Best VIFF documentary and drama picks through the weekend
CAMEL CARAVAN: I like a good western even if it takes place in China. Just as long as there is lots of desert sand and gunplay, the landscape is large and wide open and the characters ride horses. Here they also ride and drive camels in pack trains across the Gobi desert during the 1920s.The master of this train brings on an apprentice who immediately eyes his daughter. The two go on an exhilarating joy ride on horses, although she’s already engaged to another.
That old style romantic story is interrupted by battles, sometimes pitting arrows against guns. The caravan is illegally carrying Russian goods and comes under attack by both corrupt officials and bandits. That brings on a series of shootouts and a deception in which the caravan splits in two to try and foil the attackers. These scenes are intricately executed and beautifully photographed. The film is compact in length and entertaining. (Screens Fri and Mon.)
STARLET: Here’s a small independent film that really delivers, although it’s based on a highly improbable idea. A young woman, seemingly a slacker and played by Dree Hemingway (daughter of Mariel), finds a stash of money in a vase she bought at a yard sale. Assured that if the seller doesn’t really need it, she can keep it, she goes back to talk to the old woman (played absolutely naturally by first-time actress Besedka Johnson.) She’s rebuffed and tries again, gradually inserting herself into the woman’s life and cultivating a friendship.
What’s improbable is that the cranky senior would tolerate a connection to a woman so much younger and free-spirited, dope smoking and, as we slowly find out, a performer in porn videos. Still, there’s a good vibe throughout this film, even with a porn impresario’s best efforts to test it, and sharply written dialogue and brightly presented pictures. Careful of the sex scenes though. (Screens Sat and Sun)
ANTIVIRAL: I’m not recommending this one but since it’s by David Cronenberg’s son Brandon, there’s bound to be much interest. He claims he doesn’t want his career defined by his dad’s and yet he’s starting off much the same way. This is a weird story concerned with physical abuses to the body resulting in several cases of bleeding from the mouth or spitting up blood. The cause is our celebrity mania. In the near future the doctors at the Lucas Clinic enable you to get really close to your favorite star. They can inject you with a virus from their body. You can feel as sick as they do.
Caleb Landry Jones, a singer his other life, plays a rogue technician and Sarah Gadon plays the blonde goddess who’s bed ridden with her illness. Worse, meat grown from celebrity cells is served in a restaurant. Creepy and cold and really not that astute about our tendency to idolize.
(Screens Sat and Sun)