Sunday, October 30, 2016

Legislating Language is Unfair

 A while back, you may have seen those lovely looking people on Montreal bus panels - their faces smiling over this message: “La langue française, c’est la langue Quebécoise” – something like that – with a ‘vrai’ in there; or,  written on French classroom walls saying, Le francaise, c’est la meilleur langue.”

It also appears on local French TV stations using a seductive voice-over in an haut-art ad, showing contented, successful people in several professions and trades (note that very few ‘Québecois’ blacks or Asians are presented). Both of these ‘enlightened’ ads are sponsored by l’Office de la langue française. I find it all deceptive. Everyone looks so happy and carefree. The ad with its soft, diffuse lighting looks like it was created by a cinematic art director. But what lies beneath the glow? The Office is actually sending a succinct message, telling all native-born Anglophones and thousands of immigrants that French is the magic bullet. It’s clever subliminal advertising.

We all know that French is the operative language in the province. Isn’t this a platitude, so why did ‘le Grand Frère’ spend lots of money on such an ad campaign? You don’t see in Argentina - where there is a massive mix of languages and cultures – an ad saying: “Espaňol, es la lengua de la Argentina; nor in Germany, Greece, Spain, France or Turkey.’. So what’s up? 

I believe  any "Speak French" ad is a highly visible attempt to remind all ‘outsiders’ that the ‘acceptable’ language is French. Unfortunately, this inference contains a subtext of exclusion: the ad devalues and even debases all other languages and their speakers. If you don't speak it, you don't belong here.

What I find appalling is the fact that this is the same kind of insidious knee-jerk reaction we get in racism. I say we ought never to judge a person by the colour of his/her skin or the language he or she speaks. This is not the way to go. It’s time we went past this. Intolerance is as easy to promote as lighting a match. Clearly, the intrinsic message in the ad is insensitive, and a tad incendiary, since it subliminally and subtly encourages us to think that we ought to disdain those who don’t use French every day in their lives here. It’s high time we begin to use our brains and a tempered heart to seize and appreciate every individual’s uniqueness.
This is what defines humanity’s progress. Why can’t we have this message: «Le Québec, c’est la province ou chaque culture et chaque langue sont célébrées: un québécois traverse le monde ici; utilsant le français, ça va plus vite.» (The last part of this line is my conciliation to Bill 101).

When I was 16, I roomed with a francophone while studying Québecois French at Laval University one summer – a great experience. The following summer, I went to Glendon College to study ‘Continental French’. I learned French varies - not just the accent, but expressions here and overseas. My Haitian friend Marie from Snowdon claims that her French is the ‘real’ one; she’s a ‘vraie’ Quebecer.

I was nominated for a Mr. Christie award for my children’s book, ‘Les Cinq Sens en Folie’. Bilingual, even degreed to teach, I taught French in Ontario. My first job was in French here. I even taught drama and ESL at the French School, École Mont Royale, many years ago. But an incident taught me that exclusion is not based on language. I was invited by the Quebecois publisher to celebrate at a party. I made a comment (in French) that this is the way it should be: Anglophones and francophones having fun together, though I seemed to be the only anglais there. The cute fellow I was talking to yelled at me I would never be a Quebecer, I wasn’t wanted here. I persisted as I laid into a litany of my ‘French’ accomplishments, including my education, employment and Ottawa friends who were francophone. But I was a tête carrée according to this fellow. He had also written a kid’s book so I thought we had something in common – something to share. I felt rejected and discouraged, and left the party as an outcast. Maybe this incident was an anomaly, but this chap was refined, ‘educated’- Quebec’s pride.

Maybe l’Office needs a second ad that states: «La langue française, on vous admire pour l’apprendre, mais d’être accepté, ça c’est autre chose.»                  

Please Quebec, it’s time you started educating your own about tolerance, since you do have a generous immigration policy here (though the agenda smacks of ‘francisiation’: in numbers there is strength).  
Quebec is uniquely great because of its diversity. Legislating culture and language threatens the most priceless language of all: democracy.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

NEON BULL (Directed by Gabriel Mascaro) bomb

Rodeo man Iremar, co-worker Galiga, her 10-year-old daughter Cacá and fat guy Ze travel around  Brazil living alongside their white bulls, horses and trucks. It’s a filthy life that is hopeless and without merit.  Porn and the mistreatment of animals is explicit in this raw but boring film that borders on cruelty and some perversion. Screened at Montreal's Brazilian Film Festival.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016



Variety in Film Viewing… with English Subtitles

Cinemania is 22 years young!! It’s the most exciting French language film festival in Canada, and the largest of its kind. At this year's press conference - held at Montreal's sleek Sofitel Hotel - Maidy Teitelbaum – Cinemania’s founder and director proudly presented an enormous program that for 11 days takes the audience on a whirlwind adventure with films from France, Belgium, Senegal French Polynesia, Switzerland, Algeria which also includes co-productions with partnering countries. More than 50 films including 40 premieres, 16 celebrities and VIP guests will expose the creativity of the francophone film world as it unfolds its cultural and geographic diversity.

                              Maidy Teitelbaum

Nicole Garcia
Nicole Garcia – one of the world’s great actors and directors with 69 films to her credit (not to mention her television and theatre career) will grace the stage with the latest film she directed. On November 3rd, she will be presenting her film, From the Land of the Moon – Cinemania’s opening film. Also present will be Jacques Fieschi who co-wrote the screen play with Mlle Garcia. Based on the novella, Mal di Pietre, by Sardinian author Milena Agus, this fabulous work that’s set in the 1950s in the Alps is full of  drama and love's torments and twists. It’s an enthralling saga where the heroine is a brazen as she is sensual. Starring Marion Cotillard, the film will also be screened at 1:15 on November 5th at Cinema Imperial.(See my review below).

Equally dazzling is the fact that  the beautiful  actor Virginie Efira will be another festival guest. She’ll be with Cinemania from November 10th to the 13th to present her newest films: ElleUp for Love, and In Bed with Victoria (the closing film on November 13th). Not only we will see her live just before she introduces these films, but she stars in them!  Rich in tone, each one offers a distinctive tone for its genre: a romantic comedy,  a thriller and  a light-hearted.. Judging by the many amazing features which includes 40 North American and Quebec premieres, the 11-day outstanding film festival offers.

Virginie Efira

Historical dramas, such as A Woman’s Life, adapted from a Guy de Maupassant novel; art biopics – Cezanne and I; and WW11 dramas based on true stories – Fanny’s Journey, and The Poisoning Angel – are only part of the poignant potpourri of the delicious films set to tease your senses, stimulate your mind and move your emotions during these turbulent times.  Remember, though, Cinemania is exhilarating and entertaining. This festival is about quality, brilliance and films that audaciously raise the bar on the world’s greatest cinematically savvy festivals. 

Maidy and me

     Maidy and her team await you.


Reviews follow

MAL DE PIERRES - Directed by Nicole Garcia
From The Land Of The Moon ***

Without a doubt, Marion Cotillard superbly plays a demented woman desperately living in the country in the 1950s with her parents and younger sister. Gabrielle is desperately searching for love, so much so, that she’s eager to take her clothes off to achieve it in front of those who really have no use for her. Nothing is as she would like it to be. She is clearly an unstable woman, full of passion and self-pity. She’s heading for an unfulfilled life, until she goes to the Alps and meets the man of her dreams.
Despite Mlle Cotillard’s extraordinary acting, she can neither save her character nor the film. There is too much spent on Gabrielle’s suffering. Still, the film is a marvellous showpiece for her talent.

The plot is somewhat weird, and contrived, but the acting is so good; and the ironic twist at the end of the film makes up for the slow almost melodramatic moments.When her mother marries her off to  Jose, one of the workers, she treats him with loathing, but he is relentless in taking care of her, despite her emotional fits and attacks of physical pain.
He puts her in a treatment centre in the Alps after she is diagnosed with the “stone disease”. The doctor declares she will never conceive, but doctors have been known to be wrong – just as Gabrielle finds out. She discovers how her delusions can mix her up so much that she is blind to true love. Still, somehow, love has a way of telling the truth to the one in need of feeling its beauty and experiencing it, even if it takes many years to do so.


MÉDECIN DE CAMPAGNE (Directed by Thomas Lilti) *****

This director actively injects such authentic characters, plot and dialogue, you simply feel part of the endearing yet dramatic scenarios that occur in the country setting of this French community that relies on one doctor – Doctor Jean-Pierre Werner. He visits his patients in their houses, and practices as well in his house. But the good doctor has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Still, he refuses to stop or cut down on his work load. 

Enter Nathalie, a cracker-jack freshly graduated emergency doctor – who also was a nurse. She arrives to assist him, but he puts her into near impossible situations to test her mettle, and she passes with flying colours – especially when she darts through the farm life that would instantly impede any visiting doctor from reaching the door to the patients.

The film shows the dire situation patients must endure in the impersonal French medical system -especially for those living in villages and rural settings. Will Natalie and the good doctor ever see eye to eye on anything?  After a medical conflict, the climax finds its own healing way, and sometimes it does involves line dancing, a meat grinder and spots on an X-ray that can’t be ignored. Doctor Werner finds his worst patient ever, and it’s looking at himself in the mirror.  

François Cluzet and Marianne Denicourt are marvelous together. Superb acting with on-screen charisma and credibility. A wonderful film of humour, human stubbornness and good old fashioned values.


LEMON (Directed by laura Brownson & Beth Levinson)

              Only in America Could This True Story Happen
            from rags to spiritual riches

Directors Laura Brownson and Beth Levison's memorable biopic is narrated by the beat poet, Andrew Andersen (AKA Lemon). An ex-con, Lemon discovered poetry while at Rikers.  His love of poetry touched his spiritual soul, and his messy past was about to take a different course. The two directors brilliantly bring us into the full spectrum of his life.

Growing up in the projects in Brooklyn, his childhood days were disastrous; they followed him right into adulthood. He and his brother Peter became small-time drug pushers for the building they lived in. His mother Mille was a heroin addict who died of AIDS. A lot of his poetry is about her and their mutual love. As a kid from Puerto Rico, he stuck out with his blond hair, and so Lemon became his name. Peter and his wife figure in the film as major influences – not as positive forces, but this changes at the end of the film.  The story centers around Lemon's steely drive to become a very successful poet. He begins to perform in schools. Then he raises the bar by connecting with a small American theatre company. After some performances in this company, he is swooped up by American Public Theatre's Under the Radar Festival. Richard Kerner, who ran the smaller theatre where Lemon first began performing, is dropped; the American Public Theatre wants to own all the production rights. Kerner is naturally disappointed, but begrudgingly releases Lemon from their small contract. Later on in the film, Lemon returns to Kerner asking for funds.

The relationship between Kerner and Lemon is the major focus of the film. Kerner truly kick started Lemon’s career and got him his audience. He treats Lemon like a brother, so when Lemon leaves him high and dry, and then goes back to him to ask for money without eating humble pie (that’s not Lemon’s style), Kerner said he felt like Lemon was coming back to the lover he had dumped. Kerner gives him nothing. It was very difficult for Kerner to let his brainchild go and receive no credit for his personal and financial investment in Lemon. It was a bitter-sweet moment, for on the one hand, Kerner is angry, and on the other, Lemon is happy to be moving up the ladder in the performance world of New York City. In defense of Lemon, the poet makes a key point: all his life he catered to others above him, and was a “yes” boy. For the first time in his life, he is going to pursue what he wants, even if it means breaking the bond of a deep friendship.

That scene is very telling of Lemon's great ambition and his determination to go to higher places even if it means betraying the one who gave him his start. There was a reason why Lemon approached Kerner. Although his Under the Radar stint was successful, the American Public Theatre lacked funds to support Lemon's mainstay run of County Kings -- the name of his show. He’s told he must raise $50,000 if he wants to continue his run. Despite rave reviews of his work from his two-week stint in Under the Radar, he can't get the money. He ends up unemployed, taking care of his two daughters while his highly supportive wife earns the money. One day, Spike Lee, without whose support the award winning musical Passing Strange would have never made it to the silver screen, calls out to him just as Lemon is leaving a restaurant. He had seen Lemon's performance, and offers to put up the money Lemon needs to continue the show indefinitely at the American Public Theatre. Lemon's poetry is tough, defiant and extremely passionate. He is gifted and utterly disciplined.
Throughout the film, Lemon presents his compelling poetry. He also offers poignant views on poverty, power tycoons, resilience and what it takes to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve success and endure. Interestingly, he has a problem after he gets his main run. He hyperventilates all the time on stage. He knows he needs his wife with him during his performances. She quits her job to be with him. She is the sweet cherry that sweetens up Lemon's life. Nothing made him crack during all the tough times -- just the lack of her presence. I found that rather touching.

Monday, October 24, 2016

MADEMOISELLE (Directed by Park Chan-wook) *

Lesbian Erotica Teases Nastily within a Duplicitous Trio
It’s a pretty far-fetched plot whose sketchy credibility is only strengthened by the terrific acting and sumptuous costumes that beautifully reflect Korea in the 1930’s. But a dark tone infuses the film, and so it should; the characters are live under the Japanese yoke. But this film is not about war; rather it is about ambition, sexual lust, lies and identity theft. That’s what it takes for the crooked phony Count Fujiwara to send his lover/ maid Sook-hee to Lady Hideko, a reclusive and fabulously wealthy mademoiselle who in turn must obey her uncle – a sadist who enjoys hurting young and old alike.  She is supposed to marry him, but Fujiwara’s wants her hand in marriage to get her inheritance, and this, she does not keep from either woman.  
The film works in parts including flashbacks when we see how she is subjugated – forced by her uncle to read erotica to his friends and pose as a sexual object. As plans are hatched, things take on twisted reversals of fate for everyone. The film is an elaborate statement on sexual, gender and cultural oppression. 

The sexual scenes, combined with and one gruesome one of torture were gratuitous – cruel to the eye. One wonders about the motivation behind this confluence of distasteful human traits that played so vividly in the director’s imagination and ended up in the characters he created in this film. 

Sado-masochism, greed, pseudo-porn and lasting lesbian love make up the hodgepodge of this weird yet nonetheless compelling film that lasted almost two-and-a-half hours.

This film was first screened at FNC Festival

Saturday, October 22, 2016

THE VIOLIN TEACHER (Directed by Sergio Machado) ****

Violinist, Laerte (Lázaro Ramos) freezes during a prestigious audition for OSESEP in Brazil. Needless to say, he did not procure the position of first violinist. He is offered a job teaching a group of uncontrollable teens how to make music as an orchestra.

It is mayhem and a total disaster, but one kid, named Samuel shows promise. Drugs, a riot and a motorcycle chase by police lead to a fatal encounter. To make it all worse, there’s a violent gang that has two of the kids in their shackles, beating them until they pay up on money they owe. They show how dirty and dangerous life is in Brazil’s favelas. Still, Laerte is making great progress with his little orchestra and things go well at that end.                                           

A tragic turn of events set the plot into a downward hell, but the music of Bach and Vivaldi prove to be cathartic for the kids as they perform in the favela for hoards of people hanging over the balconies to hear their nighttime concert. Laerte has his own dream and it gets fulfilled. Based on a true story, the film is touching – particularly poignant for  a music lover and that special kind of heroic teacher who never gives up on belligerent kids who come under his/her baton. The film was screened at Cinema du Parc during Montreal's Brazilian Film Festival.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK (Directed by Edward Zwick) **

Not much to admire about this action film, other than the teenage girl who may or not be Reacher’s daughter.
She’s witty and unlike all other characters, seems real. The plot has Jack back trying to uncover the government plot that involves silencing those who have discovered an illegal clandestine smuggling operation run by a US army dude that involves Afghanistan. What I wonder is how does one get slammed repeatedly against a cement wall and keeping on duking it out. There was so much violence; it overshadowed all the characters and plot. It was as if the director knew nothing could save this lackluster film, not even the indomitable Jack Reacher A.K.A. Tom Cruise.