VIFF picks: Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, Holy Motors, Barbara
I’ve got five new recommendations for these last three days of the Vancouver International Film Festival. Notice, though, that several of my previous picks have another screening to go. They include No Job for a Woman, Blood Relatives, Revolution, My Father and the Man in Black, The Mountain Runners, Bottled Life and the big one, Amour.
And at viff.org the list is up of films that the VanCity Theatre is showing next week, post-festival. One of them, The Hunt, gets a make-up screening for that botched attempt Saturday when the projectionist couldn’t find the subtitles. Pass holders get in free for that one.
STORIES WE TELL: The media preview was postponed so all I can do is go by what the critics in Toronto have said about Sarah Polley’s new one. They were ecstatic; one said it not only deserves but will get Oscar nominations as both a documentary and Best Picture. Polley explores her own life and finds some big surprises about her parents. (A. O Scott of the New York Times, who also praised it, wrote it’s best not to divulge too much beforehand. The revelations should be savored when they appear). What is known is that Polley has used interviews with friends and relatives, re-enacted incidents and her own storytelling talents to create a fact-based film that unfolds like a thriller. (Screens Wed evening—moved to the largest theatre, the Vogue-- and Fri afternoon)
BARBARA: Germany hopes this film can match The Lives of Others and win an Academy Award. That’s probably unlikely because this one is smaller and less intense. It’s got a compelling story though and excellent performances steered by Christian Petzold, currently one of Europe’s top directors. And it’s also set in 1980s East Germany with the Stasi secret police nosing around.
Nina Hoss plays a doctor who’s been exiled to a small northern town after she was identified as an escape risk. All she did was apply for a visa to travel to the west. Now as she actively plots a real escape to join her boyfriend in the west, a Stasi officer has her under surveillance and orders full-body searches and other humiliations. At work, she deflects the attentions of another doctor (Ronald Zehrfeld) even though she grows to like him. He could be an informant. The film, already an award-winner in Venice, creates that atmosphere of suspicion and doubt and then suspense with a lean script and superb acting by Hoss that only seems low key. (Screens Thursday)
THE DISAPPEARED: This is one of the more interesting of the many Canadian films at VIFF this year. It’s from Halifax, a first feature directed by novelist Shandi Mitchell and a gripping tale of an ordeal at sea. That alone should give it some resonance here on the other coast.
Six men are trying to survive after a fishing boat sinks. They’re in two lifeboats, rowing to where they think they’ll find land. Through several days and nights, they argue, accuse, take sides, try to keep their spirits up and ration the little food and water they have. One shoots a bird and they all eat. “There ain’t nuthin’ a full stomach can’t fix,” he says. It’s only a brief reprieve. The tone gets dark. The men talk tough and sing rude songs to hide the terror of being lost at sea. The script conveys that fear exactly through sharply-defined characters and the ring-of-truth dialogue they spout. Billy Campbell and Shawn Doyle are most familiar to us from their TV work but all the actors are solid. (Screens Wed and Thurs)
BECOMING REDWOOD: The hippies look and act like stereotypes but don’t let them drive you way. The real story emerges soon enough and it has charm and whimsy, an upbeat mood and a bright widescreen look.
A young boy, well-played by Ryan Grantham, retreats from his problems into a fantasy about golf. At the very moment his parents are splitting up (at the Canadian border where dad is dodging the U.S. draft and mom turns back) he hears a radio story about a dramatic Jack Nicklaus win. That stokes his imagination. A few years later, he’s taken up the sport and envisions himself playing against Nicklaus at The Masters for the green jacket which he thinks might reunite his parents. A drug charge, a deportation and, for him, a quick relocation to California to his mother, an abusive stepfather and crazy grandfather upset his plans. They drive the film agreeably though. Vancouver director Jesse James Miller made it in Langley from his own script. His father was draft-dodger and he’s a former golf pro. (Screens Thurs and Fri)
HOLY MOTORS: No local previews of this French film so this recommendation comes sight unseen. But seriously can you resist a film that one English critic called “jaw-droppingly bonkers” and a more placid Montreal critic described simply as “a trip?” He also used the words “deranged” and “surreal.” The story, as much as those writers can detect one, has a man touring Paris and changing his appearance at every stop. He’s a financier being driven to work. He stops to do some panhandling. He takes on a different persona at each of 11 stops, among them a bag lady, a hit man and a motion-capture performer playing a space alien.
The man, played by Denis Lavant, also kidnaps a fashion model (Eva Mendes) and encounters a former lover (Kylie Minogue). It may be an homage by director Leos Carax to movies in general or, as another English critic suggests, merely a fun and wild run of imagination. (Screens twice Friday night, the first time as the premium-priced closing gala)