Vancouver International Film Festival Picks for the last two days: Thursday & Friday

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WHEN THE DEVIL KNOCKS:  A second screening for Helen Slinger’s documentary about multiple personality disorder. We get an unusually intimate view of an Alberta woman’s ordeal through her memories now, video tape from years of therapy and young actors playing five so called “alters,” the imaginary characters who took over her life at various times. The ultimate cause is sexual abuse suffered as a child and the film is both gripping and unsettling as the therapist digs deeper into that history. 4 out of 5

AFTERSHOCK: China’s biggest movie hit ever brought packed houses to tears this summer and gets an extra screening at VIFF.  It’s both a blockbuster and a wrenching story of human beings coping with disaster. The film dramatically recreates the aftermath of an earthquake in 1976 with classic Chinese storytelling and a let-it-all-out operatic grandeur. Strong acting, great special effects and a script about terrible choices that people have to make.

THE 4th REVOLUTION:  A last chance to catch this enlightening documentary about “The biggest structural change since the industrial revolution”. That would be the shift we have to make away from fossil fuels to renewable sources like wind, solar and (of particular much-debated interest  here in B.C) run of the river. This film from Germany takes a we-can-do-it approach by visiting folks already taking major steps in California, Africa, Europe, and, surprisingly, China. This is not pie-in-the sky stuff. It’s encouraging. (Also screens Friday). 4 out of 5 

KINSHASA SYMPHONY: One more chorus from Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. That’s the recurring melody as a symphony orchestra  in the Democratic Republic of Congo rehearses for a big concert. It’s not easy. The power sometimes goes out. Brake cables have to replace broken violin strings. Players have to find space to practice and time. But with tough, exacting conductor and a great deal of dedication they please a huge crowd of ordinary people, and us, in this feel-good documentary. 4 out of 5

THE DESERT OF FORBIDDEN ART: This film shows dedication too. Deep in central Asia, in an autonomous region of Uzbekistan,  far away from the Soviet censors, there’s a collection of banned art. A museum has 44,000 works and the film shows us some stunning examples as Ben Kingsley, Sally Field and Ed Asner  read diary entries and letters to tell the story of how they got there. For fun, it also shows some great examples of state-approved art. 4 out of 5

PINK SARIS: “I am the messiah for women,” says a tough, firebrand named Sampat Pal Devi in a poor region of India. If you can get past the rather self-aggrandizing tone in that line, you can appreciate her good work in this bracing documentary. She leads a militant group of women  who stand up for abused, shunned, sometimes raped women. Devi takes no guff, rarely even an explanation, when she confronts the wrong doers. At the same time, she’s struggling against problems of her own. It’s a fascinating peek inside an old society that still exists in rural India.  3 out of 5

REPEATERS: Carl Bessai shows he can handle a genre thriller too. This one is slick, speedy and atmospehric. It’s the story, which he didn’t write, that lets him down. Three addicts in rehab (played by Dustin Milligan, Amanda Crew and Richard de Klerk) find they’re living the same day over and over again. The explanation makes little sense and the reaction of de Klerk’s character goes way overboard by the end. 2 out of 5

LAST DAY: October 15:

THE ILLUSIONIST: I’m looking forward to this one because it has a history and a heritage.


The director made another beautiful animated film, the wonderful The Triplets of Belleville (2003) and  the script was written by the great French comedian Jacques Tati. The main character is based on him. In the story, a wandering magician strikes up a friendship with a teenage girl who starts tagging along. It may have been Tati’s attempt to apologize to a daughter he neglected for his work or, according to The Guardian in England, the apology may be for another daughter, his first child, who he abandoned and who now lives in the U.K. This is the festival’s closing film.

THE ROBBER: We all have our quirks. A man in Austria back in the 1980s loved robbing banks and running marathons. This film does a splendid job showing him at work in both pursuits. The director doesn’t ponder the why, just the how in a succession of tense robbery scenes and fast-cut getaways. Benjamin Heisenberg has said he approached it like a wildlife documentary. Therefore, no psychological explanations.  As the he robber says: “What I do has nothing to do with what you call life.”  He doesn’t elaborate. This is a sharp, tight action film.  3 1/2 out of 5

Three notable repeats …

FATHERS AND SONS: Carl Bessai’s follow up to his award winning  Mothers & Daughters  turns out to much more of a comedy than I expected, although it was developed in the same improvising workshop way. Jay Brazeau, Tyler Labine, Ben Ratner, Tom Scholte and Blu Mankuma  are among the four father/son pairs in stories that don’t offer anything new but entertain anyway. 3 out of 5

THE 4th REVOLUTION: An optimistic documentary about the world’s energy future. (See the note above)

THE TWO ESCOBARS: An added screening for this great documentary. (See above)







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