Film reviews: Heart of a Dog, Anna, Green Room

An art film about a famous couple’s dog, a dark entry by Quebec director Charles-Olivier Michaud and a pressure-cooker thriller about brutal neo-Nazis.


Lolabelle in Heart of a Dog

The Festival du nouveau cinéma runs through Oct. 18. Here are reviews of three films that have their first screenings at the festival today.

Heart of a Dog

Few films with the form and structure of Heart of a Dog get the kind of mainstream attention that this film gets. It’s a freewheeling, shambolic personal essay film that has a lot more in common with museum installations and experimental short films than with the majority of the features in competition at a festival like FNC, but don’t take that to mean that Heart of a Dog is somehow pretentious or inaccessible. Laurie Anderson may be one of the most recognizable name brands in multidisciplinary performance art (there aren’t many), but just about anyone can enjoy this goofy, profound, depressing meditation on life and death.

The central figure in Heart of a Dog is Anderson’s beloved rat terrier Lolabelle, companion of Anderson and her late husband Lou Reed’s life for many years, and an experimental musician in her own right — Heart of a Dog features copious footage of Lolabelle recording experimental ambient Christmas jams, somewhat aided by treats. Anderson paints a freewheeling portrait not only of Lolabelle’s life and death, but also of life in NYC post-9/11, of her own coming-of-age, of Goya’s and Heidegger’s contributions to the world and of a myriad of other things within the scope of Anderson’s fertile creative mind. It might be a little hard to digest for some, but in a perfect world Heart of a Dog would be the kind of gateway art film that takes these kinds of deeply personal essays into the mainstream. It won’t, but I’m still glad it’s there.

Heart of a Dog screens  at Quartier Latin Cinema (350 Emery) today, Friday, Oct. 16, 1 p.m.



Anna Mouglalis in Anna

Anna Michaux (Anna Mouglalis) is a photojournalist investigating the sex trade in an unnamed Asian country. She gets in deep with the local population, including a mysterious Québécois man (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), but her investigations raise the suspicions of the local triads. Anna is kidnapped, beaten and raped by the very pimps and lowlives she’s investigating and narrowly escapes with her life. Waking up beaten and bruised in a Montreal hospital, she takes it upon herself to find the truth once and for all.

Charles-Olivier Michaud has tackled darkness in his short but prolific career (which includes pretty much the only straight-up Quebec dance film I can think of), but he’s never done something quite as foreboding as Anna. It’s essentially I Spit On Your Grave with tact and gravitas, a grindhouse thriller reimagined as a dark-night-of-the-soul character study. It wouldn’t work nearly as well if Michaud wasn’t willing to pull back at the appropriate moments, turning what sometimes feel like it’s heading down a corridor of nihilism into something thornier, more ambiguous and more affecting. It certainly wouldn’t work without the tortured central performance of Mouglalis, who infuses this battered character with soul and presence that expands beyond the various atrocities at hand. Anna isn’t a very fun watch, but it’s certainly an enthralling one.

Anna screens at Pavillon Judith-Jasmin (1564 St-Denis, Salle Jean-Claude Lauzon) today, Friday, Oct. 16, 2:45 p.m.

The film’s Montreal release is slated for Oct. 23.

Green Room


Patrick Stewart and the gang in Green Room

The Dead Kennedys song “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” takes a turn for the literal in Blue Ruin director Jeremy Saulnier’s sophomore effort, a blisteringly intense and brutal thriller that pits a fledgling punk band (Anton Yelchin, Alia Shakwat, Joe Cole and Callum Turner) and a wrong-place-wrong-time fairweather fascist (Imogen Poots) against vicious neo-Nazis (led by none other than Patrick Stewart!) after one of them witnesses a murder in the Nazis’ hideout/bunker.

It must be said that Saulnier is a man after my own heart. I have a never-ending well of love for tight, brutal thrillers of this ilk, and I unsurprisingly loved his first film. Green Room is a leap and a bound beyond that — it’s a 100-minute jolt of intensity that never lets up.

Saulnier has absolutely no pity. His films are not beholden to clichés and they’re not beholden to the opposite of the cliché (you know the drill — if a character amps themselves up to do something heroic, for example, it either works exactly as planned or fails miserably). Pretty much anything can happen and does, in graphic and sometimes stomach-churning detail. Saulnier is not just proving to be a master at genre films, he’s also providing some of the most memorable squibs, prosthetics and generally bloody bits of latex in the business. It’s a pressure-cooker thriller that immediately takes its places among the classics of the genre — Carpenter-level mastery. I’m already chomping at the bit for whatever else he’s got in store, provided he doesn’t get poached for a superhero film. This is, as far as I’m concerned, the best film of the year so far – and one that tremendously benefits from being seen with an audience.

Green Room screens at Quartier Latin Cinema (350 Emery) tonight, Friday, Oct. 16, 9:30 p.m. and again Saturday, Oct. 17, 1 p.m.

Buy tickets and see the complete Festival du nouveau cinéma program here.