Vancouver International Film Festival Picks for Days 4 & 5
INSIDE JOB: Wall Street 2 didn’t do it. This documentary might. Explain what really happened, that is, when the U.S. financial meltdown triggered a worldwide economic crisis. Reports from the Toronto festival say it’s absolutely riveting and could infuriate. Charles Ferguson, who’s earlier documentary No End in Sight had the real stuff on the Iraq war, confronts the some of the players with aggressive questions and actually dares to contradict and argue with them. Matt Damon narrates. (Also screens Friday and next Sunday)
LEAVE THEM LAUGHING: John Zaritsky, the Oscar winner who lives among us, is back with another edgy documentary. Edgy and funny. It lets us spend time with Carla Zilbersmith, a singer, actor and comedian who kept the songs and jokes flowing even though she suffered from ALS. (She was born in Vancouver and just four months ago died in California at age 47. We see her while she was still performing and refusing to give in. We watch her sing in a club accompanied by a small combo and tell stories that people long ago might have called ribald. There, at home alone, at a religious theme park and on her blog, she expounds on many things: sex, her condom collection, her image of God and her love of life. It’s that spirit not her impending fate that you’ll take from this film. 3 ½ out of 5
ARMADILLO: A documentary crew lives and films among a Danish army unit in Afghanistan. This is much like the recent Restrepo from the U.S. only better in every way. There’s more drama, more soul searching, more action, more tension and when these guys kill a farmer’s cow they compensate him. (Also screens Wednesday) 4 out of 5
BIUTIFUL: It was said to be the saddest film playing at Toronto’s festival but at Cannes it won Javier Bardem a best acting award. He plays a low-life criminal in Barcelona who’s involved in sweatshops, knock-off goods and illegal immigrants, hustles the parents of a dead boy, sees images of his own dead father, takes care of two children while his bi-polar ex-wife pleads to be taken back and to top it all off is told he has cancer. And there’s even more in these crowded 2 ½ hours from Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu. His last film was Babel.
THE INFIDEL: The English are masters at making comedies about hot-button topics. Remember My Son the Fanatic? By all accounts they’ve done it again, and with a really hot one: hostility between Muslims and Jews.
A London cabbie, played by Omid Djalili, finds he’s not a Muslim. He was adopted and is really Jewish. This while his son is about to marry the daughter of a radical imam. The cabbie sets out to find out what it actually means to be Jewish and turns to a rival, played by Richard Schiff, to learn. Reviews in England and New York says its amusing, well-acted and sharply scripted, even if the humor is somewhat uneven. (I’ll add my thoughts here sometime on Sunday). UPDATE: I have but not ones I expected. Read at the top.
RIDE, RISE, ROAR: David Byrne is best known for his band Talking Heads and an acclaimed concert film, Stop Making Sense. Here’s another one, not as good but intriguingly ambitious. He brings in three dancers on the stage and makes them part of the show. So while he belts out Once in a Lifetime, Burning Down the House, and 12 other songs, the dancers do their stuff. Sometimes it Fosse-like, sometimes a little hip hop, usually its energetic and brings the stage alive. Sometimes the camera can’t decide whether to watch them or Byrne. Even the backup singers and the musicians are drawn in. As pleasant and energetic as it is, the film is fairly standard in structure. After every song, there’s a backstage interlude. Some, as when the choreographers explain what they’re created, are worthwhile. Others are just filler. Also screens Oct 10 and 12). 3 out of 5
RUHR: Here’s a film I wanted to include because so many people say it’s a masterpiece. It’s a series of seven scenes in Germany’s industrial heartland captured by the American filmmaker, James Benning. They call it a monumental mediation, but I must admit I don’t have the patience to watch a tunnel for eight minutes as very few cars and only one bicycle come through. As a still photo it’s impressive.
Elsewhere there’s an airport for almost 16 minutes, but only heard from far off. The picture is of a grove of trees. The capper though is the final section, a full hour watching a coking plant standing against a cloudy sky like some unfinished high-rise apartment building and belching smoke and steam five or six times. The eventual spectre of black sky filled with smoke is startling but really, 60 minutes? The film carries a fine soundscape which will help your meditation. I’m not going to rate this film. (Also Oct 11)
WAITING FOR SUPERMAN: Davis Guggenheim brought us the Al Gore film, An Inconvenient Truth and will be there in person Monday night to answer questions about his new one. This is his blistering examination of education in the United States. Once again he marshals charts and statistics and makes a convincing case that public education in America is a mess. There are clips of every president from Johnson to today pledging to fix it and lots of evidence that it only gets worse. Guggenheim points to the teachers union as the main problem and charter schools as the solution. Ironically, that has now made him just as popular with the right in the US as he has been with the left.
But is it relevant to Canada? After all, we have teachers unions and a chart we glimpse in the film a couple of times puts our school system among the best on earth. How come we can make it work and the US can’t? Despite the omissions, this is a very informative film. (Also screens Tuesday) 3 ½ out of 5