Cinemania, the festival of French-language films screened with English subtitles, continues through Nov. 22. This year’s edition of Cinemania is happening entirely online, with each film being made available for a 48-hour period (and almost every film appears on the festival schedule twice).
In Vacarme, 13-year-old Émilie is placed in youth protection services after an apparent fallout with her mother. Starring Rosalie Pépin as the young teen, the film teems with adolescent intensity. Forced into the highly structured environment of a government-run facility, Émilie can’t help rebelling. Burdened with feelings of abandonment, she will do what it takes to be reunited with her mother, played by an elusive and magnetic Sophie Desmarais.
Vacarme doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table. The film’s focus on Émilie’s perspective becomes its main strength and weakness, as her adolescent obsession drives the film’s emotional power while it dulls its institutional curiosity. While the film explores some of the day to day dealings of living in a youth home, it remains mostly surface level. For better and worse, Vacarme becomes the portrait of one mother and daughter relationship like many others. Though, in an era where some filmmakers try to undertake a little too much, the familiar story told reasonably well is an important stepping stone for an emerging filmmaker (Frederick Neegan Trudel) who likely has a bright future ahead of him.
The film’s heart lies in the raw intensity of the two central performances by Pépin and Desmarais. While they rarely share the screen, they feel intimately connected. Vacarme is Pépin’s first film role, and she carries the film rather beautifully. Playing the somewhat awkward in-between age of 13, she errs closer to childlike rather than adolescent. It creates an interesting counterpoint to other similar films and drives home the idea of her fragility and need for parental love and guidance. (Justine Smith)
Vacarme is available for a 48-hour streaming period as of Tuesday, Nov. 10.
Christian Petzold regular Nina Hoss shines in L’audition, a starkly European drama from director Ina Weisse that ultimately works best as a vehicle for her considerable talents. Hoss plays Anna, a violin teacher at a conservatory who powers through her severe anxiety by trying to control everything around her. It means keeping her luthier husband (Simon Abkarian) at arm’s length, conducting an affair with a member of an extracurricular string ensemble, forcing her 10-year-old son Jonas (Serafin Mishiev) to learn the violin even if he seems heavily unenthused by lessons and particularly by turning all of her attention to a pupil (Ilja Monti) that she feels she can mold into a prodigy. Anna’s intense expectations of everything around her are molded by her own sentiment of failure — she was once, we learn, poised to become a prodigy herself — but rarely take into account the fact that others also have free will.
Though the logline immediately suggests Whiplash, L’audition is a much more sedate and strained drama, the constant push of performance just another way in which Anna loses her grip on controlling every section of her life. Though it’s chiefly set in the music world, L’audition wields silence like a scalpel. In its best moments, it recalls the surgical precision of Michael Haneke, though its approach to the material remains resolutely middlebrow. Hoss is an absolute marvel of restraint and pinched anguish, but the film spreads itself too thin by the two-thirds-mark, eventually keeping the viewer firmly at arm’s length. (Alex Rose)
L’audition is available for a 48-hour streaming period as of Monday, Nov. 9.
Je m’appelle humain
A somewhat abstract portrait of Innu poet Joséphine Bacon, Je m’appelle humain manages to get over the hump of its early documentary clichés towards something graceful and touching. Like seemingly every biographical documentary made in Quebec in the last 15 years, it begins with footage of Bacon staring at the horizon overlaid with her own words and moves into a quickly abandoned framing device of having Bacon walk us through significant addresses from her first move to Montreal from her hometown of Pessamit, on the Côte-Nord. The first 15 minutes or so of Je m’appelle humain seem somewhat perfunctory, like a well-researched segment on a current events show — which isn’t really a problem, but doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the film, which is more overtly about Bacon’s upbringing in a residential school, her relationship with nature and her late-blooming career as a celebrated poet.
Once you get over that initial structural confusion, Je m’appelle humain is a striking portrait of Bacon, a survivor several times over who finds herself celebrated for her poetry late in life. Director Kim O’Bomsawin lets Bacon do much of the talking, and she expresses herself in a poetic but not overly precious way, steering the film away from being a simple rehashing of her written work. It’s nearly impossible to encompass anyone’s life in 78 minutes, so one remains charitable given the fact that the film sometimes seems to lack clear direction; it’s a very moving portrait even as it steers away from exploring the biographical details of large swaths of Bacon’s life. (The film’s most touching moment is perhaps the one where she outlines the reasons why she won’t really be talking about her residential school experience in any detail.) (AR)
Je m’appelle humain is available for a 48-hour streaming period as of Tuesday, Nov. 10.
For more programming details and to rent films, please visit the Cinemania website.
For more film coverage, please visit the Film & TV section.