Vancouver International Film Festival Picks for Day 13: Tuesday
As the last week of VIFF unspools, the list of great films getting a repeat screening gets longer. Check it out after reading about bridal tourism in the Ukraine, a Quebec film about the Middle East and a little known (to us) atrocity in World War II.
LOVE TRANSLATED: Some call this a comedy. OK, but you'd have to be a little heartless to see it that way. The men in this documentary are on a trip of self-delusion. A cabbie says they’re being scammed. Lured by a website called Anastasiadate.com, men travel to Odessa in the Ukraine to meet women who they hope will become their brides. We see ten (including a man from Richmond) taken to functions and on mini tours over a week and a half, chatting, dining and flirting with attractive young women. Some have had bad experiences with North American women, including divorce and liberated attitudes. One has had no experience. As the days count down, it becomes urgent to make a connection. This film is briskly edited and always interesting but fairly sad too. Director Julia Ivanova, who lives in Vancouver, premiered the film in Chicago just three days ago. (Also screens Thursday) 3 ½ out of 5
INCENDIES: I haven’t seen it yet but this will be Canada’s next entry for the Oscars and has drawn praise at festivals from Venice to Toronto. Also, the director has a solid reputation. One of his films was the excellent Polytechnique based on the horrible massacre in Montreal. Here’s what the VIFF notes say about Incendies: Jeanne and Simon journey from Montreal to the Middle East hoping to fulfill their mother’s cryptic last request to deliver letters to a father believed dead and a brother unknown. Director Denis Villeneuve poetically lays bare two lives and a legacy shattered by war. (Also screens Thursday)
THE MAN WHO WILL COME: It’s taken me a while to catch up to this one, although I’ve been hearing very good things about it. This film re-creates a World War II atrocity in Italy when a German unit annihilated over 750 peasants, women and children in a mountainous region near Bologna. It was retaliation for killings carried out by partisans operating in the area. On screen, the butchery is all the more shocking because it arrives so suddenly after we’ve watched a quiet story of rural life.
We see it through the eyes of a young girl who refuses to speak because she’s already suffered a tragedy. The death of a baby brother. (Another one will be born during the course of the film). She’s a silent witness and guide to the everyday life of the farming community, the school, the church and families in their homes. It’s a peaceful, traditional world, with only brief reminders of the war. Partisans come and go and German soldiers make relatively friendly visits to buy wine and eggs. The violence, when it comes, is devastating. This is a very well-made film with a life-affirming coda after the shooting ends. 4 out of 5
The major repeats …
AFTERSHOCK: China’s biggest movie hit ever brought packed houses to tears this summer. It’s both a blockbuster and a wrenching story of human beings coping with disaster. The film dramatically recreates the aftermath of an earthquake in 1976 with classic Chinese storytelling and a let-it-all-out operatic grandeur. A highly emotional epic almost 2 ½ hours in length.
UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES: This film about re-incarnation from Thailand was the surprise winner of the top prize at this year’s Cannes film festival. It defies easy description. It includes a ghost story and a folk tale and a sex-crazed catfish.
The film tells of a tamarind farmer dying of kidney disease. When two relatives visit, two ghosts, his wife and his son, also appear. The son is now a monkey ghost. Stranger scenes happen next day. Parts are brilliant; parts are murky, both in look and in content. Still, it’s a must see. Until I see it again, it’s a 3 ½ out of 5, I think.
SCHOOLING THE WORLD: This is surely the most radical documentary at VIFF this year. It dares to challenge one of our most cherished beliefs, that education is always good. For instance, the international effort called Education for All is said to be improving the situation of poor people around the world by helping to lift them out of poverty and giving them a chance to share in the benefits of modern life. This film argues it has actually increased poverty, stripped people of their identity and created a mass of consumers for the benefit of corporations. Provocative stuff spoken by several experts including Wade Davis, the anthropologist and writer, formerly at UBC, now in Washington with National Geographic. The film includes many scenes from traditional societies. 4 out of 5
OF GODS AND MEN: Another prize winner from Cannes. This is a quietly powerful study of religious dedication, and its limits. A group of Cistercian monks live a bucolic, spiritual life in Algeria and provide medical and other help to their Muslim neighbors.
Co-existence is shattered though when Islamic fundamentalists arrive and threaten their community. The eight monks have to make a choice: flee or stay. It's a true story set during a civil war 20 years ago but the modern parallels are strong. Some of France's best actors are in the cast including Michael Lonsdale and Lambert Wilson. The pace is languid but the ending is devastating. (Also screening Wednesday) 3 1/2 out of 5
INTO THE WIND: There's a more complete picture of Terry Fox in this film than any I've seen before. He was stubborn. "You couldn't win an argument with him," says his father. He pushes himself dangerously on his Marathon of Hope. He believes in himself. He gets grumpy. He yells at a reporter on the phone. All these and more come out through memories from the people who were close to him, many choice archival clips and most of all through his diary. Amazingly it's not his death nor his ending the cross-country run that's the most emotional part of this documentary. It's when he arrives in Scarborough, Ontario and a huge crowd is there to cheer. That's when he finally saw he was making an impact. Steve Nash and his cousin Ezra Holland did a very good job with this film. 4 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 suffering abuse. 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 screens Thursday) 3 out of 5
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. A Spanish double agent working out of Lisbon, Portugal fed wrong information to the Germans and, in his biggest coup, convinced them to focus their defenses at Calais not Normandy. That enabled the D-Day invasion of Europe. Amazingly the Germans, as well as the British, gave him medals. The code name Garbo acknowledged that he was a persuasive actor. This documentary moves along briskly with historians and writers talking, excerpts from news reels and clips from movies, like Our Man in Havana, Mata Hari and, naturally, Patton. 3 ½ out of 5
RIDE, RISE, ROAR: David Byrne is best known for his band Talking Heads and an acclaimed concert film, Stop Making Sense. Here he brings an extra element into a fairly standard concert performance by bringing three dancers into the show. So while he belts out Once in a Lifetime, Burning Down the House, and 12 other songs, the dancers do their stuff. Its energetic and brings the stage alive, even as backstage interludes between songs tend to dull things down. 3 out of 5
THE UGLY DUCKLING: This Russian version of the beloved fairytale is well-motivated but under-realized. It’s by animator Garri Bardin who uses the stop-motion format with puppets, clay figures, plasticine and more to tell of the ungainly bird born into a flock of ducks who respond more than once by tossing it over the fence. There are foxes and hunters outside and a rigid Soviet-like society inside. The animation is more primitive than we’re used to but delivers some elaborate action sequences. 3 out of 5