By Anne Brodie
An inspirational, fable-esque but true story of a woman who stands her ground against ancient sexist traditions and social backlash will have you cheering! God Exists Her Name is Petrunya starring talented and intuitive first-timer Zorica Nusheva, is set in a Roman Catholic Macedonian village of Stip, where each year on 19th of January – Orthodox Epiphany – an ages-old tradition is carried out. A cross is thrown into a fast-flowing river and men jump in to retrieve it. The winner enjoys special status for a year. Petrunya’s had a rough go of it, she has a degree but can’t find a job, even as a seamstress because she won’t sleep with the owner. Her mother and father are impatient and hostile to her and she’s frozen in self-doubt. Walking by the river during the ceremony, she jumps in and catches the cross, infuriating the men, and villagers and soon news teams come calling. A dogged female reporter puts her job on the line to help her but her cameraman isn’t interested in publicizing Petrunya’s triumph. She’s called “crazy/disturbed/troubled” but her strength and confidence only grow. She’s called a sheep and replies she’s just turned into a wolf. Petrunya is arrested, threatened and imprisoned and will not stand down, the reporter keeps reporting. She becomes a celebrity and pariah throughout Eastern Europe. The film is so beautifully executed, so well performed and its lifelike naturalism is deeply felt. What a glorious, fem-tastic experience! TVOD.
If you fear mushrooms, spores or burlap, avoid Jaco Bouwer’s Gaia, a horror film shot in South Africa’s Tsitsikamma National Park, where the modern world confronts the ancient. Much burlap is worn as forest people partake of trippy spores that grow, sometimes out of their bodies! Forest rangers Gabi and Winston( Monique Rockman, Anthony Oseyemi) are setting up observation cameras in the ancient forest when they’re separated. Gabi’s foot is pierced by a weapon set by father and son survivalists Barend and Stefan ( Carel Nel, Alex van Dyk); they find Gabi and carry her to their cabin, apply a homemade plaster to her wounds which immediately heal. They give her hallucinogens that cause vivid, troubling dreams. She catches Winston’s voice via walkie-talkie and sets out to find him, and discovers him dying, trapped in quicksand and rooted to a tree by spores. Barend explains that his wife died of bone cancer and blames the outside world, and particularly the chemical benzene for her death; he is atoning for the outside world in his devotion to living in purity in nature. Gabi wants to take young Stefan out of the woods for a better life in the city – the three take psychedelics together in hopes of finding a solution from “the goddess”. I didn’t find this film in the least bit horrific, it’s a slow-paced psychological drama pitting the natural against the unnatural in a battle to the death. What is interesting is the level of performance by actors mostly unknown to us in North America and secrets that are suggested but not resolved, leaving something for the imagination. The camerawork and ultra-creepy soundscape intrigue. TVOD.
The Sparks Brothers are underground, way underground and have been for fifty years! The California-born and usually mistaken for British brothers Ron Mael and Russell Mael cut bold figures as they entertain adoring followers. Strangely unknown considering their talent and influence, the Sparks Brothers were never mainstream. Edgar Wright’s wonderful documentary on this iconoclastic duo that shatters convention, is a breath of fresh air. The Sparks Brothers’ lyrics are wonderfully off-beat, amusing and often on the nose. Onstage they couldn’t be more different. Ron, keyboardist and co-conspirator fixes his gaze on the audience and remains still and staring, Russell moves, grooves and creates out-of-body dances to match their out-of-this-world artistic sensibilities. The brothers have never married, have always lived together and appear as one wonderful entity. Theirs is a unique seedpod for ideas. Fans say their piece, including Flea, Jane Wiedlin, Beck, Jack Antonoff, Jason Schwartzman, Neil Gaiman, Mike Meyers, Giorgio Moroder, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Todd Rundgren, Patton Oswalt and Bjork, for heaven’s sake. The Mael’s soundscapes can have profound effects. Listen to this, the incredible My Baby’s Taking Me Home:
Twenty-five albums, 300 songs, and still creating and touring at ages 75 and 72, Ron and Russell will, at last, be opened to the mainstream thanks to this doc. I am really ticked that I have been deprived of their music all these years. Hot Docs digital.
Majid Majidi ‘s heart-wrenching film Sun Children is a tribute to the estimated 152 million child labourers working to feed their families and themselves. Real workers in Teheran, aged four to whatever star in this fact-based film about their own lives, working in construction, tire stealing, pigeon care, hauling loads, criminal work, these kids have little choice but to work or starve. The donation-funded School of the Sun caters to street children, teaches them the basics and prepares them for a better life but it’s an uphill task; the building owner is set to evict the 280 exploited child students. Twelve-year-old Ali is the teachers’ go-to guy for updates on the kids, their health and family situation, he is also digging under the school, on the orders of a local crime boss to find “treasure” beneath an adjoining cemetery. He works in secret, a herculean effort, digging through stone walls, earth, tree trunks and sewer walls. Ali’s mother is tied to a bed in a psych hospital – he is well and truly on his own. His friend, a girl of maybe eight sells sponges on the transit system, and she’s jailed. It’s a hell on earth and real for invisible children abandoned by society, an important film, well balanced, heightened by outstanding “performances” by real street kids including Ali Nassirian, Javad Ezati, Tannaz Tabatabaei and Shamila Shirzad as the sponge seller. Bring your tissues. TVOD.
Schitt’s Creek’s Annie Murphy’s new AMC series Kevin Can F**k Himself looks at the extreme duality in the life of a married woman n Worcester, Mass. Its unique concept creates an emotional button pusher. Half the series takes place in a sitcom world of bright colours, laugh tracks and forced smiles in which Allison’s husband Kevin is the life of the grown child party. Concerned with running his playgroup of similarly stunted friends and neighbour men, he is oblivious to his long-suffering wife’s very existence. He doesn’t remember anniversaries, or to treat her like a person and not a servant and the butt of the boys’ jokes. The other half of the series is in the dimly-lit, half-life Allison endures, cleaning up after her lazy, lying husband, feeling crushed and trapped, experiencing major downers and unable to find an out. Few people from the sitcom side are invited into her personal world, the neighbour next door who cares more than she appears to and tells her the truth of her situation, her high school flame returned to town and characters dotted along the way of her painful journey. It’s a brilliant idea, and a spiritual rollercoaster, and we are always on the verge of anger on her behalf. Kevin Can F**k Himself is original, and at times profound.
Kevin Hart leaves his comedy persona outside for the Netflix drama Fatherhood. Hart successfully mines a previously unseen side of his abilities as Matt, a married man awaiting the imminent birth of his baby, in a loving relationship with his wife Liz (Deborah Ayorinde). They agree to a sudden request for a Caesarean section as the baby’s ready. Maddie is born but sadly, the next day Liz dies. Hart is thrust into an unwanted new reality, unsure of himself as a single father, depressed and horrified. His mother (Thedra Porter) and Liz’ mother (Alfre Woodard) are there for him but interfere when he is devastated and unable to absorb what has happened or function. We follow Matt and Maddie as he learns to cope, Maddie asks questions and life proceeds. The film is based on the true story of Matt and Maddy Logelin and Matt’s book “Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Love & Loss”, directed by Paul Weitz. and it was produced for the Obama Netflix unit.
Disney+ poignant Original Documentary: Wolfgang is two stories in one, representing the split psyche of the smiling, impish Hollywood celebrity chef and personality who reigned over the city for decades. How did Wolfgang Puck, an impoverished child in the Austrian Alps arrive in Los Angeles at age 24 and set up an international cuisine kingdom? Wolf was his mother’s illegitimate son, and when she remarried, her husband took exception to the boy and beat and psychologically abused him. Teenaged Wolf ran away vowing never to go home again, and he didn’t until recently for the purposes of the documentary, to visit his sister. His journey took him to Paris’ renowned Maxim’s restaurant and other eateries and learned about farm-to-table food, took that knowledge to the US and finally Hollywood. Puck’s food was unique; he launched the “new American cuisine”, invented the open kitchen to honour the work of the cooks and chef, made smoked salmon and caviar pizza, his signature dish, out of sheer necessity to please Joan Collins, and launched a pizza craze. Puck married three times and has four children – but he was there very little for them as a father, so busy was he greeting celebs, cooking and working on his TV show. Puck owned 63 restaurants at his peak, prepared food lines and a major brand; he admits he’d like to slow down but finds it impossible. He says “making people happy is my purpose in life” and Byron, one of his sons, whose growing up he missed now works with him in the kitchen. This is frank stuff, the abuse portions are unbearable, but his will and resilience forced him to run away and towards life anew. He became that thing his stepfather told him he could never be – a success. Director David Gelb’s emotionally gripping and often exuberant film is unexpected and a tribute to Puck’s inner steel.
Mark Kidel’s elegant 2017 documentary Becoming Cary Grant on Crave, is a psychological biography of one of Hollywood’s greatest and most complex leading men. Born in poverty as Archie Leach, the tragic, insecure boy from Bristol later in life created Cary Grant, a smooth, dapper, charming and remarkable even-keeled. As Grant once famously stated, “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I do”. But, Cary/Archie was besieged by demons from multiple childhood traumas. Later in life, he underwent experimental treatment by a Los Angeles doctor who oversaw at least 100 guided LSD trips. He was desperate to understand his failures with women and what he perceived as his failures as a human being. The doc includes his painful recollections of doomed love and broken marriages and his recognition of the fact that he sabotaged them. Your heart will break for this poor man, undone by a major event in his childhood with which he failed to come to terms until his fifties. This masterfully made film is about the universality of our mere humanity, and how being the biggest star on earth can’t heal a broken soul. The materials came from Grant’s unpublished autobiography which, if it had been published, would have completely undermined his Hollywood image. Perhaps that’s why it remained unpublished, as there was too much money to be made in the Cary Grant business. There are other issues never touched in this doc that back in the day would have hurt him but today, no big deal.
The sobering doc Chasing Childhood calls for a reset to the way children are overseen and pushed in 2021. Margaret Munzer Loeb and Eden Wurmfeld examine concerning parenting trends and how they impact young people. A researcher asks a class of children if they go outside and play after school. Nope. They are seven days a week in educational programmes and schoolwork, leaving little time to test themselves and explore the world outside their home and phone. The filmmakers show that children are suffering from record anxiety and depression having to constantly perform for parents who are never satisfied, so great is their zeal to get their child into the right university. It begins in preschool, decades before college, shaping and pushing and limiting. Educators, psychologists, reformed helicopter parents and adults raised under them appear in the doc to push the case for preparing children to prepare not for university but for life. A recovering addict says her mom only wanted to raise happy, healthy children but didn’t know-how. Instead of exploring the world or taking part in communal events like playing, children are inside, preparing for the next test hurdle. There is no chance to learn ranges of skills to become effective adults and there is no freedom. Meet a woman called “the world’s worst mom” in the media for letting her nine-year-old boy walk to school in NYC alone, when they’d prepared and encouraged him. Many helicoptered children can’t deal with fear of the world outside, because they aren’t in it. overprotected. A repentant helicopter mother says children are not meant to sit still. It’s profoundly sad and makes me wonder what deficiencies make parents imprison their children and track them online. Featured experts include Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult, Peter professor of psychology at Boston College and author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, Dr. Michael superintendent of schools, Patchogue-Medford, Long Island, and Lenore Skenazy, founder of Let Grow, a non-partisan nonprofit working to make it easy, normal and legal to give kids independence. TVOD.
Streaming globally on July 1 on Discovery+ is The Surge at Mount Sinai, a documentary shot inside the COVID-19 wards in the world’s virus hotspot in March 2020, New York City. The shock of the virus’ impact on the doctors, nurses and staff is palpable and urgent. They scramble to function with new safety measures, caring for and comforting patients, unable to see family, and face death. See the ambulance workers bring in new patients while refrigerated trucks pile, rapidly fill with bodies of those that didn’t make it. COVID had become a hard reality in March forcing lockdowns, masks, extreme sanitation measures, new equipment like ventilators and body bags and the frontline workers were coping. The medical staff locked arms and faced the crush of sick and dying, sometimes, working days in a row, uncertain about their safety and yet tackling it all. They went through hell together, they bonded, loved their patients and helped many get well. We’re slowly emerging from COVID but we musn’t forget the lessons or the bravery, commitment and love that helped heal, not only in New York’s Mount Sinai but in all hospitals.
The annual Lavazza Drive-In Film Festival 2021 is underway at Ontario Place June 27 to July 17 at Ontario Place, representing the “uniqueness of multiethnic Canada with a special focus on Italy”. The ICFF and CHIN Radio/TV series offers
Peace by Chocolate
Robert De Niro’s The Comeback Trail
The British film, Dream Horse with Toni Colette
Bye Bye Morons from France
Rwanda’s Petit Pays
Mexico’s My Boyfriend’s Meds
Your Eyes Tell from Japan
On the Edge from Russia
China’s Septet: The Story of Hong Kong
Angrezi Medium from India
Germany’s The Goldfish
Okay! Madam from South Korea
Israel’s The Windermere Children
Canada’s multiculturalism is beautifully represented and in the lakeside location with the stars in the sky, what better way to celebrate Lavazza Drive-In FF’s tenth anniversary?