Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sundance: Before Tomorrow and Louise-Michel

Last night we saw two more Sundance films. Just a quick post on both of them.

The first was Before Tomorrow.

Before Tomorrow is a drama that felt at times almost documentary-like. It was a slow-paced film filled with vast silences. One of the co-directors was there, a French-Canadian woman named Marie-Hélène Cousineau, and she spoke briefly of the film before it began and answered some questions afterwards. The basic plot follows an Inuit woman and her grandson in a tribe in northern Canada before the tribe came into contact with white people, though they meet with friends or relatives who talk about seeing a great ship appear and interacting with strange people. The main characters are a grandmother and grandson, played by an actual grandmother and grandson, who go to a close-by island for part of the summer with another elderly woman to dry fish for the tribe for the winter. The other elderly woman dies, and when the tribe fails to return for the grandmother and grandson, they set out on their own in a boat and discover that tragedy has struck (it appears in the form of smallpox or some other disease, likely brought by the strange ship), and all of their relatives have died. What follows in the film is the story of the strength of the grandmother, as she and her grandson survive on their own in isolation. The story itself seems interesting, the attention to detail in presenting the Inuit culture was interesting, and much of the filming was beautiful and barren. Yet it was a difficult film to watch -- it had such great stretches of silence, and at many times it felt as if your endurance and patience were being tested, just as the grandmother's and grandson's must have been. The one line that stuck with me was when the grandmother exclaimed, "When will this nightmare end?", and I must admit, watching the film felt a little bit like that. When will it end? How could it end well? How can I endure watching it if it just gets worse and worse? It is entirely in an Inuit language with subtitles, and it seems to be worth having seen, but at the same time, I don't know if I could recommend it -- hard to explain that. It wasn't exactly painful, but it also wasn't enjoyable. Really, for me, the most interesting parts were listening to Marie-Hélène Cousineau discuss it, how they filmed the appropriate scenes in the appropriate seasons, how they filmed with only traditional oil lamp light in the night scenes using HD, how in winter it was -40 C, etc. Anyway, not sure what else to comment on for the film. It was a balloted film, and I voted 2 out of 4 stars ("good") for it, because although I am glad that I saw it, and can see why it is important in terms of preserving Inuit language and traditions and culture, I can't say that I particularly enjoyed seeing it, it was a test of movie-going endurance, even though I suppose it helped me understand the world a little better.

The second film we saw was Louise-Michel, a French film that was also balloted.

This film do I put this? Well, it was so French. It is really difficult to imagine a film that is any more opposite from Before Tomorrow than this one, and so the contrast in seeing them both in one evening was marked. The Sundance site describes the film as a quixotic revenge comedy, the story of displaced factory workers who decide to put a hit out on the factory boss after their factory is shut down without notice. The idea is suggested by the odd character of Louise, and Louise finds another odd character Michel to enact the plan. The film follows what ensues, and I'd just suggest clicking on my link above and reading the description rather than me trying to re-create it less succinctly. This was definitely a black comedy, at times veering into the grotesque, at times absurd, and at times downright shocking -- I am sure I exclaimed, "Oh my God!" more than one time. The audience reaction to this film was amazing to compare to that of Before Tomorrow -- in Before Tomorrow, the audience's silence was palpable, it was uncanny, it was more silent than you can imagine several hundred people being -- the normal rustling and coughing and reactions were almost not present. It was as if the silence of the film's landscape and characters blanketed the audience as well, and wrapped them up in it. The reactions to Louise-Michel were loud, guffaws, exclamations, disbelieving laughter, and more. It too was a balloted film, and in the end, I gave it 3 out of 4 stars ("better") -- it was a totally strange, surreal, disturbed slice of life, but it made me laugh as well. Don't think it should win the audience choice prize either, but in a way completely unlike Before Tomorrow, it too was worth seeing.

ETA: Louise-Michel won "A World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Originality." Well, it certainly was original!

1 comment:

Duranee said...

""When will this nightmare end?", and I must admit, watching the film felt a little bit like that."

I laugh, but only because I felt the same way about "Scent of the Green Papaya". I love these reports from Sundance. I really do.