Thursday, October 18, 2012

Denis Côté retrospective at AFA, plus one full week of his latest film, BESTIAIRE

Update: Côté's Curling (see review below) is finally being released to DVD here in the USA via Big World Pictures. It hits the streets today, April 14, 2015. For the film's trailer, click here.

THE FILMS OF DENIS CÔTÉ is the simple and self-evident title of the retrospective -- beginning tomorrow, October 19, through October 25, and presented by Anthology Film Archive here in New York City -- of the work of French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Côté (shown above), whom, if you follow the Canadian film magazine Cinema Scope at all regularly, you might imagine is Canada's best filmmaker. In addition to the week-long run of Côté's newest work, BESTIAIRE, Anthology is presenting the remaining five of his full-length works: four narrative features and another documentary.

Having seen only two of the six films, I can't form an opinion about his work as a whole. But these two -- Bestiaire and Curling -- are enough to make me want to see more. Anthology calls Côté "a director who has resisted easy categorization," creating "a body of work that seems constantly to be reinventing itself, striking out boldly in new directions. Demonstrating different approaches to storytelling and tone, moving freely from fiction to nonfiction, as well as exploring the porous border between them, Côté’s films are uni-fied above all by their perceptiveness, patience, and visual beauty."

On the basis of the two films I've seen, I'd agree with the above. So here is the entire program schedule, below, providing you an opportunity to experience the full range of this interesting filmmaker's work. (The descriptions/assessments of Bestiaire and Curling are provided by TrustMovies, those of the other four films, which I have not seen, come from AFA.)


BESTIAIRE (2012, 72 min, digital video, with no dialogue. Distributed by KimStim) 
Beginning in extreme close-up so that, for a time, we don't know quite what we are seeing, it soon becomes clear that we're watching other people who are concentrating hard and viewing something important to them. Ah-hah: we're in an art class, as the students sketch a dead and stuffed animal.

From there we go to live animals seen, in what seems to me, a manner never before shown us. The images are usually shot quite close and cropped in a way to make them seem strange and off-kilter but also extraordinarily intimate and intense. It's like seeing these animals for the first time: bison, llamas, horses, steers, ostriches, zebras and more. A peacock with only one wing; yes, but look how he moves and unfurls! And tiger whiskers -- in close up! Then come the big ones: rhinos, camels, elephants. And a confined hyena. whose cage suddenly confines him even more, so that his handlers can perform something necessary.

Around the halfway point, we finally hear muted, not-really-understandable dialog from some of the animal handlers. Otherwise it's all just ambient sound. Filmed in Parc Safari, Hemmingford, Quebec, this is an animal movie for real animals lovers, I think. Families might attend, but the kids will have to be willing to hold their questions until the end. Even then, mom and dad may not quite be able to answer them to a child's specifications. This is an "art film," after all. And it most definitely is art.

Bestiaire screens Friday, October 19 through Tuesday, October 23 at 7:00 nightly, and Wednesday and Thursday, October 24 & 25 at 8:45. A Q+A with Denis Côté will follow the 7:00 pm screenings on Friday, October 19th and Saturday, October 20th

CURLING (2010, 92 mins, 35mm. In French with English subtitles)
Sometimes "the other" can live and work among us and we have no idea just how different and cut-off that person may be. So it is with Jean-François (Emmanuel Billodeau, shown on poster at right and in the second still from top) and his teen-age daughter Julyvonne (Philomène Bilodeau, below, who reminds me of a young Isabelle Huppert). Only his ex-wife (and her mother), understands just how fragile and problemed the lives of this odd father and daughter are. And mom? Well, she's in prison.

We get a good glimpse of Jean-François at work in the local bowling alley and at an on-the-skids motel, interacting with his bosses, and we have a hopeful sign when he seems to take an interest in the quiet ice sport of curling. But so socially backwards is he, and has he, in turn, made his own daughter, that their future is, to put it mildly, uncertain. How they both handle death around them proves so out of step that it probably borders on the criminal.

And yet Côté does not seem to take sides. He simply shows us this state of affairs and lets us draw our own conclusions. The performances are expertly real, drained of much of anything save simply "being."  The style here is near documentary. Supporting performances (that's Sophie Desmarais, above) from the "normal" cast are also quite good, making small-town life in the extreme sticks seem no more or less pleasant and boring than it probably is. –Curling screens Friday, Oct, 19 at 8:45 and Sunday, Oct. 21 at 5.

DRIFTING STATES / LES ÉTATS NORDIQUES (2005, 91 mins, 35mm. In French with English subtitles.)  Christian has committed a crime, a crime of compassion. A troubled soul, he must now flee not only the law, but the deep ethical consequences of his act. The path he sets upon leads him to where all roads end: a small community by the name of Radisson, 1500km north of Montreal. Slowly, he starts his life anew, among his new neighbours, a new job, a new interest in life. His story drifts along between fiction and reality…. –Saturday, October 20 at 3:00 and Sunday, October 21 at 9:00.

OUR PRIVATE LIVES / NOS VIES PRIVÉES (2007, 82 mins, 35mm. In English, Bulgarian, and French with English subtitles.)  After a lengthy virtual relationship over the Internet, Milena and Philip take the plunge and agree to finally meet. Having lived in Montreal for over a decade, Milena, an immigrant of Bulgarian descent, accepts to greet her correspondent Philip, a flirtatious photographer from Sofia. Out in an isolated cottage in Quebec’s countryside, the couple abandon themselves to one another. Between periods of cultural clashes and carnal pleasures, the two assess each other and the possibilities for true love. But strange, uncanny events soon disrupt Milena and Philip’s quiet intimacy as secrecy and silence slowly set in.
 –Saturday, October 20 at 5:00 and Monday, October 22 at 8:45.

CARCASSES (2009, 72 mins, 35mm. In French with English subtitles.)  Jean-Paul Colmor is 74 years old who has been collecting cars, wrecks, and junk for the last 40years. Living among mountains of debris, he quietly works all day on his unimaginable property, furnishing and dealing car parts to mechanics and other iron aficionados. Colmor occupies the center of what at first appears to be a straightforward, if unusually hypnotic, documentary portrait. But when fourintruders materialize in his strange paradise, CARCASSES reveals itself as a hybrid creature, using documentary and fictional elements in an attempt to get at the soul of an unthinkable place. –Saturday, October 20 at 9:00, Wednesday, October 24 at 7:00, and Thursday, October 25 at 7:00.

ALL THAT SHE WANTS / ELLE VEUT LE CHAOS (2008, 105 mins, 35mm, b&w. In French with English subtitles.)  On a stretch of back road, in a thoroughly isolated village, an ex-Mafiosi and his rebellious daughter-in-law, Coralie, try to find solutions to their dead-end lives, especially their chronic financial problems. Desperate, deeply affected by the recent death of the woman who was wife/mother to them, and surrounded by menacing thugs, the pair look for a way out: peace of mind for him, freedom and a new life for her… –Sunday, October 21 at 2:30 and Tuesday, October 23 at 8:45.

Great news!  Turns out that you can now watch any and all of the films of M. Côté via MUBI (formerly The Auteurs), that invaluable online cinema resource. Simply click here -- and get going!

This program was realized with the generous support of the Société de développement des entreprises culturelles (SODEC) and the Québec Government Office in New York; very special thanks to Anne-Lyse Haket (SODEC) and Jean-Pierre Dion (Québec Government Office). Thanks also to Denis Côté, Ian Stimler (KimStim), Sandro Fiorin & Alex Garcia (FiGa Films), Jonathan Howell (New Yorker Films), Aida LiPera (Visit Films), Francis Ouellette (FunFilm Distribution Inc.), and Maripier St-Jean (Vision Globale).

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