Sundance 2021 Review: Violation

Written by Taylor Baker

88/100

SYNOPSIS: With her marriage about to implode, Miriam returns to her hometown to seek solace in the comfort of her younger sister and brother-in-law. But one evening a tiny slip in judgement leads to a catastrophic betrayal, leaving Miriam shocked, reeling, and furious. Believing her sister to be in danger, Miriam decides she must protect her at all costs, but the price of revenge is high and she is not prepared for the toll it takes as she begins to emotionally and psychologically unravel.

REVIEW:

“What’s wrong with a little Sammy Harris?”

Miriam (Madeleine Sims-Fewer)

Built on naturalistic landscapes and a swelling score, Violation presents the brutality at the core of it’s story in close-up. Whether stirring batter, deboning a rabbits leg, or watching a spiders legs twitch while it suffocates under a cup. It forces a sense of brooding and suffocation onto the viewer in classic yet unconventional ways.

First time feature film writer/directors Dusty Mancinelli and Madeline Sims-Fewer—who also leads the film—present a somber look at pain and murder. Their collaborative first feature makes sound design it’s fulcrum and while at times it’s score propels us along, just as often and craftily it dips out allowing the stirring of nature to envelop us. Defining a sense of place that intensifies the collage, sometimes spectre like imagery that dances on screen with it.

Madeline Sims-Fewer plays Miriam a woman whose distanced from her family and is having trouble at home with her husband. In lieu of spoiling the narrative, I’ll just say an “event” occurs, prompting Madeline’s “Miriam” to commit a violent murder. The twist here is not so much a conventional twist as a spurring on of the form we’ve already seen employed, now toward active violence. The murder scene is cripplingly human, Miriam’s reaction to her own actions is like a dagger twisted into the gut of the viewer. Her anguish undeniable.

Many have written about the discomfort that they experienced during the film, and I don’t want to completely write that off. But I think that in high caliber pieces of cinema that have similar topics, these feelings of discomfort are more a sign of greatness than any indicative modicum of banality. I can’t quite say I’m thrilled by this film, but I was astounded. 

Violation Trailer


Highly Recommended

Violation played during the Sundance 2021 Film Festival and scheduled to release in multiple territories on March 25th 2021 on Shudder.

Sundance 2021 Review: Night of the Kings

Written by Taylor Baker

76/100

SYNOPSIS: A young man is sent to “La Maca,” a prison in the middle of the Ivorian forest ruled by its inmates. As tradition goes with the rising of the red moon, he is designated by the Boss to be the new “Roman” and must tell a story to the other prisoners. Learning what fate awaits him, he begins to narrate the mystical life of the legendary outlaw named “Zama King” and has no choice but to make his story last until dawn.

Night of the Kings has been formally submitted in the category Best Foreign Language Film by Côte d’Iviore (Ivory Coast) for the Oscars.

REVIEW: A finished story is a dead man. Or so it seems in Philippe Lacôte’s sophomore feature. About a prisoner who is renamed Roman on an ominous night when the moon turns red and the title of storyteller is foisted upon him. Hinging on the words of debut performer Koné Bakary(Roman), this Scheherazade-like fable mixes reality, history, and desire.

Night of the Kings is at it’s most engaging in the prison(La Maca) as we’re witnessing Bakary engage in the act of storytelling. Holding his own against the crowd of prisoners shouting, singing, and jeering as he weaves his tale. When we shift to the images of the story being told they often lack atmosphere, tension, and propulsiveness. Things that immediately leap back into the viewer as we shift–often mid-scene back to the prison.


I found these choices to be deft and thoughtful ones. Reproposing the hypothesis: does a story belong to the storyteller or the audience? It does this all while engaging in the meaning, expectation, responsibility, and duty of telling of ‘your’ story not just as a man but as a nation. Rather than proffering answers Night of the Kings lingers on the cost of these questions.

The contemporary in prison timeline is sumptuously lit, with warm lamps and a near total absence of natural lighting until daybreak. Fabric hangs everywhere, the sets are dressed with care but not overfilled. The sound design and foley work seam together trickles of water, chirping insects, and dampened bare-feet splashing small pools of water to evoke an atmosphere that, were I able to view in a theater would assuredly be all encompassing.

Night of the Kings tells it’s story, and performs a transference of emotion. Emotion at a sense of history, a sense of loss, a hope for the future, but the agony and vigor it takes to just reach one more day. One thing is sure, I want to see more out of Philippe Lacôte as a writer/director and if he can re-team with newcomer Koné Bakary all the better.

Recommended.

Night of the Kings Trailer

Interview: Pier-Philippe Chevigny Writer/Director/Editor Talks About His Short Film ‘Rebel’

Director Pier-Phillippe Chevigny’s Rebel was inspired by true events. When thousands of illegal immigrants flooded into Canada from the US in 2017,  Quebec’s right-wing groups went on the attack. This live-action short film has been selected for numerous world-class festivals including TIFF, Busan, Regard, Namur, and Vladivostok. It has won numerous awards including the Audience Award at DC Shorts, Best Short Film Award at the Tirana International Film Festival, and the Golden Spike Award for Best Short Film at the Social World Film Festival.

Interview by Anna Harrison

Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first get the idea, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?

I started toying with the idea in early 2017 when Quebec was just starting to see a significant rise in right-wing extremism. By August 2017, Quebec was hit with a migrant surge: thousands of refugees started fleeing the US after the Temporary Protected Status was suspended, most of whom came to Quebec by “illegally” crossing the border by foot. I wrote the script to REBEL while those events were unfolding and we applied for funding in the fall of that year. The film was greenlit and shot in the fall of 2018, it was completed in late Spring of 2019, and had its premiere at TIFF in September 2019. So about two years and a half from the first research effort to the world premiere. 

Were there any major script changes from conception to end?

In the original script, the refugees were envisioned as coming from Haiti, as at the time of writing, an overwhelming majority of people crossing the border into Quebec came from that country. When we auditioned actors for the role, since there is not a large community of Haitian actors in Montreal, we opened up the call to people from anywhere. We did group auditions and these two Persian actors, Amir Nakhjavani and Baharan Bani Ahmadi, came together for theirs and were absolutely spectacular. So we rewrote the roles to accommodate them. Other than that, the script is pretty close to the final film.

The film explicitly mentions Trump in its opening. What effects has he had in Canada, in your opinion? Did his rise influence the creation of the film?

Definitely. The main inspiration for REBEL is the 2017 migrant surge, which was directly caused by the Trump administration’s decision to suspend the TPS. REBEL wants to challenge the perception that Canada is devoid of racism, but it also aims to depict the very serious international consequences of American policies. The American Alt-Right movement in general also had a very strong influence on the rise of right-wing extremism in Quebec. Ever since the migrant crisis in 2017, we started seeing these very organized right-wing militia groups in Quebec, similar to the Proud Boys and other such groups in the States, getting a lot of mainstream media attention and becoming more and more active: that was a completely new phenomenon to us, the likes of which we had never seen before. Alexandre Bissonnette, the terrorist from the Quebec City Mosque shootings in 2017 was also a very enthusiastic Trump supporter. So yes, of course… “When America sneezes, Canada catches a cold”.

What made you decide to show the events depicted in the film through the eyes of a child? How did you approach these issues with Édouard-B. Larocque?

In the summer of 2017, there was a big right-wing rally in Quebec City organized by right-wing militia group La Meute. The very next day, one of how national newspapers had for its front page the picture of a very young boy who was waving a flag with La Meute’s logo on it. I thought to myself: that kid has no idea what the politics are being the whole movement, he’s obviously just following his parents. And I thought it’d be interesting to tell a story of right-wing extremism through the eyes of a child who doesn’t understand what it’s really about. Who doesn’t see it as “bad” or “evil”, because he is being raised inside the movement and never gets to question it. And have that kid witness something that triggers his understanding of the movement. Then put the audience in the very same headspace as him, and have them experience that “moment of realization” simultaneously. That’s what REBEL is about, which is why at first, the camera movements and framing are somewhat confusing. There’s no establishing shots, you don’t know where you are, the militia groups are hidden in the background, out-of-focus: just like the character, you’re oblivious to what’s really going on. And then, when the boy starts understanding the situation, it becomes much more edited, you get to look all around you and, finally, you also catch on to what’s really going on in those woods.

Édouard was very young when we auditioned it, he was barely six years old. Of course, he didn’t understand what the politics behind the film were either, but he did connect emotionally with the migrant family’s perspective. Deep down, the film is about empathy, and he understood that. He was surprisingly mature for his age and directing him in those scenes was actually quite easy. I also worked with an excellent acting coach, Ariane Castellanos, whose presence was invaluable.

Oftentimes, it’s easy to paint extreme right-wingers like those in the film as evil, but even though these characters do despicable things, they are empathetic in many ways: love for their children, friendship with each other, etc. Was it difficult to humanize them?

To be honest, that was mostly the result of my research. When I started getting interested in Quebec’s right-wing militia groups, I found out that its members weren’t exactly the neo-nazi skinheads I expected: they were actually normal people, with families and decent jobs. They were family guys and soccer moms, they brought their kids along to demonstrations…  And that’s what made it so frightening: there is nothing surprising about seeing skinheads march against immigration, but when everyday normal people start joining such radical movements, that’s a clear signal to me that something is wrong. I wanted REBEL to show that precisely, with seemingly decent parents doing despicable things such as taking their kids along to a migrant hunt like it’s some kind of family-friendly outing. As absurd and disconnected with reality as these characters seemed when I wrote the script as an anticipation piece three years ago, recent events show that we’re unfortunately not that far off…

What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing the film?

I, for one, certainly wanted to raise awareness on the rise of right-wing extremism, which people really didn’t take that seriously when I made the film. But I also wanted to show a glimmer of hope. The ending is meant as a way to say that, while we may not be able to fix those issues right now, I have faith in the next generation’s ability to overcome our problems. 

What’s your favorite snack on set?

I’m usually so focused I forget to eat. Coffee!

Rebel Full Short Film

Rebel is currently available for free on Vimeo

You can also read Anna’s capsule review of Rebel or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website

Capsule Review: Rebel

Director Pier-Phillippe Chevigny’s Rebel was inspired by true events. When thousands of illegal immigrants flooded into Canada from the US in 2017,  Quebec’s right-wing groups went on the attack. This live-action short film has been selected for numerous world-class festivals including TIFF, Busan, Regard, Namur, and Vladivostok. It has won numerous awards including the Audience Award at DC Shorts, Best Short Film Award at the Tirana International Film Festival, and the Golden Spike Award for Best Short Film at the Social World Film Festival.

Written by Anna Harrison

    80/100

Rebel is set in Quebec and directed by Canadian filmmaker Pier-Philippe Chevigny, yet within the first thirty seconds, Donald Trump gets name dropped on the radio as the announcer rattles off the number of migrants fleeing to Canada instead of risking deportation under Trump. People much smarter than I have analyzed the rise of right-wing extremism in relation to Trump, but Rebel takes that threat and makes it frighteningly real—and this film was made long before we watched a group of right-wing terrorists storm the Capitol Building. 

Rebel traces a day in the life of Alex (Édouard-B. Larocque), a six-year-old whose father, Dave (Émile Schneider), takes him along to a gathering with his buddies. Dave seems like a good father, affectionate towards his son even if he may be a little rough around the edges. However, as the film progresses, we learn that Dave and his friends belong to a right-wing militia group who are conducting a hunt to smoke out some of the migrants the radio mentioned earlier. 

What started out as sweet slowly unravels as we watch Alex get exposed to the dangerous mindset and beliefs of his father; where the camera started only focusing on Alex with very few cuts or editing, leaving viewers in the dark, as Alex begins to see the darkness of his father’s deeds, the camera movements expand and we begin to see the full extent of the situation alongside Alex.

This all makes the film very compelling, even though some of its plot points might need a bit more explanation. Rebel serves as a chilling reminder of the growing right-wing extremism not only from the United States, but which the U.S. and Trump have certainly emboldened; fortunately, the film ends on a hopeful note for young Alex, suggesting a way to overcome this one day. I hope Chevigny is right.

Rebel Full Short Film

Rebel is currently available for free on Vimeo

You can also read Anna’s Interview with Pier-Philippe Chevigny or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website

Episode 76: Best of 2020 So Far

“When I finish a film, I feel like I have overcome a certain hurdle. It’s really good for me as a human being, and I hope that for some people, my films will do the same thing.”

Hong Sang-soo

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on the Podcast we discuss our 10 favorite films of 2020 so far, as well as hand out show awards for each of our Wounded Soldiers of the year, The Squanderies, Top Ensembles, Top Doc, Top 3 OST’s, Favorite Actor and Actress(Lead and Supporting), Top 3 Directorial Debuts, 3 Favorite Classic Discovery, and our Top Technically Beautiful Film.

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