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The Braid is in theatres January 19th






By Anne Brodie

Another elegant, powerful, intelligent, and moving film from Ava DuVernay, whose inspired films are always a joy. Origin, the latest film DuVernay wrote and directed follows Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor in a remarkable performance) whose best seller Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents was the result of years of travel, introversion, interviews, and significant pain. While gathering several threads – slavery, Nazism, India’s horrific caste system together with personal events – the deaths of her white activist husband Brett (Jon Bernthal) and her mother (Emily Yancy) and the murder of Trayvon Martin, DuVernay concludes that the concept of caste is born of those same human impulses. Wilkerson begins a long-form article on the idea, taking us to India and the horrific Untouchables tradition, then to ’30s Germany as the Nazi movement takes hold and asks us to ponder the never-ending American murders of young black men by trigger-happy cops. Wilkerson hires the Plumber (Nick Offerman) who wears a MAGA cap and seems reluctant to work for her, casual racism. She opens a conversation with him about his parents and he changes tack, perhaps touched by their commonality. Sometimes the dialogue feels like ad copy, but her passion allows her to put everything on the line to delve into the questions she asks. We learn a great deal about the painful realities of present-day global caste systems and for that, we should be grateful. Theatres.



One of the most interesting things about the documentary Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer is the picture it paints of his long-time collaborator and frenemy Klaus Kinski. Later for that. Herzog, the whimsical and headstrong German filmmaker who is idolised in some circles, says he’s inspired by a “dream” force, waking and sleeping. His films in turn inspire extreme responses. Take 1992’s Lessons of Darkness set in Kuwait where oil fields blazed, his statement on the industry, the greed, wealth, and ruin of the planet. He was pilloried, bo


Spend time with passionate atheist and “father of psychoanalysis” Sigmund Freud and equally passionate convert to Christianity and Narnia author C.S. Lewis in Freud’s Last Session, Matt Brown’s fictional meeting of these 20th-century legends on September 3, 1939. Anthony Hopkins and Matthew Goode battle it out as Britain declares war on Germany. The very day Freud and Lewis, 20th-century thought legends, debate in Freud’s office, ironically crammed with religious art.  They argue the nature of good and evil, faith, and psychology, and Freud’s relationship with his daughter, analyst Anna, as he stares death in the eyes. He is dying of jaw cancer. As citizens abandon London and bombs rain down, Freud asks Lewis if he counts on his tomorrows. Hopkin’s performance goes full Gothic while Goode’s Lewis seems perpetually to be backing out the door, hat in hand, never quite able to escape the torrent. Fascinating idea but the film is marred by multiple sudden and uncompleted moments; it doesn’t nail down its shape. Based on the stage play.  Theatres.

oed, threatened, and spat upon. Other films lay soft blankets of rich visions like Bells from the Deep. Monks crawl over the frozen surface of a lake genuflecting face down. Into their midst he sends fancy skaters, creating a juxtaposition of wonder, bold interruption, and co-existence. And then the infamous film Fitzcarraldo. Mick Jagger was hired and on set in South America but delays and infighting prevented him from shooting. The story was based on fact, but the logistics of filming and transporting a 300-tonne steamboat up and over a mountain were mad. Enter Kinski, hired to replace Jagger. He was a German actor known for his passionate performances and huge toxic, screaming rages – he abused the cast and crew, ripped film out of the camera, and threatened Herzog with death. Patti Smith, Nicole Kidman, Carl Weathers, Robert Pattinson, Chloe Zhao, and a slew of his actors speak out, agreeing that Herzog is unique and that there is no one like him and that he invokes extreme responses – they seem amazed and horrified by him. Judge for yourself. If his extreme antics weren’t real, the story would beggar the imagination. Theatres.



Spend time with passionate atheist and “father of psychoanalysis” Sigmund Freud and equally passionate convert to Christianity and Narnia author C.S. Lewis in Freud’s Last Session, Matt Brown’s fictional meeting of these 20th-century legends on September 3, 1939. Anthony Hopkins and Matthew Goode battle it out as Britain declares war on Germany. The very day Freud and Lewis, 20th-century thought legends, debate in Freud’s office, ironically crammed with religious art.  They argue the nature of good and evil, faith, and psychology, and Freud’s relationship with his daughter, analyst Anna, as he stares death in the eyes. He is dying of jaw cancer. As citizens abandon London and bombs rain down, Freud asks Lewis if he counts on his tomorrows. Hopkin’s performance goes full Gothic while Goode’s Lewis seems perpetually to be backing out the door, hat in hand, never quite able to escape the torrent. Fascinating idea but the film is marred by multiple sudden and uncompleted moments; it doesn’t nail down its shape. Based on the stage play.  Theatres.



Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard deliver the goods in difficult roles in writer-director Michel Franco’s moving psychological portrait Memory.  Chastain is Sylvia, a recovering alcoholic and social worker at an adult daycare centre.  She has a good if overprotective relationship with her teen daughter Anna (Brooke Timber) who seems wise beyond her years. Syl attends a high school reunion with her sister but she’s uncomfortable and leaves. A man named Saul (Peter Sarsgaard), whom she recognises from troubling events when she was a child, follows her home; he won’t go away and sleeps in a tire outside her home. He keeps returning. She confronts him and accuses him of events of the past and he denies it; she calls his brother to fetch him, and her sister looks into their history and reckons her rape claims can’t be true. She apologizes and thus begins an unusual friendship; he has early-onset dementia so she watches him during the day. Meanwhile, Syl keeps daughter Anna on a tight lead, so she leaves home to stay with friends. Her mother(Jessica Harper) breaks their rule not to contact her, and piles on her. Turns out Syl has good reason to forget her mother. It’s a tight and lifelike portrait of people in crisis, and hard to watch, but raised by all performances. Special note – Harper’s searing depiction of a Bad Mother glows with gleeful fire. Theatres.



The Teachers’ Lounge from director Ilker Çatak confirms that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Carla (Leonie Benesch) is an effective grade school teacher with the respect of her students and the ability to de-escalate problems with ease. She’s a paragon of duty and calm – irreproachable. Someone’s stealing office money and supplies and suspicion falls on an immigrant boy whose father vows to break his legs. There are other suspects; Carla happens to leave her computer open and records a person in the act of reaching into her coat and taking her money. The thief’s blouse is distinctive; she tracks down the school secretary – an unlikeable woman – and asks her to give the money back and she’ll let the matter drop. The woman neither confirms nor denies and shouts abuse. Meanwhile, a student is in full rebellion focussed on her, so she’s in wars on two fronts, and then the other teachers get involved against her.  Beautifully written and unfolding flawlessly, if horrifically, it’s heightened by Benesch’s regal performance as a moral mainstay in an ugly event she is ill-equipped to understand let alone handle. Joy in the classroom and gym turns to brutality as a strange malaise falls over the school. Also stellar is young Vincent Stachowiak as young Tom. Far-reaching and unsettling as it upsets our moral applecart. Germany’s Best International Feature entry for the Oscars. Select theatres including TIFF Bell Lightbox.



Laetitia Colombani’s anthology The Braid (La Tresse) starring Kim Raver, Mia Maelzer, and Fotinì Peluso is an adaptation of Colombani’s award-winning inaugural 2017 novel tying together three women, in Italy, Montreal, and India. Smita (Maelzer) is an Indian Untouchable living in extreme poverty with her husband and sensitive daughter Lalita. They live on rats and handouts and have no human rights due to their caste. They escape via train, a tortuous journey, looking for a better life. This story of the trilogy stands out as it reveals the horrific history and present-day abuses against India’s Untouchables and the extremes to which Smita must go to feed her daughter. In Italy Giulia (Fotinì Peluso) works in the human hair wig factory owned by her father; until he is stricken ill. Giulia discovers the business is in ruins, and they are to be evicted. Giulia jumps into action to save them with the help of her non-mother-approved lover and finds her strength and savvy. Sarah (Raver) is a Montreal lawyer climbing executive ranks suddenly facing a determined new hire with eyes on her job. And then bad personal news. Colombani pays tribute to the determination of women to overcome every manner of obstacle to keep life moving forward; it is inspiring, powerfully familiar, and elegantly made, enriched by the performances, united by a traditional symbol of womanhood. Theatres.



I’ll say it again. Those Brits know how to make a police procedural. Not as much about explosions chases, and mindless mayhem of many American prime timers. The London-based Criminal Record plumbs the psychological, societal, and cultural depths of police cases and those involved. Cush Jumbo is Detective Sergeant June Lenker, making waves in an office that suffers from thinly veiled racism and sexism. Her intelligence, strategic thinking, and understanding of the way people think have made her a target, and her boss, Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Hegarty (Peter Capaldi) is wary, even as he appreciates what she brings to the job. He appears to be hiding something that she may well discover, so she’s in his sights. A terrified woman with an accent calls into the helpline one night saying her boyfriend is going to kill her and that he killed his previous girlfriend and got away with it. It’s an historic case and Hegarty was quick to point at Errol Mathis (Tom Moutchi ) as the perp.  Lenker goes against Hegarty’s explicit orders for a secret jailhouse interview which opens up a dangerous coverup. The eight-episode series launches Jan 20 on Apple TV+.



I don’t much go in for true crime reality series, because they actually happened, but the headlines re Netflix‘  three-part docuseries American Nightmare hooked me. “Far-fetched”, they said. Interesting. So I previewed the first episode and was confirmed in thinking people are often not who and what they see to be, that they lie, plot, may have head problems, etc. but none of this is earth-shaking. What makes the case of the kidnapping of Denise Huskins from her boyfriend/suspect Aaron Quinn’s Vallejo CA bedroom so interesting is his explanation, deemed “far-fetched”.  Just as Netflix promised. He sits quivering and crying in a police interrogation room telling the examiner that three men in wetsuits broke into his house, called him by name, blinded them with flashing lights, drugged them, and took her. But he hadn’t called police until 2 p.m. the following day, claiming he couldn’t untie himself.  And he’d been instructed to stay within the view of a camera they installed in his room, so couldn’t go for help.  And there had been trouble between the couple – they worked with his ex-fiancee Andrea. When police asked if he loved Denise, he didn’t answer and he failed a lie detector test. So what the heck is going on?  Local crime reporter Henry Kee becomes obsessed with the case, realising as a hardened veteran of the murder and mayhem beat that something stinks, helps guide us through the maze that lies ahead. Two more eppies. Kind of fun, well-made, and sure to put a bad taste in your mouth. That’s what’s what true crime stories do. You knew that going in.



On a hopeful note, TVO’s Original docuseries Yearbook follows six Canadians looking to the past for inspiration in an unusual way. Each has unfinished emotional business with figures from their school days. Each has had a unique life experience since those formative years and each has discovered a need to reconnect with a person to rekindle a friendship, resolve matters left broken, express gratitude for past good deeds, and better understand themselves. It’s more than mere nostalgia; the seekers set a lot of store by making things right, fun, interesting, and life brighter. But will the realities they face live up to their hopes? The opening story concerns geologist Joanne (born Jeff) a husband (now amicably divorced and living with her partner) and a father who misses his childhood best friend Kent. Producers find him living in Asia and bring him to Canada for a meeting. Joanne didn’t say she had transitioned until they met – in the yard of their primary school.  Gary was deemed a special needs child early on at school and felt disposable, but his teacher Dave gave him faith in himself. Gary, a happy and productive husband and father reached out to Dave and they arranged a meeting.  Melisa, a Metis woman who’d suffered childhood and generational traumas wanted to connect to her onetime best friend Linda and perform a healing ritual for them. Two subjects want to address school-era bullying and racism. It’s a powerful series from documentarians Mark Johnston, Amanda Handy, and Tom Powers who say the series was inspired by their own desires; they are confident viewers will identify with the pairings. Jan. 16 TVO’s broadcast channel in Ontario and nationally on TVO.org and YouTube.



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