Seven new VIFF picks take us to dramas in Massachusetts, Paris and Belgium
The Vancouver International Film Festival has three days and plenty of good choices left. I’m most interested in Toni Erdmann a German comedy that had people laughing so hard at its first screening last week that one person described the crowd as “rowdy”.
Meanwhile, VIFF has given an award and an extra screening to Hello Destroyer, the BC film about the underside of minor hockey. It’s grim, visually dark but true. The added show is tonight.
Ten Years also has an extra tonight and you’ll see a review of it below, along with these other films you can still catch.
Manchester By the Sea
Fire At Sea
Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story
Keepers of the Magic
The Unknown Girl
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA: There’s one more chance to see this one at VIFF—tonight. It won’t be back in regular release until late November. When it does come back it’ll be rolling with awards buzz because the writing, acting and staging are superb.
Kenneth Lonergan, who wrote and directed it, delves into some tangled family connections, regrets from the past and recovery from a breakdown. The emotional territory is similar to his breakthrough film, You Can Count on Me, although this one’s not quite as intense. It’s more understated and mixes in a lot more humor.
Casey Affleck, as a handyman and janitor wasting away at a Boston apartment building, is called back to his old hometown when his brother dies. He doesn’t want to be there because of some incident from the past which he knows people remember and we slowly learn about.
But he can’t get away because he’s appointed guardian of his nephew (Lucas Hedges) a teen who, with two girlfriends and a spot on the hockey team, is pretty well his opposite.
That leads to some funny interchanges. As he tries to get free of the obligation and avoid his past, he runs into old friends, including his ex-wife (Michelle Williams), hears bits of gossip and resumes a habit of getting into bar fights.
The film melds all these elements into a realistic drama of small town life and a poignant character study. Affleck is perfect trying to stay aloof and detached. (Tonight’s screening is the last, for now)
PERSONAL SHOPPER: This is a high-class ghost story. It’s not out to scare you, just chill you a few times and draw you into an intriguing meditation on what goes on in the dark and what comes after life.
There’s also a nod to Hilma af Klint, the Swedish painter who did abstract art before it was invented and believed in séances to contact the dead. I don’t know why she’s referenced. The film’s main character, Maureen, played by Kristen Stewart, hardly needs her inspiration.
Maureen is an American in Paris, working at buying clothes for a celebrity too busy to do it herself and, in fact, is hardly ever around. Maureen has time to dwell on her obsession. Her twin brother has died. As children they had made a pact that the first to go would send back messages from the afterlife.
So she reacts to every bump of a noise, joins an on-line seance and sees spectres in the dark. Or does she? The film builds quite an involving mystery that intensifies when texts arrive on her smart phone. They’re from an “unknown” source but lead her on.
There’s a great sense of shaky anxiety in this film by Olivier Assayas, the French director who also had Kristen Stewart play lead in his last film, Clouds of Sils Maria. Stewart gives a fine performance as the casually confident young woman bothered by bigger questions. (screens Thurs)
HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY: Tinseltown biographies don’t often turn out as warm and charming as this. It’s sure to appeal mightily to people who want to see a partnership that actually works and to film buffs. There’s a lot here for both.
Harold and Lillian Michelson made major contributions to dozens of movies usually uncredited. He was a storyboard artist. He visualized how a scene could look with drawings, something like in a comic book.
When his sketch is shown beside a clip of the parting of the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments you realize he actually designed the scene. Same with the most iconic scene in The Graduate and even some for Hitchcock and Star Trek.
She researched details within scenes, the look of underwear for Fiddler on the Roof, for instance. There were no photos she could view.
She tells stories of how she did it, about the work he was doing and of their life together. Mel Brooks, Danny DeVito, Francis Ford Coppola and others praise them both and many clips illustrate what they say. This gem of a film screens one more time Thursday.