Tuesday at RIDM

Reviews of two films screening at RIDM today – including one that our critic Justine Smith considers one of the best of the year.

The 22nd annual Montreal documentary film festival RIDM (Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montréal) runs through Nov. 24. Here are reviews of two films screening today.

MS Slavic 7

Among this year’s best Canadian films, MS Slavic 7 is a documentary-essay-fiction hybrid made by longtime collaborators Sofia Bohdanowicz and Deragh Campbell. Taking place over three days, the pair’s shared alter-ego Audrey (who has also appeared in their collaborations Never Eat Alone and Veslemøy’s Song) looks through the Harvard archive at letters written by her great-grandmother, a poet who fled Poland during the war. While fictionalized, the letters and incidents in the film are based on events in Bohdanowicz’s life and use excerpts from her grandmother’s poems and letters. The rest of the film is structured around Audrey’s attempts to decipher the meaning of the letters, a party and a rendez-vous with a translator.

With heavy influences of Chantal Akerman with a sharp and self-deprecating sense of humour, MS Slavic 7 examines intergenerational bonds. The film is a light though often wistful look at overcoming solitude and bridging connections with the world around you. It is also, in the truest sense, about Sofia Bohdanowicz’s grandmother and her unrequited love affair decades prior. Language plays an important role in this world. Audrey does not speak Polish and painstakingly analyzes possible interpretations to better connect with her grandmother, while she spends most of her own long days in absolute silence. MS Slavic 7, above all else, articulates in images and sounds a deep sense of longing. (Justine Smith)

MS Slavic 7 screens at Cinéma du Parc (3575 Parc) on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 6:30 p.m. and on Thursday, Nov. 21, 8:30 p.m.

sans frapper

Alexe Poukine’s sans frapper opens with a woman named Ada, who painfully but rather matter-of-factly recalls her sexual assault (or assaults, to be more precise) at age 19. The film then cuts to a much younger woman, who tells her own story of assault — which the viewer pretty soon figures is the same story as Ada’s. And so it goes: more women are put in front of the camera to tell part of Ada’s story and part of theirs, as Poukine blurs the lines between what belongs to which interviewee. The full process is never explained by the film, but it seems to be something like this: Ada wrote down her full story and “performed” it in whole, and the other interviewees (two of which are actually men) were given the text and given free rein.

Some choose to perform it; some choose to comment on it. Poukine often keeps rolling after yelling “cut” on the performances, after which she questions the interviewees (it feels disingenuous to call them actors, even if some are explicitly acting) about what they just said. It’s reminiscent of the second half of Anne-Claire Poirier’s Mourir à tue-tête, which takes a similarly deconstructed approach to dealing with the trauma of sexual assault, but sans frapper’s formalist leanings are much less pronounced. It’s essentially a talking head documentary and, while the idea that the trauma of sexual assault can be shared by all women almost interchangeably is a powerful one, to assign such complexities to such a straight-forward format has its limitations. I don’t even think it’s Poukine’s fault, necessarily; it’s just that audiences have been trained to think that if a documentary even brings up the idea of blurring lines between fact and fiction, that’s the way it has to be watched. sans frapper isn’t F for Fake, nor is it trying to be, but its experimentation probably comes across better on paper than on screen. (Alex Rose) 

sans frapper screens at Cinéma du Parc (3575 Parc) on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 6 p.m. and at Cinémathèque québécoise (355 de Maisonneuve E.) on Friday, Nov. 22, 8 p.m.

See the complete RIDM program here.