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Screenshot from Drive My Car/Criterion Collection.

Magic in the Dark: What’s playing at Ottawa’s independent cinemas

By Barbara Popel on February 4, 2022

Hooray! We can go back to see movies as they’re intended to be seen — in a real cinema. Poppa Ford has even allowed us to buy popcorn while we’re there. So, guys, it’s time to go to the movies! Here’s my list of recommended films at Ottawa’s two independent cinemas, the ByTowne and the Mayfair, until Valentine’s Day (yes, I have a recommendation for where to take your sweetheart).

Here’s what I particularly recommend at the ByTowne…

There’s a big event, literally, to welcome you back to the movies! The sci-fi blockbuster Dune is playing at the ByTowne on Feb.6, 7, and 8. I caught it at the ByTowne just before the last lockdown, and besides the acting, I was really impressed with the BIG SCREEN cinematography. Wow! This is one of those films you really must see as it was intended to be seen.

Belfast, Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical film about his childhood, continues its run Feb. 5, 10, 13, 15 and 16. It won the People’s Choice award at this year’s TIFF, which is always a reliable stamp of approval; it usually presages Oscar nominations. And the little boy who plays Branagh is really good.

Red Rocket has an “R” rating because, well, the main character is an ex-porn star down on his luck. He’s returned to his backwater Texas hometown and dysfunctional family (his estranged wife is not too pleased to see him). Then he meets a cute young woman working at a doughnut shop. The director, Sean Baker, made two little-seen but excellent films, Tangerine and The Florida Project. Both were about the underbelly of America, but exhibited a great deal of compassion and not a little wit. I was very impressed with both of them, so I’m looking forward to Red Rocket, which is playing on Feb. 4, 5 and 6.

At the other end of the social scale, there’s France. France de Meurs is a superstar TV journalist whose hectic fantasy-come-true life is upended when she carelessly hits a deliveryman with her car. I suspect this dark satire will interest anyone who is intrigued by the mix of news media and celebrities. It’s on Feb. 8 and 9.

Because food is so comforting, especially in the dead of winter, how about Julia? This documentary about Julia Child (do I need to explain who she is?) features some never-before-seen footage as well as some really mouth-watering food porn. The biggest question is probably, “Do I see this before or after I’ve had dinner?” Julia is on Feb. 9 and 10.

The Last Duel is one of those big historical pictures that somehow ended up under the radar. It tells the story of the last trial by combat in medieval France. The cast includes Adam Driver, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, but the real standout performance is by Jodie Comer as the woman who accuses an influential squire (Driver) of rape. Her husband (Damon) challenges the squire to a judicial duel to the death. If he loses, his wife will be burnt at the stake. The film has a “Rashomon” construct — the story of what happened is told from the viewpoint of each of the three main characters. The Last Duel is on Feb.9 and 10.

Based on the rapturous reviews I’ve read and my own enjoyment of the film, Drive My Car may very well score Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. This slow-paced but intriguing Japanese film touches on spousal betrayal, grief, memory, and artistic expression. Not for everyone, but, as they say about some other unusual things, if you like it, you’ll like it a lot. It is on Feb.11, 13, 15 and 16.

Another contender for Best Foreign Film is Flee, which is a mostly animated Danish feature film — a true story about a man who, for the first time, tells the story of his extraordinary journey as a child refugee from Afghanistan to Denmark. Flee will be shown Feb. 11–14 and Feb. 17.

For you opera lovers tired of watching opera on a small screen with whatever speakers your laptop has, the ByTowne will show the Royal Opera’s production of Tosca on Feb.12.

Last but not least, a blast from the past: Repo Man, starring a very young Emilio Estevez and the always-watchable Harry Dean Stanton in a cult classic about a professional repossession agent, a nuclear physicist, and a ’64 Chevy Malibu with a mysterious briefcase in its trunk. It screens on Feb. 12 and 17. A Metacritic “must-see” film from 1984 (how appropriate a year!).

Oh, wait! I promised you something romantic for Valentine’s Day! It’s Amélie, the utterly delightful French romantic comedy that made everyone fall in love with Paris and winsome Parisian lasses. The advert calls it “a delicious pastry of a movie” that, “later when you think about it, you smile.” It’s on, naturally, the evening of Feb. 14.

Now, on to the Mayfair…

We’ll start with The Electric Life of Louis Wain. Wain was an eccentric English artist (“eccentric” is an understatement!) who became famous for his rather bizarre drawings of cats. Cats in all sorts of human endeavours — riding a bicycle, fishing, having tea — in pictures that, as his sanity slipped, became positively psychedelic. Benedict Cumberbatch is the perfect actor to play this bizarre fellow. The supporting cast, including the wonderful Claire Foy as the love of his life, is excellent. It’s on Feb. 5–8 and Feb. 10.

And here’s something really exciting! The Mayfair is doing a mini-James Bond festival, beginning with the film that started this amazing franchise in 1963: Dr. No! It’s classified as PG, despite some saucy scenes between James and the ladies, and the famous clip of Ursula Andress walking out of the sea looking very sexy and dangerous. Despite its age, Dr. No is considered by many to be one of the five best Bond films ever made. And for those of you who, until Daniel Craig arrived, believed that no one but Sean Connery could be James Bond, this film’s for you! Playing Feb. 5, 6, 9 and 10.

February’s schedule, screening times, and tickets for the ByTowne are here. Dates, times, and tickets for the Mayfair are here.