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CategoryFemale Filmmakers

Slamdance: Impetus

What drives us? What motivates us to create? Is it love, loss, joy, pain, fear, wonder… Or is it all the above?

In Jennifer Alleyn latest film Impetus, a hybrid narrative drama and documentary, she examines the creative process through existential angst. It’s a free-form exploration of the philosophical ideas behind our impulses. The film transitions back and forth between French and English, between Montreal and New York City. Creativity has no firm place, has no set language. It’s fluid and the story structure, or lack thereof, reflects that. It’s up to us to give our imagination a shape for others, and for ourselves. Sometimes that easy but more often than not its a struggle.

There is the filmmaker (Jennifer Alleyn), who is nursing a broken heart and has lost sight of the character in her upcoming movie. Then there is John (J. Reissner), her musician friend whose dealing with the effects of age and loss of those near and dear to him. Rudolf (Emmanuel Schwartz) is the filmmaker’s lead actor who, like a reptile, wants to shed his old skin to begin again. Then there is the filmmaker’s lead actress Pascale (Pascale Bussieres) who is eager to please but feels a deep loneliness that disconnects her from her art and her happiness. A pianist Esfir (Esfir Dyachkov) who refused to play the piano by herself after her son’s untimely death. And taxi driver (Besik Kazarian) whose face we don’t see but whose astute observations on life brings Pascale to tears.

The movie shares a lot of deep thoughts on creativity and love as the driving force in our lives.

“The character are there. We don’t always see them.”

There is a reptilian theme that I found thought-provoking and effective. Pascale and Rudolf housesit for a traveling artist, taking care of his reptile, a gecko. We see the creature in the terrarium, peeking through the plants. Then in different scenes the audiences sees various other plants with human subjects behind them, as though the filmmaking process is like looking into a terrarium. Rudolf (Emmanuel Schwartz) reenacts the movements of a reptile in a scarily convincing way. The movie goes into the filmmaker’s creation and draws us back out to the process. When the reptile loses its tail it will grow a new one, representing loss and the creative process. One character says, that while the tail will grow back, a scar will remain; “there will always be a difference between the old and the new one.”

Impetus is an inventive exploration of the metaphysical. However it struggles to keep the viewer’s attention. While the story got away from me the philosophical ideas stuck.

Impetus had its US premiere at Slamdance 25 as part of the Narrative Feature Competition.

The Kindergarten Teacher

“You’re going to be just a shadow like me.”

Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a kindergarten teacher whose life has stagnated. She takes a continuing education class in poetry to reignite the creative flame within her. But her contributions to class are mediocre and her teacher Simon (Gael Garcia Bernal) is unimpressed. One day she overhears her kindergarten student Jimmy (Parker Sevak) reciting an original poem. She begins to project her own desire for creative genius onto this gifted young boy. This is the start of her downward spiral. Jimmy becomes the object of her obsession. Her fixation takes up all of her energy and she distances herself from her husband and teenage children with whom she feels are not tapping into their own personal talents. Lisa presents Jimmy’s poems to her class, taking credit for them. She exhibits a dangerous lack of boundaries, isolates Jimmy from the other kids and becomes more and more involved in the boy’s life. It may seem like Lisa at first wants to nurture Jimmy’s talent. His poems are organic and beautiful and she is concerned that his current family environment will stifle his burgeoning genius. However, we come to learn that this isn’t about Jimmy. It’s about Lisa.

“If you stay open and stay curious, you can see the world however you want.”

Directed by Sara Colangelo, The Kindergarten Teacher premiered at the recent Toronto International Film Festival and I had plans to see it there but passed because I was worried it might be triggering for me. When Netflix picked it up and I was able to watch it at home and at my own pace. This film put me through the ringer emotionally as I expected it would. It’s beautiful, poetic, disturbing and horrifying all at once. What makes this so unsettling is that for any intellectual, especially one with a creative drive, it speaks to deeply rooted fears of not having the space for creative expression or coming to terms with a lack of real talent. Lisa becomes overwhelmed by these fears. At one point she says, “Talent is so fragile and so rare. And our culture does everything to crush it.”

Some viewers will see the film as a story of a woman going through a mid-life crisis. But it’s so much more than that. The film can be seen as a metaphor for the creative struggle. Jimmy is the embodiment of the genius that Lisa so desperately craves. Her desperation reaches a frightening level. The story masterfully unfolds as Lisa descends deeper into her mania. Gyllenhaal is brilliant in her performance. I love the nuances of her performance. The gentle demeanor of a teacher coupled with the despair and sense of urgency behind her sad eyes. There are some subtleties like Lisa gently bribing Jimmy with a piece of chocolate so she can separate him from the class that add to the emotional horror of the story. The strength of this film is the amazingly told story that’s perfectly paced. And that ending will hit you like a punch in the gut.

The Kindergarten Teacher is available to watch on Netflix.

Alright Now

“It’s over. It’s time to let go.”

Singer Joanne (Cobie Smulders) and her band are on a nostalgia tour in Dorset. Big in the 1990s, Joanne is struggling to hold on to the magic from two decades ago. When her bandmates quit and she discovers her boyfriend Larry (Noel Clarke) is cheating on her, Joanne is left to her own devices. She meets up with her best friend Sara (Jessica Hynes) and they drunkenly apply to a local college. The next morning they find out they’ve been accepted. Not willing to deal with the current state of their lives they become part of the college scene, going to parties, challenging each other to ridiculous competitions and making friends with their dorm mates. Joanne meets Pete (Richard Elis), a relatively shy and awkward guy who works as the college registrar. At first Pete is just a potential hook-up. But as she gets to know him she discovers something more meaningful in their encounters. Pete and Joanne are polar opposites and the positive aspects of their personalities start to rub off on each other. Can Joanne let go of her past and embrace a future full of unknowns?

Alright Now was written and directed by Jamie Adams. It’s was shot over 5 days and the scenes are entirely improvised. This is quite a filmmaking feat and I would love to see a behind-the-scenes documentary discussing this aspect of the process. The story and the flow felt more organic, like I was watching a real story unfold rather than a scripted piece.

I really wanted to know more about Joanne’s career and the affects fame had on her. Instead the story focuses more on the love story between Joanne and Pete. At times I think there would be more to Joanne and Sara’s story but the movie would deviate away from them.

Alright Now is a charming indie movie that goes with the flow and lets the main character take her story where it will. Cobie Smulders is a natural fit to play the erratic yet fun loving rock star trying to make sense of her new life.

The movie is available on VOD from Gravitas Ventures.

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