Vancouver International Film Festival Picks for Day 1& 2
By Volkmar Richter
“What have you seen?” “Oh, is it good?” “The one I really liked is ….”
Good old word of mouth. In line ups and other gatherings, it’s the best pointer to the films you should see at VIFF. Better than the catalogue, which claims every film is great, and easier than hours of research on the internet.
You can read my picks right here, two days at a time. Generally, I’ll list only films I’ve seen and can recommend, although I’ll add a few now and then that I’m still only planning to see.
DAY 1: Thurs. Sept. 30
BARNEY’S VERSION: Mordecai Richler’s award-winning novel has been tweaked quite a bit for this movie version —no French-English arguments, for instance—but with The Habs, The Expos and Grumpy’s Bar all in evidence, the Montreal flavor is intact. So is Richler’s sardonic humor which comes on strongly early in the film. Later things get more serious. Barney you see is an ornery type, and Paul Giamatti plays him perfectly. As one character says to his face “you’ve screwed around everybody you ever met or cared about.” He’s a TV producer and we see him looking back over his life. Flashbacks take us there, particularly the day he got married (to Minnie Driver) and immediately fell in love with another woman (Rosamund Pike). His messy love life and his drink-fueled friendship with a pal (Scott Speedman) take up most of the story, although a murder allegation floats in and out a few times and problems with a failing memory add pathos. Dustin Hoffman brings humor and tidbits of fatherly advice. The film is glossy and well-acted but a might short of real emotional involvement. It screens again Sunday morning and opens in regular theatres in December. 3 1/2 out of 5
STONEWALL UPRISING: To this day, there’s a big sign outside the Stonewall Bar in New York City proclaiming “Where Pride Began.” This sprightly documentary shows how it happened that one night in 1969 when the police staged yet another raid on the Greenwich Village gay bar, thepatrons fought back. Or as one says in the film” “We discovered a power we didn’t know we had.” A couple of days of riot followed and ultimately triggered the gay pride movement. People who were there, including one of the cops and a writer from The Village Voice, reconstruct the event in minute by minute detail and the context is set by some hilarious news and educational films about homosexuality. (Also screens Wednesday) 3 1/2 out of 5
PINK SARIS: “I am the messiah for women,” says a tough, firebrand named Sampat Pal Devi in a poor region of India. If you can get past the rather self-aggrandizing tone in that line, you can appreciate her good work in this bracing documentary. She’s the founder and leader of a militant group of women named The Gulabi Gang who stand up for abused, shunned, sometimes raped women. We see her help out five different women. One is being prevented from marrying outside her caste. Another lost her husband and then his family took her house. A young woman is frequently beaten by her in-laws. Devi takes no guff, rarely even an explanation, when she confronts the wrong doers. We see her berating local police, family members and controlling husbands. At the same time, she’s struggling against problems of her own. It’s a fascinating peek inside a society that still exists in rural India. (Also screen October 12 and 14) 3 out of 5
VESPA: This charming story from Hungary, about a gypsy boy on a road trip, is meant to promote inclusion of the Roma people. That’s timely as countries like France have turned against them but this film stays away from overt political statements. It takes us into a child’s world, like the classic 400 Blows, and has us empathize.
Twelve-year-old Lali thinks he has won a scooter in a contest. To collect it he has to make a trip (by train, walking and hitchiking) to Budapest, about 70 kilometers away. He also hopes to find his dad who’s there working on a construction site. His quest is modestly presented, sometimes tense, sometimes funny, and very involving. The director, Diana Groo, has found a very natural and relaxed child actor in newcomer Sandor Toth. (Also screens Monday) 3 out of 5
DAY 2: Fri Oct 1
FATHERS AND SONS: The question is: Do the men have as much to say as the women? Two year’s ago Carl Bessai’s Mothers & Daughters was voted the most popular Canadian film at VIFF. Six familiar local actors played three mother/daughters pairs as they talked about their relationships. Their speeches were formed in improvised workshop sessions.
Now the father-son bond is explored by five pairs of male actors including Ben Ratner, Jay Brazeau, Tyler Labine, Tom Scholte and Blu Mankuma. (Also screens Saturday).
GARBO THE SPY: Sometimes it’s given the subtitle: The Man Who Saved the World. This is an almost unbelievable story of deception during World War II. The subject is a Spanish double agent who worked out of Lisbon, Portugal to feed wrong information to the Germans. He even got them to finance a fictitious network of 23 agents he claimed were working for him. His biggest coup was to convince them that Patton was assembling a force in England to attack at Calais while Patton was doing absolutely nothing and the assault came in Normandy. Even days later, the Germans trusted his information enough to concentrate their troops at the wrong site. The code name Garbo acknowledged that he was a persuasive actor. This documentary is fascinating and moves along briskly (the historians and writers talking don’t even identify themselves for over a half our in.) It’s also dressed up with clips from news reels and, most entertainingly, movies, like Our Man in Havana, Mata Hari and, naturally, Patton. (Also screens Oct. 7 and 12) 3 ½ out of 5
REJOICE AND SHOUT: The first person you see is Andre Crouch. That tells you right there that this history of black gospel music is the real thing. Crouch is immensely influential as an artist, preacher, mentor and Grammy Award winner. He put on a great show at the PNE a few years ago but he’s never become widely-known like Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward or the Staples Singers. They’re all seen and heard in this rousing documentary, along with The Edwin Hawkins Singers, The Dixie Hummingbirds, and many others. We also get to hear the first ever gospel record. Best of all, the music clips, whether old or recent, are substantial, not just snippets. The story dates back to slavery days when the masters forced the people to become Christians and they put their own spin on it. (Also screening Oct 6 and 11) 4 out of 5
SNOW WHITE: The charming little children’s story is now a thrilling, sensual and sexy French ballet. The costumes by Jean Paul Gaultier are skimpy and the choreography by Angelin Preljocaj is fluid or angry depending on the particular mood. Nagisa Shirai dances an excellent Snow White but the real star for me is Caline Galli as the wicked queen.
She exudes evil, thwarted status and more than a hint of sadism in her severe black costume and her stomping tirades. It’s a terrifying scene when she forces the apple into Snow White’s mouth and a particularly harsh fate that comes to her in this version of the story. The seven dwarves have a much reduced role here, although a lengthy sequence in which they rappel up and down a cliff-side working their mines is spectacular. This stunning production was performed in Paris and other cities in France and then filmed for a TV special last Christmas. (Also showing Oct 6 and 8) 4 out of 5
12 ANGRY LEBANESE: Here’s an idea. Go into one of the worst prisons in the world, Roumieh prison in Lebanon, get 45 inmates, most of them murderers, a few of them rapists and get them to rehearse for 15 months and put on a play. You’d have to be crazy. Well, it happened, under the cajoling leadership of a young woman named Zeina Daccache. She studied drama therapy in the U.S. and we see her put it to use. She gets them to perform 12 Angry Men, the play about of a jury arguing and debating a young man’s fate in a murder case.
The inmates are tough and doubting when they start but gradually meld into a cohesive cast as she pushes them on. Something more remarkable happens. Several become introspective. They admit to their crimes and ponder exactly what caused them to commit them. All that, while the film leads to the big show where they’ll be playing to a VIP audience of officials and politicians. It’s a powerful film. (Also Oct 3 and 6) 4 out of 5