“Exploring Nature” at Montreal’s International Documentary Festival

RIDM’s 23rd edition showcases some of the best nature documentaries from the past year

The Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM) kicked off its 23rd edition on Nov. 12, allowing filmgoers the opportunity to screen a wide variety of documentaries from the comfort of their own homes. The 2020 festival showcases some of the best documentaries from the past year and boasts a wide selection from all over the globe.

This year’s festival is divided into eight thematic categories, each available for a period of seven days. Among the first sections available for screening is “Exploring Nature,” an assortment of films about the environment and our complicated relationship with it. Here are just a few of the nature docs that caught my eye!

Watch The Concordian’s interview with Bruno Dequen, RIDM artistic director below.

Cenote (dir. Kaori Oda, Mexico/Japan, 2019)

Despite its presence at RIDM, Cenote is far from a conventional documentary. Director Kaori Oda is even reluctant to label her latest feature a film, instead referring to it as an “experimental documentary.” With its swirling, often disorienting camera work and its hypnotic auditory cues, “experimental” is certainly an apt descriptor, as Cenote is more akin to a sensory experience than anything else.

As its title suggests, the film examines cenotes; deep, natural sinkholes formed by collapsed limestone. Armed with an 8mm camera and an iPhone X, the Japanese filmmaker travels to Yucatan, Mexico to document the land’s many cavernous pits and explore their ties to the ancient Maya civilization. Opening text explains that Mayans saw cenotes as spaces of great spirituality, areas that connected present life with the afterlife. Ritualistic offerings in the form of human sacrifice were habitually presented to the Rain God Chaac, who Mayans believed lived at the bottom of the cenotes. Given this information, the cenotes develop an air of intrigue and Oda’s dreamlike and indistinct imagery paints them as something otherworldly and mythical.


Stray (dir. Elizabeth Lo, United States, 2020)

Stray opens to a quote by Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope which tells us that “Human beings…would do well to study the dog.” If unconvinced by this statement, one would only need to sit through the next 72 minutes to realize that there is indeed a lot to learn.

Stray documents the lives of several dogs living in the streets of Istanbul and Turkey, primarily focusing on a hazel-eyed canine named Zeytin. Zeytin wanders through the city in search of food and shelter, encountering numerous other strays and passersby along the way. Eventually, she is “adopted” by a group of teenage vagrants, all refugees living in similarly poor conditions.

What’s particularly striking about Lo’s film is how instantaneously we become invested in the plight of the animals. Stray appeals to our empathy at a very instinctual level; it doesn’t require any frills or embellishments to evoke an emotional response from its viewers.

As Zeytin roams the streets, she sees crowds gathered in protest, a couple arguing on a restaurant terrace, homeless men keeping warm by a barrel fire. She stares attentively. How much does she really understand? While the animal world lacks many of the intricacies of the human world, the film shows us that there is in fact a significant overlap found in our shared compassion, curiosity and desire for companionship.


Jiíbie (dir. Laura Huertas Millán, Colombia/France, 2019)

Jiíbie is a medium-length documentary that examines the cultivation and production of coca powder in the Amazonian community of Muina-Murui. Immediately, the film makes its purpose clear; “This is not a movie about cocaine,” a title card reads. For its many centuries of spiritual and ritualistic use by the native people of America, the coca plant cannot shake its reputation as the raw material from which the narcotic is extracted.

Jiíbie aims to dispel the many misconceptions associated with the plant by showing us the reverence it holds within these communities. In intimate detail, we watch as the Indigenous people of the Amazon crush, burn and mash the coca leaf into powder for spiritual purposes, all while listening to local stories and myths centered around the plant.

While it might not rid the leaf of its negative connotations, Jiíbie is still a powerful educational tool and a fascinating insight into the world of coca powder production.


Icemeltland Park (dir. Liliana Colombo, United Kingdom/Italy, 2020)

In a far-off future, nature is exploited to the point of no return. Unrestrained industrialization has led to the creation of an amusement park where attendees can watch the environment decay in real time. Sounds scary, right? This is the inventive premise behind Icemeltland Park, and sadly, Liliana Colombo’s dystopian vision is far too realistic for comfort. Colombo’s darkly satirical take on climate change takes us on a guided tour across the world to watch glaciers melt as part of a hypothetical theme park attraction.

The film is composed almost entirely of iPhone footage pulled from YouTube and runs with its clever framing device all the way to the very end. Included are “commercial breaks” and popup text that orders viewers to “please keep recording” despite the potential danger and implications of the horrific events unfolding. It’s a film that speaks to our indifference and general apathy towards climate change and how greed and spectacle triumph over the environment. Icemeltland Park ends with a foreboding warning that more natural catastrophes will come at the hands of climate change. An ominous message, but a necessary one, nonetheless.

The Montreal International Documentary Festival runs from now until Dec. 2. For more details including tickets and programming, please visit their website.


An interview with Far from Bashar director Pascal Sanchez

The filmmaker, screenwriter and documentarian opens up about his latest feature

Filmmaker and screenwriter Pascal Sanchez sat down with The Concordian to discuss his newest feature film, Far from Bashar, ahead of its Sept. 25 premiere at the Cinémathèque Québécoise.

Sanchez’s career began on the TV series La Course destination monde, a television competition focused on young burgeoning filmmakers. Sanchez won the competition and went on to make a number of short films and series. His first feature, The Ailing Queen, won an award at the Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM) and received the Gémeaux for best documentary in the nature/science category.

Far from Bashar documents the lives of the al-Mahamids, a Syrian family forced to flee the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and relocate to Montreal. Though they are far from the war, they remain haunted by both the conflict and the life they left behind. Sanchez’s film is a beautiful and delicately observed chronicle of a family’s new beginnings and the past that continues to plague them.

The Concordian: In the film’s press kit, you state that Far from Bashar was initially imagined as “The daydream of a Syrian child … plunged into new surroundings.” What drew you to this concept for the film?

Pascal Sanchez: Basically, it was an intuition. It was a curiosity and a desire. I wanted to get closer, to film the gaze of a child discovering the city for the first time. I wished to document a child that must create a new life, but at the same time, live with their past and the war, which is something very difficult to live with. So for me, it was an important context. I thought that there was something there, something that I wanted to discover. During the research of this film, I asked within the Syrian community to meet some families and to have contact with a child, and then I met the al-Mahamid family. When I met the family and Adnan [the father of the al-Mahamid family], I changed my mind immediately and the project then became a film about the whole family. But I think it’s still the same film, because I wanted to be as close as possible to the inner life, the thoughts of these newcomers in Montreal. And the film is still that. So, the contact with the family was a normal part of the process.

TC: Many films about the conflict in Syria focus on the background and history of the war. Your film takes an opposite approach by instead giving attention to those impacted by its violence. At one instance in the film, Adnan even tells the camera, “people always ask about the historical city, but they forget about the people.” Was this something you had in mind when you set out to make the film?

PS: I didn’t want to make a report or statement about the war. My focus was to be as close as possible to the individuals and their inner life. To document the way they live and their experience of being away from their home and having to build a new life. Also, dealing with some sense of guilt about being survivors and their anxiety for the people left behind. So for me, it was a very difficult and complex situation. I never wished to make a statement about that, I really wanted to let their reality, let them, speak for themselves. It didn’t feel legitimate to make some sort of statement about the war, to say it is one way or another, even though I have my opinions. But at the same time, one thing that was really compelling to me was that Adnan was an activist for democracy in his country and he had to face a lot of repression, a lot of loss. And in my opinion, this part of the conflict was really largely hidden. We didn’t know, and we still don’t know, a lot about that aspect, so it was important for me to follow Adnan and the family.

TC: The film documents the al-Mahamids through several different seasons. We see the youngest daughter celebrating Halloween and later we see their neighbourhood enveloped in snow. How long did the filming process last? Did the presence of cameras and crew pose any problems for the family?

PS: Yeah, it was a long process! Almost one year of filming. I had to adapt to their schedule and to their needs and realities. But they were very open to my presence. They opened their door to me and let me film. I would ask “Can I come and film this? Can I follow you to the university?”, and they would tell me either yes or no. It was a long process, but it was also a kind of cohabitation and we learned to know each other.

TC: You say that Adnan agreed to be filmed because he wished to show that “We [Syrian refugees] are good people.” However, the film does not outwardly tackle issues of prejudice or discrimination. Was it a deliberate decision to avoid such discourse in the film?

PS: I didn’t want to make a statement about that, but it’s a really strong background to this film, sure. And I think the common ground that we have with Adnan and the family is also that, to change the perception of Muslim families. I didn’t want to address it directly in this film, but if the audience notices that, I will be very happy. The family will be too. And the way we film by going softly, and by going also in a truthful approach, it makes a real sense of the encounter with them. So, the answer is yes. It’s a really strong background to film.

TC: Despite the gravity of the film’s subject matter, I could not help but feel a sense of hope emanating from the film. We see the family thriving in their new environment and their firm conviction that they will one day be reunited with their lost loved ones is nothing short of inspiring. Would you consider Far from Bashar to be an optimistic film in that sense?

PS: Yeah I think so. It’s a difficult question because in the film, the family shares their very private moments. It was a very particular and difficult period of their lives. But we also see their courage and the way they deal with those issues. So yeah, I think it’s optimistic. I think it gives a sense of what is good in humanity, in what is good in people.

Far from Bashar is now playing at the Cinémathèque Québécoise. For showtimes and tickets, visit


The visceral horror of Come and See

Elem Klimov’s historical epic is a deranged and frightening showcase of human evil

A common criticism aimed at modern war films is their general disregard for historical accuracy. Films like Pearl Harbor or Enemy at the Gates, while entertaining, are often embellished or glamorized in order to make the subject matter more palatable for mainstream audiences. The fact of the matter is that war is messy. Lives are lost, cities are destroyed and soldiers and civilians are left with lasting psychological effects. Rarely will a film seek to capture the absolute horror of combat in a truthful and authentic manner. There are, of course, some exceptions, one of which is the 1985 Belarusian film Come and See.

Set during the Nazi occupation of Belarus, a landlocked Eastern European country between Poland and Russia, Come and See tells the story of a young teenage partisan named Flyora. Against the wishes of his mother, Flyora joins the Soviet resistance movement and soon becomes entangled in a hellish conflict.

Director Elem Klimov has stated that in making this film, he wished to properly convey the sensory experience of war to the viewer. To achieve this, the director consulted Soviet writer Ales Adamovich to collaborate on the film’s script. Adamovich fought as a partisan during the Second World War, and his book I Am from the Fiery Village was used as the inspiration for the film’s events.

The director’s characterization of Come and See as a sensory experience is an apt one. Whether it be the terrifying reverberation of a dropped bomb or the ominous droning of fighter planes circling the sky, the film’s sound design shakes you to the core. The imagery is similarly harrowing, and the camera will often linger on disturbing scenes, amplifying feelings of discomfort. Fans of Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Midsummer will find these techniques very familiar. The result is an overwhelming and visceral journey into the depths of depravity that will affect you profoundly.

Visually, Come and See is distinct for its frequent use of POV shots. This was a purposeful decision made by Klimov and cinematographer, Aleksei Rodionov, to place the audience at the center of the events unfolding. The close-ups of the actors directly addressing the camera are incredibly impactful and make the characters’ anger, fear and anguish feel all the more real. It’s a reminder that war is a human conflict first and foremost, and that there were very real people affected by the ramifications.

As the film progresses, we watch as protagonist Flyora gradually undergoes a stunning visual transformation, with his hair turning grey and his face becoming lined with wrinkles. Flyora’s transformation is not only a physical delineation of the effects of war, indicating the immense stress he is undergoing, but it also represents his loss of innocence. Flyora begins the film as an eager boy ready to join the Soviet resistance, but by the end he is left battered and emotionally scarred, robbed of his youth.

The film went through numerous delays during production, with the USSR’s State Committee for Cinematography,  at one point rejecting it, believing the film promoted an “aesthetics of dirtiness.” Nearly 35 years later, Come and See has garnered a reputation among critics as being one of the greatest and most accurate depictions of war ever put to film. It is a haunting representation of the indelible effects of war and an assessment of mankind’s capacity for evil. It is a gut-wrenching watch from start to finish, but one that should absolutely be seen.

Come and See is playing at Cinema Moderne as part of their “M: Les Maudits” Series dedicated to cult and genre classics. Screenings take place on Feb. 28 at 9 p.m. and March 8 at 7:15 p.m. Tickets are available online or at the box office. For more details visit

Student Life

A coffee snob’s guide to third wave cafes

My first real foray into the vast world of coffee came during my second semester of CEGEP. The school year was nearing its end and I desperately needed something to boost the dwindling morale that exam season had inflicted upon me. Enter: The stimulating effects of coffee.

Since then, coffee has become a staple of my morning routine and very rarely will I make it to lunch without a cup. My bean dependency soon led me to third-wave cafes, which took my fondness for coffee to new heights. These cafés had tremendous ambience and beverages created with care and of higher quality than what I was used to.

This third wave of coffee is grounded in the belief that coffee should be treated as an artisanal product akin to wine, deserving the same level of care and respect. The worldwide movement emphasizes the importance of knowledge and craftsmanship in the preparation of coffee and how they affect the way that we think of and enjoy each cup. 

Through various methods of growing, cultivating, and roasting the coffee beans, as well as different means of preparing the beverage itself, third-wave coffee seeks to emphasize unique characteristics of various coffee beans and accentuate nuances in flavour. In short, the third wave’s entire raison d’être is to enjoy and appreciate coffee of higher quality.

The term “third-wave” was originally coined by coffee connoisseur Trish R Skeie in a 2003 newsletter for The Roaster’s Guild. In it, she writes: “The Third Wave is a reaction to those who want to automate and homogenize Specialty Coffee.” So, what then, were the first two waves? 

The first wave is attributed to the commodification of coffee kicked off by the emergence of instant coffee in the 1960s. By all accounts, the coffee itself wasn’t particularly great, but it was now easily accessible and could be enjoyed in homes. 

The second wave began around the 1970s and came alongside the popularization of cafés such as Starbucks, which improved upon the quality of coffee from the first wave. Alongside the preparation of the beverages, one of the major differences between second and third wave is the knowledge possessed by the baristas, who can generally tell you all there is to know about the coffee itself, including how and where the beans were cultivated.

I’ve only but scratched the surface of third-wave coffee. If you’re interested in learning more, I’d recommend checking out the th3rdwave mobile app, a hub for everything caffeinated. 

Café DAX

Cafe DAX is located in Outremont. Photo by Britanny Clarke.

Located in the heart of Outremont, Café Dax has quickly become a staple in the Montreal third-wave coffee scene. Its staff is incredibly welcoming and their passion for their craft is evident in the quality of their product. In the warm summer months, you can enjoy a delicious ice cream or popsicle while sitting outside on their sidewalk terrace. A definite must-try.

Hof Kelsten

Hof Kelsten is a bakery that specializes in traditional Jewish and French pastries and bread. Although baked goods are their forte, their coffees need not be overlooked! Paired with one of their fresh croissants or chocolate danishes, it’s an absolute delight.

Café Orr

Cafe ORR is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day. Photo by Britanny Clarke.

Café Orr has the unique distinction of being a cinema café, meaning that you can enjoy a free screening alongside your coffee. Its sizable menu, wonderful ambience and unique angle make Orr a standout in Montreal.


Café St-Henri

Cafe St-Henri has several locations across the island. Photo by Britanny Clarke.

One of several St-Henri cafés across Montreal, this location near Villeray is undoubtedly my favourite. Its ample seating, lowkey and quiet atmosphere make it the ideal café for getting some work done or chatting it up with a friend. At the back of the café sits their coffee lab, where the curious can watch the beans being roasted on-site.


There is perhaps no better way to enjoy a book than with a coffee in hand, and Éclair is well aware of this. Éclair is a new café-library hybrid that opened in the Mile End last summer. Its

Éclair, a new café-library hybrid, opened in the Mile End last summer. Photo by Britanny Clarke.

space is intimate and minimalist, making it the perfect setting to read a book and digest some stellar coffee. 

Photos by Britanny Clarke


5 Must-See Films of the 2010s

Selected highlights from a decade of gems

The 2010s were undoubtedly an interesting time for cinema. The decade saw the rise of superhero movies and shared universes, the popularization of streaming services, the standardization of digital de-ageing, innumerable sequels, and even reboots and remakes that no one asked for. Still, the last 10 years gave us some incredible, wholly original and unique films that are absolutely worth your time.

Here are just five of them.

Cold War (dir. Paweł Pawlikowski, Poland, 2018)

By the time the credits roll at the end of Paweł Pawlikowski’s period drama Cold War, you cannot help but be overcome by an astounding sense of melancholy and emptiness. Pawlikowski’s film is bleak and despondent, allowing its viewers very little in terms of consolation or assurance; but it is that very same bleakness that lies at the essence of Cold War’s efficacy.

The film tells the story of an ill-fated relationship between a male musical director and a young female singer. Beginning in post-World War II Poland, the film bounces between several time periods and settings, and follows the couple as they are repeatedly separated but ultimately brought together again under different circumstances. Cold War boasts a beautiful black and white visual aesthetic that accentuates the coldness of the film and the detachment of its characters.


Shoplifters (dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan, 2018)

“What makes a family?”: a question Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda sought to answer in his 2018 film Shoplifters. Time and time again, Hirokazu has proven himself a master of the modern familial drama, crafting thoughtful, contemplative films that assess the intricacies of family life. The 2018 Palme D’Or winner follows a group of shoplifters that steal a young girl from a broken home, “adopting” her into their household. Despite not being biologically related, the characters are kept afloat by an intimate bond that fastens them together as a family.

Hirokazu’s leisurely-paced film examines familial relationships and dynamics, stressing the importance of having people to care for and depend upon. Although the situations presented in the film are likely far removed from the realities of its viewers, Shoplifters still somehow manages to carry an indescribable familiarity with it. The moments when the family members are idly lying about, spending a day at the beach or stepping outside to catch a glimpse of nearby fireworks, each tap into a certain universality that recalls distant memories.


Certified Copy (dir. Abbas Kiarostami, France/Iran, 2010)

Director Abbas Kiarostami’s first film outside of Iran is arguably one of his best. William Shimell plays an author that meets an antiques dealer on a trip to Tuscany. At first glance, what seems to be a romantic comedy turns out to be anything but, as the film slowly reveals itself as something richer and more complex than initially anticipated.

The film opens with Shimell’s character, James, holding a press conference to discuss his latest book in which he examines the worth of an original piece of art compared to a replication. This opening scene sets the stage for themes and ideas that Certified Copy will spend the remainder of the film exploring: the fluidity of identity and the value of truth.

A remarkable shift occurs midway through the film, in which the man and the woman who we had believed to have just met, begin acting as though they are on the last legs on a lengthy marriage. From that point on, things begin to get even more intricate and strange, and details become increasingly obscure and unverifiable. Juliette Binoche’s character switches seamlessly from French to Italian and then to English, and it has us questioning the validity behind everything we’ve been told thus far. What, then, happens to truth? To meaning? How do we know if something is authentic or not? Certified Copy will leave you wondering.


Poetry (dir. Lee Chang-dong, South Korea, 2010)

Like the aforementioned Cold War, Poetry is a difficult watch. South Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong’s heartbreaking film tells the story of a woman in her sixties, Mi Ja, trying to cope with an inundation of life altering news. Recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and informed that her grandson was involved in a horrible crime, Mi Ja meanders through her days disconnected and adrift. It is not until she enrolls in a poetry class that she begins to find meaning and purpose in her life.

The performance of lead actress Yoon Jeong-hee is understated yet captivating, with tiny gestures and expressions conveying the ways in which she is quietly aching. Chang-dong’s Poetry is a consistently gut-wrenching film that examines personal struggles and suffering and how we choose to deal with our circumstances.


Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand, 2010)

Upon first viewing, Uncle Boonmee may seem like a hard film to crack. But perhaps director Apitchatpong Weerasethakul intended it to be that way. In a 2010 interview, Weerasethakul told The Guardian: “Sometimes you don’t need to understand everything to appreciate a certain beauty. And I think the film operates in the same way.”

Weerasethakul’s ethereal, dreamlike film follows the last days of the titular Boonmee, a dying man who is visited by the ghost of his deceased wife and an apparition of his long-lost son in a non-human form. At the same time, Boonmee is having hallucinatory visions of previous lives he may have lived. These glimpses are sudden and without explanation and there is little to explicitly connect them to Boonmee. But much like real-life instances of déjà vu, sporadic memory flashes, or concepts of afterlife or reincarnation, the film’s vignettes defy any sort of logic or explanation. It eludes us because we, too, do not have the answers.

The film perhaps raises more questions than it resolves, but its non-linear, almost stream of consciousness-like presentation will envelop you in a trance and leave you hypnotized.


Agnès Varda: Queen of the Margins

A look back at the work and legacy of one of cinema’s all-time greats

In a 2009 interview with The New York Times, French filmmaker Agnès Varda dubbed herself “the queen of the margins,” referring to her inability to find commercial success with her work. “But the films are loved,” she said. “The films are remembered and this is my aim. I want to share emotions, to share the pleasure of being a filmmaker.”

Varda, who is perhaps best known as a pioneering figure of the highly influential French New Wave movement, passed away last March at the age of 90, leaving behind an incredible body of work that spanned a staggering six decades. After making the rounds within the festival circuit, Varda’s posthumously released final film, Varda by Agnès is receiving a limited theatrical run across select theatres in North America. The film features the cineaste reflecting on her career as a filmmaker and offering an intimate, first-hand account of her life’s experiences. In typical Varda fashion, it is imbued with a sense of wit and cleverness throughout and acts as a reminder of just how unique, sincere and uncompromising a voice Agnès Varda truly was.

Stylistically, Varda’s  films would often experiment with traditional means of storytelling and incorporate elements of both documentary and fiction films. Thematically, they were daring and bold, typically addressing subject matters deemed too delicate or subversive for most movie-going audiences.

Her 1977 film One Sings, the Other Doesn’t, for example, is set against the backdrop of the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s and examines the debate surrounding abortion at a time when it was outlawed in France. One Sings was Varda’s attempt at making a film of special interest to women, one that dealt with women’s issues and challenged dominant representation, which she felt was insincere. “Is there such a thing as a woman’s film?” Varda asked in a 1977 interview with The New York Times. “There are always stories about virile male friendship but not about friendship between women. The women are always motherly or tarty.”

A self-proclaimed “feminist before birth,” Varda was one of the few female writers/directors of her era and utilized her unique position to tell women’s stories from a woman’s perspective. Varda’s voice was both distinct and refreshing, a standout in an industry otherwise dominated by men.

In 1962, she released her critically acclaimed Cléo de 5 a 7, which remains among her most well-known and lauded works. Taking place within a single afternoon, the film follows the titular Cléo as she awaits the results of a medical test that could potentially reveal a cancer diagnosis. Tall, blonde and full-figured, Cléo derives her worth from her appearance and the validation she receives from others. Throughout the film, however, Cléo gradually learns to break free from her need for approval, ultimately choosing to take control of her own identity. As Nourhan Hesham of wrote: “Cléo resists objectification and assumes agency by stripping herself of her to-be-looked-at-ness.” In a 2010 interview with the Federation of European Film Directors (FERA), Varda discussed the role of the gaze in Cléo, stating: “A woman’s first feminist act is to see – and say – ‘okay, people might be looking at me, but I stare back.’ ”

In addition to women’s issues, Varda was particularly fascinated by the personal lives of others, specifically those living on the fringes of society. “I really have the feeling that it’s interesting to approach people,” Varda told Cineuropa in a 2019 interview, “But mostly the ones on the margins, the people we don’t speak about that much in cinema.” Though Varda’s aforementioned “queen of the margins” comment was in reference to her commercial success, it is also reflective of the filmmaker’s intense curiosity with the alienated and marginalized, whom she championed through her films.

One of those films was her 1985 venture Vagabond, which documents the final two months in the life of a young female vagrant. Varda had long been interested in exploring the lives of the impoverished and destitute, but it was not until hearing of the increased poverty rates in the early 1980s that she decided to make Vagabond. Feeling fatigued over the abundance of films about Parisian intellectuals, Varda’s aim with Vagabond was to portray “the real France” that she felt had been ignored in contemporary cinema.

Though we may never again see a filmmaker as inventive and as dauntless as Agnès Varda, her works and legacy will undoubtedly continue to live on in the hearts and minds of cinephiles everywhere.  Varda by Agnès allows us one final farewell to the mother of the French New Wave. It serves as an apt send-off to one of cinema’s great visionaries and a fitting bookend to a lengthy and illustrious career.

Varda by Agnès is now playing at Cinema Moderne and Cinema du Musée. For showtimes please visit or Concurrently, the Cinémathèque Québécoise is hosting a career-spanning retrospective of the films of Agnès Varda from Dec. 9-15. Details can be found at



Graphic by @sundaeghost


Parasite: Laughing in the face of adversity

Equal parts comedic and discomforting, Bong Joon-ho’s latest is a thought-provoking take on class struggles

In the few short weeks since its North American theatrical premiere, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite has received extensive critical praise, winning numerous accolades and awards. A recent article from variety reports that Parasite now holds the box office record for highest per-screen average of any foreign language film. And, in addition to being awarded the prestigious Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Joon-ho’s latest is expected to sweep the Oscars come 2020.

So, what exactly is Parasite?

To put it plainly, it is a dark comedy about a family of con artists that conspire their way into jobs they are unqualified for. At the same time, it is a thriller about a heist gone awry, a horror film and a familial drama infused with thoughtful commentary on class and economic disparities.

To reduce Parasite to a single descriptor would be to do it a disservice, for it is many things all at once. Joon-ho is a veteran filmmaker and crafts a masterful, chameleon-esque melding of genres that seamlessly shifts from one tone to another, subverting audience expectations throughout the duration of its run time.

The film tells the story of the Kims, a poverty-stricken family living in a shabby basement apartment in Seoul. When the son, Ki-woo, is presented with a chance to tutor the daughter of the wealthy Park family, he poses as an English instructor to secure the position.

Seeing this as an opportunity to aid his family’s dire financial situation, Ki-woo devises a scheme to exploit the naïvete and benevolence of his employers. Soon, through deceitful tactics, Ki-woo begins acquiring jobs for the rest of his family, and the Kims begin infiltrating the lives of the Parks.

Where Parasite shines is in its poignant dissection of class, rooted in the juxtaposition of the film’s two families, the Parks and the Kims. The Parks, affluent and successful, represent the wealthy elite situated at the top of the social ladder; the father, an influential and accomplished businessman, and the children constantly touted as prodigious, destined for greatness. And yet, despite their privilege and prestige, the Parks are naïve, oblivious and disconnected from the world outside theirs. The patriarch’s constant reference to a “disgusting odor” that emits off of poor people emphasizes this disconnect and even suggests an internalized disdain for  the less fortunate.

Comparably, the Kim family are destitute and disadvantaged, struggling to survive in an economic system working against them. With the parents unemployed and the children without any foreseeable opportunities for advancements, the family resorts to scamming and manipulation in order to get ahead.

The disparity in their circumstances is highlighted when a heavy downpour envelops the area. Whereas the storm simply means a cancelled camping trip for the Parks, it results in a severe flood for the Kims, one that engulfs their entire apartment.

On a superficial level, the two families are completely different, but they are, in fact, united by a shared factor; their habitual exploitation of and reliance on others. Of course, the parasitic nature of the Kims is evident in their readiness to leech off of their oblivious benefactors. But just as the Kims comfortably take advantage of their hosts, the Parks too, are heavily dependent on their workers.

With the Kims working for the Parks as domestic help (preparing meals, cleaning, chauffeuring and tutoring), it seems as though the latter are totally incapable of performing simple tasks by themselves. They rely on the Kims to keep their household, and by extension, their personal lives afloat. Both families, while their methods differ, are simply trying to survive in a capitalist system, and with their cards so unevenly dealt, is one method truly more justifiable than the other?

Parasite raises questions of dependency and exploitation in a skewed economic system, while simultaneously examining the ways in which we respond to such a discrepancy. It is a subject that Joon-ho addresses in a frank and darkly comedic manner, seemingly laughing along at the absurdity and cruelty of it all.

Parasite is now playing in select theatres across Montreal. For showtimes, please visit or for more details.


Graphic by @joeybruceart


Examining the socio-political influences behind Night of the Living Dead

The evil now resides within our own region and we ourselves are the threat

In the immensely vast and expansive canon of the horror genre, there are perhaps few films as significant as George A. Romero’s 1968 landmark title Night of the Living Dead.

Romero’s first ever feature-length film was responsible for the creation of the modern day zombie; the shuffling, re-animated, flesh-eating ghoul killed only by a blow to the head. The filmmakers’ gritty, uncompromising vision helped usher in a new wave of horror films that shifted their focus from the fantastical to the more realistic, grounded and gruesome.

Night of the Living Dead was released at the tail end of a decade marked by cultural phenomena and paints an acutely unsettling portrait of a country marred by civil unrest. In the years following the film’s release, Romero has spoken extensively on how Night was influenced by the era’s political climate. In a 2010 interview with film critic Peter Keough, Romero called his zombie films “snapshots of the time they were made.”

With Night, Romero set out to provoke and to reflect on the qualms and anxieties of the American public, while simultaneously offering a grim prediction of where things were headed.

The script for Night was developed by Romero and collaborator, John Russo, over the course of three days in 1967. That same year, a series of 159 race riots exploded across the United States in what became known as the “Long, hot summer of 1967.” Concurrently, the Vietnam War continued to rage on, being regularly broadcast to homes across America in vivid, graphic detail. As author Geoff King details in his book New Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction, the image of America as a place of freedom and democracy had been irreparably damaged, and lead to widespread anti-authoritarian and countercultural sentiments across the western world.

The collective impact of these events in a relatively short period of time influenced many filmmakers during the latter half of the decade, Romero included, whose criticisms come across in many of the film’s creative choices and thematic elements. Perhaps most telling of all is Romero’s decision to have the film take place within America. Horror movies prior to Night of the Living Dead had always been set in far-off, unfamiliar lands.

As film critic Robin Wood reflects on in his book Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan, the foreign threat in horror during this time period suggests that, while evil does exist, it is certainly not American.

In Night, the evil now resides within our own region, we ourselves are the threat. Despite its reputation as the progenitor of zombie films, Night never outright refers to its monsters as “zombies.” 

For Romero, the movie’s ghouls were always intended to be dead neighbours, fellow citizens turned violent. Some, such as critic Douglas Winter, have even drawn parallels between the films’ zombies and soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War; violent, eager to kill and lacking in individuality or moral values. This theory is supported by the filmmakers’ decision to film the movie in black and white, mimicking the realism and grittiness of wartime newsreels.

The socio-political context behind the film has also allowed for readings through the lens of race relations during the 1960s. Of course, lending credence to this interpretation is the casting of Duane Jones, a person of colour, in the film’s lead role. With the Jim Crow laws having been abolished only a few years prior, this was indeed a bold move by the filmmakers.

Though Romero has stated that this decision was merely based on Jones’ acting abilities, having a person of colour in a lead role alongside a cast of white actors was incredibly uncommon at the time.

Night’s ending, in which Ben survives until sunrise only to be killed by a group of vigilante rednecks, remains startling to this day and, as noted by writer Caetlin Benson-Allott, is shockingly reminiscent of lynch mob photos. Critic Ben Hervey, in his book Night of the Living Dead (BFI Film Classics), states that Romero shot the ending sequence with politics consciously in mind, suggesting that this was a parallel made intentionally.

Over 50 years later, Night of the Living Dead remains a startling depiction of a society at war with itself, one fraught with distress and anger. To dismiss it as your run-of-the-mill zombie affair would be doing the film a great injustice. Romero and company soaked in the influence of a tumultuous time to craft an enduring classic that still has a lot to say. In times as divisive and uncertain as these, Romero’s opus is still as relevant as ever.

Night of the Living Dead is playing at Cinéma Moderne as part of its“Halloween at Cinéma Moderne” series. Screenings take place on Oct. 30 and 31 at 9 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online or at the ticket counter for $11.50. For more details, visit them online at or on location at 5150 St-Laurent Blvd.


Graphic by @joeybruceart

Exit mobile version