Atlantic Film Festival 2014


Review by Flannery Jefferson.
Viewed on September 12, 2014.

Set in Los Angeles, Nightcrawler is the best kind of urban thriller: driven by manic energy, sparkling with gritty glamour and haunted by moral decay.

The movie tells the story of Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), an entrepreneurial but unsettlingly intense young man who stumbles into the night time world of freelance crime journalism.

At first it’s difficult not to admire the entrepreneurial and often comic methods Lou uses to get ahead in the business. His energy, curiosity and motivation liken him to a highly unconventional version of the American self-made man.

However, as his methods gravitate from morally questionable to downright illegal, we see Lou degenerate from luckless eccentric to outright psychopath. This chilling plunge into darkness is depicted by a brilliant performance from Gyllenhaal, who plays the part of Lou with both subtlety and force.

What is most chilling about the film is the nagging feeling that we, the audience, have somehow enabled a situation where the psychopathic Lou can thrive. Nina (Rene Russo), head of the television company that buys Lou’s footage, gives a blunt analysis of what her audiences are looking for; white victims, coloured criminals, urban crime creeping into the suburbs. This is what people will turn on their TVs to see. And in some darker way, it’s what we’re here to see now.The film’s ability to seamlessly incorporate this level of nuance with the high-speed car chases confirm the film’s status as a deeply unsettling – but highly entertaining – movie. 

My Old Lady

Review by Pearl Chan.
Viewed on September 15, 2014.

Another Play-to-Film to grace the Atlantic Film Festival, My Old Lady cannot shake off it's theatrical nature and fails to fully utilize all the possibilities cinematography and Paris can offer.

My Old Lady tells the story of two 57 year old children: Matthias Gold (Kevin Kline), and Chloé Girard (Kristin Scott Thomas). The two children struggle with very adult problems, though seem to emerged unscathed in ways only children do.

Overseeing all this is Chloé's 92 year old mother Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith). Madame Girard's youthful indiscretions with Matthias Gold's father brought sorrow on both their spouses and weighed heavily on their children (Matthias and Cholé) growing up. Ultimately a story about generations and hereditary relations, My Old Lady was promising in a loving and tender start which went bust like a Chinese railway project. Looks good, but it's not sturdy.

The film begins as Matthias Gold arrives in Paris to the one arrangement his estranged father has left him: a viager; an old french real estate agreement. The apartment, which he intended to sell, comes with an old lady and her daughter: Mathilde Girard and Chloé. Until Mathilde's dies, Matthias must pay her 2400 euros a month and cannot sell the apartment. Broke and banking his last dollar on the sale of this property, Matthias uses every trick in the book and more in attempts to get the apartment off his hands.

After a series of blackmail, heartless limp threats, and careless moves to sell the apartment to a developer by Matthias, Matthias and Chloé bond over shared childhood traumas. And then they make out. And the audience cannot help but want to scream Stop! The love story was unsupported by who the characters were set up to be, the plot folding into a Hollywood formula.

Overall a good movie - until they make out. And then it just got weird and rushed as the  developer sub-plot disappeared without resolve, Chloé is suddenly happy and fulfilled because she has a man in her life, Matthias remains broke but suddenly unworried, and Mathilde smiles as her daughter and her lover's son grope in the backyard.

Adieu a la Langage 3D

Review by Pearl Chan.
Viewed on September 13, 2014.

Jean-Luc Goddard's newest instalment is a physical experiment. Entirely new and outside of what film is currently. In 3D, it tests the audience's physical stamina and very violently displays this break down, this farewell to language.

Goddard's experimentation is reminiscent of what the German expressionists did way back. Goddard approaches the medium of 3D and seriously asks what is possible. Like the first experimenters, Goddard uses double exposure liberally, and, in 3D, this adds a whole new dimension to the possibilities of what is to be seen.

The film audience's gaze has been tamed to accept the regimented explosions and plot-lines. Here Goddard challenges those without making it his primary concern. Goddard is interested in the disintegration of communication between screen and audience (through low-res images, awful sound...), and on screen, between characters.

Goddard, in Adieu a la Langage, does what all professors with tenure should: try something crazy.

That being said, I had a wicked headache after and spent most of it trying to not watch it. Difficult to watch, and harder still to like.


The Elephant Song

Review by Pearl Chan.
Viewed on September 11, 2014.

The Atlantic Film Festival 2014 opened last night with The Elephant Song, a film adapted from a play by the same name. The writer of both is Nicolas Billon, whose name may be remembered from his play, Iceland, which was presented here in Halifax by Magnetic North earlier this summer.

I have neither seen nor read the play The Elephant Song, but it is evident that Billon’s knack for strong monologues edged its way onto the silver screen. Other vestigial elements from the stage persist; such as the limited set change and reliance on dialogue.

Is this a successful translation?

From the sparse three-person cast of the play The Elephant Song, the film presents a much larger cast, including those who would have only been spoken of in the play version.

As Billon demonstrated in Iceland, his craft is in characters. Billon flexes his words and invites you to sit awhile with each character and trust them. When this small cast grows, each with their own downfalls and motives, Billon’s style stretches thin as he extends understanding to each and every with such great feeling. To this end, Billon’s style fails to do them justice. Olivia becomes a portraiture of a lonely left at home wife/girlfriend seen still only through Dr. Green’s eyes.  The various bedroom eyed nurses show promise, but, in the end, are like pockets which I expected to be deeper. There were so many directions to go and so many false starts were taken.

What does hold is the strong dialogue between Dr. Green (Bruce Greenwood) and Michael (Xavier Dolan). In any other situation, one would be the foil and the other the driving force. Billon removes that possibility and provides them both with their own trajectories.

Catherine Keener’s performance was outstanding in the simplicity. Keener portrayed Susan Peterson, a broken mother mourning a dead child. Her life is day to day and about carrying on. Keener does Peterson justice, and more.

Xavier Dolan’s portrayal of Michael Aleen seemed at times more a display of unguarded assholery than mentally unstable. Additionally, Dolan seemed to know exactly what he wanted, but was unable to deliver. His exaggerated style was akin to directors showing actors how to act.

The cinematography of the film was careful.

Where theatre is restricted to the space given, suggestions, and imagination, film is given the entire world in which to shoot and tell the story.  The Elephant Song remains inside the office, stuck in it’s former reincarnation. It lacks what made Twelve Angry Men so commendable, and consequently, makes you want to walk out into the snow at some point and leave Michael and Dr. Green to this game.

The ending does not disappoint. As aforementioned, Billon’s preoccupation is his characters, and the simple and clear ending pulls the blinds open and clarifies the point. This is a story about these people. This is not a psychological thriller as it’s starting to be built up as, but fundamentally about Dr. Green, Michale Aleen, and Susan Peterson.

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