Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Remember the classic South Park episode titled “An Elephant Makes Love to a Pig”? Well, Danish film Men and Chicken at times feels a motion-picture follow-up of that episode. At least that’s how it felt to me when I saw it at the Palm Springs International Film Festival on Saturday night, Jan. 9.

An old man is on his death bed as the film begins. His son, Gabriel (David Dencik)—who has a strange appearance, including a cleft-lip scar—arrives to see him. The old man asks about Gabriel’s brother, Elias (Mads Mikkelsen); Gabriel begins to get nauseous. As Gabriel goes to the sink in the hospital room, his father dies.

Meanwhile, Elias is on a date with a woman in a wheelchair who is apparently a psychiatrist. Elias, too, appears to have a physical abnormality on his face, including a cleft lip. After immediately ending the date, he’s shown in the restaurant bathroom masturbating as Gabriel calls him on his cell phone to tell him their father has died.

When Gabriel and Elias are together, they find a video tape their father left for them that reveals a family secret: He wasn’t their real father. They were adopted and both have different mothers who died during childbirth—and their real father is some sort of mysterious scientist on an island.

They travel to the island, where there are only 41 residents. As they arrive at their father’s mansion—which looks burned out and ready to fall down—they are met by their three biological brothers: Gregor (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), Franz (Søren Malling) and Josef (Nicolas Bro). The three brothers are not pleased—and beat up Gabriel and Elias.

Gabriel and Elias return the following day and eventually find themselves hanging out their brothers, all of whom have physical abnormalities, including cleft lips. Meanwhile, all of the characters act … strangely. Elias continues to masturbate at random moments; Gabriel has moments when he throws up in his mouth; Gregor is obsessed with trying to meet women and asks Gabriel for his help in doing so; the other two don’t seem to know how to live like civilized people

You can guess how Men and Chicken is going to end within the first 30 minutes. In order to get to that predictable ending, you have to endure moments of random masturbation, barnyard animals walking with human feet or tiny arms, physical beat-downs at the dinner table, and, of course, the adventure of Gabriel trying to get into the basement.

Director Anders Thomas Jensen’s film has been called a “dark comedy.” Well, there very few moments of comedy. Men and Chicken is more of a kooky cult film that often doesn’t make sense. At least Men and Chicken is only 104 minutes long—and there is indeed an ending.

Published in Reviews

Former Chilean President Salvador Allende remains a divisive figure more than 40 years after his death. The documentary Beyond My Grandfather Allende, being screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, shows that even his family is divided when talking about him.

Allende was elected to the presidency in Chile in 1970, carrying out his vision for “The Chilean Path to Socialism.” On Sept. 11, 1973, the Chilean military carried out a coup. It’s been said that Allende committed suicide before members of the military entered the presidential palace. While his family members have accepted his death as a suicide, many people don’t believe he killed himself.

In Beyond My Grandfather Allende, his granddaughter, Marcia Tambutti Allende (the director of the film), is shown with one of her cousins looking at newly found photographs of their grandfather. Marcia asks whether their grandmother, Hortensia Bussi, the former first lady of Chile (who was still alive during the filming of the documentary but died in 2009), has seen the photos.

Allende’s living daughters—Isabel Allende and Carmen Paz Allende—are shown. (Another daughter, Beatriz Allende, committed suicide in Cuba several years after the coup.) When Marcia tries to talk to Hortensia Bussi about her grandfather, Hortensia Bussi is hesitant to discuss him—stating that she is tired and wants to stop the interview. The coup deeply wounded the family, scattering the exiled family to Mexico, Cuba and other places around the world.

The film offers several revelations about Salvador Allende. A family friend discusses Allende’s numerous failed campaigns for various positions in the Chilean government, including three failed campaigns for president. Hortensia discusses how tiring the campaigns could be, and how long her husband would be away from the family. Salvador Allende was quite a ladies man, and Hortensia admits she knew about his extramarital affairs, but that their bond was nonetheless tight and couldn’t be broken.

Unfortunately, the film does not reveal much about the Allende family. Another one of the Allende grandchildren tells Marcia that the questions they have about their family are worthwhile, and they should get the answers. However, Marcia’s mother, Isabel—who recently served as a cabinet member in Chile’s government—tells her there needs to be an understanding as to why these questions are not up for discussion.

While the Chilean people argue over the coup and the Chile that followed under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Allende’s family members struggle over simple family history that they will not or cannot discuss. Beyond My Grandfather Allende doesn’t reveal much—except for the deep pain being suffered by Salvador Allende’s family.

Beyond My Grandfather Allende will again be screened as part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival at 3:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 5. For more information, visit the festival website.

Published in Reviews

After Jack Pettibone Riccobono filmed his 2007 documentary short The Sacred Food on the White Earth Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota, he realized the reservation had a darker story to tell.

He went back to film The Seventh Fire, which was shown at the Palm Springs International Film Festival on Sunday, Jan. 3, and will be again screened on Tuesday, Jan. 5.

The Seventh Fire follows two residents of White Earth, Rob Brown and Kevin Fineday—both of whom are Native American gang members. Brown is shown throughout the film using drugs, and the law eventually catches up to him to add three more years in jail to the 12 he’s already served throughout his life. Kevin, Brown’s 17-year-old protégé, is following in Brown’s footsteps.

Before Sunday’s screening at the Palm Canyon Theatre, Riccobono and Brown sat down for an interview.

The film lacks a back-story about the reservation and the Ojibwe tribe. Brown filled me in on some basic history.

“The tribe is actually the second-largest tribe in North America,” Brown said. “I’m enrolled in a Minnesota Chippewa tribe, which is a combination of bands of Chippewa Indians. We call ourselves the Ojibwe, but in our language, we’re referred to as the ‘first people.’ We migrated from the East Coast and settled around the Great Lakes. We had to fight the tribes that lived there before, because we were given this prophecy: This was our final place for living. That’s how we ended up all around the Great Lakes.”

As far as opportunity goes on the reservation, Brown said the situation is dire.

“I had the opportunity to grow up there sporadically,” Brown said. “(I was also) in 39 foster homes throughout the state of Minnesota. Occasionally, I would return to the reservation. The living conditions would vary. There would be some working families who were pretty well-established and financially established, but the majority of the homes had very limited income.

“People would come and tell us we were an impoverished community, and I didn’t know what that meant. Right now, I think it contributes to this mundane atmosphere, where people are just disgusted and repulsed by waking up, so they aren’t embracing the life as they should. There’s no love for life anymore, so it’s contributing to depression, crime, suicide, drug use and everything else. It’s ripe for problems, and now since heroin and meth came along, it’s out of control. The situation is critical and dire. It’s just insane.”

Riccobono noticed some of these problems when he went to the reservation to film The Sacred Food.

“It was about wild rice, which is a sacred food for the tribe and part of the Seven Fires prophecy,” Riccobono said. “When they were leaving in the northeast, they received a prophecy to migrate west and look for where food grows on the water. In the lakes region, in the upper U.S. and Canada, they found the wild rice, which they found to be a sacred food from the creator. I made that short, and two years after I made that, I read about the issue about inner-city gang culture and prison culture migrating out to these Native American communities. So I started to look into it, and there was very little out there in terms of films, books or journalistic pieces, so I said, ‘Let me go back to the place where I know people, and see people there who might be willing to talk about it.’

“In October of 2010, I went back and visited the tribal college and played the short. Rob was in the class that day, and we first met. We agreed to move forward on the project and did 14 shoots over two years.”

Riccobono said he had to earn the trust of both Rob Brown and Kevin Fineday in order to film them doing drugs, dealing drugs, or in the midst of chaos.

“It was a long journey making the film, and it’s a huge leap of faith and trust you build up with your main subjects,” Riccobono said. “We always thought of Rob and Kevin as collaborators on the film, and they shot footage on their own. Rob contributed numerous writings of his own to the film, and we feature one of his poems.

“It was an interesting artistic process. For the community where we shot the majority of the film, the fact we kept coming back meant something, because a lot of people don’t go back again. We did 14 shoots over two years. I think the only way you can build trust is by being serious, keeping coming and respecting people’s wishes. If people didn’t want to be filmed, we didn’t film them. We tried to discuss the project and what we were making.”

Brown is shown in the film surrendering to go to jail for three years. It also includes scenes from a party that was thrown for him the night before, and Brown is shown doing drugs in the morning before making a phone call to his father—and breaking down. At the end of the documentary, Brown explains that again being in jail gave him a different perspective—after the drugs were out of his system.

“I served 37 months,” Brown said. “I took a full inventory of what I’ve been in my life … owning everything, and making no excuses for it, then seriously sitting down and choosing to live in a different way.

“I were to put it on one concept, it would be that I had to stop being reactive and start being proactive. I finally understood that. Now I’m learning different things and appropriating them by how I think and how I act. I base these things on respect, good nature, cheer and meaning the things I’m talking about. I’m finding a lot of success with that.”

Brown conceded it’s hard to watch what he does in the film.

“It’s hard for me to watch it now,” Brown said. “I don’t recognize that person, even though I was that person, and I am that person. My speech is different. I was so under the influence, and I had no idea it was that bad. I never want to go back to that. I can’t.”

Brown is currently unemployed.

“I do have a trailer house on the reservation, and right now, I’m not working, but I do plan to start working when I get back,” he said. “It’s hard for me, because it’s hard to tell an employer that I need a full-time job—and I might have to leave for about a week and go to a film festival or whatnot. There are things that are piggybacking from this film, and I have no idea where that’s going, but all I know is I want to be available whenever the opportunity presents itself.”

While Brown is doing better, the status of Kevin Fineday is up in the air.

“Kevin is back on the reservation, and Rob has had some contact with him on social media. The last I heard from him was about a month ago,” Riccobono said. “We reiterated that he has an open invitation to go to the La Plazita Institute in New Mexico, which is our main outreach partner that does amazing work connecting Native American youth to their indigenous culture. In the film, we see that he has a chance to go there, but he’s not really willing to take that leap. I don’t think he’s in that place yet to change his life. We tried to show him the film a couple of times now, and unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet. We’ll keep trying, and we’re going to be doing outreach campaigns in Minnesota and screenings there, so I think he’ll have a chance to see it. Maybe seeing it will have an impact on him.”

Brown is the father of six children, and he’s hoping that he can make an impact on the reservation in a positive way.

“There are upstanding members of our community doing things that they never thought they’d be doing, and trying to raise their kids to go to school,” Brown said. “There are so many problems. I have six children, and I’m anxiety-based about their future, but I take into consideration what I’ve been through, and I know what I’ve passed on to my kids. All my kids have shown me they’re resilient, and they’re tough. I know they’ll be OK, because they’re strong, and they’re showing me that. … They’re all considering moving in with me, and three years ago, they wouldn’t have considered that.”

During the interview, Brown had a book of his poetry that is combined with stills from The Seventh Fire. He’s actually a talented writer.

“All I know is when I share my writings that it draws a lot of emotion out of people,” he said. “What I can write and put on paper can make people cry, and I know that’s a gift. It’s not something everybody can’t do.”

The Seventh Fire will again be screened at 12:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 5, as part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival. For more information, visit the festival website.

Published in Reviews

The annual Palm Springs International Film Festival’s Awards Gala provides a cadre of A-list film actors and directors with oddly titled awards for their trophy cases—along with a low-stress, fun night in Palm Springs, the “home away from L.A.” for many celebrities.

This year’s honorees at the Saturday, Jan. 2, gala at the Palm Springs Convention Center included Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Johnny Depp, Bryan Cranston, Michael Fassbender, Cate Blanchett, Brie Larson, Saoirse Ronan, Alicia Vikander, Rooney Mara and Tom McCarthy.

The 11-day festival proudly presents a broad gamut of films within nearly every genre, produced both here and abroad; some of these films receive little or no viewership in the commercial marketplace otherwise. In contrast, the celebrity cast of honorees and presenters—Michael Keaton, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet and Ridley Scott were among the latter this year—as usual included a host of attention-grabbing nominees for the rapidly approaching major award season in Los Angeles. This proven strategy creates fund-raising fodder for the mix of industry players and local philanthropists who pay to get inside the Convention Center event. This year, more than $2 million was raised to support the year-round community service and film appreciation activities of the Palm Springs International Film Society, organizers said.

However, for me, the night proved to be a bust. While larger national media sources received prime space on the red carpet, the stars—most of whom were accompanied by a phalanx of PR representatives—were quickly whisked past those of us at the very end of the carpet where media outlets not offering national outreach were banished. (As for photos … the Independent was denied a photo credential, period … hence the mediocre smart-phone pics below.)

Special recognition was earned by Mr. Depp, who took time to amble at a leisurely pace, offering smiles and a couple of mumbled responses to urgently proffered inquiries.

In summation, I offer, for your enjoyment, a few freeze-frame stills and a brief video I shot to prove that I did, in fact, cover the event.


Published in Snapshot

The After Dark program of the Palm Springs International Film Festival features movies that have more of an edge than most of festival fare—a fact that was illustrated by Saturday night’s showing of The Invitation, which thus far has been one of the festival’s most buzzed-about entries.

The After Dark series also includes music performances by local bands in collaboration with the Coachella Valley Art Scene. On Friday night, before the screening of Shrew’s Nest, Giselle Woo performed a short set. On Saturday, The Flusters performed before The Invitation. On Friday, Jan. 8, Maddy Ebersole will be performing before the screening of February, and on Saturday, Jan. 9, EeVaan Tre will be performing before Men and Chicken. All After Dark screenings take place at the Palm Canyon Theatre at 11 p.m. For those early birds, never fear: All films in the After Dark series are also screened during more reasonable hours of the day.

The Invitation is a hard film to describe—especially without giving away significant spoilers. The film starts as a couple, Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), are on their way to a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills—and they are not comfortable about where they are going. Suddenly, they hit a coyote in the road; Will puts the coyote out of its misery before the couple resumes driving.

The hosts of the party, David (Michiel Huisman) and Eden (Tammy Blanchard), are living in the home that Eden once shared with Will, before they divorced after a horrible tragedy. Shortly after arriving, Will and Eden have a strange interaction, away from the other guests, after Will goes through some sort of flashback. It isn’t the only episode Will has at the dinner party; is he suffering from some sort of psychosis … or are these interactions real?

Later, David and Eden welcome another guest, a towering man named Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch) who doesn’t fit in. David and Eden then make the big reveal: During a recent trip to Mexico, they joined a religious group.

What happens after that is truly insane and unpredictable. The listing for The Invitation states that it will make you not want to ever again accept a dinner-party invite—and that may be an understatement. The film, written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, and directed by Karyn Kusama (Aeon Flux, Jennifer’s Body), is one of the most bone-chilling and shocking films I’ve ever seen.

Get your tickets to next Saturday’s showing while you still can.

The Invitation will again be screened at 7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 9, at the UltraStar Mary Pickford Theater in Cathedral City. For more information, visit the PSIFF website

Published in Reviews

In 1953, Edmund Hillary and a Sherpa named Tenzing Norgay became the first human beings known to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Ever since, conquering the world’s tallest mountain has become a goal for many people—especially wealthy Westerners. Sherpa, which is being screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, shows the dark side of what has become an important part of Nepal’s economy.

The Sherpas are an ethnic group, some of whom are elite mountain climbers who believe Mount Everest (or, as they call it, Chomolungma) to be very sacred. These Sherpa people are hired by Western expedition companies to help get clients to the top of Mount Everest; many people pay six figures, or more, to attempt the climb—sometimes multiple times.

Sherpa follows Phurba Tashi Sherpa, who holds a joint world record for the amount of ascents of Mount Everest, at 21. In 2014, he set out on his 22nd attempt. The movie also features Russell Brice, a New Zealander who owns an expedition company and has been leading expeditions since 1974; he employs Phurba to lead other Sherpas under his employ.

Australian filmmaker Jennifer Peedom was filming an expedition when disaster struck: Around 6:45 a.m., April 18, 2014, a 14 million ton block of ice came crashing down and caused an avalanche that killed 16 Sherpas. In the aftermath, upset Sherpas leading some of the expeditions began to rebel.

Many previous films have given short shrift to Sherpas, even though they face the most danger during attempts to climb Mount Everest. Sherpas have the job of crossing back and forth through the Khumbu Icefall, where they place ladders across endless crevices through the ice—and face the threat of avalanches and falling ice.

After the avalanche, upset Sherpas demand that the expedition companies work with the Nepalese government to ensure better pay, and to make sure families receive benefits if they die. Nepal’s government brings in more than $3 million annually from these expeditions, which boost Nepal’s economy by more than $300 million each year.

Of course, the wealthy Westerners are annoyed by the striking Sherpas. Brice flies via helicopter from the mountain to meet with a government official, who then flies in to tells the Sherpas to continue to do their jobs. This makes matters worse—as the Westerners realize that it’s impossible to reach the summit without the Sherpas.

While Sherpas are among the best-paid people in Nepal, they still make just a tiny fraction of what people pay to take the expeditions. The film shows the struggles of the Sherpas. While the late Tenzing Norgay became famous, Edmund Hillary received far more credit and acclaim. In fact, he later regretted becoming the first Sherpa to reach the summit the mountain. His adult children are interviewed in the documentary.

Also addressing issues such as on the mountain, and the number of dead climbers’ bodies on the mountain, Sherpa is an insightful, revealing film that shows the dark side of these expeditions and tells the stories of the brave men struggling in a third-world economy who make climbing Everest possible.

Sherpa will also be screened at 2 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 6, and 9:30 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 9. For more information, visit the PSIFF site.

Published in Reviews

As festival season heads into full swing, I can’t help but wonder: How involved is the average Coachella Valley local in these big events?

Take the Palm Springs International Film Festival, for example. I’ve heard grousing that the festival, which started out as a smaller event designed primarily for locals, has grown into an event that’s more for L.A. and film-industry folks, and less for Coachella Valley residents. (When you consider how hard it is for locals to get tickets to some of the bigger film-fest events and screenings, you may realize that those grousers have a point.)

This brings us to a couple of February’s bigger events—especially Modernism Week. I have a confession to make: I have never attended a Modernism Week event. The same goes for many of my friends.

Why haven’t I ever attended a Modernism Week event? While it’s true that many Modernism Week tours sell out weeks and months in advance, it’s also true that a lot of other events—good events, some of which are low-cost or free—don’t sell out. Therefore, I can’t blame a lack of availability.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that when it comes to the behemoth series of events that is Modernism Week (which includes many hundreds of things to do), I didn’t really know where to start. Hence the “Modernism 101” story.

My goal in doing this piece was to answer a lot of the questions I (and, presumably, other locals) have about Modernism Week—and modernism in general, for that matter. Did I succeed? Judge for yourself.

Our great arts coverage coming to this month (and already out in our February print edition): a story on renowned local designer Christopher Kennedy; a piece on the neighborhood tours offered during Modernism Week; and a primer on another cool arts event happening this month: the Palm Springs Fine Art Fair.

I promise: I will attend at least one or two Modernism Week events this year. If you’re in the same boat that I am, I hope these stories will help you decide to take part in this year’s Modernism Week, too.

I hope you enjoy all of our coverage. As always, thanks for reading.

Published in Editor's Note

In 2007, neuroscientist and writer Lisa Genova released her novel Still Alice; it would find a home on The New York Times best-seller list for more than 40 weeks.

That book has been adapted into a film starring Julianne Moore, and the Palm Springs International Film Festival honored her with the Desert Palm Achievement Award for her performance. I caught a screening of Still Alice as part of the PSIFF on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 7, at the Palm Springs Regal 9.

The film begins at a conference at UCLA, where Dr. Alice Howland (Moore), a Columbia University professor of linguistics, is due to give a speech. She takes the podium sounding confident and knowledgeable—until she stumbles on a word that she can’t seem to remember.

After she arrives home in New York, her husband, John (Alec Baldwin), is nowhere to be found. She later decides to take a run through the campus of Columbia University—when she discovers she doesn’t know where she is. When she’s at home cooking a holiday dinner, she struggles to remember a bread-pudding recipe.

Because of all these problems, she nervously meets with a neurologist (Stephen Kunken). Shortly after, it’s revealed to Alice and John that she has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The news is a crushing blow to Alice, who struggles to maintain her position at Columbia. She attempts to retain her memory through the use of her iPhone; she also has bullet points typed out for her courses. However, these steps don’t necessarily work.

Alice isn’t the only one directly affected by the diagnosis: It’s explained that the disease is genetically passed on, and therefore, her children could be at risk for the disease. Her pregnant daughter, Anna (Kate Bosworth), and her son, Tom (Hunter Parrish), both get tested, while her daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart) explains that she doesn’t care to know.

Alice later decides to pose as a woman who wants to put one of her elderly parents into a home for people with Alzheimer’s, and gets a glimpse of patients struggling with the disease.

While there have been films made about Alzheimer’s disease before, Still Alice is unique in that it’s told mostly from the perspective of the character with the disease. We see Alice struggling to maintain her composure while her husband and children watch her slip away; the audience gets a taste of what it feels like to lose one’s memory.

Moore is masterful; she’s rightfully earning Oscar buzz for her acting here. Stewart (Twilight) offers a surprisingly good performance as the outcast who fights her mother on going to college, because she’s determined to make it as an actor.

Still Alice is a compelling film that tells its story without any added drama or plot twists. The emotional hardships Alice and her family go through are real and heartbreaking enough.

The film opens in Los Angeles and New York on Friday, Jan. 16, and will later open in a wider release.

Published in Reviews

Walter was a big hit at the Palm Springs International Film Festival on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 4. The quirky comedy/drama with a solid cast and a unique storyline was screened in three theaters at once at the Palm Springs Regal 9, with the director and various members of the cast present.

Walter begins with an introduction to the title character (Andrew J. West), shown as a child at his father’s funeral. The self-narration explains that Walter is the son of God and judges whether or not a person goes to heaven or hell. He’s then shown waking up in the morning to three separate alarm clocks in a room that is an obsessive-compulsive’s paradise. Walter lives with his mother (Virginia Madsen), who is always cooking him scrambled eggs, and he begins his day by getting dressed for his job as a movie-theater usher.

At the theater, he works with a verbally abusive and crass co-worker named Vince (Milo Ventimiglia); his boss, Corey (Jim Gaffigan); and a beautiful concession-stand worker, Kendall (Leven Rambin). Walter’s OCD comes into play as he vacuums the lobby and uses a magnifying glass to inspect his usher stand for spots. As he takes tickets, walks down the street or otherwise encounters people, he usually utters “heaven” or “hell” with every person he sees.

One day, after the movie theater closes and he begins his trek home, he encounters a mysterious ghost. Greg (Justin Kirk) explains that he is dead, but hasn’t been sent to heaven or hell, and harasses Walter to send him to either one. Walter responds that he cannot do that, given he can’t make a judgment about him. Greg annoys Walter so much that he winds up going to therapy with Dr. Corman (William H. Macy).

Walter and his back-story are revealed in a series of flashbacks involving his father (Peter Facinelli). It isn’t long before Walter begins to understand himself better.

Walter mixes comedy and drama in a way that isn’t often done. Most of the comedic scenes involve his time spent at the theater with Vince, Corey and Kendall, while his relationship with his mother—and his relationship with himself—are certainly troubled. After an intense story climax, you’ll walk away agreeing: Walter is outstanding,

During a Q&A (see the photo below), producer Brenden Patrick Hill explained the film was based on a short done in 2010 that was written by Paul Shoulberg, who also wrote the full-length film.

“Paul (Shoulberg), Andy (West) and I all went to Indiana University together, and Paul sent me some stuff he was working on. I said Walter would be a great short film, but he said it would never work,” Hill said. “We turned it into a short film that Andy was the lead of, and then because we had a short, we knew we wanted to make a feature, and to show people like (director) Anna (Mastro) how great Andy was as Walter, and sort of build off on that short film.”

Mastro said she was immediately drawn to the project.

“I fell in love with the script, the character and the themes of it,” she said. “This is a quirky movie that falls into no genre and is hard to be made into a film, but luckily, we had a couple of actors who believed in it enough to help us on this journey.”

In response to a question, West said he’d never have another role like Walter.

“(Walter) is probably the most unique character I will ever play,” he said. “Paul (Shoulberg) has a knack for creating the most vivid characters on the page, and you have to fill in the blanks. That wasn’t the case with this. For me, the trick to this guy is that he’s profoundly uncomfortable.”

Published in Reviews

Some films arrive at the Palm Springs International Film Festival virtually unknown; others show up after receiving serious acclaim at other festivals.

Mommy falls into the latter category: It’s received a bunch of honors, and reportedly earned a 10-minute-long standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival.

On Sunday night, Jan. 4, Mommy was screened to a full house at the Annenberg Theater. Director Xavier Dolan was not in attendance, but one of the film’s producers told the audience that at the age of 25, Dolan has already directed five feature films—and that Mommy was his second film to be shown at the PSIFF.

Mommy is set in Quebec in 2015, after a new law that allows parents to commit their children to a psychiatric facility goes into effect. Die (Anne Dorval), a widowed mother, receives a phone call with bad news: Her son, Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), has set fire to the cafeteria at his school for troubled teenagers. He’s being expelled and released to her care; when Die tells the school official she has no options, the official reminds her of the new law. She replies that it isn’t an option.

Steve, to put it mildly, is troubled. He has an extreme case of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, as well as a violent streak. When Die loses her job because she has to care for him full-time, they meet their mysterious neighbor, Kyla (Suzanne Clément), a stutterer who explains she is on sabbatical from her high school teaching position. Kyla befriends Die and takes on the task of educating Steve.

Kyla’s own home life also seems to be troubled; she’s emotionally distant from her husband and young daughter at the same time she’s getting closer to Die and Steve. Meanwhile, Steve’s episodes begin to ease, and he eventually develops a goal of applying to Juilliard. However, it isn’t long before a situation arises that makes it hard for Die to care for her son; she has to make a tough choice.

This is not an easy film to watch. Steven’s episodes are powerfully depicted—they’re disturbing and violent—and the ending is extremely heart-wrenching. Dorval and Pilon reportedly amplified their emotional responses at the request of Dolan, and the result is a no-holds-barred experience. Both of them are outstanding.

Mommy was Canada’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, but shockingly did not make the short list. This film delves into uncharted territory; Dolan should have a long and successful career ahead of him.

Published in Reviews

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