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Stories Silly and Serious-Part 5

Film Reviews of the Montreal Festival of New Cinema

By Frederic Eger
Special to The Epoch Times
Nov 07, 2006

Director Douglas Buck has made his version of the Brian DePalma horror classic Sister. (Francois Durand/Getty Images)

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- Stories Certainly Serious-Part 4 Monday, November 06, 2006

[Editor's Note:] According to its publicity material, the Montreal Festival of New Cinema held in October each year presents a distinctly avant-garde focus. Viewers will watch film and video, installations, websites and performances with special emphasis on digital work. The festival has four main sections—Feature Length Film and Video, Short and Medium Length Film and Video, New Media, and Digital Cinema. Reviewer Frederic Eger has selected his top picks to critique.

Sister

This remake of the 1973 Brian DePalma horror classic is far less interesting than the original. Festival co-director Julien Fonfrede promoted the screening as the film's North American premiere while, in fact, it was previously shown at the Sitges Film Festival. Despite the marketing faux pas, the film caught this reviewer's interest as a remake of a DePalma film.

The story centers around Siamese twins who, as adults, must face surgery to live in health. Physiological disorders place their health in jeopardy and a severe psychological disorder of one results in an evil act. DePalma's film focuses on Danielle (Margot Kidder), a young woman who apparently murders her date, and Grace (Jennifer Salt), a nosy reporter who sees the whole thing. Things get strange when it is revealed that Danielle is a Siamese twin, and her nasty twin sister may have something to do with the murder.

This remake lacks engaging characters, which is not to blame the acting but the directing. Stephen Rea as the psychiatrist Dr. Lacan and Lou Doillon as the "slave" Angelique give themselves completely to the performances and keep you connected, but that's about it. Character arcs are weakly resolved and therefore so is the drama of being a Siamese twin. The plot's dramatic story is not explored in depth and is unfortunately not saved by the murder subplot.

Lou Doillon's acting is perfect—she handles the schizophrenic role of Angelique/Annabelle with a perfect blend of charm, vulnerability and complete wackiness. She took over from Asia Argento who was initially cast as Angelique/Annabelle but dropped out at the last minute. Shooting took place in North Carolina and Vancouver, British Columbia and explains the Canadian money used in the birthday cake purchase scene.

The bloody stabbing and the scalpel absurdity at the end creates a superficial yet childish gore without showing what is at stake for these characters. When the last shot—which is the same as the opening sequence—fades to black, moviegoers leave without an emotional connection to what just happened. The entire film seems to be a pretext to practice directing skills for director Douglas Buck. Apparently the director, impatient to launch his film career, settled for redoing a classic horror film.

While the film is good enough for general distribution, one would think that with the amount of dollars committed to the project, the final product would have had more depth of character.

Sister
Directed by Douglas Buck
Lou Doillon, Stephen Rea, Chloe Sevigny, William B. Davis, Gabrielle Rose, Talia Williams, Erica Van Briel, Dallas Roberts, Michael Curluck and Dylan Basu

******
Atheism

This film by Julian Samuel has to be the most intellectually dishonest documentary ever produced. Samuel has produced a subjective and biased reflection on religion and the question of whether a Supreme Being organized the Universe. Shot with nonprofessional camera equipment, the filmmaker interviewed a questionable choice of "experts"—the author of a book on angels, a Lutheran minister, and journalists reporting on the Middle East and religious fundamentalists.

From beginning to end, the documentary focuses on the existence of a Supreme Being and only two religions, Islamism and Catholicism. The filmmaker does not interview a Buddhist monk or master, the Dalai Lama, a Hindu swami, or rabbi. He doesn't even bother to talk with an ordinary devotee or disciple of any oriental religion, nor does he discuss the issue with a representative panel of all major religions.

By doing so, his objective seems obvious—nothing will challenge his initial thesis: "We atheists are right. There is no such thing as a God. Religious people are totalitarian and ideologically-oriented. Religions started the crusades and jihads and repress anyone who doesn't believe in God."

Even if it is correct to say that religions start wars and inflict human suffering, the film reduces this statement to its lowest level and never mentions the word, much less the concept, of spirituality. It excludes the fact that you can believe in a Supreme Being or Force without belonging to any religion. And that's probably the unforgivable weakness of this documentary. It ends up as the biased work of an atheist eager to poke fun at believers.

An example of this bias is when Professor Samuel has his interviewees discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Bush administration's foreign policy in a clearly anti-Israeli and anti-American way. What this has to do with atheism, spirituality or even a theological reflection on the meaning of life is anyone's guess. The film devolves into a narrow pseudo-examination on possibly the most intriguing issue of our time.

Pakistani-born Concordia Professor Julian Samuel should probably enroll in some journalism classes to learn the basics of the craft. He would learn about journalistic honesty or, as one of my professors, Stephane Manier, used to say: "Verifying information and presenting contradictory views are what differentiate journalism from rumor, if not defamation."

Atheism
Written, Directed & Produced by Julian Samuel
Runtime: 78 min


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