Two of the most anticipated films at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival get their first screening tonight. I haven’t seen The White Ribbon or An Education yet but I’ll recommend them anyway, on their reputation.
The others on this list I have seen. Note the particularly strong batch of films getting a repeat today.
DAY 12 (aka Oct. 12):
The new ones …
THE WHITE RIBBON: Austria’s Michael Haneke turned people off with his American re-make of Funny Games but he seems to be back. He won the top prize at Cannes with this meditation on the roots of German fascism. He offers strict parenting as a cause, but not the only one. The film is set in a German village pre-World War I where people can’t manage to come to grips with the criminal behaviour of some of the locals. Apparently, this time there’s a fair amount of humor and even some love mixed in with Haneke’s abundant pessimism. (Also Day 15)
AN EDUCATION: Newcomer Carey Mulligan is becoming a star as the reputation builds for this film. She plays a London teenager in the 1960s who drops off the route to Oxford University when a man twice her age (Peter Sarsgaard) offers romance and a swinging lifestyle. It’s a sophisticated coming-of-age story with a much-praised script by Nick Hornby. The film was voted the audience favorite at Sundance. (Also Day 14)
MY DOG TULIP: I also thought this charming animated film is English because the language is so literate and witty. Actually it was created in Philadelphia. The source is British, though, a book by a former BBC writer who’s later years were completely taken up with his pet dog. He celebrates the unconditional devotion dogs show and the many quirks of his own pet. Much of what he relates is very funny but don’t imagine this is for children. He’s looking for a mate for his dog through most of the film. That includes a lot of explicit talk and action. Structurally the film is like an illustrated short story. Christopher Plummer reads it; the moving pictures look like simple sketches and watercolors.
CRACKIE: This one doesn’t belong in the same company except that it also has a poignant performance by a newcomer, a coming-of-age story and a dog. Meghan Greeley plays a Newfoundland teen in a tale of three generations of bad mothers and abandoned daughters. She’s lives and argues with her overbearing grandmother (Mary Walsh). Her own mother arrives back in town but shows no interest in her. She’s failing her hairdresser course and her boyfriend uses her sexually. Her only comfort is from a small dog. The plot is overheated and the world these characters live in is very low class but Meghan is convincing as the sad-eyed and mousey teen. (Also Day 15)
The repeats …
NOMAD’S LAND: This is a real discovery, a beautiful travelogue that has a great deal of philosophy woven in among the pictures. “The virtue of travel,” it says, “is that it purges life before embellishing it.” That does happen to a young Swiss who sets out to duplicate a trip from a favorite book. The route is through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to Sri Lanka. These days those are tense, even violent, areas so he goes off the main road and, in effect, back in time. He mingles with gypsies, wedding revelers, Tajik riders, and in an extra-long visit the lesser-known Kalesh people who put on a spectacular celebration. Those scenes are stunning on the big screen. (Also Day 13)
H2Oil: As the Alberta tar sands become more and more controversial, this backgrounder will help explain many of the issues. The situation, as depicted here, looks almost as grim as Ecuador or the Niger Delta. The impact of the tar sands development is told from several locations and through the stories of a number of people. Natives in the Lake Athabasca region are finding high arsenic levels in their moose meat, fish with cysts and rising cancer rates in their people. A local doctor raises an alarm but is slapped down. The premier warns against “silk-suited environmentalists”. It’s a scary picture.
ROCATERRANIA: When Renaldo Kuhler was a bored teenager he entertained himself by creating an imaginary country. Now that he's old and eccentric, he lets us see it all. You'll be amazed at the details. Through hundreds of drawings and his voice-over narration you learn all about this principality located between Quebec and New York State. He dreamt up an entire history, with changes of government, constitutional debates, an economy, prisons, an entertainment industry and even celebrities. The country also changed in step with events in his own life. He later became a renowned scientific illustrator but this is was an intriguing escape from reality.
WRITTEN BY: A lively tale from Hong Kong made all the more fascinating because it breaks most every story telling rule. It doesn’t even seem to follow any. Get this. A woman who, along with her mother, survived a car crash that killed her dad, writes a novel in which the reverse happens. They die and dad lives. He then writes a novel in which he reverses things again. Things turn around again and again as they all try to cheat Meng Por, the Chinese god of death. It’s a glossy and enjoyable fantasy about memory if you can just go with the flow.
MOTHER: This is the new one from South Korea’s Bong Joon-Ho. He wowed us two years ago with The Host about a pollution-spawned sea monster. This time he’s in Hitchcock mode with a mother’s quest to clear her son of murder charges. The film is laced with irony, eccentric elements and humor. But also style, atmosphere and a narrative drive that builds to an unexpected ending.
Ashes of American Flags: Wilco Live
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector
Prom Night in Mississippi
The Damned United