Cette Maison Miryam Charles

FNC reviews: Cette Maison, Diaspora, Super Natural

Memories and grief from Montreal filmmaker Miryam Charles, the story of a Ukrainian immigrant in Winnipeg and alien meditations from Portugal.

The 51st edition of the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma runs from Oct. 5 to 16. These are our reviews for the weekend. To read our first batch of reviews, please click here.


Diaspora (directed by Deco Dawson)

In Diaspora, many filmmaking techniques are used to evoke Eva’s alienation. A young Ukrainian refugee, Eva, arrives in a dilapidated Winnipeg. She doesn’t speak English and quickly seeks to secure a job. In a radical approach to signal her linguistic limitations, every person she encounters speaks a different (unrecognizable to her) language. Hedging their bets that the average viewer won’t be able to speak more than a dozen languages, the filmmaker attempts to draw us into the misunderstandings and alienation involved in linguistic separation with honest and experienced tactility. 

The strengths are palpable; the absurd cycle of Eva’s encounters is rich with comedy and desperation. The straight-facing camera captures Winnipeg as nearly abandoned, and one senses that though Eva is looking for escape and new opportunities, the city has the sense of falling apart. Storefronts are darkened and many windows are boarded up. Rather than offering the promise of hope and growth, it already feels like a relic of the past.

Overall, the Diaspora has several weaknesses that can be difficult to overlook. The film is long, and though one sometimes senses it’s trying to capture the rhythmic notes of slow cinema, it feels more drawn out than purposeful. The texture of the film’s aesthetic has that overlit quality of a lot of TV, and the use of sparing VFX is nonetheless somewhat distracting. While a compelling experiment, the film doesn’t come together in the end, wearing out its welcome before the credits roll.

Diaspora screens Saturday, Oct. 8, 7:30 p.m. (Quartier Latin, 350 Emery) and Monday, Oct. 10, 1 p.m. (Quartier Latin).

Cette Maison

A docu-fiction that embraces and deconstructs personal histories, Cette Maison centres on the death of the filmmaker’s cousin in Bridgeport in 2008. Structured through memories and, in many ways, a gothic ghost story, the film is a remarkable debut from Miryam Charles that captures the elliptical and cascading feelings of grief. The film abounds with textured 16mm imagery that evokes stage plays and surrealist undertakings; a black void symbolizes a hospital, and a living room is overgrown with flowers. Central to this vision is the revival of her cousin and a life lived beyond her violent death. Though the film breaks the fourth wall on several occasions, reminding both filmmaker and viewer that this life and body are imagined, it’s a meditative and challenging experience that reflects deeply and poetically on the nature of life and death.

The tangential quality of the film brings us into different environments and mind spaces. We return again and again to the house where the cousin dies, but we also return to the Caribbean, where the large family, spread across North America, was once settled. The text is infinitely rich and dense at times but accessible to even viewers not used to more experimental cinema. Integrally, the film challenges narrative and industrial occupations that prevent Canadian cinema from thriving under the thumb of its current financing structure. Charles creates a film that is more art than entertainment, but it’s work that pierces through pre-conceptions about the aloof and alienated forms of arthouse cinema to create something stirring and alive. Charles also has a short film, Au crépuscule, playing at the festival as part of the National Competition 2.

Cette Maison screens on Sunday, Oct. 9, 8 p.m. (Cinéma du Parc, 3575 Parc) and Wednesday, Oct. 12, 5:15 p.m. (Quartier Latin)

Super Natural

Super Natural (directed by Jorge Jácome)

Far from a traditional documentary, with Super Natural, Portuguese filmmaker Jorge Jácome immerses us in an extraterrestrial experience. Using an increasingly popular aesthetic style (notably quite pervasive within the experimental film blocks), the director uses alien narration that has a strange, crystalline electronic voice that pierces through the darkness. Jácome works with a dance and a theatrical troupe, focusing on bodies and movement as they tie to the natural world in a sometimes inaccessible but often hypnotic audiovisual experience. 

As it challenges the traditional narrative experience, this film examines cinema’s transformative possibilities, using various mediums and film stocks to collage together to create new ways of seeing. By blending the digital arts with the living textures of film stock, Super Natural uses the materials of film itself to explore the differences between the natural and supernatural worlds. Is film stock natural? Is Super Natural digital, or vice versa? These questions supercede questions of the human experience. What does it mean to be alive and to engage with the world around us? Is it more of a material or a spiritual experience? 

Far from a rigorous engagement with these ideas, the movie is best described as just vibes, a series of tableaux and tangents more meditative than pointed. Ideally experienced on the big screen, my best advice would be to lose yourself in the film’s rhythms rather than attempt to intellectualize every facet of the filmmaking. 

Super Natural screens on Sunday, Oct. 9, 3 p.m. (Cinéma Moderne, 5150 St-Laurent) and on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 6:30 p.m. (Cinéma Moderne).

See the complete Festival du Nouveau Cinéma program here.

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