Reviews of three new films and picks for the 10 best of 2016
Time for that annual ritual: my list of the ten best films of the year. Many are still in theatres and a few have been brought back by the VanCity Theatre in their best of the year series.
But first, the three new movies the week has brought us. They’re all what people call art house films and they’re also playing at the VanCity theatre.
Human: 3 ½ stars
The 10 Best: (unrated but all very high)
HUMAN: This is more of an educational project than a traditional movie and it has been exhibited as such at various conferences and before the United Nations. The director, Yann Arthus-Bertrand from France, has been a UN ambassador and has made a number of environmental films. In this, probably his biggest project, he dares to examine what it means to be human and living on this planet. He offers no narration but lets ordinary people do the talking. They look right into the camera, i.e. right into our eyes, and reveal their thoughts, their fears and their stories. They cover war, poverty, discrimination, love, the meaning of life and many more subjects. A few get emotional; at least one is angry. The cumulative effect is quite mesmerizing.
Between sections the film gives us spectacular aerial visuals often of landscapes or massive crowds. I often wished it told us where they’re from. We know the people were filmed in dozens of countries, principally in Asia, Africa and Latin America and include poor farmers, refugees, prison inmates, soldiers and victims as well as perpetrators of violence. There’s optimism and gratitude for just being alive, but also a not very pretty snapshot of the state of humanity today. It won the audience award for international documentary at VIFF. (Van City) 3 ½ out of 5
RESET: Dance enthusiasts, especially of ballet, will take to this. I don’t know much about the art form but even I found this film engrossing because it takes you right inside one company and lets you watch the creative process at work. The scene is the famed Paris Opera Ballet two years ago. A new director has arrived and we count down the days as he choreographs an entirely new work. He’s Benjamin Millepied fresh from 20 years with the New York City Ballet and best known for his work on and in the film Black Swan. (He’s married to its star, Natalie Portman.)
We are allowed apparently complete access as he rehearses his dancers (“I liked it when you moved both arms”), reverts into a dancer himself to better demonstrate and brings a new spontaneity to the staid company which he describes as “military.” He puts a mixed-race ballerina in the lead, a first it seems, and brings in some English techno-types to design the stage. All the while he has to deal with day to day issues like budgets, a bench he wants built and a looming strike. The film’s directors, Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai, add their own valuable innovation. At the eventual premiere they flash back from specific spots to the same moves we saw earlier as the dancers learned them. Millepied has now moved on and has some critical words to say. Not in the film though. It ends as a happy triumph. 4 out of 5
GHOSTLAND: THE VIEW OF THE JU’HOANSI: Better be ready for some debate after this one. Is this exploitation? Modern anthropology? Are these people being helped with this kind of exposure? There are valid arguments on both sides although the film doesn’t get into them. It just puts up the raw material and makes it look pretty.
The Ju'Hoansi are the Namibian contingent of the San people of southern Africa. When they were nomadic bushmen they ate giraffe and kudu meat. Now with their hunting rights taken away they perform for tourists, playing and posing as primitives. In town, staring at loaded shelves in a supermarket, they look completely out of place. When four are invited to Germany for an “educational project” the culture clash is boosted. “This is another world,” one says about the skyscrapers, the noise and the people perpetually working and running. “These people don’t know each other.” There’s much more to know about the Ju'Hoansi too but there’s only a light, bright overview in this film by German director Simon Stadler. 3 out of 5.
THE 10 BEST OF THE YEAR: All in all, it’s been a good year at the movies and I had a real struggle to keep this list down to only 10. You should see the films that didn’t get in. Also, I did not include films that haven’t played here yet. Studios sometimes preview them for media hoping to get them into lists like this. I’ll wait.
I did enjoy what may be a trend. More and more films now deal with, or at least touch on, real issues like inequality, corruption, office holders abusing their position, public misconduct. This muckraking as entertainment shows up several times in this list, which by the way is not in any particular order. These films are just very good that’s all.