Montreal’s documentary film festival, the Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montréal (RIDM), runs through Nov. 18 at various cinemas. Here are our reviews of movies screening over the next few days:
De chaque instant
With De chaque instant, Nicolas Philibert takes us into a nursing school as first-year students learn the fundamentals of their trade. Following a dozen or so students, we watch as they’re taught to insert catheters, take blood and carry an injured patient. In an observational style, we see students navigate classrooms, stages and evaluations. Philibert’s affection for educational settings is obvious here, as so much of the film is occupied in self-reflection. What does it mean to be a nurse and why do you want to be one are central questions to their practice.
Intimacy becomes a central tenet of the film. Being a nurse means being up close and personal with ailing bodies and often being the first line of connection for patients and their care. In early scenes, before we enter deeper into the education, this sense of closeness is established between students and even with test dummies. As one student is about to administer a shot to a silicon torso, he tenderly jokes with the faceless body to be prepared for a little sting.
As the students advance with their studies they take on stages in a variety of fields. We watch students tend to people for the first time. Surprisingly, most of their patients are well… patient, as many do the work of bedside manner for their nurses, comforting them with jokes and assurances. There is something optimistic about this recognition of pain and suffering, as both patient and caregiver come together to support each other.
The film’s final act is devoted to student evaluations and is a compelling and forthright examination of intention and identity. It’s rare outside of academic environments that we have to reflect so plainly on our experiences and our expectations moving forward. (Justine Smith)
De chaque instant screens at Cinema Quartier Latin (350 Emery) on Friday, Nov. 9, 6 p.m. and again at the Cinémathèque québécoise (335 de Maisonneuve E.) on Saturday, Nov. 10, 8:30 p.m.
The Gospel of Eureka
The Gospel of Eureka, directed by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher, is the intimate portrait of one small Arkansas town, Eureka Springs, on the eve of a local vote on a gay rights ordinance. A town of barely over 2,000, Eureka Springs is home to the 67-foot-tall Christ of the Ozarks, an immense community theatre biblical production called the Great Passion Play, and a thriving drag bar. These are not polarities, but part of a town with a prospering gay community of whom a great many are Christian, and Fundamentalist at that. Shockingly, this is not a film about community divisions, or even the internal conflicts arising out of faith and sexual identity seen in documentaries like Trembling Before G-d.
Even as Mx Justin Vivian Bond narrates the darker history of Eureka — ties to the KKK, the anti-Semitic rantings of the man responsible for the giant Christ (and whose body is buried at its base) — it is in a dulcet tone. In one moving interview, a couple argue about whether or not Satan exists as a tangible being, and how that belief translates into being kind and good in the world.
The microcosm of Eureka serves, somehow, as a kind of lullaby of wholeness in America. It’s a bonafide heartwarming story with a small town showbiz backbone. Palmieri and Mosher never struggle to find the camp in the Passion Play or the redemptive in the drag bar, but without any crass comparative moral. The bulk of the film jumps between these two stage shows, the live camels on the one hand and glitter on the other, but all of it feels downright optimistic. (Nora Rosenthal)
The Gospel of Eureka screens at Cinéma Quartier Latin (350 Emery) on Saturday, Nov. 10, 9 p.m. and at Cinéma du Parc (3575 Parc) on Sunday, Nov. 11, 6 p.m.
Fail to Appear
In the grand tradition of testing boundaries at the RIDM, small Canadian film Fail to Appear straddles the line between fiction and non-fiction. Director Antoine Bourges builds a screenplay from observation of environments and then hires actors to act them out. In a rather monotone but naturalistic style, we observe the goings-on at a small social workers’ organization in Toronto.
The centre of the story is Isolde and her new client, Eric, who repeatedly fails to show up to his court appearances. New to her job, she struggles with some basic elements of work, but most notably striking the right boundaries. As she works with Eric, they establish an unspoken bond, as she learns more of the nuances of his case.
As a portrait of the disenfranchised and the under-resourced, the film is a quietly intimate portrait of finding your place. Bourges has a strong sense of place and voice as he finds naturalism in recreations of environments most cameras cannot (and perhaps ethically, should not) enter. Taking on the central role of Isolde, Deragh Campbell demonstrates once again why she is one of Canada’s most notable rising acting talents. In a restrained, almost cold style, she creates an emotional centre to an environment that might not be a landscape of grand dramatic moments but nonetheless has significant ramifications in people’s lives. (JS)
Fail to Appear screens at the Cinémathèque québécoise (335 de Maisonneuve E.) on Saturday, Nov. 10, 3:45 p.m. and again at Cinéma du Parc (3575 Parc) on Sunday, Nov. 11, 1:30 p.m.
My Dearest Sister
In My Dearest Sister, the feature debut of Kyoka Tsukamoto, she examines the nature of identity through a personal essay. Born in Japan into a cold and abusive household, in her post-secondary education Tsukamoto restarted her life in Canada, where she’s lived since. With the pretense of attending her grandmother’s funeral, Tsukamoto returns to Japan to find her roots and, specifically, to reconcile with her sister.
Contrasting environmental landscapes with physical and spiritual identities, Tsukamoto creates a tangential exploration of self-discovery. Much of the film is devoted to Japan’s past, in particular, its history of matriarchal leadership. Tsukamoto explains her childhood obsession with the Japanese Empress, Himiko, who was known as a shaman. As we investigate Himiko’s life and its mysteries, Tsukamoto unfolds stereotypes and perceptions of Japan as an inherently patriarchal culture, which turns out to be a relatively new phenomenon.
As the movie moves towards the third act and the meeting between sisters, it becomes harrowing. In a frank address of mental and sexual abuse, the sisters struggle to see eye to eye on the struggles of their childhood. What does it mean to honour thy family when it is the source of abuse? How do you free yourself from the cold grip of discipline and break the cycle of violence? Tsukamoto demonstrates herself as a strong force, balancing many threads of questioning and form. A remarkable work that subverts the traditions of films like Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, My Dearest Sister is one of the festival’s essential films. (JS)
My Dearest Sister screens at Cinéma du Parc (3575 Parc) on Saturday, Nov. 10, 4:30 p.m. and again at Cinéma Moderne (5150 St-Laurent) on Friday, Nov. 16, 7 p.m.
See the complete RIDM schedule and ticket info here.