Kamloops Film Festival coverage

You don’t want to watch Tyrannosaur

Most people don’t like examining everything inside themselves and then looking for more

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief  Ω

Ten minutes in, I sloppily scribbled, “Not sure I’ve ever seen a more powerful opening ten minutes of a film,” in my notebook, but I soon realized that I might as well just put the damn thing away. Tyrannosaur didn’t let up, and I wasn’t about to just keep adding, “and then the next ten,” over and over again.

I almost want to say that people shouldn’t be allowed to do what director Paddy Considine has done in Tyrannosaur — in fact I have said that a few times since I experienced it.

You shouldn’t be allowed to look that deeply into the soul of people. You shouldn’t be allowed to look that definitively into the power of emotions and the interrelationships between people and their own feelings, or into why those feelings exist in the first place.

You certainly shouldn’t be allowed to examine that closely what it is to be human, especially when you’re acknowledging both the good and the bad contained within everyone, and the struggles between those powers.

I’ve never experienced a film where you as a viewer feel the emotions of the characters and the internal conflicts within those characters so acutely.

And yet as deeply as you feel these emotions and internal struggles within yourself as you watch the film, you somehow find yourself wanting to feel them even deeper , because you know that the film is connecting you to what it is to be human.  But you don’t think it’s possible for you to go there.

And then the filmmaker adds another level, pushing you deeper — just where you were begging to go.

Peter Mullen plays Joseph, an unemployed widower with some serious emotional scars, a drinking problem and a pressure-cooker of rage. His intensity is unnervingly real, and yet somehow he manages to have your pity, despite all his abhorrent actions.

He meets Hannah (played by Olivia Colman) early on in the film when he stumbles blindly into her charity thrift shop, where he cowers behind a rack of clothes as she prays for him, asking God to grant him peace.

A friendship develops despite her wholly different background, lifestyle choices and beliefs.

While his pain is evident immediately, hers emerges gradually as the film progresses, exposing a conflicted life (dutifully religious upper-middle class charity thrift shop owner with turmoil and abuse at home) leading to yet another layer of emotion within the characters, the narrative and the viewer.

I’m trying to find something negative to say about this film, I really am. It’s almost as if the film itself was so powerful, it won’t let me talk badly about it.

Okay, there are times where the thickness of the somewhat-cockney-like accents of a few characters makes it a bit hard to understand them, but as the film’s effectiveness and power exists outside the dialogue contained therein, it makes little difference.

If you don’t want to sincerely look at what it is to be human — to look at good and bad, serendipity and fate, misery and happiness, compassion and rage, terror and joy, sanity and madness all at the same time — don’t watch this film.


Monseiur Lahzar: A truly Canadian film without hockey?

Brendan Kergin, News Editor  Ω

This is the kind of film that shows Canada can create stories with the best of them.

The plot follows a variety of threads all wound into the same story, revolving around a teacher joining an elementary school class mid-way through the year due to the suicide of the former class teacher.

Every character is multifaceted, and each scene relevant to the progression of the story. All the threads together create a very cohesive and unique story. The film is all done with a subtle, natural hand that mainstream cinema has lost.

There’s a very Canadian feel to it, with the weather expressing the passage of time (progressing from a winter to spring in Montreal), immigration issues, and a school, which, aside from the French, could be in B.C. The story seems natural, the characters realistic.

Interestingly enough, for a film with a very Canadian edge, there are barely any references to hockey, curling, or any sport for that matter.

Particular praise should go to the child actors.

The two lead children (Genie winner Sophie Nélisse and Émilien Néron) carry the story at times, showing a great understanding of who their characters are and their characters’ emotions, as they deal with a death and the undeserved guilt associated with it.

These aren’t kids being kids; they’ve taken on their role with more skill than most of Hollywood. There were more than a couple tears in the audience at the climactic moment of the film which relies heavily on Néron and he certainly shines at that moment.

The central character is the pillar of the film though. Monsieur Lahzar is played by Algerian actor Mohamed Fellag, who deservedly took home a Genie for best actor, as well. He balances the pain of his past, his eagerness to work with the children and the challenges of arriving in a new country perfectly, creating a character who is not overly-tormented by his past, but still strongly affected by it. Given the character’s background there is a good chance for over-acting, but Fellag doesn’t fall into that trap, instead creating a very natural character who has not had the easiest life.

The only criticism which comes to mind is the fact that, get this, The Simpsons did it. One of the story threads resembles the episode “Lisa’s Substitute” with Dustin Hoffman.

Not to ruin it, but for fans of the classic series it’s hard not to see.

Love for Luna

Ian Cowie, Contributor  Ω

We all posses a certain affinity for our pets, and for some it’s a bond akin to family.

But what happens when that bond is with a 3,000-pound wild killer whale who has been separated from his pod and craves human affection as much as people crave his?

The Whale is a documentary by journalists turned activists Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit about a young orca named Luna who challenges people’s notion of what the human/animal relationship really is.
Vancouver-born actor Ryan Reynolds narrates the film.

When Luna was two years old he was separated from his pod, and being the highly social creature that he was, he found a new family —a human one—with the people of Nootka Sound on the west side of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island.

People came from all around to pet, hug and even kiss the gentle giant.

This interaction turned out to be a not-so-simple thing. Often when wild whales befriend humans there are unforeseen consequences, for both whale and human alike. This was no exception.

Government authorities, in an attempt to protect Luna, forbid touching or even looking at him, and threatened curious onlookers with $100,000 fines.

But this was no easy task because Luna loved to be petted and would often find someone willing to risk getting fined to oblige him.

Word of Luna began to spread all over the world.

Eventually a movement of people assembled to reunite Luna with his pod; however, when rumours spread of the possibility of Luna begin sold into captivity, the First Nations peoples of Nootka Sound decided to take it upon themselves to “free” Luna.

This documentary goes beyond regional battles to explore the philosophical relationship between humans and the animals they assume to know so much about.

Ambition, vengeance, and deconstructed/reconstructed identity — literally

Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In twists and turns and questions identity and gender concepts

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief  Ω

In the interest of full disclosure, I should premise my review of The Skin I live In, which played at the Kamloops Film Festival on Mar. 9, by saying that it was unfair for any film to have to follow Tyrannosaur, and that placement is surely responsible for some of my feelings towards the film.

When you see a film like Tyrannosaur you really need to give yourself some time to recover, which I didn’t have, but I will do my best to examine The Skin I live In on its own merits.

The film was directed by Pedro Almodovar, undisputedly one of the greatest Spanish directors of our time, and stars Antonio Banderas (another heavyweight in Spanish filmmaking), was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes this year, and won this year’s British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for Best Non English Film.

It should be phenomenal, right?

The best praise I can give for this film is “above adequate,” or maybe “acceptable,” or “not a complete waste of one’s time.”

It’s an interesting examination of human identity and of persona being an artificial construction one presents to the world.

It touches on some other heavy ideas like genetic modification and scientific experimentation ethics, but it ultimately falls somewhat flat overall, despite Almodovar’s valiant attempt to surprise and shock the audience with plot twists and time jumps.

Banderas definitely makes an excellent depraved and deranged scientist in the form of a plastic surgeon, and Almodovar’s shot selection, framing and lighting are excellent.

So how can a film I have so much good to say about be so adequate?

A couple of big things (if others don’t consider these things “big” then I guess I’m a film snob, because they always upset me and detract from my enjoyment of a film):
The first beef I have goes as follows.

Quinton Tarantino uses flashback well. Almodovar seems to be trying to capture some of that brilliance using a similarly non-linear, disjointed style of storytelling, but unfortunately he’s decided to clarify time movements with huge imposing “six years earlier” tags across the screen.

I generally feel this means you haven’t done something right, since you feel the need to tell the audience what you’re doing.

Because of this attempt at disjointed and non-linear plot construction, Almodovar has incorporated a scene early on in the film where the audience receives a few minutes of exposition.

One character basically fleshes out a chunk of the plot’s history in a conversation with another character to clarify it for the audience.

Scenes like this aren’t good in English — they’re even worse when you have to read them off the bottom of the screen.

These complaints might seem petty to some, but I think everyone’s got certain things that bother them a lot when they crop up in a film, and those are a couple of mine.

I do recommend you see the film, as — like I said — it’s an interesting observation of human identity construction, contains some great cinematic elements, intriguing ideas and concepts, and a couple of very good acting performances.

And it’s not a waste of your time, unlike most things that come out of Hollywood these days.

Tomboy goes deep using simple moments

Larkin Schmiedl, Copy Editor  Ω

Transgender children have been coming more to popular awareness lately, with Anderson Cooper featuring a family with a transgender child on his show, CBC’s Passionate Eye looking at the topic back in January, and CNN covering it last September.

Director Celine Sciamma engaged this topic with her second film, Tomboy, which played on Saturday, Mar. 10 at the Kamloops Film Festival. Tomboy shows us in intimate detail the life of a 10-year-old transgender child during a pivotal summer in his life.  It’s a French film, and was made in 2011.

Tomboy keeps a slow pace, but rather than being tedious, it allows viewers to absorb the significance of each moment as it unfolds.

‘Laure’ is the oldest daughter of two in a close loving family.  When her  family moves to a new neighbourhood, she introduces herself as Mikael to Lisa, the first other kid she meets.  Lisa later falls for Mikael, leading to complications down the road.

Mikael begins living as a boy all summer long, without the knowledge of his family.

The movie comes across first and foremost as a story about a specific person’s struggle with gender identity, and this is where it succeeds and draws its power.

Mikael carries a silent, inexpressive air with him throughout most of the film.  His muted expressions convey the palpable sense of the weight he carries, of the secret he feels he can’t tell anyone.

The cinematography was brilliant, revealing the emotions of characters even during moments of silence through close-up face shots.

Tomboy is not depressing, but interesting, educational, fun and extremely well-storied. Each event contributes to the plot in some way and nothing is wasted.

Mikael is always quietly calculating and on guard, having to construct scenarios to prop up his new identity.  As a result he is rarely able to be open and spontaneous as a child.  This tension is felt through the screen as everyday scenarios play out.

During a soccer game with the neighbourhood kids, Mikael sits out.  The boys are playing a shirts versus skins game, and that night, Mikael goes home and inspects his chest in the mirror.

He practices spitting in the sink like he saw another boy do during the game.

The following day, he strips off his shirt and plays along with the others.  He even spits.
The body dysphoria experienced by many transgender people is shown when Mikael looks at himself in the mirror different times, trying to adjust what he sees to fit his image of himself as a boy.

His yearning to fit into this image is tangible.

When the kids later decide to go swimming, Mikael takes his bathing suit into his bedroom and cuts off the top half to create trunks.  He folds in the jagged cut top and models his new suit in the mirror, and smiles widely with glee.

Mikael realizes he must fashion a penis to wear in it, so he sits down with the play-dough machine beside his sister and fashions a small roll.

The audience laughed most at the parts of the film where this makeshift penis was shown.

For anyone who likes a film showing people and their relationships, that describes psychological dynamics profoundly through straightforward life moments, or who’s interested in gender or wants to know more, Tomboy is a must-see.

Even After all these years, Shakespeare’s stories still pull their weight

Brendan Kergin, News Editor  Ω

When you have a script writer like William Shakespeare to work off of it’s difficult to mess up, but critics will be watching for the smallest mistakes.

In this version of Coriolanus, the story of Roman general Caius Marcius Coriolanus gets updated to modern times.

The directorial debut of Oscar nominee and Shakespearean stage actor Ralph Fiennes, the film is definitely for fans of the bard.

Brutal visuals accompany the clever language, which brings the story into a frame more people will be able to understand.

However, at times the pacing seems off, though this is due to the long speeches Shakespeare wrote, since the film uses the bard’s words they couldn’t really take out the long pieces of diatribe.

The other major criticism would be the shaky camera work.

It works in the chaos of an urban war or a riot, where characters are actually recording the activity with a cellphone. It doesn’t work in, say, a TV studio where the audience can see tripods.

It’s understandable that Fiennes was going for the feeling of being there in the midst of the characters, but it wears on the mind as you try to keep track of which direction you’re facing and trying to decode the words at the same time.

That is a minor quibble though when compared to the plot and acting.

Fiennes takes on the task of lead as the aforementioned Coriolanus with fine form, though it should be expected from a man who wins awards for his Shakespearean roles.

Gerard Butler also does well as the opposing general, though not as much is required of him.

James Nesbitt as Sicinius, a smarmy representative of the people, was especially fun to watch and listen to.

All in all, Shakespeare’s story of the rise, fall, rise again and final fall of an egotistical general will be great for Shakespeare’s fans and those willing to work at following the language will be rewarded by a fine piece of cinema.

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