MOVIES

A new doc­u­men­tary fully and com­pletely cap­tures the most Cana­dian of rock bands on its coura­geous farewell tour

The Georgia Straight - - Contents -

The Hip wave bye in Long Time Run­ning; The Mid­wife teems with great Cather­ines; a pa­trol wagon rolls through hell in Clash; Rat Film gnaws away at Amer­i­can racism.

LONG TIME RUN­NING A doc­u­men­tary by Jennifer Baich­wal and Ni­cholas de Pencier. Rated PG

Has any band ever been more Cana­dian than the Trag­i­cally Hip? Its three-decade life cy­cle, with vir­tu­ally no changes in per­son­nel or ba­sic ap­proach, al­ready makes the Hip unique in rock his­tory. The fact that their hard-earned suc­cess as a live act never re­ally broke their records out­side the coun­try has some­how con­trib­uted to what you might call out­sized home­town pride. The re­al­ity that they pulled off their biggest tour ever in mid2016—af­ter leader Gord Downie was di­ag­nosed with in­cur­able brain can­cer—says some­thing deep about them, and about the Cana­dian char­ac­ter.

In this 95-minute sou­venir, vet­eran doc­mak­ers Jennifer Baich­wal and Ni­cholas de Pencier fol­low the cross-coun­try tour from Vic­to­ria to home­town Kingston, with stops in the other towns that live-streamed the widely seen fi­nal show. They also talk to doc­tors, tech spe­cial­ists, and band mem­bers—es­pe­cially hir­sute gui­tarists Paul Lan­glois and Rob Baker—about the trep­i­da­tions and sat­is­fac­tions of the fi­nal jour­ney.

There are no archival nods to the band’s his­tory, and no fam­ily mem­bers con­vey­ing per­sonal anec­dotes, so ev­ery­thing stays pretty much in the present and very re­cent tense. The struc­ture, al­ter­nat­ing well-recorded con­cert footage with talk­ing heads, can’t help but re­sem­ble the re­al­i­tytv ap­proach. Still, they are en­gag­ing guys, and the fash­ion-for­ward Downie is, as ever, a can­did in­ter­view sub­ject. In a rare mo­ment re­call­ing the band’s be­gin­nings, he says, “It was ter­ri­fy­ing to get on-stage. It al­ways was, and it never stopped.”

Of course, fac­ing fear is what drives this event, and the movie, for­ward. And for view­ers, this pro­vides both in­spi­ra­tion and a cer­tain pre­dictabil­ity. Given the sim­i­lar­ity of set­ups and locations (sta­di­ums, dress­ing rooms, stages), there’s not much tonal va­ri­ety. A lit­tle tighter edit­ing would help. On the other hand, su­per­fans will nat­u­rally want as much of Gord and the boys as they can get. “I wanted the show to go on for­ever,” says Rob Baker of that last con­cert. In a way, it will. > KEN EISNER THE MID­WIFE

Star­ring Catherine Deneuve. In French, with English sub­ti­tles. Rated PG

Catherine Deneuve gives a tow­er­ing per­for­mance 2 as Béa­trice, a dy­ing woman who looks back on her life and at­tempts to fix a couple of her very few re­grets.

Her prin­ci­pal sor­row, aside from the brain tu­mour she can no longer ig­nore, is hav­ing aban­doned Claire, the young daugh­ter of her for­mer lover, some 30 years be­fore she re­turns to Paris to look for them both—pre­sum­ably be­cause she needs help in what’s com­ing. Since Béa­trice has lost touch with all the peo­ple from her past and doesn’t know Google from Go­gol, she hasn’t heard that the dad died soon af­ter she left. Or that Claire—played by the equally for­mi­da­ble Catherine Frot—is now a 50-some­thing sin­gle mom with a son in med­i­cal school and a stern pas­sion for her own work, as a mid­wife.

In France, and in the orig­i­nal ti­tle, she’s re­ferred to as a sage femme, or wise woman—which also sums up her or­derly, al­most monas­tic life. She works in a stan­dard hospi­tal and we get to see sev­eral of what re­ally look like live births, but her pro­fes­sion is un­der threat from more stream­lined med­i­cal prac­tices. And now her do­mes­tic world is up­ended by the long-lost step­mother, who man­ages to push in all fronts. None of this tug of war keeps Béa­trice from smok­ing, drink­ing, eat­ing like a queen, and gam­bling large bags of cash in du­bi­ous sur­round­ings.

There is some nar­ra­tive pre­dictabil­ity to the cen­tral dy­namic, which sends an un­tam­able dervish whirling into an al­most saintly fig­ure who needs shak­ing up. But writer-di­rec­tor Martin Provost doesn’t make his cen­tral char­ac­ters leap too far from where they start. And he brings in en­gag­ing side players, such as a long-haul truck driver (Olivier Gourmet) who shares Claire’s love of gar­den­ing, and her son (Quentin Dol­maire), whose re­sem­blance to his late grand­fa­ther shakes Béa­trice to her core.

Be­cause the meaty, two-hour tale is so es­sen­tially nat­u­ral­is­tic, it takes time to no­tice how el­e­gantly framed, shot, and edited it is. In fact, Provost’s reach for some more ex­ag­ger­ated stylis­tic ef­fects near the end pro­vides its only mis­steps. In any case, with two Cather­ines this great, the labour was bound to go well. > KEN EISNER

CLASH

Star­ring Nelly Karim. Rat­ing un­avail­able Clash opens with its camera in the back of an empty truck, one with barred win­dows, roar­ing along a road. Get used to it: in this claus­tro­pho­bic, com­bustible lit­tle study from Egyp­tian di­rec­tor Mo­hamed Diab, you, the viewer, are not go­ing to es­cape th­ese cramped con­fines for the next hour and a half. You’re go­ing to be trapped along with the grow­ing num­ber of ri­val ri­ot­ers and jour­nal­ists thrown into its smoth­er­ing con­fines dur­ing the tu­mul­tuous weeks af­ter the over­throw of Pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Morsi’s Mus­lim Brother­hood in 2013.

The movie main­tains an amaz­ingly con­trolled point of view and sharp hand­held camera work, only show­ing you the chaos erupt­ing in the streets—riot po­lice, peo­ple throw­ing rocks, tear­gas ex­plo­sions, gun­fire—through the bars of those small truck win­dows. The ef­fect is ter­ri­fy­ing and dis­ori­ent­ing—ex­actly the ef­fect Diab needs to evoke the com­plex fail­ures of the Arab Spring and the loss of hu­man­ity dur­ing un­rest.

Clash re­fuses to take sides. The anti–mus­lim Brother­hood con­tin­gent spans a bleach-blond DJ, a fe­male nurse, her young son, and an el­derly man with di­a­betes. The Mus­lim Brother­hood mem­bers who get thrown in with them in­clude a veiled teenage girl and pi­ous young devo­tees. The two groups hate each other, but they have one thing in com­mon: they de­spise the two jour­nal­ists thrown in with them more. “An ac­tivist should die for a cause, not a photo,” one spits at them. Still, as things be­come grim­mer, they start to help each other, tak­ing turns breath­ing through the win­dow, and form­ing a hu­man wall so some­one can pee in pri­vate.

Some mo­ments ring false, as when MB mem­bers stop the ac­tion to ques­tion their politics or two men scuf­fle over a girl­friend. Th­ese peo­ple have more press­ing mat­ters to worry about. The heat is start­ing to suf­fo­cate them, bul­lets are rip­ping through the metal of their locked truck, and there are no toi­lets or wa­ter.

Ul­ti­mately, the biggest dan­ger they face, how­ever, lies out­side their rolling prison: the an­gry street mobs—what­ever their al­le­giances. The cli­max, set amid the in­sane frenzy of the revo­lu­tion’s green laser-poin­ter beams, will re­mind you of the last zom­bie-apoc­a­lypse movie you saw.

So it’s not a pleas­ant ride—you’ll be re­lieved when you can es­cape this pa­trol wagon from hell. But Diab has cre­ated a thought-pro­vok­ing and timely hell all the same. > JANET SMITH

RAT FILM

A doc­u­men­tary by Theo An­thony. Rat­ing un­avail­able In Rat Film, a tax­on­omy of ur­ban life is laid out in vi­gnettes that al­ter­nately de­light and dis­gust.

First-time fea­ture-maker Theo An­thony was look­ing for doc sub­jects in his na­tive Bal­ti­more when he came upon a size-large ro­dent in a trash can and caught some footage on his smart­phone. When he called city hall with ba­sic ques­tions about pest con­trol, he en­coun­tered rat-catcher Harold Ed­mond, a pub­lic pest-con­trol ex­pert who be­came a kind of tour guide to ur­ban de­cay in many other forms.

The young writer-di­rec­tor brings an an­thro­pol­o­gist’s eye to the spec­tre of Rat­tus norvegi­cus and other sub­species over­tak­ing hu­man pop­u­la­tions in im­pov­er­ished places. Along­side his ram­blings with

the easy­go­ing ex­ter­mi­na­tor are Google Earth med­i­ta­tions on dirty streets, back sto­ries on lab-rat ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, and com­puter-game-style sim­u­la­tions of rat’s-eye views.

There are also Er­rol Mor­ris–type vis­its with odd char­ac­ters, such as a good ol’ boy who has col­lected nu­mer­ous weapons meant for rat-killing, as well as more tan­gen­tial im­agery. Things are loosely pulled to­gether by in­can­ta­tory nar­ra­tion from voice spe­cial­ist Mau­reen Jones, re­ly­ing on both poetic apho­risms (“Does a blind rat dream?”) and acute so­cial sci­ence.

Things get es­pe­cially in­ter­est­ing when a study of rat over­pop­u­la­tion is fol­lowed by a set of dio­ra­mas called The Nut­shell Stud­ies of Un­ex­plained Death, hand­made in the 1930s and ’40s by Frances Gless­ner Lee, later dubbed the Mother of CSI. Her pres­ence in the tale—holis­tic puz­zle­solv­ing as op­posed to cal­cu­lated num­ber-crunch­ing by an end­less string of white, male sci­en­tists— re­sem­bles that of Jane Ja­cobs later in the cen­tury: a lone ad­vo­cate for hu­man­ness (good or bad) in the face of re­lent­less ur­ban de­vel­op­ment.

Even­tu­ally, the film­maker in­ter­poses th­ese seem­ingly ran­dom tid­bits with lit­eral maps of Bal­ti­more’s bru­tally seg­re­gated growth un­til an un­der­ly­ing struc­ture be­comes clear. By ex­ten­sion, the rot, and the rat, in Amer­ica’s soft un­der­belly is and has al­ways been vir­u­lent racism. And this plague will con­tinue un­til th­ese maps are re­drawn by the peo­ple them­selves.

> KEN EISNER

A fash­ion-for­ward Gord Downie leads his band­mates in the Trag­i­cally Hip through their fi­nal paces in Jennifer Baich­wal and Ni­cholas de Pencier‘s Long Time Run­ning.

Star­ring Reese Wither­spoon. Rated PG

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