Commitment to a punk ideal
JOINING such celebrations of defiant eccentricity and love of music as High Fidelity, 24 Hour Party People, Almost Famous and The Boat That Rocked, Irish import is the cheerful and propulsive story of Terri Hooley, the reallife, one-eyed Belfast iconoclast whose apolitical response to the violent Troubles of the 1970s was to open the eponymous record shop in a particularly volatile part of town and hitch his wagon to the then-nascent rising star that soon exploded into the punk rock movement.
This is a film as exuberant and breathless as that last sentence, so obviously in love with its flawed but dedicated lead character, played with scruffy, go-for-broke brio by stage actor Richard Dormer, that it often romanticises or glosses over Hooley’s more abrasive and selfdestructive qualities. A self-absorbed, potsmoking alcoholic who is more often than not his own worst enemy, Hooley deploys these very traits to broker an uneasy truce between local IRA and Unionist leaders by appealing to their love of music — he gives them free records and they leave him alone.
In one of the film’s best and most authentic scenes, Hooley wanders into a pub where the newly formed band Rudi is honing its thennovel punk look and sound. The aspiring impresario is instantly smitten by their energy and individuality, and viewers who were there for the movement’s early years will identify with his sweaty epiphany.
He decides on the spot to branch out into record production and management, forming a company (also called Good Vibrations) and cutting seven-inch vinyl 45s under primitive conditions both appropriate for and conducive to the music. His stable soon includes the Outcasts as well as the band that put him on the map, the Undertones. The film lovingly re-creates the famous instance where legendary British DJ John Peel was so in love with their debut single Teenage Kicks that he played it twice in a row.
Working from an admittedly formulaic script by Colin Carberry and Glenn Patterson, co-directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn do an admirable job of evoking the sectarian tensions of the period and the cathartic effect of the music that grew out of it.
If, in retrospect, the endeavour seems a bit too cheerful and pat (particularly the contrived and tidy ending), to their credit the team behind Good Vibrations have made a film that is determined to live up to its title, and does so. WILLIAMS syndrome is a rare neurodevelopmental genetic disorder whose sufferers can possess a mixture of distinctive facial features, heightened musical talent, intense joie de vivre and acute anxiety levels. The young, first-time actress Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, around whom Quebecois writer-director Louise Archambault’s second feature, revolves, was encouraged to act naturally for the film, and it is a brave, forthright and enticing performance.
Gabrielle is a member of Les Muses Montreal, a choir composed exclusively of singers with developmental disabilities. During the course of their rehearsals she becomes close Good Vibrations (MA15+) Limited national release Gabrielle (M) Limited national release from Thursday Ernest & Celestine (PG) Limited national release from Thursday with fellow chorister Martin (professional actor Alexandre Landry), and their scenes of hesitant, awkward intimacy are compassionate reminders that the early mysteries of deep mutual attraction and love are achingly universal.
Unfortunately, Martin’s mother Claire (Marie Gignac), who obviously loves her son, is dead set against the two moving in together. Meanwhile, Gabrielle’s devoted sister Sophie (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin) wrestles with how to break the news that she’s moving to India to be with her boyfriend Raphael (Sebastien Ricard) and pitch in at the orphanage at which he works.
In short order Claire pulls Martin from the choir and Gabrielle discovers Sophie’s plans. This sends her into an emotional whirlpool on the eve of the choir’s much-anticipated performance with real-life Canadian singer Robert Charlebois at a summer music festival. The challenge, for Gabrielle and Martin as well as those in their spheres, is testing the limits of independence under these trying circumstances.
The more cynical viewer may baulk at the surfeit of do-gooding in Gabrielle, but the film comes by its tone and content honestly. It possesses a very Canadian view of the world, an across-the-board acceptance of life as an opportunity to effect positive social change and live harmoniously among those of differing circumstances.
In addition to Marion-Rivard’s naturally charismatic performance, the film has two successful strategies at work in concert with one another. The first is Archambault’s directorial strategy of having her cast participate in improvisational workshops prior to filming. The resulting atmosphere, convivial during rehears-
Ernest al sequences and disarmingly intimate during the more dramatic moments, grounds the film in an honest emotional authenticity.
The second is the director’s decision to have up-and-coming cinematographer Mathieu Lavardiere shoot the majority of the film with hand-held cameras. The intimacy this yields is exactly what the material calls for, and showcases Archambault’s preparation in a natural, comfortable light.
As a thought-provoking valentine to tolerance, acceptance and the yearning for love, Gabrielle wears its heart comfortably, and proudly, on its sleeve. CAN bears and mice live together? This is the pressing question at the heart of the utterly charming, hand-drawn and Oscar-nominated animated French-Belgian offering First things first: in a nod to the film’s universal appeal, it has been skilfully dubbed in English and features the voice talents of Forest Whitaker as Ernest and Twilight veteran Mackenzie Foy as Celestine, as well as supporting turns by Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy, Megan Mullally and Jeffrey Wright.
An original story adapted from the series of children’s books by Belgian author and illustrator Gabrielle Vincent, who died in 2000, it posits a European-influenced world where mice live below-ground and bears rule the streets.
A series of whimsical circumstances involving the scavenging of the big beasts’ teeth to replace mouse incisors bring together affable bear Ernest, a wandering musician whose father wanted him to be a judge, and Celestine, a young orphan mouse who would rather pursue her artistic muse than become the dentist adults want her to be.
Their decision to live together in Ernest’s remote cabin results in a deeper understanding of each other’s wants and needs, though the world intrudes soon enough as they are pursued for the theft of a van.
Somewhat ironically, author Vincent resisted film adaptations of her work, giving the film an echo of the standoff between P.L. Travers and Walt Disney over the Mary Poppins character as depicted in the recent live-action film Saving Mr Banks — which also co-stars Giamatti.
Tangents aside, co-directors Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar and Stephane Aubier have created a whimsical fable of understanding that is at its best when employing such engaging visual gags as the various uses for mousetraps, extensive character pratfalls and the Keystone Kops-ish antics of both species’ constabularies. Thus, the film has strong appeal not only for the children to whom the books were pitched, but adult audiences as well.
Their visual style balances an aquarelle-influenced use of transparent watercolors combined with the line drawings underscored by Celestine’s ever-present sketch pad.
These two styles combine to create a world at once impressionistic and lived in, infused with the kind of warm glow which emanates from a cozy fireplace.
Gabrielle Marion-Rivard makes her film debut in the Canadian film
The French-Belgian collaboration
which was nominated for an Oscar, will appeal to adults as well as children