The Fantasia Festival began on July 11 and continues till Aug. 1, bringing genre cinema to the theatres on Concordia’s downtown campus. Here is our latest review round-up:
These days, it is perfectly normal not to know your neighbours’ names — better yet, to have never even seen (or heard) them. Most apartment dwellers’ knowledge of their neighbours is peripheral at best: passing nods in the lobby, the sound of loud footsteps, the smell of weed wafting up through the floorboards, and so on.
Most of us living in cities have accepted our urban isolation. When Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom), the protagonist of David Marmor’s feature debut 1BR, walks into an open house and finds not just an apartment, but a whole community of caring neighbours, she becomes excited at the prospect of living there — so much so that she lies on her application about not having a pet. Sarah has just moved to Los Angeles with her cat, hoping to train as a costume designer but working as a temp for the time being. She is pretty, single, has no friends and an unstable relationship with her only living parent. She’s the perfect prey.
Sarah thinks that she’s getting a charming one-bedroom apartment in a courtyard complex, but what she doesn’t know is that she’s involuntarily signed up to a cult. No wonder the neighbours are so friendly! Marmor divulges the clues in a quick succession: the loud noises that keep her up at night, the too-friendly-to-be-true hot neighbour, a threatening note shoved under her door, etc. Before she has a chance to realize what’s happening, Sarah is attacked by a tenant and kept prisoner in her own bedroom. Tortured under the premise of correcting “bad conditioning,” she’s made to read the cult’s bible and memorize its four foundations.
Though fairly formulaic and at times superficial in its approach to character psychology, 1BR is a solid thriller that reflects the perils of our time. (Sarah Foulkes)
1BR screens in the J.A. de Sève Cinéma (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Monday, July 22, 11:45 a.m.
Ode to Nothing
People die every day, but that doesn’t ensure a busy workday and financial security for Sonya, who barely manages to keep her family’s funeral home open. Her days are long and unfulfilled…until strange men show up one night and ask the lonely funeral worker to dispose of the body of an elderly woman, no questions asked. Soon after, things start to change. After taking care of the mysterious corpse, business picks up at the funeral home. When Sonya starts having conversations with the discarded body, she finds the courage to talk to the neighbourhood ice cream vendor! Is the cadaver truly pulling the strings of fate in Sonya’s favour or is something else at play?
Writer-director Dwein Ruedas Baltazar tells his story with assurance. Using contemplative images, he paints Sonya’s world with static shots that are meant to evoke a boring, routine life, but that also become soothing in their own way. The placid calm of the funeral home setting allows for a meditation on after-life care, especially how business, compassion and grief get juggled together. While Ode to Nothing uses a carousel of ghost story clichés, it never indulges in them. The shiny bottles of embalming fluid, freshly dug graves and pristine caskets are all in a day’s work to a woman searching for a connection with the living. (Yannick Belzil)
Ode to Nothing screens in the J.A. de Sève Cinéma (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Monday, July 22, 2:10 p.m.
The Father’s Shadow
The difference between grieving and being the living dead is infinitesimal in The Father’s Shadow, a ponderous Brazilian family drama with shades of zombie movie. Nine-year-old Dalva lives with her father and aunt; her mother has been dead for two years, which has sent her construction worker father into an emotional tailspin. Watching her aunt do minor incantations to keep her dopey, Goji-berry-selling boyfriend around, Dalva gets the idea that magic could possibly resurrect her mother and fix everything in her life — particularly her father, who’s quite literally letting himself rot.
Though The Father’s Shadow is well-directed and acted, it feels rather stretched out even at 90 minutes. A compelling premise can’t really support the way it uses its genre elements as window dressing.It’s most affecting when it explores the oppressive confusion of Dalva’s childhood, which eventually makes way for somewhat timid zombie stuff. It certainly doesn’t help that Dalva is shown watching old movies that are direct influences on the film you’re watching (Night of the Living Dead, Pet Sematary). As assured as Gabriela Amaral Almeida’s direction is, The Father’s Shadow just doesn’t stick the landing. (Alex Rose)
The Father’s Shadow screens in the J.A.de Sève Cinéma (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Monday, July 22, 7 p.m. and again on Tuesday, July 23, 5:05 p.m.
Shooting the Mafia
Some images can never be unseen; they haunt you for the rest of your life. Letizia Battaglia has an innate ability to capture those kinds of images, not simply because she made a career photographing the Sicilian mafia, but because of the skill she honed over time. Her life, photos, and the mafia world she photographed are the subjects of Shooting the Mafia, a sometimes compelling documentary with highly digressive tendencies.
The film’s strengths are Letizia’s photographs, their incorporation into actual archival footage, her anecdotes and some of the historical content. It is, however, significantly weakened by large amounts of superfluous footage, gleaned from newsreels and Italian movies, intended to provide symbolic context and metaphorical commentary. Much of this is showy and distracting in a manner familiar from the work of contemporary documentarians prone to attempts at would-be sardonic or poetic juxtapositions of images with vague relevance to the subject at hand, like Adam Curtis. A notable example would be a late-in-the-day montage connecting a brutal shark hunt to Mafia reprisals. Segments like this ultimately detract from the film rather than enhance it.
Shooting the Mafia is on safer ground when it sticks to its subject. Now well into her 80s, Letizia is a tough customer, still active in her field. Second to her photos, the most memorable aspect of the film is her storytelling, and the many pithy comments about her art, like when she says she regrets most the photos she could not bring herself to take (in particular of the body parts of slain judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino). Letizia sums up her work best when she says that photographing trauma is embarrassing, but it’s an obligation filled out of love. (Katie Farrar & Mark Carpenter)
Shooting the Mafia screens in the J.A. de Sève Cinéma (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Tuesday, July 23, 7:35 p.m. and again on Thursday, July 25, 12:40 p.m.
If you’ve ever jumped from a random knock at your door, or been home alone when some drunken fool mistook your apartment for their own, or ever thought someone was following you, Door Lock will trigger some nightmarish scenarios. While billed as a Korean remake, it is more than that: it’s a near-total reimagining of the Spanish film Sleep Tight (which took Fantasia’s Best Screenplay Award in 2012). Where Jaume Balaguero’s original centred on the villain, co-writer/director Lee Kwon flips it back to a more standard victim- based perspective. This allows for arguably more tense moments, but also makes for a more ordinary film.
Gyeng-min (Kong Hyo-Jin) lives alone in a Seoul high rise, and is paranoid about someone trying to break into her apartment based on past experiences. The police are familiar with her situation, but without real evidence, there’s nothing they can do. The opening sequence indicates that her paranoia is not unfounded, and that it’s only a matter of time before her willing attacker is successful. Meanwhile, she’s becoming increasingly tired and anxious.
What begins as a rather pedestrian film improves as it proceeds, especially after Gyeng-min is menaced at work by an angry, sexually harassing customer. Door Lock depends on directorial style, set design and Kong’s performance to outweigh the plot holes and overextended climax. As such, it’s a kind of post-Hitchcock thriller (which proliferated in the ’80s and ’90s), in which the red herrings multiply and the plot twists enough to risk serious implausibility. It should also be noted that the subtitles are, at times, subpar. What remains is a paranoid thriller with a current of feminist social commentary, one you’ll want to see through to the end. (KF & MC)
Door Lock screens in the Hall Theatre (1455 de Maisonneuve W.) on Tuesday, July 23, 9:15 p.m.
For the full Fantasia program, go to the festival’s website.