FNC: Oct. 16

Jem Cohen’s understated drama Museum Hours and Carlo Shalom Hintermann’s touching but tough documentary The Dark Side of the Sun are spotlighted in today’s roundup of the Festival du nouveau cinéma’s offerings for the evening.

Museum Hours

Jem Cohen, an American documentarian perhaps best known for his work with bands from Fugazi to R.E.M., makes his feature debut with this understated drama. A museum guard in Vienna (Bobby Sommer) befriends a Canadian woman (veteran Toronto singer Mary Margaret O’Hara) who’s in town to visit her comatose cousin, and they strike up a friendship.

Plot-wise, that’s about it; the film is composed mainly of their conversations interspersed with footage of the museum’s artworks, with Sommer’s musings in voice-over. To a certain type of viewer, this no doubt sounds like just about the most boring and insufferably pretentious kind of art film imaginable. And to be sure, if you don’t like slow-moving films, or art, this is not the movie for you.

But although it does require some patience and suspension of narrative expectations, there’s something about it that transcends the tropes of the boring art film, something that’s hard to define. Perhaps it’s the disarmingly sincere nature of Sommer’s character, or the surprising treat of O’Hara’s acting (which her fans will be delighted to see is very similar to her singing style — somehow halting yet fluid at the same time). Their unusually naturalistic conversations are compellingly charming.

Cohen’s background in music shines through — in Sommer’s reminiscing about his youthful stint as a tour manager, in the surprising moment where he confesses a fondness for heavy metal and O’Hara replies “Oh, you mean like Cradle of Filth?” and elsewhere. The director’s efforts to find beauty in the everyday occasionally skirt the border of banality; there’s even a shot of a plastic bag blowing away in the wind, recalling American Beauty preciousness. But overall, it’s an elegant and thoughtful reflection on the role of art in people’s lives. Tonight at Quartier Latin (350 Emery), 9:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 21 at Excentris (3536 St-Laurent), 5:20 p.m.


The Dark Side of the Sun

This doc from director Carlo Shalom Hintermann (previously noted as second unit director on The Tree of Life) focuses on kids with Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP), a rare genetic disorder that makes its afflicted extremely sensitive to UV rays, meaning that they can’t go out in the sun. A couple with a daughter who has XP set up Camp Sundown, a sleepaway camp for kids with the disorder, full of nighttime activities and opportunities to hang out with their own.

In addition to documenting the goings-on at the camp, Hintermann created a storyline with the kids of Camp Sundown, which is told in the film in anime-like sequences that alternate with the documentary narrative. Though beautifully animated, this storyline is a bit hard to follow, partly because it’s broken up throughout and partly because it comes from the fertile, but logically vagabond, imaginations of children.

The story of the camp is touching, but the film is often hard to watch. Kids with XP are extremely susceptible to skin cancer, and quite a few of them seem to have other disabilities as well (although the film doesn’t make clear whether or not this has to do with XP). Seeing the parents trying their hardest to bring happiness into their children’s difficult lives is inspirational, but watching kids with cancer is just tough. Hintermann has created an intriguing glimpse into a little-known world, with the animated story adding an original twist, but the film really drives home the crushing unfairness of life. Tonight at Quartier Latin (350 Emery), 9:45 p.m. and Wednesday, Oct. 17 at Excentris (3536 St-Laurent), 3:30 p.m.

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