A few VIFF picks for the weekend, including Le Week-End
AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS:This one is beautiful and very moving but very slow. Be careful, you might doze off. That would be a shame; you’d be missing some excellent acting by Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine and especially Rooney Mara. She plays the woman left behind pregnant when her boyfriend (Affleck) is sent to prison for a police shooting. Actually, he took the rap for her; so strong is his love. She fired the shot, unintentionally. They were both involved in some small-time crime which the film doesn’t detail. In fact it doesn’t give much back story for these characters at all. It’s concerned with mood and heartbreak with these tragic lovers .
The place is small town Texas, in the late 1960s judging by the cars. Affleck aches to see his family. His daughter is six already. He escapes prison and is on his way home. The town sheriff Ben Foster), who is spending a lot of time with Rooney, Carradine as a lawyer and store owner (and advice giver) and three bounty hunters are watching for him. There’s some gun action to come but the real focus here is on the yearning of the two lovers and the bad luck that conspires against them. The languid pace and artful cinematography might remind you of Terence Malick’s Badlands. Sparse old-timey sounding music, often by banjo, add to the mood and the feeling that this is really of another time. (Friday)
3 DAYS IN HAVANA: Local actors Gil Bellows and Tony Pantages have an engrossing mystery thriller for us that ends with a shock twist that nobody can see coming. Besides adding to the fun, it made me think back and realize it almost undoes the story logic that comes before. It wasn’t foreshadowed at all. Never mind though. It’s a good trip.
Bellows stars as a Vancouver businessman who travels to Cuba where a British visitor (Greg Wise) chats him up in a bar and offers to show him around. He seems to know Havana, including a shady type played by Don McKelllar, and, in a flashback with Phyllida Law as “the broker” who is also his mother, is seen to be upbraided for botching an assassination plot. He’s told to finish the job and that gradually and unwittingly draws in Bellows too. John Cassini plays a nasty arms dealer and Christopher Heyerdahl an unhelpful staffer at the Canadian consulate. Strong acting and good dialogue get you through the plot with its few too many twists and good location work (The Malecon, Hotel Nacional and more) add flavor. (Friday)
THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN: This one VIFF's nicest surprises this year. After all, a bluegrass movie from Belgium? With many songs? And a story about a young girl's cancer? Could only be contrived and clumsy, right? Not so. It's emotional but also joyous and spirited, with the music providing counterpoint and support to the story and the actors' committed performances selling the drama pertfectly. It's brought audiences at other festivals to tears.
A Belgian "cowboy" and banjo picker hooks up with a tattoo artist, brings her into his band as a singer and into his life as a lover. The daughter they produce is the girl with the cancer. The film nicely modulates the sadness of her trials, including chemo, with the pain of songs like Wayfaring Stranger and Go to Sleep Little Baby. Tensions swell in the relationshp and he rants at a George Bush TV story for his rejection of stemcell research and makes a rambling speech in a concert about the pope and God and "the imbeciles who believe in him." The film ends with one of the most emotional scenes ever, in a good way. (Sunday and Oct. 9)
FELIX: I’ve seen three films at VIFF this year that are just like formulaic Hollywood movies but delight anyway because they’re from another culture. This one has a young boy who wants to play the saxophone, defies his mother to learn how and performs in a concert that his mother says she won’t attend. You’ve seen it before but this one is from South Africa and the different details make it new.
Felix is 14 and at the urging of his mother wants to become a “big shot”. His father played in a jazz band and may have died from drink. He’s accepted into a private school, where he gets some mild bullying (some of it from another black student) and an invitation to try out for the school band. He plays the pennywhistle and quickly has to learn the sax. An old bandmate of his dad’s, now a jolly drunk, agrees to teach him. When mom finds out she bellows “You are no longer my son” and stalks off to choir practice at her church. A triumphant and rousing concert bring this to a moving and super crowd-pleasing climax. With good music and a charming, innocent performance by Hlayani Mabasa, who looks much younger than 14. (Sat. at 6:30, nobody under 19 admitted, which seems ridiculous, and Tues. afternoon, with no age restriction listed)