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VIFF picks: Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, Holy Motors, Barbara

Sarah Polley investigates some secrets of her own life in Stories We Tell



I’ve got five new recommendations for these last three days of the Vancouver International Film Festival. Notice, though, that several of my previous picks have another screening to go. They include No Job for a Woman, Blood Relatives, Revolution, My Father and the Man in Black, The Mountain Runners, Bottled Life and the big one, Amour. 

And at  the list is up of films that the VanCity Theatre is showing next week, post-festival. One of them, The Hunt, gets a make-up screening for that botched attempt Saturday when the projectionist couldn’t find the subtitles.  Pass holders get in free for that one.  

STORIES WE TELL: The media preview was postponed so all I can do is go by what the critics in Toronto have said about Sarah Polley’s new one. They were ecstatic; one said it not only deserves but will get Oscar nominations as both a documentary and Best Picture.  Polley explores her own life and finds some big surprises about her parents. (A. O Scott of the New York Times, who also praised it, wrote it’s best not to divulge too much beforehand. The revelations should be savored when they appear).  What is known is that Polley has used interviews with friends and relatives, re-enacted incidents and her own storytelling talents to create a fact-based film that unfolds like a thriller. (Screens Wed evening—moved to the largest theatre, the Vogue-- and Fri afternoon) 

BARBARA: Germany hopes this film can match The Lives of Others and win an Academy Award.  That’s probably unlikely because this one is smaller and less intense. It’s got a compelling story though and excellent performances steered by Christian Petzold, currently one of Europe’s top directors. And it’s also set in 1980s East Germany with the Stasi secret police nosing around.


Nina Hoss plays a doctor who’s been exiled to a small northern town after she was identified as an escape risk. All she did was apply for a visa to travel to the west. Now as she actively plots a real escape to join her boyfriend in the west, a Stasi officer has her under surveillance and orders full-body searches and other humiliations. At work, she deflects the attentions of another doctor (Ronald Zehrfeld) even though she grows to like him. He could be an informant. The film, already an award-winner in Venice, creates that atmosphere of suspicion and doubt and then suspense with a lean script and superb acting by Hoss that only seems low key.  (Screens Thursday)

THE DISAPPEARED: This is one of the more interesting of the many Canadian films at VIFF this year. It’s from Halifax, a first feature directed by novelist Shandi Mitchell and a gripping tale of an ordeal at sea. That alone should give it some resonance here on the other coast.

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