Gaz Bar Blues
(Canada, 2003, Louis Belanger)
The first local film to win the main awards at the 2003 Montreal Film Festival and winner also of the Ecumenical Award.
I am not sure what the French would say about the title of the film. Their purist attitude towards Quebecois French has the touch of the censorious. So, a Gaz Bar is a place where you would fill up with gas in the US, a Service Station for petrol in other parts of the world.
It is 1989 in Montreal. Times are changing and Gaz Bars with garage work are slowly dying, lost to Self-Service stations and streamlined repair and service auto centres. It is also the time that the Berlin Wall is coming down - and the eldest son of the owner of the gaz bar goes off to photograph this historic event but finds himself in sympathy with the East Germans, bewildered by what is happening and the changes they will have to face up to.
This is a moving and humane film, chronicling the end of an era in Montreal but highlighting the changes that globalisation have forced on small business people, highlighting how, to survive, everyone has to go with the flow. The father of the household is kind, gives credit to customers, allows the locals to sit round, drink coffee and yarn. He is stricter on his sons: the angry Rejean who tries to do the right thing and then disgraces himself in Berlin, Guy the middle son who takes his responsibilities too lightly and prefers to play his harmonica in a group and Alain, the youngest, who looks up to his brothers, tries to emulate them, but is still in school.
It is a film which gradually draws its audience into the life of its characters, has a fine emotional impact and invites us to reflect on the crises of day-to-day life.
(Spain, 2003, Julio Medem)
Julio Medem comes from the Basque country but has established himself as a major Spanish director (Lovers of the Arctic Circle, Sex and Lucia).
Disturbed at attitudes towards the Basques, towards the activity of ETA and by the stance of the conservative government which lost power immediately after the March 2004 bombings in Madrid, he decided to interview as many people as possible, from the widest range of opinions as possible and collate them into a documentary which would enable audiences to hear all sides of the question. Some ETA representatives declined as did some government spokespersons (in fact, the government denounced the film, sight unseen, and wanted it banned). Despite the limitations, Medem has constructed a documentary that provides plenty of material for thought - and an attempt to listen and talk rather than denounce and resort to violence.
The result is a film that runs almost two hours. Available also are three 90 minute episodes for television, a five hour DVD version (incorporating interviews that could not be used in the film or for TV) and a website.
For those not familiar with the detail of Spanish history and politics, there is a great deal of information as well as some time for reflection. Medem believes listening leading to reflection is the best catalyst for reconciliation.
EVELYN (Ireland, 2003, Bruce Beresford)
Evelyn is a very personal project for Pierce Brosnan, reminding him of his own childhood before he moved to England. But it is not just a project about the past, it is testimony, based on a true story, of how a determined individual can change the law. The end of the film tells us that it was only in the 1970s that legislation about rights of parents and the Irish Constitution concerning children in care was modified to help the parents. It also marked a breaking of the strong ties between Church and state seen in such films as The Magdalen Sisters and Song for a Raggy Boy.
Brosnan plays a happy go lucky Dublin painter and decorator whose wife walks on the family. His boys go to board with Brothers and his daughter, Evelyn, with the sisters (some of whom - but not all - are as severe as we might have anticipated).
The action of the film moves from a father's love for his daughter and trying to get her back and his dealing with the law. The legal aspects of the film are handled by the strong cast of Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea and Alan Bates.
The director is Australian, Bruce Beresford, a director who has tackled a wide range of films over thirty years. His style is rather self-effacing so that the film sometimes comes across as bland with high sentiment at the end. But, these issues of children, the law and care which are not easy to handle with an objective stiff upper lip.
This is a film which presents serious issues with a style geared towards a popular audience.
Wondrous Oblivion (UK 2003, Paul Morrison)
This is a film audiences will like - the cricket will be a bonus for fans. It is set in a south London street in 1960. A Jewish family, the Wisemans, live there, just tolerated by the old-fashioned English neighbours. David (Sam Smith in an engaging performance) goes to an upper class school where he is hopeless at cricket though he loves the game, collects cricket cards (which come to life and give him advice in a very pleasing way) and can do a fair commentary. Then his life changes.
West Indian neighbours move in next door. Neighbours gossip and criticise. Hate notes are pushed under the door. The skinhead equivalent louts of those days glare and menace the Wiseman's and the black Underground attendants - and this leads to some drastic racial prejudice.
However, the family next door love cricket. Dennis (Delroy Lindo who, in fact, grew up in London before going to the US) coaches his daughter Judy (a likeable lively performance from Leonie Elliot) and invites David in. He blossoms but can still get caught up, unguardedly, in the bigotry. This is his personal and moral challenge.
Director Paul Morrison (Solomon and Gaenor) evokes the atmosphere of a time that is gone but raises issues that are still with us. The anti-Semitism focuses on Mr and Mrs Wiseman (Stanley Townsend and Emily Woof), the stressed and busy husband and the naive wife. The criticism of increasing migration centres on the West Indians - whose cricketers like Sobers and Worral are characters in the plot and are feted - but who are the object of apprehension and harassment.
By the way, David is something of a dreamer. A teacher says he is lost in wondrous oblivion.
LONDON - 27 May 2004 - 1,030 words
Gaz Bar Blues