This reviewer is currently on vacation, so the number of reviews is fewer than usual.
BEST FILMS PLAYING:
They Shall Not Grow Old
Never Look Away
Best Film Opening:
Sunset and The Invisibles
EDGE OF THE KNIFE (Canada 2018) ***
Directed by Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown
There are Canadian film and there are native indigenous Canadian films. EDGE OF THE KNIFE belongs to the latter and quite a few have open-end in Toronto recently including THE FALLS AROUND HER and THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE. EDGE OF THE KNIFE is produced by the filmmakers of ATAARNUAT: THE FAST RUNNER, one of the best Canadian films made about Indigenous natives of all time.
EDGE THE THE KNIFE is the traditional saying of the Kwakwaka'wakw people of northern Vancouver Island. Life is like walking on the edge of the knife, one can fall on either side. The film tells the story of the people’s neighbours - the Haida. The film is shot in its entirety in the language of the Haida, a dying language. (Thee are less than 20 fluent speakers and a dialect coach was needed to catch the actors in the language.)
As far as films about Inuits and the living go, there is always much to learn and enjoy in these films. One is the magnificent landscape that is always on display. These are landscapes to the north and large lakes where the Kwakwaka'wakws and Haida fish and hunt and travel. When the film opens, one of these journeys has been completed before winter so that a family can be reunited in preparation for food for the water before those travelling head back to their village. An uncle is reunited with his nephew, as they are shown hugging in family reunion The film then takes on the path of family drama in the current setting.
The drama occurs because of the death of the nephew after Xaants'ii (Greg Brown) and him take an excursion in a canoe in the sea. The father, a best friend of the uncle blames him. For his guilt, Diet take off into the wild, turning into a demon, torturing himself and eating wild and disgusting food. It is a story of redemption as Xaants'ii is finally caught and the demon in him released, turning him back into a normal human being.
The film was shot by a first-time camera crew but the results are astounding. One cannot stop admiring the beauty of the northern Canadian landscape.
The inexperience of the first time filmmakers shows. The narrative is choppy and a lot are left unexplained or inconclusive. The reason for the death of the nephew is not explained nor clearly the reason why he and his uncle took off in the canoe. A more experienced crew would have attempted the scene of the storm that could e the reason of the nephew’s drowning. In the film, the audience is only told that there is bad weather. At another point of the film, the nephew’s other accuses his wife that the son is not his, implying that thence had an afire with his wife bearing the nephew who drowned. Nothing else about this affair is mentioned anywhere in the film.
The film still deserves to be seen despite its flaws for its depiction of the lives Haida people - an important part of Canadian history.
THE INVISIBLES (Die Unsichtbaren)(Germany 2018) ***
Directed by Claus Räfle
1943. Four Jewish youths have to hide their identities in Berlin in order to survive the Third Reich. A true story- as the film continues to remind the audience.
Films from Germany on the injustice of the Nazis have shed new insight. Audiences learnt that many Germans living today are unaware of the holocaust and the horror the Nazis have committed on the Jew in the concentration camps. (Sorry, I can’t remember the title of this German movie, but the film traces the exploits of a German proving that the Holocaust exists.) Audiences also learnt that Germans also committed horrors on their own German people as in the recent Academy Award German nominee for Best Foreign Film - Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's NEVER LOOK AWAY.
While Jospeh Goebbels infamously declared Berlin “free of Jews” in 1943, some 1,700 (out of 6000, as the audience is later informed at the end credits) survived in Nazism’s capital until liberation. Director Räfle’s gripping docudrama traces the stories of four real-life survivors who learned that sometimes the best place to hide is in plain sight. While moving between cinemas, cafés and safe houses they dodged Gestapo and a dense network of spies and informants, knowing that certain death was just one mistake away. Yet their prudence was at odds with their youthful inclination towards recklessness, sometimes prompting them to join the resistance, forge passports, or pose as Aryan war widows.
The four youths are Hanni (Alice Dwyr), Cioama (Max Mauff) , Eugen (Aaron Altaras) and Ruth (Ruby O. Fee). These are four German Jews coming from different social classes as well as different neighbourhoods. The film takes its time on each, showing their relationship and difficult separation from their parents and loved ones. The problem with this, is that the trials each undergo are identical and it makes the narrative repetitive.
For each character, a few solid suspense set-ups are worthy of mention. One involves a Jewish informer, Stella (Laila Maria Witt) who recognizes Ellen Lewinsky (Victoria Schulz) while she and a friend go to the cinema dressed as war widows. Stella informs so that she gets special privileges from the Gestapo that her parents do not get deported. But they do, regardless. Another suspenseful scene has Jews hiding in a room when a German appears going from room to to room in that house looking for lodging for Germans displaced from bombings.
One plus of the film is the interspersing of the enactments with interviews of the four main characters now much older, which are the survivors in real live. This tactic adds to the film’s authenticity. The film is also interspersed with archive 1940’s film footage.
Despite the film’s flaws, THE INVISIBLES is a worthy and insightful account of not only the triumph of the human spirit in surviving but also the inherent good in the few Germans who risk everything in helping the Jews. Just as the proverb goes ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, desperation forces the desperate to survive against all odds.
SUNSET (Napszallta)(Hungary 2018) ***1/2
Directed by Laszlo Nemes
SUNSET, Hungary’s Academy Award entry for the Best Foreign Language Film 2019 is a lavishly mounted production with great attention to detail in dialogue as well as production sets, wardrobe, hair and yes, hats. One problem of the hair is that Leiter has the perfect curls throughout the film. The story protagonist is the daughter of the original owners of a established well-successful hat shop in Budapest. When the film opens, Irisz Leiter (Juli Jakab) arrives at the hat shop seeking employment as a milliner, but is turned down.
Director and co-writer of the script Names already won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2016 for his Jewish concentration camp drama, SON OF SAUL. Watching SUNSET immediately brings to mind the similarities of both films despite its different settings. What is most notable is Nemes’ fondest of keeping the camera at neck level of his main character and the story unfolds as if seen from the character’s point of view. In SUNSET, the camera also reveals, while at neck level, Leiter’s collar of her period dress as well as her hair and of course, stunning hat. This technique does get tiresome after a while. Every line of dialogue appears to be carefully written with subtle innuendoes often found in many of them. Clues to the story and Leiter’s history are also revealed in the dialogue. Example: when Leiter tells a stranger who inquires the reason of her sadness, she says: “I just got turned down from a job at the hat company.” “That is not the only hat company in town,” is his reply to which she retorts: “But it is the only one with my name on it.” The film’s best line: “the horrors of the world (at the brink of the first world war) hides behind these infinitely pretty things (referring to the hats).
The story is set in thriving Budapest in the early 1920s. It is before the first world war when the Austro-Hungarian was the centre of Europe. Besides the wealth on display in Budapest, poverty still exists. When Leiter returns to her boarding house after being rejected from her job, she is told she is returning to dust and bed bugs.
The story is about Leiter leaving the orphanage and finding out the secrets of her family. Leiter was put in the orphanage at the age of 2 after her parents’ death. She does not remember anything. She learns of a brother, who had committed crime and now presumed gone into hiding. Her re-appearance at the hat shop generates fears and memories of her brother’s evil deed. But Leiter is determined to learn the truth surrounding her brother and keeps inquiring despite very bad vibes from those she asks.
The twist in the story occurs around the half way mark in the two-hour over film.
For what the film is worth, the period atmosphere and setting are extremely well done. The narrative fails to satisfy in what would have resulted in an outstanding film.