A MAN CALLED OVE AND WEREWOLF

Last Friday night Carbon Arc screened the darkly charming foreign language Oscar nominee, A Man Called Ove. Written and directed by Hannes Holmes, and based on the novel by the same name, this Swedish drama tells the story of a widowed man who only wants to join his wife in death. Ove visits the grave of his dead wife regularly and promises he’ll be with her soon. Sounds depressing, right? The only problem is that Ove is just not very good at dying. Apparently, if there’s one thing Ove cares about more than dying, it’s cars driving on a no-cars-permitted pathway. So, Ove must interrupt his many suicide attempts to deal with his tedious day-to-day tasks of yelling at cars and begrudgingly lending ladders to neighbors. Ove is the ex-chairman of a board for the neighborhood association, a title he had self-imposed for a job he invented, and continues to take gravely (get it?).  Essentially, Ove is the bitter 59 year-old equivalent of your middle-school hall monitor.                                                                                  

 
A bitter Ove (Rolf Lassgård) stands in the middle of the gated community pathway where cars are prohibited. 

A bitter Ove (Rolf Lassgård) stands in the middle of the gated community pathway where cars are prohibited. 

 

Through his failed attempts at killing himself, and his growing friendship with a new neighbor and her family, we learn about Ove’s past: the tragic death of his mother, the fraught relationship with his father, and the love he has for his wife Sonja. The film jumps between flashbacks of Ove’s past as he narrates his life to his new neighbor and his present trial and tribulations. In this bleak story are moments of joy and laughter, of friendship and of love. Ove is the surprisingly sweet Grinch who’s heart, we learn literally and ironically, is just too big.

                                                                                            - Chelsea Rozansky


 
Main characters Blaze (Andrew Gillis) and Nessa (Bhreagh MacNeil) of Ashley McKenzie's debut feature Werewolf.

Main characters Blaze (Andrew Gillis) and Nessa (Bhreagh MacNeil) of Ashley McKenzie's debut feature Werewolf.

 

If you've ever had the pleasure of watching any of Cape Breton director Ashley McKenzie's work, you know how well she creates storylines that focus on trying and seemingly hopeless situations. What she does even better though, is she creates truthful characters who have a strong sense of independence, never letting them fully succumb to their surroundings. The greatest example of this with her short films being Stray (2013), but this all has been perfected with her phenomenal first feature Werewolf that we screened this past Friday evening along with a Q&A afterwards with Ashley.

Werewolf follows the often overlooked stage of addiction, recovery, and as senior programmer Zack Miller pointed out in his review of the film during the Atlantic Film Festival, the unique framing helps to humanize these people for the audience rather than making them out to be monsters.  The film centres on the lives of Blaze and Nessa, two recovering addicts who both in their own ways find themselves stuck.

Blaze is too proud to let anybody tell him how to be, and takes it upon himself to lash out at anybody with an ounce of authority, automatically assuming that they’re looking down on him. We see many telling moments illustrating his selfish nature, his only moment of remorse being his reaction to his rash decision to destroy the couple’s only source of income, their lawnmower. It comes at point when hardship upon hardship has fallen on the couple and he breaks, berating himself afterwards which doesn’t necessarily feel as though he’s upset for anybody but himself. As independent as Blaze is though, and whether he cares to admit it, he relies heavily on Nessa.

Contrasting Blaze’s type of independence is Nessa and her quiet kindness and sense of responsibility that keeps her behind in her journey of recovery. She’s the stronger of the two, consistently being the one to work and is the sole reason that the couple are still afloat. As Nessa is confronted by her nurse after having her at-home doses being revoked due to Blaze stealing them, it becomes extremely clear how unfair it is to ask this girl to give up on the one person who understands her struggle and she loves. At the same time, it’s also clear that she’s being unfair to herself by letting him hold her down. Watching her leave Blaze the first time when she kicks him out of her mother’s house was empowering. Watching her leave him after he is released from hospital was even more satisfying, finally she’s free to explore the life ahead of her.

Werewolf was an incredible first feature, and feature film period, and its success worldwide is no surprise to anybody who has seen it.

                                                                                                   - Hillary West


Carbon Arc will be taking a short March break, but fear not, we return March 24th with the environmental documentary Call of the Forest: The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees as well of an encore screening of the wildly popular cat documentary Kedi on April 1st with proceeds going to the Halifax Cat Rescue Society!

Carbon Arcademy Awards

As lovers of film, we here at Carbon Arc look at Oscar night with a certain amount of respect. It's a night dedicated to celebrating films, some of which would not get widespread attention otherwise. Carbon Arc's programming often overlaps with the Academy's picks; we recently screened Best Foreign Language Film nominee Tanna, and this Friday, March 3rd we will show another of the nominees at 7pm, Sweden's A Man Called Ove

However, some of our favourite films go overlooked by the Academy each year. Thus, we have decided to take matters into our own hands for the first time! A small team of Carbon Arc's programmers, writers, volunteers, and all around cinephiles consisting of Chris Campbell, Carsten Knox, Nick Malbeuf, Zack Miller, and Hillary West teamed up to create our own awards, deemed the Arc-ademy Awards. After a round of nominations, the five of us cast our votes on a list ranging from the typical Oscar categories, and a few bonus slots. The final results reflect a slightly more eccentric taste in film to complement the movies honored by the real Academy. We hope you find some agreement with us, or use this list as a point of recommendation. So, without further ado, here are the nominees and winners from our very first Arc-ademy Awards:

Best Picture

American Honey

Cameraperson

Green Room

Lemonade

The Lobster

The Love Witch

Paterson

Things to Come

The Witch

WINNER: Moonlight

 
The much beloved film Moonlight took home Best Picture from us and the Oscars

The much beloved film Moonlight took home Best Picture from us and the Oscars

 

Best Carbon Arc Screening

Chevalier

The Fits

The Love Witch

Mustang

WINNER: Cameraperson

 

Best Foreign Film

Embrace of the Serpent

Mustang

Neruda

Things to Come

WINNER: Toni Erdmann

 

Best Documentary Film

13th

Fire at Sea

Kate Plays Christine

Weiner

WINNER: Cameraperson

 
Kirsten Johnson's debut documentary feature Cameraperson screened in our fall season of films in 2016. We liked it enough to honor it with our Best Documentary, Best Carbon Arc Screening, and Best Editing awards.

Kirsten Johnson's debut documentary feature Cameraperson screened in our fall season of films in 2016. We liked it enough to honor it with our Best Documentary, Best Carbon Arc Screening, and Best Editing awards.

 

Best Animated Film

Finding Dory

My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea

Window Horses

Zootopia

WINNER: Kubo and the Two Strings

 

Best Canadian Film

Maudie

Operation Avalance

We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice

Window Horses

WINNER: Werewolf

 
The story of a relationship struggling under the stress of a shared methadone addiction, local film Werewolf was our favourite Canadian film of the year. Join us Friday, March 3rd at 9:30pm for a screening of the film, fresh out of Berlinale. Writer/director Ashley McKenzie will be present for a Q&A.

The story of a relationship struggling under the stress of a shared methadone addiction, local film Werewolf was our favourite Canadian film of the year. Join us Friday, March 3rd at 9:30pm for a screening of the film, fresh out of Berlinale. Writer/director Ashley McKenzie will be present for a Q&A.

 

Best Director

Maren Ade – Toni Erdmann

Anna Biller – The Love Witch

Pablo Larrain – Jackie/Neruda/The Club

Jeremy Saulnier – Green Room

WINNER: Barry Jenkins - Moonlight

 

Best Original Screenplay

Efthymis Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos – The Lobster

Mia Hansen-Love – Things to Come

Jim Jarmusch - Paterson

Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water

WINNER: Maren Ade – Toni Erdmann

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Xavier Dolan – It’s Only the End of the World

Eric Heisserer – Arrival

Whit Stillman – Love & Friendship

August Wilson – Fences

WINNER: Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney – Moonlight

 

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Annette Bening – 20th Century Women

Sasha Lane – American Honey

Ruth Negga – Loving

Natalie Portman – Jackie

WINNER: Isabelle Huppert – Things to Come

 
Although the Academy nominated Isabelle Huppert for her work in Elle, we preferred her performance in Mia Hansen-Løve's Things to Come.

Although the Academy nominated Isabelle Huppert for her work in Elle, we preferred her performance in Mia Hansen-Løve's Things to Come.

 

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Adam Driver – Paterson

Colin Farrell – The Lobster

Daniel Radcliffe – Swiss Army Man

Trevante Rhodes – Moonlight

WINNER: Denzel Washington - Fences

 

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Viola Davis – Fences

Golshifteh Farahani – Paterson

Naomie Harris – Moonlight

Janelle Monae – Moonlight/Hidden Figures

WINNER: Greta Gerwig – 20th Century Women

 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Alden Ehrenreich – Hail, Caesar!

Ralph Fiennes – A Bigger Splash

John Goodman – 10 Cloverfield Lane

John Hurt – Jackie

WINNER: Mahershala Ali - Moonlight

 

Best Ensemble Cast

American Honey

A Bigger Splash

Hail, Caesar!

The Witch

WINNER: Moonlight

 

Best Cinematography

Jarin Blaschke - The Witch

Natasha Braier – Neon Demon

James Laxton – Moonlight

Bradford Young – Arrival

WINNER: Chung-hoon Chung – The Handmaiden

 
Park Chan-Wook's gorgeous romantic period thriller was shut out of the Oscars technical categories, but we couldn't resist it's cinematography.

Park Chan-Wook's gorgeous romantic period thriller was shut out of the Oscars technical categories, but we couldn't resist it's cinematography.

 

 

Best Editing

Joi McMillon, Nat Sanders – Moonlight

Sebastian Sepulveda -Jackie

 Joe Walker – Arrival

WINNER (TIE):

Nels Bangerter - Cameraperson

Louise Ford – The Witch

 

Best Original Score

Beyoncé – Lemonade

Nicholas Britell – Moonlight

Mark Korven – The Witch

Dario Marianelli – Kubo & the Two Strings

WINNER: Mica Levi – Jackie

 

Best Costume Design

Madeline Fontaine – Jackie

Linda Muir – The Witch

Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh – Love & Friendship

Mary Zophres – Hail, Caesar!

WINNER: Anna Biller – The Love Witch

 
While writing, directing, producing, editing, scoring, and set designing, The Love Witch's Anna Biller  also found time to design our favourite costumes of the year. The film had a special Halloween screening at our cinema last fall.

While writing, directing, producing, editing, scoring, and set designing, The Love Witch's Anna Biller  also found time to design our favourite costumes of the year. The film had a special Halloween screening at our cinema last fall.

 

 Best Hair & Make-up

Jackie

The Love Witch

Star Trek Beyond

Swiss Army Man

WINNER: Hail, Caesar!

 
George Clooney breaks the fourth wall in the Coen brothers underappreciated film Hail, Caesar!

George Clooney breaks the fourth wall in the Coen brothers underappreciated film Hail, Caesar!

 

 Best Production Design

Anna Biller – The Love Witch

Dante Ferretti – Silence

Craig Lathrop - The Witch

Jean Rabasse – Jackie

WINNER: Jess Gonchor – Hail, Caesar!

 

Best Visual Effects

Arrival

The Jungle Book

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Star Trek Beyond

WINNER: Kubo and the Two Strings

 

Best Sound Editing

Arrival

The Fits

Jackie

Moonlight

WINNER: The Witch

 

Best Sound Mixing

10 Cloverfield Lane

The Handmaiden

La La Land

Moonlight

WINNER: Arrival

 

Best Original Song

 “Able” – Hidden Figures

 “Audition” – La La Land

“Equal Rights” – Popstar

“How Far I’ll Go” – Moana

WINNER: “I’m So Humble” - Popstar

 

Best “That Guy” Appearance (Best Character Actor)

Adam Driver – Midnight Special

Billy Crudup – Jackie/20th Century Women

WINNER: John Carroll Lynch – The Invitation/The Founder/Jackie

 

We hope you enjoyed our picks for the year! If not, we are always happy to discuss at our Friday night screenings!

Neruda and Inversion

Pablo Larrain had a busy 2016. Carbon Arc screened the Chilean director's first release of the year, The Club, in the spring. Later in the year his Kennedy-era drama Jackie opened to much praise for its star, Natalie Portman, who garnered an Oscar nomination. (Jackie opened on Halifax's Cineplex screens in early February.) Somewhere in there, Larrain found the time to complete Neruda, the charmingly wry story of the Chilean poet and statesman, Pablo Neruda, and the fictional policeman who pursued him across the country when the communist Neruda was declared persona non grata by the government.

 
Luis Gnecco stars as the title character in Neruda

Luis Gnecco stars as the title character in Neruda

 

Having seen these three films, I've been wowed by Larrain's confidence as a storyteller and how he adjusts the texture of his imagery to suit the tone: The Club was awash in blue, a gloomy, low-contrast look to suit its guilty characters, while Jackie is punctuated with moments quite like early-'60s newsreel. Neruda is drenched in sepia and lens flare, the camera prowling in circles around its cast. This is as far from a conventional biopic as I can imagine, a comedic examination of a moment in history that doubles as a consideration of stories, of protagonists, antagonists, and supporting characters. It's also a sly look at celebrity, how in 1948 the poet was a rock star who cast a glow upon everyone around him. Curiously, Neruda starts as a political thriller before becoming a chase drama and finally resolving as a western. It's a total delight, and the sold-out audience on Friday night seemed to concur.

- Carsten Knox


On Saturday, Carbon Arc had the privilege of partnering once again with the Phoenix Cultural Centre to program an Iranian film. Outside of international darling Asghar Farhadi it's rare for cultural exports from that country to make it to screens in Halifax; when we were approached to screen Me last season we couldn't pass up the opportunity. The selection this time around was Inversion, a drama from writer-director Behnam Behzadi that debuted in Un Certain Regard at Cannes. The story follows Niloofar, a business owner in Tehran whose mother is forced to leave the city when high levels of pollution leave her with a life-threatening respiratory disease. 

 
Sahar Dolatshahi as Niloofar and Ali Mosaffa as her brother Farhad in Inversion

Sahar Dolatshahi as Niloofar and Ali Mosaffa as her brother Farhad in Inversion

 

When Niloofar's siblings unilaterally decide that she will be the one to give up her career and take care of their mother, Behzadi's script traces an escalating family conflict that unfolds through dialogue dripping with tension and tinged with social issues. (In this sense, Behzadi and Farhadi are not just countrymen, but thematic bedfellows as well). Beyond the numerous scenes that take place inside a car — I wonder where all the pollution is coming from? — Tehran is rendered in a thick, grey haze. While Inversion is never so overtly political as to paint the views of Niloofar's family as outdated or regressive, it does slyly suggest that decades of accumulated cultural norms may be clouding their judgement. The pace flags a bit in places, notably in a stretch where Niloofar ignores near-constant phone calls from a male suitor, but strong performances and capable direction keep it afloat to deliver another enjoyable entry in the Iranian cinema oeuvre.

- Zack Miller

Tanna: A South Pacific Valentine

Carbon Arc is finally back after the holiday hiatus and what a way to kick the season off! In our first week we screened a sold out showing of Ira Sachs' coming-of-age drama Little Men. It was also the first night of our collaboration series with the Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival, where we screen HIFF shorts before features. Filmmaker Stephanie Young introduced her documentary short Masculins, the first of eight shorts that have been programmed.

Audience members showed that nothing would get in their way this past Friday as they braved freezing temperatures to watch Tanna, the South Pacific love story of Wawa and Dain based on the story of a real life forbidden romance in 1987. The tale was shared with directors Bentley Dean and Martin Butler after the former lived with his family for 7 months on the Vanuatu island from which the film gets its name. The result of their close collaboration with the local Yakel people is this gorgeous Oscar nominated film, relatable to many and the perfect way to start the Valentine's Day festivities.

 
Yakel natives Marie Wawa and Mungau Dain play the leads, Wawa and Dain.

Yakel natives Marie Wawa and Mungau Dain play the leads, Wawa and Dain.

 

Tanna marks Dean and Butler's first feature film outside of the documentary world. They haven't strayed too far from the filmmaking of their previous successes: the way Dean, who doubled as cinematographer, framed his shots made every small moment feel documented as if the camera stayed recording until the perfect expression was captured from the non-professional actors. Speaking of the actors, programmer Zack Miller pointed out in his pre-screening introduction that the actors in the film were the people of the small community. Each member took on the role that they would have suited in the situation. They may have seen cameras in the past as documentary crews had been there before, but the way they performed in front of them was remarkable. One of the greater performances came from Marceline Rofit as Wawa's rebellious younger sister, Selin, who was given almost more focus than the two leads as she introduced us to each important plot point , running around the village and pushing her limits (as kids so often do).

The crew was limited to just Dean and Butler. Thanks to his familiarity behind the camera, Dean shot a vibrant and lush scenery that also becomes a character itself. It's been said before, but the most beautiful footage in the movie was anything that involved the active volcano close to the community. We first see it when a nearby tribe, the Imedin, brutally attack Selin's grandfather, the eruption in the background adding intensity to what is happening in the foreground. Later, Wawa and Dain are silhouetted by another eruption, now symbolizing passion.

 
The imposing presence of the volcano adds to the visual splendour of Tanna.

The imposing presence of the volcano adds to the visual splendour of Tanna.

 

As the two soulmates continue on their journey, separating themselves from their former tribe and keeping hidden from the Imedin, it's hard not to compare the subject matter to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Wawa and Dain defy the Yakel by sleeping together, straining an already tense relationship between the tribes. To avoid a life apart the two eat poisonous mushrooms, a fate very similar to that of the bard's young lovers. Overall, Tanna starting off this season of Carbon Arc was an incredible choice amongst other amazing screenings to come.

Join us this Friday, February 17th at 7pm with Pablo Larraín's Golden Globe nominated Neruda, a crime drama biopic of the famous poet starring Gael García Bernal that comes highly anticipated, especially after seeing his other feature for the year, Jackie. Following that we have the Iranian film Inversion this Saturday, a cat documentary from Istanbul called Kedi next week, then later a double feature of the Oscar nominated A Man Called Ove and local favourite Werewolf directed by Ashley McKenzie that's been getting a lot of attention at Germany's Berlinale Film Festival. We'll be lucky enough to have Ashley attend the screening, and will be having a Q&A afterwards.

Double Feature: Cameraperson and Demain

Perspective.

It was a tough week, trying to swallow the bitter pill of the US Election. Plenty has been written in the ensuing days: on what happened and why, on what it means for America and the world, on how to move forward. Much of the prose has been erudite, hopeful, and invigorated with purpose. I read a lot of it, but it didn't deliver what I actually needed.

Cameraperson, the new documentary-cum-travelogue-cum-autobiography from career cinematographer Kirsten Johnson, opens on a lone sheep farmer in Bosnia. Then we're in Nigeria, listening to a midwife recite the details of her latest delivery. In New York, someone is boxing; back across the Atlantic, others are dancing energetically. Johnson has spent 25 years travelling the world with storied filmmakers like Laura Poitras and Michael Moore, using her camera to capture moments of unfettered joy and unbounded sorrow. The accumulation of ideas and fragments over a quarter-century is what one might expect to find in a garage or an attic — indeed, Johnson seems to acknowledge this by including a scene of a friend cleaning out her mother's house after her passing. Cleaning out such a space is typically a private endeavour, a nostalgic and memory-laden process of catharsis and (re)discovery that would appear foreign to most others. In Cameraperson, the internal is turned outward and shared with the world as Johnson revisits and recontextualizes the images that have stayed with her.

 
 

On a technical level, Cameraperson is fascinating. The editing prowess required to unify decades of footage that varies in picture quality, shooting style, and pace cannot be overstated. That the film is so much more than the sum of its parts, then, is an even greater triumph. The trick, I think, is in how Johnson sneakily pulls back the curtain on the filmmaking process. She sneezes behind the camera. She films a kid playing with an axe and gasps at the same time as the audience. She talks with her director about a specific shot she wants to get and, boom, it's on the screen. So many other films, as impactful and emotionally-charged as they may be, feel polished and final. Cameraperson isn't about the filmmaking process, it is the filmmaking process. The footage implies a globalist perspective, but it is the construction that has Johnson actively participating which exposes her humanity and connects it to ours.

 
 

Art isn't politics, but it can be political. This week, the need for a renewed unity between people of all stripes has gone from apparent to essential. Speaking about the 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr., one subject in the film remarks that "hearing someone talk about [an image] and actually seeing it is different". This gets at what the articles I've been reading have been missing. While the calls to action are prudent — We should be doubling down on efforts to support marginalized groups! We should be promoting meaningful political and humanitarian activism! — it can all seem a little backwards to start strategizing in response to an event rather than working to help the people it affects. As a film, Cameraperson is sublime; as a reminder of the beautiful, important lives outside our own, it is truly vital.

- Zack Miller


At last year's Atlantic Film Festival, a documentary called This Changes Everything purported to offer a different kind of study of the problems around climate change. Based on a book by narrator Naomi Klein — and directed by her husband, Avi Lewis — the film wound up beating the drum for indigenous cultures and grassroots alternatives to global energy consortiums and corporate resource management, but offering little personal engagement. 

Demain is the film that This Changes Everything wanted to be, a genuinely fresh documentary on the solutions to climate change. It is contemporary, hopeful, and compelling.

 
 

Directed by French poet and activist Cyril Dion and actor Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds, Enemy), the film is told in chapters, examining first the problems, then presenting possible solutions in areas of agriculture, politics, economics, energy, and education. The filmmakers travel to Detroit, San Francisco, Copenhagen, Normandy, Espoo, and Kuttambakkam to speak with people who have come up with local solutions to global issues.

Not all of it is directly about climate change — sometimes it's about smaller social problems that need to be managed before the bigger issues can be tackled. But all the examples show that lateral, progressive thinking serves people better than cynicism. Demain is also the first documentary of its kind to have a memorable score: songs by Fredrika Stahl are tuneful, with lyrics appropriate to the subject matter. 

 
Demain directors Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent

Demain directors Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent

 

It's not a perfect film. At two hours it could have benefited from a little editorial trimming, and it occasionally threatens to be too much about the directors and their inspiration than the subject at hand — the "Michael Moore Syndrome" of modern documentary-making. But as we go along, Laurent and Dion step back, serving as periodic narrators and charming observers.

The filmmakers' enthusiastic approach and faultless research, along with their choices of who to put on camera to elucidate these examples of positive change, are right on the money. It's so refreshing to come out of a film like this feeling positive about the world, our place in it, and a possible future for all of us. 

- Carsten Knox

Double Feature: Me and Further Beyond

As we all walked out of Mean Iranian thriller from writer-director Soheil Beiraghi, we were scratching our heads a little. When I say we, I mean the Carbon Arc programmers and volunteers. There were elements we didn't understand. That was at least partly due to a potent but dense and wordy script that tells the story of Azar (Leila Hatami), an oboe teacher in Tehran who moonlights as a smuggler of alcohol in plastic water bottles, an arranger of official papers for refugees who can pay, a real estate agent, and a record producer for an ambitious young pop star. The confusion also had to do with cultural barriers — some plot points were a little hard to parse without knowing a little more about Iranian society than many of us did. There was also a sense that the subtitles may not have been accurately representing all that was being said. 

All that said, the overall response was very positive. 

As a big fan of Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian filmmaker responsible for A Separation (which also starred Hatami), The Past, and The Salesman, which screened at the Atlantic Film Festival this past September, I can see a stylistic similarity here. Beiraghi's is more of a plot-driven piece, but the social and political lives of the characters in a society struggling under the weight of bureaucratic oppression is very much at the forefront. These films are all windows into real life in Iran, they're distinct cultural artifacts. 

 
Leila Hatami in Me

Leila Hatami in Me

 

Azar is a fascinating character. She's the driving force of Me, the hub of all the action as she moves through her day. A third of the film seems to take place in cars or on motorcycles, but she's never driving, only being taken places. She argues with her companions, offering advice and refusing to back down on all the financial wheeling and dealing. She's the kind of female character we'd only see in Hollywood in comedies — Melissa McCarthy in The Boss, or Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Here she's the protagonist of a thriller, a crime drama. Producers in Hollywood would say she's too unlikeable to be the centre of this kind of film, but that's patently ridiculous. She's electric, and in times when the plot feels a little too obscure, we trust that she knows what's going on. How she managed to accomplish all she does, and why she does it, remain something of a mystery. Her motivation to live this life is unrevealed, but it doesn't matter. All eyes on Azar. 

- Carsten Knox


To be completely candid, I was a bit worried about how I would fare during Saturday night’s screening of Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor’s Further Beyond. I have heard great things about the duo’s (otherwise known as the Desperate Optimists) work, but I have admittedly yet to familiarize myself with it. I was therefore totally uncertain of what to expect. Furthermore, Ambrose O’Higgins, the self-proclaimed “Baron of Ballynarry”, a man who journeyed from Ireland to Chile in the 18th century, did not strike me as an especially compelling subject for an experimental documentary. I was sure the film would be brilliant, but I was ready for it to go right over my head. But the thing is, the film isn’t really about O’Higgins. Well, it is, but it isn’t. The way I contradicted myself just then does not make for the best writing, but perhaps I am simply stuck in a mode of uncertainty in characterizing a film which itself engages in intense self-questioning, intentionally making clear how films misrepresent “reality”. The film is less about O’Higgins, and more of a documentary about making a biopic about O’Higgins (one which does not exist) narrated by two voice over artists who digress into philosophical musings, as well as an entirely separate narrative about Helen, a woman who spent her life divided between New York and Ireland, who is supposedly one of the voice actors’ mothers.

 
Aidan Gillen as one of Further Beyond's meta versions of Ambrose O'Higgins

Aidan Gillen as one of Further Beyond's meta versions of Ambrose O'Higgins

 

All of this makes the film sound very complicated, which it is in many ways, but it fails to communicate how intriguingly delightful the film is. The film is very intelligent, but avoids the pitfalls of heady intellectual films that I had feared by sustaining a self-reflexive playfulness. In an era that seems desperate to suck the freshness out of self-reflexive pop culture, Further Beyond actually sustains genuine self-reflection, making “meta” feel fresh again. It is a meditation on the difficulties of representing real times and places in artificial images, and strives to find some kind of truth contained in the absurd constructions presented in film. The complex layers of meaning contained in its brisk 90 minutes had me ready to watch the film again before I had even finished it the first time. This is in no small part due to the fact that the film is also an impressive aesthetic achievement, from the simpler portraits of Helen to the breathtaking landscapes O’Higgins travelled.

We were also fortunate enough to have co-writer/director Christine Molloy present for a post-screening Q&A. Once again, I was somewhat dubious. Q&As so often end up falling flat, with audience members who ask questions too vague or too specific and filmmakers who prefer to let their work speak for itself. However, I was also once again pleasantly surprised. Molloy immediately responded to the broad range of questions fielded with erudite observations about her work that matched the acute self-awareness displayed in the film. At one point Molloy discussed the benefits and limits of the film being available on streaming service MUBI, commenting that when a little film like Further Beyond is featured next to a familiar auteur like Terrence Malick, most people will tend to stick to what they know. However, my Saturday night seemed to exist as a testament to taking risks on unfamiliar films; my doubts about Further Beyond were quickly pushed to the side by admiration for the talented filmmakers behind it. I hope more people will take a chance on the incredible, odd film, too.

- Nick Malbeuf

Double Feature: Ixcanul/The Love Witch

Our most recent screening at Carbon Arc fell on Friday, October 28th. Unofficially kicking off Halloween weekend, it signalled that the time has arrived for parties, candy, and, of course, seemingly inevitable cultural appropriation. Each year, whether purchased from a costume company or made by oneself, a fresh batch of insensitive costumes arrive to caricature, eroticize, and generally exploit and demean oppressed groups, including indigenous peoples. At a time like this, it was refreshing to see Ixcanul, a Guatemalan film starring indigenous Kaqchikel people speaking in their own native language. That being said, full disclosure should be given that this post is being written by a white guy with zero knowledge of the experiences of indigenous Kaqchikel people, so any supposed insight herein contained should be taken with a grain of salt. Writer-director Jayro Bustamante was raised among the Kaqchikel people by his grandmother, only leaving to travel to Europe for a film education, and then returning to tell stories from his home. The film itself has racked up a string of awards since its debut, including the Alfred Bauer Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, an award given to a film that “opens new perspectives on cinematic art.” It certainly has opened new perspectives; it stands as only the second film Guatemala has submitted for the Oscars Foreign Film awards race (after 1994’s little known The Silence of Neto) and one of the few, if not only, films made in the Kaqchikel language.

 
María Mercedes Coroy in Ixcanul

María Mercedes Coroy in Ixcanul

 

The film stars first time actress María Mercedes Coroy as a 17-year-old Kaqchikel girl with the same first name. María lives on a farm precariously located on the skirts of an active volcano with her parents, who have arranged her marriage to the farm foreman out of economic benefit. Meanwhile, María has a fling with a boy who works on the farm, planning to run away with him to America. On paper, it sounds like it will either be a fairy tale or a tragic romance, but it turns out a less idyllic narrative was in store. In the early scenes of the film, María helps her mother breed pigs by dragging them together and giving them rum. Soon after comes a graphic slaughter scene. This, forebodingly, is closer to María’s story than any happily ever after. While María herself strives for active agency in shaping her own life, her fierce determination is repeatedly thwarted. She is consistently lied to and manipulated, and valued only for sexual pleasure, economic value, and fertility. While the Kaqchikel word “Ixcanul” literally translates to volcano, Bustamante says it also means "the internal force of the mountain which boils looking for eruption." This is how Coroy plays her role: in introspective and understated fashion, letting the energy of the character boil under the surface, desperately struggling to maintain her humanity while being consistently degraded to the indignity of livestock.

The encounters between the relatively isolated Kaqchikel family and the Spanish inhabitants of the Guatemalan city have a similar emotional disconnect. There is a cold tension between the family and the social worker who meets them — partially due to the linguistic barrier, but a sense of sad condescension is conveyed in each exchange. The indigenous family are portrayed as outsiders within the colonial city, and there is a similarity resonating between the patronizing paternalism they are treated with and that which María receives. The tension between them gradually grows until it reaches a plot point which I will not spoil, but reminded me of Alanis Obomsawin’s recent documentary We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice. This came as a reminder that Guatemala is not alone in its marginalization of indigenous families, but that we can find similar problems at home.

 
María Telón (left) plays the mother of Coroy (right)

María Telón (left) plays the mother of Coroy (right)

 

Amidst this largely patriarchal oppression, the only sincere emotional bond María seems to have is with her mother, Juana. The relationship is sometimes tenuous, with Juana often struggling to balance caring for her daughter with ensuring her family’s survival, but she is the only character to ever shows any kind of support for María. Juana is played by María Telón, a local theatre actress who brings a liveliness and authenticity to the role that makes me hope to see her on the screen again. The performance serves as a kind of emotional anchor for the film that ensures that it never becomes too cold. Her character acts in a way that seems opposed yet linked to Coroy’s performance. Coroy never quite displays the same vocal presence in María that Telón does in Juana, but her strength of character and resolve is a matriarchal inheritance.

Two of the main filmmaking influences Bustamante cites are Terrence Malick and Michael Haneke. The poetic beauty of Malick may seem diametrically opposed to Bustamante's clinical austerity, but traces can be found in Ixcanul. On one hand, the cinematography alternates from magnificent landscapes to intimate close-ups with a striking beauty reminiscent of Malick. On the other, the narrative subverts the volcanic eruption of melodrama it seems destined to conclude with; Bustamante instead takes a restrained approach, closer to the bleakness of Haneke. The narrative is often a miserable one, but Bustamante finds the perfect balance between softening its impact with pulled punches and making it unbearable with relentless button pushing. It’s a whopper of a feature debut that raises questions of gendered oppression and indigenous marginalization within the framework of an emotionally compelling narrative.

 
 

The film was followed up on a lighter note with a special Halloween screening of Anna Biller’s The Love Witch, a film that similarly deconstructs the devastation of the female experience under patriarchal conditions, albeit in a more playful way, with a feminist interpretation of an erotic fairy tale fantasy film reminiscent of the work of Walerian Borowczyk, Jean Rollin, and Jess Franco. 

- Nick Malbeuf

 

 

Our 9:15pm screening on Friday night was The Love Witch. Regular attendees at Carbon Arc might have noticed we often save programming that may appeal to an audience up for something other than international films and documentaries for our later timeslots, or the occasional Saturday nights. The Love Witch qualifies. Written and directed by Anna Biller, it's a picture made in the style of the exploitation and sexploitation dramas of the 1960s. If you've ever seen a movie by Russ Meyer, Italian director Antonio Margheriti, or a British Hammer Horror picture, you'll have a sense of what Biller is going for. 

Carbon Arc programmer Zack Miller pointed out in his introduction to the film this isn't the first time Biller has directed a feature in this style. Viva, from 2007, was about a California housewife in the early 1970s discovering the wonders of the sexual revolution. It took Biller almost a decade to get the follow-up made, and the range of her work on the film is astonishing: Not only did she write and direct it, she produced it, designed the production, sets, props, created all the period-sensitive wardrobe, and composed the music. I don't know that I've ever heard of a filmmaker taking on so many of the creative duties on their project. 

 
Samantha Robinson as The Love Witch

Samantha Robinson as The Love Witch

 

Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is the eponymous witch. She's moving to a small Californian town to get away from (some aspects of) her past, while reconnecting with a coven of old pals. She's deeply narcissistic, measuring her own happiness through the seduction of men. She triggers their adoration through love potions, but her conquests have no lasting power, leading instead to frustration and even death. It's a wonderfully retro vision—even including a none-more-cheesy renaissance fair sequence—with pointed feminist touches. It's also a little lethargic getting where it's going, but was still very much worth the trip. 

One of the other interesting things about The Love Witch is it isn't actually a period film. The cast wears their hair and wardrobe as it it were 1966, and drive late '60s-era automobiles, but we also get 21st Century cars and cell phones. This dissonance adds a weird little joy to the film: We're in uncharted territory here, folks. 

- Carsten Knox

 

 

This weekend we have two more exciting features, both presented as community partnerships. At 7pm on Friday, November 4th, we are teaming up with CineIran to screen an Iranian crime drama called Me. Advance tickets sold quickly for Me but, as always, we've reserved a block of tickets for sale starting at 6:30pm at our venue. On Saturday, November 5th, we're taking part in the Dalhousie University masterclass about documentary filmmaking with a screening of Further Beyond. Christine Molloy, one of the directors of the film, will be in attendance and a Q&A session will follow the screening.

Double Feature: Lo and Behold/Fire at Sea

"The hallways here are repulsive."

If you read that in the voice of Werner Herzog — possibly the only human alive who could find a nondescript UCLA hallway repulsive, and certainly the only one who would commit the observation to film — congratulations, you're a dyed-in-the-wool documentary fan. The words are indeed his, and they open his latest effort, which examines the revolutionary technologies that tie person to person, city to city, country to country. The title of the film is Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World and, besides being a mouthful, it is a reference to the first word ever transmitted over the Internet. Herzog's first guest, Dr. Leonard Kleinrock, explains how the message originated at a UCLA computing lab as a transmission to a similar lab at Stanford in an attempt to remotely log in to their server. During this experiment, the Stanford computer crashed in a brilliant stroke of fate, truncating the word "LOG" to "LO". As in, the professor enthusiastically reminds us, "Lo and behold!". 

 
In Lo and Behold, not even monks can escape the pervasive connectivity of modern times.

In Lo and Behold, not even monks can escape the pervasive connectivity of modern times.

 

Enthusiasm has always been a common trait of the subjects Herzog chooses to interview. Not all those who appear in Lo and Behold are as outwardly giddy as Kleinrock, but they're all willing to engage in conversations that go beyond the dry talking head fare that would typically show up in a tech documentary made by a less existentially inquisitive director (read: any other director). As the film progresses through ten chapters, we follow the Internet from its birth into its uncertain future, stopping along the way for musings on hacking, technological dependency, artificial intelligence, and more. The poetic is never sacrificed for the informative, and experts at the top of their fields end up stumped, chuckling while trying to answer questions like, "Does the Internet dream of itself?" Therein lies the greatest strength of a film built on information that, in a ceaselessly changing digital era, is already stale, or soon will be. Lo and Behold is less concerned with what the latest technologies are and more concerned with how they reflect the incomprehensible complexity of human life.

Human life, perhaps, like that on display in another new documentary: Gianfranco Rosi's Fire at Sea. The film weaves together two vastly different ways of life on the Italian island of Lampedusa, near the northern coast of Africa. The local population is just over six thousand people, many of them sailors and fishermen, who Rosi shows leading simple, pleasant lives. Far more urgent to the film are the refugees for whom Lampedusa serves as the closest landfall as they flee the turmoil in their home countries of Syria, Eritrea, and beyond. Recent records show migrants arriving on the island at rates of over 100,000 per year. In case those figures don't already paint a picture of the humanitarian importance of Lampedusa, consider that it is also the deadliest escape route; in a guest introduction at the Carbon Arc screening, Dalhousie professor Ruben Zaiotti noted that nearly 80% of all in-transit refugee casualties occur while crossing that small stretch of the Mediterranean. The dissonance between these two intersecting worlds serves as a starting point for Fire at Sea's impressive emotional heft.

 
Samuele, a young resident of Lampedusa, draws strong focus in Fire at Sea

Samuele, a young resident of Lampedusa, draws strong focus in Fire at Sea

 

But emotional heft does not a prize-winning documentary make. The Berlinale jury that awarded the Golden Bear, their top award, to the film must have also been impressed with its craft, of which there is no shortage. Rosi, who acted as cinematographer as well as director, draws deep meaning from luscious visuals. From the early shot of a lone searchlight scanning the choppy seas to the wide landscapes of the island's misty cliffs, each frame teases something just out of sight — a capsized boat, a body washed up on shore — that never materializes. This crisis, the film suggests, is happening right under our noses. Take Samuele, the young "star" subject whose loquaciousness is matched only by his appetite for spaghetti. By day, he carves grotesque faces into cacti and shoots at them with his slingshot; by night, he and his friends run around by the glow of flashlights. That the tension and imagery recall a horror movie is no mistake, but horror movies come built to release that tension. Here, the horror is of a different sort. By the time the camera finally dips below deck on a refugee ship, we're steeped in an almost insidious sense of quotidian normalcy that quadruples the gut punch of the innumerable lives lost. Much like Herzog bringing philosophical wonderment to technology in a way only he can, Rosi has taken a topic that easily could have been manipulative or pleading and deftly crafted a document as moving as it is timely and exigent.

Another back-to-back trip to the cinema is in store for Carbon Arc audiences this week, as we bring you two Friday night films on October 28. First up at 7pm is Ixcanul, a romantic drama set at the base of a Guatemalan volcano and filmed entirely in the indigenous Mayan language of Kaqchikel. At 9:15pm, we're offering a special Halloween presentation of The Love Witch, a feminist spin on 1960s thrillers from director Anna Biller, who also wrote, produced, and personally designed the sets and costumes.