Thursday, 30 January 2014

Fetching Cody (David Ray 2005): Romance for the Damaged Soul

2005 was no doubt an excellent year for the Rom-Com, from The 40 Year Old Virgin, to Just Friends, and Hitch. While these films can be a ton of fun, the truth is they're predictable. With Fetching Cody, David Ray manages to refresh the sub-genre by adding elements of surprise from start to finish. The film is difficult to classify. Yes, there is romance. In fact, at the heart of it, it is a story about true, selfless, love. And sure, the dialogue offers a few laughs, mostly in convergence with its fantasy elements (What? Did I not mention the time traveling chair yet?). What's truly special about this film though, is that through all of this, it never loses the gut-wrenching grittiness that is Downtown Vancouver.

The film features Jay Baruchel as the heart-warming anti-hero Art - a hot-headed-but-sweet, homeless, drug-addicted, drug-dealing, former prostitute. Always sporting his Notre-Dame-de-Grace hoodie, Art does his best to maintain a happy existence with (and for) the love of his life, Cody (played by Sarah Lind). The film opens on the two of them embracing the day - bike rides, long walks, lunch in a diner (eating leftovers off of used plates), good conversation. The two seem unreasonably happy together as they stare dreamily into each others eyes. Close-ups and tight framing throughout this entire opening sequence emphasize their intimacy, but the afternoon is soon abruptly interrupted when a car pulls up in front of them and Cody rips off her sweater while hurrying over. Her work day has begun. Once Cody is in the passenger seat she locks her eyes on Art, apologetically. An aerial shot finally reveals the city; the film is telling the audience it's truth time. The small world that is Art and Cody's actually belongs to a much bigger and much more unforgiving one.

Fetching Cody may be a love story, but more significantly it is a story about life. It pokes and prods at the concept of destiny, exploring what it means to be sad, to be happy, to be mad, to simply have no control. When Cody falls into a heroin-induced coma, Art stumbles across a time-traveling armchair and convinces himself that there is not only a way to save her life, but to change it. In a series of comical events, Art visits crucial episodes of Cody's childhood, in search of the moment she "got fucked up". Was it the high school bullies on the day of her first period? Was it her first broken heart? Was it her brother's suicide? Her childhood attack?

After attempting to change each of these moments, Art returns to the present-day, but time and time again, she remains in the hospital. Is this her fate? Drug-addiction, prostitution... Art refuses to believe there isn't something special out there for his beautiful Cody and is willing to do ANYTHING to find it for her.

This film certainly pulled at my heart-strings and I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever wondered if the universe really has a plan.

Thursday, 23 January 2014


The word is out, Seth Gordon is set to direct an upcoming film based on Quebec’s Great Maple Syrup Heist of 2012. 

As a personal note, I am very excited about this project for a few reasons. First of all, Jason Segel. Second of all, Seth Gordon. Third of all, Chris Sheridan. The big American names suggest that the film is looking at a wide release, and other than its Canadian content, I have yet to come across any indication that the film will be Canadian made to any extent. This begs the age old question of what qualifies a film as Canadian? Sure, there is a standard put forth by our Academy, but the issue is obviously far more complex.

In 2008, writer/director Jason Reitman noisily expressed his dismay that his first feature film Juno had not been recognized by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. In addition to its Canadian born writer/director, the film starred Canadian leads and employed a largely Canadian crew. He has been quoted in the Calgray Herald (Feb. 2008) stating the following:

"I still wish we had been eligible for the Genies," he said. "I still don't understand why not. Why aren't we eligible for a Genie when David Cronenberg's film (Eastern Promises), which was about Russians living in London and shot in England with a British crew and British cast, is eligible?"   

So what happened? It’s all been pretty unclear but the Academy has offered the response that the studio simply never submitted the film to be considered for a Genie. Meanwhile, yes, Eastern Promises (co-produced by Canada, the U.S.A., and the U.K.) cleaned up at the Genies that year despite its utter disconnection from Canada and Canadian sentiment. So, I guess it was submitted.

I don't wish to imply that a film can only be Canadian if it somehow expresses Canada, because frankly I don’t even know what I would mean by that. I suppose the imagined concept of a Canadian cinema is largely linked to the development of the National Film Board way back in 1938. Even today, our canon remains the subject of intense critical debate: What belongs and why? While some of my favorite Canadian films include, High Life (Gary Yates 2009), Ginger Snaps (John Fawcett 2000), and Hard Core Logo (Bruce McDonald 1996), I’m not terribly convinced these films would ever be canonized (although I could make an argument for each case). As a rule, I keep an open mind when viewing and discussing Canadian cinema, so as to not fall into the uncomfortable trap of trying to define it by its Canadian-ness, or lack thereof. I seek out Canadian films because it provides me with a sense of pride to support other Canadians who have a passion for film and are out there creating something out of it. 

While it would be really exciting to learn of an actual Canadian connection to Gordon’s upcoming film, I won’t demand it. I think it will be nice just to get one of our stories told. I just hope it is not loaded up with tasteless stereotypes!
A History of Canadian Cinema (CBC August 2013)

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Canada Makes Movies, Whatever That Means

Yes, Canada does make movies. Some aren’t even co-produced with other nations, if you can believe it. The unfortunate truth is that even though we have some really great films, they rarely get seen. This is the sad result of many issues, the least of which is not the lack of funding for marketing. While I intend to dedicate this blog to discussing Canadian films and the Canadian film industry, I should preface this by acknowledging how problematic the concept of “national cinema” is. 

In “The Limiting Imagination of National Cinema”, Andrew Higson goes so far as to question the usefulness of the term “national cinema” itself. He greatly considers the idea that the modern nation is an imagined community, seeking to reconsider the traditional idea of ‘national’ as self-contained, and to examine the argument that the ‘national cinema’ can be vital at the level of state policy. Higson points to the main problems of ‘national cinema’ as its tendency to fetishize, to create borders, and to obscure cultural diversity within a nation. These are of course the same problems one encounters when attempting to define ‘national identity’. Thus, to challenge the concept of national cinema, we must first challenge the idea of nation. In doing so, Higson (among many other scholars outside of film studies such as Engin F. Isin, and Bryan S. Turner) finds that nation is “first forged and then maintained as a bounded public sphere”. Noteworthy here is the emphasis on the public sphere because it suggests nation has little to no bearing at the level of the individual and is subsequently only a geo-political tool. However, what it attempts to provide to the individual is a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, this makes it an exclusionary process that encourages dichotomous thinking. It imagines borders as uncrossable and ‘national identity’ as strictly geographical, leaving little room to consider the heterogeneity of a multicultural society. 

Until recently, there has been an assumption that to have a ‘national cinema’, there must first be an established national identity. But this is clearly too vague a term to be anything more than imagined. Therefore, creating a national cinema around it is less than ideal and, as Higson argues, limiting, as it can hardly take into account all of the complexities that come with the idea of ‘nation’. A ‘critical’ national cinema may be worth considering as an ideal model, however it does encourage further dichotomous thinking whereby films themselves have to be categorized as properly belonging to a nation, or not. In other words, only films that reiterate the nation’s idea of self can be worthy, which of course begs the question of whose perspective is valid. I propose that 'national cinema' might be better described as ‘the world according to a particular nation, taking into account its relationship to other nations and its peoples heritage(s)’. This may still unintentionally form a concept of national identity to which the films are linked, but it would hopefully be more open-minded than an idealized unifying concept. 

Because of the complexities involved, it does seem worthwhile to be less dependent on the term, both in popular culture (media), and in film studies. This is especially the case as the world moves quickly into modern globalization, which tends to favor the concepts like ‘global citizenship’ and transnationalism. However, I am drawn to the idea of considering Canadian cinema here because, simply put, I see it as a way to explore films that are not so often explored. Although it is somewhat irrational, I do feel connected to these films as I watch them, even if it is only for their familiar landscapes. So, I hope this blog will inspire some people out there to pick Canadian pictures once in a while.

Still from The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan 1997)