One Floor Below

One Floor Below

One Floor Below Radu Muntean, director & co-script w/Alexandru Baciu & Razvan Raadulescu Starring: Teodor Corban (Sandu Patrascu), Iulian Postelnicu (Vali Dima), Ionut Bora (Matei Patrascu), Oxana Moravec (Olga Patrascu) A moody character study that masquerades as a thriller, One Floor Below is a very well made Romanian New Wave film, directed by one of the genre’s masters, Radu Muntean. Like his previous international art house successes The Paper Will Be Blue, Boogie and Tuesday, after Christmas, Muntean’s new film is a minimalist downbeat exploration of life in post-Ceausescu Romania. His realist style and languid pacing, like those of his contemporaries Cristian Mungiu and Cristian Piui, offers an almost documentary feel to his dramas. Certainly One Floor Below starts off like a doc. Sandu Patrascu is off on an early morning run with his dog, Jerry. We see him chatting with people in the park, patting other dogs and genuinely enjoying the day before returning to the apartment building, where he lives. Then, events begin to become more dramatic. Sandu overhears a heated argument in the apartment one floor below him. A man emerges, whom Sandu recognizes; it’s Vali, another neighbour in the building, who happens to be married. Later in the day, when Sandu returns from his day as a car registry “fixer,” he discovers that Laura, the girl who was arguing with Vali, is dead—apparently murdered. While the police interrogate people in the building, we see more of Sandu’s home life. He’s a bit over-weight, which is causing his wife Olga to help him with a diet. Their relationship feels equal—and that feeling is reinforced by the...
45 Years

45 Years

45 Years Andrew Haigh, director & script based on the story “In another country” by David Constantine Starring: Charlotte Rampling (Kate), Tom Courtenay (Geoff) In theatre, they would call 45 Years a two-hander. There really isn’t an equivalent term in modern film, where the concept of two people talking about their lives and troubles, would be normally deemed not cinematic enough to be produced. Happily, the producers of this forceful British character study are made of sterner stuff. The result is one of finest dramas of the past year, featuring a great performance by Charlotte Rampling and a fine if understated one by Tom Courtenay. Rampling plays Kate Mercer, a retired schoolteacher, who has spent her entire adult life married to Courtenay’s Geoff, a leftist thinker who nonetheless worked for decades in an office in a Norfolk factory. Their pleasant “golden years” is suddenly shaken to its roots when Geoff receives a letter from Swiss authorities letting him know that they’ve found the body of his former fiancée Katia, who died in a mountain climbing accident in 1962. Her body, perfectly preserved in ice has been found due to thawing conditions in the area and Geoff is being asked by the Swiss to come to claim her as he is listed as next of kin. The revelation shocks Kate, who knew about Geoff’s former lover but had never realised how close the two were to being married—which “next of kin” certainly implies. Over the course of the week leading up to the couple’s 45th wedding anniversary, which will be celebrated in grand style in the district’s chief city Norwich,...
Anomalisa

Anomalisa

Anomalisa Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson, directors Charlie Kaufman, script Puppet animation voiced by David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan Stop motion puppet animation is an acquired taste, like drinking single malt scotch or eating oysters. Those who love it—and I’m one—find it hard to understand why not everyone shares their passionate commitment to certain foods or drinks or art forms. To those of us who endlessly enjoy the work of the surrealist Czech Jan Svankmajer, the strange identical twin Quay Brothers and more recently the wonderfully funny Wallace and Gromit series and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, almost any addition to the genre is worthy of acclaim. So you’ll understand why the announcement that Anomalisa is nominated for an Oscar in the best animated feature category along with Shaun the Sheep Movie feels like a personal triumph for stop-motion advocates. Soon everyone will be shucking oysters with us, too. Someone who has been eating the oysters and drinking the scotch—at least figuratively–is Charlie Kaufman, the animating spirit behind Anomalisa. The author of the wonderfully quirky Being John Malkovitch, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation knows a philosophical conundrum when he encounters one. Here, he’s created a tale—really a worldview—in which identity is threatened by the overwhelmingly conformity of modern life. It’s a story that might seem predictable if played out by actors in a conventional setting but the dramatis personae of Anomalisa are, of course, puppets, not “real people.” The magic of stop motion animation has rarely been used to explore existential despair—but, then, Kaufman is an innovator. Anomalisa isn’t set in Oz. The film’s...
Mustang

Mustang

Mustang Deniz Gamze Erguven, director & co-script w/ Alice Winocour Starring: Gunes Nezihe Sensoy (Lale), Doga Zeynep Doguslu (Nur), Tugba Sunguroglu (Selma), Elit Iscan (Ece), Ilayda Akdogan (Sonay), Nihal Koldas (Grandmother), Ayberk Pekcan (Uncle Erol) It makes sense that Mustang is the French foreign film entry in the Oscar sweepstakes. Despite being set in a Black Sea village far away from Istanbul, this well made drama feels like a Western European take on life in Turkey. Mustang opens with its most playful scene, set on the beach, right on the Sea. Five orphaned sisters—whip-smart Lale, the film’s narrator; high-spirited Sonay, the oldest; Ece, the oddest; Selma and Nur, the followers—celebrate the end of school and coming of summer by frolicking in the water with some of the local village boys. Their innocent capers are mistaken for flirting—or worse—by one of the village elders, who reports their transgressions to their grandmother. When they arrive at home, the girls receive swift and harsh punishment from Grandma and mean-spirited Uncle Erol. They’re virtually imprisoned, stripped of their computers, cell phones and Westernized clothes, and made to feel that they have behaved appallingly. Virginity tests are even conducted at the local hospital, confirming the girls’ assertions that they have done nothing wrong. After the girls pull off their biggest coup, escaping from the family home to go to a football match, their grandmother flies into action. She starts marrying them off, although all of them are teenagers or younger. Feisty Sonay insists on marrying her boyfriend but Selma is forced into a marriage with an unpleasant, dull village lad. Further attempts at marrying...
The 17th Annual Animation Show of Shows

The 17th Annual Animation Show of Shows

17th annual Animation Show of Shows Animation is a funny genre. Not just ha!ha!, but also quite peculiar because the best films aren’t features. They’re shorts. Of course, every year there are excellent features—Shaun the Sheep Movie, Anomalisa and Inside Out were all terrific last year—but there were way more wonderful short animated films made in 2015 than those three. Trouble is, it’s hard to see them in Canada unless you go to the Ottawa International Animation Festival, which takes place in September—diabolically, right around the time of TIFF. Veteran producer and the driving force behind the industry-standard online publication Animation World Network, Ron Diamond has curated an anthology of the year’s best, which solves the “where are the great animated shorts” problem. His 17th annual Animation Show of Shows will be playing for the first time in Toronto this week, starting on Friday at the Carlton Cinemas. The maestro will be in town to introduce the films tonight, accompanied by Toronto’s Chris Landreth, who won the Oscar for best animated short for his heartbreakingly beautiful Ryan, a brilliant profile of a demon-driven doomed Canadian animator. Diamond has put together a package of 11 animated films plus four short profiles of a quartet of animators for this year’s Show of Shows. They’re breathtaking in their diversity and gorgeous to view. And, yes, they’re for adults but thoughtful kids will enjoy them, too. For example, what’s it like to be a 6ft. 4in. woman? Love in the Time of March Madness is an autobiographical film featuring former Harvard basketball star Melissa Johnson, who co-directed this funny, endearing profile of her life with...
The Arabian Nights volume two—The Desolate One

The Arabian Nights volume two—The Desolate One

The Arabian Nights volume two – The Desolate One Miguel Gomes, director & co-writer w/Telmo Churro & Mariana Ricardo Featuring: Chico Chapas (Simao), Margarida Carpinterio (Mae/Gloria), Fernanda Loureiro (Judge), Crista Alfaiate (Genio/Vaca), Joao Pedro Bernard (Humberto), Joana de Verona (Vania), Lucky (Dixie) You’ve got to hand it to the Portuguese cultural establishment. The Desolate One, Portugal’s official entry into the Oscar best foreign film sweepstakes, is a vicious attack on their federal government’s austerity policy during the country’s current massive economic recession. Striking a sardonic tone that offers up occasional bursts of humour and affection, The Desolate One is darkly comic look at life in a country that is financially devastated but somehow continues to maintain its feisty if tragic existence. Miguel Gomes has created an epic drama about his country. The Desolate One is part two of a trilogy of feature length films entitled The Arabian Nights. He’s borrowed the structure of the classic 1001 Nights, including a Scheherazade styled narrator, but created new stories for contemporary times. Each film in the Arabian Nights trilogy is further divided into more stories and The Desolate One is no exception. The first third of The Desolate One focuses on Simao, a very lean older man, who is running away from the police in rough mountain lands. Avoiding drones and supported by many locals including a trio of young women, Simao has become a Robin Hood figure despite having committed multiple murders, which are never justified. If there’s a point to this neo-realist opening tale, it’s that people are so disgruntled that they’ll support anyone who defies the authorities. The second story,...