Friday, November 24, 2017

FILM REVIEW                                THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE

Directed by Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki
Actors: Sherwan Haji and Sakari Kuosmane

A ship arrives in a port and unloads; coal is poured into the hold.  Something moves in the coal bin and a man covered in coal dust emerges, climbs out and carefully makes his way through the now ghostly ship. 

He finds his way down the stairs leading off the ship.  It is night and he is in Finland.  Elsewhere in the city a man ties his tie, walks into the kitchen where a woman sits drinking and smoking.  He drops a set of keys on the table along with his wedding ring.  Neither says a word.  He walks out the door, goes to the parking garage where he opens the door to a storage space from which he removes a number of men’s shirts wrapped in cellophane which he places in the trunk of the car.  As he drives out of the garage in his big black car he quickly brakes so as not to run over a man covered in coal dust.  So the two protagonists, Khaled, a Syrian refugee and Wikstrom, a Finnish businessman are introduced to the audience, each at a transition point in his life.

Khaled is directed to a public shower in the train station by a street musician;  he cleans up and then asks the attendant for directions to a police station.  Once there he asks for asylum, is photographed, finger printed and eventually taken to a shelter for refugees/migrants.  Little has been said all this time.  At the shelter Khaled meets someone he can talk to, an Iraqi man who has been in the country for a year but doesn’t think he is progressing.  He’s still in the shelter and hasn’t found work.  

Khaled tells the following story to an immigration official in the hope he will be granted asylum. He is looking for his sister from whom he became separated at the Hungarian border.  In Syria he worked in a garage.  He and his sister arrived home one day at the same time to find their house had been destroyed, his parents and younger brother and uncle and cousins were dead.  He borrowed $6000 from his boss, the father of the women he had been engaged to who is also dead and they left.  They made it to Turkey and Greece paying smugglers along the way and reached the Serbian/Hungarian border where he went ahead while his sister was left behind.  He spent months searching for her.  One day he was beaten by neo-Nazis.  To escape from them he ran onto the ship which sailed with him on board.  He was helped by a sailor who brought him food and told him they were sailing to Finland, a place that treated people equally.  

In the meantime Wikstrom sells his stock of shirts in order to have the money to buy a restaurant, something he’s wanted to do for a long time.  And so both men start afresh, one hoping to find his sister and bring her to Finland and the other to start afresh as a restaurant owner.  Their lives overlap when Khaled accidentally enters Wikstrom’s life and Wikstrom decides to offer Khaled a job and a place to sleep. 

We experience the harshness and precariousness of the life of a Syrian refugee trying to make his way in Europe.  The film shows us his dependence on the officials of the state, the police and immigration officials, coldly doing their jobs and the response of locals, those who threaten him, those who are indifferent to him and those who respond to him in his time of need.  An added dimension to the film introduces us to Wikstrom a middle-aged Finnish man who has his own problems, who in the process of befriending Khaled learns from Khaled’s struggles and determination.

FILM REVIEW                            CARDINALS

Directors:  Aidan Shipley and Grayon Moore
Canadian Film

Sheila McCarthy (Valerie) plays the role of a parolee getting out of prison for the crime of running over and killing her neighbour, Michael in front of his house while drunk. Her two daughters, Eleanor (Katie Baland) and Zoe (Grace Glowicki) who have been living with their father, pick her up outside the prison and return to her suburban home. Although she is anxious to start over again the past has not gone away;, she is confronted by Michael’s son Mark (Noah Reid) who shows up at her house on the first morning she’s home.  He asks her to tell him her version of what happened that night.  She says that she had swerved to miss a dog that appeared in front of the car and instead hit his father.  She tells him she’d been drinking.  He asked her about the dog and who it belonged to.  We learn during this conversation that his mother had committed suicide.

Because Valerie has lost her driver’s license, her parole officer, Jonah (Peter Spence) rides his bike to see her.  She comes out to meet him and sees him kneeling down next to a dead cardinal.  He asks her for a spade to dig a hole to bury the bird that has flown into the basement window explaining that when cardinals see their own image in a window they think it’s a safe place to fly to.  Of course, flying into the window is anything but for the cardinal and we then wonder what the self-destructive act is in this film. Josh and Valerie go into the house where Valerie assures Josh she doesn’t have a drinking problem.  She exaggerated the issue at the trial because she thought it was expected by the crown and judge.  Josh says that she killed a man while drinking and driving therefore it was a bigger problem that she was admitting to.

Meanwhile Mark pursues the matter of the dog, visiting the neighbours whose dog Valerie said had been on the road the night she ran over his father.  He later shows up at the same AA meeting as Valerie where he tells the group he started drinking when his mother killed herself.  She had waited until he was 18 years old before the suicide.  She had not been able to cope after his father was run over by a friend.  The group leader then turns to Valerie and asks her to tell her story which she declines to do and runs out of the meeting.

It becomes apparent that there is more happening here than the story Valerie tells.  The story unwinds slowly at first and then with greater speed as the truth unfolds for Valerie who had thought she was safely home.

FILM REVIEW                               THE GUARDIANS

Director:  Xavier Beauvois
Actors:  Nathalie Baye – Hortense
Iris Beya           - Francine
               Cyril Descours – Georges
               Olivier Rabourdin – Clovis
               Nicolas Giraud   - Constant
French Film 

With the men in France conscripted to fight during WW1 the women were left behind to keep things going.  Hortense, the family matriarch and her daughter Solange are charged with running their farm when Hortense’s two sons, Constant and Georges and Solange’s husband, Clovis, are at the front.  The work is very labour intensive, horses pull the plow while Hortense walks behind holding the handles of the plow and Solange walks beside the horses leading the way.

When Constant, who had taught at the local school comes home on leave he encourages his mother to get some help.  The work is too heavy and too much for the two women.  Reluctant at first, she changes her mind and seeks help for the harvest by which time most of the helpers and all the men are spoken for but one woman who would be available to assist them after finishing what she was doing.  Francine, an orphan, arrives at the farm and is a diligent worker.  Hortense is impressed and keeps her on after the harvest.  Francine and Marguerite, Solange’s husband’s daughter from a previous marriage become friends.  Marguerite goes away to school and does not help out at the farm.  When Georges, the second son comes home on leave he is attracted to Francine and asks her to write to him.  They begin a romance by mail.  However, Marguerite who is in love with Georges and has always assumed they would marry becomes angry and jealous when she finds out.  Georges, in turn, tells Marguerite that he loves her as a sister which is not what she wants to hear.  This situation will have consequences for Francine.

Throughout the film we see the backbreaking work; hand threshing of wheat,tying up of the sheaves manually, daily milking and herding of the cattle, endless long, exhausting labour with little time or energy for much else.  And yet their world is a timeless one, a rural, agricultural way of life so close to the horror of war and yet removed from it.  The women do their best to work the farm while continuing to carry out the domestic work they have always done, with little extra help.  The old grandfather is no longer able to do heavy farm labour.  The young men show up briefly, one at a time and then leave to return to the uncertainty of the war. Will this be the last time they return to the farm, will they be taken prisoner, sustain injuries, be killed?  Whatever happens, life and the work of the farm must go on.

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