Something in the Air: The Cinema of Olivier Assayas at TIFF

On June 9th, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott of the New York Times published ‘The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century,‘ a list of films that are “destined to be the classics of the future.” Because I read almost every review the two write, I went through the list and noted down films I haven’t seen that I’d like to see now that they’re meant for even more greatness. A few hours later, the marketing team at TIFF reached out with news of a new Summer-long complete retrospective — the first in 15 years — of the French master, Olivier Assayas whose 2008 film, Summer Hours, graced number #9 on NYT’s list and on top of my to-watch list. What are the chances!

Not all coincidences, it is said, are interesting. Considering that Assayas has long been synonymous with post-1968 generation of French cinema that deal with adolescence, political dissent, terrorism, and globalization, and that Summer Hours won numerous critics’ award around the world, perhaps this particular coincidence falls into the not very interesting category. Yet, it is, nevertheless, a fortuitous one, as I now have the chance to spread the news on TIFF’s Something in the Air: The Cinema of Olivier Assayas.

Scene from ‘Summer Hours’

Olivier Assays was a film-critic for France’s Cahiers du cinémathe prominent film magazine founded by André Bazin, before he became a director. Though he worked both as a director and screenwriter for numerous short and feature-length films alongside film giants like André Téchiné starting in 1978, Cold Waterreleased in 1994, is considered to be his breakthrough film as it was screened at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. Assayas has since established himself as a distinguished voice among contemporary filmmakers.

Assayas’s oeuvre is marked by the variety of genres. His 1996 satire Irma Vep about an actress (Maggie Cheung) and a failing director who wants to recreate Louis Feuillade’s 1915 classic Les Vampires is a strange and fascinating homage to the filmmaker and Hong Kong cinema. Sentimental Destinies (2000) is a costume drama set in the earl 20th centuries, concerning a Protestant minister. And with Demonlover (2002) and Boarding Gate (2007), Assayays forayed into noir and thriller. More recently, with Carlos (2010), Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), and Personal Shopper (2016), which won the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, Assayas has become a globetrotter. With each genre, however, it is easy to see Assayas’s search for his vision. Encompassing his oeuvre is his rumination on films, film history, and issues of identity in the face of larger disorienting cultural, economic, and political forces.

Kristen Stewart as Maureen Cartwright in ‘Persona Shopper’

Summer Hours is interesting in that, for many who’ve come to know Assayas through Carlos and Personal Shopper, it offers a quieter and lyrical side of his oeuvre. The film begins with the 75th birthday of Helene (Édith Scob). Her three children, Frederic (Charles Berling), Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), and Jeremie (Jérémie Renier) gather in Helene’s home outside Paris to celebrate. Soon, Helene dies and leaves the house and her all-important art-nouveau furniture along with her inheritance from her famous artist uncle to her children. What ensues is a series of scenes and dealings with practical matters in which what holds a family together becomes increasingly vague; what was once thought to be a common ground — the house, both literally and figuratively — becomes a point of tension as money, emotions, and personal histories come into play. The center, however contentious and insufficient it had been prior to Helene’s death, does not hold once she is gone. Jeremie moves permanently to Shanghai and Adrienne to New York. Frederic, the only one left in France, struggles to realign himself as the new, albeit reluctant, center of his family of four.

Just next to the adult world of lawyers and contracts, Helene’s grandchildren lead, mostly unseen, entirely different lives. Shown Corot’s works nonchalantly hanging in his grandmother’s house, Frederic’s eldest son responds, “Well, it’s another era.” When Frederic is in the middle of closing a deal with regards to Helene’s furniture, his daughter, Sylvie, is caught shoplifting. That the film ends not in the adult world but with the children speaks to Assayas’s brilliance and vision. The movie that began with Helene and the art or artifacts of her life turns to one concerned with the disorder inherent in a family and becomes one about generations and youth, continuity and the lack thereof in families, cultures, and societies.

As with all great themes in film, family and adolescence and identity are materials that are visited without every really exhausting them. And Assayas’s continually revisits them from unexpected avenues.

Édith Scob as Hélène Berthier in ‘Summer Hours’

As part of TIFF’s ‘Something in the Air: The Cinema of Olivier Assayas,’ Assayas will make four in-person appearances to introduce four of his films: Cold Water, Clean, Le Diable Probablement, and Le Pélican. It is also a chance to see 35mm prints of many of his films, including Summer Hours, Clouds of Sils Maria, and Something in the Air. Finally, it is also a chance to see HHH — Portrait de Hou Hsiao-hsienAssayas’s documentary of the great Taiwanese director (A Time to Live and a Time to Die by Hou Hsiao-hsien is also a part of the retrospective). The retrospective begins on June 22nd and runs through August 20th.

Olivier Assayas with Hou Hsiao-hsien

You can find more information on the retrospective and its schedule here. And continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

A Conversation with Harjit Bhandal and Jaz Saini of YouTwoTV

International YouTube sensations Harjit Bhandal and Jaz Saini of the hit YouTwoTV channel recently won the 2017 iHeartRadio MMVAs “FAN FAVE MUCH CREATOR” award. Born February 8th, 2016, their channel has garnered over 120 million views and 550,000 subscribers from all around the world. Using a camera and their own creativity, they’ve managed to build consistent viewership in India, Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. They also finish each others’ sentences. We sat down with them to discuss their success on the Youtube scene.

Helen Jacob: How did you get into YouTube?

Harjit: We both had channels before this. She made skits and so did I, here and there.

Jaz: He made short films but more like music videos.

H: I felt like I had the equipment now so might as well use it and take advantage. And I also felt like I wanted to be a Youtuber when all these Youtubers came out. You know, I think I’m kind of funny sometimes.

HJ: Take me through the process of making a video.

J:  First it’s scripting.

H: I sit in my room hours upon hours just writing. Usually we write like 10 scripts and end up throwing them all away. Then, right before we film we come up with a new idea and we pull from that instead. It happens every time.

J: Yeah, scripting takes us the longest. Then it takes us 8 hours to film and 3 hours to edit.

H: Then when we put it together, we split the work in half. So she comes in at the beginning and puts all the clips together and in order. Then I come in and colour correct and put in the sounds and music and all that stuff.

HJ: Whats your favourite part?

J: I think the acting part.

H: Yeah, the acting.

J: Because we get to do whatever we want and make the characters whoever we want that day. They can be really stupid or really silly. In the last video, I played the mom and he played the dad and that was really out of our comfort zone.

HJ: Were you afraid of putting yourself out there?

J: I think I was at first.

H: I wasn’t at all.

J: At the end of our vlogs we say stay true to you and stop caring. I think that’s drilled into my brain now and I just stopped caring what other people thought.

HJ: How do you explain YouTube to your parents (as a career)?

H: You don’t haha. They’re starting to understand now though, now that more opportunities are coming. At the end of the day your parents want you to be successful and if you tell them, I’m going to do this thing on the internet and make Youtube videos, they’re not going to understand because they don’t know what that is. I feel like at this point though, they’re starting to see us becoming successful on that platform. So now they understand. Whereas before they were saying, “go back to school.”

J: Yeah before, his mom would sometimes tell him to get a full time job and we’re like.. this is our full time job. We’re actually making more than what we would make at a “full time job”.

HJ: Did you ever think you were going to get here?

J: Oh man no way, if you told us last year we were going to be nominated for an MMVA, I would have no idea

HJ: You only started last year, too.

J: Yeah we started last year. It’s been a year and a couple months.

HJ: How did you guys grow your channel?

H: I think the main thing was just putting ourselves out there; being consistent and not skipping days. Right from the get go, we said we were going to release a video every week, and we did that. We haven’t skipped a single week since. I feel like that was the main thing and then obviously promoting it, Tweeting it, Instagramming it, all that stuff is important too.

J: I feel like a lot of it was a fluke too.

H: –No we worked hard!

J: Yeah we worked really hard but in the sense that I guess people saw our videos and started sharing it. I think our content is shareable. I think that helps a lot- having shareable content.

HJ: Who was your main support system?

H: I feel like the biggest support system was us.

J: Yeah, each other. At one point, my cousins were telling me to get a full time job, saying that this was not a dream for us. Our friends were supportive but at the end of the day, we supported each other. We had each other to say we can do this or we got this.

HJ: What’s the best and worst part of working together?

J: I think the best part is that we’re both workaholics- we’re both working  24/7. So if I was doing this by myself, it would really hard to balance a boyfriend and a career. I think that’s the best part, we  get to spend every day together even when we’re working.

H: Yeah we know other people on Youtube that do music and stuff like that and they can’t find the time for their significant other. But we’re together all the time. Although, me and Jaz- there’s two versions of us. There’s Harjit and Jaz: YouTwoTV, and there’s Harjit and Jaz: boyfriend and girlfriend. So it’s two different things, but we’ll try to make time for both.

HJ: What’s the Canadian youtube community like?

H: Not that big

J: Yeah there’s  handful of Youtubers in Canada…but I think our community’s the best community.

H: Always. Canada, always. But I feel like it’s getting bigger with upcoming Youtubers.

HJ: Do you think being in Canada was an obstacle, seeing as the big YouTube scene is in Los Angeles?

J: Not really. I mean it does limit our opportunities. I find that when we go to LA, we have a lot more opportunities.

H:…But to come up, I feel like it hasn’t stopped us in any way. Although, to grow I think it’s holding us back. The goal is LA. Hopefully we’re moving there next year.

HJ: What other Youtubers inspire you?

J: A bunch of people.

H: Hotdamnirock

J: –who doesn’t do youtube anymore

H: He stopped making videos, he used to make them back in the day. I felt like his content was really out of the box, but really relatable at the same time and I feel like we’re inspired by that.

J: Then Casey Neistat, and  Liza Koshy.

HJ: Have you collaborated with other Youtubers?

J: Yeah we’ve collaborated with a couple- Matt sentoro who is also Canadian, micky singh, Dannie riel, the Brampton boys, a bunch of people. That’s the best part as creators, its not a competition. Everyone’s super friendly with each other.

HJ: How do you deal with hate?

J: Harjit’s so good at it, I’m still learning. I get so frustrated when I get comments and I always want to reply! But Harjit’s like, ‘No.’ So now whenever we see a hate comment, what we do is we’ll reply to 10 nice comments.

HJ: What is your goal for the future?

H: We want to grow in other areas. We want to have our own tv show that we script and act in, and we want to go on a worldwide tour. But I think we’ll always stay creating content on Youtube as well. Because that’s where our fans are, that’s where our platform is.

J: Everything would be based off Youtube. So our tour would consist of comedy skits on stage and we envision our tv show to be like a sitcom tv show based on the content and characters on YouTwoTV.

HJ: Is there anything else you want to say to everyone reading this?

H: Watch our videos, like and subscribe. Be good and kind to people.

J: Stay true to you. That’s what we tell everyone if they’re having a bad day or not doing well. I just tell them to stay true to you, and stop caring about what other people think.

Check out their Facebook, and Harjit Bhandal,  Jaz Saini‘s Instagram and continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

A Conversation with Morro & Jasp on Clowning, Feminism, and Performance

Toronto is no stranger to many great forms of theatre, spanning from the bright lights of Mirvish to the quaint and intimate smaller venues decorating our city. We can easily find a home away from home within these performance spaces. Currently, at the Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, Morro & Jasp in Stupefaction graces the stage with an ultimate power-duo, and one of the only female-centered clown duos within the GTA.

Morro & Jasp, otherwise known as Heather Marie Annis (Morro), and Amy Lee (Jasp) have geared up for an entirely new production based off their years of experience and studying circus shows across the U.S. Morro & Jasp in Stupefaction is said to ask questions regarding “the meaning of faith, and will have a series of male chorus members onstage with them (the first time they have ever shared a stage with anyone) challenging them, and making them ask tough questions about the society they live in.”

Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee, together with director Byron Laviolette, have created 10 full-length shows over 12 years, which led them to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015. It is no question that Morro & Jasp in Stupefaction is destined for greatness, creating an immersive theatre experience for all to enjoy.

Kimberley Drapack: When did you begin clowning?

Morro & Jasp: We met in university and started clown training in 2004. Byron Laviolette, our director, had studied clown in high school, approached us to work on a clown show after he saw us do a physical theatre piece together in the student festival.

K: What prep work did you have to partake in for the show?

M&J: We do our hair and makeup together do a physical, voice and clown warm-up. Then put on our noses.  We go through our clown masks and colours (a tradition of Pochinko-style clowning). Then, right before we go on stage, Morro tells Jasp (in the style of Darth Vader) that she is her father. Then we play a game. Then we repeat our mantra about how we are going to have the most fun together and then we dance.

K: What does this form of theatre offer audiences opposed to more traditional forms of theatre?

M&J: The clown nose reminds audiences that we are playing together, so people are allowed to invest in the game of theatre with us. We don’t ask them to pretend there is a fourth wall, which we feel allows them to let their guard down a little more and laugh at themselves. Also, since clowns are not regular humans, they can comment on human behaviour in a way that makes it seem new and things we take for granted as “regular” behaviour doesn’t seem so regular when it is done by a clown.

K: What is a feminist clown and what does it mean to you?

M&J: We can only define that for ourselves, not for all feminist clowns. But for us, because we are women and we make work that is true to ourselves and reflects our experience in the world, we are feminist clowns. We don’t constantly think about feminism when we are creating work, we think about the theme we are exploring and try to put that on stage in the most honest way. That, to most people, reads as feminism, because it is our truth.

K: How have Morro & Jasp evolved since your earlier shows?

M&J: We started making Morro and Jasp shows for kids and the clowns were younger in those shows, to reflect the audience we were playing to. Since then, Morro and Jasp age, mature, and change with every show and mirror our own journeys. They are constantly evolving based on where we are at in our lives, and therefore where they are at in their lives. Right now, they are very confused about the state of the world.

K: Morro & Jasp in Stupefaction is said to be a response to the “state of the world.” What does this mean to you?

M&J: To us, the world feels more confusing than ever right now and it is hard to know where to look for guidance and answers. This show is an exploration of how we develop our own stories of what life is or should be, and how that affects us and the people around us. We were curious about how faith and belief plays a role in the world today and how that guides us or gets in our way.

K: What was it like sharing the stage with additional cast members? Why were they added to this show?

M&J: Sharing the stage with Anand, Elliott, and Sefton has been exciting, challenging, rewarding, and has made us look at what we do and how we do it in entirely new ways. They have been bending over backwards, sideways and upside down to work fast, on the fly, then change everything, to accommodate our style of working. It has definitely reconfirmed that we have an unconventional way of working, and we are so grateful to have found playmates who can role with our punches.

We added additional characters because this play is about Morro and Jasp coming up against a world and feelings that they can’t figure out how to navigate. Their relationship is strained when the play begins and we wanted to challenge Morro and Jasp to have to find a way back to each other with a whole new set of elements coming between them. Also, because our play is about systems of belief, we felt it was necessary to have other characters start to follow the clowns and buy into their beliefs.

K: What does Morro & Jasp in Stupefaction hope to show its audiences? What themes can we find within the show?

M&J: We certainly don’t have answers to the questions we are posing in this show. By creating it, we have just discovered more and more questions. But those questions are about belief through the stories we are told or the stories we tell ourselves. When do these stories go too far? When do they get entwined with the human desire for power and status? When do they start to divide us? When do these stories prevent us from being authentic, open and able to connect with one another? When do they keep us from dancing like no one’s watching?

K: What is the most essential element to clowning?

M&J: Play.

K: What is next for you? Can we expect to see Morro & Jasp in the future?

M&J: You can certainly expect to see lots more of Morro and Jasp in the future! Our video game, Morro and Jasp: Unscripted, will be out later this week, so you can buy that on the App store and you can make us put on plays for you all the time! In the fall, we will be playing Of Mice and Morro and Jasp to high schools with Manitoba Theatre for Young which is going to be a magnificent adventure. We also have some more shows in the works that we can’t talk about yet.

K: Anything else you would like to add?

M&J: We could go on forever, but we have to go back to rehearsal, so we will just say – come see the show! If you’ve never seen a clown show, or you don’t think you like clowns, you should still come. We promise to surprise you.

Don’t miss Morro & Jasp in Stupefaction, which runs through June 24 at Streetcar Crowsnest and continue following our arts and culture coverage on  FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Resort 2018 trends you’ll be itching to try

Resort season is one of the most overlooked seasons in the fashion world. While fashion lovers around the world pine for spring, pre-fall, and fall collections, resort seems to fall behind in the eyes of the fashion community year in and year out. Luckily, this season, it seems that designers around the globe were bitten by a creative bug and produced some of the most successful and innovative resort collections to date. And the best thing about fresh and innovative design is that it pushes new trends forward, giving fashion aficionados around the world new inspiration that breathes life into their cold weather wardrobes.

The Printed Knee-High

Photo: Vogue Runway – Prada, Thom Browne, Gucci

Now, to some (I’m talking to you private and Catholic school girls), knee-high socks are the bane of humanity. They’re fussy, tend to always fall or roll down. and generally come in either black, navy, grey, or whatever ridiculous hue of maroon or mustard your school colours were. But don’t dismiss this posh staple just yet. This season’s knee-high stocking was more than just an accessory. Unlike their academic sisters, the knee-highs at high fashion houses Prada, Thom Browne, and Gucci came in printed patterns and interesting hues. Marrying the traditional sock with blogger-it-girl street style, they transformed the good old scholastic knee-high sock into one of the most in-demand accessories of the season.

Shades of (Navy) Blue

Photos: Vogue Runway – Pringle of Scotland, Delpozo, Versace

Resort and cruise collections are created with the sole purpose of giving high-fashion clientele luxurious options for their jet-set vacations. Instead of throwing on a gauzy sarong, resort collections offer up the option of opting for luxe ensembles made especially for the warm summer months, the yacht, or the country estate. And it seems as if the designers visited the same luxurious and exotic locations as their clients when they designed their collections. No colour seems to have popped up during resort season more than deep ocean blue and nowhere else was it used better than at Pringle of ScotlandDelpozo, and Versace. Rich and luxurious shades of indigo and navy dominated the design landscape, creating daydreams of the deep blue oceans that surround the world’s most heavenly rivieras.

Mix and Match Rock & Roll

Photos: Mugler, I’M Isola Marras, Acne Studio

Back in the days before rock music began influencing fashion, one could be called out or even ousted from social circles if they chose to sport a particular rock clique attire for the sake of style. It was a rock & roll travesty to merely wear a studded leather jacket for the sake of looking punk or a Slayer t-shirt because you wanted to look like a metalhead. Fast forward a few decades and the walls of music (and fashion) have come down. It’s no longer a sin to want to mix and match styles from the various eras and genres of rock music around the world. Designers took that notion into full account this season. At MuglerI’M Isola Marras, and Acne Studio, rock saw its various style meshed with one another to create a perfect cacophony of textures, layers, and colours. Punk mesh was mixed with grungy florals, while oversized blazers were paired with pop rock hoodies and eyeliner, and goth trenches were paired with clean Bowie-esque slacks, giving a new look to the traditional rock ensemble.

Green With Envy

Photos: Vogue Runway – Vivetta, Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini, Vionnet

Emerald, pea green, evergreen, mint, lime, avocado: It doesn’t matter what your favourite colour of green is because you don’t have to choose this season. From the look of it, green seems to be the next big trend in colour right after navy blue. At VivettaPhilosophy di Lorenzo Serafini, and Vionnet, green played a vital role and added a fresh and crisp summer look to many of the garments in the collections. Taking the designers’ resort wear from regular vacation attire to bright and exotic à la Jennifer Lopez at the Grammy’s in Versace. And what woman wouldn’t want to have her own JLo moment?

Rock & Roll Florals

Photos: Vogue Runway – Badgley Mischka, Preen by Thorton Bergazzi, MSGM

Resort 2018 seemed to be the season of turning tradition on its head. At Badgley MischkaPreen by Thorton Bergazzi, and MSGM, florals were placed front and centre. But these weren’t your average florals. This season’s floral called for something a little out of the box. Instead of having the same old soft and summery pastel florals, the designers opted for prints that brought a little edge into the mix. Dark background colours added to the pops of crimson, teal, and gold that wound around one another to create florals that were a little more ’80s glam rock than garden party pristine. Making these prints the perfect mould breaker for a fashion lover who wants to go somewhere a little darker and a little harder with their pretty petaled prints.

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Novel Ideas: Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Twenty years after her first novel, Arundhati Roy returns to fiction with The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. In 1997, she published The God of Small Things, which won the Booker Prize and marked her as an internationally acclaimed author. For the following two decades, Roy worked as a political activist, speaking out against Hindu nationalism in India, advocating for the independence of Kashmir, critiquing capitalism, and protesting against environmental degradations. Indeed, any reader of Roy’s new novel can see the heavy, intermingling threads of activism running through it. It is a demanding book that, thanks to its outspoken political nature, challenges the rigid ways in which we often see and define the novel: as an exclusive genre that adheres to its rules of plot, dialogue, form, and style. But Roy’s novel resists this, integrating political thought with narratives, poetics, and languages.

The reader first meets Anjum (described as a hijra, a Hindu term referring to those who are hermaphrodites, transgendered, or third gendered) living “like a tree in the graveyard”. She is born with both male and female sex organs, and is raised as a boy named Aftab. The reader joins Anjum when she, as Aftab, sees “a slim-hipped woman wearing bright lipstick” and realizes she “want[s] to be her” – and continues with Anjum as she faces the consequences that follow her choice to live as a woman. Anjum’s identity and its complexities are shown within and in relation to the political ongoings of India: for instance, the war surrounding the Line of Control in Kashmir and the murder of Hindu pilgrims in Gujarat, both stemming from the centuries-old conflict between Hindus and Muslims. The novel probes how a hijra is seen, treated, and heard in such situations, working with both the personal and the political. It zooms into the individual and then the collective, introducing a range of characters who are all somehow connected to Anjum, to the tree in the graveyard.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness author Arundhati Roy

Many reviewers have suggested that the novel tries to weave too much of Roy’s activism into one book: the number of characters can be overwhelming, the number of political turmoils explored can be difficult to follow, the plot and dialogue — the supposed holy grails of fiction — can fall behind the political settings. Indeed, all that can be said justly about the novel. But, as Roy herself explains, approaching and writing fiction often involves questions of experiment, of whether you can “make the foreground into the background,” of whether you can center and decenter things. As such, Roy’s decision to center the personal at a given time or the political at another time, irrespective of time and chronology, not only challenges the ways in which themes are explored in novels — integrated and often in the background of a plot – but asks what the ultimate role of a novel is. Can there ever be one set role? Or should we expect it to evolve and change? Expect ourselves, in fact, to critique and evaluate it?

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a difficult, long book, requiring a second read from many. But its nuances and complexities, its poetic language and narratives are remarkable. Because of its exploration of the connection between the personal and the political, it showcases the human faces of the collective — the human faces of not just individuals from a given community, often easily accomplished in novels, but of the mass —, of those whose narratives are often shown simply as political upheavals and disruptions, rather than the human force that exists behind them. As a result, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, with all its merits and flaws, insists on centering on humanity.

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