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Room, Haida Gwaii among top picks for VIFF this week

Room is a gem, Haida Gwaii a paradise, Remember a well-acted implausibility and Amina Profile recalls an international deception

It’s a week of very strong films at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Today I’ve recommendations for the first two days including two I’d label must see: Room and Haida Gwaii.

Here’s the whole list:

Room:  4 ½ stars

Remember:  3

Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World: 4

The Amina Profile:  4

31st October: 2 ½

 A Matter of Interpretation:  3 ½  

 

ROOM:  Creepy and unsettling it may be, but people at the Toronto Film Festival voted it their favorite. That’s because it’s a compelling, highly emotional piece of work that will bring tears to some, and interesting thoughts about parent-child bonding to most everybody. It’s from a novel by Emma Donoghue but also feels ripped out of some not-so-long-ago headlines.

 

Brie Larson plays the mother to 5-year-old Jack, played by an amazingly natural Vancouver kid Jacob Tremblay. They’re in Akron, Ohio in this story, celebrating a birthday, dealing with some kid petulance and mom annoyance. Then gradually you notice something wrong. They’re in only one room. The boy retreats to a wardrobe when a scruffy man comes in, reminds them that he pays for everything they have and climbs into bed with mom. He’s holding them prisoner; has for seven years. He kidnapped her and fathered the boy.

They plot an escape which is presented with immense suspense and then try to adjust to the real world. For Jack, who’s never been outside, that’s not easy. The film offers a clear view of their life during and then after captivity. Part two is less chilling but very observant about Jack’s problems trying to make sense of a world he hadn’t been told was out there. Larson’s performance is brilliant, William H. Macy, appearing briefly as her father, has an unfathomable reaction and Lenny Abrahamson, the director whose last film was the quirky Frank, has shaped a completely different and very fine new one. (Mon and Fri) 4 ½ out of 5

REMEMBER: A Holocaust story, a revenge tale and a road trip. Atom Egoyan is back in good form and directing Christopher Plummer in a remarkable performance. Plummer plays a Jewish resident in an old age home, with come-and-go dementia, grief over his deceased wife and a task set out by a friend (Martin Landau) to go find a former guard at Auschwitz concentration camp and kill him. The man had pretended he was a Jewish inmate himself and had emigrated to the US.

 

Plummer has four possibilities, all with the same name. (One is in Canada because this is a Canadian film). We watch him travel cross continent and visit each in turn. The most outlandish is an Idaho state trooper played by Dean Norris. His Nazi father is deceased, but he’s assumed all his anti-semitic rage. It's over the top and buffoonish. The encounter with the final man produces a stunning surprise. Most everything is improbable in this story which seems driven more by an agenda (to remember the past) than real human personalities.  Egoyan makes it work though, as a quest, and Plummer’s acting brings out shades of sadness, duty and poignancy about old age. (Mon and Tues) 3 out of 5   

HAIDA GWAII: The subtitle for this film is "on the edge of the world."  Geographically, here in BC, that’s true. The film argues more; that it’s actually the future of the world as it should be. Speaker after speaker talks eloquently about the archipelago of some 160 islands as a recovering paradise. Loggers and miners almost destroyed it. A people’s movement fought back, stopped yet another logging project and got a national park in return. Now there’s a cultural resurgence happening there outside of consumer society, free of the industrial economy, connected to the environment.

 

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