The Encyclopedia of Film Criticism - Olivia Collette

Olivia Collette
Since becoming agnostic, I’ve often said that I preferred it when I believed in a god, because it meant believing in a magical afterlife…When I die, I probably still won’t believe in god, at least not with any certainty. But I will no doubt wish that I did.

Influences: "Roger Ebert was probably the greatest influence, and he inspired me in a couple of ways. Firstly, and I say this in “My Favorite Roger”, he was a terrific writer, and one I turned to often when I was studying film theory. The second thing he made me appreciate was how to be a better reader. Even if I only knew him for 3 short years, I can’t begin to express what a privilege it was to be one of the people in his entourage in those later years.

Another influence is Matt Zoller Seitz, who I started reading after meeting him at Ebertfest 2011. I doubt he realizes this, but I nearly peed myself when he first complimented my writing, and then asked me to contribute to the Grand Budapest Hotel book, which is sort of an appendix to his book The Wes Anderson Collection. I wrote the chapter on music. I especially enjoy his TV recaps, because while most recappers tell you the order of things that happened in an episode, Matt tells you what was really going on. He talks about the layers rather than the events. And then there’s how he does it, which is just so many levels of good. 

Finally, there’s Odie Henderson and Steven Boone. They have very different styles of writing, and they’re both equally captivating. I especially recommend Odie’s Silicon Valley recaps and everything Boone’s written for Capital New York. Every now and then, Odie and Boone write together in a kind of epistolary blog post, which, for me, is an absolute treat. We haven’t necessarily worked together, but we’ve had the pleasure of talking to each other live, and the exchanges are incredible. They shape my writing because as a writer, I strive to have a voice as distinct as theirs. So I guess what I’m really saying is, I’m lucky to have worked with people I also admire greatly."

Proud champion of: Norman Jewison, Night and Fog, Jesus Christ Superstar, Ari Folman, Moonstruck, Tous les matins du monde, Ron Fricke, Celda 211, El laberinto del fauno, A Serious Man, Michael Slovis, Yin shi nan nu, Wandâfuru raifu, Pedro Almodóvar, Pleasantville, Federico Fellini, Suspiria, Volver, ¡Átame!, Denys Arcand, Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón, Brian Froud, Koyaanisqatsi, Persepolis, Wes Anderson, Julie/Julia, Lee Daniels, The NeverEnding Story, The Dark Crystal, Michel Gondry, The Doinel CycleAgnès Varda

Contributed to: The McGill News, Caustic Truths, Journal Place Publique, enRoute, eHow,, Montreal Gazette, Mondo*Arc, The Spectator Arts Blog, World Film Locations (San Francisco), Sparksheet, Indiewire/Press Play, Urbania, Huffington Post Québec and her writing is collected at

Despite a gift for it, Montreal-based Olivia Collette (October 19, 1976-) doesn't consider herself a film critic: "I feel I’m a journalist first, and an art critic second. And I say “art critic” because I’ve written about music, cinema and TV. And I put the emphasis on “journalist” because I’m much more interested in a variety of topics that shape society, not just art; things like linguistics, architecture, urban planning, transportation, politics; stuff that’s not necessarily artsy."

"What made it possible for me to even dabble in criticism was a combination of things: namely writing, studying film theory in university, and studying music before going into film theory. Even when I was studying music, it became clear that I was far more interested in deconstructing an art medium than being the artist. Although there are parts of me that still need those artistic outlets, writing will always be the most fulfilling thing for me."

"I feel that I got started with film essays before getting the chance to review anything. I really like to analyze the shit out of things, so I suppose the first time I did that, and made a significant mark, was when I wrote an essay in university about the visual theme of chess in Jesus Christ Superstar. It wasn’t the first film essay I wrote, but it was the one that made the most waves. My professor really liked the idea, and my cousin, who’s a religious scholar, used my premise to dig into representations of Christ in pop culture. "

"The first time I published any kind of review, it was in a community newspaper called Journal Place Publique, and it was about Yagayah, a play co-written by d’bi young and Naila Belvett. The first time I started to commit to writing about pop culture was on my blog, and it was with this entry, which I followed up with this piece [on devilry in the movies]. And eventually led to this piece [on video games], which continues to be the most popular on my blog: The first time I wrote for Roger Ebert about film was with a piece on the role of architecture in Inception."

Olivia identifying herself as a journalist is the key to understanding her film writing. Her pieces have an honesty, not only about the fundamental form and image in front of her, but about herself and what she brings to every piece of art she encounters. Kent Jones, among others, has frequently called for, to put it simplistically, people to actually write about the movie they're watching, and Olivia is one of the few writers who rarely strays from what can be known about the film, about its reality, and about how it achieves its effect on the viewer. Her prose, candid, funny and relatable, lowers a bridge for readers, offering an easy, rewarding rapport. She thoroughly researches the movies she watches to fully engross herself in the artist's intentions and palette. Her endlessly fascinating look at religion informs her writing on film, in that both approach something unknowable with two feet firmly planted on the ground. She offers the safety of the rational world while examining gigantic, often terrifying subjects, offering her healthily skeptical POV as a way into discussing sacred cows, from religion to sexism to blockbusters. Every subject is treated equally, with the same scrutiny and openness. More concisely, Olivia Collette is fearless. 

On Laurence Anyways: 

The film's biggest strength is dealing with a taboo as if it wasn't. When Laurence starts dressing in women's clothing, she looks less like Jenna Talackova and more like an awkward man in a skirt, because it takes time to get comfortable with who you are. Eventually she returns to pants because a dress doesn't make the lady. Despite her ability for great tenderness, Laurence can also be selfish and rude. She's not an angelic transgender heroine; she's just exceedingly normal.

On A Hijacking:

The bulk of the stress revolves around 12 phone calls between Peter and Omar. Connor is always present to make sure each conversation never gets frantic. The one time things reach Samuel L. Jackson pitch, there are immediate consequences. The film earns Dogme points with handheld cinematography and uncomfortable, sometimes inefficient lighting. But Lindholm wanted to achieve maximum realism. So the boat scenes were filmed on a real ship in the Indian Ocean. A satellite phone was set up on the boat to make phone calls to the actors in Denmark, so echoes and lagging weren't scripted and the reactions were often improvised. Gary Skjoldmose-Porter, who plays Connor, is an actual hostage negotiator. He convinced Lindholm not to create a plasma screen-filled situation room and instead opt for a small conference set-up and sticking red tape on the phone the CEO would use. Other non-actors include 4 of the crewmembers of the MV Rozen, which was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2007. "Violence is expensive," is the simple — and loaded — thing that director Alrick Brown said during Ebertfest 2011, when someone asked him why there was a lack of bloodshed in "Kinyarwanda," a movie about the 1994 Rwandan genocide. That's why all the violence in "A Hijacking" occurs off-screen.

On The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey:

Some people hate "Dune" because it's nothing like the novel, but venerate "The Shining" for the same reason. You can't please everyone when you adapt a book to film, so you're better off hoping you'll please anyone. Even if it's just a handful, it's those few who will be your fiercest defenders against the purists. So let's start with what Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" isn't: If you read the book, it's not the book you read. It includes plot elements from "The Hobbit," details that weren't fleshed out in "The Lord of the Rings" movies, bits from the "LOTR" appendices, and stuff that was created for the sake of this new trilogy.

We all know why, too. As a standalone story, "The Hobbit" had enough material for just one movie: a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins is recruited by the wizard Gandalf and 13 dwarves to reclaim the kingdom that was stolen from them by a dragon; along the way, the company fights dangerous trolls and orcs, while Bilbo finds a ring that makes him invisible; it all leads to a final conflict. The End. 

That brevity won't do for such a lucrative franchise. And Hollywood economics dictates this must be a trilogy. Sporadic insertions of the Middle-Earth mythology were the only way to stretch the otherwise succinct saga over three films. Just the same, any film--whether it's adapted from a novel, comic book, TV series or video game--deserves to be reviewed as a separate entity, and on its own merits.

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