Greg Klymkiw presents his HOT DOCS 2015 HOT PICKS #2
For the next fourteen days I will only review movies I liked, loved or that totally blew me away during the 2015 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto, Canada. Life is short. I won't bother reviewing movies that were godawful, mediocre or just plain okay. Note my picks, mark your calendars and save some precious hours, days and weeks of your life on planet Earth. Instead, spend it travelling the world via one of cinema's most vital genres.
Dir. Sophie Deraspe
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Set against the turbulent backdrop of war-and-revolution in contemporary Syria we meet one hot French-Canadian babe in Montreal (Sandra Bagaria) and one hot Syrian-American babe in Damascus (Amina Arraf).
They meet online. They're young. They're in love.
Okay. That's it. Go see the movie.
Oh, that's not fair. Here's a bit more to, uh, chew on:
Yesiree-bob, they're lesbians and they're totally into each other, wholly - in mind (what's some nice sapphic eroticism without a few healthy dollops of intellectual discourse) and in, oh yeah, baby, BODY. And let me tell ya', quicker than you can say "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)?", l'action de yum yum gets going and it's guaranteed to be hot and heavy.
No? Okay, check this out:
The rub, so to speak, is that they're separated by continents, culture and physical proximity, so they must create virtual worlds via text messaging and avatars to become one. Yes, it's cybersex, but no matter. This is a movie, so, via the film's director, we have mega-potential for lots of imagined, recreated hot caresses, tongue action, rug cleaning and soft, lithe, supple flesh against flesh to demonstrate for us, the unbridled passion unfurling in their respective loins - I mean, minds. Better yet, as the film progresses, they can well imagine what the real fireworks are going to be like when they finally meet.
So can we.
Yowza! Yowza! Yowza! Do I really need to keep writing?
I do? Well, okay. Don't mind if I do. Just thought you'd want to dispense with reading this review and just go see the movie (with a handy raincoat to place over your lap for any discrete digital manipulations you might wish to indulge in as the picture unspools).
So, where was I? Oh yes, so our two femmes are tres exotique and maybe, just maybe, the virtual will become a reality. There's danger, though. Sandra lives a fairly normal, comfy life in La Belle Province whilst Amina is surrounded by violence and political unrest during the Syrian uprising as its being quashed by the ruling patriarchy. Oh, and lest we forget, those of the LGBT persuasion are on the top of most Syrians' extermination lists which ups the suspense ante when brave Amina launches a blog entitled "A Gay Girl in Damascus" - a delicious blend of news, politics and ground zero reportage of the Syrian conflicts. The blog goes through the roof - journalists and news agencies from all over the world look to the "Gay Girl" for their news, until, the worst happens.
Amina tells Sandra that the secret police are on to her. It's scary stuff. She aspires to be a novelist and her blog posts and emails to her cyber-love are plenty evocative. She walks the streets of Damascus, attends rallies and protests, and at times, finds herself alone in the shadows of tiny labyrinthian walkways. All the while, she's convinced she's being followed. (The filmmaker delivers a whole lot of hazy dramatic recreations for us - a total bonus). Eventually, Amina informs Sandra that she needs to go further underground and that their communications will be sporadic and brief.
Amina completely disappears. The world is watching. Where is the Gay Girl in Damascus? Word travels through various underground and cyber channels that Amina has been kidnapped by the Syrian authorities and languishes in prison. Sandra is desperate. She launches an intense campaign to find and rescue Amina. With the help of Western activists and even American diplomatic channels (Amina is, after all, a dual American citizen), a tense, multilevelled investigation is underway. Mystery upon mystery begins to exponentially pile up and soon Sandra (and by extension, we, the audience) are ripped away like a Harlequin Romance heroine's bodice from a sex-drenched love story and plunged into a superbly complex thriller that keeps us wanting to know more.
And the more we (and Sandra know), the more we become afraid.
And guess what? We're only a third of the way into the film. There's a lot more thrills and intrigue to enjoy.
AND it's all true.
Aside from the deftly directed dramatic recreations, skillfully edited with a myriad of other characters/subjects and interviews, The Amina Profile is never less than jangling, compulsive viewing. Where it goes, you'll never know until you see it. Once you do see it, as the suspenseful pieces of the puzzle slowly, creepily and shockingly fall into place, you'll find yourself registering surprise at every turn of every corner. You'll be confronted with the deep, dark mysteries of international intrigue amidst violent revolution as well as the strange, dark corners of cyberspace.
The picture's a corker. In fact, The Amina Profile might be one of the most vital contemporary films to examine how loneliness coupled with activism yields a Knossos-like journey to a shocking reality of what all of us face in parallel worlds - those in which we question and alternately, those we do not.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** Four Stars
The Amina Profile will have its Toronto Premiere at HOT DOCS 2015. For schedule and tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.
All The Time In The World (2014)
Dir. Suzanne Crocker
Review By Greg Klymkiw
A happy, progressive family from Dawson City realize that the stress of modern living is wreaking havoc with their quality of life and creating barriers between honest, real communication in their home. They do what many dream about, but never do - they pack their bags with kids, cat and dog in tow and hightail it up north to the most isolated reaches of the Yukon to live for a year completely off-grid. Mom (Director, Producer and Cinematographer Suzanne Crocker) also decided to document the family's journey and given how much old settler-style toil the family endures (especially during the first third of the picture), she probably deserves some manner of SuperMom Oblation to have made a movie and carried on like Honest Abe Lincoln's Mom must have done in that old log cabin.
Happily, we don't spend too much time in the city, nor are we subjected to what must have been a seeming lifetime of rumination, then planning and finally getting everything ready that they're going to need to live on in the middle of nowhere - a place bereft of any means to communicate with the outside world. We get just enough of the aforementioned so we can get to the good stuff.
And wow! What good stuff! We get to experience the utter drudgery of carting what seems like half the contents of a storage locker warehouse from their boat up to the cabin deep in the forest, building a humungous above-ground storage facility for their food, rigging a platform to pull their boat onto dry ground for the winter and a whole whack of other necessary duties to get themselves set up.
I was especially delighted to note that the family brought along archery gear, big sharp blades and firearms. I know from experience that the wilderness can be home to bears, wolves, coyotes and perhaps, most menacing of all, inbred country cousins. My fingers were crossed. All good storytellers know you don't introduce weaponry into your yarn without making good use of them.
The film has a unique three-act structure which naturally follows the events of the family's journey, but clearly much effort and thought has been placed into evoking more than mere narrative beats. What the film provides us with is the actual tone and almost poetic nature of this lifestyle. The family have no phones, no computers, no radios, no television sets, no walks, no CBs and perhaps most importantly, no clocks of any kind. The sense of time having no meaning is something the film beautifully evokes. We get to experience genuine conversations, the simple pleasures of reading aloud, preparing all the food from scratch, chopping firewood (one of my personal favourites - NOT!) and endlessly hauling buckets of water up and down a steep, rugged hill (double NOT on this for me).
There's fun, of course: skating on rivers, ice-sledding, playing in the snow, building a huge tent which gets covered with snow (becoming a cool clubhouse/fort) and even celebrating events like Halloween and Christmas in ways unique to the isolated setting. There's also a real sense that the family is in on stuff together - the kids often present very cool ideas and contributions to their lifestyle. There's danger, too. (No, the inbred country cousins haven't shown up yet.) There's a humungous snow storm and Dad's out in the wilds on his own, thus injecting a few beats of genuine tension.
What the film does not show (or chooses not to show) is the kind of nasty, verbal sparring that can rear its ugly head when family or friends are afflicted with cabin fever. I longed, with baited-breath for some Edward Albee or Eugene O'Neill-like acrimony - Mom and Dad sloshing back several beakers of rotgut then hurling barbs of verbal abuse at each other while the children cower in the corner.
Oh well, they seem like nice people. I cannot fault them for that.
Finally, what really hits home (at least for me) is the silence and then realizing, life in the middle of nowhere is NEVER silent, but that the sounds of the natural world are not unlike a gorgeous symphony orchestra. I personally know quite a bit about living off-grid (because I indeed do) and certainly found much in the film I was able to connect with, but even I couldn't do what this family did. They're not simply off-grid for most of the picture's running time, they might as well be off the planet. Me, I need my shortwave radio to listen to crazy survivalists and evangelists barking madly into the deep night and while I'm perfectly adept at chopping wood, I much prefer getting one of the locals to dump a few cord of wood every six months or so. I do, however, enjoy stacking it.
Much to my consternation, the inbred country cousins never do show up. Damn! I harboured images of Dad blowing the grizzled, drooling psychopaths away while the kids got into the action with bows, arrows, knifes and axes. (Mom would be filming all this, of course.) I was ready to throw in the towel when the reality of this hit me. However, an unexpected visitor DOES show up and yes, the gun must be fired.
This made me happy. Then again, don't mind me. As James Cagney would always say in Raoul Walsh's Strawberry Blonde, "It's just the kind of hairpin I am."
THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** Three Stars
All The Time In The World will have its Toronto Premiere at HOT DOCS 2015. For schedule and tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.