The most Mile End movie ever

Our critics weigh in on local movie Gurov et Anna and more screening today at the Festival du nouveau cinéma.

Gurov et Anna

Gurov et Anna. Photo by Fabrice Gaetan

The Festival du nouveau cinéma continues. Here are some of the films screening at FNC today.


Gurov et Anna


The teacher-sleeps-with-student genre of literature is typically dominated by macho, swinging-dick alpha writers who reach a certain age; they’re often late-period works by the likes of Philip Roth or Norman Mailer, and they’re generally ego-driven nonsense that paint the male protagonist as an all-knowing sexual dynamo. Rafael Ouellet’s Gurov et Anna (written by Celeste Parr) tells a familiar story but reverses the power dynamic to make the older male teacher a pathetic and desperate figure. It’s not necessarily enough to push the film entirely out of conventional waters, but it’s a welcome change.

Ben (Andreas Apergis) is a college literature professor in a tense marriage with Audrey (Marie Fugain), the mother of his two young daughters. Obsessed with Chekhov’s short story “The Lady With the Dog,” Ben starts to see similarities between the story and his student Mercedes (Sophie Desmarais), with whom he soon becomes toxically smitten. Anna, headstrong yet vulnerable, embarks on the affair tentatively, but it soon becomes clear that Ben isn’t approaching their relationship with the same outlook.

Too much of the film depends on characters quoting from the Chekhov story (not to mention their meta self-awareness of the similarities between it and their lives) to truly make the story organic — its dependency on a classic of Russian literature can make it feel stiff and mannered at times. On the other hand, Ouellet beautifully turns snow-covered Montreal into a bleak Scandinavian landscape and gets two fantastic performances from his leads. Apergis (who contrasts his steely, Russian-henchman-in-a-Liam-Neeson-movie looks with a nervous, soft-spoken professorial tone) and Desmarais (her big doe eyes doing a lot of the work towards Ben’s toxic obsession) are perfectly cast.

(PS: it’s also the most Mile End movie ever Mile Ended in the history of time, so much so that I was half-expecting myself to walk into the shot as the characters are shown doing late-night grocery shopping at PA.) (Alex Rose)

Gurov et Anna screens at at Cinéma Quartier Latin (350 Émery)  today, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2:50 p.m., $13/$9 students/seniors

Corrections Class

Corrections Class


Deserving casual comparisons to the early films of happy-go-lucky Lars Von Trier, Russia’s Ivan Tverdovsky makes his cinematic debut with Corrections Class, a film that takes the sweet optimism of a group of outsiders and quickly turns it into something disturbing and unsettling.

Set in an unnamed rural Russian village, the story revolves around Lena (Maria Poezhaeva), a pretty teenage girl who suffers from myopathy and is thus straddled to a wheelchair. Having been homeschooled by her mother, she heads to her first day of real school, joining a Grade 11 corrections class reserved for students with special physical or mental needs.

The diseases run the gamut from stuttering and dwarfism to epilepsy; “diseases” that wouldn’t be treated as such in other societies, with the film pointing to a total lack of acceptance or tolerance. This is exemplified by the school’s headmistress (Natalya Domeretskaya), who seems particularly annoyed by Lena’s wheelchair, forcing her to basically crawl up the stairs to her class.

Positive and outgoing, Lena fits in easily with the gang of oddballs from her class, led by the slightly lecherous and aggressive Misha (Nikita Kukushkin). However, when romance buds between Lena and pretty-boy Anton (Filipp Avdeev), it triggers a nasty wave of jealousy that sets the friends against each other.

Tverdovsky builds a tale of unlikely friendship and love and then basically shits all over it, which is what provokes the Lars Von Trier comparisons. While Von Trier’s techniques usually slowly build on a growing feeling of queasiness that suddenly explodes, Tverdovsky’s switch is a little bit more awkward and unexplained. It’s still difficult to watch, but just a step shy from the emotionally wrenching effect he might have been hoping for. This being said, at only 25, Tverdovsky delivers an impressive first film beaming with skillful young actors and a bleak, documentary-style aesthetic. It can only promise better things to come. (Roxane Hudon)

Corrections Class screens at Cinéma du Parc (3575 Parc) today, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 1:15 p.m., $13/$9 students/seniors




The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq


French novelist Michel Houellebecq, best known on this side of the pond for his 2001 novel The Elementary Particles, writes books with a deeply disturbing bent and a misanthropic tone. In his public persona, he cultivates an air of not giving a fuck, expressing unpopular opinions (he’s been known to pick on feminists and Muslims, among others) without being clear if he actually means it or is just trying to piss people off, and not particularly seeming to care how anyone takes it either way.

So it’s a bit surprising to see him play himself in this strange drama from writer/director Guillaume Nicloux. Behind the combative persona, Houellebecq looks gnomic, sickly and older than his 58 years. We first see him going through his banal everyday routine: reading, smoking cigarettes and discussing the redecoration of his apartment. But then, as the title promises, he’s kidnapped by a trio of thugs and taken off to a house in the countryside, inexplicably hosted by an elderly Polish couple.

The kidnappers are unclear about their reasons, and refuse to answer the author’s questions about who is paying his ransom (in keeping with his unpopular image, he seems doubtful that anyone would pay for his return). The kidnapping drags on and, without any sense of the larger context, almost starts to resemble a Beckett play in its minimal, repetitive absurdism.

It’s a very French kind of caper — Houellebecq’s hosts are not only the type of kidnappers to offer wine to their captive, but also to go buy him a better bottle when he complains about it. Much like Larry David or Lena Dunham, Houellebecq plays up the unlikeable sides of his character, whether he’s asking for more and more outlandish favours or blithely provoking his Polish hosts at dinner by theorizing that Poland isn’t a real country.

There’s so little plot development that to reveal what little happens would definitely constitute a spoiler. But don’t come see this expecting big plot twists, major suspense or mind-bending concepts. It’s more of an amusing curiosity for fans of weird literature — but as such it succeeds quite nicely. (Malcolm Fraser)

The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq screens at Cinéma du Parc (3575 Parc) tonight, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 7:15 p.m., $13/$9 students/seniors
The Festival du nouveau cinéma runs through Oct. 19. See the complete program here.