Films to see at VIFF on Days 6 & 7: Wednesday and Thursday
Days 6 and 7 at the Vancouver International Film Festival bring the usual mix of dramas, documentaries, and buzz films but I’m going to start with a truly incendiary piece of journalism. It got standing ovations and a major award at the Tribeca Film Festival and hopes to free a wrongly convicted man from prison.
But first, here’s the entire list:
Give Up Tomorrow
Imams Go to School
No One Killed Jessica
Take This Waltz
7 Sins Forgiven
On the Line
Taste the Waste
GIVE UP TOMORROW: Who needs fiction when real life stories as amazing and shocking as this can happen? It's a miscarriage of justice that happened in the Phillipines to a 19-year-old student named Paco Larranaga.
He and six other young men were convicted of the rape and murder of two young girls. That can happen when a judge refuses to believe the testimony and the photos that placed Paco hundreds of miles away that day; sends his lawyers to jail and disregards suspicions about police and the underworld. Oh, and he fell asleep a few times during the trial. This case didn’t stay quiet though. Amnesty International, the United Nations and the government of Spain got involved. Celebrities like Yoko Ono have joined a Free Paco campaign while the dead girls’ mother used political connections to fire up an execute-Paco media storm. This passionate film and where the case stands right now will remind you more than a little of the case of the West Memphis Three. But those men are now free. (Thursday, Friday and next Thurs).
DAY 6: Wednesday
IMAMS GO TO SCHOOL: If you're at all following the arguments in France about Muslims, the veil and religious rights, you're going to be fascinated by this film, especially by its ironies. It seems France wants to ensure that the imams who preach in the mosques there understand they're in a secular country. It's been so by law since the French Revolution and reaffirmed in another law in 1905. That history is now taught to trainee imams at the Catholic Institute of Paris, the only school willing to create the program after a politician suggested it. The imams also get everyday advice (hold the naive idealism because not everything is bright and beautiful), courtesy reminders (don't wear religious symbols) and hot button practical tips (how to shake hands, which is likely to be seen as a cultural insult by many Muslims). We see several instructors blithely dishing out these lessons, but little of how the imams take them. The biggest irony is visting a memorial to priests who were murdered in Algeria, a story that was seen in a VIFF film last year. (Also screens Saturday)
NO ONE KILLED JESSICA: That’s what the court in India said, but we saw it happen at the beginning of the film and who did it. A politician’s son demanded another drink in a club after closing time. He shot the woman who refused to serve him and got off because witnesses were bribed to stay quiet. The story is a part-fiction/part-fact version of an infamous real case, the murder of a young model named Jessica Lal in a New Delhi restaurant.
A public backlash emerged, fueled in this movie by a crusading journalist who couldn’t care about the case originally and then, shocked by the court’s verdict, has to defy his male boss to dig into it. She’s played by one of Indian cinema’s biggest stars, Rani Mukherjee. No singing and dancing here, just a tough performance in a muckraking film about powerful people and a legal system that kowtows to them. Or did. Some strong courtroom scenes and a fake movie audition blows this outrage wide open. (Also Oct 10 and 13)
Previously recommended: The Front Line
Major buzz: In Darkness
DAY 7: Thursday ….
TAKE THIS WALTZ: Sarah Polley's second directing effort doesn't have the depth of feeling of Away From Her, the film she brought five years ago. It tries to be as emotional but a few problems get in the way. Chief among them: how are we to root for the main character? She's a moping writer, played by Michelle Williams, unable to fix her disatisfied life and prone to mistakes when she tries to. She married to an amiable but unexciting husband, played by a toned-down Seth Rogen. He's writing a cookbook so he's always cooking chicken. She runs into a more interesting man (Luke Kirby) on a writing assignment in Nova Scotia.
He happens to live right across the street from her in Toronto and before long they're having chats over coffee, rides in the rickshaw he operates and sexy swims in a recreation centre pool. Michelle, Sarah Silverman and four other women of all shapes and colors, have a long uninhibited shower there. Michelle will have two more at home and finally leave to have sex with the man across the street. What happens there is so out of character that we lose patience with her and with the film, which had been nicely sunny, low-key and mildly adventurous.
7 SINS FORGIVEN: This is another film from India but it has more than a bit of Bollywood in it. Actually it has a bit of just about everything, drama, musical numbers, gothic fantasy, criminal intrigue and a heroine who combines western story traditions of the woman as victim with a common Indian allegory of the cobra woman. The radiant Priyanka Chopra plays a woman who through the course of the film will marry seven husbands. They keep on her. The first is an officious military man who controls her and whips the help on their sprawling horse farm. A Kashmiri Muslim beats and slaps her. A choir singer turned Axl Rose-like rock star succumbs to drugs. A Russian diplomat turns out to be a bigamist. And so on, with each new man bringing on a change of mood and look. An orphan boy who she befriends and crosses paths with over the years narrates the story. There's no message here; just entertaining filmmaking. (Also Sunday)
ON THE LINE: You've noticed the controversy over that new pipeline planned from Alberta to the U.S. Now you can get ready for the next one. Enbridge wants to install a new pipe from near Edmonton to Kitimat to transport tar sands oil to China. The company calls it "an exciting opportunity for northern BC and Alberta."
Frank Wolf and his pal (and cameraman) Todd McGowan cycled, hiked or kayaked the entire scenic route and found most people have a far different prediction. A few business types and real estate agents welcome it but farmers, tourist operators and fishermen are terrified. They expect only 37 permanent jobs but a big threat to fish, the landscape and a way of life. Not surprising, since the big spill from an Enbridge pipeline into Michigan's Kalamazoo River had happened just days before. Spectacular landscapes help stimulate our own worries but nothing like the trip’s end point, where supertankers will be coming through a narrow channel and making three sharp turns to get to the ocean. A native fisherman wonders, “Will they re-locate us?”
TASTE THE WASTE: This documentary from Germany (but filmed in several countries) makes a provocative assertion. If Europeans and North Americans stopped throwing away as much food as they do, we could feed the whole world. Yes, including Somalia. I don't know how true that is, but the film assembles some impressive statistics and many shocking pictures. Tons of fresh produce poured into dumpsters. Buns and bread thrown out because the "best before" date is too close for buyers to take a chance. A potato farmers tells how he has to take out and throw away the big and the little ones because people only want spuds of medium size. Cucumbers with a slight bend are tossed. The scenes keep coming.
Eight and a half tons of oranges are destroyed in France and a woman working there recalls her relatives in Cameroon can't even afford to buy oranges. The economics of the world food industry gets a gruelling workover in this film. (Also Sunday and next Tuesday)
Previously recommended: You’ve Been Trumped.