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