My favourite VIFF films
1. Gainsbourg by Gainsbourg: An Intimate Self-Portrait (France)
There is plenty of footage of the French icon Serge Gainsbourg who, through his own words, unveils his inner feelings beyond that of a showman and a celebrity.
For director Pierre-Henry Salfati to travel through his successful career and tumultuous personal life and to craft not only an aesthetically innovative, compelling film but also one with poetry and frankness is truly amazing.
Gainsbourg, who is of Jewish-Russian descent but is “intellectually French” and was, admittedly, a "misogynist and a cynic", recalls his early days, recounting, subtly, the horrors of World War II as a youngster and the severity of his father, and how he abandoned "major arts" (painting) to favour "minor arts" (music) when he spotted musician Boris Vian.
Although he was considered a major crooner, Gainsbourg felt self-conscious of his “mug”. Media was critical of his physical appearance. Salfati explores Gainsbourg's complicated relationships with famous women: extramarital tryst with French legend Brigitte Bardot, who was married at the time, and his family life with singer Jane Birkin.
There is plenty of photographic and video footage, re-enacment of Gainsbourg's dreams and thoughts. Undoubtedly, Gainsbourg by Gainsbourg is one remarkable documentary and not to be missed.
2. Like Someone in Love (France, Iran, Japan)
Director Abbas Kiarostami’s new flick is the second cinematic undertaking outside his native Iran, following his 2010 hit Certified Copy, which was shot in Italy.
Akiko (Rin Takanashi) is a young university student who makes extra money as a prostitute. To make things worse, she has a complicated relationship with a mechanic (Rio Kase). Her insecure and controlling boyfriend is oblivious of her double life. Her pimp (Denden), sends Akiko for a date with an old man, Watanabe (Tadashi Okuno), a retired university professor and translator––who seems to be more interested in having an intellectually stimulating conversation over homemade dinner than sex. Meanwhile, Akiko just wants to be done with it, but, in waiting, she falls sleep. Next day, Watanabe meets Akiko’s beau, who thinks he is Akiko’s grandfather. Role play ensues (a nod to Certified Copy where Juliette Binoche's unnamed character and James, the writer she meets, pretended to act like husband and wife in Tuscany).
Kiarostami artfully makes use of the non-formal narrative as the slow-building drama turns more obscure. Watanabe’s obsessed neighbour––thinking Akiko is his granddaughter––hints to familial troubles in his life.
Someone In Love, title taken from the namesake song interpreted by Ella Fitzgerald (part of the diegetic soundtrack), captures Tokyo’s urban, vibrant landscapes (bringing to memory Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation), adding to the well-rounded cast's performances. The end–– actually, this was the original production title––is furious and sudden. It might leave you with more questions than answers once the credits start rolling.
Showing at Vogue Theatre on October 4 at 6:30 p.m., October 10 at 3 p.m. and October 12 at 11:30 a.m.
3. Arraianos (Spain)
Lovers of art/experimental film will be drawn by this tender, beautifully-crafted feature. Spanish director Eloy Enciso Cachafeiro explores the depths of the mysterious forest in a village located between Galicia (Spanish norther state) and Portugal border to unveil the existential musings of its people.
The film (part documentary, part fiction) captures locals in their daily chores: tending to farm animals, singing in bars or working in the countryside. The fictional part of the film was inspired by the play, “The forest” by Spanish playwright in Galician language. Jenaro Marinhas del Valle's text served as a script. Arraianos, not only explores the constant inner search of its characters and their pledge for freedom but also, through a delicate work of photography, uncovers the beauty in a place that seems to have stopped in time.
Showing at Vancity Theater on October 11 and 12.
4. The Compass is Carried by the Dead Man (Mexico )
Inocencio "Chencho" (Gael Sánchez), 13, is Chicago-bound, wanting to reunite with his brother. When he is crossing the Mexican-U.S. border illegally with three other men in a rented car, the vehicle breaks. Before the
"migra" (U.S. immigration patrol) sends them back to Mexico, he flees. Lost in the middle of the arid Mexican desert, a man gives him a compass. Soon after, an old man Paciano (Pedro Gamez), allows him to ride his old, slow-paced wagon powered by a couple of mules. Paciano dies with the compass in his hand and fails to Chencho to retrieve it from the sturdy dead man's grip. His only hope is to reach his final destination. "To the North, always to the North".
Along his way, he picks up a series of colourful characters: an one-eyed boy who sells "toques", crying women, the disgraced soldier and a handicapped man pulling stones in a cart, and even goats. To make things worse, the compass is in English.
Arturo Pons' opera prima, explores the theme of "existentialist disorientation" and the absurdity of the surreal situations with sarcasm, making use of the desolation and the immensity of the desert (skillfully captured with a 16-millimetre camera).
Showing on October 3 at 6:00 p.m. and October 5 at 2:30 p.m. at Granville 4.
5. The World Before Her (Canada)
Toronto-based Director Nisha Pahuja exposes two opposite worlds of young Indian women. First, there are those looking to be modern, more Westernized to attain financial equality and independence from a male-dominated society by becoming Miss India. And then there are those who fight for a cause, training in the extreme rightwing, nationalist, military-style camps Durga Vahini, led by Pragya Singh Thakur (one of the accused in Muslim market bombing in 2008).
These two worlds have already collided. Miss India's bikini rounds are done behind closed doors for fear of attack from what they call “the Hindu Taliban”.
Miss India's aspirants go through Botox, whitening skin sessions and humiliating catwalk rounds to attain the crown whilst girls at the Durga Vahini camps (considered terrorist camps by the Indian government) are trained with martial arts, knives and shotguns to protect Hinduism and fight to death against anything and everyone.
Although extreme differences, girls in both camps live in a constant quandary. While beauty pageant aspirants are looking for financial security and respect by becoming Miss India many of them feel a looming sense of betrayal. On the other hand, young women like Durga Vahini's pupil, Prachi, who, in spite of their own desires and dreams (which don't include marriage and children), will give in to the patriarchal system not knowing how to break the cycle.
Is there any way the two groups can find middle ground, and break the cycle?
Showing on October 11 at 6 p.m. at Granville 5.