Summer Hours and Happy-Go-Lucky film fest highlights
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By Peter T. Chattaway

November 2008
THE FILM festival has come and gone, but here are some quick notes on a few films which stood out for me, for better and for worse – most of which have returned to the local theatres, or are on the verge of doing so.

Possibly my favourite was Summer Hours, a French film directed by Olivier Assayas. I haven’t always been a big fan of his, but this film, which concerns three adult siblings who live on different continents and have to deal with their mother’s estate after she passes away, was, for me, a moving and thought-provoking experience.

Matters are complicated by the fact that the mother had inherited valuable works of art from an uncle who was a famous painter. Indeed, even her furniture is museum-worthy. Should these items be divided among her heirs, or donated to a museum? And what about her former house?

Assayas uses questions like these to explore some fascinating subjects, such as the relationship between reality, art and memory, or the way spaces can take on new personalities when they are occupied by different people. His film is also blessed with fine performances and interesting camerawork – especially near the end, as we see the mother’s house, and one of her grandchildren, in a whole new light.

I don’t say that this film was necessarily the ‘best’ film of the festival, whatever that would mean. But it was the only one which made me skip my viewing plans for the rest of the evening, simply because I wanted to let the film sink in.

Another favourite was Happy-Go-Lucky, the new film from Mike Leigh, whose earlier films Secrets and Lies and Vera Drake were my favorites of 1996 and 2004, respectively.

The new film stars Sally Hawkins as an irrepressibly perky and upbeat primary school teacher who, among other things, gets on the nerves of her bitter, angry driving instructor. My full review is at

I’ve Loved You So Long, which opens November 7, has been getting rave reviews – and rightly so – for Kristin Scott Thomas’ performance as a woman with a dark secret who very gradually and tentatively reunites with her sister and her family. Scott Thomas certainly does fine work, and Elsa Zylberstein arguably does even finer work as the sister. But the secret, when revealed, is somewhat problematic.

A secular colleague of mine felt it didn’t quite work for storytelling reasons. But for me, there was an added moral qualm. (Skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid even a hint of a spoiler.)

Given all the emotional abuse and suspicion this character has already faced, I couldn’t quite shake off the feeling that director Philippe Claudel wanted us to not only empathize with her, but to feel that she was somehow exonerated now, as though we could not judge a mother’s ‘choice.’

Finally, Religulous – the anti-religious flick that has already passed Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed to become the top-grossing documentary of the year – takes a lot of cheap shots at religion, and makes some bold claims about the need to secularize. But host Bill Maher and director Larry Charles never approach anyone who could seriously challenge their smug agnosticism – if that’s what it is.

And for all his talk about ‘reason,’ Maher also advances some pretty kooky theories – such as the thoroughly debunked notion, popularized a few years ago by Tom Harpur’s The Pagan Christ, that the gospels copied the life of Jesus from ancient Egyptian mythology. My full review is at

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Speaking of Expelled, Yoko Ono has dropped her lawsuit against the makers of that film, after a judge ruled that the film’s use of a 15-second clip from John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ was permitted under the terms of ‘fair use.’ However, just to be safe, the song has been deleted from the recently-released DVD version of the film.

In other DVD news, The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie has come out in a disc that includes the usual making-of featurettes and a handful of games.

The film itself, alas, is not up to the series’ usual standards. For one thing, unlike most of their videos, this one is not based on a Bible story, so it ends up being more of a generic adventure than a Bible-centred parody of movie genres.

A friend of mine put it best when he critiqued the movie’s “zanelessness.” But it does have its moments, especially where some psycho cheese curls are concerned.

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Christian movies almost never come to Canadian theatres, but it’s worth noting the odd story or two that emanate from south of the border.

The biggest story right now is that Fireproof – a movie about a troubled marriage, starring Kirk Cameron and produced by the same church in Georgia which made Facing the Giants – has been a huge success since opening September 26. Produced for only $500,000, it has grossed more than $23 million in its first five weeks, and is on track to become the top-grossing independent evangelical movie ever. (The Passion of the Christ, while marketed to evangelicals, was basically a Catholic film.)

Despite its success, however, I am told there are currently no plans to release the film in Canada, at least not theatrically. We’ll just have to wait for the DVD.

November 2008