by by Alex Verdolini

Un Dimanche à Kigali
Set in the now-famous Hôtel des Mille Collines (cf. Hotel Rwanda), Un Dimanche à Kigali (A Sunday in Kigali) is a half-romantic, half-humanitarian tragedy about the Rwandan genocide. Luc Picard plays Bernard Valcourt, a new and unimproved iteration of the indispensable white journalist in Africa. There is an argument to be made for this infamous stock character: that he serves as a proxy for the audience, a passport into Africa or something of that sort--and if Valcourt is meant to stand in for the Euro-American conscience, he certainly does a good job of it. He spends some time as a shouty idealist, some as a complacent fool; but most of the time, he floats in a moral murk, a sort of Camusian ennui: this last is shattered with the onset of the genocide. Valcourt's half-Tutsi lover is carried off by the Hutus and, as he and we learn graphically toward the end of the film, she is mutilated and raped.
Dimanche is, by any conventional judgment, a middlingly successful film; its mix of genocide and melodrama flirts with tastelessness. But it is difficult to reproach a film that so unflinchingly presents a Tutsi woman's treatment at the hands of the Hutu extremists. The best we can do is stand with Bernard Valcourt in the sundrenched wreckage and feel shame.

Il Sera Une Fois (Once Upon a Tomorrow) chronicles the adventures and obsessions of Pierrot, a dark-eyed, serious boy who lives in the countryside with his mother and father. He has one friend, Elise, a girl who can never decide whether she wants to be sweet or sadistic. Pierrot spends most of his time alone, riding his bicycle to the sea or hanging out in a little concrete room beneath a field, counting down to one from numbers in the thousands. One might say his anxiety about time is inherited: his mother is ill, possibly dying (it's just allergies, his father tells him), and his father is a member of a mysterious social club for men living with regret.
Director Sandrine Veysset's background in set design lends itself to an evocative visual specificity. Through its attention to material details, the film transforms a coming-of-age story into an intriguing meditation on possibility and regret, youth and old age, life and death. These abstract categories continually contaminate one another, thanks to a constant stream of mirroring surfaces that come in the form of objects and people. Mirrors, tarot cards, clumps of leaves and string, blue crystals, harps, crystal balls: these objects point to a divinatory inclination, hinting at a basic human anxiety about the indiscernibility of the future. However, the audience learns not to assume any object is a revelatory mechanism; just like the seconds Pierrot relentlessly counts down, these objects become irrelevant as soon as they are noticed. As we move toward Pierrot's final encounter with a reflection of himself, we learn the consequences of paying too close attention to passing time.

In 2004, French director Stephane Brize gathered twelve non-actors and commenced a round of on-screen tag with the broken love lives of the ethically challenged. His aim, it seems, was to deliver the audience material over which to ponder--Frenchly--why relationships invariably break down. But Entre Adultes over-represents the strange and the dysfunctional with scenes too brief, unimaginative and poorly acted to give the audience the chance to care.
Brize opted to compose the script in 10 days, shoot the film in eight, cap the tech to two cameras and a microphone and leave the actors an hour before each shoot to study their lines. That can work--if you're Godard. The film is a series of semi-realistic scenes offering glimpses into the strained and faithless relationships of six past, present and potential couples. It chronicles these 12 characters, a pair at a time, alluding to how they have boned, do bone or aspire to boneront. Each contiguous duo shares a lover and transitions to the next via a black screen, which is set to music-box tinkering for some brief, shallow respite from all the perfidy. Compressed colors mirror flat acting and the transposable characters they render, with a lo-fi static visual and plenty of European drear.
While the near-cinema verité of Entre Adultes is initially intriguing--the camera patiently lingering within life-sized silence and the faces it illuminates--the script and its conveyers lack the vibrancy and vision to buoy it. The concept is theoretically compelling, though a bit kitschy, leading us through these linked lovers back to the lady we met in the first scene, when she lay in bed, contented though repentant, with a married man. At the finale, she stands embracing for the last time the lover of seven years she thus betrayed. The two vocalize their desire that things be simpler in the film's one successful, still, sweet moment. Alas, it's a tired sentiment and insufficient restitution. Reporting exclusively on the natural disasters of romantic exchange without the meteorology to back it up, the film leaves the audience bored in the dark, indifferent to the fates of these victims.

For my ninth birthday, my father's friend gave me a photography book with pictures of Quebec. It was then that my general perceptions of Canada were formed: lots of snow, deer, quaint colorful houses lining streets with iron lampposts. Even as I learned more about the rest of Canada ("Toronto has a film festival!" "Canada is an indie music stronghold!"), my perceptions of Quebec stayed generally the same.
But then Québécois director Denys Arcand came along to blow my mind with L'âge des Ténèbres (Days of Darkness), the third part of a loose trilogy including The Decline of the American Empire and The Barbarian Invasions. It struck me as a much funnier American Beauty, documenting a middle-aged man (played by a perfectly droll Marc Labrèche) and his suburban despair, workday malaise and familial disconnect: problems that before had seemed so distinctly American. He escapes by imagining wild success and sex, but his desolation eventually seeps into even these fantasies.
The hysterical first hour had me marveling at every turn: There are traffic jams in Quebec? Government offices are inefficient and gloomy up north, too? Realtors are reviled in every country? But then the protagonist takes a strange, lengthy turn into Renaissance Fair territory, and the laughs die down when it becomes clear that there's no easy out for mid-life ennui. In the end, catharsis arrives in the form of a clean, quiet seascape by his rustic cabin: no marital harmony, no sexy lady prospects, no discovery of a meaningful passion to help him through the hard times. I found this deliberate lack of resolution oddly satisfying; it lent a little truth to my nine-year-old perception of Quebec as a desolate, beautiful place. Whether that's the film's fault or merit is perhaps another matter.