Delve into the strange world of Estonian fairy tales and folklore with Rainer Sarnet’s November, based on Andrus Kivirähk’s novel Rehepapp. Uniquely peculiar and coloured in black and white, it explores the strange lives of cartoon-like, pagan peasants living in a dirt-poor village.
Many tales intertwine, snaking around one of unrequited love. Young Liina (Rea Lest) obsesses over her childhood friend Hans (Jörgen Liik), while he’s smitten with a newly arrived German baroness (Jette Loona Hermanis). Both are desperate enough to do anything to win the other’s love. Meanwhile, other villagers make pacts with the Devil to breathe life into hand-made creations called kratts and mysterious ceremonies with ghosts abound, all set in a gloomy Estonian forest.
Forget the dreamy Disney fairy tales of your youth – these are macabre and darkly funny. The kratts aren’t charming creatures, but made of rusted, junkyard metal, the love potions involve baking your own shit and the Devil cackles like a manic hyena. From a wide-eyed, toothless troublemaker to a weirdly camp baron, all characters’ appearances veer towards unsettling and creepy, even the two lovers are caked with dirt and dressed in rags. It makes for quite a delightful and original concoction of romance, magic and death. With its chilling mood and surprises at every turn, this is definitely one of my favourites from this festival so far. (Roxane Hudon)
November screens at J.A. de Sève Cinema (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Monday, July 23, 7:10 p.m. and again on Wednesday, July 26, 5:15 p.m.
Most Beautiful Island
Most Beautiful Island is a slow burning thriller, which begins as a naturalistic character study of a life lived on the margins, and slowly devolves into horror. The grittiness of the film is conveyed not only in the people and situations, but in the very grain of the film as well, as it was roughly shot in Super 16mm.
Luciana (played by writer/director Ana Asensio) is an illegal immigrant from Spain living in New York City. Her exact circumstances remain unclear, other than that she has clearly lost an infant, and is broke despite the fact that she works several jobs. A new job requires her to attend a party wearing a short black dress and heels; for this, she will be paid $2,000. It’s either too good to be true, or it comes with a substantial catch. The unfolding of this mystery consumes three quarters of the film, culminating in some edge of your seat scenes. The tension in the theatre could have been cut with a proverbial knife.
The film is based on several of Asensio’s own life experiences living and working as an illegal in the United States. Asensio is in every scene, in a role that allows for infrequent pauses. As a filmmaker, she finds the ideal tone, so her character’s anxiety permeates the audience; Luciana’s nightmare becomes a shared experience. It’s an extremely personal, and strong debut. (Katie Ferrar + Mark Carpenter)
Most Beautiful Island screens at J.A. de Sève Cinema (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Monday, July 24, 3:15 p.m.
Town in a Lake
Town in a Lake is a tense, and at times suffocating crime film from the Philippines. It’s also an episodic, dreamlike piece with a very bizarre, enigmatic ending.
The film wastes no time setting up the premise. It starts with the coercion, kidnapping, and offscreen rape and murder of two young schoolgirls, one of whom remains missing. What unfolds over the next hour is the small town’s attempts to reconcile itself with the events that transpired. Many residents remain in a state of denial and shock that something of this nature could happen in their deeply conservative, Catholic town. Others are intent on justice and revenge. The mothers’ reactions could not be more different. One embraced the girls’ friendship, which became more than that a certain point, while the other was clearly less comfortable with the entire situation.
The film takes a turn for the strange once more time is spent in the woods where the crimes were committed. These same woods are frequented by “teenage junkies”, who run a strangely PG-13 strip club. Some of these marginal individuals witnessed the abduction, as did a fisherman. The crux of the film is the fisherman’s struggle with his conscience; he wants the guilty to be held accountable, but he fears the repercussions testifying will have for his family.
Director Jet Leyco, making his third feature, is clearly steeped in the contemplative rhythms of a branch of World Cinema that favours long takes with very precise framing, and somewhat cryptic storylines. What’s remarkable is how much tension he creates given the leisurely, serene pace. Even though the slip into a more surrealist mode in the latter part of the film is less successful, he is definitely a talent to watch. (KF + MC)
Town in a Lake screens at J.A. de Sève Cinema (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Tuesday, July 25, 9:40 p.m. and again on Thursday, July 27, 5:30 p.m.
Tokyo Idols examines the Japanese “idol” phenomenon. These idols, Kawaii-inspired teenagers, play up their innocence and femininity in service of the fragile male ego, particularly that of middle aged men. Conditioning begins when they are children, building the fan base that will ensure their stardom. By their twenties, they are past their prime, as the men who adored them now fear their transformation into strong, independent women. Much of this translates as a bewildering, and profoundly disturbing subculture to Westerners. While similar worship of teen pop stars exists in the West, the open expression of fandom, fantasy, and obsession by middle aged men is obviously taboo.
Two critical voices are contained in the film, that of a female journalist and a male sociologist, but they indicate that criticism of the industry and its practices is unwelcome and repressed. They reveal two categories of fans: the casual majority who have wives and jobs; and the ever growing, increasingly mainstreamed minority “Otaku”, who are obsessed with their idols, and have no social life beyond the idol experience. They live for idol shows and meet and greets, where they have one minute to shake hands (a growing practice that has strong sexual connotations) with the girls. Managers indicate that this all occurs within a legal grey area of what is a billion dollar industry. This raises questions about who is really benefiting, and being manipulated by the process. The film suggests that the real victims are the men, whose lives become dominated by the idols, their pocketbooks emptied, and fragile egos empowered to realise forgotten dreams, all while further marginalising them socially.
The infrequent analytical lens will frustrate some viewers, as this is the rare documentary that leaves you wanting to hear more. It raises a great deal of questions, and does not provide all the desired perspectives; an examination of whether any of these girls have been harmed by their fanatical fans is notably absent from the film. It’s a fascinating, albeit disturbing film, that’s not to be missed. (KF + MC)
Tokyo Idols screens at J.A. de Sève Cinema (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) Wednesday, July 26, 7:30 p.m.