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Films with a pre-Rebel James Dean, Tom Hardy as twin gangsters and a future queen at play

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JAFAR PANAHI’S TAXI: What to do if you’re banned from making movies?  Panahi in Iran makes them anyway. His last one was called This is Not A Movie. This one is just a drive around Tehran in a taxi. Sure.  It won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival.

As he drives, a succession of passengers get in and out. Some recognize him as the filmmaker and that sparks conversations about his art and repression. It looks real but gradually you come to realize it’s all carefully constructed. His niece reads out the filmmaking rules that have been imposed on him. His story and the political state of Iran all come out very subtly. Other subjects come up. Two women are off to a mosque with a goldfish. There’s a guy with a laptop, a seller of pirated CDs and a man speaking his last will and testament. There’s sadness, a great deal of humor and strong humanity. The film is light on its feet and entertaining. (VanCity Tues, Wed and Thurs) 4 ½ out of 5   

EUROPEAN UNION FILM FESTIVAL:  It’s on at the Cinematheque for another six days (until Dec 9) and these are a few more of the films that I liked.

WILD LIFE tells a true story from France.


A family living off the grid splits up when the wife leaves. The husband takes off with their two sons and eludes court orders and the police to keep her from taking them back to the consumer society he detests. They live for years in a series of communes. The film the explores tensions that arise there and builds suspense as they are almost discovered several times. (screens Sat) 3 ½ out of 5

THE GRUMP: More dry humor from Finland but there’s a humane arc in this one. An aging farmer goes to live with his son and daughter-in-law but never lets up with his complaining ways. He’s crusty, opinionated and disruptive. He’s got caustic thoughts on gender roles, technology, vegetarianism, the TV news reader and Russian tourists, Soviets he calls them. It’s all dryly funny and a poignant call for understanding. (Tonight, Friday) 3 out of 5

A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE: More bone-dry Scandinavian humor, this time from Sweden’s Roy Andersson who won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival with it is now nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. Two sellers of novelties, a groping dance teacher, an inept king leading his troops to war, an old man re-visiting a pub of his youth, and many more slightly odd people are crowded into this very funny collage. There’s a pigeon too, briefly. (Tonight, Fri) 4 out of 5   

LITTLE ENGLAND was a big hit in Greece. Two sisters struggle with the rules imposed on them in the 1930s. One falls in love with a poor man but is forced by her class-conscious mother to marry higher. The other marries that man years later when he’s no longer poor but captain of a ship named Little England. Spite, jealousy and a great deal of cynicism about marriage and love ensue. Also, World War II and a glimpse of the Greek anti-German feeling we’ve read about recently. (Screens Sunday) 3 out of 5


THE BIRDWATCHER: Nice try, but it feels like it needed more work. This local film got its world premiere at the Whistler Film Festival yesterday, plays there again Sunday and is looking at other bookings around here in the spring. What we have right now, is a good story, heartfelt emotions but missteps that undercut the film. Oh, and another fine performance by Gabrielle Rose as a single-minded, sometimes cranky writer of bird books.


Camille Sullivan (also fine, natural) plays the daughter she gave up for adoption and now needs help. Named Saffron, she’s dying of cancer (although she doesn’t look it) and wants someone to take her two kids. The father is a junkie in a fleapit hotel. For the longest time, she can’t bring herself to reveal who she is. She and the kids just pitch a tent next to her RV in a provincial park and unwittingly annoy her, although the son gets her to warm up because he asks good bird questions. The eventual revelation and a resulting argument don’t feel quite right and it’s clear we need to know more about these women to make them work. As it is the film is ragged in parts, touching in others, a first effort by director Siobhan Devine and writer Roslyn Muir who drew on memories of a friend for some of it.  2 ½ out of 5

TURKISH FILM FESTIVAL: It started with a film called Bliss eight years ago, continued with Once Upon a Time In Anatolia three years ago and Winter Sleep this year. They're all films from Turkey and I've become a fan. Too bad then that I don't have time to get to the festival that runs all week at the VanCity Theatre.

There are crowd pleasers like Motherland, brand new works like Not So Far Away (showing here just one week after its premiere back home), and contemporary issues like the documentary Ich Liebe Dich/I Love You showing women learning German to better their chances of emigrating there. Remake, Remix, Ripoff appears to be a fun look at the1970s when filmmakers there produced cheap knockoffs of American movies. A Turkish Rambo or Star Wars? Apparently so.

There's more information at

Also now playing …

KRAMPUS: For all the Grinches out there, here’s a different angle on Christmas. A horror movie (and, for some, a comedy) about a demonic force attracted by a boy who just doesn’t feel the Yuletide spirit. The studio didn’t preview it so I don’t know whether the horror or the humor predominate. (Scotiabank and suburban theatres all over)


More in New Movies

Disney wildlife times two, a blast at American politics and a traumatic teen drama

Also a couple of small but amiable comedies, one of them Canadian

More streaming ideas take you to Brazil, low-life China and two Jesse Eisenberg films

As well as a cleverly-plotted trip to Barcelona thanks to Netflix

Movie theatres are shut down, so what’s streaming?

Some modest recommendations and stay for the last one, an alarm about what has happened to the internet.
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