Films to see at VIFF on Days 1 & 2
There's an old clip of her showing a lot of leg as she interviews. The insights here aren't new and the film gets into shaky territory when it tries to analyze why this is happening. (At one point, it says TV advertisers promote capitalism. Sure, but exactly how relevant is that statement?) Very relevant is the overall negative picture constructed with many choice TV excerpts, the concern over what these images are teaching young girls and a concluding call to action. (Also Oct. 9 & 14)
CAROL CHANNING: LARGER THAN LIFE: An antidote to the many serious and grim films that show up in festivals, this is a fluffy valentine. I used to see Channing on The Ed Sullivan Show, usually, I seem to remember, doing a song from her Broadway hit, Hello Dolly. You know what? She's just as energetic today, "a force of nature" as Chita Rivera, says. She's always on and her memory is intact, which gives us story after story. The best: Clint Eastwood gave her her first kiss in a movie, but the scene was cut. There's a long list of famous friends, from Debbie Reynolds to Barbara Walters, live or in old clips, who tell anecdotes and attest to her iconic status. She also originated the song Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend on Broadway.
The film has a sweet sub-story that keeps it unified. After what she calls a "disastrous marriage" ended, an old boyfriend re-appeared. She hadn't seen him in 70 years. They're now married and she stays active in a national campaign to get art back into public schools. "It's like fertilizer on the brain," she says, in this enjoyable movie. (Also Sunday and next Wednesday)
THE FRONT LINE: This Korean film is one of the most savvy denunciations of war I've ever seen. Set in 1953, near the end of the south vs north war, it starts a bit like Apocalypse Now. A young South Korean officer is sent to root out a suspected mole in Alligator Company. What he finds is a perpetual battle over one hill, which has changed hands, he learns, about 30 times. There's disorder because the commander is dead, reputedly a suicide, and a crack-shot sniper, nicknamed “Two Seconds,” is taking out more.
What the officer finds is far more interesting than a mole. It speaks to the confusion and bitterness of soldiers who don’t really know why they’re fighting. And their inclination to improvise outside the rules. There’s a frequent question asked: When will this war end? Not soon, we know, because even today there’s only a truce. There’s good story telling here about characters from both sides and fluid direction in several epic battle scenes. Korea is submitting the film for the next Academy Awards. (Also screens Saturday and Wednesday)
DENDERA: Cinephiles will recognize this as a sequel to a 1983 Japanese film, The Ballad of Narayama, made by the director's son, Tengan Daisuke. But you can enjoy it totally on its own as a sly commentary on how modern society treats the elderly. In the village here, the women are sent away when they reach the age of 70. But one woman, carried up a mountain and abandoned in the snow, finds old people still have a lot of life to live. Some 50 or so have survived and created a community that looks a lot like an Inuit village. They're getting ready to come back.
The leader has the women drill and train everyday to wage an assault of the village that cast them out. She says men and priests there strut and landowners are blind to the starving poor. "We're going to smash that village." First they debate; then they have to hunt down a bear that's invaded their compound and may have supernatural powers. There's terrific suspense in that sequence, as one woman is used as bait. The film takes an atavistic turn, much like Lord of the Flies, as the women drink blood and dance and chant before a figure that looks like a primative idol. An offbeat and entertaining film. (Also screens Tuesday and Wednesday)
SLEEPING SICKNESS: I feel we're getting an authentic and critical picture of aid efforts in Africa in this fictional film by a German who seems to know the scene well. Ulrich Köhler's parents work there as doctors. He's drawing on what he learned growing up. A German doctor runs a clinic in rural Cameroon, funded from overseas to keep sleeping sickness under control. He keeps on working although whatever epidemic there had been is long over. A shady Frenchman meanwhile is trying to start a plantation and a local activist rails against outside aid, which he calls an obstacle to development. For the longest time, we're wondering what exactly is the story? That's because there isn't much of a one, just impressions of the characters to further the political issues the film raises. They and the African atmosphere keep your interest. (Also Sunday and Tuesday)