Film Review: BELLE DE JOUR (France 1968) ****

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Belle de Jour Poster
Trailer

A frigid young housewife decides to spend her midweek afternoons as a prostitute.

Director:

Luis Buñuel (as Luis Bunuel)

Writers:

Joseph Kessel (novel) (as Joseph Kessel de l’Académie Française), Luis Buñuel(adaptation) (as Luis Bunuel) | 1 more credit »

 

BELLE DE JOUR begins innocently with a open horse carriage moving leisurely in the countryside driven by two horsemen.  The camera reveals a couple (Jean Sorel and Catherine Deneuve) seated at the back exchanging love talk.  “I love you so much,” and the retort, “I love you more.”  But when he kisses her, he finds her very cold.  The carriage is stopped and he drags her to a tree and strings her up to be whipped by the two horsemen.  Why this sudden brutality?

It is a disturbing sequence that turns out to be a nightmare as the girl wakes up in bed with her apparent husband.

The film returns to the main life of the couple, Severine and her husband Pierre, a surgeon.  It turns out that she is frigid in their sexual relationship though she is turned on sexually by other things.  The film hints that the problem could have arisen from sexual abuse when she was a child.  Severin is accosted by her husband’s friend, Husson (Michel Piccoli) who is described as rich and idle, his two weaknesses.  Severine spurns his advances.

Two things make BELLE DE JOUR intriguing.  One is the mystery element.  Director Bunuel plays on the audience’s curiosity, or sexual curiosity, which is even more powerful.  Severine learns of a girl Henriette who sells herself as a whore at a nearby house, which eventually prompts her to become the BELLE DE JOUR, a woman of the day as she sells her services during the day instead of the night.  The other element is Bunuel’s expertise at surrealism.  Bunuel famous for his surreal films like L’AGE DOR, THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE and THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY plays this film where reality seems a fantasy and vice versa.  The sexual favours desired by Belle de Jour’s clients are not always involving intercourse.  One sequence has the client get off with his face being stepped on by his girl.  The very idea of a very bored housewife (Deneuve) serving clients every afternoon is in itself quite surreal.

There is much to fascinate besides the film’s sexual content.  One is the study of the characters, why each behave the way they do.  The other is the period piece, set in the past when one assumes sex is more controlled.  Which is not the case.

Deneuve looks totally glamorous as her wardrobe was designed by none other than Yves Saint Laurent.

BELLE DE JOUR shot many of its actors to fame, not to mention Catherine Deneuve.  Pierre Clementi won recognition as the extremely jealous gangster client, Marcel and went on to work after this film with the world’s best directors.  He is unforgettable in Bertolucci’s THE CONFORMIST.  Michel Piccoli again plays the role of another weirdo.

Not to give away any spoilers, the tim has many twists in the story including a happy fantasy-type ending that should please audiences.  

BELLE DE JOUR would have likely been seen already by many a cinephile.  But it is still interesting a watch a second time around as one-to-one can not be expected to remember everything about the film.  BELLE DE JOUR is re-released in a 4K restoration print for a special  engagement run beginning this week at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5oqTzcpfZw

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Film Review: McQUEEN (UK 2018) ***1/2

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McQueen Poster
Trailer

Alexander McQueen’s rags-to-riches story is a modern-day fairy tale, laced with the gothic. Mirroring the savage beauty, boldness and vivacity of his design, this documentary is an intimate… See full summary »

Directors:

Ian BonhôtePeter Ettedgui (co-director)

 

Written by Peter Ettedgui, directed by Ian Bonhôte and co-directed by Ettedgui, McQUEEN is the no-nonsense documentary on British fashion designer and couturier Lee Alexander McQueen who shocked the world when he committed suicide by hanging himself at the age of 40, at his home in Mayfair, London.  

The controversial Alexander McQueen himself reveals: “A lot of people say, I’ve discovered Alexander McQueen.  But I discovered Alexander McQueen.”  His resume included being chief designer at Givenchy from 1996 to 2001.  That and his achievement in creating his own Alexander McQueen label earned him 4 British Designer of the Year Awards.

Though he passed on in 2010, It is fortunate that there is enough archive footage assembled to have him speak candidly on camera about his work, colleagues, friends and life, as if he was still alive.  The doc thus provides an insightful and comprehensive examination of McQueen.

The doc reveals McQueen’s family life with information of his youth and some shocking information of abuse from his father and sister’s husband, though no details are given.  His Scottish heritage makes an impression on him and his designs.  The film goes on, chronologically as he grows up, with little money through his rise in fame, with his mentors and colleagues.  McQueen was openly gay, with several boyfriends saying their spill on camera.  

The film is tremendously interesting from start to finish as the subject himself was interesting.  The film, like the man never fails to surprise with his humour, wit and talent on show.

The film glows with the coverage of his shows that reveal his genius in his designs.  His themes are dark.  two of them are called “Jack the Ripper” and “The Highland Rape”.

Among the many messages that can be discovered in the man’s life is that success not only comes from talent but hard work.  The film shows McQueen working hard into many a night, a compulsive worker.  The successful and wealthy often know poverty.  McQueen worked hard as he was broke.  And the adage that success does not bring happiness is evident in the last days of McQueen’s life. “Being famous is not important,: he says “What is, is what I do.”  But with money, (McQueen quickly became a millionaire), came drugs and unhappiness.

The film takes a darker side at the hour mark when McQueen’s drug habit is revealed.  He becomes, what his employees call ‘a taskmaster’.  Worst still, he is diagnosed HIV positive.  McQueen’s appearance also changes as the film progresses.  He is practically a different person at the start compared to the man he becomes at the end of the film.

Important and included in the film is the difficult issue of McQueen’s death.  The interviewed talk about the possible reasons for the suicide as well as the troubled man he became.

It would have also been insightful if director compared McQueen’s life with other famous designer icons to put McQueen’s life in perspective.  Still, McQueen is an intriguing film about a gay man who went beyond his boundaries to prove himself capable of being world famous despite his personal demons.  

McQUEEN is so far the top box-office grossing fashioned themed documentary in the U.K..

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6510332/videoplayer/vi194427673?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_2

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FILM REVIEW: CIELO (Canada/Chile 2018) ***

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Cielo Poster

 

CILEO which is Spanish for Sky or Heaven is writer/director Alison McAlpine’s ode to Cielo.  It is a journey of the appreciation for both the silence and the beauty of the skies.  The awesome cinematography by Benjamin Echazarreta and poetic musings by McAlpine herself offer audiences an escape into nature in tis purest form.

The film begins with two scientists discussing freely and humorously their experiences of just staring at the skies above.  They tease each other, laugh and speak of their ideologies.  One might not agree 100% with what they say, but each person has his or her valued viewpoint.

To understand what is seen on screen, one must know a bit of the method and technology used in photographing the skies.  Used were time-lapse cameras (the Sony A7 and Atomos Shogun by night, the Sony FS7 by day) to create at the visual symphony of the moon, stars, sun and clouds as they move through the wild blue yonder as seen on screen.

CIELO is a quiet film that often requires the audience to remain silent during the performance, quite like A QUIET PLACE.  It would be good for audiences to experience silence and a quieter type of cinema, away from the loud and more is better mentality of action films like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT and horror films like A QUIET PLACE.

The skies above the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile alternately achieves and strains for poetry.  There are numerous images of transcendent beauty in Cielo, which is a Canadian Chilean co-production..   A good portion of its running time contemplating the firmament above Northern Chile’s Atacama Desert and it feels what it must be like to actually stand in Atacama, gazing up in awe.   Amazing are the numerous shooting stars flying by like paint slashes on a cosmic canvas.  The vapour trail from a plane acts as the sole cloud in an otherwise clear azure sky.  Even the Milky Way self rotates through the heavens with breathtaking clarity.

CIELO is not without the human element.  People that McAlpine have selected for her film include astronomers who work in Atacama, as well as cowboys, miners and algae collectors who live and depend on the desert.  What they say reveals that way of life and their simplicity of ways.  They contemplate about life and the stars.  Often these might seem simplistic, especially for audiences in the busy finical world.

One wishes McAlpine shot more of the Atacama Desert though it might distract from the main issue.  McAlpine’s film contains some of the most arresting images seen in a film this year.  The best is the one with the sky’s reflection in a lake with mountains in the background.  No wonder one of the desert inhabitants dance to the sky in one exhilarating scene.

Also beautiful are the structures of several observatories seen on screen.  What is missing in CIELO however, is the scientific element to complement the artistic poetry.  The film would be more whole if something is explained on what the observatories achieve as well as some astronomical explanation of the being of the universe and its stars.

CIELO provides a different kind of movie, lots of visuals with little but poetic dialogue.  The film is shot in both Spanish and English.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRP45fDF5N8

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Full Review: ANGELS WEAR WHITE (China 2017) Top 10 *****

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Angels Wear White Poster
In a small seaside town, two schoolgirls are sexually assaulted by a middle-aged man in a motel. Mia, a teenager who was working on reception that night, is the only witness. For fear of losing her job, she chooses to keep silence.

Director:

Vivian Qu

Writer:

Vivian Qu

 

One of the best films I previewed at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, ANGELS WEAR WHITE proves its excellence on second viewing.  This is writer/director Vivian Qu at her best, with her tense, relevant and powerful film of young female abuse.

Young women under pressure in a corrupt seaside town.  The question Qu’s excellent study is whether one can hold on to ones dignity in the midst of such over-powering adversity.

One reason Qu’s film works so well is that she is able to get right into the skin of her characters’ emotions.  This tactic can be observed several times within only the film’s first 15 minutes.  When Mia (Vicky Chen) is first introduced, the audience sees her observing what appears to be a huge statue of Marylyn Monroe.  The camera never reveals the full statue, as if telling the audience that the height of her stays can never be reached.  Mia looks up and down as the camera follows her to her work in  a seedy seaside motel, where she is watering the plants.  What is going on in her head?  When she later watches the closed circuit camera on the goings-on in a motel room where two young schoolgirls are accosted for sex, the audience becomes a voyeur while at the same time wishing Mia would intervene.  A later argument at the hospital shows a vigorous argument taking place between the father and mother of one for the schoolgirls as she is being tested for her virginity.  Qu shoots the argument off screen where the audience can only hear (or read the subtitles) without seeing the actors, thus emphasizing the importance of the words.

Qu also captures the essence of Chinese society and all its corruptness.  The first is the higher ups, Commissioner Liu abusing his authority.  On a lower level, corruptness is still apparent.  Mia records a larger number of towels than actually taken to be washed to the daily laundry pick-up while she gets a kickback.  The school system is candidly shown with a school prefect stopping a fight and how students are chastised in the school system.  When Mia is questioned by the inspector on the illegal goings-on, she remains silent – typical of the Chinese way of say nothing, get into no trouble.  The inspector is also shown accepting a bribe from the hotel owner.

Female director Qu’s film has a strong female slant.  The main characters are female, most of them mistreated by their male counterparts.  When the male motel manager wants the truth out of Mia and the hotel receptionist as to what happened, he hoses them down with water.  Women have it bad.  “I don’t want to be re-born as a woman.”  That all-important line says to all, when Lily suffers the pain from hymen reconstruction (to show that she is still a virgin).

Qu’s film is beautifully shot by Belge cinematographer Benoît Dervaux.  There is one crystal clearly shot scene where Mia rides her motorbike in a drizzling rain, with no noticeable drops of water on the camera lens.

The film’s most prominent charter that only comes into the story half hour through the film is the female attorney Hao (Shi Ke).  This is a well written extremely strong character, brilliantly performed by Shi Ku.  Hao must be director Qu’s favourite character, judging from the way the camera tracks her movements.  Hao’s character is smart but most important is the fact that she is trustworthy and caring human being.  She gains the trust of school Wen (Zhou Meijun) enabling the investigation to progress.  This contrasts the male Inspector’s scare tactics.

Qu’s film is intriguing, suspenseful, occasionally exciting and emotional in all aspects.  The film’s main conquest is depicting the travails of women in a society so corrupt all all levels that there is little hope for all.  But still there is hope in a few that care like lawyer Hao.  

Young women user press ANGELS WEAR WHITE is a real knock-out that demands to be seen!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LrXwXZQ5hY

 

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Film Review: PRIEST TO PRIEST

 Bright and filled to bursting with childlike wonder, PRIEST TO PRIEST embodies the simplicity of religion when viewed through innocent eyes. Recently made a man of the cloth, a nine-year-old priest offers his advice in confession to a veteran priest having a crisis.

What our older priest’s crisis? He can’t quite find the christian charity of spirit necessary to deal with a bigoted, narrow-minded member of his congregation. Turns out, both priests have something in common- all the saintliness in the world can’t stop human beings from wanting to rid the world from evil- even if the methods are less than holy.

PRIEST TO PRIEST is a delightfully enjoyable film, comically bright, light and fun while still hitting the poignant heartfelt moments out of the water, this is a wonderful family film that all will love. Well done, to director Diana Losen- very well done.

Review by Kierston Drier

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of the Short Film:

PRIEST TO PRIEST, 9min., USA, Family/Drama
Directed by Diana Losen

A nine-year-old priest seeks a mentor to help him defeat the antichrist, a devious middle-school bully.

CLICK HERE – and see full info and more pics of the film!

Film Review: SWEETER

A thirteen minute American film coming from director Emily Eaglin, SWEETER follows a precacious six year old as she follows her mother- questioning her about the ways of the world, and ultimately offering to switch places with her for a day.

Sweeter is a brighter, lighter take on some much heavier hitting societal issues: issues like race, income inequality and the disproportionate division of labour between the genders in a household. Not all these issues are on the surface- some are layered down underneath the warmth and joy of a loving parent child relationship and the innocent joys of childhood.

SWEETER is a cinematic romp through the eyes of a child just beginning to understand the realities of the world around them- not yet having to face them head on- but learning that they exist. In this way, SWEETER is a unique and brilliant film.
 

Review by Kierston Drier

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of the Short Film:

SWEETER, 13min., USA, Family/Drama
Directed by Emily Eaglin

A precocious six-year-old switches places with her young mother for a day to discover the true meaning of working twice as hard for half as much.

CLICK HERE – and see full info and more pics of the film!

Film Review: HIGH CALORIE

HIGH CALORIE, directed by Mehmet Tigli, is an offbeat comedy about loving oneself. When an overweight man decides to lose weight to seduce (and finally see!) the woman he has fallen for on the internet, he is hurt and baffled when the woman ends up being his own grandmother.

Was her caused understandably motivated? It’s debatable. But what is not under question is the joy of this film. Our hero, slightly reclusive, slightly ashamed, must make a journey within himself to find where happiness truly lives- not on a plate or on a screen, but within oneself.

An excellent performance from our hero and supporting cast, this seventeen minute Turkish film is a joy to watch. A film about acceptance and self-love, HIGH CALORIE is worth every minute.

Review by Kierston Drier

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of the Short Film:

HIGH CALORIE, 17min., Turkey, Family/Drama 
Directed by Mehmet Tigli

High Calorie is a tale about a very fat boy ‘Meftun’ who lives with his grandmom in Istanbul. Due to his obesity, some people have prejudices towards him. However, he is happy and at peace with himself.

CLICK HERE – and see full info and more pics of the film!