Sunday, October 19, 2008

Black Sheep @ the 2008 Festival Nouveau Cinema

And we’ve come down to the final two. The Festival Nouveau Cinema is now in it’s final day here in Montreal. The big closing night party and screening came last night. I guess Saturday was better so everyone can just wake up and get back to normal tomorrow. Ah, normal. How dull you will be in comparison with the week I just had. Maybe the festival staff will find me hanging outside the theatre tomorrow pretending like nothing has ended.

Thanks to Chris and Oliver at the pressroom – you were very accommodating, getting me everything that I needed when I needed it. And congratulations go out to Montreal filmmaker, Adrian Wills, for winning one of the festival's audience awards, the Radio-Canada People's Choice Award for his Beatles/Cirque de Soleil documentary, ALL TOGETHER NOW. I had the pleasure of interviewing Adrian during the festival; just click on the film's title to jump to that.

A few things I caught at the festival will find their ways to Black Sheep in the coming weeks but I will close now with my last two films. Talk about night and day with these two … Let’s start with the night.


They said I couldn’t do it. They said I could never be objective when it came to Madonna. Yes, I am a fan. I have been since I was 10 years old. I defended her during her sex craze in the early 90’s. I even enjoyed her “American Life” album, describing her rap attempt as cute. But I cannot condone this. FILTH AND WISDOM is Madonna’s first directorial effort. I’ve wondered if she perhaps made this film as a backdoor entrance into the film world considering the front door used for her acting has been slammed in her face so many times now. She may have snuck in but this film will not get her an invitation to stay.

Where does one begin when everything is wrong? FILTH AND WISDOM is supposed to center around three roommates in London who find themselves at various stages on what Madonna feels to be the eternal pull of life between, wait for it, filth and wisdom. In Madonna’s ongoing pursuit of spiritual enlightenment and the subsequent preaching of said enlightenment to all of us lesser folk, she tells us, through incessant and obvious narration from lead actor and Gogol Bordello frontman, Eugene Hutz (the only natural element of this mess) that all people live somewhere between these two guiding forces and that inevitably every person will be pulled toward the opposite of the force that has always guided them. Given that she wants to make such grand statements about humanity, it would have helped if she treated her characters like actual people. Instead, they are merely symbols being moved wherever needed in the story, whether there is any build or not, in order to serve the greater purpose of making Madonna’s point. If she decides to try her hand at directing again, she should A) allow the writing to someone else (she co-wrote this with Dan Cadan), B) tell a person’s story that allows for insight instead of trying so hard to cram insight into a hollow story and C) not use her own music in the soundtrack more than once … that’s just plain tacky.


This year’s winner at Cannes for the Palmes d’Or and France’s official submission to the Academy Awards as Foreign Language Film contender, ENTRE LES MURS (THE CLASS) is such an engaging experience, which is quite the surprise when you think about what you are actually watching unravel on screen. Francois Bégaudeau is a teacher and novelist. He wrote a book about his experiences teaching teenagers in a troubled Parisian neighborhood, translated that into a screenplay and now finds himself playing a version of himself in the film. It is now our turn to sit with him in his classroom, as presented by director Laurent Cantet. For just over two hours, we sit with Bégaudeau’s French class and watch in amazement as the games play out. Considering the film rarely leaves the school grounds, if at all, it keeps its audience focused at all times, which is a lot more than I can say for Bégaudeau and his students.

Calling what happens in Bégaudeau’s classroom a game is a gross understatement. It is more like a war of the minds and egos. The teachers all go in at the beginning of the session feeling defensive and preparing themselves for the worst, therefore often fulfilling their own prophecies. The students, well, it isn’t that they are so uninterested in learning. They just care more about social status and where they fit in. So they spend the time they should be spending on conjugating verbs coming up with witty quips and trying to look big and tough in front of their recess buddies. The classroom has become a stage to buy yourself credibility on the playground. And with 30 or so of them and only one Francois Bégaudeau, the odds are far from being in his favor. Kids today know this and the kids in this particular class do an excellent job conveying these things in the most subtle of fashions. The entire cast is stellar as the cinema verité stylistic approach requires them to be in order to be believable. This is all the more impressive considering the majority of them have never acted before, including Bégaudeau himself. ENTRE LES MURS is a great film, funny one minute as the banter flies through the room and distressing the next when the realization that scenarios just like these are happening all over the civilized world. It is also a heck of a lot more entertaining than I remember school to be.

So what have we learnt here today class? Well, I learnt that Madonna is just like that kid in Monsieur Bégaudeau’s class – she thinks she has all the answers and likes to look cool when she can but if she would actually stop yapping for a second, she might actually learn something from the real teacher.

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