For this critic’s second and final trio of Festival du Nouveau Cinéma 2022 capsule reviews, we begin with Butterfly Vision, whose title is quite apt when considering that all three films are cut from similar cloth. As will be highlighted as our coverage goes along, these films are all guided by filmmakers with visions that echo one another: variations of cinema verité, or documentary-style moviemaking.
Butterfly Vision is directed by Maksym Nakonechnyi and tells the difficult story of Lilya (Rita Burkovksa), a Ukrainian army veteran who specializes as a drone pilot. It is revealed early on that she was captured in the field by Russian forces (her unit ventures into combat zones to operate). Her subsequent return home is celebrated and shown via live online streams, but the memories of her time in enemy hands haunt her. Her re-adaptation to life back home with friends and family proves to be a daily struggle, especially when two things come to light. First, her husband Tohka (Lyubomyr Valivots) spends his nights as a member of some sort of patrol militia protecting the streets, or so he claims. Second, Lilya is pregnant, but not by her husband.
There are only so many ways a story such as this can be told. No one is going to make a sentimental comedy about a war veteran who was raped whilst in captivity and must reckon with pregnancy all the while her husband shows signs of extremist behaviour towards the country’s ethnic minorities. Director Nakonechnyi strives for a curious balance between a non-intrusive, un-flashy cinematic style and an overarching theme about observation through technology, whether from near or far. Overall, the movie is rather cold, with big moments and surprises revealed matter-of-factly. The protagonist, played terrifically Burkovska, is an isolated figure because of her experience. Shielding herself from intimacy, she must now also deal with the fallout of a terrible crime she was the victim of.
It’s a difficult story to make palatable and Nakonechnyi keeps things as straightforward as possible. That is, except for the cinematography and editing flourishes that call back to a drone camera’s vantage point. Several establishing shots are from a drone’s point of view, and Lilya’s interrupted flashbacks are cut to look like digital camera interference. The effect is somewhat puzzling until the film’s final moments when the audience is provided with an explanation as to why the realism was intercut with such spurts of style. Butterfly Vision comes across as the kind of movie that has things to say, tries its best to say them, but doesn’t entirely come together thematically. The individual plot threads are relatively interesting, and the lead performance is excellent, but it’s difficult to discern what Butterfly Effect is aiming for overall. PTSD? Isolation? Emotional depression experienced by war veterans? Racism within Ukraine? Voyeurism? Maybe a little bit of everything.
Tori and Lokita
Belgian directing duo Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne return in full force with their latest effort, Tori and Lokita. The film was in competition for the most recent Palme d’Or at Cannes. It didn’t win the coveted prize but did walk away with the event’s special 75th Anniversary award. Anyone remotely familiar with their oeuvre has an idea of what to expect heading into Tori and Lokita. The siblings strive for social realism, exposing the ills of our world (mostly concentrating on Belgian realities) through stories about the community’s shunned, forgotten, and disadvantaged.
The titular characters are African youths who have recently made it to Brussels as refugees. Early on the audience learns that Tori (Pablo Schills), the younger boy, has his papers in order and can stay in the country. The older girl, Lokita (Mbundu Joely), does not and must prove to immigration authorities that she is in fact Tori’s sister…which she is not. Despite the lack of a true blood bond, the two very much act like and support one another as good siblings do. Very little time is spent observing their domestic life. The Dardennes are more interested in how the wannabe siblings make ends meet, most of which entails selling and producing drugs for people who take advantage of their precarious status, in addition to paying back the folk who helped bring them into the country.
The picture’s title feels very à propos. Not only is watching Tori and Lokita a fascinating experience but so is observing the characters of Tori and Lokita themselves. Jean-Pierre and Luc have made a name for themselves by tapping into the cracks of modern society and shedding light on its darker spots, albeit through scripted material. The inequalities in life sometimes don’t feel fair. It can be because government red tape is a hurdle, different cultures don’t understand one another, or, sad as it is to admit, there are bad people out in the world, ready to take advantage of less fortunate souls.
Tori and Lokita straddles a delicate, magical line. It reminds viewers, justifiably, that making one’s way into a new country as a refugee must be insanely challenging. By the same token, it paints a picture of the life of these two youths in particular. It’s easy to forget the bigger picture the film is arguing about when the two leads are so interesting, well-written, and brought to life by terrific new talent. Furthermore, the holistic point about the difficulties of navigating immigration waters is done by way of a second half that plays like an adventure-thriller. Keep in mind that the Dardennes are not ones to employ fancy cinematic tricks. No pulse-pounding score accompanies the action, nor are there any special effects to speak of. Through carefully constructed storytelling, always bathed in honesty, Tori and Lokita is, ultimately, a more thrilling film than most will probably anticipate, at least judging from the opening act.
The coverage concludes with a local film, Le Coyote. It’s also another endeavour adhering to stylistic and storytelling realism. Director Katherine Jerkovic is a graduate of Montreal’s Concordia University film program and earned some recognition for her 2018 venture, Roads in February. She continues her journey as a filmmaker exploring people and families trying to build something for themselves while no longer living in the land they originally called home.
Her sophomore effort follows Emilio (Jorge Martinez Colorado), a former restaurant owner who now spends his nights as a janitor in Montreal. It isn’t the most rewarding job in the world, but it pays the bills. His aspiration of returning to the world of food services has not waned, as he still goes for interviews. Light at the end of the tunnel comes in the form of an offer made by an old partner now established in La Malbaie. The chef position should be open in about a month, which is music to Emilio’s ears. But then his grown-up, single mother daughter Tania (Eva Avilia) unexpectedly shows up. She needs to go to rehab and has no one else to turn to for her young son Zachary (Enzo-Desmeules Saint-Hilaire). Emilio reluctantly accepts to care for the boy, but will Tania’s rehabilitation be complete in time for him to pick up his bags and return to the profession he loves most?
Of the three films under review for this mini blitz of festival reporting, Le Coyote is by far the most touching. That’s not to say that director Jerkovic gives in to any saccharine violin playing. Quite the contrary. Her eye for the small but meaningful moments in everyday life is mature and unobtrusive. Le Coyote very much plays like a “slice of life” sort of project, only in this case said slices are the trials and tribulations of a father, now unexpected grandfather, dealing with stuff he thought he had buried in the past. The operative word to describe the tone is “delicate.” Moments such as Emilio picking up his grandson at school after class, running for refuge in the rain, or sharing fries add up to create a project that tells the story of one chapter in a person’s life. The said chapter can at times be tiresome, but always anchored in love and caring.
Kudos to Jorge Martinez Colorado for a brilliant performance. One can discern the fatigue and relative strain weighing on his character. Despite this, he keeps helping and making sacrifices so that those around him can get by, especially those with whom the past has been incredibly challenging. He doesn’t say much, but plenty is communicated through looks and body language. The acting, story, and filmmaking technique coalesce to make for one of the more quietly engaging films of this year’s FNC and possibly of 2022.
The Festival du Nouveau Cinéma runs from Oct 5th through Oct 16th in Montreal, Canada.