Driven by a Con­gotronic sound­track, di­rec­tor Alain Gomis ex­poses us to the may­hem in­side a mod­ern African city

The Georgia Straight - - Contents -

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,

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