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The Outfit, starring Mark Rylance. Screenshot: YouTube.

Magic in the Dark: What’s playing at Ottawa’s independent cinemas—May 1 to 15

By Barbara Popel on April 30, 2022

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A jam-packed two weeks at the ByTowne and the Mayfair! My favourite film from 2021 has finally come to Ottawa, plus some award winners, interesting films that fly under the radar, and the last movie in a Ukrainian Film Festival whose net proceeds will go to a Ukraine charity. Rounding everything out are three classics.

First, my favourite 2021 film, Petite maman, will be at the ByTowne. After her beloved grandmother’s death, 8-year-old Nelly and her parents go to her mother’s childhood home to clear it out. Her mother is grief-stricken and withdrawn. Nelly encounters a little girl in the forest who looks just like her; they become immediate friends. With a “95” Metacritic score, this is an exquisite emotional experience from director Céline Sciamma in her follow-up to Portrait of a Lady on Fire. A friend of ours says this beautiful film is “the profound contained within the pedestrian.”

There’s a pair of award-winning 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 that 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 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 members are 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, like the novel, the film manages to find the beauty in each of their lives. It’s at the ByTowne.

The Mayfair has partnered with the Embassy of Ukraine for a fundraising festival. Two of the films played in April, and the third, Bad Roads, is playing in early May. It tells four short stories set along the roads of Donbas during the war that preceded the current war. It did well at several festival prizes and with critics.

Parallel Mothers is back at the ByTowne—one of Pedro Almodovar’s best films. Penelope Cruz excels in a very strong cast as a middle-aged single mother who, when in the hospital giving birth to her daughter, befriends a teenager who is also giving birth. Later they reconnect, but only after tragedy has struck. And there’s a secondary plot: Cruz’s character is on a quest to disinter the remains of her great-grandfather, who “disappeared” during Franco’s rule.

Three under the radar films I’m looking forward to:

The trailer of the documentary Viva Maestro!, about conductor Gustavo Dudamel, swept me away with the power of great music and great musicians 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 grimly says, “One day, we’ll laugh at all this.” The almost silent elder son replies, “Seriously?” And the little boy is bouncing around, as only little boys can. Playing 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, one of whose leaders is a formidable black woman. The trailer looks interesting! It’s at the ByTowne.

Two films for hardcore romantics:

Moonstruck is a larger-than-life romance about two Italian Americans played with gusto by Cher and Nicolas Cage. She’s about to wed a lacklustre guy when she falls head over heels in love with his brawny brother. He reciprocates her passion. All because there’s a gigantic full moon up above. It’s at the ByTowne.

La Traviata from the Royal Opera House is part of the ByTowne’s opera series. Possibly Verdi’s most popular opera, you’ll likely recognize the opening party chorus, swoon over the costumes and set, and be enchanted by the story of Violetta and Alfredo’s doomed love.

Finally, three classics:

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 at the ByTowne.

It’s the 50th anniversary of Frances Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, a film that often appears in “top 10 films” lists and boasts a 100 Metacritic score. If you’ve never seen it or want to savour it again, you can see the 4K restoration at the Mayfair.

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


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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