Call Jane FNC Festival du Nouveau Cinéma review 2022 film movie

FNC reviews: Call Jane, A Piece of Sky and Tchaikovsky’s Wife

Elizabeth Banks and Sigourney Weaver star in an abortion access drama, a doomed love affair in the Swiss Alps and the madness of Tchaikovsky’s Wife.

The 51st edition of the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma runs from Oct. 5 to 16. To read our previous FNC 2022 reviews, please click here.

Call Jane 

Making a film about timely social issues does not make your film better or necessarily more worthy of attention than any other film. Call Jane gives itself a pass. Its self-importance sabotages an opportunity for a nuanced and gritty film about the history of abortion access in the United States. Phyllis Nagy, best known for penning the Carol script, directs a dull and tonally confused screenplay. Written by Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi, Call Jane tells the story of Joy (Elizabeth Banks), a perky housewife in 1968 Chicago who needs an abortion after diagnosing cardiac arrhythmia. The hospital board won’t give her one, so she must turn to the dark underbelly of illegal abortion clinics. After running out of an almost comically menacing one, she sees a flyer for Jane. There, she meets not one Jane but a whole group. The Janes, a real collective that provided over 12,000 safe abortions, charge $600 per abortion, most of which seems to go to a greedy abortion doctor (Cory Michael Smith). The film isn’t interested in exploring the internal structure of the collective. Are they all volunteers? How much do they get paid? Does the collective’s founder Virginia (Sigourney Weaver) have final say or is it non-hierarchical? 

The main issue with the film is the tone. It wants to be a feel-good feminist flick while also checking all the intersectional boxes. Some of this may have to do with the casting of Elizabeth Banks, who, although very good, is too well-known for her girl-boss politics to convincingly play the arc of anti-abortion housewife to abortion rights activist. We know from the beginning that she’s headed in that direction. I can’t help but think how different the film would be if Elisabeth Moss (originally cast) played Joy.

As self-aware as Call Jane is about the inequity of abortion access before Roe v. Wade, its intersectional feminism is uncomplicated. If feminism (broadly) means protecting women, it also means protecting women who are not feminists: anti-abortion activists, anti-feminists and maybe even classist women. The film touches on this a little; Joy is not sex-positive. But where these beliefs come from and how her moral lines are redrawn goes unexplored. Ultimately, the film suffers from a resistance to getting its hands dirty by posing complicated questions. It’s too preoccupied with its self-important feminist quips, which often feel anachronistic. But maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe being a feminist film critic means accepting Call Jane for what it is, not what I think it should be. (Sarah Foulkes)

Call Jane screens on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 6 p.m. (Cinéma du Musée, 1379-A Sherbrooke W.) and on Saturday, Oct. 15, 1 p.m. (Cinéma du Parc, 3575 Parc).

A Piece of Sky

A Piece of Sky (directed by Michael Koch)
A Piece of Sky (directed by Michael Koch)

The overwhelming and awful enormity of the natural world envelops the early scenes of A Piece of Sky. The evergreen Swiss mountains eclipse all that and everything — a reminder of human insignificance. As we grow closer to the residents of the film’s central alpine visit, the eclipsing power of nature seems to render their wants and needs modest. They want to work, be loved and rest. After some trouble with love, Anna (Michèle Brand), a barmaid and young mother, is ready to marry again. Marco is a relative stranger in their area, but he’s already endeared himself to the locals. He drinks iced tea and has the large but gentle disposition of a cow, or another large herbivore. Those around her question whether she’s moving too quickly, but Anna is sure of her love.

The momentous power of their love has a way of shutting out the rest of the world. As they dance at their wedding to “What Is Love?” by Haddaway, one senses that both have been hurt before. Their relationship though quickly hits a snag as Marco’s health seems to deteriorate rapidly. He has extended migraines, and his ability to control his impulses diminishes. The gentle giant grows more unpredictable, though Anna does her best to navigate his new behaviour. Things reach a terrible climax, which is presented with chilling casualness, an impossibly dark moment rendered so simply and terrifying that the image lingers long after the movie ends.

While the film is a love story, it also deals with fundamental moral questions without easy solutions. The film’s majestic landscape and sensible down-to-earth performances keep the film rooted in naturalism even as Anna’s world begins to explode. What happens when the person you love has their personality and behaviour altered because of something out of their control? Can love endure when the person you married has changed in every conceivable way? A rich and often challenging text, A Piece of Sky does a beautiful job matching thematic and emotional ideas with its vast imagery. (Justine Smith)

A Piece of Sky screens on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 7:45 p.m. (Quartier Latin, 350 Émery).

Tchaikovsky’s Wife

Tchaikovsky's Wife (directed by Kirill Serebrennikov)
Tchaikovsky’s Wife (directed by Kirill Serebrennikov)

In Tchaikovsky’s Wife, the flames of passion burn on the blue-toned streets of 18th-century Russia. A young and proud woman, Antonina Miliukova, has heard the music of Tchaikovsky for the first time, setting her on a journey that will lead her through the fiery gates of hell. Almost immediately, she demands to be introduced to the composer, Piotr Tchaikovsky, and despite his protestations, she begs to be made his wife. Nearly 40, Tchaikovsky is stubbornly devoted to his art and has catered to the terrible qualities of a genius; he’s stubborn, aloof and solitary. Unknown to Antonina, he’s also a homosexual and has no interest in women. He’s only swayed by the promise of a large dowry, which will lessen the pressures on his output. As she begs to be made his wife, he offers her warning upon warning. She refuses to listen. 

Predictably, the marriage quickly goes sour. Tchaikovsky resents Antonina deeply, realizes his mistake, and immediately pushes for divorce. The film then cycles over decades as Antonina pursues the elusive object of her desire, driving her mad. Given many opportunities to take a step back and restart her life, she steadfastly refuses, entangling her strained and alienated marriage with bitterness and grief. Her obsession never wanes as her life devolves into impoverished rooms and desperate sexual scenarios.

A strange and beguiling film centred on a forceful performance by Alyona Mikhaylova, Tchaikovsky’s Wife is fascinating for its distance. This is particularly true in the treatment of Miliukova’s mental state: was she always unstable, willing to throw away all reason for the man she loved? Was she driven to a frenzy by Tchaikovsky’s music? Or was she just a wilful young woman driven insane by a man she longed for, who would never be able to return her affections? A stunning work of cinema that burns so brightly and features beautiful and unexpected aesthetic twists that capture the madness of desire so poetically. (JS)

Tchaikovsky’s Wife screens on Monday, Oct. 10, 3:45 PM (Quartier Latin). 

For the complete Festival du Nouveau Cinéma program, please click here.

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