Tuesday, June 14, 2016

movie review: Peshmerga

France, 2016
Dir. Bernard-Henri Lévy

Peshmerga's documentary team, led by French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, follows a group of Kurdish military as they battle Daesh (aka ISIS) in Iraq. It's probably safe to say most Westerners don't know much about these smart, tough men and women, and that's a shame, because they are fascinating and admirable.

The film is tense, as you'd expect from a war documentary. It's clear the film crew doesn't know what will happen next as they travel with the soldiers from one beleaguered village to the next, and this uncertainty adds sometimes unbearable tension to the scenes. At certain points, Lévy's voiceover tells us exactly what happens after the scene ends, and although we are spared seeing the carnage, it packs an emotional wallop because we have just spent a considerable amount of time getting to know the newly deceased or injured.

Some of the most interesting scenes centre around women: we meet Helly Luv, who was among those present at the premiere I attended and was introduced to the audience as "the Kurdish [pop star] Madonna." Luv is an outspoken advocate for her people, not afraid to show up and raise morale in the war zone. We also meet a group of female soldiers who are treated as equals to their male counterparts. According to Lévy, these women strike terror in the hearts of the Islamic militants they are fighting, because to be killed by a woman means the ultimate shame and no glory in the afterlife.

Peshmerga is an excellent glimpse into this little known world. Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

movie review: Blood Father

Blood Father
France, 2016
Directed by Jean-François Richet

I can't say I had high hopes when I found out the final movie at Cannes would be Blood Father, starring Mel Gibson as an ex-convict trying to save his daughter (Erin Moriarty) from drug dealers who want to kill her. First of all, I'm not a Mel Gibson fan (though I have enjoyed his earlier movies like Lethal Weapon), and secondly, the story sounded cheesy and tired.

Maybe it was because of my low expectations, but I found to my surprise that the movie was pleasantly entertaining. Mel Gibson turned in a performance worthy of his pre-nutball self--he and Moriarty had lovely chemistry as a father and daughter. The other supporting actors like William H. Macy and Diego Luna were also very good. The dialogue was funny and quick, the action sequences were nicely filmed, and the plot clipped along briskly without lagging.

The story, based on a novel by Peter Craig, is nothing particularly original, but it is logical and well plotted. In a sea of action movies that insist on weirdly intricate plots, its simplicity was actually refreshing. I was thankful that the straightforward plot allowed the focus to remain on the characters' relationship; most of the screen time is taken up by Moriarty and Gibson, and they are a genuine pleasure to watch.

With Blood Father, Mel Gibson seems to have taken a step back from the abyss of Hollywood purgatory he's (deservedly) been in for a few years. If he can keep turning in good work in roles like this one, Hollywood and the viewing public may forgive him yet.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

movie review: Fool Moon (original title: Forêt des Quinconces)

Fool Moon (original title: Forêt des Quinconces)
(France, 2016)
Dir. Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet

When the movie begins, it has the appearance of being a lighthearted romantic comedy, but Fool Moon (Forêt des Quinconces) is nothing of the sort. Yes, Paul (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) is in love with his girlfriend Ondine (Amandine Truffy), and is understandably broken-hearted when she dumps him. Yes, he goes on a sad sack bender and has to be rescued from a Paris sidewalk by his brother-in-law the next morning. Yes, Paul vows to win Ondine back. However, it's at this point that the movie takes a sharp departure from rom-com territory.

Wandering around broken-hearted, Paul trips over the coin box of a homeless man (Thierry Hancisse) living in a Paris underpass. As he apologizes and picks up the man's money, he is drawn into a conversation in which it is revealed that the homeless man is actually Chance, or Fate.

It's at this point that audiences might realize the (original French) dialogue is in rhyming meter. As the film progresses, we see more Shakespearean elements and it becomes clear this is a project designed to push the boundaries of what the typical film audience is used to. It is fun to see Shakespearean melodrama clothed in 21st century garb and a modern Parisian setting, with clubs, cafes and the Metro.

It's not a perfect movie; the film is still a bit rough around the edges in terms of writing and story structure. Occasionally it seems that Leprince-Ringuet sacrifices substance in service of style. The film treads dangerously close to preciousness at times, which gets tiresome. Also, even if we accept the conceit that Paul, Ondine and Paul's new mysterious lover Camille (Pauline Caupenne) are not meant to be realistic but rather to fulfill 'types' in a Shakespearean tragicomedy, we expect at least a little bit of logic in the narrative.

However, it's an admirably ambitious project and a nice change of pace from a typical romantic comedy-drama. The dialogue, when it works, is very good, and the actors inhabit their characters well. The scene with the dance troupe is particularly outstanding in its music choice and choreography.

This movie is not for everyone, but for those who like something unexpected and are okay with theatricality, it's an enjoyable experiment. I imagine Leprince-Ringuet will only get better with each subsequent film, since he already shows clear talent, even if there is room for improvement.