A film to shut up the anti-refugee set

The underground art scene in the Middle East and a Quebec halfway house are the subjects of two films screening at the documentary festival, RIDM.


Yallah! Underground

Montreal’s documentary film festival — the Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal (RIDM) — runs through Nov. 22. Here are reviews of two films screening at the fest for the first time today.

Yallah! Underground

In these troubled times where intelligent debates are overshadowed by the great insignificance of two-bit radio and TV hosts ensuring advertising revenues to their stations with inflammatory comments about refugees and inhabitants of the Middle East, documentaries such as Yallah! Underground should be broadcast non-stop.

The second feature of Palestinian-German director Farid Eslam (Istanbul United, 2014), Yallah! Underground documents the fertile alternative scene that has developed in the Middle East and in occupied Palestine during recent years.

What the audience witnesses in this film goes far beyond the idea of a scene with defined outlines, similar sonic qualities or even common ethnic origins. From the streets of Jordan to Tahrir Square in Cairo, Yallah! Underground unveils the work of visual artists and musicians, men and women of all backgrounds, whose artistic practices are often implemented at the peril of their lives as a result of religious fanaticism and dictatorial powers. As captured by Eslam, the imprisonment of Lebanese producer and musician Zeid Hamdan (one of the many subjects of his film) speaks clearly of both the political climate and the influence of social media on Eastern societies. Supported by throngs of fans from his community who denounce his imprisonment, the artist is released after a few days.

Yallah! Underground also tracks social uproar that led to the Arab Spring, the fall of “Pharaoh” Mubarak and the contentious democratic elections in Egypt of transnational Sunni Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2012.

I can only underline the relevance of this documentary. This gem has to be put in the hands of half-wit anti-Syrian-refugee petition signatories and other Denis Lévesques and Éric Duhaimes of this world, to whom we should also send out a list of names including: Wajdi Mouawad, Xavier [Tadros] Dolan, Alain Farah, Monia Chokri and Radwan Ghazi Moumneh and ask them what these contemporary cultural actors have in common… (Ralph Elawani)

Yallah! Underground screens tonight at Concordia Hall Building (1455 de Maisonneuve W.), 7 p.m. (PWYC) and again on Nov. 22 at Cinéma du Parc (3575 Parc), 4:15 p.m.



It seems like almost every edition of RIDM has a Quebec film about down-on-their-luck, marginalized characters living either in a halfway home, a squat or an institution. This speaks less to unoriginal programming choices and more to the state of things in this province. Martin Fournier and Pierre-Luc Latulippe turn their camera towards the Manoir Gaulin, a run-down former motel turned private rooming house for addicts and the mentally ill on the outskirts of St-Hyacinthe. The Manoir is in a state of decrepitude that borders on the surreal — one resident supposes it’ll be torn down soon to make place for a mall, which is exactly what the first minutes of the film depict.

Not much is said about what landed the subjects in the Manoir in the first place. The two central characters are Johnny, a former Elvis impersonator with substance abuse issues, and Michel, a soft-spoken university graduate whose crippling depression has knocked him down several pegs (“We don’t live in here, not really” he says. “We exist.”). Basically isolated from the world, they pass the time by drinking and commiserating until the hatchet comes down on the manoir and they’re forced to find a way to move on with their lives — whether or not their current situations allow that.

Fournier and Latulippe have a very formal, rigorous style that skews closer to the fiction films of filmmakers like Harmony Korine or even Werner Herzog. They let scenes play out unperturbed, never interacting with their subjects or pressing them on (there’s an older gentleman who features prominently who’s very talkative but lacks the proper dentition to make himself understood). It makes for some compelling scenes, but also others that feel, if not staged, then at the very least prodded into existence. It’s an age-old documentary question: are the subjects being documented or exploited? I’d tend towards the former, but the aesthetic approach favoured by the filmmakers doesn’t make the choice easier. (Alex Rose)

Manoir screens tonight at Cinéma du Parc (3575 Parc), 6 p.m. and again on Nov. 22 at Pavillon Judith-Jasmin Annexe (1564 St-Denis), 5:30 p.m.

For the full RIDM schedule and ticketing info, go to the festival’s website.