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My VIFF Picks Day 15 and 16

Two days left and one chief thought remains at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Did I see the good ones?

A few follow-up questions. How many important ones did I miss? Should I have gone to that Romanian film rather than weird documentary?

What choices are there left? Many. Both new and repeat films. These are my recommendations.  

DAY 15 (aka  Thurs. Oct. 15):

MAMMOTH: If you liked Babel, this might be for you. Even though there’s less substance and nothing much original. Still it’s a well-constructed film with several connected story lines that roam the world. Gael Garcia Bernal, who was also in Babel, is a New York video game designer visiting investors in Thailand. On a side trip to a tourist island he goes clubbing with a local hooker. His wife (Michelle Williams) is a busy surgeon and their daughter is now bonding with her Filipino nanny, who’s sons back in the Philippines plead for her to come home. The situations are real in these days of globalization and career-absorbed parents. The treatment in this film is light.

JOHN RABE: This may be the most grand film in the festival. And one of the best stories. It’s based on fact but is brand new to most of us.  Rabe managed a plant for the German engineering company Siemens in Nanking, China. When the Japanese invaded in 1937, he stood up to them, organized a safety zone and saved the lives of over 200,000 Chinese. The film is slow in spots but most of the time  is big and glossy as it recreates “the rape of Nanking” with  nighttime bombing raids, surging crowds and  casual atrocities. The popular German star Ulrich Tukur plays Rabe with quiet determination, standing firm against a cynical doctor within his compound (Steve Buscemi) and against a series of Japanese officers and even a prince.

THE WHITE RIBBON: Austria’s Michael Haneke meditates on the roots of German fascism and then declines to give us a clear answer. You can select your own. Pretty well all of the many causes scholars have cited over the years are touched on here. Better to see this as just the famous misanthrope’s latest dissection of humanity. In a pre-World War I village he imagines, in the words of one character, “malice, envy, apathy, brutality, persecutions and petty acts of revenge.” Most everybody in town is either a participant or a victim. Some are both, even the children. For contrast there’s also a good character, a schoolteacher who narrates years later. Ulrich Tukur, who also stars in John Rabe, plays a baron, the main authority figure. Grim as it sounds, the film is so well-written and acted it’s engrossing.

THE AGONY AND THE ECSTACY OF PHIL SPECTOR: The famous “wall of sound” record producer is currently in jail. This film is like a two-track master tape. He’s on one track talking about his life, his hits and his artists, with plenty of examples spliced in, music by The Ronettes, Ike and Tina Turner, John Lennon and many others. The other track has testimony at his first trial, about guns and a woman’s death. The film goes back and forth and amazingly it works.
A Righteous Brothers song segueing to murder talk and back can be illuminating. A very good film.   

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