The Fantasia film festival is happening at several theatres (primarily on Concordia University’s downtown campus) through Aug. 2. Here are our reviews of films screening on the second-to-last day of the festival:
Move over PETA, here comes renown Polish director Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa, The Secret Garden) with the somber anti-hunting, pro-animal rights film Spoor.
Retired engineer Janina Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka) wakes up at dawn with her two playful dogs, walking through a lush field and embracing the sunrise. Idyllic and calm, gorgeous shots of wild boars running through a forest or horses galloping about are often violently interrupted with loud gunshots. The beautiful mountain village where Duszejko resides isn’t just a hotbed for the wildest of species, but also the cruelest of men, extra keen on increasing their animal kill count.
While Duszejko’s aversion to hunting grows stronger after her dogs disappear, the men of the village start popping up murdered at various locations, provoking a very lazy investigation by a shoe-less detective and a handful of police officers who couldn’t seem to care less. Don’t expect a suspenseful and moody crime thriller, because this never really lifts off.
Holland is admittedly a bit all over the place. Characters are thrown in and secrets exposed through revealing flashbacks, for reasons that are left unexplained and assumedly are unnecessary. Mandat-Grabka carries the film throughout, as her protagonist’s obsession grows more emotional and manic. Yet, there are still a lot of odd tidbits surrounding Duszejko, like why she insists on only being called by her last name or why she spends an entire scene with red scabs on her face.
The ending seems blaringly obvious early on, yet Holland insists on drawing it out. It allows her more time to develop Duszejko and create some great, witty moments throughout. Unfortunately, it also feels like she was perhaps unsure of what type of film she wished to create – a subversive animal rights thriller or a drama about mountain do-gooders with issues. You decide! (Roxane Hudon)
Spoor screens at the J.A. de Sève theatre (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Tuesday, August 1, at 2:45 p.m.
If nothing else, Assholes certainly explores every possible meaning implied by its title. Writer-director Peter Vack, and his real-life sister Betsey Brown, play monstrously dysfunctional siblings, Adah and Adam Shapiro. The movie begins with a single-take monologue by Adah, in which she vents to her analyst. The scene is a manic aria of insecurity, anger, and sexual frustration; it’s probably the highpoint of the movie. Soon afterward, she hooks up with her brother’s friend Aaron, who we have just seen admitting to the same analyst his newfound obsession with women’s assholes. The two begin a feverish sexual relationship, fueled by poppers and public displays of idiocy. It is here that that movie starts to become truly tiresome.
While it strives to be as vulgar and repulsive as possible, landing somewhere in the neighbourhood of a slightly more graphic Sausage Party/Girls hybrid, it never really crosses into the truly disturbed. It simply tries too hard, remaining basely comic, instead of becoming viscerally perverse.
What is notable about the film is its extremely bright palate, which is as chaotic as the narrative. The stylized colour scheme and extreme use of vertical negative space in the frames recalls late 60’s Godard, to no apparent end. The film fails to hold the viewer’s attention, as it follows a path of increasing self-indulgence, which will only appeal to those who find the material shocking. It might achieve underground infamy with the teenage boys who lapped up The Human Centipede on Netflix, but it’s probably too tame for the Fantasia audience’s more hardened gaze. (Katie Ferrar + Mark Carpenter)
Assholes screens in J.A. de Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Tuesday, August 1, at 7:30 p.m.
Italy’s Deliver Us is an observational documentary, in the tradition of Fred Wiseman. It follows a Sicilian priest, Father Cataldo, who regularly performs exorcisms on troubled members of his flock. A constant succession of people seek aid, some displaying classic symptoms of demonic possession, right out of Linda’s Blair’s playbook (animalistic growling, seizures, profane speech), and others have mundane problems, like a boy who refuses to attend school. This grants Cataldo a powerful position in the community; he is a textbook patriarchal priest who holds that all problems stem from a lack of faith. Cataldo performs rituals, dousing people with holy water as they writhe and hiss, with little apparent concern for their physical well being. He also appears to perform rites via cell phone. However, another priest indicates that you must be careful that they are not faking, because that is dangerous attention seeking behaviour.
The film’s authenticity is debatable, because of the degree to which the subjects are aware they are being filmed, and are potentially performing for the camera. Nevertheless, the film shows an old-world order that is alive and well. The approach will frustrate some, as the footage raises a plethora of questions, and creates an acute desire for context. Some attempt to provide this comes at the end of the film, at an exorcist convention in Rome; priests from around the globe confess attending due to needs in their communities. Additional context is provided via onscreen text at the end of the film.
Deliver Us is a disturbing film, albeit some might find it comic, depending on their world view. The faithful will be horrified by the displays of possession. The formerly faithful may be disturbed by the seemingly medieval grip the church holds in this community, and wish those affected could receive the help they deserve. The unfaithful may find the film to be a bizarre glimpse of a foreign world. Regardless, the film almost inevitably provokes a strong reaction. (KF + MC)
Deliver Us screens in J.A. de Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Tuesday, August 1 at 9:45 p.m.
For the complete Fantasia program and ticket details, go to the festival’s website.