Driven by a Congotronic soundtrack, director Alain Gomis exposes us to the mayhem inside a modern African city
Félicité drops us into the havoc of Kinshasa; sisters bust out in Arab-israeli In Between; Permission gets too cute with its hall pass; happiness is not a warm gun in Winchester.
Starring Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu. Rating unavailable
Franco-senegalese director Alain Gomis begins 2 Félicité by throwing you right into the chaotic heart of nighttime Kinshasa. Revellers are guzzling beer and listening to music, many seated on the plastic patio chairs of a rundown street bar. His freewheeling camera jumps between conversation snippets, the bottle a band member is using to keep the beat, a drunken brawl, wide shots of Congotronics masters Kasai Allstars, and long closeups of the fascinating face at the centre of it all: that of dusky-voiced singer Félicité (the real Congolese songstress and actor Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu).
Later in the movie, someone compares her mug to an armoured car—and yes, she looks tough, but that’s only half the story. She’s a single mother eking out a living, and her stoic gaze falls somewhere between rage and resignation—the opposite of her name, which translates as “Joy”.
When her son gets mangled in a motorcycle accident, the woman who’s insisted on going it alone is forced to beg for help to buy his surgery. And with striking style, Gomis paints a compelling portrait not only of her struggle, but also of those of an entire city. The guy knows Africa, and he exposes its beauty, grit, and pain with the unsentimental humanity and knowing eye of one of its own.
Gomis fills the movie with wide shots of Kinshasa’s anarchic dirt streets, with their tarp-covered markets, burning garbage piles, and women swathed in colourful batik dresses. When Félicité sets out desperately on these roads, striding through the dirt in her sandals, you can sense through the mayhem the countless other trials that drown her own battle out.
Gomis alternates this stark realism with dreamlike touches, starting with scenes of the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra playing the otherworldly strains of Arvo Pärt. To escape her harsh urban reality, Félicité’s mind jumps to mysterious scenes of her in a lush forest, awash in the blue light of night.
What Félicité can’t see is that everything she needs might be right in front of her, in the unassuming form of her refrigerator repairman and drunken bar patron Tabu (Papi Mpaka).
The film defies western structural conventions; it wanders and it’s prone to long, hypnotic Congotronic interludes at the bar. But it introduces you to people who are enigmatic yet real, and to a country that’s ferocious, alive, and resilient enough to survive the worst—like the film’s frowning heroine. > JANET SMITH
Starring Mouna Hawa. In Arabic and Hebrew, with English subtitles. Rated 18A
In her debut feature, Hungarian-born writerdirector Maysaloun Hamoud tells the stories of three very different Israeli-arab women, pushed together by circumstances in modern Tel Aviv.
Leading this trio of 20-somethings is Leila (Mouna Hawa), a sleek, if huge-haired, attorney who moves easily from Arabic to Hebrew, and just as comfortably between men of different backgrounds. Flatmate Salma (Sana Jammelieh) is even more outré; she’s gay and frequently stoned, but most promiscuous with jobs that don’t matter much—all of which annoys her Christian parents, blindly picking out husbands for her.
Things are upended when these two get a new roomie: observantly Islamic Nour (Shaden Kanboura), a plump, fully covered student in town temporarily for an IT course. She’s initially put off by their urban ways—the colourfully shot movie parties to an electro beat—and they think she’s an uptight bumpkin. They soon find common ground, though. It’s clear that Nour’s not into her fiancé (Henry Andrawes), this supposedly pious community worker who disdains all things modern. Meanwhile, Leila appears to have found a proper soulmate in Ziad (Mahmud Shalaby), a hunky filmmaker back from studying in New York.
The actors are excellent, and the film does a good job of setting up these nebulous situations. It earns instant respect by conveying a range of Palestinian personalities unburdened by the usual politics and poverty. There is some mild minority snubbing here, by random Tel Avivans, but most of the conflicts are internal, subcultural, and genderbased. And this is exactly where Hamoud’s finely drawn portrait gets sketchy.
When Nour’s already arrogant boyfriend turns brutal, the women band together for revenge, but the payoff is unsatisfying. Ziad turns out to be less progressive than expected, but his arguments with Leila feel forced and are poorly written. And would Salma really bring her brand-new girlfriend (Ashlam Canaan) to meet her deeply conservative parents, without warning, the same night they invited a prospective spouse and his family to dinner?
These plot turns seem designed to hammer home points, not make the characters richer or more complex. The frequently disjointed editing doesn’t help, nor does the fact that the main characters smoke cigarettes through every scene without noticing (or without the director noticing) that this may be part of their basic unease. These ’tweeners are still well worth meeting. They should maybe just stay single for a while longer. > KEN EISNER
Starring Rebecca Hall. Rated 14A
What if your long-term relationship had a do-over button? That’s the concept of this indie rom-com, which—like most promises made in haste and on the cheap—doesn’t quite deliver in the end.
Rebecca Hall and Dan Stevens play Anna and Will, college sweethearts now hitting 30 without ever having “been with” anyone else. Both Brits go Yank in the accent department, and also seem to have left their personalities on the other side of the Atlantic. Ensconced in their comfortable Brooklyn flat, and just about to move into the brownstone that Will is renovating, they are inarticulate nebbishes who are particularly tongue-tied in the bedroom, where things are not exactly 50 shades of great.
Will’s just about to propose marriage at one of many hipster spots visited (short beards are now the order of the day) when his best friend and custom-carpentry business partner, Reece (Morgan Spector), tipsily points out that the twosome are still virginal with everyone but each other. That’s enough to get them wondering if they shouldn’t give the ol’ dating scene one last shot—without breaking up. You know, to be sure!
Meanwhile, Reece has his own probs with partner Hale (David Joseph Craig), who’s also Anna’s brother. He wants to adopt a baby at the expense of everything else, including surprises and witty dialogue. Writer-director Brian Crano, who directed Hall in his little-seen A Bag of Hammers, is Craig’s real-life partner, while Hall is actually married to Spector. This incestuous arrangement would seem to support transgressive elements in Permission. But a dogged sense of narrative symmetry and budget limitations prove confining in a notably underpopulated New York tale that only concerns young, attractive white people abiding in exposed-brick lofts.
Anyway, the eros level stays low with characters who bumble around and offer so many apologies you might think they’re Canadian. In fact, actual Quebecker François Arnaud (I Killed My Mother)
makes an impression as a soulful musician who connects with Anna’s creative side. And Gina Gershon gives the tale a needed jolt of acting chops as a rich, older woman who lends Will a temporary thrill. His hair-trigger jackrabbit “technique” is raised but never really addressed, even by Mrs. Robinson. Anna stays curiously unchanged as well.
An indication of Crano’s Etch-asketch scripting comes when we’re told that Anna is working on a master’s degree in feminist studies. Hmm. We don’t really get to see what her thesis is about, she has zero female friends, and on the evidence here she’s never given one thought to the relationship dynamics at play in, well, this movie.
Jason Sudeikis has a small role as a sleep-deprived new dad. He previously starred in Hall Pass, a Farrellybrothers comedy built on the same subject. It didn’t pretend to be about anything more. > KEN EISNER
SHADOWMAN A documentary by Oren Jacoby. Rating unavailable
In addition to Jeff Wall, Ian Wallace, and Roy Arden, Vancouver produced another art star—but his trajectory was markedly different.
Richard Hambleton’s career was a total train wreck, tied into the drugafflicted, remarkably self-destructive Lower East Side scene of 1980s New York City. In this fast-moving documentary by Oren Jacoby, you witness his crash in all its ugliness—including a messy final attempt to get back on track before his death late last year.
Hambleton, whose outsider-art celebrity rivalled that of Jean-michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, goes from glittering gallery shows and spreads in People and Vogue to living in a blood-spattered crack house and hawking his paintings for junk within a matter of just a few years.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Bolstered by an incredible wealth of archival footage and interviews, Jacoby chronicles Hambleton’s rocketlike rise in New York City’s art world. (The Vancouver School of Art alumnus travelled there on a government grant in the late ’70s.) Hambleton caught the zeitgeist of the then crime-plagued city with his sinister street art: fake whitechalked crime scenes with blood-red paint splashed on them and threatening black silhouettes that earned him the nickname Shadowman. (Banksy has cited him as an influence.)
Soon, the artist was putting those images on canvas, selling them to collectors, and becoming the talk of the town—a dapper dresser who always had several women on his arm. So where did it all go so terribly wrong?
Hambleton started painting massive sea- and landscapes instead of the splattery graffiti expressions his collectors so loved. Even in his later years, as two young collectors tried to get Hambleton to revive his career, he was difficult. Friends called it arrogance and pride.
But this is also a portrait of someone who simply lost himself to drugs. By the end, even though he could still execute the same gestural genius with his brush strokes, Hambleton is shown in the film drawn and bent over like a 90-year-old, a bandage covering a cancerous lesion on his face—a wasted shadow of his former self.
It’s not easy to watch. But set to the likes of Talking Heads and Blondie, the documentary succeeds as an unglamourized ode to the uncompromising ’80s art scene in New York—and one talented man that it consumed. > JANET SMITH
WINCHESTER Starring Helen Mirren. Rated 14A
Three-and-a-half months ago Jigsaw, the eighth entry in the Saw torture-porn franchise, was released. Not too surprisingly it was a mostly mediocre affair, although it included one memorable scene near the end where a guy’s head got sliced lengthwise into several pieces by a barrage of high-tech laser scalpels.
Lasting moments are also rare in the new haunted-house period piece Winchester. The only scene that sticks with you is the one where a possessed ginger kid with a rifle stalks an old lady along a mazelike hallway, blindly firing at her through its wooden partitions.
Both Jigsaw and Winchester were directed by the Australian twin-brother team of Michael and Peter Spierig, so hey, at least they’re consistent. In this unconvincing spook show, set in 1906, Aussie Jason Clarke stars as Eric Price, a San Francisco psychotherapist who mixes hookers and laudanum to help him cope with a tragedy-laced past. The opiate-addicted shrink gets commissioned by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to assess the mental state of company heiress Sarah Winchester (Dame Helen Mirren), who oversees a 150-plus-room mansion in San Jose. The eccentric old coot has ordered around-the-clock renovations on the sprawling structure, with plans to house the angry spirits of those killed by her powerful namesake weapon.
When Price shows up to study Winchester’s wellness the movie soon morphs into a string of clichéd appearances by various apparitions, all delivered with routine jump-scares. The guilt-ridden Winchester offers longwinded commentary on the “guns make ghosts” theme and roams the mansion at night shrouded in black, scribbling plans for yet more rooms to secure her phantom guests. Her young nephew (Finn Scicluna-o’prey) gets possessed by the spirit of a deranged Civil War soldier, puts a sack over his head, and dangerously sleepwalks before his eyeballs turn white and he has his mandatory Linda Blair moment.
The silliness continues as we’re waylaid by a wacky array of vengeful ghosts, culminating in a close-quarters shootout that produces plenty of splintered wood and shattered glass but nada in the entertainment department. > STEVE NEWTON
Congolese songstress Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu stars as a single mother battling indifference while desperate to save her injured son in the ferocious drama,