Today’s VIFF picks include some tough, harrowing film experiences but you’ll also find some fine comedy and one film that manages to combine both.
MODRA: Ingrid Veninger, the talented producer, here extends into writing and directing. Her first feature is a charming little gem with good vibes and not at all sappy. A Toronto teen travels to Slovakia to meet relatives and connect with her cultural roots. It’s both a vacation and a heritage quest, which many Canadians who’ve taken similar trips will recognize.
This one also has a young love element. The teen convinces a young man who’s got eyes for her but she hardly knows to travel with her. They have to explain that no they aren’t a couple as they meet a cheerful farmer, an old woman whose talk is translated by a bald clarinet player and a whole backyard full of relatives partying in traditional costumes. It feels authentic, even the country and western-style music in Slovakian. In town they talk to a school class and later, on a night of clubbing, they stir up their non-relationship with a bit of jealousy. It’s amiable, innocent, crisply photographed and nicely acted by newcomers Hallie Switzer and Alexander Gammal. The film plays twice today, at noon and at nine in the evening.
3 ½ out of 5
WHEN THE DEVIL KNOCKS: Former CBC-TV producer Helen Slinger has a compelling documentary about an Alberta woman with multiple personality disorder. Hilary Stanton created some 35 distinct personalities in her imagination as a way to deal with abuse she suffered as a young girl. We encounter one of these “alters” right off the top when, in a dramatized scene, Tim, an angry teen, takes over the wheel and drives her car at 100 k per hour.
We meet four others, domineering Mary, who once took her to play bingo, self-hating J.D., closed-in Joanie and five-year-old Little Hil. The woman’s children never knew who would be there when they got home from school. They become real for us too, in two ways. Years of therapy was video taped and clips are included here to show “there’s nothing freaky or Hollywood about being multiple.” We also get young actors playing the five characters, bringing them alive visually. The result is moving and chilling and, as the therapy gets closer to the ultimate memory, hard to hear but gripping. This 90-minute film screens again Thursday. A shorter version will play on TV.
4 out of 5
Today’s repeats ....
ANOTHER YEAR: An exceptional film for adults from Mike Leigh. This is a warm comedy-drama about people – not plot – people, who come together once a season and over dinner, or a cup of tea, share what they’ve been up to. At the centre are the hosts, a North London couple played by
Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen. They garden, love to cook and never argue or even disagree. No wonder they’re a magnet for a bunch of emotionally-needy folks who drop over and let their hang-ups slip out. Chief among them is a middle-aged secretary who talks merrily on about her car, recycling, and anything else that springs into her mind but when she gets tipsy lets on that she is lonely. The other visitors include an unmarried son, a brother of very few words and a beerbelly friend who complains “everything is for young people these days.” The film bounces easily between comic and crisis scenes. Leigh’s dialogue is sharp and witty but also note how much his characters communicate with their eyes and facial gestures.
4 out of 5
OF GODS AND MEN: This is one of the prize winners from Cannes. It's been described as "quietly powerful" but there’s a strong contemporary side too although it takes place 20 years ago. It's a true story set in Algeria during a civil war.