scene. It’s by no means graphic, but rather the length of the scene, and the act of abuse depicted within, leaves a heavy emotional impact that might not actually be necessary given the lighter tone of the rest of the film. It left this viewer expecting a grittier, more emotionally taxing tale than what Lursen actually gave us. It sets up a back story for a family of characters, but at the same time felt a bit gratuitous after the fact. It could also be argued that the scene’s overall intensity doesn’t fit in with the rest of the film, leaving the entire experience a little lopsided.

Reel Asian 2016 Review: Soul Mate

The Reel Asian Film Festival kicks off Tuesday, November 8, 2016 with Derek Tsang’s Soul Mate. A moving tale of friendship between two young women that is put to the test when a young man enters their life, soon followed by other harsh realities that growing up can bring. This is the story of 20 years portraying the ebb and flow of a relationship between two women.

Ansheng and Qiyue become friends amidst a moment of mischief in the schoolyard when they are 13 and form a bond that will connect them for better or worse throughout their lives, in which they will share their most inner desires, secrets, and dreams. Each girl’s admiration for the other entwines them, but in moments of jealousy also rips them apart. The wedge causing their greatest divide being Jia-Ming, Qiyue’s boyfriend whose devotion and repressed emotions could destroy them all.

It’s limiting to classify any film as appealing to one particular gender, but if there was ever a film targeting young women and marginalizing the importance of males, Soul Mate might be it. On one hand it’s nice to see a film focusing on female friendships that don’t rely on physical comedy gags, or cliché man-hating rants. Soul Mate truly centralizes on Qiyue and Ansheng, with the male lead Jia-Ming present in a clearly-defined supporting role. Jia-Ming’s character is somewhat weak, and given the length of time he’s actually present in the film, there’s little detail and development. One can’t help but notice he’s only ever present to be led around by one of the girls, to help them, or be told what to do by one of them.

In their portrayals of traditional good girl Qiyue (Ma Sichun) and wild child Ansheng (Zhou Dongyu), both actresses nail their parts. Zhou Dongyu shines in her spirited performance as Ansheng, who hides her pain behind a bright smile, burying her troubles in unbridled partying, the never ending search for new experiences, and chameleonic tendencies to find herself a place in the world. She moves through life and the screen transitioning seamlessly from apathetic to tender as if they were cut from the same emotional cloth. Qiyue’s restricted character requires Ma Sichun to refrain from such emotional range, but in climatic moments she holds her own against Zhou Dongyu’s Ansheng.

Based on the Chinese novella, July and Ansheng, Soul Mate with its coming-of-age themes also gives us a very genuine view of a platonic friendship between adolescent girls and how this continues to evolve as they reach adulthood. The plot is simplistic through two thirds of their tale, with twists only incorporated near the end of the timeline. Some events are more surprising than others, but unfortunately these twists also bring into question plausibility and logic. The film has been rooted in realism throughout, to ask the audience to take these leaps of faith at the end distracts them from the full emotional impact director Tsang intends.

For those viewers who are invested enough in the story, it may not matter as they see the ties of Qiyue and Ansheng as the most important aspect of the movie. Soul Mate is captivating and unfolds in manner that keeps the viewer invested. While it does contain imperfections, Soul Mate will leave audiences watery-eyed, and clutching their friends a little closer as they exit the theatre.

Cinéfranco 2016 Review: Rebellious Girl

Laila is no stranger to activist causes at home in Morocco, but when she decides to help support her family by taking a job in Belgium as a migrant working on Andre’s pear and apple farm, she discovers a new fight as she strives for fair treatment and better working conditions for herself and her fellow labourers in a foreign land. Laila rallies her peers and brings out their fierce spirit, and she unites them in a battle to stand up for themselves.

Jawad Rhalib’s sophomore film is rooted in realism and deftly ties together two nations dealing with conflict of a very different nature through a single character. His camera takes on an observational role, as if to create a cinema verite style. Laila is the predominant focus but with minimal backstory presented for everyone on screen, the audience soon learns as much about those whose spirit and passions she incites as they know about Laila herself. Later on in the film there are glimpses into Andre’s struggles running the farm as well, but those are largely recorded in an unsympathetic manner.

When it comes to storytelling, there are instances when one can perhaps be too straightforward. Regrettably Rebellious Girl‘s narrative unfolded more like a flow chart, where one thing happens, that leads to the next, and then to the next in a linear fashion with little dramatic arc. Even as conflicts escalate and rebellion takes place, the filmmaker does nothing with his camera and direction to heighten tensions nor invest the audience in the events that are unfolding. All too soon we see ‘what happens next’ and it’s pretty much as we expected.

Rebellious Girl sheds light on international conflicts and inequalities, and they are important issues that should be made known. A documentary might have made for a better approach to do this though, as audiences of a narrative may be seeking other qualities in the films they go to see, and in so doing may overlook the important socio-political issues Rhalib’s placed on the screen.

Cinéfranco 2016 Review: Saint Amour

Bruno (Benoît Poelvoorde), a cattle breeder who is growing tired of the work, is attending the Paris Agricultural Show as he does every year. This time he’s accompanied by his father Jean (Gérard Depardieu), who has been retired for 5 years but just can’t stop working. Instead of working to win, Bruno is more interested in his annual wine tour of the booths at the show. Jean would prefer that Bruno take things seriously, as he wants him to continue their breeding work, and decides that the two of them should actually travel together through wine country in an attempt to come together and convince Bruno to take the family business. Accompanied by Mike (Vincent Lacoste), a taxi driver, the men set out on a memorable trip through the country.

Written and directed by Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern, Saint Amour is a quiet blend of family reality and completely absurd situations. Bruno is quite unhappy with his life, unable to find love and working in a business that he has no interest in anymore. The problem is that it’s the family business and his father wants him to continue the work. Their relationship is strained, so there’s no surprises when it comes to them reconnecting in the film. It’s incredibly touching though, and doesn’t resort to anything over the top.

That’s the complete opposite of just about everything else in the film. The situations they find themselves in are ridiculous and unbelievable, but they react to them in such a realistic way that you can’t help getting caught up in their lives. This is even more true with Depardieu, whose character is still dealing with the death of his wife. There’s an element of sadness in everything that he does, and Depardieu is wonderful in the role.

Cinéfranco 2016 Review: Back to Mom’s

Fortysomething architect Stephanie Mazerin (Alexandra Lamy) has fallen on hard times. After putting too many of her eggs in one basket – both professionally and personally – she’s jobless, broke, divorced, homeless, largely friendless, and forced to move back in with her mother, Jacqueline (Josiane Balasko).

From there begins the standard and tiresome family comedy Back to Mom’s, directed and co-written by Eric Lavaine. None of the gags about doting mothers and ungrateful kids hit their marks in the early going. Mom keeps the house at too hot of a temperature! Mom’s taste in music is terrible! Mom is so square she can’t set up her own email, let alone use it! These are the kind of buttons Lavaine and his cast push constantly throughout, and all three of those examples are actually deployed in a single scene.

It doesn’t get much better when the narrative shifts to Stephanie’s strained relations towards her cruel, micromanaging older sister (Mathilde Seigner) or her workaholic brother (Philippe Lefebvre) or to mom’s attempts to break it to her kids that she’s started dating for the first time since their father’s death. These plot points don’t reinforce any of the characters or offer new surprises, but they do add a lot more clichés about “how you can’t choose your family” that are as deep as an inspirational quote stitched into a dishtowel.

imagineNATIVE 2016 Review: The Sun at Midnight

The debut feature from writer and director Kirsten Carthew, The Sun at Midnight, casts rising star Devry Jacobs (Rhymes for Young Ghouls) as Lia, a sullen, artistic, fashionista teenager disgruntled with her dads decision to send her to live with her grandmother in the subarctic while he takes off on a two month contract for work. Not fitting in and finding herself bullied, she attempts to run away in a boat to something close to civilization. Once that doesn’t pan out, she finds herself stranded in the wilderness about a four week walk from anywhere. It’s in this dire situation – and following a harrowing encounter at a hunter camp – that she befriends Alfred (Duane Howard, best known from The Revenant), a caribou tracker who agrees to watch over and protect her.

It’s pretty much a bog standard tale of a spoiled teen learning something from a wizened sage until it’s time for her to repay the favour and he learns something from her in return. Carthew’s tale is formulaic and basic, rushing perhaps a bit too quickly through her first act while we’re just getting to know Lia. Nothing hits as too much of a shock, and yet it still feels like things escalate quicker than they should.

Possibly the hurry in the early going is to get to the bits with Jacobs and Howard together, since the chemistry the actors have together is effortless and genuine. They bring The Sun at Midnight to roaring life whenever they’re allowed to bounce off each other, and the film flounders whenever they aren’t on screen together. Thankfully, that’s much of Carthew’s film, so the results are a minor success. It should also go without saying that Carthew captures the beauty of the Canadian North in summer to gorgeous effect.

Toronto After Dark 2016 Review: The Lure

Two mermaid sisters swim up to the Warsaw shore one night and encounter a family of musicians. Looking for some fun, they join the family’s band, which performs at a nightly cabaret club. Given the names Silver and Golden by the club owner, they become instant audience favourites because of their youthful beauty and serene singing voices. When Silver starts to fall in love with bassist Mietek, however, the more bloodthirsty Golden foresees doom.

The Lure is certainly one of the more original pictures of the year – a neon-lit fairy tale of man-eating mermaids and romance. It’s also a full-on musical – the first musical, actually, that has ever been made in Poland. Seemingly inspired by rock operas and ’80s new wave music, Agnieszka Smoczynska’s debut feature is an absurd tragicomic feast for the senses.

As the winsome but naïve Silver and the more cunning Golden, Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszanska, keep you firmly invested in their plights, navigating a hostile human world much like Scarlett Johansson’s alien creature in Under the Skin did. Although here they are, first and foremost, interested in having a good time before planning to eventually swim to America. Both actresses throw themselves full stop into the nightclub act, in sequences sure to slap a giddy grin on your face.

Smoczynska nicely balances a classic folktale with more contemporary sensibilities, although some of the underlying commentary could have been expanded on more for the climax to achieve its maximum impact. Nonetheless, The Lure moves along briskly at a beat you can dance to.