Vancouver International Film Festival Picks for the last two days: Thursday & Friday
These last two days at VIFF have few debut films but plenty of the best repeated. And watch for the post-festival repeats starting up right away at the VanCity Theatre. First up is Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives, which took the top prize at Cannes this year.
But first, all these ….
DAY 15: October 14
INCENDIES: This is a powerful film from Quebec director Denis Villeneuve. People in the audience the other night were stunned by the intense emotions it stirs up. That’s partly because it draws you so effectively into exploring a mystery that you’re open to the full impact of what it reveals. A pair of twins in Montreal (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Maxim Gaudette) are instructed in their mother’s will to find their father, who they had no idea was still alive, and a brother, who they had never even heard about. They have to deliver a letter to each of them, not knowing why but ultimately uncovering a painful history. The search takes them to Lebanon and in a series of chapters and locations, both grim and sunny, they learn their mother’s story. We see it played out in raw flashbacks from a time of civil war. It’s heart-wrenching but also a demonstration of human survival and of hope. No wonder it’s been picked as Canada’s official entry for the Academy Awards and won a best-Canadian award in Toronto. 4 ½ out of 5.
THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA: I hope I’m still watching movies when I’m 101. Manoel de Oliveira of Portugal is still making them. His latest has some of the same melancholy and longing you find in fado music but embedded in a fantasy about love, time passing and memory. A young photographer is called to an estate one rainy night to take the last pictures of a young woman who has just died.
As he looks through the viewfinder he’s not only struck by her beauty, but sees her opening her eyes and smiling. In his darkroom, her photo also seems to come alive and then she appears to him as a ghost. Sometimes, the two fly off into the sky together and he muses about “that place of absolute love I’ve heard about.” In the daytime, he shoots pictures of farm laborers to document tradition before farm machinery takes over and at his boarding house he listens to three academics discuss anti-matter, pure energy and “the cosmic situation”. A mysterious enchanting film. 4 out of 5
CERTIFIED COPY: It was a hit at the Cannes Film Festival and won Juliet Binoche a best acting award. It proves in every moment and colorful scene that it deserves the accolades. It’s also unexpectedly funny. At times that is, because it rolls through a variety of moods.
Binoche plays a French antique dealer in Tuscany who agrees to show a British art expert around. He's played by William Shimell, an English opera singer, who’s OK as an actor except when he’s called on to be angry. Binoche starts pretending they’re married and badgers him to play along. Is she delusional or real? The question hovers through a series of encounters with a real bride and groom, a tourist couple and staff in a coffee shop. Married or not, the film is actually about marriage, both new and grown old. And it’s immensely entertaining and alive. 4 out of 5
The repeats ….
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. 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 lives in Vancouver. 3 ½ out of 5
THE TWO ESCOBARS: This is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. It has drama, tension,. hope, tragedy, and more. A screenwriter couldn’t do better. You’ve heard of Pablo Escobar, the one-time major drug lord in Columbia and, according to this film, a popular figure among the poor. He brought money, services and soccer fields to the slums. He also supported the national soccer team on which Andres Escobar was the star player. Their parallel rise and subsequent crash – Pablo was shot down; Andres scored the own goal that put his team out of the World Cup and paid the price soon after – is told with great momentum in this compelling film. (An extra screening has been added for tomorrow) 4 out of 5
WHEN THE DEVIL KNOCKS: A second screening for Helen Slinger’s documentary about multiple personality disorder. We get an unusually intimate view of an Alberta woman’s ordeal through her memories now, video tape from years of therapy and young actors playing five so called “alters,” the imaginary characters who took over her life at various times. The ultimate cause is sexual abuse suffered as a child and the film is both gripping and unsettling as the therapist digs deeper into that history. 4 out of 5
AFTERSHOCK: China’s biggest movie hit ever brought packed houses to tears this summer and gets an extra screening at VIFF. 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. Strong acting, great special effects and a script about terrible choices that people have to make.
THE 4th REVOLUTION: A last chance to catch this enlightening documentary about “The biggest structural change since the industrial revolution”. That would be the shift we have to make away from fossil fuels to renewable sources like wind, solar and (of particular much-debated interest here in B.C) run of the river. This film from Germany takes a we-can-do-it approach by visiting folks already taking major steps in California, Africa, Europe, and, surprisingly, China. This is not pie-in-the sky stuff. It’s encouraging. (Also screens Friday). 4 out of 5
KINSHASA SYMPHONY: One more chorus from Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. That’s the recurring melody as a symphony orchestra in the Democratic Republic of Congo rehearses for a big concert. It’s not easy. The power sometimes goes out. Brake cables have to replace broken violin strings. Players have to find space to practice and time. But with tough, exacting conductor and a great deal of dedication they please a huge crowd of ordinary people, and us, in this feel-good documentary. 4 out of 5
THE DESERT OF FORBIDDEN ART: This film shows dedication too. Deep in central Asia, in an autonomous region of Uzbekistan, far away from the Soviet censors, there’s a collection of banned art. A museum has 44,000 works and the film shows us some stunning examples as Ben Kingsley, Sally Field and Ed Asner read diary entries and letters to tell the story of how they got there. For fun, it also shows some great examples of state-approved art. 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 leads a militant group of women who stand up for abused, shunned, sometimes raped women. Devi takes no guff, rarely even an explanation, when she confronts the wrong doers. At the same time, she’s struggling against problems of her own. It’s a fascinating peek inside an old society that still exists in rural India. 3 out of 5
REPEATERS: Carl Bessai shows he can handle a genre thriller too. This one is slick, speedy and atmospehric. It’s the story, which he didn’t write, that lets him down. Three addicts in rehab (played by Dustin Milligan, Amanda Crew and Richard de Klerk) find they’re living the same day over and over again. The explanation makes little sense and the reaction of de Klerk’s character goes way overboard by the end. 2 out of 5
LAST DAY: October 15:
THE ILLUSIONIST: I’m looking forward to this one because it has a history and a heritage.
The director made another beautiful animated film, the wonderful The Triplets of Belleville (2003) and the script was written by the great French comedian Jacques Tati. The main character is based on him. In the story, a wandering magician strikes up a friendship with a teenage girl who starts tagging along. It may have been Tati’s attempt to apologize to a daughter he neglected for his work or, according to The Guardian in England, the apology may be for another daughter, his first child, who he abandoned and who now lives in the U.K. This is the festival’s closing film.
THE ROBBER: We all have our quirks. A man in Austria back in the 1980s loved robbing banks and running marathons. This film does a splendid job showing him at work in both pursuits. The director doesn’t ponder the why, just the how in a succession of tense robbery scenes and fast-cut getaways. Benjamin Heisenberg has said he approached it like a wildlife documentary. Therefore, no psychological explanations. As the he robber says: “What I do has nothing to do with what you call life.” He doesn’t elaborate. This is a sharp, tight action film. 3 1/2 out of 5
Three notable repeats …
FATHERS AND SONS: Carl Bessai’s follow up to his award winning Mothers & Daughters turns out to much more of a comedy than I expected, although it was developed in the same improvising workshop way. Jay Brazeau, Tyler Labine, Ben Ratner, Tom Scholte and Blu Mankuma are among the four father/son pairs in stories that don’t offer anything new but entertain anyway. 3 out of 5
THE 4th REVOLUTION: An optimistic documentary about the world’s energy future. (See the note above)
THE TWO ESCOBARS: An added screening for this great documentary. (See above)