FNC 2020: Kill It and Leave This Town (2020)

Kill It and Leave This Town (2020)

Kill It and Leave This Town

Director (and writer): Mariusz Wilczynski

Voice Cast: Krystyna Janda, Andrzej Chyra, Maja Ostaszewska

Fleeing from despair after losing those dearest to him, the hero hides in a safe land of memories, where time stands still and all those dear to him are alive. – IMDB

Kill It and Leave This Town is a Polish animated film which upon research is well worth a watch because of the time it takes to make it ( 15 years!!). While time isn’t exactly a defining factor of how good a movie will be and this one is rather bizarre, it absolutely is a personal film to the director/writer Mariusz Wilczynski. The story feels a little jumbled as it moves between a mother preparing and going to work, her son and husband that goes to the beach, an old woman in a hospital and her son and this old woman’s life going in reverse to when she is in younger scenes while her son turns into this giant observing everything going on. Its rather odd when the only significant standout color in this doodle drawing world is red with some lighter contrast colors for the backdrop of buildings or lights or the blue sky, etc. Its a bit confusing to figure it all out since it feels like there’s a lot of imagery at play here.

One of the most original elements of this animation is the art style. It feels like a doodle project where its simple sketches in a notebook put together. At a closer look, its like a craft project as different elements are cut and glues on top of each other and there are even faint fold lines in each scene but the elements all move like stop motion animation with moving trains and birds flying around. The people are drawn in the most simple and have simple scenes where its focused a lot on one person talking in the one scene and having some conversation with someone off screen or off-centre conversation between two people. The use of color and how something that feels simple like a 2D drawing on paper all comes together piece by piece literally. The amount of thought and creativity (and heart and patience) just seems to flow off the screen.

Kill It and Leave This Town does feel like its an interconnected story between the scenes. There are some well-constructed scenes where one person is in one shot but then shows them in another shot in the background. It seems to live in memories of the characters and there is something deeper to explore in the story once the proper characters and their cross with each character is set straight. Talking about the characters, the voice actor (while unfamiliar with the language) does work really well with the characters (from how I interpreted the scenes, at least). Its a little odd and has a few weird scenes in between and its a little out there in what its trying to portray. This animation is rather dark and sad so its not really for everyone as there are some graphic bits to it as well. Overall, its one that I’m still trying to piece together in my mind in entirety but definitely a unique film to say the least especially since Polish cinema is not something that I’m familiar with.

FNC 2020: My Salinger Year (2020)

My Salinger Year (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Philippe Falardeau

Cast: Margaret Qualley, Sigourney Weaver, Douglas Booth, Seana Kerslake, Brian F. O’Byrne, Colm Feore, Yanic Truesdale, Theodore Pellerin

A college grad takes a clerical job working for the literary agent of the renowned, reclusive writer J.D. Salinger. – IMDB

Based on the memoir of the same name by Joanna Rakoff, a My Salinger Year plays along the lines of The Devil Wears Prada, a movie that I’m very fond of, but replacing the world of fashion to the world of publishing and literary agents. At the same time, its a bit of an inspirational tale of an aspiring writer’s journey as she gets a reality check of this one year in this agency that is something of a sidetrack from her original career goals, especially for someone who is dealing with an author, J.D. Salinger, that she doesn’t quite know the reason for their praise as she’s never read his work before but hears about his personality through her boss and co-workers but also the way his work connects with his readers from being tasked with reading and replying generic letters to his fans who write to share their thoughts. In a struggle with whether to follow specific instructions or to follow her instinct, she makes some decisions that might not always have a great outcome. Between being more trusted at work and busier and a move-in with her boyfriend that doesn’t quite go as plan, she comes to realization about her goals in life. 

My Salinger Year is quite a fun and endearing sort of film. Mostly because of the roles at hand and the cast chosen to portray them. Margaret Qualley is wonderful as Joanna and her dynamic character plays incredibly well with Sigourney Weaver’s role as literary agent, Margaret. Both of these roles do take on quite a turn of events between the two of them and its this progression of their relationship that makes it work. At the same time, there are other supporting roles from Colm Feore as Daniel, a man that seems to just sit around offering his opinion here and there but never offered an explanation about who he is until the end while one of the co-workers Max is played by Yanic Truesdale, probably most known as Michel in Gilmore Girls and having a similar kind of style to his character here.

My Salinger Years reminds a lot of a mesh of The Devil Wears Prada and Julie and Julia and yet, how the literary world is portrayed through the eyes of Joanna Rakhoff is rather fascinating. It throughs out mentions of other authors and an entertaining little exchange of letters with a young Salinger fan who relates his life/world to the book and has this wonderful scene where she dreams up seeing her ex-boyfriend and has this beautifully shot dancing scene in an elegant hallway. Having not read the source material, My Salinger Year is a wonderful memoir as a film showing effectively the literary publishing world and Joanna’s one year working there shows that no matter how minor the job, there’s always something to reap from the experience.

FNC 2020: Violation (2020)

Violation (2020)

Violation

Director (and writers): Dusty Mancinelli & Madeleine Sims-Fewer

Cast: Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Anna Maguire, Jesse LaVercombe, Obi Abili

A troubled woman on the edge of divorce returns home to her younger sister after years apart. But when her sister and brother-in-law betray her trust, she embarks on a vicious crusade of revenge. – IMDB

Violation is a revenge thriller. One of the more direct and straight forward stories to be shown at this year’s Festival du Nouveau Cinema. Or at least it would seem that way. Violation executes its story on a double track. On one hand, its set in the present as the main character, Miriam reunites with her sister and her family to help prepare for a family gathering but there is a tension in the sisterhood and an uneasiness that sets between them that quickly comes to light when it also becomes apparent that she has other motives to be there that takes a rather brutal turn of events as her meticulous revenge plan. That’s where the other side comes into play as it flips between the present, the past answers the questions brought forward to what has caused her to go on this revenge streak. Violation is subtle and intense but yet, also brings forth this look at a touchy subject where it brings into question how the situation was interpreted and how she views it and the psyche behind her taking the matters into her own hands.

I still remember watching a short film last year on Shudder (which isn’t there anymore) called The Substitute which I liked a lot starring Madeleine Sims-Fewer who stars and writes the script and it was one that really showed how much potential she had as a writer. Helming both co-director/co-writer and the main actress, Madeleine Sims-Fewer plays Miriam, a woman with a revenge plan both wronged by her sister and her brother-in-law as it navigates between the past relationships with her husband and their failing marriage, the sisterhood and their trust and somewhat shaky foundation as well as the friendship/family connection between the brother-in-law which takes a turn after a night of trusting chat takes a betraying turn. Its a complex role and yet, Madeleine Sims-Fewer gives so much to the character of Miriam that gives her a lot of different sides to the character with the writing and subtle dialogue also building up her character right from the beginning.

Violation is a great film. In fact, there’s a lot of discussion to be had about the character Miriam as well as the situation that she deals with especially stemming from what happens with her brother-in-law who she trusted due to their prior friendship before the relationship with her sister as well as her own relationship with her sister and the fragility that it seems to have. There’s a lot to explore here and yet, its not exactly a character study but the character and the course of events takes on a rather unexpectedly brutal and intense scene at one point that brings this whole movie to a different notch. Its the delicate touch on the execution and pacing that makes this film quite the hidden gem.

FNC 2020: Siberia (2020)

Siberia (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Abel Ferrara

Cast: Willem Dafoe, Christina Ferrara, Simon McBurney, Dounia Sichov

Abel Ferrara (King of New YorkBad Lieutenant) is back in a big way, setting his latest, a psychoanalytic nightmare — think Tarkovsky and Lynch in a boat crossing the Styx — in a Siberian dreamscape where Willem Dafoe offers refuge to visitors. – FNC 2020

Being unfamiliar with a lot of Abel Ferrara’s work other than Body Snatchers (review, which I watched in the early days of the blog and early days of writing movie reviews so its not really insightful) and a little more familiar with Willem Dafoe’s work (who I do think is fairly underrated as an actor), Siberia was an abstract visual feast that dived into some pretty bizarre segments.

Visually, Siberia is a treat both in its setting in the middle of isolated Siberian winterscape starting off at an inn run by Willem Dafoe’s character who gives refuge to people passing where he doesn’t understand what they say most of the time and quickly moving through this wintery land via dog sled on a journey to an unknown destination and landing in some caves and other interesting places leading to deserts and such. I already said it before, its really out there and because of that, its easy to get lost but somehow, I feel like its meant to reflect on this character of Willem Dafoe as he moves through these scenes reflecting on this own life and whatever feelings that he’s getting as it blends into the different places that he is. The imagery, the atmosphere and the cinematography is fantastic even if I might not have quite understood everything that was going on. In fact, all those elements together crafts what it describes as a nightmare which I do agree with as a lot of it is very unsettling even sometimes in how its scripted and the dialogue.

Willem Dafoe does grab this character, Clint in a rather mesmerizing way. He fits into this role in a fairly convincing fashion molding, facing each blend of reality and hallucination into this interesting character going through different dilemmas (I’m not sure if that’s the right word to use here). In some scenes, it feels like his character is having this confrontation with himself and there’s something very intense here that needs to be understood under all the abstract elements. There is a limited amount of dialogue going on and yet in a very subtle and subconscious way, we do know a lot more about Clint’s character by the end.

While Siberia might not be exactly my cup of tea, it sure seemed like in all the oddities and bizarre nightmares, there is something ripe for discussion about human relationships and Clint’s character and the depth of each of the scenarios of what is reality and hallucination because it does jump from different climates and it does feel disjointed without fully understanding this whole movie. Siberia is a tough movie to talk about because of how unusual everything is but after having a few chats with others who are more familiar with Abel Ferrara’s work, it does seem to be right on track with his style (which is something I’m going to explore further and hopefully come back to follow-up with a better understanding). If Ferrara’s work is something that you enjoy, this might be one to check out especially since I did appreciate the cinematography and Dafoe’s performance. On a final note though, I might not be the best person to vouch for this movie at this point but Siberia is unique, that point I am absolutely certain of.

*Siberia is currently available on Festival du Nouveau Cinema that runs until October 31st, 2020*

FNC 2020: The Cloud in Her Room (她房间里的云, 2020)

The Cloud in Her Room (2020)

Director (and writer): Zheng Lu Xinyuan

Cast: Jin Jing, Dan Liu, Zhou Chen, Ye Hongming, Kangning Dong

Muzi, 22, returns to her hometown of Hangzhou. Her parents, now separated, have both moved on. She, in turn, hovers between past and present, flight and the eternal return.  – Festival du Nouveau Cinema

The Cloud in Her Room is generally the type of movies we all expect to see in Festival du Nouveau Cinema. Its absolutely arthouse. The movie is set in the current times in Hangzhou but shot completely in black and white along with some very interesting transition with close-ups of water, upside down swimming in the pool sequence and a negatives sort of filter of a building so on so forth. The setting itself also adds a lot of characters from her walks along the river to the residential area and its buildings and the different plances that she ventures alone or with others.

Its a slow-burn drama about a girl who returns home and the story floats between conversations with her mother, her father, her boyfriend and a barowner that she meets, her half-sister and the time she spends by herself wandering back to the family’s old apartment before her parents divorced. Another part is something like a documentary as there are interviews of the different people in her life or that she meets who talks about their view of relationships and how they came to this point in life. The concept of love, relationships and companionship and the unavoidable loneliness that she is coping with as everyone, especially her parents have moved on but she still hasn’t as she seems to be caught between the past and the present. We soon realize that in the present day, she’s remembering times of the past and what her past relationship meant to her as she was reconnecting with her each of her parents in their own lives.

While the film does float to the other characters in Muzi’s life in various conversations whether between her mother and her foreign boyfriends or her father and his new family, the central character is Muzi and she is one interesting subject. She is very flexible as she tries to blend with everyone and accepting to her mother’s more outward personality and her array of boyfriends. At the same time, her father has his own struggles with his family of his involvement and the whole discussion of not being a good father and in reality, realizing it himself when he asks whether she blames him for his decisions. At the same time, the most apparent relationship is the one with Yufei, a friend from school that has expanded further to something more intimate but never defined as boyfriend/girlfriend outwardly as he has issues with her personality and how she acts sometimes while he also has issues of his own from other relationships and really talking vaguely about what he wants from this before having a very memorable scene between them at the end.

The Cloud in Her Room isn’t for everyone. Its very slow-paced and almost feels like nothing much is happening except for the mundanity of Muzi’s life. Its full of subtle notes of watching a girl wander through her time and embracing her past and present and coming to terms with her life at this stage. Between the conversations and even the silent moments of observations and being in her own world, the movie crafts a rather deep character for Muzi and her life as well as the people in it. It sometimes feels random and disjointed but when the movie ends and giving it some thought (and I did a lot because this review took over a week to write up), it becomes a film that does carry some profound thoughts about relationships: family, love, friendship, companionship, etc.

*The Cloud in Her Room is currently screening on Festival du Nouveau Cinema and will be available until October 18th.*

FNC 2020: Mamà, Mamà, Mamà (2020)

Mamà, Mamà, Mamà (2020)

Director (and writer): Sol Berruezo Pichon-Riviere

Cast: Agustina Milstein, Chloé Cherchyk, Camila Zolezzi, Matilde Creimer Chiabrando, Siumara Castillo, Vera Fogwill, Jennifer Moule, Shirley Giménez, Ana Maria Monti, Florencia Gonzalez Rogriguez

A veil of sadness lies over the oppressively hot summer days. Cleo dives into daydreams with her cousins, the girls share secret signs and rituals. Flowing gently, in impressionistic images, the empty space that the death of Cleo’s sister has left in the family is poetically encircled. – IMDB

After doing an entire season of Movies and Tea Podcast on Sofia Coppola, the description comparing it to The Virgin Suicides is essentially what sold this Argentinian drama as one of my top must-see picks for this year’s Festival du Nouveau Cinema. Running at a short 65 minutes, Mamà Mamà Mamà is definitely comparable to Sofia Coppola’s films. For one, it has the slice of life storyline about a young girl Cleo dealing with the loss of her younger sister Erin in the days that follow under the companionship of her cousins and the care of her aunt while observing at a distance her mother’s pain from this ordeal. The family of girls and women all sit together through rituals and little games and everyday things while all coping in their own way. Grief is different for everyone and yet as Cleo goes through her own changes while dealing with it along with the neglect from her mother who is grieving immensely on her own with the comfort of her own sister, she stews in her memories of her sister by herself while watching and participating as her cousins all go through their own fun summer hobbies without a care in the world while sharing secret rituals and daydreams.

The cinematography and execution of this film is what truly gives it that arthouse spin but also adding in a tone with a dull palette of colors dimmed and subtle. There’s a gloom over each scene whether its the quiet times when all the girls are sitting together doing their own thing or when Cleo’s mother has her crying outbursts with the different triggers. And yet, one of the deeper bits is when Cleo falls into her little memories of her sister and even reliving the moments of her death as the camera is off-centred with moving parts of her sister’s lifeless arms or her mother’s body swimming across the screen. It all pieces together what happens. At the same time, the movie starts off with a recording that is a conversation with Erin and a few of these recordings happens as Erin’s asked about death and fear where it seems like Cleo dreams up Erin in an imaginary world by herself while putting those scenes in between her memories of her time with her sister in each other’s companionship. These moments might seem mundane and yet it adds a lot of depth to what Cleo is going through in her own mind and perhaps the loneliness she feels despite having her cousins around even if they all have their way of caring for her and offering her another type of companionship.

There’s something really special about Mamà Mamà Mamà where these few days spent with this cast consisting solely of the ladies and girls of this family. Everyone knows what’s going on and yet every cousin at their different age has their own understanding of it and whether its the aunt or Cleo’s mom or the mother’s mom all end up in this space as the adults help each other grieve while the children have their own way of transitioning through it and yet its a little heartbreaking are the little moments when Cleo calls out to her unresponsive mother who is the one person that truly will understand each other’s loss the most and yet its also surprisingly sweet to see her cousins, each of them in the first scenes doing their own things but each slowly bonding with Cleo in their own way and helping her forget a little about what’s going on. Everything might be through the eyes of Cleo in this story and yet every character has their own space and purpose as they build their own connection.

What might seem like a grim story about grieving about the loss of a sister actually turns out to be a rather bittersweet experience. Mother and Cleo both are in their own sorrow and yet, everyone staying with them helps breath life back into this space. As a directorial debut for a young female director Sol Berruezo Pichon-Riviere, it does definitely feel like a piece delivers a lot of depth for the story that its trying to tell and an impressive bit of writing and execution and leaves her a director to look out for.

FNC 2020: Topside (2020)

Topside (2020)

Topside

Directors (and co-writers): Logan George & Celine Held

Cast: Zhaila Farmer, Celine Held, Jared Abrahamson, Fatlip

Deep in the underbelly of New York City, a five year-old girl and her mother live among a community that has claimed the abandoned subway tunnels as their home. – IMDB

What a fantastic way to start FNC 2020! Topside is a heart wrenching story through the eyes of a five year old little girl who has never been in contact with the “topside” and normal things that we all know: bright lights, bustling people, car honks and so much more who gets thrust into the real world as her and her mother suddenly has to escape their “home” and run through a world completely strange and one that she gets pulled by her mother from one place to the next as they seek overnight shelter. The story sets its foundation on the homeless and the community in the shadows while sharing a deeper story about this drug-addicted mother and her five year old daughter Little.

The story quickly sets up the scenario (if we couldn’t figure it out before) that this underground life is not suitable for Little (Zhaila Farmer) whether its watching her climbing through garbage/junk or through the graffiti-filled walls of the tunnels or the constant alert of the people around her when sounds approach and the arguments in the background especially between John (Fatlip), a leader of sorts of this underground group and her mother Nikki (Celine Held) as he urges her to leave so that Little can get proper education and life, discussions that fade into the background because Little doesn’t really understand any of it including shifting through notices of trespassing which she doesn’t know what it is either. A truth that gets further emphasized when her mother leaves on her many trips up top and as people scurry away, John tries to teach her how to subtract. All these things that puts the audience in the know as we can understand everything going on around her and can see the danger up ahead of having to leave without any choice despite the fantasy of the little world they live in where Little believes she can’t leave until her wings grow.

Its in the real world that the little conversations in the background the reality of Nikki’s life when she goes up top crashes with Little’s confused world as they try to find a place to stay. Jumping from one location to the next and trying to avoid the threat of losing Little when people call the authorities. The reality hits very fast as the story shifts over to Nikki’s point of the view after a turning point that creates an avenue to understand the character of Nikki and perhaps also a turning point of how she sees this situation that she’s been trying to hold one to so tightly. One of the best parts is how bustling New York City is shot through the eyes of Little with the light glares from the ceiling, the tall buildings, the loud chatter from all the people walking closely around them and so on that creates this overwhelming claustrophobic feeling.

The cast here from young Zhaila Farmer, director and writer and also actress Celine Held or Fatlip, they all deliver some great performances and some meaningful characters to the plot in general. Other than Little who doesn’t say a lot but emotes and reacts a great deal to the world below and above ground as she gets mesmerized and scared by everything that she hasn’t seen, all the characters have a purpose and their complexities from Nikki’s struggles to the two male characters that pop in and out of the scenes, John who wants Nikki to be leave for Little’s sake but also is her drug dealer underground and the character of Les (Jared Abrahamson) with a similar sort of deal who is a shady character that has this little bonding moment with Little but ends up offering a horrible deal to Nikki. Both of them are self-contradictory but also drive the story further.

Topside is a deeply impactful film that highlights not only a mother and daughter relationship but the struggles of homelessness. Its a heartbreaking story and one that truly hits harder and harder with every single realization that the story tells from the dangers that creep around them. Its also one that delivers a lot to think about in terms of the decisions made and when to let go. A fantastic story with great performances and a wonderful way to kick off the first movie of FNC 2020!