The (almost entirely) digital 2020 edition of the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma runs from Oct. 7 to Oct. 31. See our program highlights here.
Last and First Men
The only feature film made by composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (Arrival, mother!) before he died, Last and First Men is an experimental documentary inspired by the works of noted science fiction author and philosopher, Olaf Stapledon. The film was shot in tundra locations, presented in textured black and white with brief moments of colour (a green light, presumably Neptune, echoing The Great Gatsby, as well as a burning red sun that threatens humanity’s future). Aside from plant life, the landscapes are barren aside from strange and elliptical structures called spomeniks, anti-fascist monuments built in Yugoslavia. They have a dreamy and otherworldly quality and, within the context of the film, foretell inevitable doom.
Set millions of years in the future, a highly evolved species of humans attempt to communicate with the past to assure the future. As explained by narrator Tilda Swinton, the future humans have achieved a kind of immortality as they have also overcome our species’ most destructive qualities. As they grapple with the possibility of an endpoint beyond their control, they similarly struggle with an entry point into the old world, and it becomes hauntingly clear that looking to the past will not be able to save our future. Last and First Men’s tone is melancholic and almost alien. While vague and ambiguous, the film has a droning sense of dread that permeates from start to finish. Jóhannsson’s haunting score only contributes to the eeriness and lends the film a particularly unsettling aura. (Justine Smith)
Judy Versus Capitalism
In his latest documentary, Judy Versus Capitalism, Mike Hoolboom examines the life and work of his friend Judy Rebick, a noted feminist and anti-capitalist activist. Divided into different chapters and running at a brisk 62 minutes, the film employs various experimental techniques in the telling of Rebick’s unconventional life. The documentary searches into the depths of her abusive childhood to her continued political activism today, but above else, it’s a loving portrait. In terms of rapport and aesthetics, it feels imbued with warmth and intimacy. The film’s textured shooting style and the heavy use of layering images serve a variety of purposes. It mirrors Rebick’s ways of thinking and experiencing the world and has the impact of confronting and tearing down the conventions of commercial cinema. It’s only fitting that an anti-capitalist portrait should discount the narrative and pacifying techniques of mainstream movies.
While experimental, the film is never alienating. Rebick stands tall as such a compelling figure, whose consciousness imbues every frame, that her charisma rides us through some of the more obscure sequences. She’s a candid and powerful speaker, utterly unafraid to lay her heart on the line. Without needing to spell things out in a neat timeline, Judy Versus Capitalism similarly showcases the genuine change that feminist and activist groups enacted in Canadian society, and how their work continues to this day. It’s a film that affords the audience empathy and thoughtfulness, allowing us to come to our own conclusions without being guided along. The documentary should be especially interesting for audiences interested in cinematic portraits and protest movements. (JS)
Il n’y a pas de faux métier
I’d never seen an Olivier Godin film before, though not for lack of desire. Godin is one of those local filmmakers who is adulated on the festival circuit and relatively prolific (four features in six years) but the releases of his films are not exactly treated with pomp and circumstance. I imagine part of it has to do with how indescribable and leftfield his movies are. Verbose, quasi-Beckettian absurd weirdness that blends overt poetry and theological concerns with fart jokes and childish punnery, Godin’s movies (or, at the very least, this movie) are made with obsessive film buffs in mind.
Il n’y a pas de faux métier is a blissfully chaotic comedy in which would-be screenwriter Marie-Cobra Tremblay (Tatiana Zinga Botao) dreams of writing a screenplay for Denzel Washington (Fayolle Jean) to star in. The trouble is that Washington has graduated to sitcoms, Marie-Cobra’s reformed-vegetarian preacher ex Rosaire (François-Simon Poirier) has taken umbrage to being cited as the inspiration for the main character, her friend Mélusine (Leslie Mavangui) has recently returned from Trois-Rivières to cast doubt upon the entire undertaking, she’s followed around by a Greek chorus and there’s a group of would-be screenwriters (led by real-life screenwriter Eric K. Boulianne) who also follow her around with opinions about the wanton averageness of her screenplay.
Il n’y a pas de faux métier goes in every direction at once, a dialogue-dense comedy of manners that subscribes to no particular sense of genre or comedic timing. Though somewhat of a meta-deconstruction of the process of writing a film (with copious jabs at the wonderfulness of grants) and of the invisible borders of intellectualism (prompting the immortal line “Pasolini, y’est tu sur Netflix?!”), it’s also just fucking weird from top to bottom. It’s rare to see a film that’s so playful and yet so comfortable with alienating the majority of people who might lay eyes on it, which puts it in its own category on the Quebec cinematic landscape. (At 109 minutes, it’s probably about as humanly long as something this thoroughly on its own wavelength should be.) It’s also extremely rare to see this many POC in a Quebec movie that isn’t about street gangs or refugees, let alone a bizarre meditation on the creative process that has two janitors slap-fighting and “Denzel Washington” expounding at length about the emotional stakes of Buffy and Angel’s relationship. It’s really something else. (Alex Rose)
Caught in the Net
An unexpected blockbuster hit from the Czech Republic, Caught in the Net is a documentary about adults who prey on young girls online. The filmmakers, including a team of lawyers, psychologists and sexologists, hire three adult women to play 12-year-old girls. The film itself is as much about the behind-the-scenes process as the results. Unlike something like To Catch a Predator or any of the YouTube pedophile hunting channels, this isn’t about individual crimes, but the sheer volume of abuse and exploitation young people face and the ways predators exploit children’s insecurities and fears.
The film doesn’t offer too many surprises to anyone who grew up with the internet. Still, it does seek to expose our desensitization to that reality, which only contributes to the problem. While the film has an unmistakable sensationalist vibe, it does avoid (for the most part) the vigilantism that usually goes hand in hand with this kind of content. It avoids obvious victim-blaming or even putting the onus too much on the parents. Instead, it demonstrates that very mainstream sites like Facebook don’t have a strong motivator to go after predators as it would be detrimental to their membership and bottom line. It also focuses on the long-term effects of this kind of exploitation on young minds, and the ways it might shape unhealthy and even dangerous patterns in their future romantic lives. Having the actresses play an active role, rather than act as just props adds even more to the film. They reflect thoughtfully on what they are going through, consistently bringing it back to their personal experience as well. (JS)
Christian Petzold’s latest film Undine opens with a break-up as Undine (Paula Beer) is blindsided by her boyfriend, who has been cheating on her. She gives him an ultimatum: stay with her or die. By chance, mere hours later, she meets another man, Christoph (Franz Rogowski), a deep-sea diver who sweeps her off her feet. With the film, Petzold re-invents the Undine myth, a doomed underwater nymph who seeks mortality through love. To gain a soul, she must fall in love, while warning all men who betray her that they are fated to die.
Despite its mythical origins and dreamy atmosphere, Undine has its feet rooted quite firmly in reality. Undine works as a historian for a Berlin’s urban development office and gives historical tours on the city’s changing face. Periodically, the film is interrupted by long monologues deconstructing the impact of time on Berlin’s identity. The pull of history is vital, as in most of Petzold’s film, as it challenges the relationship between form and function. In particular, for a city that has transformed so much over the past 150 years, how can the literal facades of fascists, communists and monarchists be recontextualized into new spaces where imagination and democracy can have free rein? Painfully romantic and often absurdly funny, the film further establishes Petzold as one of cinema’s greatest living artists, as he manages to delight and challenge audience preconceptions about the world they live in. (JS)
For the complete Festival du Nouveau Cinéma program, please visit their website.
(Unfortunately the scheduled drive-in screening of tonight’s opening film, Sophie Dupuis’s Souterrain, had to be cancelled due to bad weather.)
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