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#1 Peter T Chattaway

Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 01 September 2004 - 05:51 PM

As with last year's thread, this thread is about films that happen to be showing at the Vancouver International Film Festival this year, and not about the festival per se, so I trust it is okay to post this message in the 'Films, Directors, Actors, Etc.' forum. I kind of doubt that most of these films will warrant entire threads to themselves.

I attended the press conference this morning, and there seem to be less obvious 'hooks' for a religion-and-film reporter than in previous years, but I am still looking forward to quite a few films this year.

Near the top of my list would be In Your Hands (Denmark, 101 min.), the new film from Annette K. Oleson, whose Minor Mishaps had a Mike-Leigh-does-Dogma-95 vibe and was easily one of my favorite films at the festival two years ago; this new film, which was apparently shot under the working title Crimes, is about "a newly anointed chaplain . . . serving at a prison for women who has her faith sorely tested by the inmates."

Also interesting:

Irredeemable (Canada, 101 min.)
Deception, thwarted connection and attempts at salvation are at the root of a dark, and often comic, series of shorts that includes heaven's loneliest bureaucrat (Milo 55160), a reluctant martyr (Man Feel Pain) and a sin-inducing hot pink sweater (My Original Sin).

Relativity (Canada, 58 min.)
Part coming-of-age story and part detective tale, Brenda Kovrig's innovative documentary investigates nature versus nurture as she waits to meet her Mennonite biological family. With a series of shorts about finding your roots, including Yorkton's Best of the Fst, Hubert Davis' Hardwood (Ontario, 29 min.).

Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus (UK/USA, 85 min.)
Alt-country is huge in the UK, so it's no surprise that the first film on the subject was done for BBC's "Arena." Andrew Douglas' musical voyage through the American south features the Handsome Family, Johnny Dowd, Lee Sexton and even a rockabilly mountain priest. Quirky singer Jim White serves as guide through the truck stops, haunting landscapes, scrapyards, mines and churches of a land in which "stories was everything and everything was stories."

Screenings start tomorrow, though I have no idea when these particular films will be screened; the schedules are only available for tomorrow and Friday. I'll look into screeners.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 01 September 2004 - 05:53 PM.

#2 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 07 September 2004 - 10:51 AM

Thursday's screening was cancelled due to print unavailability, and the only film I caught on Friday was Imelda (USA, 103 min.), a documentary which told me more about the former First Lady of the Philippines than I ever imagined there was to know. My favorite scene has to be the one where she goes to Libya to negotiate peace with Gaddafi (or however we spell his name these days) -- the thought that the fate of nations might hang on a private conversation between two nutters like that is just absurdly funny, albeit in a grim sort of way. And yeah, Imelda really IS pretty crazy, at least on some levels; there is a fascinating sequence where she draws a series of pictures and symbols charting the interconnectedness of everything, and as she goes on and on and on, you just find your mouth gaping as you wonder if she could possibly be taking any of this seriously. But everyone testifies that she did have a way with people, and I don't doubt it; personal charm can make up for a lot. The filmmakers seem to have had incredible access to Imelda Marcos, but she was reportedly unhappy with the results and tried to suppress the film in her homeland. No doubt she was ticked off by some of the OTHER people they interviewed, or by the sometimes mocking tone of the edits: the film speed accelerates during the aforementioned symbolism scene, and the music has kind of a light, cheeky feel; and there is another hilarious cut, where we see Imelda singing over her husband's hospital bed in Hawaii, and he's looking AWAY from her as though he wants to get away from her but he's too darn sick to move, and then they cut to a guy who says of Ferdinand Marcos, "He died in a state of shock." The film has a number of other fascinating details, too. Imelda, a former beauty-pageant contestant (who, IIRC, once persuaded the powers-that-be to create a new title just for her when she came in second), remembers singing 'God Bless America' for Douglas MacArthur and Irving Berlin in 1944, and Berlin protesting that the Philippines were not America, and herself saying of course they are because she remembers pledging allegiance to the American flag in school, and Berlin responding by writing a new song called 'Heaven Watch the Philippines'. Imelda is intensely religious, going so far as to build what one person calls a shrine to both her life and to Jesus, yet one of her biographers does give her credit for opposing the Catholic church on the matter of birth control. She also has an incredible capacity for denial, making statements to the effect that, e.g., the "ultimate victims" in Benigno Aquino's assassination were herself and Ferdinand -- because if Aquino hadn't been killed, the nation wouldn't have turned so strongly against the Marcoses. And one of the stranger, and more sympathetic, moments comes when Imelda stands over the encased body of her husband, who lies in state somewhere; I can't imagine what it would be like to be so intimate with someone for so many years, and then to be able to see him but never, ever touch him again. I think this film would make a very interesting double-bill with The Eyes of Tammy Faye -- both movies concern women who like to sing and were obsessed with their public image, and who were deeply religious but took unorthodox positions (Imelda on birth control, Tammy Faye on homosexuality), and who had an incredible capacity for denial, and who had major falls from grace in the mid-1980s, and who were plagued by charges of financial corruption that may have been entirely the fault of their husbands, and who may have been let off the hook in some people's eyes because they were "just the wife".

#3 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 18 September 2004 - 03:38 PM

Yikes, I've been bad -- bad, bad, bad -- about attending press screenings this year. Which is to say, I haven't really attended all that many -- there seems to be an incredible preponderance of documentaries at this year's media screenings, and quite frankly, I'm not all that interested; I come to the festival to get a sense of other cultures, to experience art of all sorts, and not for an endless stream of reality shows, many of which are no doubt heavily politicized.

I did catch The Motorcycle Diaries (Brazil/USA/Argentina/Chile/Peru, 128 min.) a week ago Tuesday, and my comments are in the thread on that film. A couple days later, I also caught Let's Get Frank (USA, 75 min.), a documentary about openly gay congressman Barney Frank's role in the Clinton impeachment hearings (a very loose and formless film, I thought; it SEEMS to be trying to say that there is some sort of connection between the sex scandal that Clinton was caught up in and a rather different sex scandal that Barney Frank was caught up in, but it doesn't make this or any other point very strongly), as well as McDull, Prince de la Bun (Hong Kong, 78 min.), an amusing cartoon about a young pig and the fantasy story his mother tells him to explain why he does not have a father; I really, really liked the way the film blends deep, complex, three-dimensional computer-animated environments with flat, two-dimensional, hand-drawn character animation (they move around like cardboard cutouts in their world!), and there is an interesting recurring theme concerning the ongoing destruction of buildings, all in the name of "urban renewal"; I was also struck by the mix of cultural references in this Hong Kong tale, from the very Scottish "Mc" and the rather French "de la" in the main characters' names to the boy's frequent request that his mother read him Harry Potter stories; the funniest scene involves an exchange between the boy's mother and a general practitioner who says he cannot deal with the boy's specific ailment but he does rattle off ALL the OTHER ailments he has been trained to deal with -- this scene is so good that there is a reprise of it, in a restaurant I think, during the end credits.

This last week, I saw nothing at the Cinematheque, much to my surprise, but I did check out a couple films on video. Relativity (Canada, 58 min.) is an interesting documentary by a Toronto woman who, being an adoptee, tries to make contact with her birth parents. It turns out her birth parents went on to marry, a few years AFTER giving her up for adoption, and it turns out they are a rather religious Mennonite couple (or at least the mother is religious), and among other things, the filmmaker says she wishes she could be a Christian too, just to make her birth mother happy, but, well, she isn't. It also turns out that only her birth mother will meet her, at least at first; the father doesn't want to meet her, and of the two sisters the filmmaker never knew she had, one of them has already died in a high-school car accident, and the other is just about to leave home for college and the mother doesn't think it would be right to shake up her world even more by letting her know there's another sister out there; of course, one of the questions lurking throughout all this is whether the mother made contact with the daughter she gave up for adoption partly to replace the daughter who died or the daughter who has moved out, and the filmmaker, who starts recognizing aspects of herself in her mother, remarks that she feels like she may be losing the freedom of identity that she always enjoyed as an adopted child. She interviews a number of other people along the way -- including pop philosopher Mark Kingwell -- about the nature of genetics, identity, fate, and whether our names shape us, etc., and there is some genuine tension, or suspense, as we wonder if she will put her birth family on-camera, possibly without their wanting her to. Without giving anything away, I have to say the film ends on a perfect note, in which life overtakes the film, and the filmmaker, much to her credit, puts life first.

Then, In Your Hands (Denmark, 101 min.), the new film from Annette K. Olesen, and the newest film to receive a Dogme 95 certificate of authenticity (they still hand those out?). Olesen makes her films Mike Leigh-style, improvising the story with the actors, and if Minor Mishaps was her Secrets & Lies, then In Your Hands is, um, I'm not sure -- I haven't seen Vera Drake yet, for obvious reasons, but since abortion figures prominently in both Olesen's and Leigh's new films, I'm tempted to cite that one. Anyway, the film stars Ann Eleonora Jorgensen (the hairdresser in Italian for Beginners) as Anna, a newly-minted minister, fresh out of seminary, whose faith gets put through the wringer after she accepts an assignment as chaplain to a women's prison. Anna is definitely on the liberal end of the religiometer -- she's a female priest, she has a live-in "boyfriend" (assuming the subtite translates this word accurately), she says miracles are "metaphors", she is open to the possibility of abortion -- but, rightly or wrongly, I'd assume the film is basically just giving us an accurate portrayal of Danish religion. The other main protagonist here is Kate (Trine Dyrholm), a new inmate who is rarely seen without a cigarette, who is rumoured to have miraculous healing powers (don't worry, this ain't The Green Mile), and who has a secret in her past -- a secret that could see her ostracized from all the other prisoners. Kate is a very off-putting character at first, and difficult to connect with -- the first time she meets Anna, she just stares at her and tells her to be careful with the baby in her womb, a baby that Anna, at that point, doesn't even know she's carrying! -- but, gradually, Kate begins to reach out and make contact with people, sometimes in fairly normal and even hopeful ways (by asking Anna to teach her how to pray), and sometimes in more dubious ways (by getting emotionally involved with the male officer who accompanies her on trips outside the prison). Alas, things begin to head in a more tragic direction... FWIW, the VIFF program quotes the director as saying: "The opposite of faith is not doubt -- the opposite of faith is knowledge. In Your Hands is a story about what happens when trust is more fragile than mistrust, when knowledge is stronger than faith and when pain is more powerful than love." The film is a mostly sobre affair and could provoke some interesting discussion in forums such as this, and I think I do like it, but definitely not as much as Minor Mishaps, for whatever that's worth.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 25 April 2005 - 07:12 PM.

#4 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 20 September 2004 - 01:30 AM

Just in case anybody here lives in Vancouver or will be passing through the area in the next couple weeks ... I have gone through the VIFF's schedule and prioritized the films that I think I would like to see most of all, here.

So ... if anyone wants to join me for any of these films, y'all know where to find me!

This list is by no means exhaustive -- there are several days where I don't have more than one or two films lined up yet, and it is quite possible I will be able and willing to check out something that didn't quite make my prioritized list.

#5 Ron Reed

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Posted 23 September 2004 - 05:54 PM

Just back from IN YOUR HANDS. Real good film. When I jot down some thoughts, I think I'll start a thread.

My other VIFF pic picks (in decreasing order of urgency, with the first two in the No Way I'm Going To Miss This category)

South Africa, 2004, 112 min
Reconciliation or revenge? South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission provided a unique way for the country to move forward from its Apartheid past. When members of Pretoria’s security establishment appeared before the Commission and confessed their brutal crimes, the process provided closure to victim’s families and truth for the public. Most of the perpetrators received amnesty from further prosecution. But on a raw emotional level, national reconciliation did not necessarily bring about personal forgiveness. / This remarkably textured film, carefully threaded with religious symbolism, focuses on one man’s search for redemption. Former policeman Tertius Coetzee (played by Arnold Vosloo, star of The Mummy and Hard Target) still feels shackled by the sheer weight of his sins. His quest for absolution brings him to the isolated fishing community of Paternoster. Accompanied by the local priest, Coetzee visits the home of the Grootboom family, whose son Daniel, an ANC activist, died in police custody. Their initial meeting sets in motion a chain of confrontations that explore complex ethical questions and bring dark secrets to light. The gripping story, drawn from the country’s recent history, is supported by powerhouse performances and underpinned by a rich subtext of mythological meaning. Human Rights Award, Locarno Film Festival; Audience Award, Best Cinematography and Best South African Film, Durban Film Festival.
Tue 28, 9:30PM / Vogue
Tue 5, 11:00AM / Granville 7

Time of the Wolf
Austria, France, 2003, 113 min
An apocalyptic calamity has left the people of Europe struggling to survive amidst drastic shortages of food and water. George (noted director Patrice Chéreau) and Anne (Isabelle Huppert) have decided to flee the city for their country house with what meagre supplies they can find in hopes of protecting their children. To their surprise and horror they find the house already occupied by another equally desperate family. The ensuing confrontation forever changes the lives of Anne and her children, setting them adrift in a chaotic, often indifferent world in which their survival hinges on the strained compassion of those they encounter. /
After the international success of his last collaboration with Isabelle Huppert, The Piano Teacher (VIFF 01), Michael Haneke again teams up with the great French actress to create his most intense film yet. "What is troubling in Time of the Wolf is that the narrative material makes one think of science fiction, yet the film doesn’t resemble that genre at all. Any similarity to fantasy, anything that is futurist, is absent. What remains is the 'here and now,' the pure present. I wanted to make a film clear of spectacular aspects of the 'catastrophe movie' genre."--Michael Haneke. / "Don't expect spectacular effects à la The Day After Tomorrow--the sombre, misty landscape, with its flaming pyres of farm animals and dark, nearly empty village streets, is closer to a Biblical apocalypse."--The New York Times. "Visionary! A remarkable cast! Such close observation of humanity is an act of love."--Village Voice
Fri Sep 24, 4PM / Granville 7
Tue Oct 5, 7PM / Vogue

Addicted To Acting
Saturday morning

Canada 2004, 101 min
Deception, thwarted connection and attempts at salvation are at the root of this dar, and often comic, series of shorts. My Original Sin - A young Catholic girl makes a leap into sin with the purchase of a hot pink sweater. Judas' Pane - After centuries of being the only stained-glass apostle without a halo, Judas embarks on a mission to alter his fate in this gorgeous digitally animated short. Redeemable in Merchandise - Canadian Tire money becomes a tool for revenge when Dorothy discovers her husband's infidelity. Man Feel Pain - A dark comedy about a reluctant martyr and his insomniac neighbour who tries to spread "the word." The Crypt Club - Three teenage girls travel to a deserted cemetery for a midnight initiation that stretches the limits of fitting in. Stronger - A casual conversation between a woman and her manicurist takes a serious turn as old wounds are opened and intricate connections are revealed. Filth - A pixilated tale in which a simple cleaning job takes a nightmarish twist. Milo 55160 - Heaven's loneliest bureaucrat embarks on a purgatorial odyssey through the afterlife in search of a missing boy.
Tue Oct 5, 7PM / Pacific Cinematheque
Thu Oct 7, 3:20PM / Granville 7

Canada, 2004, 104 min
Escaping suffocation in North America, Velcrow Ripper (Bones of the Forest, VIFF 95) takes us on a visually stunning tour of some of the planet's "Ground Zeros" and searches for hope in such unlikely places as Bhopal, post-9/11 New York, Israel and Palestine. Over the course of his five-year odyssey, he unearths unforgettable stories of survival, resilience and recovery. In the jungles of Cambodia, Aki Ra, a child soldier forced to lay landmines by the Khmer Rouge, continues the task of decommissioning these mines using only a simple stick to find them. The film also includes the words of the Dalai Lama on the first dawn of the new millennium, at Sarnath, India. / With a nod to experimental and independent filmmaking traditions, Ripper has crafted a remarkably beautiful and unflinching documentary that explores what it means to be a global citizen in today's world, without falling prey to the lure of jet-setting. Sidestepping the role of tourist of darkness, he notes his need to avoid "filling my pockets with images while leaving my heart untouched." On the heels of last year's The Corporation, ScaredSacred asserts the impressive strength of western Canadian documentary. / "Hope looks at the evidence and says, 'It don't look good at all. But we gonna make the leap of faith, go beyond the evidence, to create new possibilities based on visions that become contagious to allow people to engage in heroic action, always against odds, no guarantee whatsoever.' That's hope. I'm a prisoner of hope...Never gonna believe that misery and despair will have the last word."--Professor Cornell West
Fri Sep 24, 7PM / Vogue
Sun Sep 26, Noon / Granville 7
Tue Oct 5, 10AM / Pacific Cinematheque

Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire
Canada, 2004, 85 min
"The world is ruled by a belief that will permit other genocides. The superpowers had no interest in you... Rwanda is black. It's in the middle of Africa. It's of no strategic value. And all that's there--they tell me--are humans... And there are too many anyway. Standing here, I say to you that Roméo Dallaire, as Force Commander, failed the Rwandan people since January 1994." -- Lt.-General Roméo Dallaire at the National University of Rwanda, 2004. / Filmed during General Dallaire's return to Rwanda ten years after the UN mission he led failed to stop the civil war that escalated into the genocide of 800,000 Tutsis (also see In Rwanda We Say...), on one level this is a searing indictment of western complicity. Dallaire himself has been positioned as saint and villain by the media and international leaders, and this portrait offers a candid look at the man and his UN mission. His understanding of the events is deeply religious, best summed up as an encounter with evil in paradise. Based on the book of the same name, this journey includes interviews with his wife Elizabeth Roberge Dallaire, author Gerald Caplan, journalist Michael Enright and UN Envoy for Africa, Stephen Lewis. Today Dallaire is best remembered as the commander who became known for his honest and impassioned pleas to a sleeping world to wake up and take notice of the horror he could not stop. A graphic and disturbing film.
Sat Sep 25, 1:40PM / Granville 7
Mon Sep 27, 7:15PM / Granville 7
Wed Oct 6, 10AM / Pacific Cinematheque

In Rwanda We Say... The Family that Does Not Speak Dies
France, 2004, 54 min
In 2003, the Rwandan government began the release of prisoners who had served their sentences for genocide under the terms of the Gacaca tribunals. Anne Aghion returns to Ntongwe to document the beginning of a dialogue between survivors and accused. Everyone speaks frankly about their fears and anxieties about again living side by side. While the local bar offers many a place to begin to speak about the past, it is often the youth who offer the most incisive commentary. The documentary itself becomes a catalyst for discussion even if some participants have questions themselves for the whites who keep asking questions about feelings. Well crafted and sensitively shot, this is a revealing glimpse at the possibilities of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Gacaca, Living Together Again in Rwanda?
France, 2002, 55 min
In 1994, over 800,000 Rwandans were massacred in the genocide perpetrated by the Hutu militia against the Tutsi minority (see Shake Hands with the Devil also in this year's program). In an attempt to heal and rebuild the nation, the new Ministry of Justice began the citizen-based Gacaca tribunals. The affected communities become the prosecutors, defenders and judges of the 100,000 people in Rwandan prisons. Sensitive to the everyday sounds and sights of rural Rwanda, including its beauty in sun or rain, Anne Aghion documents the stories of survivors and prisoners as she follows the preliminary work of General Prosecutor Jean Marie Mbarushimana on his visits to Ntongwe. While the goal is to reunite communities, the challenges of reconciliation remain great particularly for those left alive and in sorrow on the now empty hillsides. This is a thoughtful investigation into issues of taking responsibility, popular justice and the possibilities of forgiving without forgetting.
Tue Oct 5, 1:40 PM / Granville 7
Wed Oct 6, 6:00 PM / Granville 7

Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus
UK, USA, 2003, 85 min
"Yes and there are projects for the dead and there are projects for the living / Though I must confess sometimes I get confused by that distinction"--Jim White, "Still Waters" / Alt-country is huge in the UK, so it's no surprise that the first film on the subject was done for BBC's "Arena." Andrew Douglas’ musical voyage through the American south features quirky singer Jim White as a guide to the truck stops, haunting landscapes, scrapyards, mines and churches of a land in which "stories was everything and everything was stories." As we journey with Jim through a world of marginalized people and their intense homemade culture we encounter present-day music mavericks the Handsome Family, Johnny Dowd, 16 Horsepower, David Johansen, Lee Sexton and even a rockabilly mountain priest. Everybody has a story--or a song--and most seem about sudden death, sin or redemption. Writer Steve Haisman posits that the influence of the Southern religions and the internal conflicts with more "secular impulses" is somehow central to the creative process. Regardless of how these stories came about, all are transformed by the characteristic grim humour and natural eloquence of the Southern imagination. This is one musical odyssey worth taking. / "An amazing piece of work. The film essentially follows one man, Jim White, as he deals with both his own and the South's demons... and in the process we are given a musical tour of another planet. Beautiful, dark and weird stuff."--David Byrne
Thu Sep 23, 7PM / Granville 7
Sat Sep 25, 1PM / Granville 7
Tue Oct 5, 9:45PM / Granville 7

Shipbreakers and Schultze Gets The Blues also appeal. As do Dear Frankie and Incident At Loch Ness, but I'm guessing those two'll be at the Fifth Avenue or The Ridge before too long.

And one I want to see but can't...

Chile, 2004, 120 min , Color , 35mm / In Spanish with English Subtitles
Up-and-coming Chilean director Andrés Wood has classically crafted one of the best Latin American films of recent years, a semi-autobiographical account of the tragic events of Chile's 1973 coup seen through the eyes of two 11-year-old boys. Gonzalo Infante lives with his well-to-do family in a suburb of Santiago. His new classmate, Pedro Machuca, lives in a recently created illegal shantytown a few blocks away with his cousin, Silvana. There is a huge wall--economic and psychological--dividing their two worlds, a wall that Father McEnroe, a progressive American priest and the new headmaster at Gonzalo's private school, wants to tear down... / "Machuca effectively uses a school experiment to provide a melancholy look at the failure of a democratic society free from class divisions. Richly human in focus, the film steadily cranks up its political and emotional charge... The drama is smoothly developed from the light touch of its early sequences with their insightful depiction of the joyful immediacy of childhood friendship, to the darkening mood as Gonzalo, purely by circumstance, becomes a target for Pedro and Silvana's feelings of betrayal... Performances across the board are strong, especially the appealing, natural young leads." --David Rooney, Variety
Thu Sep 23 9:30PM / Ridge
Thu Sep 30 7PM / Vogue

#6 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 24 September 2004 - 02:28 AM

Looking forward to your comments on In Your Hands (see mine above), but does it really warrant another thread at this point?

On to other, mostly belated, film comments. On Monday I caught a preview of My Stepbrother Frankenstein (Russia, 111 min.), in which a middle-class family man (who seemed to me like a cross between Cameron Crowe and Ray Winstone, if that makes any sense) discovers that a woman he had an affair with many years ago has died and left him a 20-year-old son, Pavel, that he never knew he had. Pavel is a veteran of the war in Chechnya and wears an eyepatch, and he is somewhat paranoid and obsessively concerned with the safety of his newfound family. The tension this produces is sometimes absurdly funny, and sometimes very unnerving (as when Pavel kills the atmosphere at a party hosted by his newfound family by telling people deadpan stories of the violence he witnessed and participated in), and sometimes a bit of both. It all comes to a head with Pavel essentially abducting his family, starting with the children, for their own "safety" -- and you can't help wondering how this movie and its hostage-crisis third act would play in its home country NOW, after the Beslan situation. I liked this film quite a bit, overall. Minor but amusing sidebar: I was also struck by the scene in which Pavel comes across a group of people watching the 1930s version of Frankenstein, apparently oblivious to the fact that the people in question regard him as a monster of sorts too; in eastern Europe, they do not dub or subtitle foreign films but, rather, have a "lektor" (sp?) who recites the dialogue in your native language in the theatre or overdubs it on video, and it was funny to see how the English subtitles for the lektor in THIS film differed from the actual English spoken by the characters in Frankenstein (we hear a character say "Get away with that torch!" and we hear the lektor say something simultaneously, and the subtitle says "Stay away with that flame!").

Speaking of odd subtitles, the film I saw on Tuesday, Cold Light (Iceland, 93 min.), had quite a bit of English dialogue, and all of it was subtitled ... in English? Okay, whatever. Alas, the film's token American character was played by an actress who gave one of the lamest and blandest performances in the film, and it was one of those experiences where you begin to wonder if everybody ELSE is doing a really bad job acting but you just can't tell because the dialect and the accents are so foreign. (Or did the filmmakers just not recognize how badly her performance was coming across, because she did not speak their native tongue?) Anyway, the film is about an art student who has frequent flashbacks to his childhood, when he sketched some rather creepy pictures that turned out to be chillingly prophetic. So the film flips back and forth between his adulthood and his childhood and we are supposed to wonder what, exactly, happened to him way back when ... but the film left me cold, so to speak. I think the childhood story, which sets some truly magical elements within an otherwise naturalistic (and occasionally harsh) depiction of childhood out in the Icelandic countryside, could have been fairly interesting on its own; but the adult story didn't really register with me.

The festival proper began today, but the only film I had time to catch was Baghdad Blogger / Salam Pax -- Video Reports from Iraq (Iraq, 90 min.), a collection of video blogs by that rather famous, and rather secular (he makes a point of stocking up on booze before the stores close for Ramadan), Iraqi blogger. Pax is convinced that the war was "worth it", because there has been a proliferation of independent newspapers and political parties, and because the marshes are being flooded again and the people who lived there are returning home, and because everyone finally feels free to criticize the government openly, etc. -- but he also describes for us how American soldiers terrified and ticked off his parents when they raided his parents' home under the assumption that the men who installed some new fixtures in his mother's kitchen might be a terrorist cell. He also expresses concern about the influx of Iranians and others into his country and the increasingly prominent role played by Shiite clerics -- I had seen photos in the papers of the literal bloodbath that is the Ashoura festival in Karbala, where men beat themselves into a religious fervour with knives and chains etc., but seeing video footage of the event is something else. In terms of raw facts, there is nothing all that new or newsy here, even for one such as I who tends to do more skimming than actual reading on the day-to-day developments in Iraq, but what these blogs do have is a unique and much-needed perspective.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 24 September 2004 - 02:30 AM.

#7 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 25 September 2004 - 04:58 AM

Today the festival-going began in earnest. First, The Machinist (USA/Spain, 98 min.), followed by Time of the Wolf (France/Austria, 113 min.), both of which I have commented on in the existing threads on those films.

Then came a Scottish double-bill of sorts. Dear Frankie (UK, 105 min.) is a modest but charming film about a woman (Emily Mortimer) who hires a man to pose as the father of her 9.5-year-old son. The son, you see, has been writing letters to his dad, who he believes has been sailing the world for years, and the son has been receiving letters in return -- but the fact is, the person answering his letters all this time has been his mother, and not his father. (Exactly WHY the parents split up is one of those things the film does not reveal at first.) Then, mere days after moving to a new town by the sea, word comes that a boat bearing the name of the ship on which Frankie's dad supposedly works is on its way -- and so the mother looks for someone to pretend that he is Frankie's dad. A somewhat contrived set-up, but once you swallow it, the rest of the film goes down pretty easy. I'm a sucker for films about the special friendships that sometimes form between children and grown-ups, and the guy who poses as Frankie's dad is a believably rugged but sympathetic individual. On the other hand, I have a real resistance to films which revolve around major deceptions, and I always dread that moment at the beginning of the third act when the truth comes out and someone yells "YOU LIED TO ME!" at someone else, so I was afraid we would have to endure that sort of thing here, too ... but it never really happens. Indeed, the ending of the film is a bit of a cheat, that way, but I actually LIKE the fact that the film avoided those sorts of formulae, even if it had to cheat a bit to do so. The film, which was written, directed, and produced by women, definitely has the feel of a crowd-pleaser, but it doesn't push our buttons too hard. I liked it.

Then, Incident at Loch Ness (USA, 95 min.), which is sort of like a mockumentary cross between Open Water and Lost in La Mancha, if you can picture that. In 1995 or 1996, the local Cinematheque hosted an exhaustive Werner Herzog retrospective -- the man himself even attended it in person, and he answered a question I lobbed his way from the audience -- and I caught almost every single film of his that they showed. And I'm glad I did, because, just as Herzog himself has always fudged the difference between reality and cinema, THIS film has plenty of fun with the myths and legends around the man; while the film does explain Herzog's reputation for making films about obsessive and dangerous quests that end up becoming equally obsessive and dangerous in their own right, I don't know how well the film would resonate for people who had not already come across all that stuff. Supposedly, this film was supposed to be a documentary about Herzog, made by a couple of filmmakers who accompanied Herzog on a trip to Scotland where he planned to shoot his own documentary on the Loch Ness monster ... but then tragedy struck. There's plenty of self-deprecating humour on display here, certainly from Herzog but also from writer-director Zak Penn, who plays himself, sort of -- as depicted here, Penn is a Hollywood screenwriter (Last Action Hero, X2) who is now trying to be a producer, and he keeps interfering with Herzog's plans in ways that at first are merely injurious to Herzog's art, and then become potentially life-threatening; in the interview segments, Penn has a hilarious knack for trying to justify himself in ways that are so cleverly stupid they rival some of funnier moments in This Is Spinal Tap. Closer to the end of the film, I thought there were a few moments that did not ring true EITHER as self-mocking, semi-realistic documentary OR as dramatic plot twists, but I don't think these moments sink the film; it's pretty fun, overall. (Note to fans of Jeff Goldblum, Ricky Jay and Crispin Glover -- all these actors can be briefly glimpsed at a party that Herzog throws at his house early in the film.)

#8 jrobert



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Posted 25 September 2004 - 10:43 PM

QUOTE (Peter T Chattaway @ Sep 18 2004, 02:37 PM)
McDull, Prince de la Bun (Hong Kong, 78 min.), an amusing cartoon about a young pig and the fantasy story his mother tells him to explain why he does not have a father; I really, really liked the way the film blends deep, complex, three-dimensional computer-animated environments with flat, two-dimensional, hand-drawn character animation (they move around like cardboard cutouts in their world!), and there is an interesting recurring theme concerning the ongoing destruction of buildings, all in the name of "urban renewal"; I was also struck by the mix of cultural references in this Hong Kong tale, from the very Scottish "Mc" and the rather French "de la" in the main characters' names to the boy's frequent request that his mother read him Harry Potter stories; the funniest scene involves an exchange between the boy's mother and a general practitioner who says he cannot deal with the boy's specific ailment but he does rattle off ALL the OTHER ailments he has been trained to deal with -- this scene is so good that there is a reprise of it, in a restaurant I think, during the end credits.

Ah, good. That's what I was hoping for. I saw the first McDull at the Chicago festival two years ago and loved it. Here's what I wrote then:
An animated movie out of Hong Kong, it tells the story of young McDull, a 5-6-year-old pink pig who goes to school (with other animals and humans), lives with his mom, and dreams big dreams. Sometimes he hopes to win an Olympic medal, other times he just wants his mom to notice him. The movie is full of references to contemporary Hong Kong as well as western animation, and I'm sure I missed many of them. But the film combines a Hello-Kitty sweetness with a deeper angst of existentialism for a truly original result. The animation is striking and beautiful, many of the gags are hilarious, the soundtrack is full of richly layered songs, and the narration of McDull as an adult is profound and somber. This is one of those rare movies to which parents can take their kids and both can enjoy for entirely different reasons.

The new one is playing here at Chicago's fest in a couple weeks. I had high hopes, and judging from your review, Peter, I don't think I'll be disappointed. McDull is my hero. smile.gif

J Robert

#9 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 26 September 2004 - 03:03 AM

Oh dear, I always hate to get people's hopes up -- better to have low hopes and be presently surprised than to have high hopes and see them dashed, I always say! (FWIW, I have never seen the original film, or the series that I believe preceded it.)

Caught three films today, sort of, but since I slept through much of the third one, it was more like two. First, A Hole in My Heart (Sweden, 98 min.) is the newest film from Lukas Moodysson, whose previous film Lilya 4-ever I found somewhat over-rated, as some of you may recall; it did take an interesting and compelling look at the human sex-slave trade that is apparently taking advantage of impoverished girls in eastern Europe, but as drama, the film was too melodramatic in some moments and too chintzy in others. Moodysson's newest film takes the worst aspects of that earlier film to some pretty harrowing extremes, and one colleague of mine immediately hailed it as one of the worst films he has ever seen. It concerns two men and a young woman making an amateur porn video in an apartment belonging to one of the men, while the man's shy, sulky, and oh-so-sensitive son hides in his room and listens to music. (How sensitive is this son? He talks about the individual "personalities" that earthworms have.) Moodysson mixes the central story with images of Barbie and Ken dolls copulating and destroying each other, as well as with graphic images of various forms of surgery (including labia reduction), and he mixes all these elements together with some pretty abrasive sounds and rapid-fire cuts. At one point, the amateur porn video takes a nasty turn when one guy puts on a ski mask and pulls out a baseball bat and almost rapes the woman, who promptly pulls the rest of her clothes back on and leaves. Since the camera, in following her outdoors, steps outside the apartment for the first time in this film and thus apparently signals a turning point in the narrative, I checked my watch, and saw that only 46 minutes had gone by. Dang, I thought, there are still 52 minutes to go. How will they finish this story? Well, it turns out the woman finds the outside world "boring", so she comes back to the apartment, and away they go at it again -- with the festivities culminating this time in such gross activities as one man vomiting into the woman's mouth while the other man holds it open. Ick. And every now and then, one of the men fantasizes about an innocent world in which he merely lies in the grass. Ah, there's that pretentious chintz again. Definitely a film to avoid. Only my stubborn refusal to leave ANY movie half-watched prevented me from joining the trickle of people who walked out of this one.

This was followed by Head in the Clouds (UK/Canada, 120 min.), the film that brought Charlize Theron and Stuart Townsend together and thus indirectly gave Townsend a front-row seat at the Oscars last March, when all the people he ALMOST got to work with on the Lord of the Rings trilogy went up to accept their awards. (Townsend was the original choice to play Aragorn, but they fired him a few days into shooting the film and replaced him with Viggo Mortensen.) The story is basically told from Townsend's point of view, but second billing goes to Penelope Cruz, who once again seems to be getting way more hype than her brief role deserves (remember how disproportionately the ad campaigns for Blow and All the Pretty Horses emphasized her presence in those films?). Theron plays a wildly promiscuous woman living in the '30s and '40s who, for some reason, feels a unique emotional attachment to Townsend, who let her hide in his Cambridge dorm room after she burst into it to hide from someone else, back in 1933. A few years later, he joins her in Paris, where she is living with Cruz as well as with some other man, and from there the story wends its way through the Spanish Civil War and the Nazi occupation of Paris, with a few sexual interludes sprinkled here and there. There are occasional references to the old debate between free will and fate, but they seem pretty much tacked onto the story; for the most part, this is a pretty insipid tale of lovers thrown together and torn apart, bla bla bla. FWIW, the film is written and directed by John Duigan, who has apparently directed quite a few other films, but the only ones I have seen are Romero (1989) and Sirens (1994), and what an odd pair THOSE two films make. (Well, the lead actors in both films do play men of the cloth...) And I do find myself wondering if any woman of that era, between '33 and '45, would have had the vocabulary to utter a line like, "I have doomed genes!" When, exactly, was the word "genes" coined, anyway? (The online Merriam-Webster does not say, but it does define the word "gene" to mean "a specific sequence of nucleotides in DNA or RNA..." and, of course, the structure of DNA was not discovered until 1953.)

After this, I went to see Primer (USA, 78 min.), but alas, this show did not start until almost 10pm and I was apparently feeling pretty tired and I kept dozing off for a few minutes here and there. The bits I caught seemed interesting, though -- something to do with a time machine, I think, that grows out of some project a couple of guys whip up in their garage. The write-up on this film says it's one of those films that needs to be figured out, and thus merits revisiting, and a friend of mine who was also at the screening told me she stayed awake for the whole thing and SHE needs to see it again to figure it out. So, I do hope to see it again sometime ... but either not so late, or when I'm not so tired. (FWIW, this film apparently won the top prize at Sundance this year.)

Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 26 September 2004 - 03:08 AM.

#10 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 11:12 PM

Thundering typhoons! With Tintin and Me (Denmark, 76 min.) Anders Hogsbro Ostergaard has crafted a fascinating and intriguing documentary about Hergé, the Belgian artist who invented Tintin (and Captain Haddock, and Professor Calculus, and the Thomson/Thompson duo, etc.) for a Catholic magazine in 1929 and wrote adventures for his youthful hero right up until the 1970s. I used to read these comics all the time when I was a kid -- and my dad seized the opportunity to educate me by explaining all the references the characters made to things like Sing Sing, etc. -- and watching this film made me want to go back and read them all over again. Scott McCloud notes in his book Understanding Comics that Hergé used a fascinating combination of iconic art (in the ultra-simple, ultra-cartoonish faces he gave his characters) and realistic art (in the ultra-detailed environments in which he put those characters), but I hadn't realized until I saw this film just HOW out of his way Hergé went to ensure that he was depicting authentic settings as accurately and realistically as possible. The film gets into some interesting political and biographical territory as it explores the influence that a certain right-wing Catholic minister had over Hergé's life, hiring him to create a cartoon in which a strapping young hero would defeat Communists around the world, etc., and even marrying Hergé off to his secretary; when Hergé left his wife for another woman many, many years later, he apparently felt a great deal of guilt over this, until he evidently set aside certain ideas about "sin" with which he had been raised. Hergé's association with this minister, and with a newspaper that the Nazis had assumed control of at the beginning of WW2, also led to him being arrested as a "collaborator" at the end of the war, even though he had written anti-fascist stories before the war (one story takes place in a country overseen by a dictator named Musstler -- half Mussolini, half Hitler) and had kept his Tintin adventures strictly neutral during the war (lots of buried-treasure stories!). One of the film's sadder subplots concerns a Chinese man whose advice on The Blue Lotus helped Hergé to move out of the stereotypical and propagandistic mode of the earliest Tintin stories; this man disappeared early on, and Hergé apparently spent his entire life looking for him, even going so far as to base an entire story, Tintin in Tibet, on the character's search for this Chinese man's comic-book namesake; and what's really kinda bittersweet is the way this man was ultimately found just a very, very short time before Hergé died, and the way the reunion of these two men was treated like a major media event -- you can't help wondering if Hergé had really meant as much to Tchang as the idealized quest for Tchang had meant to Hergé. Amazingly, Hergé, who was interviewed by the director (or by one of the interviewees, it wasn't clear to me which) at some length in the early '70s, professes to be happy with only two panels in his entire ouevre; they are good panels, to be sure, but man, there's a lot more than just those!

I caught that film on Monday night, between two Israeli films -- both of which, by some odd coincidence, concern single mothers with daughters who may or may not be getting the sorts of reputations that women generally don't like to get. On Sunday, I saw Campfire (Israel, 95 min.), which does a PERFECT job of capturing the look and mood of the early 1980s; the widowed mother in this story, name of Rachel (Michaela Eshet), is thinking of joining a new "Religious Zionist" settlement in the West Bank, and Tami (Hani Furstenberg), the younger of her two daughters attends a Jewish youth group, and the kind of music they sing, and the kind of activities they have, totally brings to mind the kinds of things I experienced at church functions way back then; the fact that my upbringing was Christian, not Jewish, doesn't make much of a difference here because there was a definite philo-Semitic tinge to the churches in which I was raised, and that was the era in which a lot of Christian choruses were starting to be written in the style of Hebrew praise songs. One OTHER thing this film does perfectly is capture the exuberance of what it feels like to be a 15-year-old in love, especially when the object of your affections seems to be returning your feelings. And I really liked the amusing blind dates that Rachel goes on. Those who have seen Broken Wings will recognize Maya Maron, who plays the sulky older daughter (if memory serves, this actress could be in danger of typecasting) who reacts to her mother's desire to move by sleeping with a young soldier. Tami's story in particular takes an unsettling turn once it reaches the titular campfire, but I think the film retains its humanity throughout, and while some might say the film ends on a slightly-too-neat note, I myself was grateful for the way the film affirmed, more strongly at the end than it did in the beginning, that, on some levels at least, happiness really is a choice.

Then, late Monday night, Or (My Treasure) (Israel/France, 100 min.), the Camera d'Or winner for best first feature at this year's Cannes. Ronit Elkabetz (the female lead in Late Marriage) stars as a Tel Aviv prostitute whose 17-year-old daughter, Or (Dana Ivgy), keeps badgering her to stop hooking and get a real job; meanwhile, Or works multiple jobs to bring in a little cash of her own. Alas, one can't leave the, um, profession all THAT easily, and it seems the neighbours believe either that all those men who go up to the apartment are there to see Or, or, when they are speaking to Or's mother, they just pretend that the men are going to see Or; either way, Or's efforts to strike up a romance with one of her neighbours are threatened by what his mother thinks is going on in that apartment, and the possibility that the mother's sins might be visited on her daughter somehow does hang over the story. A very different sort of film from Campfire, but very compelling, in its own way.

And what would a film festival be without a Kiarostami film? 10 on Ten (Iran, 83 min.) is a series of ten short lessons on digital filmmaking, delivered by Kiarostami as he drives around the outskirts of Tehran. Interestingly, while I have not seen that many of his films, I HAVE seen the two most crucial films that come up in his discussion here -- A Taste of Cherry, which ended with a bunch of digital behind-the-scenes making-of footage because the original ending, shot on film, was ruined in the lab; and, of course, Ten, the first film Kiarostami shot "deliberately" with digital cameras, and the film which provides the template for this one. I could quibble with a number of claims that Kiarostami makes -- e.g., digital cameras "allow artists to work alone again" (no casts? no crews?), digital cameras capture reality as it is (but what about all those kids acting up for the digital cameras in ABC Africa?), etc. -- but I loved his observation that putting a composer's music into one's film is "a bit like an arranged marriage -- you blindly go ahead with it." (I happened to see this film just after watching Empire of Dreams from the Star Wars DVD set, and I was struck, while watching that, to realize how very, very, very late in the filmmaking process John Williams came along -- can you imagine that film without that music? can you believe people made that film not having a clue that that music would carry the film along? And yet, nearly ALL films are made like this, of course; I can remember making a short silent film in university, and then asking a friend of mine who had a way with the piano to make something up for it on the spot -- and now, I can never think of my film WITHOUT that music.) I was also struck by the way he said he avoided word-for-word scripts because he didn't want his "non-actors" to become "real actors". "Real actors". Now THAT'S an interesting term. I also liked Kiarostami's occasional dry humour. Worth seeing, especially for fans of Ten and for those who like films that resemble the more thoughtful and philosophical DVD bonus features out there.

And then, after that, Male Fantasy (British Columbia, 78 min.), the film in which my sister has a bit part; my comments are in the thread devoted to my sister and/or this film.

And then, today -- no VIFF films at all! Alas, work got in the way. My first day of abstinence since the festival began six days ago. But no worries -- I'll be at it again tomorrow!

Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 29 September 2004 - 11:16 PM.

#11 Anders


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Posted 29 September 2004 - 11:29 PM

I really want to see that Tintin documentary. Any word on when it's hitting video or DVD?

#12 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 02 October 2004 - 01:45 AM

Anders wrote:
: I really want to see that Tintin documentary. Any word on when it's hitting video
: or DVD?

Sorry, no idea.

Now for more film blurbs ... the shadow of Kiarostami's Ten looms over a few other films at this year's festival. 20 Fingers (Iran, 72 min.) is written and directed by co-star Mania Akbari, who also starred in Kiarostami's film, and like that other film, this one revolves around moving vehicles -- but instead of setting every scene inside a car, as Kiarostami often does, Akbari sets the seven episodes of this film in a variety of settings, including a train, a tram, a boat, and the back of a motorbike; the one episode that does not take place in a vehicle takes place in a restaurant, with the characters' profiles set against a big window through which we get a sense that life continues to go by, out there. Every episode revolves around a traditionally-minded man and a progressively-minded woman, and the topics cover such hot buttons as abortion, adultery, polyamory, premarital sexual contact, and homosexuality -- the title itself refers to an "old wives' tale" to the effect that a woman is a whore if she has more than 20 sexual partners, but not if she has 20 or less, no more than one for each finger and toe. Rather interesting stuff, considering the culture that it comes from, and I cannot imagine how this ever got (or will ever get) past the Iranian censors.

Then, Clean (France/UK/Canada, 110 min.), the film for which Maggie Cheung nabbed the Best Actress prize at Cannes this year. Her performance, as a rock star's wife who spends a brief stint in jail for drug possession after her husband dies, and who then tries to kick her habit so that she can be reunited with her son (who is staying in Vancouver with her father-in-law, who is played by Nick Nolte), is okay, but nothing in this film particularly grabbed me. Don McKellar, who has a small role as Cheung's husband's manager, was the only actor in attendance at the screening, and he mentioned that he had tried to convince the director, Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep, Demonlover), to change one reference to the "Vancouver Zoo" to a reference to our aquarium, which has a higher profile among us natives -- people in the audience chuckled when one of the characters who supposedly lives in Vancouver says the zoo in Paris sucks compared to the zoo in Vancouver. FWIW, it seems the one-and-only scene that takes place in Vancouver was probably shot somewhere in Ontario.

Those were the films I caught last night. Today, I caught The Five Obstructions (Denmark, 90 min.), in which Lars von Trier professes his love for Jorgen Leth's 1967 short film The Perfect Human and gets Leth to remake the film five times, each time under a different set of "obstructions" designed to make the filmmaking process somewhat difficult. Von Trier's penchant for amusing (or self-amused) sadism is definitely on display here, though it runs out of steam fairly quickly. The FIRST film is made under four stipulations: (1) every cut must be less than 12 frames, (2) it must provide answers to the questions which were asked in the original film, (3) it must be filmed in Cuba (simply because Leth had never been there before), and (4) no sets must be built for the film (simply because Leth made the mistake of describing, for von Trier, the sort of set he would like to build). The second film similarly has four stipulations: (1) it must be filmed in the most "miserable" place on Earth, which is apparently a red light district in Bombay, (2) the setting must not be shown, (3) Leth himself must play the titular man, and (4) the film must focus on the meal that the man eats -- the point being to push Leth into an ethically uncomfortable place, eating a fine dinner while surrounded by utter poverty. Leth kind of compromises on this last point, eating his meal in front of a semi-transparent screen through which we can actually see people watching him, and von Trier is a bit ticked to see that stipulation #2 has not been followed as strictly as he would have liked. After this, the "obstructions" become rather slack. The third film, in fact, has only ONE stipulation: either it be filmed in Bombay the way von Trier wanted it to be, or it be filmed with "complete freedom" -- and, interestingly enough, Leth DOES seem to consider this an "obstruction" of sorts, since "complete freedom" means he has nothing to "hang onto" in terms of fulfilling von Trier's wishes. The fourth film has an even simpler stipulation, i.e. it has to be a cartoon; apparently this is perceived as an "obstruction" because neither Leth nor von Trier like cartoons, but as a cartoon buff myself, I found this segment really intriguing (and I think the animation was done by the same folks who worked on Waking Life -- it had that look, and the animator(s) were based in Austin, Texas, so...). And the fifth film is basically written by von Trier and edited by him from the existing footage -- all Leth has to do is read the narration that von Trier gives him. So, an interesting lark, but not exactly profound, and the "climax" to which it builds feels a little lame, especially considering the sheer outrageous absurdity with which the film begins.

#13 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 04 October 2004 - 08:32 PM

Just a couple quick updates. On Saturday, I caught The Love Crimes of Gillian Guess (British Columbia, 93 min.), which is a real oddball of a film, and it's difficult to say what sort of market the filmmakers have in mind for it. Gillian Guess was a juror in a local murder case who had an affair with the defendant, who was found innocent by that jury but was later sent to jail by another one; Guess herself was found guilty of obstruction of justice, or some such charge, and her case became one of our more notorious bits of tabloid fodder. The film is directed by Torontonian Bruce McDonald and co-stars Hugh Dillon, who earlier starred in McDonald's Hard Core Logo, so that might give it some appeal outside this province; and I do believe the Guess case caught the attention of the American media, so there might be some appeal there, too; and since the film stars Joely Collins, daughter of Phil, there might be some sort of cachet there; but the film itself is an odd, odd mix of things, weaving together fact and fiction, highly dramatic flashbacks and highly surreal elements including bloody animé (for the depiction of the murder for which Guess's lover stood accused) and Bollywood-style musical numbers (for Guess's first personal encounter with the defendant, who was Indo-Canadian). And as a Vancouver-based reporter who happened to cover another case at the courthouse (probably the Trinity Western University vs. BC College of Teachers case) while the Guess case was going on, I found it odd that the courthouse exteriors were staged not outside our present courthouse, but at the Vancouver Art Gallery, which used to be a courthouse but hasn't seen a trial in a few decades. Call it nit-picking if you like, but for a film that is so tied to this locality -- with maps showing the street corners where the crime took place, etc. -- I think stuff like that is worth mentioning.

Then, Silver City (USA, 120 min.). My comments are in the thread on that film.

Last night, I caught Up and Down (Czech Republic, 108 min.), the latest film from Jan Hrebejk, whose Divided We Fall a few years back was easily one of my favorite films of the year in which it was released here. His new film is once again concerned with questions of racism and parenthood, but where the earlier film was set during the Holocaust and softened by religious symbolism, the new film is set in the present day and ends on a somewhat more ambiguous and even troubling note. The characters include a professor who realizes he doesn't have long to live, so he wants to divorce his estranged wife and marry the woman he's been living with and raising a daughter with for the past 18+ years; the estranged wife herself, who has a marvellous collection of kitsch and who curiously insists on wearing a wig when her real hair seems to me to be much better; the son of the professor and his estranged wife, who has lived in Australia for years and returns to Prague for a tense meeting between the professor's two families; a woman desperate to be a mother who buys a "black" or gypsy baby on the black market; the husband of that woman, whose life has been so full of obstacles and weaknesses, including a penchant for violence, that he has rejected God in favour of a racist club of soccer fans; and the black marketeers themselves, who smuggle refugees across the border, hock various stolen items, and so on. I am struck by how the film manages to portray certain characters as the utterly pathetic people they are, yet still engenders a remarkable degree of sympathy for them; perhaps it is not the people so much as their situations that are pathetic, and which evoke our sympathy. One of the puzzling paradoxes of this film is that we really want the soccer fan to support his wife in raising their child -- it might even prompt him to turn his back on his racist friends! -- and yet we know that the child's true mother is desperately searching for him, and we want the child to return to HER arms, too. Some of the humour at the expense of the racists runs the risk of entrenching just a different set of racial stereotypes (e.g., never attack an Asian tourist, he just might know martial arts!), and some might also quibble with the portrayal of Australia as a land of racial harmony, but the film is generally a rather compassionate look at some of the ethnic and political tensions facing the Czech Republic today, and I liked it.

#14 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 05 October 2004 - 02:48 AM

Terkel in Trouble (Denmark, 78 min.) is one of the funnier offensive cartoons one is ever likely to see; the audience even applauded when the credits rolled. The film's obsession with profanity, gory violence and the sacred cows of political correctness (notably animal-rights types), and the insouciant tone with which it tosses off references to teen suicide or to poor third-world boys who work hard all day and then get sodomized by middle-aged tourists at night (the latter subject comes up in a song sung by one teacher to remind the rude little snots in his charge not to complain about their relatively cushy lives in Denmark), obviously brings South Park to mind; but the film has a three-dimensional CGI feel that evokes, I dunno, the likes of Jimmy Neutron, perhaps (it's certainly not trying to be in Pixar's league!). The basic story involves bullying versus friendship, and the clichéd way that the extremely nervous titular student loses his best friend when he tries to fit in with the school's bullies; another recurring element is the casual violence that befalls animals, whether a bird crashes into a church wall on the day of a wedding, or whether Terkel happens to sit down on a spider after we have seen it struggle, from the spider's own POV, to climb up a bench on the school playground. Some fantastic little musical numbers, too. I can't say I would recommend this film indiscriminately, but those who can tolerate the incorrectness of it all should be able to find it a laugh.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 05 October 2004 - 02:50 AM.

#15 Ron Reed

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Posted 06 October 2004 - 10:20 PM

Really liked FORGIVENESS, a South African film about a former policeman who's received amnesty from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission but still carries crushing guilt for what he did. I can't imagine it will get much distribution, which is a crime: it is very strong, and would appeal to many on this board.

If I can get round to writing up anything substantial on the film, I'll post a thread.

#16 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 08 October 2004 - 06:08 PM

Good grief, what happened to me this last week. I saw only one film Sunday and Monday, then nothing Tuesday and Wednesday, then one film yesterday, then nothing today. And now the festival is over. Chalk it up to a combination of work, weather, wedding plans, and a more general sort of malaise caused partly by the fact that this was one of the less interesting VIFFs for me.

Anyway, the one film I managed to catch in the festival's last four days was George W. Bush: Faith in the White House, and my comments on it are in that thread.