I don’t want to brown nose but Mubi’s been bringing the deep cuts of Canadian cinema. They’ve been bringing movies from both the English and the French side. They already started with Werewolf, How Heavy This Hammer, and Still Night Still Light, which I’ve reviewed in full here. And here are the rest of the films that Mubi is dubbing as part of of Canada’s Next Generation.
Hugh Gibson’s The Stairs is the second documentary I’ve seen that addresses the revitalization of Regent Park. This happens to also be Greg, Marty, and Roxanne’s old and ‘dangerous’ neighborhood. The three, by the way, are perpetually recovering addicts who now do social work. The city envisions a vibrant neighborhood, where citizens like the movie’s three main subjects can hang out theoretically. The construction workers who may or may not be from the neighborhood, toil away in the distance. But there’s a curious, if not obvious way that Gibson portrays these events. All of them happen inside or outside blue fences. As if telling us that this neighborhood, currently in flux, is keeping the old ‘undesirables’ out. Like movies about addiction, there will always be an exploitative air to it. But it nonetheless comes from an honest side, from someone who has earned the community’s trust.
Guillaume Langlois’ Historytelling hints at that silent, sneaky violence, which has manifested itself in different forms in Northern Quebec. We see these kids, both French and Inuit, outside the classroom. Seeing that, there’s narration of what their ancestors had to do to survive the harsh winters. Their lives are more comfortable now, being able to buy everything – although expensively – that they used to hunt for. But there’s a different threat which is forgetting their history and language. For God’s sake the classes they have are in French instead of both French and Inuit. The saving grace here are the elders who speak in Inuit, voicing their concerns to the camera. When they’re not doing that they’re talking about how to live life. Things that these kids can’t learn in school, as much as the latter tries to.
In The Art of Speech, director Olivier Godin confines his protagonist Koroviev (Michael Yaroshevsky) within closed spaces. He eventually has to go outside for his quest to find an obscure copy of the Bible. Despite this the interior world bleeds without, the neon colours in the first scenes permeating through the exterior surfaces. Audiences have never seen a movie that looks like this before. Eeven the neo-noir films that it’s lovingly parodying never pushed hard on this expressionist aesthetic. There’s even a way he does it that reminds us that there’s warmth in darkness. That there’s a connective feeling between characters as they have clandestine meetings in places like bridges. He makes these lights look eerily natural too. That said, Koroviev and the other characters are drowning within these colours that eventually feels gimmicky. He hides Koroviev’s face through most of the movie unnecessarily.
Winston DeGiobbi’s Mass For Shut-Ins has, in its own ways, evasive camerawork. However, it can’t hide the candidness of its characters. Portraying the reclusive Kay Jay (Charles William McKenzie) and his reluctant move to start exploring his Nova Scotia environs. This movie is probably one of the best arguments for using first time actors. This is a technique that a new generation of Canadian filmmakers are using to mixed results. But it mostly works here, capturing a local cadence that some Canadian directors a generation ago avoided. “Isn’t it mind numbing,” a local asks Kay Jay, when she finds out about his introversion. I don’t want to get too philosophical on this, but his struggle speaks to larger issues. Whether to stay indoors because there’s nothing to do in Nova Scotia. Or to discover something new about the people he’s avoiding outside, like his brother September (Stephen Melanson).
Mubi is also including Torontonian Isiah Medina’s short movie Idizwadidiz . There’s a theme of circles here, whether Medina looks at the moon across Lake Ontario. Or it could be the circles that two women (Theresa Wong, Lizzie Oh) are drawing. Medina evokes Bergman and Brakhage in depicting a mix of rural and urban setting. There are also and smartphone screens here showing as he, of course, brings experimental film to the 21st century. It’s also as if he’s showing the capability of emptiness within our real and manufactured visions. There are also fast cuts between its three realities and transitions between digital and 16mm. These techniques make the film both soothing and unsettling. And of course, a Filipino-Canadian filmmaker depicting Asian women, who are probably absent in experimental film. Thismakes his audience rethink the way other directors depict the latter on screen.
Speaking of 16mm, the retrospective ends with Sofia Bohdanowicz’s Maison du Bonheur. It’s coming out in Toronto on August 17 and on Mubi on August 30. I’ll be writing a full review soon. But all I can say about that is that it’s one of the prettiest movies ever. It also gives dignity to its subject. Which is understandable for Mubi to save its best for last.
- Genre: Comedy, documentary, Drama, fantasy, Romance
- Directed by: Guillaume Langlois, Hugh Gibson, Isiah Medina, Olivier Godin, Sofia Bohdanowicz, Winston DeGiobbi
- Starring: Charles William McKenzie, Lizzie Oh, Michael Yaroshevsky, Theresa Wong
- Produced by: Calvin Thomas, Nicolas Levesque, Sofia Bohdanowicz, Winston DeGiobbi
- Studio: Canopee Medias, Quantity Cinema, Wellington St North