Film reviews

For No Good Reason

Directed by Charlie Paul
(U.S., 2014)

Review by Lois Siegel

The film For No Good Reason features the work of British artist Ralph Steadman who creates grotesque, surreal images using ink spatters. His work is unusual and very interesting, as well as provocative.

There are all kinds of painters. If you are looking for flowers and sweet images, Steadman is not for you. He pairs up with gonzo American writer Hunter S. Thompson (1971 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) – think drug-fuelled stream of consciousness, described as controlled fury. Also in the picture are Johnny Depp, actor Richard E. Grant, Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, Rolling Stone Publisher Jann Wenner and Tim Robbins.

Besides discovering the process of the artist, we see Steadman’s animated images of horrible-looking creatures that come alive, zooming across the screen. There is humour in these slightly maniacal pictures. He makes people think about these worlds.

In 1970, Steadman came to America. His first idea was to create 1,000 pictures of New York. His exploration starts with homeless people on the street…life influences the images he creates. His “museum” of misery and depravity are serious cartoons meant to change things for the better. He drew and Thompson wrote. Depressed, he went back to a conventional cartoon job in England. We see him in his studio sketching. He sometimes uses a contraption to blow paint on the canvas to splatter the ink already there. When Thompson would call, Steadman sent him images – e.g. huge bats, lizards, a hitchhiker. Thompson and Steadman thought each other were weird. They worked well together.

Painting techniques used by Steadman include India ink and heavy textured cartridge paper, a flick of the wrist…and the paint splatters. He also scrapes away at the painting. A reference is made to Francis Bacon, who made pictures look like an event. Bacon said, “Accident takes over. You don’t know what you are doing consciously. Things begin to develop.”

At times, we see a black and white image and then colour is added. The focus in the film is imagination and creating something new. Terry Gilliam: “The new generation is into shopping.” But the artists had a lifetime of ideas. Inspiration for No Good Reason

If you are interested in the arts, this is a film you should see.

Ralph Steadman is a Welsh illustrator. In the ‘60s, he worked freelance for Punch, Private Eye, The Daily Telegraph, the New York Times and Rolling Stone. He has drawn album covers for numerous music artists, including Frank Zappa.

This film is said to have been 15 years in the making. Steadman currently lives in Kent, England.

Available from the Ottawa Public Library,
Running time: 89 minutes



Directed by Sophie Deraspe
(Canada, 2019)

Review by Paul Green

In the original Greek tragedy written by Sophocles some 2,500 years ago, Antigone was the daughter of Oedipus; her brothers Etéocle and Polynice were both killed in battle while fighting on opposite sides near the city of Thebes. While Etéocle was given a hero’s burial, Creon, the ruler of Thebes, decreed that the body of Polynice – he fought for the losing rebel side – was to be dumped outside the city wall to be picked over by the birds and the dogs. Appalled by this perfidy, Antigone takes matters into her own hands and tries to give her brother some sort of burial. This single act of defiance places Antigone in direct conflict with Creon, ruler and male authority figure par excellence.

In Jean Anouilh’s 1944 adaptation, Antigone resists Creon’s efforts to suborn her and even goes so far as to mock his authority. Her integrity intact, Antigone is nevertheless doomed.

In the talented hands of Quebec director Sophie Deraspe, the story of Antigone is transposed to contemporary Montreal. And while the narrative takes as its starting point the fatal 2008 shooting of young Fredy Villanueva by an inexperienced policewoman, Antigone transcends this tragic affair to tackle such present-day issues as police violence, the status of immigrants before the law and the plight of a young woman who sets out to challenge authority…and in so doing sacrifices herself in a bid to save her family.

The Hipponomes family has come to Canada as refugees from Algeria, a country beset with civil strife in the 1990s. In Montreal, Antigone lives with her beloved grandmother Méni, brothers Etéocle and Polynice, and sister Ismène, a hairdresser who aspires to a life of “normality.” The brightest of the lot, Antigone is a star performer and respected by her peers.

In a telling sequence, she stands before her classmates, half of them dozing off or staring at their cellphones, recounting dimly remembered images from Algeria – she was then three – of an ambulance arriving at their door and dropping off two long forms wrapped in white…and she recognizes her mother’s shoe. Her classmates are startled awake as they begin to perceive the horror behind her quiet words – the murder of Antigone’s parents.

The family is hanging together well enough but trouble lies ahead. Polynice brings home a stereo system and sets it up, to the delight of all. All, that is, except Antigone who senses that something is amiss here. Then, in a tightly filmed sequence, comes the confrontation with police, who arrive suddenly to break up some illicit street corner activity, like a game of jacks?? Mistaking his cellphone for a weapon, the police shoot Etéocle, and when Polynice confronts the man who killed his brother, he is charged with assaulting a police officer and goes to prison.

Antigone, in the meantime, has befriended Haemon from school and romance is in the air. Haemon is a thoughtful sort, the son of Christian, or Creon in the Sophocles version. Christian would be an authority figure for our time, a politician worried about anything that may jeopardize his career, his son’s activist girlfriend, for example.

Deraspe wastes no time on her exposition; the narrative unfolds quickly. As the Hipponomes are permanent residents only and Polynice has a record, he is going to be deported. Determined to preserve the unity of her family, Antigone makes her play. She is ready to sacrifice herself in order to prevent Polynice from being deported even if it means going to a juvenile facility – and that is precisely where she ends up.

To be sure, Antigone will not face execution as she does in the original. Though she becomes a cause célèbre as she battles injustice while conveying an affecting vulnerability, she must reckon with the fact that her brother has proven unworthy of her sacrifice and Méni wants to return to the old country. Plagued with self-doubt, where does she go from here?

With her quest for justice and defiance of male authority, there is a timelessness about Antigone that makes her a character for our times. She is Greta Thunberg and Chelsea Manning. Joan of Arc, perhaps. She might be part of our collective unconscious, struggling to be heard.

(The French-American writer Georges Steiner reminds us that there are no less than 200 iterations of this mythical story.)

Alas, I digress. Antigone features a riveting performance from Nahéma Ricci whose tear-stained intensity calls to mind Maria Falconetti in Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. Deraspe’s tight direction and excellent script – this is her fourth feature – mark her as a director to watch. Essential viewing.

In French with English subtitles.
Running time: 109 minutes.
Rated 14A.
Scheduled for upcoming DVD release.

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