VIFF picks for Tuesday and Wednesday: Lore, Tabu, Helpless, Haydn and Johnny Cash
Tuesday and Wednesday are particularly good days at the Vancouver International Film Festival. There excellent films debuting or showing again, giving you another chance to catch them. See below for a list of the ones I’ve recommended previously.
These are the new ones:
LORE: This turned out to be everything its reputation promised. A harrowing road trip through a Germany smashed to rubble by World War 2 and a serious inquiry into guilt. Who, besides the first-hand perpetrators, should share it? How did the war affect ordinary people, especially the children, and how much of a burden should they share?
The film lets these questions drift around subtly as Lore, the teenage daughter of an SS officer comes to realize her country and everything she’s been taught is in pieces. “The Fuehrer is dead?” she asks. Her parents have to disappear and she has to lead four siblings, one a baby, across the country to Hamburg, where her grandmother lives. She has to keep their spirits up while she has to barter or scrounge for food, hide out in abandoned farm buildings and elude the American army patrols. She has to trust a young Jewish man who joins them although she instinctively hates him and calls him a “parasite”. Saskia Rosendahl is excellent as Lore who has to deal with all the new issues coming at her. The ending is a bit improbable but then the story does come from a British novel. The film is in German, directed by an Aussie, Cate Shortland. (Screens Wednesday)
IN SEARCH OF HAYDN: After his excellent Mozart and Beethoven quests, Phil Grabsky turns to the man who taught and mentored both. Mozart called him Papa. Haydn is often considered a lightweight but this colorful documentary makes the case that he was an entertainer who wanted to please everyone with his music. A large cast of musicians, singers, conductors and academics describe him as a modest man, not at all a show off, a village boy who spent much of his long career working in one castle but in his quiet way a bit of a rebel. He was playful and willing to take risks. There’s a wonderful sequence as Marc Andre Hamelin shows on the piano how he broke the rules. If he were younger, he’d get his knuckles rapped, Hamelin says. There are generous excerpts from his music and paintings, drawings, visits to concert halls and palaces to tell his story. Somebody has already used the word sumptuous. I can’t think of a better one to describe this film. (Screens Tuesday, Thursday and again next Tuesday)
MY FATHER AND THE MAN IN BLACK: I once met Johnny Cash in Toronto at a Yorkville club I used to frequent. Still have the album he autographed for me but I did wonder why he was hanging around there, nowhere near Tennessee? Similarly, in the biopic, Walk the Line, why was it in London, Ont. that he proposed to June Carter? The answer is his manager lived there. Cash had reason to come around as this intriguing documentary recounts.
How did Saul Holiff, the son of a Jewish appliance merchant come to be connected to a Southern Baptist like Cash? Holiff’s son Jonathan intended the film to be about his late dad but found Cash’s story so entwined he had to tell it too. He had an astounding resource to help him: his dad’s storage locker full of memorabilia, documents, letters and, best of all, a diary in his dad’s own voice on audiotape. He added film clips, some non-speaking recreations by actors and a Cash sound-alike reading his words to give us a far more complete picture than the biopic. Holiff was with Cash at his peak, including the Folsom Prison concert. He got him to bring June Carter into his show. He endured his erratic behavior fuelled by drugs and later as a born-again Christian. He then spent his last years out here in Nanaimo where finally (on tape) he explained to his son why he was such a distant father. It’s a poignant moment. (Screens Tuesday and twice next week)
TABU: This unabashedly romantic movie from Portugal is enjoyable for the way it whips an intense smoldering passion which it identifies at one point as “a colossal foolishness.” It tops Out of Africa and films like it and does it with both an old style and some eccentric choices.
First the basics. An old woman in Lisbon asks a friend to find a man she once knew. She does; he’s now in an old-age home, described as “bonkers” but clear-mined enough to relate a captivating story. That takes the film to part two, labeled “Paradise” and a love triangle in colonial Mozambique just as an independence movement is building. Younger versions of the two try unsuccessfully to fight the attraction between them. She’s married, you see and he’s formed a band doing Phil Spector covers. Be My Baby throbs away a couple of times. We see it all but never hear them speak. The old man’s voice is heard telling the whole story. The film is all in black and white and said to be a tribute to a silent film from the 1930s also called Tabu. It’s remarkable how well it works and even, in its retro way, feels new and fresh. (Plays Tuesday and Thursday)
HELPLESS: I didn’t know what to expect from this South Korean film. The catalogue notes read well but then they do about every film at VIFF. What a nice surprise. This is a highly involving mystery thriller that starts with a familiar premise. A couple stops at a highway rest stop. When he gets back to the car she’s gone. The police aren’t interested so he, a veterinarian, has to set out to find her, his fiancé, himself. Later he gets help from a disgraced ex-policeman.
Has she been kidnapped? The mess in her apartment suggests she was. But a tiny paper trail tells a far more complex tale. The film keeps us pinned with twists and revelations that turn the story around so many times, there was a point where I wasn’t sure who exactly was who. The director managed to keep all the balls in the air though, take us into every detail of the search and thrill us with tense scenes at a shopping mall and a rooftop confrontation. A crisp and glossy entertainment. (Screens Tuesday)
Tues: The Flat, Wagner’s Dream, Bitter Seeds,
Wed: Heart of Sky, Midnight’s Children
Follow the links below at More New Movies to see what I wrote about them.