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Vancouver International Film Festival Picks for Day 1& 2

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FATHERS AND SONS: The question is: Do the men have as much to say as the women? Two year’s ago Carl Bessai’s Mothers & Daughters  was voted the most popular Canadian film at VIFF. Six familiar local actors played three mother/daughters pairs as they talked about their relationships. Their speeches were formed in improvised workshop sessions.

Now the father-son bond is explored by five pairs of male actors including Ben Ratner, Jay Brazeau, Tyler Labine,  Tom Scholte and Blu Mankuma. (Also screens Saturday).

GARBO THE SPY: Sometimes it’s given the subtitle: The Man Who Saved the World. This is an almost unbelievable story of deception during World War II.  The subject is a Spanish double agent who worked out of Lisbon, Portugal to feed wrong information to the Germans. He even got them to finance a fictitious network of 23 agents he claimed were working for him. His biggest coup was to convince them that Patton was assembling a force in England to attack at Calais while Patton was doing absolutely nothing and the assault came in Normandy. Even days later, the Germans trusted his information enough to concentrate their troops at the wrong site. The code name Garbo acknowledged that he was a persuasive actor. This documentary is fascinating and moves along briskly (the historians and writers talking don’t even identify themselves for over a half our in.) It’s also dressed up with clips from news reels and, most entertainingly, movies, like Our Man in Havana, Mata Hari and, naturally, Patton. (Also screens Oct. 7 and 12)  3 ½ out of 5

REJOICE AND SHOUT: The first person you see is Andre Crouch. That tells you right there that this history of black gospel music is the real thing. Crouch is immensely influential as an artist, preacher, mentor and Grammy Award winner. He put on a great show at the PNE a few years ago but he’s never become widely-known like Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward or the Staples Singers. They’re all seen and heard in this rousing documentary, along with The Edwin Hawkins Singers, The Dixie Hummingbirds, and many others. We also get to hear the first ever gospel record. Best of all, the music clips, whether old or recent, are substantial, not just snippets. The story dates back to slavery days when the masters forced the people to become Christians and they put their own spin on it. (Also screening Oct 6 and 11)  4 out of 5  

SNOW WHITE: The charming little children’s story is now a thrilling, sensual and sexy French ballet. The costumes by Jean Paul Gaultier are skimpy and the choreography by Angelin Preljocaj is fluid or angry depending on the particular mood. Nagisa Shirai dances an excellent Snow White but the real star for me is Caline Galli as the wicked queen.

She exudes evil, thwarted status and more than a hint of sadism in her severe black costume and her stomping tirades. It’s a terrifying scene when she forces the apple into Snow White’s mouth and a particularly harsh fate that comes to her in this version of the story. The seven dwarves have a much reduced role here, although a lengthy sequence in which they rappel  up and down a cliff-side working their mines is spectacular. This stunning production was performed in Paris and other cities in France and then filmed for a TV special last Christmas. (Also showing Oct 6 and 8)  4 out of 5

12 ANGRY LEBANESE: Here’s an idea. Go into one of the worst prisons in the world, Roumieh prison in Lebanon, get 45 inmates, most of them murderers, a few of them rapists and get them to rehearse for 15 months and put on a play. You’d have to be crazy. Well, it happened, under the cajoling leadership of a young woman named Zeina Daccache. She studied drama therapy in the U.S. and we see her put it to use. She gets them to perform 12 Angry Men, the play about of a jury arguing and debating a young man’s fate in a murder case.

The inmates are tough and doubting when they start but gradually meld into a cohesive cast as she pushes them on. Something more remarkable happens. Several  become introspective. They admit to their crimes and ponder exactly what caused them to commit them. All that, while the film leads to the big show where they’ll be playing to a VIP audience of officials and politicians. It’s a powerful film. (Also Oct 3 and 6)  4 out of 5

More in New Movies

Wise talk by The Two Popes; a media circus for Richard Jewell and big action in Jumanji

Also: That Higher Level as a free gift from the National Film Board and a clumsy seasonal theme in The Kindness of Strangers

Greek tragedy goes modern with Antigone, black family life in Waves and a film artist’s self portrait

Also: Isabelle Huppert hosts a crowd as Frankie, notes on some highlights at Whistler, including a time travel enigma and a seemingly under-achieving children’s film

A scary Marriage Story, a classy Knives Out murder mystery and fighting DuPont in Dark Waters

Also black lives matter for Queen & Slim, the Winnipeg General Strike recalled in Stand! and an actor’s true story in Honey Boy
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