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All My Puny Sorrows by Michael McGowan. Screenshot: YouTube.

Magic in the Dark: What’s playing at Ottawa’s independent cinemas—April 16 to May 1

By Barbara Popel on April 16, 2022

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Plenty is happening at the ByTowne and the Mayfair: award-winners and films that fly “under the radar,” two free films to celebrate Canadian Film Day, and a Ukrainian Film Festival whose net proceeds will go to the National Bank of Ukraine’s Fundraising Account for Humanitarian Assistance to Ukrainians. Plus, a couple of famous classics on May 1. (Not in April, but I couldn’t resist!)

Starting with the Canadian films:

Scarborough cleaned up at the recent Canadian Screen Awards with eight awards, including Best Direction, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor for the young Liam Diaz, the John Dunning Best First Feature Film Award, and Best Motion Picture. This is remarkable given it was produced under Telefilm’s micro-budget Talent to Watch program and its shooting schedule was interrupted by the pandemic. Scarborough is a moving realistic portrait of three low-income Scarborough families struggling in a system that sets them up for failure. We meet three young kids who attend a “head start” type program for disadvantaged children. There are dreadful obstacles in their paths, but also small victories powered by love. Don’t miss this! It’s at both cinemas.

All My Puny Sorrows is another Canadian “must-see.” It’s that rare beast—a film as good as the well-regarded novel it’s based on (Miriam Toews’ semi-autobiography). The cast is remarkable—perfect in their roles. The Globe and Mail’s reviewer called it “exquisite.” It’s a story of a family living with grief after the father’s suicide 12 years ago. One of the daughters is contemplating suicide. Her sister, mother, and aunt are trying to stop her. It sounds bleak, but somehow (like the novel), the film manages to find the beauty in their lives. It may bring you to tears. It’s at the ByTowne.

The ByTowne celebrates Canadian Film Day by offering two Quebecois films, C.R.A.Z.Y. and L’Inhumaine, for free on April 20. I enjoyed the former when it came out: a portrait of a family of five boys and their complicated relationships with each other and their beloved father. It has an 81 score on Metacritic. The latter is a spooky thriller referencing the Indigenous Wendigo.

These foreign films are adapted from novels:

If you adore romantic films or musicals, then Cyrano is for you! It got an Oscar nomination for costume design, and the costumes are indeed lavish. But the reason to see Cyrano is the ever-watchable Peter Dinklage as Cyrano, whose defect is his stature, not his schnoz. It’s playing at the Mayfair.

Mothering Sunday could initially be mistaken for a Merchant/Ivory production. It’s set shortly after WWI on a glorious May Day—“Mothering Sunday.” Several stuffy landed-gentry families are gathering for lunch to celebrate the engagement of the only son from all of their families who returned from the Great War. He’s about to marry a daughter from a neighbouring estate. Unbeknownst to all, he’s also having a passionate affair with one of their maids. With his parents out of the manor house, this is the first time the two lovers have the opportunity to make love in his bedroom. The twist is that the film’s primarily about the maid, not the young gentleman. There’s a fair bit of (tasteful) nudity and sex—not what you’d expect from Merchant/Ivory, but essential to the story. This film is at the ByTowne.

Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile has again been made into a film, this time by Kenneth Branagh. In this sumptuous—indeed, decadent—version, Branagh not only directs but takes the plum role of detective Hercule Poirot, complete with an outrageous moustache. It’s playing at both cinemas.

These three films fly under the radar:

The trailer of the documentary Viva Maestro! about conductor Gustavo Dudamel swept me away with the power great music has to unite us. If you love music, see this film! It’s at the Mayfair.

I’m a fan of Iranian films, so I’m looking forward to Hit the Road. (It’s surprising how many Iranian films involve cars!) A quirky family is on a road trip. The father is in the back seat with his leg in a cast and a sickly dog. The mother says, “One day, we’ll laugh at all this.” The almost silent elder son replies, “Seriously?” and the little boy bounces around, as only little boys can. It has a Metacritic score of 89. It plays at the ByTowne.

The Outfit is based on real people in 1950s Chicago. An elegant Savile Row tailor has relocated to a shabby neighbourhood in the Windy City. The only people who can afford his beautiful bespoke suits are gangsters. And there’s a mob war going on. It’s at both cinemas.

The Mayfair has partnered with the Embassy of Ukraine to present a fundraising festival of three films:

Atlantis won Best Film at the Venice Film Festival. Bad Roads also won or was nominated for several festival prizes. These films deal with war with Russia in the Donbas region, either in the recent past or in a near dystopian future. The Tribe is about a deaf boy struggling to join the tribe of violent children at a school for the deaf; it has no spoken dialogue. When I saw it a few years ago, I was impressed. All three films have had good reviews from critics.

Finally, two famous classics on May 1 at the ByTowne:

The Wicker Man, a 1973 British film starring Christopher Lee, is recognized as the progenitor of all subsequent British folk horror flicks. This is a chance to see it in all its cult weirdness on a big screen.

It’s the 80th anniversary of Casablanca. Do I even need to pitch this film to you? See this with someone you love!


Dates, times and tickets for the ByTowne are at www.bytowne.ca. Dates, times and tickets for the Mayfair are at www.mayfairtheatre.ca.

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