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Petite Maman. Screenshot: YouTube.

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

By Barbara Popel on May 30, 2022

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There’s variety aplenty at the ByTowne and the Mayfair. However, because the Mayfair is advertising only the first few days of its June offerings plus some “teasers,” I can’t offer you many recommendations about what’s playing there this time round. But my favourite film from 2021 continues its run at the Mayfair. Plus there’s a thrilling historical documentary, a Japanese portmanteau film, three Canadian films, a ballet, an action film with an opera aria at its core, yet another film about The Dark Knight, and one of the ByTowne’s “Double Deneuve.”

First, my favourite film of 2021, Petite Maman, is at the Mayfair for a few more days. 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 Her mother Marion is grief-stricken and withdrawn. Nelly encounters a little girl named Marion in the forest who looks just like her. They become immediate friends. This is an exquisite emotional experience from director Céline Sciamma in her follow-up to Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Two Globe and Mail critics said it’s a “perfect little film…72 minutes of pure, heart-breaking, whimsical cinematic wonder” and that it’s “as compact and brilliant as a jewel.”

I strongly recommend you see the thrilling documentary South (1919). It’s a new restoration of what may be the world’s first documentary feature—made in 1919! Its subject: Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 to 1916 expedition to Antarctica. His ship, Endurance, was crushed by ice, stranding the crew 384 miles from land. All the while, cinematographer Frank Hurley, was filming their exploits and their breathtaking surroundings. Remarkable footage! One forgets how good cameras/lens/B&W  film was in those days. See this magnificent film on a big screen at the ByTowne.

Director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s film Drive My Car was feted by critics last year and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. While making Drive My Car, he was also making Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, a three-part drama about romantic love. One episode deals with an unexpected love triangle, another a failed seduction, and the third an encounter with the past. I liked it a lot; it has great scripts (the three screenplays are by Hamaguchi), great acting, and great direction. At the ByTowne.

I know some of you are big Batman fans. Well, according to many critics, one of 2022’s Batman films—boldly called The Batman—is top-notch. It stars Robert Pattinson and a slew of first-rate actors, including Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman. Set in a grimy, disintegrating Gotham, it’s a very dark film noir epic that questions the whole idea of superheroes. Definitely not a “popcorn” movie.

These next three Canadian films are a real mixed bag! They’re all at the ByTowne.

The vintage 1983 David Cronenberg film, Videodrome has been cited as “one of the most influential and mind-bending sci-fi/horror films of the 1980s.” It’s quintessential Cronenburg body horror, with hints of things to come in terms of our relationship with media technology. Oh, and it co-stars Debbie Harry, lead vocalist of the band Blondie.

At the other end of sci-fi, there’s a real treat for fans of the comedy troupe Kids in the Hall—their 1996 film Brain Candy. The satire comes thick and heavy, along with a good dose of gross-out humour, as the bizarre side effects of an anti-depressant that a Big Pharma company has rushed into production become glaringly obvious.

The third Canadian film is Peace by Chocolate. It’s based on a true story: A Syrian refugee family who settled in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and began a successful chocolate-making business using the skills they had perfected in Syria. The focus of this sweet (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun!) dramedy is on the conflict the young man in the family feels—he wishes to become a doctor, but is needed in the chocolate business.

The ByTowne’s monthly offering of high culture is The Royal Ballet: Swan Lake. Though this ballet composed by Tchaikovsky was not a success when it premiered, it quickly became one of the most beloved and most performed ballets ever. The Royal Ballet’s production at the Royal Opera House will be a wonderful gift to balletomanes.

There’s a classical angle to the 1981 film Diva by French director Jean-Jacques Beineix: An opera-loving Parisian postman surreptitiously records an aria sung by a diva (the exquisite Wilhelmenia Fernandez) during her recital. This kicks off a thrilling chase by a drug dealer’s hit team, Taiwanese music pirates, and the Parisian police. Diva was an art house and critical sensation in 1981, but quickly disappeared from the popular view. Here’s your chance to see what all the fuss was about. You’ll probably want to search out a recording of the aria afterwards.

Last but certainly not least, the first entry in the ByTowne’s mini-retrospective of films starring Catherine Deneuve is Jacques Demy’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). This candy-coloured romance in which every word of dialogue is sung is a very special cinematic treat. The music, by great composer Michel Legrand, will have you humming for days. (I’m humming its theme as I type this article.) Deneuve is angelically beautiful. She lives a quiet life with her mother, who owns an umbrella shop. And she is head over heels in love with a handsome garage mechanic. They face a crisis when the young fellow is to be shipped off to fight in Algeria. It’s  been called “one of the most revered and unorthodox movie musicals of all time.” See it with someone you love.


Follow the links for dates, times and tickets for the ByTowne and the Mayfair.

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