The creative team of We Stand on Guard does a stellar job of introducing a premise that seems like it could be yet another false poke at Canada as a joke but it appears that the great white north is being approached with careful consideration. The Canadian easter eggs are abound with Tim Hortons and the CBC but there are some great sensible additions such as the French speaking character named Les LePage and even having a member of the freedom fighters question Amber when they first meet to validate her identity in the form of a hockey question. It just makes sense that a fellow Canadian would ask another who won the Stanley Cup in 2011 to make sure they are who they say they are. All in all, We Stand on Guard has a very promising start that can really dive deeper into the political conflict.
The Highway of Tears refers to a section of Highway 16 in British Columbia where 18 official and at least 40 unconfirmed women have gone missing or been found murdered. The majority of them have been indigenous women, and the area itself reflects a dark history of abuses and systematic racism. It is 724 km stretch of road with countless gravel roads in different states of disrepair shooting off of it like small tributaries. Without a car this area is treacherous, and few of the towns along the huge stretch of country have doctors, schools or opportunities for employment. There is barely any transit for those without cars (and with high levels of poverty, many don’t have them), leading many to resort to hitchhiking.
There is such a thing as “pre-critic” movies. These are the films that had a major psychic impact on a writer or thinker way before they have even considered (or even imagined) the possibility of having cinematic sensibilities or intellectual engagement with movies as art-objects. These movies tend to be pop culture touchstones; movies like the first Star Wars film or Ghostbusters or Pulp Fiction are common ones in part because of their ubiquity. But as with all generalizations, there are always outliers and oddities. One of my pre-critic movies, which I saw as a young man of fifteen on Canadian cable on a sunny Saturday afternoon, was Vincenzo Natali’s 1997 sci-fi horror film Cube. To this day, it remains one of my very favourite films, a scrappy little piece of government-funded genre weirdness that gets by on crack direction, weird acting choices, and spectacular sound design.
The dark unforgiving waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the mouth of the St. Lawrence river provide the backdrop to Les Loups, a beautifully crafted melodrama. Set in a small island Quebec town during the spring thaw, a stranger arrives during the height of the controversial seal hunts. Vibrant and mysterious, many suspect that Elie, the young woman from Montreal, is not who she says and is likely a reporter or an activist bent on portraying the townsfolk in a bad light.
It’s clear from the opening shot that director François Delisle is confident in this film. The opening shot doesn’t cut for minutes, the black and white cinematography sets the mood immediately as a pedophile confesses in detail a murder of an 8 year old boy he committed a decade ago. The child’s name is Hugo, and his parents are Irene (Fanny Mallette) and Christophe (Sébastian Ricard). They have been separated for about the as long as their son has been missing, and each has found small but significant respite from their grief in certain activities.
When looking at horror films, there’s something about Canadian horror that helps it stand out and apart from its American counterpart. While most of the blockbusters out today depend on cheap thrills and scares alone, Canadian horror aims to make you think while trying to scare the pants off you. Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral (2012) is one such film that doesn’t try to scare you by having monsters jump out at you at every turn, but lets the audience’s imagination do all the work.
Montreal actor, writer and director Xavier Dolan’s fifth film Mommy is without a doubt one of the best of the year. Although thematically similar to his 2009 debut J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother), which won three separate awards at Cannes that year, Mommy follows the mother’s perspective of the relationship instead of that of the son’s. It is interesting, despite their many parallels, how very different the two films actually are. With Mommy, Dolan not only seems more assured of himself as a filmmaker but appears to have developed into quite an auteur as well. Creating a film so close in theme to his first can be seen as somewhat of a gamble, for many individuals might fear the film to be repetitious, a carbon copy, yet here is where Dolan demonstrates his disturbingly instinctual talent. Because he revisits the mother-son leitmotif in his works, he is strengthening both his storytelling as well as his understanding of the unique relationship. In the five years since his introductory film, he has grown from adolescent to adult, resulting in a shift from youthful intuition to a certain maturity on the subject. The result is downright brilliant.
Kevin Smith’s early work, guerilla-style films about disenfranchised geeks and losers, helped gain him a strong and dedicated audience. While many of his most dedicated fans seem to find the best in even his weakest films, Smith has never found the same success in critical circles. The negative critiques of his films has only been exasperated by Smith himself, who seems to struggle with dissenting takes on his work, leading him to withdraw into podcasting. Though this was not a strategic choice on Smith’s part, it seemed to pay off as his audience only grew and he is now among the most influential people in the ‘Twittersphere’. This allowed Smith to distribute his 2011 film Red State himself. He described the entire process as “Indie Film 2.0.”; it was no longer about just making the film yourself but distributing it as well.