Coma, no bears and human flowers of flesh
The 51st edition of the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma takes place from October 5 to 16. To read our previous FNC 2022 reviews, please click here.
Asking someone what they’ve been up to during quarantine is a new way to get to know a stranger quickly. In my experience, the answers range from detailing new skills (baking bread, learning Korean) to confessional (depression, emotional breakthroughs, etc.). For his latest film Coma, Bertrand Bonello ventures into the claustrophobic interior, but the film is by no means a bedroom piece. Bonello has fun coloring outside the lines by diving into the inner life of a teenage girl (Zombie Child Louise Labèque) quarantined alone in her Paris apartment.
By the way, I don’t know what rents are like in Paris, but I imagine a one bedroom apartment would be out of reach for most teenagers? It’s just one way Coma avoid realism.
The unnamed teenager spends her time performing soap opera-style drama with her Barbie and Ken dolls and watching videos of Patricia Coma (Julia Faure), a bizarre YouTuber. Bonello uses several techniques and styles to render both the claustrophobia of midlife and the internal chaos of spending it online. Animated scenes, FaceTime calls, Trump parodies, archival footage, and first-person shots all combine to create a sort of formalistic nod. Blink and you’ll miss it. In what looks like scenes from a nightmarish RPG, labeque The character wanders through a dark forest called the “Free Zone”, her heavy breathing punctuated by the heartbreaking screams of an NPC. Is this a metaphor for doomscrolling?
Coma seems most interested in the confusing and, at times, violent impulses that surround teenage girls, and which feel especially unavoidable during quarantine. However, not all of his ideas and experiences coalesce into one decipherable question. If the idea is to get a clear idea of who this teenager is, then the film never reaches that level of introspection. But that may be beside the point. After all, not everyone had an emotional breakthrough during quarantine. Some just spent way too much time on TikTok. (Sarah Foulkes)
Coma screenings on Friday, October 14 at 9:30 p.m. at the Cinéplex Quartier Latin.
If you were to attend a film seminar on “image politics”, chances are you would watch a film by Jafar Panahi. Often mixing elements of documentary and fiction, Panahi’s films question the unstable power of the image. no bear is the last film Panahi directed before being sentenced to six years in prison after questioning the arrests of fellow Iranian filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-Ahmad. God willing, it won’t be the last. The film follows Panahi as he makes a film from the confines of a small rented room in a border town. The film within the film, which is set in Turkey, features a couple’s struggle to obtain fake passports so they can flee Iran for France. But his internet connection is unstable, and directing via Zoom slows the process considerably, despite his dedicated staff. He has nightly meetings with his assistant manager, who delivers the hard drives to him and offers him a plan to be smuggled into Turkey. One day, when the connection is particularly bad, Panahi walks around aimlessly with her digital camera and takes pictures of the locals. At a key moment, he aims it off camera.
Shortly after, we will discover the importance of this off-screen space. A group of village elders visit Panahi to ask to see his picture of a couple in a forbidden relationship. Panahi claims never to have taken such a photo, but the elders won’t give it up. They want their proof. But what problems do images solve? And what problems do these images, or even their mere idea, create?
no bear is a vital film, made all the more poignant with the ongoing anti-government protests following the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the vice squad. Despite the high price Panahi paid for speaking out against his government, he reflects on his privilege as a famous filmmaker. Not only does it have the backing of the global film community, it has the power (and perils) of image making. He places himself in front of and behind the camera, shaping the image of his self-exposure. (Justine Smith)
no bear screens (with English Subtitles) Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022 at 7 p.m. at the Cinéma du Musée (1379A Sherbrooke W.)
Human Flesh Flowers
Sound design is essential at Helena Wittmann Human Flesh Flowers. Conventions of privileging human voices and extracting white noise from silence are ignored. The sound of the sea, in particular, seems to be an ever-present source of strangeness. Although not traditionally structured (or directed), the film follows Ida (Greek actress, Angeliki Papoulia, best known for her starring role in dog tooth) who lives on a sailboat with five men and his growing fascination with the French foreign legion. In direct conversation with Claire Denis’ masterpiece Good work, Wittmann distills the images further than the choreographed dances of desire present in Denis’ film. Here, the rituals of service are more foreign, faint memories injected with real and assumed violence. Just like another film presented at the festival, that of Albert Serra Pacification (which we reviewed as part of our TIFF coverage), the film explores the lingering and poisonous impact of European colonial involvement.
The film’s greatest strength, however, is its mesmerizing beauty. Somehow, Wittmann finds new ways to photograph the breathtaking and sensual sea. The sound and image are so rich you could almost touch them. By embracing haptics, the film draws inspiration from the weird patterns and sightings of dreams. Shot on textured 16mm, it not only deepens the film’s darkest moments, but enlivens them with movement. One of many films on this year’s program that pit the smallness of humanity against the enormity of nature, as the film explores the remnants of French colonial rule in Algeria, there is always a sense of danger and plague that overcomes our insignificance. (JS)
Human Flesh Flowers screenings on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 2:30 p.m. at the Cinémathèque Québécoise (335 de Maisonneuve).
For the complete program of the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, click here.
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