The Topp Twins (Diva Productions)
This happy, hugely lovable documentary celebrates the life and music of New Zealanders Lynda and Jools Topp, 52-year-old lesbian twins who combine a yodelling country & western comedy act with a healthy dose of social activism. (Brit folkie Billy Bragg calls them "an anarchist variety show.")
And yes, filmmaker Leanne Pooley, a former Winnipegger now living in New Zealand, is aware that this all sounds a bit goofy on paper, but give these gals a guitar and a couple of microphones and they are irrepressibly, irresistibly entertaining - and not just in the middle-aged gay leftie yodelling community.
Pooley's adorable doc channels the sisters' life-affirming sense of fun, mixing up archival footage, concert clips and interviews with friends, family and colleagues. If you're already a fan - and the Topp Twins have performed here at the Winnipeg Folk Festival - you're probably already getting your yodel on. If you have yet to meet the Topps, get ready to join the crowds who have showered this film with Audience Favourite awards at international film festivals and made it the highest-grossing doc ever in New Zealand.
Music: Ranges from the raucous, rousing harmonies of Untouchable Girls to the tender ballad Calf Club Day (about, um, an annual New Zealand rite in which rural kids bring their cows to school).
Comedy: The twins like to dress up as colourful Kiwi characters and then talk about the Topp Twins to the audience: "They add a bit of colour," say the Posh Socialites. "They're the life of the party, those gay people."
Life stories: Jools recalls coming out as a lesbian to their mother: "Mom says , 'Wait until your sister finds out,' and I tell her 'You've got another thing coming, Mom."
Other recommended Canadian films playing this week:
Modra: Lina (Hallie Switzer) is a 17-year-old Toronto girl who's heading to Slovakia to visit family in this quiet, low-budget coming-of-age story. Having been dumped by her boyfriend, she decides, on an adolescent whim, to take a boy she hardly knows (Alexander Gammal).
Now, you should know going in that this is one of those films where nothing much happens. But Canadian writer-director Ingrid Veninger has an intuitive understanding of the slow, dreamy, inarticulate rhythms of teens hanging out. (Her debut film, 2008's Only, featured two kids wandering around Parry Sound and tentatively finding first love.) And she has real love and respect for her characters and for her actors, giving Switzer (who is Veninger's real-life daughter) and newcomer Gammal enough room to pull off lovely, unaffected performances.
The High Cost of Living: In this indie Canadian drama, Zach Braff - you know, that nice young man from Scrubs - plays a skeezy drug dealer who leaves a pregnant woman (Isabelle Blais of Les Invasions barbares) in the street after he hits her with his car. Trying to find out what has happened, he becomes her friend, and is pulled into a moral and emotional tangle as she loses the baby and the police investigation starts to close in. Despite the strained, overused - and slightly icky - premise, Montreal-based director Deborah Chow makes a promising debut, keeping the story emotionally tough by zeroing in on strong performances by Blais and Braff.