Thursday, August 11, 2022

Fantasia 2022.13: "The Astronaut and His Parrot", Rani Rani Rani, Chorokbam, Shari, "Ronde de Nuit", Maigret, "Blackbear", Resurrection

Folks, Marc Lamothe was pretty excited to welcome Patrice Leconte (l) to Montreal for this screening of Maigret.

I could only extract a little bit from the Q&A, because it was pretty much entirely in French, and, ironically enough, I tapped out of French IV in high school when reading Maigret et le clochard and Le petit prince was looking to be my limit and it turned out I could benefit more from a study hall. There are days when I wonder if I'd be diagnosed with ADHD if I were a kid/teenager today, looking back on how well I always did on tests that said I was smart but often getting distracted and topping out at "doing pretty well" in class/work/life (which ain't a bad place to be; I'm not unhappy).

ANYWAY, like I said, I was mostly just getting bits of French and names and such, but it was enough to hear that this project started with Leconte wanting to work with Gerard Depardieu and this seeming like a fun project. I mean, I was kind of surprised Depardieu never played Maigret before now; it seems like such natural casting. He also said, in no uncertain terms, that a certain thread of the movie was not un homage to Rear Window, causing mock (?) gasps when he said something along the lines of it not being the sort of movie he'd where he'd build another film around a reference (maybe even that it wasn't a particular favorite). The French got to be too much for me to follow at that point.

Folks had fun with it; you can put it next to the Kenneth Branagh Poirots and enjoy them the same way - glossy period mysteries with beloved characters, not doing anything really new but delivering quite well. I kind of dig that it brought out a bit of an older crowd than a lot of the other Fantasia selections do. It's all genre movies, but some of the cozier genres don't get treated as being quite so cool even though they satisfy their audiences plenty.

Can't say I've got a whole lot to say about Mitch introducing the director and star of "Blackbear", the short that played before Resurrection, other than how director Bryce Hodgson, whom I sort of kind of recognized from iZombie (knew I'd seen him somewhere but needed someone mentioning the show to make me go "ooooh, yeah!"), seemed really grateful to have gotten this made and shown; it was apparently a big "getting something out there while the industry was in pandemic limbo" project for him. He also seemed really happy about it being a family project with not just young actress Sachi Adilman but other members of her family.

Mostly, I just want to point out that Mitch hit the Possession comparisons hard while introducing Resurrection, and, sure, I can see that. It's not quite as one-to-one as you can make it sound, I don't think, but it's kind of the vibe.

Next up: The end of Week 2 with Wednesday's Happer's Comet, Hansan: Rising Dragon, and Inu-Oh. Will it get written while it's kind of relevant to what's in theaters?

"The Astronaut and His Parrot"

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2022 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival, digital)

I say a lot of these films just aren't my thing when they are well-enough-made but either leave me cold or actively disliking them; "The Astronaut and His Parrot" is an example of the other side of this - a movie that is absolutely my thing, hitting things I particularly like and doing so not just very well, but it ways I probably like even more than others.

It starts off in standard enough fashion - an astronaut (Ali Fazal), spinning in space, the sole survivor after his craft has exploded on the way to the moon, the first leg on an expedition to Europa. He attempts to contact ground control, with no luck, flashes back to his last night with his young daughter, begging him not to go. Finally, though, there's something on the other end of the static…

And then cut to a parrot, next to a short-wave radio in an Indian fortune-teller's stall, squawking what the astronaut is saying back at him.

Imagine, ten minutes of oxygen left, knowing you're going to die, wishing you could report back to Mission Control or talk to your daughter one last time, and all you have is a random bird who could be anywhere on the planet. It's absurd. It's tragic. It's hilarious. But, for whatever reason, he doesn't give up, trying to get through to this parrot, figuring that maybe, somehow, it could repeat a message that might just get to the right ears. In the end, it's a pure act of hopefulness, the idea that even in the worst situation, if you try as hard as you can, things have a chance of working out.

I kind of love this. There's a version of this movie that tips all the way over into black comedy, but this one makes an effort not to, and, yeah, I kind of love that.

Rani Rani Rani

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2022 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Rani Rani Rani is a time-travel paradox movie, or would like to be, that probably isn't quite as clever as filmmaker Rajaram Rajendran would like it to be. It takes a fair amount of time to set up, and at times mostly seems to want little more than to inspire a second viewing where one tries to pick up whether there are Easter eggs or other hints of future iterations the viewer missed the first time around. That's a good place to start, but it could do a lot more while all that's going on.

After an ominous prelude, it introduces Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee), middle-aged and married to an older man (Asif Basra), who has probably brought up how she was at the top of her class before her father made her drop out of school before. While he sulks in his truck, tired from walking to a nearby shrine and the heat in general, she decides to fill their water bottle and do her regular check-in at the abandoned factory where she's technically caretaker. Today, though, four young men are squatting there - Krishna (Abid Anwar), Chris (Danny Sura), Aran, and John (Alexx O'Neill). John may be the only one not ethnically South Asian, but only Krishna seems to speak any Hindi, with Chris and Aran planning a tech demonstration to get John to fund further development. Of what? Well, they ask Rani to sit and "pose for a picture", but their device transports her halfway back to where she came from. Plus, she soon realizes, fifteen minutes back in time, and when she realizes what happened while she was away, well, as mentioned, she's smart, and realizes that there's a way to fix it just up the road.

It's the sort of movie that sounds like a lot more fun than it is, because certain things could be built up a lot more. It's about Rani, but the guys with the time machine are potentially the makings of a sharply satirical movie: Not only are they mostly just opportunists who found the corpse of the poor dude from the opening who miscalculated his landing spot, but Chris and Aran talk a bit about cutting John and/or Krishna out, and even if one doesn't recognize how much of tech startup culture is having a good demo rather than a usable product, looking to get bought out before it falls apart, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to wonder how much that sort of amoral crew could screw each over with a time machine. The film spends a lot of time with them talking but not doing much.

Rani, meanwhile, is very passive until the very last iteration even when she is supposedly there to fix things, and her own challenges are laid out in relatively vague terms early on. Rajendran spends a lot of time showing just how impressively convoluted he can make a jigsaw puzzle timeline early on, but it's at the price of an interaction or two of Rani more or less stopping at "huh, look at me over there" and the guys speculating about alternate timelines, which is not a thing this movie needs to bring up. It's a little more wheel-spinning than needed to make the shift to actually having the time to fix stuff more satisfying - there's a point where it would be equally satisfying for the solution to just be making sure her husband has a full water bottle or not coming close to stopping there. Whichever way Rani decides to break out of the rut she's in.

Rani is an enjoyable heroine once she gets the hang of it, though. Much as there are pains taken to mention she's intelligent early on, she's not secretly an expert on any particularly useful topic. Tannishtha Chatterjee plays her as the sort of woman who can be sharp-tongued, especially with outsiders like the folks sitting at her factory, but got used to settling for the way things are done where her own life is concerned, and she builds that up over the course of the film, with Rajendran and the wardrobe department finding ways to emphasize this by having fewer headscarves and other garments making her seems small and tamed as the film goes on, discovering what she can do as she has the opportunity.

It would be nice if she got more opportunities to do something directly, or if some of the subplots around it were more fleshed out. Rani Rani Rani is a nifty little film, but one that can't help but show ways it could have been a better one.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2022 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Chorokbam ("Green Night") is bleak, all the more so for how its dark omens are usually revealed as nothing out of the ordinary. Every looming nightmare that looks like it could tip the film into some more specific, intentional place, but, no; this is just a carefully - maybe exquisitely - rendered portrait of everyday despair.

It opens on Song-goun (Lee Tae-hoon), a worn-down man working as a security guard in the complex where he lives, finding a cat that has been hung by its neck in the playground. Sighing, he buries it, arriving home as wife Soon-na (Kim Min-kyung) is starting a day of drying chiles in the faint sliver of sunlight that reaches the ground between buildings. Elsewhere, their son Won-kyung (Kang Gil-woo) drives an accessibility van and lives out of hotels with a girlfriend who clearly wants more. They're not exactly disconnected, but will be brought closer together when Song-goun's father dies and they have to clean up the remnants of his life: A rented apartment with a former girlfriend who has nowhere else to go, Song-goun's sisters who are only there for the condolence gifts, and a few other things that make one wonder just what impression one makes upon the world.

They're a glum group, this family, but there's an interesting sort of dynamic to it; the cast does an impressive job of making their downcast weariness connected with their own pathologies and perspectives, but also in making each feel isolated, even when together. Kang Gil-woo has to play Won-kyung at an inflection point, starting to seriously wonder if things will ever get better but also less ground-down than his parents, pulling together how he seems to be giving up in scenes of his own individual life but still trying to keep the others positive. Kim Min-kyung is more active in her dissatisfaction as Soon-na, while Lee Tae-hoon's Song-goun is kind of imploded.

He is so obviously out of it that he can be frustratingly passive, and it is not, in fact, terribly satisfying when Soon-no expresses frustration that her husband is spending another scene just standing around and smoking right after you as a viewer may have mumbled under something under your breath about wishing this guy would do anything but stand around and smoke. Good on filmmaker Yoon Seo-jin for recognizing the moment when the audience may be starting to lose patience, but this isn't a film where that realization is going to lead to any sort of turnaround. It's not exactly a film about fixing things.

That's uncharitable, I suppose. Chorokmab is a movie that, if it's about anything, is about the everyday struggle with depression in an uncaring world, and in complaining about things not happening, when everything that does shows how acting out could be worse, a viewer might be rooting for destructive drama. But this movie, it drags, and it only occasionally makes up the difference in being interestingly presented. Shots are well composed, but not beautiful, although Yoon and Cinematographer Choo Kyeoung-yeob have eyes for when it's good to look at something straight-on and when to show the family as if spying on them. The music is appropriate, but doesn't draw one in or highlight something. The film is carefully made to communicate sadness and dissatisfaction but not really have much to say about their causes or solutions. Which, I guess, is depression - it can be there for no reason with no actual fix, and the film doesn't offer either.

It's well-done and well-acted. It will likely strike a chord with some, saying it's like that, and any day that ends with stepping back from the noose can feel like a victory. That's bleak, but I suspect that Yoon is communicating that feeling, alien to those who don't feel it regularly, better than most have.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2022 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

I don't recall whether I've seen any of the short films Nao Yoshigai has made prior to Shari, though their descriptions imply that they may either do what's done here - a whimsical look at a number of subjects in the same geographical area - or are completely different sorts of eccentric filmmaking. I'm mostly just curious - Shari is a delight on its own - but it will be interesting to see what else she comes up with, especially since features often get more visibility than shorts.

In this one, she visits the towns in and around Mount Shari on Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's main islands, in January 2020. Her narration mentions that she had been the previous summer, but seeing this place in the winter is something different. She shines her light on several locals - a woman who works as both a shepherd and baker having settled here after moving north every few years; an art collector who has quietly built an impressive collection of wooden carvings; a married pair of deer hunters; former fishermen lamenting how the lack of snow and sea ice that year is disrupting local patterns; and a few more. There's also a cryptid (Yoshigai in a suit) called "The Red Thing" in subtitles, snowball fights with the local kids, beautiful mountains, and deer meat.

It's tricky, I think, to do what's done here consistently, finding just the right residents to give a place color but also demonstrate something greater, especially something abstract: Yoshigaii's narration talks about the pull a place can have on people, whether it's folks returning home or others finding their way there, but in a down-to-earth way that doesn't sound spiritual in a particularly mystical way or elevate Shari over other places. She also takes the time to dig down a little further into more temporal topics, including things that affect the whole world such as climate change, by considering the concrete examples of this specific place. It's a pleasant visit with a quiet underlying level that says things may not stay this way for long.

It's also full of wonderful images, from the opening shot of a partially-obscured mountain that illustrates thoughts on the difference between clouds and wind, to the charming flights of fancy with the director's cryptid alter ego, to little kids find sumo wrestling (which is an entirely different thing with normal-proportioned people than the man-mountains who compete professionally!). The bits with The Red Thing and the children seem like they could be easily excised, but the kids inject a rambunctious energy into a form that can be staid or dour - there's schoolkids; this isn't a town or way of life that's dying - and The Red Thing, an obvious person in a suit from the start, lets the film be an outsider looking at something new, even if it's not immediately obvious that it's a Red Thing, as opposed to Yoshigai-as-herself, doing the narration (indeed, it's arguably both, with no line between them). It allows her a sort of clear but not detached outside perspective on this curious contrast of natural beauty with a sort of functional, not especially beautiful town that nevertheless seems to be in a sort of harmony.

I would greatly enjoy it if Yoshiagi decided to send The Red Thing to explore more small towns in sort of fringe locations, as this is a delight and there's no shortage of places like Shari with beautiful scenery and interesting people off the beaten path, but I suspect that's the sort of thing that could become less special quickly. I nevertheless look forward to seeing what else she comes up with; the combination of curiosity and finding a new way to tell a story like this is even more special.

"Ronde de nuit" ("The Night Watch")

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2022 in Auditorium des Diplõmés de la SGWU (Fantasia Festival:Axis, digital)

Is there a slot at any animation studio for Julien Regnard to direct something noirish? There's only so many opportunities, it seems, but "Ronde de Nuit" is such a fun little short with such style that it feels like somebody should strike while the iron is hot.

The trick, of course, is that this is noir-ish, more so than noir, often playing like a fever dream that convinces the audience of its reality than a mystery that slips into surrealism. A woman storms out of a party, her date not far behind, drunk. She drives, but there's still a crash, and when he comes to, she's gone. He walks back to the country house where the party continues, but is it more sinister? One gets the sense he recognizes that he's unwelcome.

It gets more mysterious and dark from there, a monochrome, stylish look that hits a sweet spot between Edward Gorey's opening titles for Mystery! and the Cartoon Saloon features where Regnard has spent much of his recent time as an animator. It's a nifty mix between fun and oppressive, which is just as it should be.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2022 in Auditorium des Diplõmés de la SGWU (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

I find myself moderately surprised that this film is the first time Gérard Depardieu has played Commissaire Jules Maigret. Both are arguably icons of Twentieth Century France well-known outside the country's borders, the casting seems obvious, and it's not as if Depardieu is above such middlebrow projects as detective novel adaptations. It is, thankfully, just about exactly what one would expect from Patrice Leconte directing this actor in this role: An enjoyable, unpretentious adaptation of a 200-page mystery novel.

It opens with a girl (Clara Antoons) nervously renting a dress and heading for a party. The next morning Maigret will be dispatched to where she was found dead, nearly impossible to identify. Lots of young women arrive in Paris during the post-war years, looking for fame or fortune before returning home to the provinces. Maigret meets another, Betty (Jade Labeste), and when his team identifies where the dead girl lived, he sets her up in the apartment, asking her to let him know if anyone else comes looking. This also leads them to Jeanine Arménieu (Mélanie Bernier), who may not have found fame as an actress, but appears to have found fortune in Laurent Clermont-Valois (Pierre Moure), the scion of a wealthy family. One wonders what the young man's mother (Aurore Clément) thinks of her, or of that friend who caused a stir when she showed up at the engagement party.

Watching Maigret is sort of like watching Mystery! on Thursday nights, back when it was a Thursday-night mainstay on PBS, much like Kenneth Branagh's Poirot films are. It's not quite as ornate, but it plays to a certain sort of visual nostalgia, a carefully reconstructed period where things are just so and things can be reasoned out even if there is murder and poverty and everyone is reeling from the war. The plot itself is straightforward to the point where there really aren't quite enough suspects for it to be a proper mystery, I suppose, but the feeling of getting into a cozy period mystery is very nice.

I suspect that those more familiar with the works of Georges Simenon may enjoy it a bit less; there are bits where Leconte seems to be having a bit of a wink at things like his pipe smoking or playing things a bit more modern and open than may have been done in the original novel (or maybe not; they're French, after all, willing to be a bit more direct about sex). It thankfully never seems to fall into the realm of self-parody, at least for someone like me. It plays straight, if a little more prone to banter than I'd expect.

And though this sort of mystery - one adapted from a single novel in a series that had 100 entries (Maigret et la jeune morte), combining short stories and novels - is often about the suspects and victims more than the detective, who is a steady lens through which to view the others in most cases. Still, I like Gerard Depardieu's Maigret. There's sadness and obsession to him that doesn't feel like it would lead to burnout, but instead gives him purpose. Leconte makes this a film about the detective as much as the case, and the actor shoulders that very well, but doesn't overwhelm it. There's an interesting empathy to him, especially when he plays off Jade Labeste, whose Betty is not looking for a father figure and has been hardened just enough that she recognizes him using her and is willing to use him right back, but they grow to understand each other.

All told, It's the sort of film where it is satisfying enough to watch a star match a role, and then see the character unravel a mystery, even if the solution itself is not quite so clever that it lingers in the mind in the days afterward. What does linger is how Maigret's drive comes from the waste of it all, with a capper highlighting just what potential the victim seemed to have, even if snuffed out by much less interesting people before it came to fruition.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2022 in Auditorium des Diplõmés de la SGWU (Fantasia Festival, digital)

Bryce Hodgson has made an impressively dense short film in "Blackbear", about five minutes long and not necessarily with a whole lot more going on in it than the one line it gets to describe it in a festival program ("After finding her beloved uncle has unexpectedly passed, [Olive must come to terms with her grandmother's failing health."). But young Sachi Adilman is kind of terrific in one of those performances where one doesn't exactly see either acting or naturalism, but just a kid relaying what she's been given with all the conviction she can.

Indeed, that's what ultimately makes the short so great - it gets across how children that age sometimes need to communicate very badly but can't organize their thoughts or use just words. There's mixed media, jumbled timelines, things early on where it seems like Olive is either assuming you already know something that she hasn't said or where she doesn't realize that she skipped it until she circles back around. It's an impressive combination of a kid's not yet realizing that things can get worse and need to get help, told from the inside of a kid's buzzing, not-yet-organized head.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2022 in Auditorium des Diplõmés de la SGWU (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

I suspect that Resurrection woks in large part because, when filmmaker Andrew Semans decides to make the jump from edgy and unnerving to something that is quite frankly deranged, he doesn't take a moment to pause and let the audience consider just where this film has led them. Nope, he keeps right on rolling, and the viewer doesn't have time to disengage, and now they're in this, quite possibly as panicked about having no way out of something crazy than the characters.

Mostly, that means Margaret (Rebecca Hall), a highly capable biotech executive. Daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman) is about to go to college; she's happy to mentor interns like Gwyn (Angela Wong Carbone) on both the business and knowing their own worth as women and individuals; the sex with married lover Peter (Michael Esper) is hotter still because they both know where they stand. And then, one day, she sees a man (Tim Roth) at a conference, and all that confidence collapses. He plays dumb during their first couple encounters, but soon stops denying that they have a history. After all, gaslighting Margaret won't put her under his thumb - although, truth be told, there seems to be a pretty good fact that he believes what he's saying, not that it makes him any less dangerous and reprehensible.

Even before Tim Roth's David shows up, Rebecca Hall is playing Margaret as someone who, for as decent a person as she may be, always talks like she keeps a hand on the knife in her purse. There's a nervous but aggressive energy throughout; by the time that Hall is given a chance to relay Margaret's origin story, the audience is already well-primed to see her as a fascinating mix of overwhelming trauma and defiance, and the twisting afterward is terrific: Semans gives Hall room to express the extent to which today's Margaret should be smarter and stronger than this, and they find nifty little ways to pivot her from fear to looking for a way out, letting her be both extremes with just a little nudge at any time.

It takes a bit for Roth to show up, but he instantly becomes a villain who is unique if maybe not fascinating - the details of his particular hold over Margaret swerve from conventional to unhinged in jaw-dropping fashion, but Roth holds back in some interesting ways. David is not, at this point, particularly charismatic; Margaret suggests that he was seductive at one point, but the way she relates it makes clear that this is in many ways an old playbook, and Semans pointedly doesn't give the man a chance to seduce the audience. Instead, Roth plays David as having piggish but bland entitlement, seldom raising his voice but dripping with contempt. The claims he uses to establish a hold on Margaret are outrageous, but his manner is that of a middle-class abuser, heightened, yes, but a conventional monster in most of the ways that matter.

Semans and his team do a neat job in building a tight little world that fits the film's story almost exactly but never feels too perfectly custom-made. The Albany, NY setting feels the right size, for instance, just big enough to have corporate headquarters and power but small enough to be overlooked; similarly, Margaret's office and apartment both signal that she's made something of herself, compared to the way the place David is staying makes him look small, but doesn't make it absurd that he might be able to have power over her. The film is focused on what it's looking to accomplish in each phase and moves between them in a manner that is smooth but also locks a new direction in place in a way that the audience can feel.

And the last leg is just delightfully mad; as much as one can sense that David has probably overplayed his hand with someone as capable and determined as Margaret, there's still tension as they move to a decisive confrontation, since there's size and an untapped reservoir of raw physical violence to him. It makes for a terrific climax, relieving a lot of pent-up tension while still taut and nerve-wracking in the moment. And when everything hits the finale of the finale…

As much as I'm glad to have seen this on the big screen, I kind of dread the talk that may have happened if it got a wide theatrical release and had modest success, because it's absolutely got the sort of ending that a certain type of viewer will read as a psychotic break and not what "really" happened. I, on the other hand, figure that David really did somehow implant Ben into his abdomen and keep him from further developing, and not just because I think lying to the audience in hope that the really clever ones will recognize it is a garbage move. Semans has made an effort to note that David was a brilliant scientist in the right field but also given the audience plenty of reason to infer a scandal that makes him an outcast, keeping biotech a regular presence in the background. It's also just more metaphorically satisfying if David is treating Ben as leverage, rather than just relying on guilt; he feels like a canny enough abuser to not give her reason to sever ties with him and never look back.

Even if one quibbles over the scale and form of insanity that the film ultimately features, though, Resurrection is a smart, nerve-wracking thriller that will hopefully sit on a long shelf of movies about Rebecca Hall being deliciously dangerous, especially when cornered.

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