Saturday, 28 March 2015

BEN’S AT HOME / PRETEND WE’RE KISSING - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - Two Oddball Canuckian Romantic Comedies unspooling at 2015 Canadian Film Fest in Toronto

Two Oddball feature length comedies are on view during the final day of the 2015 Canadian Film Fest in Toronto and those so inclined, will be served up a nice buffet of wonky yucks. TWO MOVIE REVIEWS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE - GOOD DEAL, EH?
BEN'S AT HOME

Ben's at Home (2014)
Dir. Mars Horodyski
Starring: Dan Abramovici, Jess Embro, Schnitzel, Jim Annan, Inessa Frantowski, Craig Brown, David Reale, Rob Baker, Kimberly-Sue Murray, Emma Fleury, Ruth Goodwin, Sarah Booth

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Call it a generational thing, but I have a hard time believing and/or giving two hoots about Ben (co-writer, co-producer Dan Abramovici), a 30-year-old loser who's so broken up over his girlfriend leaving him that he decides to never leave his apartment again and only communicate with people via social media and/or deigning to interact with them when they choose to come over to his place.

At the risk of sounding like my father, which, to my horror, I seem to be doing more and more with each passing year, my initial response to this sad sack's supposed dilemma would be thus:

"So what, bud? In my day healthy young men didn't mope around. They'd either turn into stalkers and/or grab some pussy in North End Winnipeg's Green Brier Hotel Beverage Room. Plenty of fish in the sea, sonny boy. Go out and get fucked."

I reiterate, though, it's gotta be some kind of a generational thing. After all, one of my keystone pictures as a kid was The Graduate wherein Dustin Hoffman not only got to boff pretty Katherine Ross, but her mother as well (Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson). These days, though, keystone titles for kinder, gentler sissy boys might well be movies like Ben's at Home.

Luckily, the picture is snappily directed by Mars Horodyski who manages to get Abramovici to lay off on the self-pity enough that we occasionally find him engaging. As well, Horodyski and her key creative team more than make up for the picture's potential to slide into a vanity piece for its leading man. Visually, the blocking and compositions always make the most of the primarily interior single set, the cutting expertly keeps the forward movement all fresh and breezy, whilst the gorgeous lighting and camera work at times feels too good to be true, but true enough it is.

Another bonus is that the screenplay populates the film with a variety of rich supporting characters, all of whom are far more engaging and interesting than Ben himself. Given that he's such a loser, one wonders why any of them would bother having anything to do with the guy (after all, he's planning to miss his best friend's wedding - the LOSER!!!), but again, the film is so well directed that the camera eye and perspective allow for the relationships to work as well as they do and soften the reprehensibility factor infusing the title character. As well, the film is superbly cast in these supporting roles and not a single actor is anything less than thoroughly engaging, especially the massively talented David "Someone Give This Guy More Starring Roles" Reale as Ben's brother and the sassy, sexy Jess Embro as the delivery gal who falls for Ben the whiny lug.

Of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention the finest performance of all, the multi-talented Schnitzel as Ben's most loyal companion and ultimately, the best bedfellow a single feller could ever want. I mean it - the BEST a fella could ever really want to share his sack with.

It's a generational thing.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3-Stars

PRETEND WE'RE KISSING

Pretend We're Kissing (2014)
Dir. Matt Sadowski
Starring: Dov Tiefenbach, Tommie-Amber Pirie, Zoë Kravtiz

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Dov Tiefenbach is one of Canada's finest actors. His delightful, clipped, slightly nasal twang coupled with his ability to fit virtually any role like a comfy old hand-knit sweater (the kind with buck n' doe images emblazoned upon it), makes him a clear candidate to entertain by merely reading the nutritional contents of a Captain Crunch box. Luckily, he has more to do than that in Pretend We're Kissing. Writer-director Matt Sadowski provides Tiefenbach with a solid leading role that offers a myriad of opportunities for him to delight us.

Playing a Canuckian Toronto version of a Woody Allen-like schlemiel, Tiefenbach is a surplus-store-attired nutcase who lives with a semi-moronic agoraphobe who offers all manner of ill-conceived advice. When he meets the girl of his dreams, he's decidedly noncommittal due to the fact that he can't get the sound of his voice out of his head. His thoughts rule him with an iron fist and one of the more clever elements in Sadowski's script and Tiefenbach's terrific performance is the interplay between our leading man, his thoughts and everything/everyone around him.

He's kind of like a schlubby James Franciscus in Beneath the Planet of the Apes being mind-dorked by the sound of telepathic mutant voices in his head, only they all sound like his own voice.

Pretend We're Kissing has one major spanner in the works. The picture is fraught with hideous dollops of magic realism and whimsy, to which I personally must draw the line. One's total enjoyment of the picture is partially dependent upon just how much whimsy can be bravely stomached.

Thankfully, the movie has Tiefenbach to rescue us from anything too egregious and as such, offers up one of the best reasons to see it.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3-Stars

Ben's at Home and Pretend We're Kissing play Toronto's 2015 Canadian Film Fest.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

SHOOTING THE MUSICAL - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Humanity takes centre stage! Absolute Must-See at the 2015 Edition of the Canadian Film Fest in Toronto!


Shooting the Musical (aka After Film School) (2014)
Dir. Joel Ashton McCarthy
Starring: Bruce Novakowski, Chris Walters, Rebecca Strom, Lisa Ovies, Rory W. Tucker, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Casey Margolis

Review By Greg Klymkiw

After film school, the talented young filmmaker Maximus Park managed to generate one highly revered short film after another and became the esteemed, multi-award-winning darling of the avant-garde. Having just completed the writing of his first feature-length screenplay, "Now They Are Nothing", he sits in front of his computer screen, wracked with emotion, trying desperately to hold back tears until he is able to, through pain-wracked gasps, inform us that he's just swallowed an entire bottle of sleeping pills and that he's creating this one last film, a Photo Booth video selfie to declare that his script is an elaborate suicide note and that he'll soon be dead.

Powerful stuff! A powerful opening to a powerful motion picture - so powerful that it delivers a whole new dimension to the word "powerful". I daresay, it might even be on a par with the subject of actor Perry King's immortal line of dialogue in Richard Fleischer's Mandingo when he opines, "That Big Pearl, she be powerful musky."

That's pretty goddamn powerful!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, finally, a picture of such importance and delicacy is now blessing the silver screen. In fact, I'm compelled to state unequivocally that no film in recent memory has come close to the sensitivity displayed in Shooting The Musical, a stunning tribute to love, friendship and artistry of the highest order. So please, I respectfully ask - nay, demand - that Yasujiro Ozu, Jean Renoir, Francois Truffaut and all the other purported humanitarians of cinema, to just up and move right the fuck over.

Writer-director-editor Joel Ashton McCarthy is in town and he's locked and loaded his picture to splooge the buckshot of human kindness and understanding, square in the puffy, oh-so-concerned faces of all movie-goers expecting taste and restraint.

Yes, your faces will be lovingly desecrated with the dripping goo of McCarthy's cinematic ejaculate - especially, when after the on-screen death of young Maximus Park, his roommate Adam Baxter, requiring his pal to kindly lend him some weed, makes a surprise visit. He speaks and acts with the kind of delicacy one expects in friendships rooted in deep love and respect, and upon discovering that Maximus is "passed out", Adam procures a felt pen and etches a penis, replete with a grotty ball sack and pubes on his pal's face.

Yes, we've all done this at one point or another in our lives, only we probably haven't actually desecrated (wittingly or unwittingly) the face of a recently-deceased corpse.


Adam is also a filmmaker, though less celebrated than Maximus since his post-film-school desires are in the realm of making commercial films which, he suspects he'll probably never get a chance to make since he lives in Canada where more emphasis is placed upon indigenous art film purveyors and where many of the officially government financed non-art-films merely purport to be commercial, but are, more often than not, pathetic, pallid and often twee versions of what Canadian financing bureaucrats think is commercial. However, being a hustler, liar and opportunist, several key attributes for any filmmaker to have, he hides the contents of the suicide video, rewrites his old pal's script, rallies together a cast, crew and financing based upon exploiting the memory of his deceased roomie, then proceeds to make his own version of the Maximus Park screenplay.

He bravely, callously and delightfully sets out to make a musical about a high school massacre that makes Columbine and all other bloody mass killings in educational institutions look like by-law infractions of the parking ticket order.


Shooting The Musical (formerly known as After Film School) is one of the most outrageous, offensive and laugh-out-loud comedies ever made. Framed within a mockumentary approach (which happily adheres to the genre), McCarthy's picture is a triumph of the kind of fresh, skewed and utterly insane filmmaking that the best Canadian films are known for in the international arena.

The film is never played as a spoof and/or sketch comedy, but successfully adheres to its genuinely satirical and darkly comedic roots. The performances are pitched perfectly with the talented assemblage of bright young actors playing a variety of roles perfectly straight. Leading man Bruce Novakowski as the charmingly sleazy director Adam is a revelation and then some. The camera loves him, he's got an impeccable sense of comic timing and delivery and most of all, he embodies his scumbag character with all the qualities that allow us to root for his otherwise reprehensible behaviour throughout.

The movie is so full of surprises (including a magnificent shocker of a supporting cameo role) that I'm loathe to ruin it for an audience by regurgitating them here. Suffice to say, that Shooting The Musical has its share of familiar and not-so familiar targets of what life is genuinely like for the myriad of unemployed/unemployable graduates of film schools the world over. If the movie has anything in it that irked me at all, it's an opening title card which attaches a quotation from Mark Twain that reads: "The secret source of humour is not joy but sorrow. There is no humour in Heaven."

Arrrggggghhhhh!

This title card is so completely unnecessary that it feels like a cop-out excuse to give audiences permission to laugh. That might not have been the intent, but that's how it comes off. (As well, the production company logos are so funny and offensive, that they too come across in a similar fashion to the Twain quote.) If there's any justice in the world, the filmmakers will relegate the Twain quote and the two production company logos to the end of the film, so an audience can laugh as heartily as their mouths are agape at some of the picture's more delectably offensive elements are.

Yes, this is a genuinely abhorrent, repugnant, reprehensibly repulsive shock-mock-doc that's as surprisingly (occasionally) sweet as it is nauseatingly, screamingly, shockingly, knee-slappingly and hysterically laugh-filled. And guess what, the biggest non-surprise of all is that the picture is happily bereft of the most grotesque credits of all: "Produced with the participation of Telefilm Canada".

The Film Corner Rating: **** 4 Stars

Shooting The Musical screens at the 2015 Canadian Film Fest in Toronto.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

NOCTURNE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Creepy Canuck Thriller needs agood, clean shave.


Nocturne (2014)
Dir. Saul Pincus
Starring: Mary Krohnert, Knickoy Robinson, Laytrell McMullen, Andrew Church, Celine LePage, Ian Downie, Marcia Bennett

Review By Greg Klymkiw

When we first meet Cindy (Mary Kronhert), we think she's an inmate in an asylum. Several extreme closeups revealing a pencil etching bizarre doodles, papers and file folders tumbling from a desk, a cardboard cup of coffee tipped over with its contents cascading through the drinking hole in the plastic lid, more sounds of pencil scratchings, no doodles now, just numbers entered tentatively upon a ledger, beautiful, but oddly cloudy green eyes, at first lit, as if in a dream, by what appears to be candlelight, then another ECU of the same eyes at a different time and place, awash with the same fluorescent glow prior to the dream shot, pensive looks, no movement save for the eyes, this way and that, then finally an over the shoulder POV through a window and revealing sterile industrial carpeting, office furniture, yellow sticky notes.

No, we're not in an asylum, but we (as well as Cindy) might as well be. Even though no windows appear in the space to reveal the time of day, we feel like it's deep night. If anything, it appears we're in an office devoted to data entry and no other humans, save for that of young, handsome Armin (Knickoy Roninson) at a desk, as if in a trance.

They're both in a trance-like state. Cindy is an insomniac. Armen is a somnambulist. As Robert Wiene proved in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, his horrific masterpiece of German Expressionism, somnambulism is super-creepy. If you happen to see a sleepwalker, though, it's impossible to keep your eyes off of them. This is exactly what happens to Cindy. She follows Armen out into the deep night of Toronto, a Toronto that has only looked as malevolent through the eyes of a very few - David Cronenberg, Bruno Lazaro Pacheco, Atom Egoyan and now, it seems, through the eyes of Nocturne's director, editor, producer and co-writer Saul Pincus.


For its first 45-50 minutes, Nocturne is positively spellbinding and you can't take your eyes off the screen. Mostly, we're following Cindy as she follows the sleepwalking Armen. At one point, she takes him back to her place. She's picked up a mess of groceries. Armen seems to have a sleeping predilection for shoving food down his gullet and rather than allow him to do it outdoors and in late night variety stores, he's seated at Cindy's massive dinner table and allowed to chew, munch, slurp and drool to his heart's content.

Cindy feels comfortable enough to remove all her clothing and sit naked at the table with him, uttering gentle sweet nothings such as this eminently, brilliantly and hilarious line of dialogue:

"I like carrots too. They're my favourite."

So long as Pincus keeps us in a strange, dreamy, expressionistic and even a somewhat cerebral Land of Waking Nod, we're convinced, thanks to the masterful visuals, a few first-rate performances (the camera especially loves leading lady Kronhert and there's a knock you on your butt piece of acting from child performer Laytrell McMullen), a mega-queer soundscape, strangely perverse dialogue, occasional cuts that are so breathtaking they feel almost orgasmic, and yes, even a series of haunting animated images, then we do feel that we might be plunged into masterpiece territory.


Alas, as the narrative slowly unravels into a kind of pseudo-Hitchockian mystery, we get a sinking feeling. It's the same feeling I started to get when I first saw Cronenberg's Dead Ringers and the narrative began to place far too much emphasis upon the ingestion of drugs. My response started to be along the lines of, "Oh God, is that all this is?" I started to feel exactly the same way during Nocturne as soon as it became apparent that an elaborate corporate conspiracy and "mere" deadly blackmail scheme was at work instead of, what? Well, to borrow the tagline used upon the original release of David Lynch's Eraserhead, "a dream of dark and troubling things." As long as Nocturne keeps plunging us into a similar world of nightmare and dream logic, a world of sleeplessness and waking sleep, then and only then do we feel like we're in the rare vicinity of a true Master.

Pincus even accomplishes the rare feat of taking us into the light of day and still making us feel like we're in the dark. It's too bad that the light also reveals something far more mundane, far too mainstream and tidy. And then, that the film eventually becomes interminable, running far too long and overstaying its welcome to unspool at a length of just shy of two hours, the movie begins to fall short of its considerable potential.

It's no matter, though. Pincus displays dazzling virtuosity as a filmmaker.

By the time the movie ends, whatever misgivings one might have, it's clear that he's the real thing and that he possesses a unique and strong voice. I'm already breathlessly anticipating his followup picture.

Let's just hope he doesn't feel the need to let the plot get in the way next time.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3 Stars

Nocturne is playing at the 2015 Canadian Film Fest in Toronto.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

BARN WEDDING - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Vacuity takes centre stage in twee trifle.


Barn Wedding (2014)
Dir. Shaun Benson
Starring: Emily Coutts, Kelly McCormack, Brett Donahue, Shaun Benson, Kate Corbett, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Kaleb Alexander, Christopher Hayes, Anthony Ulc

Review By Greg Klymkiw

If the sound accidentally cuts out during a screening of Barn Dance (AKA The Non-Discreet Lack of Charm of the Bourgeousie), the only thing you might hear in the cinema is snoring. This insufferably twee little excursion into the dull, bourgeois lives of twenty-somethings feels like an actors' vanity project and/or showcase piece rather than a real movie. (That said, all the actors acquit themselves well, in spite of the film's overwhelming emptiness and their solid thespian gymnastics might manage to keep a few bums in the seats half-awake.)

The dullsville proceedings involve a group of friends who were once tight, but are now, not-so-tight during the days leading up to a wedding in a barn. Ugh! Yes, a barn wedding! (Personally, I wonder why people don't choose basement banquet halls in motor hotels anymore, but don't mind me, I'm from Winnipeg, eh.) Seriously, though. I hate barn weddings - horrendously fake and phoney wedding locales for urban hipsters with disposable scads of income and/or mommies and daddies with deep pockets. And guess what? The movie promises, in spite of the not-too convincing hurdles that arise, to deliver a barn wedding as a major set piece during the final minutes of this 83-minute movie, which, by the way, feels about 83 minutes too long.

The wedding itself has been rushed in order to take advantage of holding a summer affair in the barn, but is postponed for a relatively dull, real-life reason and, once again, is rushed to do the barn thing in spite of the fact that it will be in the middle of winter. This makes about as much sense as anything in this picture. We are, after all, dealing with sickening bourgeois values. In fact, the entire marriage appears to be an excuse to generate cool snapshots to share on Pinterest and Facebook. Ugh!

The sheer pettiness and inconsequence of these people is even more depressing since it does feel rooted in something fairly realistic in terms of the horrific vacuity which infuses the generation these characters spring from. I tend to avoid people like this in real life since I'm too often compelled to punch them in the face.


What we get for donating 83 minutes of our lives is a clutch of extremely attractive, well-dressed couples (and one single fifth wheel) as the yakety-yak-yakking that spits out of their respective maws about days gone by, the immediate present and especially, the future, drags on interminably from the city to the country settings.

Two of our characters (luckily, both babes) share a secret yearning which could upset the apple cart if it's consummated. We wait, with baited breath for the inevitable to happen and hope we at least get a lollapalooza of a sapphic tumble for the investiture of our precious time on this Earth. Unfortunately the hoped-for coupling is an underwhelming bit of wheel-spinning which matches the rest of the movie's wheel-spinning.

I'm really not sure whom this movie is for, though I suspect there might be more than a few vacuous non-entities out in audience-land who will relate to this clutch of empty vessels. If you happen to be one of them, hey, knock yourself out.

As for me, I was even more disappointed that the music during the wedding reception wasn't provided by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, and instead of the horrendous trilling of the exit tune that's there now, a nice segue into:

Well now it's time to say goodbye to all these bourgeois kin,
And they would like to thank you folks fer' kindly droppin' in.
Yer' all invited back next week to this locality,
To have a heapin' helpin' of their hospitality…
Bourgeousie that is.
Set a spell, Take your shoes off.
Y'all come back now, y'hear?.


THE FILM CORNER RATING: *½ One-and-a-half Stars

Barn Wedding is playing at Toronto's 2015 Canadian Film Fest.

Monday, 23 March 2015

LATE NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Horror Spoof not scary or funny


Late Night Double Feature (2015)
Dirs. Navin Ramaswaran, Zach Ramelan, Torin Langen
Starring: Jamie Elizabeth Sampson, Nick Smyth, Jeff Sinasac, Colin Price, Caleigh Le Grand, Sandra Da Costa, Brian Scott Carleton, Rich Piatkowski

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The tradition of comedy and horror omnibus films is a noble tradition which has generated a cavalcade of genuinely good and even great pictures - everything from the classic British Ealing Studios masterpiece Dead of Night in 1945 to the super-stylish 70s Amicus adaptations of E.C. Comics which yielded the superb 1972 Freddie Francis-directed Tales from the Crypt and Roy Ward Baker's Asylum. These were classy portmanteaus featuring several cool short horror snappers held together by clever wraparound stories.

In the 70s, a new hybrid of omnibus pictures entered the arena which attempted (often successfully) to recreate a slice of a broadcast day in tiny independent TV stations delivering a variety of commercial, news, gameshows and drama (usually of the exploitation variety) including the immortal John Landis laugh-fest Kentucky Fried Movie and Ken Shapiro's glorious celebration of cheese on the idiot box of the 70s called The Groove Tube.

What set these films on a pedestal of sorts is that the humour was often played so straight that the satirical jabs hit home in ways that had audiences rolling in the aisles because the material came so close to the thing that was being satirized, but at the same time, opened a window upon the social and cultural events of the day.

Late Night Double Feature attempts to go a step further, but on its way up, it plunges to the nadir of this genre hybrid. It offers us one fateful night in a small town indie TV station which is unspooling “Dr. Nasty’s Cavalcade of Horror” - live for the insomniacs of the world, or in this case, Peterborough, Ontario and Kawartha Lakes inbred country.


We get to see commercials, trailers, station IDs and host segments involving a mad scientist and a buxom babe sidekick in full nurse regalia. Just below the programming itself, we're delivered a wraparound plot involving abuse, exploitation and eventually, a mad orgy of violence.

On paper, it sounds just fine. In execution, Late Night Double Feature is a nasty, unfunny and incompetent mess which lacks anything resembling style or tone. The trailers and commercials are strictly bottom-feeding spoofs and the two features, “Dinner for Monsters” (involving a chef corralled into preparing a meal out of a dead human body) and “Slit” (an ugly bit of torture porn) are neither scary, nor funny. They do serve up plenty of violence and gore for those craving that and that alone.

The wraparound story is a cliched affair involving the female hostesses's dissatisfaction with the on-camera-and-off abuse she must put up with by the crazed host and the sleazy producer-director of the late night production. The tone of the pieces on-air seems rooted in a never-never-land which exists only for the film itself and the wraparound is obvious and bereft of any narrative interest whatsoever.

Late Night Double Feature has direct-to-VOD written all over it, though frankly, I suspect word will spread quickly amongst the geek brigades about how lame it is that the woeful film will find its way easily enough to illegal torrent downloads for less discriminating fans of gore for the sake of gore.

The movie might think its being clever, funny and fun but that's one of its biggest problems - just conjure up the most denigrating antonyms for the aforementioned words and you'll have a more than apt description for this steaming platter of viscous faecal matter that it attempts to force-feed us with.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: * One Star

Late Night Double Feature plays at the Canadian Film Fest 2015.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

RELATIVE HAPPINESS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Nova Scotian Lard Bucket Looks For Love


Relative Happiness (2014)
Dir. Deanne Foley
Starring: Melissa Bergland, Aaron Poole, Johnathan Sousa, Molly Dunsworth, Jennifer Kydd, Mary Lewis, Susan Kent, Joel Thomas Hynes, David Christoffel, Rob Wells

Review By Greg Klymkiw

She's 30-years-old, runs a bed and breakfast in Nowheresville, Nova Scotia, wears gaudy-chic clothes, sports a shock of straight red-dyed hair and among her other attributes, Lexie (Melissa Bergland) is a great cook. Flashing her almost insufferably perky smile, the comely lassie is what some might refer to as a pretty good catch. She's salt of the Earth, eh. She's good people, eh. She'd give ya' the shirt off 'er back, eh - well, that might not always be a blessing since her shirt, at least for most, would be a few sizes too big for even a baby hippopotamus, but still, she'd give to ye, eh.

Lexie's sisters (Molly Dunsworth, Jennifer Kydd) are mega babes and so's her Mom (Mary Lewis). One sis is married with children, the other sis is about to get married. Lexie's best friend (Susan Kent), also happens to be a babe and she's got a steady beau (Joel Thomas Hynes). Lexie is plumb without any steady bone in her life, save perhaps, for the occasional blind drunk (Rob Wells) trolling the local watering holes and campgrounds.

Worse yet, Lexie can't fit into her Maid of Honour dress and has immense pressure from Mumsy and sissies to come up with a date for her sister's round-the-corner nuptials. Life, it would seem, is pretty tough for a cute little porker in the land of fiddle playing fishermen. Luckily for her, a new guest in her B and B is a hunky photographer (Johnathan Sousa) and he seems to take as big a shine to her as she to him.

Our heroine might have a date for the wedding celebration after all. Unbeknownst to her, though, the shutterbug wayfarer isn't all he's cracked up to be and she's setting herself up for a big fall. Waiting in the wings, though, is a wonkily handsome, kind-hearted, good-humoured and charming roofer (Aaron Poole) who bemusedly catches her antics out of the corner of his eye whilst filling all manner of holes in her roof. If Lexie wasn't so blind to her houseguest's chicanery, she'd possibly be getting at least one of her holes filled by the hammer-wielding Newfie Mike Holmes.


The innocuous rom-com trappings of the film's first third eventually give way to all manner of melodramatic convolutions, some of which yield a reasonably amusing bevy of belly laughs alternating with mega-tear-squirting opportunities. How you handle this picture will be dependent upon your tolerance for regional cutesy-pie whimsy, but let it be said that both the writing, direction and first-rate performances do not let the genre down. If one's predilections are suited to such a romp, the entertainment value will be high indeed.

My 14-year-old daughter loved the movie to death and was laughing quite riotously throughout the picture, also responding emotionally to the more moving and tender aspects of the proceedings. This was enough to stop me from groaning throughout and spewing bilious invectives left, right and centre. That's something, anyway.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3 Stars

Relative Happiness is playing at the Canadian Film Fest 2015 in Toronto.

Friday, 20 March 2015

THE COCKSURE LADS MOVIE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Richard Lester Shenanigans MIA


The Cocksure Lads Movie (2014)
Dir. Murray Foster
Starring: Lyndon Osbourne, Luke Marty, Edward Hillier, Adam McNab, Peter Higginson

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The Cocksure Lads (Lyndon Osbourne, Luke Marty, Edward Hillier, Adam McNab) are a contemporary British pop band with a decent following in Dear Old Blighty who are on the verge of launching themselves upon the North American marketplace with a tour beginning in Toronto. Accompanied by their trusty, faithful old Roadie/Driver Monty (Peter Higginson), the lads are chuffed to the gills as they set foot upon the urban hinterlands of the biggest city in the Dominion of Canada.

When an altercation erupts amongst our boys, it spells sure doom and within a few minutes of setting foot on the bland, cold streets of Toronto, they break up and go their separate ways - each one partaking of respective dalliances with a clutch of Canuck babes until the inevitable triumphant reunion on the stage of a Hog Town watering hole.

There's lots to be said for the dramatic premise of following a Brit Pop band in Canada a la Richard Lester's 1965 Beatles classic A Hard Days Night (not to mention John Boorman's delightful 1965 Dave Clark Five opus Having a Wild Weekend and the somewhat lesser blessed 1968 Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter, the Herman's Hermits' belly flop into similar territory).

Promise is one thing, execution is quite another.

Aside from a genuinely fun, funny, puckishly poppy song score by the picture's writer-director Foster and partner Mike Ford, some gorgeously shot musical numbers courtesy of ace D.P. Samy Inayeh (sprightly sliced and diced by editor Luke Sargent), a genuinely moving subplot involving the band's trusted codger-Friday Monty (and a great performance to match by Higginson), the picture pretty much takes a nosedive once the lads break up and wander about, finding romance where they least expect it, engaging in tedious soul-searching and otherwise aimlessly interacting with a variety of Canuckian denizens of T.O.


Look, this is clearly the movie Foster wanted to make, but there are far too many genuine missed opportunities here which could have spun the picture into a way more cutting edge satirical look at pop-singing Brits on the home-turf of the "colonies" - the former Dominion of Canada. I have to admit I unfairly, perhaps, kept waiting for the movie to address this in an almost self-reflective mode of fish-out-of-water-in-a-perverse-fish-in-familiar-yet-weirdly-skewed-waters.

Alas, that's a different movie, but one that might have had a lot more bite and humour than the often dreary meanderings of the plot The Cocksure Lads Movie is saddled with.

Most disappointing is the obvious chemistry between the actors playing the title characters during the opening ten minutes-or-so of the picture and then seeing that turfed by the wayside.

Ultimately, aside from the clever opening titles and musical numbers, the movie never begins to approach the anarchy and mad inspiration of the Brit-pics it's clearly modelled itself upon and we're saddled with yet another Canadian movie that fails to reach the heights of a John Paizs or Bruce McDonald, but instead feels like far too many dour slogs of the most Canadian kind - most often bearing the words "produced with the participation of Telefilm Canada".

What should have been ebullient is instead unenthusiastically dull.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ** 2-Stars

The Cocksure Lads Movie is the opening night Gala of the 2015 Canadian Film Fest.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

WHEN GOOD FILM FESTIVALS MAKE STUPID DECISIONS - Commentary By Greg Klymkiw

The cowardice of martinets are hidden behind
policy, process and/or committee decisions.

When Good Film Festivals Make Stupid
(and boy, do I mean STUPID) Decisions


Commentary By Greg Klymkiw

Spring is in the air. There are two ways I know this. First of all, my ponies are being extra rambunctious. It's a beautiful sight. Secondly, though, and perhaps most importantly (in my world), it's the beginning of a whole new season of film festivals. The fall flurry of flagship events is a distant memory, the winter blues reflecting the importance of avant-garde and/or dour social exposes has just passed and now, we're about to plunge into the best time to see movies in the dark - when it becomes warm and sunny.

Film festivals have always held a high degree of importance in the world of cinema; celebrating and positioning new motion picture product to springboard into larger arenas of adulation (or in some cases, belly-flopping into quagmires of rank forgetfulness). During the past quarter-century, however, film festivals are becoming the primary venue for the exposure of many great films that will only be seen on big screens within that context. This doesn't mean the films are bad, but that the traditional exhibition and distribution industry as a whole has become incredibly lazy, greedy and bereft of vision. (It didn't happen overnight, either. One can easily trace the decimation of theatrical exhibition from the early 80s onwards.)

In many ways, it is the film industry itself that has placed so many pictures into what might once have been perceived as the ghetto of film festival exhibition, but is now, more often than not, the most important theatrical venue for many fine films to enjoy a shared experience initially and often only in film festivals.

Film Festivals, in this respect, must not make blatantly stupid decisions with respect to inclusion of product, but most importantly, with the omission of said product.

Some might argue that to err is human. That's all well and good, but a film festival in not human and as such should not err. Then again, like any first-rate computer, a film festival can only be as good as its programmers and in recent years, this is where I'm seeing some of the most egregious, abominable and downright boneheaded decisions/inclusions/omissions.

To that, some argue that the selection of motion picture product, especially within the context of a film festival, boils down to subjectivity.

To this I say, in my best John Huston impersonation, "BALLS!"

I expect film festival programmers to be beyond subjectivity. They are there to present product which, within the context of their festival (or section of the festival), is of supreme advancement of the art of cinema. As such, they might even need to include product they aren't especially fond of. This kind of inclusion (even if I as a viewer might also not be fond of said product) is, to a certain extent understandable, if not downright acceptable.

What's not acceptable, I think, are some of the omissions. The problem is that festivals set up expectations by their very hype. They hammer home the idea that they are presenting the best work, and as such, are the infallible arbiters of what's important in cinema. Far too many scribes, industry insiders and audiences fall for this nonsense.

The worst form of film festival puffery are the announcements from grinning festival directors, programmers and (ugh!) curators, which make a point of how many films were submitted for inclusion in their festival, how much hard work went into making their final selection and how the bevy of product on offer represents the highest level of cinema excellence.

To this I say, in my best John Huston impersonation, "BALLS!"

We all know there will be shitty, godawful films in the mix. We also know there are probably films - good and even great films - that were, for whatever moronic reasons, not invited to participate. Eventually, these "rejects", if they're truly good or great, find a way into the festival world and get seen.

Speaking from personal experience, one film I produced was rejected by a major film festival for some of the most moronic reasons imaginable. The bottom line is that politics and political correctness reared their ugly heads here. The happy ending was that the film was invited into an even more prestigious film festival in Europe, won a Best Feature Film Award there, then was invited to close to 200 film festivals worldwide, won even more awards and garnered to-die-for critical notices, substantial theatrical playoff in foreign (though not domestic) territories and numerous prestigious broadcast berths.

Why did it bug me, then, that one film festival chose to reject it? Well, I knew the film had already been invited to this other European Film Festival, buoyed by the kind of words of praise from the festival director that made me realize that he/she not only loved the movie, BUT, most importantly, that they "got it!"

"Getting it" is all important in the game and what concerns me is that now, more than ever, there has been a slow erosion of standards over a 20-year-or-so period wherein more and more film festivals just DON'T "get it". Sure, there are always going to be people who don't like certain films and like others, BUT, one always assumes that these arbiters of cinematic importance know their shit. What's almost intolerable ARE those who know their shit, but for whatever boneheadedly petty reasons, refuse to acknowledge the importance of certain films (whether they like them or not).

Ah, but here's the worst thing - arbiters of cinematic importance (and excellence) who DON'T know their shit. This is happening more and more. I'll be having a conversation with one of them (and yes, they're usually younger than I am, but THAT is no excuse, really) and upon my mentioning the work of a specific filmmaker, they're looking at me with the sort of blank eyes one finds attached to a cow chewing its cud.

It's infuriating and depressing.


Once, I suggested to a certain film festival that a specific filmmaker would be an ideal choice for a major career retrospective. This was a festival specializing in the specific genre/medium that this particular filmmaker PIONEERED. The filmmaker was not just an important practitioner of this form, but, A FUCKING PIONEER of the form. The grand arbiter of cinematic excellence I spoke to, just looked up at me with the eyes of a bovine cud-chewer.

I resisted going apoplectic - not an easy thing for me to do, either. I am, after all, a Ukrainian with the blood of Cossacks coursing through my veins, ready to plunge my sword into anyone and anything that stands in the way of my supremacy.

Resist, though, I did.

Excuses that festival types come up with that I especially hate are those in which they acknowledge the submitted film is very good, but that the competition was extremely fierce that year and that there was simply no room to accommodate a screening of said rejected title.

Too fucking bad, loser! MAKE ROOM!

In fact, there was one time where I had a film rejected by a major festival under the guise of there not being enough room, in spite of the fact that the programmer acknowledged the picture was just fine. Here, I was NOT going to accept this as an answer. I went above the head of the aforementioned arbiter of cinematic excellence and explained the situation to the Festival Director. The director in question, looked at the film, assessed the reasons for its exclusion, then decided that room HAD to be made for the picture.

This, is what I call a mensch.

Alas, there are others who will not sully themselves with such matters. They set up a military-government-corporate-style chain of command within their organization so they don't have to deal with issues which might upset their hallowed apple-cart.

These, I call cowards. They hide behind the bureaucracy they've created. They will use "policy" and "process" as their buffer of weasel-like protectionism. Sometimes, they won't even taint their process with needing to provide ANY reason at all.

To this I say, yet again, in my best John Huston impersonation, "BALLS!"

I have no use or respect for "policy" and "process" since it is the very thing that justifies cowardice.

I have no use or respect for martinets who hide behind "policy" and "process".

I especially have no respect for "policy" and "process" that hides behind committee decisions. It's been proven time and time again that good movies cannot be made by committee and frankly, the same goes for pretty much anything and everything. Committees are fraught with compromise. They're also a smokescreen for the real decision-makers to cower behind if and when the going gets really tough.

Now, I will say that I'm being especially harsh with film festivals and it's incumbent upon me now to declare that my aforementioned criticisms extend to virtually every nook and cranny of the film world.

It's sickening, really.

But here's the thing about festivals - I hold film festivals far above the standards applied by other segments of the film business. I expect them to be perched upon a pedestal, towering over studios, distributors, exhibitors, financiers, government investment/funding/production entities, industry awards and yes, even film critics (mainstream and alternative film criticism has become especially horrendous in respect to "knowing its shit"). I expect - nay, I DEMAND higher standards from festivals, especially now that they have become the manner in which alternative visions will be seen and celebrated by the world at large.

When good festivals make stupid decisions based on politics, lack of available space and NOT KNOWING THEIR SHIT, when they hide behind policy, process and committees to avoid admitting their cowardice (and/or stupidity), then I really and truly look upon this as yet another nail in the coffin of civilization.

The decline, ladies and gentlemen, is not imminent.

It's already upon us.

As Edward Albee placed, as a chant of despair during the final act of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf":

"…sad, sad, sad."

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

THE MAKIOKA SISTERS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Lesser Ichikawa on Criterion Blu-Ray


The Makioka Sisters (1983)
dir. Kon Ichikawa
Starring: Keiko Kishi, Yoshiko Kasuma, Sayuri Yoshinaga, Yuko Kotegawa, Juzo Itami

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I wanted to love this movie for three reasons.

First of all, I must admit that even after having seen over 30,000 movies in my life, there are still so many more to see. Japanese director Kon Ichikawa, one of the foremost masters of his country's cinema, is - for example - a filmmaker who inexplicably fell below my radar. I knew he existed, but bad timing forced me to keep missing the handful of massive retrospectives of his work at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Cinematheque (now housed in the grand TIFF Lightbox complex in Toronto, Canada).

I had also been aware of Ichikawa's ongoing obsession with adapting the best of Japan's wealth of great literature and how this generally distinguished him amongst many of his contemporaries. Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa were particularly interested in original screenplays - good on them, but I never look a road map in the mouth, so to speak. For me, Japanese literature (save for Yukio Mishima) continues to be an unknown commodity and I have been chomping at the bit to dine at the Ichikawa Buffet (as it were) to use his movies as a barometer and/or guide to some of these great literary works. In essence, I have been preparing to use Ichikawa like the "Classics Illustrated" comics from my childhood. They always promoted the notion of "now you've read the comic, read the full length book" and for me, that used to work wonders. I mean, really! What the hell! I'm technically not a kid anymore, but even adults with a bit of book learnin' can use some help now and again.

The second reason I wanted to love The Makioka Sisters is that the first half hour is utterly spellbinding. Though we focus only on the four sisters of the title (Keiko Kishi, Yoshiko Kasuma, Sayuri Yoshinaga, Yuko Kotegawa) and one husband (Juzo Itami, eventually a noted Japanese director in his own right), Ichikawa lays out an extremely complex backstory that forces us (not distractingly) to work overtime sorting out and digesting the relationships between the characters and the cultural/historical backdrop.

Add to the above, one of the most heart achingly beautiful visual set pieces imaginable - the sisters taking a lazy stroll to enjoy the cherry blossoms - and you feel like you're diving into what might be a life-changing masterwork (save for the intrusion of one execrable element I will mention much later in this piece).

The final reason I wanted to love this movie is that it's one of those potentially great Chekhovian stories I'm a sucker for - people looking desperately to make connections with each other (or ANYONE) against a major cusp period where it's easier to remain rooted in what's dying or dead than move forward and embrace or accept the new.

It's a world where the ghosts of the past - replete with all their sins and triumphs - want to be at peace, but the living will not let them go, much to the detriment of all concerned. Within this social/cultural/historical cusp period, some will make it, most will not - and out of this shift in the divide should come both tragedy and comedy - all the stuff of great drama.

Alas, The Makioka Sisters falls short of its goals. It is not even especially GOOD drama, let alone being great.

Its story is a simple one - as most great stories are. Four sisters in pre-war (1938) Osaka live a life of relative luxury. Buoyed as they are by the inheritance left to them by their late parents, all should be well. It isn't. Tradition dictates that the sisters marry in descending order of their age in order to qualify for their share of the loot - which is, essentially to be their dowries. This is all well and good for the two eldest sisters who are already hitched, but the third eldest is a major wallflower and the youngest is clearly a modern lass with a burning desire to get on with her life.

Tradition is holding her back, And ultimately, for the family as a whole to move "forward", marriage (and by extension, tradition) is seen as the only option - hence the central goal of the story being the marrying off of daughters three and four. Romance would be nice in the equation, but clearly low on the totem pole of what's seen as necessary for the preservation of the family. The needs of the individual are less than an afterthought. In fact, they're negligible.

What keeps the movie from soaring, even though it occasionally feels like it wants to, is Ichikawa's approach to rendering the narrative. He often hangs back in medium wide shots and lets long conversations play themselves out. God knows I'm happy to watch bearded warriors in lotus positions in Kurosawa pictures as they discuss WHY they're at war and HOW they will do battle. I'm especially happy to sit for hours on end while people talk to each other in tatami-level shots in Ozu. Their pictures are replete with emotion and narrative drive - unlike The Makioka Sisters.

For several reasons, Ichikawa's approach just doesn't cut it. Some will argue that his method is restraint - that he's avoiding the obvious pitfalls and clichés inherent in goosing every dramatic beat to the max. On the other hand, it could almost be argued that he's either lazy, incompetent or hampered by exigencies of production. Almost every single time he moves from his favourite (and I'd suggest rather dull) fixed camera position, so many of the cuts feel jarring and awkward (and not intentionally) while the variation of shots often seem to be from the wrong angle. Well, given the number of stunning set pieces in the movie, he's neither lazy nor incompetent, but I do think he was wrong to tell this story the way he chose to tell it.

This is a story that, while simple on the surface, is loaded with layer upon layer of complexity and yet, one is hardly compelled to even bother peeling back those layers as the director seems so disinterested in wrenching our guts for fear, I suspect, of being melodramatic.

Well, this is a bit of a problem when the story has all the hallmarks of great melodrama and none of the required execution. Ichikawa goes out of his way to mute every major melodramatic beat to the point where a handful of scenes compel you in a certain direction, then refuse to deliver up the goods. The movie has five major emotional set pieces (you'll discover those on your own) and they're exquisitely rendered on both visual levels and from the great cast (who are often wasted by Ichikawa's overall mise-en-scene).

Sorry, Kon. This is really annoying, bud. You need to loosen up a bit.

Ozu, for example, is able to wrench out drama from the smallest details and he is NEVER afraid of emotion. Some have suggested his approach is indeed restrained in order for the emotional core to open up and be real. I disagree. Ozu, like Kurosawa, is NOT afraid of being sentimental or even melodramatic. They are storytellers - first and foremost - and will use every trick up their sleeve to wrench emotion from an audience. As well, I'm not suggesting a measured, mannered approach can't work. It can. It just doesn't work in The Makioka Sisters due, at least based on this picture to Ichikawa either unwilling or incapable of achieving the heights his colleagues aimed for or worse, his inability to properly execute his own approach.

On a surface level, the movie's concluding moments come close to creating that heart breaking devastation that's as sad as it is soaring, but by then, it's too late. Ichikawa has spent most of the movie muting all the emotion, occasionally and sloppily tossing in a dollop of it here and there, then allowing it to all hang out at the end.

Great melodrama (or even straight-up drama) needs to build to such an explosion. Ichikawa seems so obsessed with his snobby attempts at restraint that he forgot he had an audience he needed to please.

I've thus far avoided any background on exigencies of production that might have lead to Ichikawa creating this supremely flawed work (wildly praised from people who really should know better). The above were my impressions knowing nothing about the making of the film (my preferred method of seeing anything for the first time). That said, upon discovering that Ichikawa was commissioned by Japan's Toho Company to make the feature as part of its 50th year celebrations and that he was subsequently and idiotically nickelled and dimed to death, is still not reason enough to change my mind. In fact, I watched the movie a second time and my conclusions stand - it's a movie with occasional beauty, tons of potential but finally, a mess.

I suspect this was probably not the best introduction to Ichikawa's work. I'll certainly see more and I'll eventually watch this again with the context of his fuller canon behind me. Maybe I'll change my mind., though I doubt highly I will - especially in light of the following:

The most bafflingly egregious element of The Makioka Sisters is the music. In spite of the fact that the movie was made in the '80s where the style of music chosen was popular for the RIGHT movies, it is completely, utterly and overwhelmingly incomprehensible to me why a movie that DEMANDED a full orchestral score is miserably fouled with synthesized music so god-awful it might as well have been crapped out by Harold Faltermeyer.

The problem with this is that The Makioka Sisters is not about a Detroit cop in Beverly Hills. Given the score, it might as well have been.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3 Stars

The Makioka Sisters has been lovingly restored and presented on a nice looking, but extras-lacking Criterion Collection Blu-ray.

Friday, 13 March 2015

STANDSTILL - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Identity, redemption and facing the past drive this haunting portrait of a Canadian Mohawk living in the shadow of Colonialism and a Palestinian Refugee living in the shadow of an abusive lover.


Standstill (2013)
Dir. Majdi El-­Omari
Starring: Atwena:Ron David Deerhouse, Meisoon Azzaria, Iohani:Io Curotte, Skawennati Madelaine Montour, Tatum Ieronhienhawi McComber, Jean Pierre Lefebvre

Review By Greg Klymkiw

…Gently she sleeps
With her fingers
in her ears
Gently she dreams
With her palms
on her eyes…
While her Mother sings,
"They Killed the fish
They Killed the bird
and the Little Girl in the house."

-Excerpt from Wedad's poem

Standstill is a powerful and deeply moving first feature film by the Canadian-Palestinian filmmaker Majdi El-­Omari. Set in and around the Quebec town of Oka, the city of Montreal and the Native Reservation of Kanehsatake, it tells the tale of a middle-aged member of the Mohawk Nation. Arihote (Atewena:ron David Deerhouse) is a former war correspondent who used his gifts as a photographer in Sarajevo, but now seeks peace and solace as an anonymous wedding photographer. Juggling the emotional turmoil of an at-risk son, a wife who left him - disappearing as if into thin air - and a father who, in despair, blew his brains out, Arihote shambles through life like a somnambulist.

One night, though, this all changes when he hears a disturbance in the apartment above his basement suite. Upon investigating, he discovers that a murder has been committed by Wedad (Meissoon Azzaria), a Palestinian refugee. The victim is her abusive lover. Arihote is consumed with a need to help the woman, but at the same time, he's equally concerned about personally involving himself in anything that will bring him in contact with the police.

There's a good reason for both of these compelling feelings. They're rooted in the personal, to be sure, but there is also a historical backdrop to his motivations.


Canada's ages-old apartheid, aimed at its First Nations, has been one of the most horrendous, foul and insidious policies of hatred and racism in the history of colonialism in the Americas. The country has also had its fair share of violent genocide, though it's a drop in the bucket, compared to its neighbours to the south (right from the USA and down to the bottom tip of South America). What's been especially infuriating in the Great White North is the "polite" Canadian approach to decimating its Aboriginal Nations through lies, deceit and bureaucracy. The Canadian apartheid has essentially been a cultural genocide; ignoring treaties, swindling land, attempting to smother cultural identity and a grim system of residential schools aimed at "whitening" Native children (and sexually abusing them at the hands of Catholic priests).

More often than not, Canadian Aboriginals have attempted to use legal means to address this infinite litany of injustices perpetrated upon them by politicians and bureaucrats feathering their own nests whilst kowtowing to the needs of old money and corporate pigs. Resistance, more often than not, has been peaceful.

In 1990, the resistance had only one way to go. A whack of lily-white-bread-inbreds living in the town of Oka, Quebec near the Kanehsatake reservation, decided willy-nilly to mow down a huge swath of forested traditional lands belonging to the Mohawks of the region. A sacred and ancient burial ground would have been desecrated and the land would have been decimated environmentally. The Canadian government, as per usual, reneged on old agreements and subsequent attempts to rectify the situation legally amounted to a hill of beans.

The reason? The town wanted a golf course.

Yes, you read that right - a fucking golf course!

The Mohawks had only one choice - they set up barbed wire fences, blocked roads and occupied the forest. And they were armed to the teeth. This led to yahoo vigilantes, Quebec Police and eventually the Canadian Army descending upon the Native People. The "Oka Crisis", as it was eventually dubbed by the lily-white-bread-Canadian-media (and many historians who should know better), was indeed one of the most severe, tension-ridden armed conflicts between First Nations and their Colonizers during the history of Canada in the 20th Century. (It eventually took an Aboriginal filmmaker, Alanis Obomsawin, to provide a proper perspective on this injustice with her now-immortal documentary Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, a film which the publicly-funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation shamefully refused to broadcast.)

It is within this almost-ghostly social, historical and political backdrop that the character of Arihote is haunted in writer-editor-producer-director El-­Omari's astonishing Standstill, the first feature film presented primarily in the Mohawk language (with a smaller percentage in English, French and Arabic). Shot in stunning black and white (save for the equally arresting colour bookends) by cinematographer Stephanie Weber Biron and underscored by jangling, forbidding, mournful and evocative music by Antoine Bustros, this might be one of the most important films to be made in Canada in some time. El-Omari's mise-en-scene includes a series of neo-realist tableaux and simple, but effective handheld camera movements (floaty-cam-style, not shaky-cam) to tell this story about two people forced by political and social upheaval to confront the past in order to move forward with the future. Arihote is a stranger in his own land whilst Wedad is most definitely a stranger in a strange land.


So much of the film's story unfolds in slow, but richly composed and always fascinating details of real life - the camera at once being a fly on several walls, but also revealing the extremely potent points of view of Arihote. These latter moments are especially extraordinary, because we get a sense of his "camera eye" and when we see what he sees, it's as if we're seeing it through the eyes of one who has spent a lifetime photographing death, destruction, exploitation and despair.

El-Omari places most of the narrative emphasis upon Arihote. He is haunted by his wife's disappearance after he left for Sarajevo as well as trying to raise his motherless son in a world of conflict, but all of it far removed from his own experiences as a war photographer. What's especially moving is when we (and his son) discover that Arihote, was more than an ineffectual husband and partner to his long-gone wife - that he did a lot more than look at the world through a camera lens. She was a major activist in the "Oka Crisis", as well as being a brilliant visual artist. She placed her life on the line in a serious conflict, but also exposed her soul upon canvas. Arihote was not dissimilar. He's described to his son as being a vital participant at Oka "with a camera in one hand and a semi-automatic weapon in the other."

In a sense, we're faced with the tragedy of a couple whose love is effectively torn apart by the weight of colonialism and the crisis of Oka. She sought solace in rebuilding their family and love. Alas, he sought solace in the bitter war of Sarajevo. The broken pieces of this marriage resulted in abandonment on both sides of the equation and in the middle, Arihote's brilliant young son without a mother, his distant suicidal father and a sense of not belonging to either Kanehsatake or Montreal.


Add to this mix the parallel tale of Wedad and Arihote's involvement in her crisis - a strange narrative choice which starts the story off, but fades into the backdrop until the hugely emotional final third of the picture. Doing the math on the whole, we have a colonized aboriginal man, a female refugee from Palestine and a young man who doesn't know where he belongs. As such, El-Omari delivers what might be the ultimate indigenously Canadian story of all, one that recalls the title and even thematic layering of Edward Everett Hale's classic of short American fiction, "The Man Without a Country" (itself an allegory for the American Civil War).

To be without a country seems to be tantamount to being without a soul, not unlike so many aspects of Canadian existence amongst its aboriginal peoples, the diaspora of the poorest European immigrants and their progeny and the myriad of recent immigrants often fleeing political persecution in their countries of origin. In spite of this, though, El-Omari doesn't let us or his characters muddle about for an eternity of identity crises. He provides, like any great storyteller, obstacles that must be overcome and in so doing, he creates a film that is as despair-ridden as it is eventually very moving, powerful and oddly, but genuinely uplifting in a completely un-sentimental fashion.

There are no easy decisions or answers for any of the characters. Like most of us, they are living within an existential quagmire - one brought about by the crashing waves of history. As individuals it is their despair, practically hard-wired into their very beings by external powers which force them to face a new world, fresh horizons and a future in which they can break through the wall of stasis permeating their lives.

El-Omari presents all this in a muted fashion, but by doing so, he actually creates a film which might be one of the few Canadian films to be imbued with the strength and power which we have, for some 20 years turned to the Belgian filmmaking duo, the Dardenne Brothers for. Their intense naturalism and concentration upon the lives of the disenfranchised have been reflected in such masterworks as La promesse, Rosetta, L’Enfant, Le gamin au vélo and their most recent stunner Deux jours, une nuit.


Where Standstill might occasionally veer from a completely naturalistic style are its occasional dream-like visions and flashbacks, though even these extraordinary sequences are imbued with a highly realistic approach within the context of both the narrative and as self contained units of dramatic action. There's no overt flash to these haunting scenes, though in retrospect they are as unforgettable as anything else in the more realism-infused sequences. Like the Dardennes, El-Omari delivers considerable poetry, cinematic magic and flirts briefly, but pointedly with the cerebral.

It seems fitting, of course, that during a critical point in the story, the father of independent Canadian art cinema, director Jean Pierre Lefebvre appears in a pivotal, important role. (Full disclosure: Lefebvre appeared in a not dissimilar role in a film I produced in the late 90s by Bruno Lazaro Pacheco entitled City of Dark.) Here, as a weary French Canadian police detective investigating the murder that sets the whole film in action, he brings a wise, knowing humanity to his role as a man who has suffered similar personal bereavements as those experienced by Arihote. Lefebvre plays his role as more bureaucrat than Sûreté du Québec crime fighter whilst Arihote has all but given up his past as an activist and photographic eye upon the despair of war. It is here where we come face to face with men who both, in their own way, have been victims of British colonization and recognize a common ground in each other's place in the world.

Standstill is a film that gives Canadian Cinema the hope and promise that our truly indigenous stories will be told, stories about those who do far more living and dying in this world than the country's oppressors will ever do. Such stories will indeed be in very good hands with Majdi El­-Omari and the handful of other film artists who bring far more to the table than merely ephemeral expressions of cultural experience. He's made a film that has every potential to withstand the sands of time.

I can hardly wait for his next movie.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4-Stars

Standstill is a Domino Films release playing theatrically in Toronto at The Royal Cinema. Demand your local independent exhibitor bring it to your town.