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Seven new VIFF picks take us to dramas in Massachusetts, Paris and Belgium

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KEEPERS OF THE MAGIC: Another one for film buffs, and also for students of the craft. You’ll learn how much a cinematographer contributes to the movies from six masters including Vittorio Storaro, Roger Deakins, John Seale and Gordon Willis.

You’ll better recognize the movies they shot: Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor, Manhattan, The Godfather, Mad Max: Fury Road. The list goes on and on and their stories are great. Getting shots of a bear on a log in a river with a puma, for instance.

What to do when Glenn Close didn’t know her lines. Racing against the fading light. “Let’s go. Let’s go. The earth is rotating,” Gordon Willis recalls saying.

 

The film by Vic Sarin, who is based here and has cinematography in his background,(that’s him on the right with Storaro) also offers technical insights. Furious action must be centre-frame.

A face doesn’t look good against a green background. Color is a burden, although not feared at all in Indian cinema. A moving camera can’t improve a boring story. Or this message from Philippe Rouselot: “When you’re facing an impossible task, you start inventing.”

There are five more cinematographers seen and heard during the end credits, including the only woman, Mandy Walker. (Keepers screens early on Friday.)

FIRE AT SEA: You’ve seen news reports; now go a little closer to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean and on the Italian island Lampedusa. Gianfranco Rosi’s documentary gives you two strains of the story.

Out on the water, navy boats intercept rusty ships and take some extremely distressed people off them. If they’re still alive they’re probably de-hydrated, sick or soaked in diesel. They’ve paid to travel first or second class (on deck) or third class (down inside) and describe a harrowing trek through several countries. And yet, as one says “It’s risky in life, not to take a risk.”

The other strain shows how the island residents are coping. Most pretty well, it seems. Boys play with slingshots. One gets his lazy eye tested and trained. Grandma makes pasta and recalls wartime when ships fired rockets, like “fire at sea”.

There’s also a song by that title that a radio DJ plays. The local doctor though is unmistakeably under pressure. He has to treat a range of medical conditions and (something he hates) examine cadavers. And yet he says “It is the duty of every human being to help these people.” That message comes in a beautifully photographed film.  (Screens Friday)

TEN YEARS: This piece of agitprop follows on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests called The Umbrella Movement, which itself has evolved into a political party and an art movement. The film asserts loudly to never give up. “Don’t ever get used to it” it says of Beijing’s tightening rule and in five separate segments offers visions of what might exist by 2025.

 

One I don’t understand; the others are clear, often passionate. The Cantonese language is banned. We see the effect. There’s a ban on local goods and it’s enforced by children in a “Youth Guard” who come snooping around. 

A fake terrorist incident is engineered to justify bringing in a “National Security Law.” Independence riots break out and protesters debate going after Britain for failing to deliver on commitments it made when it turned Hong Kong back over to China.

Parts of these films carry heavy criticism of the Communist Party, as you might expect, but also of all Chinese society. It’s a compelling blend of anger and introspection. VIFF has added an extra screening Wed evening.       

THE UNKNOWN GIRL: You’ll hear a lot of complaints that this is not one of the Dardenne brothers’ best. No, it’s not as gut-wrenching as their films can be but I think it is just as strong a drama of social realism. It’s just quieter and easier going on its themes of guilt, responsibility and contributing when nobody else cares.

 

Adèle Haenel plays a young doctor in a lower-class section of a city in Belgium. She has her own practice, helps out at a clinic and makes house calls. One night, in conflict with her usual caring nature, she declines to answer the doorbell.

Next morning a woman is found dead down by the river. She’s the one who was at the door, according to a security camera. The doctor’s feelings of guilt sends her searching for who she was and what happened.

That commitment is unlikely but pretty well everything else is plausible. The neighbourhood (apparently like the Downtown Eastside here) is accurately represented and the answer to the mystery is entirely in character: mundane rather than gross and complex.  Haenel’s performance is quietly riveting. (Screens Friday)

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