Thursday, September 15, 2011

TIFF HIGHLIGHT #5: MONSIEUR LAZHAR (had to hold back tears) & SHAME (nenette & boni 15 years later)

Today was a pretty awesome day at the festival. I saw 2 films that were instantly added to my TIFF Top 5. 'Monsieur Lazhar' became the first (and will probably be the only) film that made me fight back tears. And the thing is, the powerful scene that almost made me shed tears happened early on in the film lol (like 30 minutes in). In a way, 'Monsieur Lazhar' kinda made up for Lynne Ramsey's disappointing 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'. It also falls in to the same category of films like 'Elephant', 'After School', 'Chalk', one of the stories in 'Donoma' and especially 'The Class'.

'Monsieur Lazhar' is made up of 2 stories that intertwine:

Two 11 year old elementary school classmates; "Alice" (played by newcomer Sophie Nelisse) & ."Simon" (Emilien Neron) witness the suicide of their beloved teacher (she hangs herself at school early in the morning before class starts and the 2 students find her body). Their friendship is put to the test when Alice threatens to reveal the secret as to why their teacher may have committed suicide. Alice is forever changed and broken up by the suicide, but seems to move on. Simon is the one that has a more difficult time accepting the fact that his teacher is gone and struggles with anger and aggression. I have a hard time believing the 2 lead children had never acted in anything else before. Their performances are so amazing and so mature (especially Sophie Nelisse who delivers a heartbreaking/powerful speech reminiscent to Yang Yang's funeral speech to his grandmother at the end of 'Yi Yi'). At some points in the film Sophie reminded me of Alice Houri in 'U.S. Go Home' (there i go mentioning her again). 

The 2nd story is about the children's replacement teacher. Mr Lazhar is an Algerian refugee who's entire family was assassinated because his wife wrote a book that someone found offensive. After finding political refuge in Montreal, he's hired as the students replacement. Naturally him and the children struggle to get a long at first but eventually they come to accept him (especially Alice who's clearly his favorite). Later on in the film a secret from Lazhar's past comes back to haunt him. 'Monsieur Lazhar' makes a great companion film to 'The Class'. What made 'The Class' so great and unique was that not only did it portray teachers in a realistic manner, but there was no subplot involving the teacher's life outside of school. Everything about 'The Class' took place in the school. The same thing applies to some of the other films i mentioned earlier like 'Elephant'. 'Monsieur Lazhar' deals with things outside of the class room, but keeps it to a minimum.

I cant tell you how happy I am that Steve Mcqueen didn't succumb to the dreaded "sophomore jinx". In fact I think 'Shame' is better than his first film 'Hunger'. When i first heard of his 2nd feature film, I was a bit disappointed because it had been reported he was supposed to make a biopic on the the life of Fela Kuti (which I still hope is on). But after seeing the amazingly acted and emotionally draining 'Shame', this will more than hold me over. I've been describing 'Shame' as "Nenette & Boni all grown up". And please understand that this blog entry isn't a cheap excuse to mention Alice Houri and/or Claire Denis again (if you notice I made an Alice Houri/Claire Denis comparison in the 'Monsieur Lazhar' review as well), but that 'Nenette & Boni' description is so fitting. 'Shame' is kinda like a Claire Denis film with a lot more aggression. It plays on hints and implications instead of completely spelling things out (something Denis is a master at). If only i was a film critic on the level of Amy Taubin I'd have that quote on the cover of this DVD when it comes out.
'Shame' is the story of a sex addict brother; "Brandon" (Michael Fassbender in the performance of his career so far) and his dependant suicidal jazz singing sister; "Sissy" (Carey Mulligan). When Sissy has nowhere to stay she shows up unannounced and stays with her brother indefinitely (a plot somewhat similar to Denis' 'Nenette & Boni'). The longer Mulligan stays with Fassbender, the more tense things become between them, leading up to a powerful and (somewhat) explosive finale. Hopefully you're able to put all the pieces together by the end of the film. Things are somewhat subjective and open-ended, but the siblings issues with one another is pretty evident even though they aren't spelled out.
Just like in his debut ('Hunger') Mcqueen's photography skills are all over 'Shame'. So many shots (which are mostly uninterrupted long takes, sometimes with minimal movement from the actors) look like beautiful photographs out of some upscale magazine. And he makes great use of New York City's architecture, expensive apartments and night clubs. After a weeks worth of films at the festival, I've scene a ton of cheaply looking digitally shot films that look awful ('take shelter', 'twixt' and even 'dark horse'). Its good to know there's directors out there that still care about the "look" of their work...

And with only 2 features under his belt, it looks like Steve Mcqueen has already created his "signature" shot/scene. In both; 'Hunger' and 'Shame' (which both star Michael Fassbender), there are pivotal scenes where the 2 main characters face-off against each other in a battle of words in a long continuously shot scene with no cuts...

climax in Mcqueen's 'Hunger' (2008)

climax in 'Shame' (2011)

The climax between Fassbinder & Mulligan is just one of a few similarly filmed scenes in 'Shame' where we see our characters facing each other, shot from a side view...

brother & sister in 'shame'

pick up scene in 'shame'

Michael Fassbender just won best actor at the Venice Film Festival for his performance in 'Shame', and hopefully this is only the beginning. I'm not a big fan of movie awards, but he was so good in 'Shame' that its only right he be rewarded as much as possible. It would be criminal if his performance went unnoticed by the academy this year.
'Shame' has earned a comfortable spot on my top 10 of 2011.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...