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After Yang. Screenshot: A24 Films/YouTube.

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

By Barbara Popel on March 31, 2022

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The Academy Awards on March 27 were… interesting. If you ignore the drama in L.A.’s Dolby Auditorium and focus on the drama in the films, you can catch many of the nominees and winners at Ottawa’s two independent cinemas, the ByTowne and the Mayfair. Plus, they have a breakout Canadian film, several “prestige” films, and a must-see film from the vault. Here are my recommendations from now until April 16.

Let’s start with the Oscar nominees and winners…

Drive My Car seems to be on every major critic’s Best Films of 2021 list and has won a slew of prestigious awards. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film and was also nominated for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and, in a rare occurrence for a foreign film nominee, Best Picture. 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. The film is playing at the Mayfair.

Licorice Pizza is another favourite of the critics. The film received three Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (for the brilliant Paul Thomas Anderson) and Best Original Screenplay (written by Anderson) but came away empty-handed. However, this is the film debut for the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son, Cooper Hoffman, and he’s great. So are the rest of the cast, including his co-star Alana Haim. In a neat twist, her family in the film is played by her family in real life. A thoroughly enjoyable film! It’s at both cinemas.

The Norwegian film The Worst Person in the World scored big at Cannes with Best Actress awarded to Renate Reinsve. It was also nominated for the Best International Feature Oscar as well as Best Original Screenplay. The film follows a young woman who makes a string of major life decisions. She is terrified of the terrible irreversibility of life choices. Unlike many similar romantic dramas, you can see her become more mature and self-aware. The Globe and Mail’s reviewer wrote, “Reinsve’s charismatic, heart-rending performance is relatable for anyone who’s ever done stupid things for love.” That would be all of us, wouldn’t it? Playing at the ByTowne.

Pedro Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers is called one of his best… it’s certainly my favourite Almodovar film. Penelope Cruz’s performance is the best in a very strong cast. She’s a middle-aged single mother who, while in hospital giving birth to her daughter, befriends a teenager who is also giving birth. A little later, they reconnect after tragedy has struck. It’s easy to ignore the melodramatic plot twists (this is, after all, an Almodovar film, not a documentary). And there’s a secondary plot: Cruz’s character is on a quest to disinter the remains of her great-grandfather, who was “disappeared” during Franco’s rule of Spain. Cruz was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar and the film for original music. You can see it at the ByTowne.

Steven Spielberg’s first musical, West Side Story, is a film every lover of musicals should see, especially if you loved the 1961 original. The action is set in a realistic-looking slum that’s being razed to make way for the Lincoln Center for the Arts and some tony apartment buildings. Several actors, particularly Rachel Zegler as Maria and Ariana DeBose as Anita, are excellent. DeBose made history by garnering the Best Supporting Actress award—a first for an openly queer actress. Rita Moreno (who was the best thing about the original film) is back in this version. And like the original film, the song and dance number “America” was, for me, the highlight of the film. It’s at the ByTowne.

If you see only one music film in April, see Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised). I can’t improve on what The Guardian said: “The best concert movie ever made? … an absolute joy, uncovering a treasure trove of pulse-racing, heart-stopping live music footage.” A must-see on a big screen with lots of other folks. It’s at the Mayfair.

Now, for the films that weren’t nominated or that were released this year…

The Canadian indie film Scarborough is an empathetic portrait of three low-income Scarborough families who are struggling in a system that sets them up for failure. We meet three young kids who attend a program for disadvantaged children. One kid seems gifted but “different,” another is a kind, outgoing girl who seems destined to lead others, and a third will break your heart. And there are small victories, powered by love. Thanks are due to the ByTowne for programming this.

After Yang is set in the near future. Yang is an android that Jake and Kyra have purchased to be a companion for their adopted Chinese daughter, Mika. He’s to help Mika get in touch with her heritage. Yang is Mika’s best friend and an integral member of the family. When Yang ceases to function, Jake searches for a way to deal with the family’s loss. Can Yang be repaired? That is, if “repair” is the right word for recovering something that behaved like a caring human being. Intrigued? See it at the ByTowne.

Tout s’est bien passé (Everything Went Fine) is very much au courant. An irascible 85-year old Frenchman has had a stroke. Partially paralyzed, he insists that his eldest daughter arranges for his medically assisted death. Grudgingly, she and her younger sister navigate the bureaucratic hurdles. Sounds bleak? Well, there’s at least one point in the trailer where I giggled. It’s playing at the ByTowne.

And finally, a gem from the vault…

1974 was a banner year for film: Amarcord, The Exorcist, The Sting, Cries and Whispers, and La Nuit Americaine, to name a few. Plus the Metacritic “must-see” film The Conversation. It has one of Gene Hackman’s greatest performances as the solitary, tightly wound surveillance expert Harry Caul, who is hired by a mysterious client to record the conversations of a young couple. But something isn’t right. Are the couple in danger? Is Harry now an accomplice? This is a film for all of us today when our privacy is threatened. The Conversation is 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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