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FILMS from the 2003 VIFF


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#1 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 05:54 PM

This post 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 attended the VIFF press conference this morning and spotted a few films in the brochure they handed out that sounded interesting, from a faith-based point of view. One of them stars an actress who has appeared in a few productions at Ron Reed's theatre here in Vancouver, and in fact she was, if I'm not mistaken, the first actor to win a Jessie Award (the local theatre awards) for a production at Ron's theatre; I phoned Ron after the press conference and he told me that the film in which she stars is actually inspired by events in the lives of her relatives.

So, without further ado, here are the films that grabbed my eye; no doubt more will do so as the festival approaches.
See Grace Fly (Canada, 91 min.)
A mother's funeral brings friends and family together in an engaging exploration of faith and love. This tragic, yet hopeful, character-driven drama follows Gina Chiarelli's passionate portrayal of Grace, a schizophrenic who talks to God, as she hurriedly spreads the word of his Second Coming.

James' Journey to Jerusalem (Israel, 90 min.)
Ra'anan Alexandrowicz's (The Inner Tour, VIFF 02) first dramatic feature is an ironic fable confronting the moral bankruptcy of a once-idealistic Israeli society. James is a devout, optimistic Christian en route from Africa to Zion who is bought out of jail to work illegally. Soon, though, he turns the table on his new rapacious boss...

Kiss of Life (Great Britain / France, 86 min.)
Award-winning shorts director Emily Young's soulful feature debut evokes Kieslowski in the way it explores ideas of faith, hope and the randomness of human experience through the tale of a lonely housewife and mother endowed with a chance to make things right -- after she is killed in a car accident.

The Only Sons (China, 102 min.)
Gan Xiao'er directs, writes and stars in the first underground feature to emerge from Guangdong Province in the south of China. An impoverished family in an isolated village is buffeted by advice from a Christian missioanry and a Communist. Dragons & Tigers Award Nominee.

To Kill a King (Great Britain, 102 min.)
Tim Roth is Oliver Cromwell, Dougray Scott is Sir Thomas Fairfax, Olivia Williams is his wife Lady Anne Fairfax and Rupert Everett is King Charles I in Mike Barker's sumptuous 17th century period piece about love, loyalty, betrayal and political intrigue during the English Civil Wars.
And that's in addition to the new films by Alexander Sokurov, Errol Morris and so on that are must-sees regardless of their content, religious or otherwise. Ron has already told me a fair bit about See Grace Fly; does anyone here know anything about the others?

#2 MattPage

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Posted 04 September 2003 - 02:19 AM

Hi Peter,

The Name "Kiss of Life" rings a bell, but I haven't seen it nor can I remember it.

I have seen To Kill a King however. I've long been a fan of the English Civil war period (historically & dramatically, not the actual thing) since By the sword divided one of those historical dramas that the BBC do so well and then never repeat.

Anyway...The film was a bit of a disappointment. I think ultimately it lacked heart. It looked quite good, but decided to leave out most of the action in favour of supposedly weighty dialogue - which it didn't deliver on. The acting was just going through the motions in places & a bit cliche. It felt a bit like watching that Joan of Arc film (the Mila Jovitch one) which so desperately wanted to be Braveheart, but just wasn't.

Its certainly not without merit, and perhaps I'm being overharsh. It remains memorable for one of the only times (if not the only time) I have ever been to a cinema on my own - least of all on a beautiful summer afternoon. Perhaps it was these factors which meant I needed it to be a really good film, and when it was only average, it disappointed more than if I'd been in a big group who just said "its pouring it down - lets go to the cinema"

So yeah. Two days later I saw Solaris (1972) what else can I say.

Matt

#3 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 04 September 2003 - 07:40 PM

Thanks for the comments, Matt.

FWIW, this morning I caught The Peter Sellers Story -- As He Filmed It (Great Britain, 88 min.), which is condensed from an earlier BBC series about Sellers. It consists virtually entirely of home movies that Sellers shot between 1948 and 1976, and which were undiscovered until 1995 or so. The original series must have been produced a few years ago, since some of the audio-only interview clips are with now-dead people like Stanley Kubrick and George Harrison. There's a fair bit of humour in this film, but it's also very sad, and I come away from it marvelling that someone could be so obsessed with spiritualism and the continuation of personalities (e.g. his mother's) beyond the grave, when he himself asserted that he did not have much of an identity of his own. His seems to have been an empty soul, desperate for something that might fill it -- and one begins to suspect that even the many, many home movies that he made were a way of trying to stay 'on', as a performer.

#4 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 09 September 2003 - 10:02 AM

I've only managed to catch one other press screening since last week, but it was an interesting one. Ford Transit (Palestine / Netherlands, 81 min.) is a documentary shot almost entirely inside one of the Ford vans that have become the vehicle of choice for what seems like a loose public-transit network in Palestine. The filmmakers interview a variety of passengers, and you suspect that some of them, especially the other filmmakers and government figures, were invited to be part of the film and did not just wander onto the bus -- but then there is a scene in which a 'secretary of labour' gets out of the bus at one of the roadblocks and has some difficulty explaining to the soldiers that he wants to go to Ramallah because, well, he LIVES in Ramallah. So maybe that guy WAS just going home that day. There's also a hilarious sequence in which two guys have a heated argument while there are three or four other men on the bus, but then they suddenly turn silent when an attractive young woman gets on board, and then after she gets off some time later, the two men go right back to fighting again (one of them even rising from his seat to challenge the other); they won't argue in front of a woman, but they WILL argue in front of a filmmaker (whose film will be seen by men and women alike). In another scene, a Canadian girl working on her Ph.D. talks about how people back in Canada are so boring and self-absorbed, and how she has come to Palestine because people here are doing something "useful"; the camera zeroes in on a Palestinian passenger who ignores her by polishing his shoe. The main character here is Rajai, the driver, who seems like a pretty breezy character, a confident artful dodger who shows you how easy it is to smuggle contraband CDs past the roadblocks -- all you have to do is drive down the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic, and the guards will think you're in a hurry and let you go! -- but near the end, we see shocking evidence of the casual brutality that even he is subject to. Definitely worth seeing, if you get the chance. Oh, and I liked its use of music, too.

#5 M. Leary

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Posted 09 September 2003 - 10:08 AM

Thanks for the heads up on this one! Do you know if it has been picked up for broader distribution or should I look for it at the Chicago I F F?

#6 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 10 September 2003 - 12:59 AM

Sorry, (M)Leary, I have no idea what the film's distribution is like. All I know is it's playing the festival here in a few weeks.

In other news, I borrowed two videos from the VIFF office today. Video definitely isn't the ideal medium for previewing these films, especially not when you live in a third-floor apartment on a noisy street like I do, but, well, whatchagonnado.

The first film I watched was James' Journey to Jerusalem (Israel, 90 min.), which is about a devout Christian who plans to become a pastor in his village back in Africa but first he goes on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land; he is enthusiastic when he meets his first "Hebrew", but the jaded immigration officer jails him on arrival, and he is bailed out by a Jewish man who gets immigrants like him to work odd jobs for various clients. The film is eyecatching if only because, when one thinks of Israeli culture, one tends not to think of black African immigrants, and if one does, one tends to think of JEWISH black African immigrants (like the so-called 'Falasha' Jews) and not of Christian ones; the film is also quite earcatching, since the dialogue slips back and forth between English and Hebrew, both of which are pronounced in a variety of accents (ALL of the dialogue was subtitled on the preview tape). (Re: the national and religious details, I can't recall if the film ever specified what country James is from or what denomination he attends while in Israel, but James does mention that he speaks Zulu, and the end credits refer to South African casting agents and Assemblies of God churches that helped with the film.) But having said all that, there wasn't a whole lot to latch onto here. The one word that everybody uses in this film is "frayer" (pronounced "friar"), which apparently means something like "chump" -- a "frayer" is a person who lets himself be exploited by other people, and what James learns very quickly is that he has to find a way to exploit others for his benefit instead of allowing himself to become the exploited one; and with his success as an exploiter, of course, comes money and material things, blablabla. There could have been an interesting story in this, but I don't think this film is it. It especially began to lose me when it introduced a subplot revolving around the fact that James rolls nothing but double-sixes every time he rolls a pair of dice; not only is this a hokey device, but the film expects us to believe that people would allow themselves to be swindled by a guy who never rolls ANYTHING but that.

The other film was To Kill a King (Great Britain, 102 min.), which was very much a modern take on the whole Cromwell thing -- lots of restless camerawork (people are always walking in a huff down corridors or through doorways, the cameras trailing behind their shoulders) and stirring orchestrations. I don't know much about the history of these events, but I am curious to know just how much of the private-life stuff has a historical basis -- the film is almost a love triangle, as Lord Fairfax (Dougray Scott) is torn between his sympathetic-to-the-royals wife (Olivia Williams) and his zealously anti-royal former lieutenant Cromwell (Tim Roth). (No, there's no "love" stuff between Fairfax and Cromwell -- I just don't know what other sort of "triangle" there is that I could compare this to.) The fact that the film frames the events surrounding the rise of Cromwell and the execution of King Charles I (Rupert Everett) in this manner causes the film to waver between grand tragedy (friends may have to betray one another, a former follower must face his mentor, etc.) and, well, dull banality ("To be true to myself, I had to let him down"). I mean, is that what this was all about? one guy being true to himself? An entire nation -- nay, an empire -- hangs in the balance, and the most important thing is how it affects the relationships between these three people? Um, okay. I have rented the 1970 film Cromwell for comparison's sake, but since I have also recently watched an A&E documentary on Nicholas & Alexandra and a movie about Martin Luther, I think I may have had my fill for now of ideological zealots taking up arms against self-important authority figures who claim to be divinely appointed. I'll get around to it eventually, though. (I note that the video box for the 1970 film promises big battle scenes -- in a G-rated movie!? -- whereas To Kill a King had very little of that; in its focus on people running around and making declarations, it is almost more of a TV-movie.)

Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 08 June 2005 - 10:45 AM.


#7 MattPage

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Posted 10 September 2003 - 02:54 AM

: lots of restless camerawork (people are always walking in a huff down corridors or through doorways, the cameras trailing behind their shoulders) and stirring orchestrations.

Yeah - it was all a bit trying too hard and cliched?


: I don't know much about the history of these events, but I am curious to know just how much of the private-life stuff has a historical basis


: -- the film is almost a love triangle, as Lord Fairfax (Dougray Scott) is torn between his sympathetic-to-the-royals wife (Olivia Williams) and his zealously anti-royal former lieutenant Cromwell (Tim Roth).

That describes it well


The fact that the film frames the events surrounding the rise of Cromwell and the execution of King Charles I (Rupert Everett) in this manner causes the film to waver between grand tragedy (friends may have to betray one another, a former follower must face his mentor, etc.) and, well, dull banality ("To be true to myself, I had to let him down"). I mean, is that what this was all about? one guy being true to himself? An entire nation -- nay, an empire -- hangs in the balance, and the most important thing is how it affects the relationships between these three people? Um, okay.



Do you think that's why its so lame. I kind of like the idea of seeing how something can be driven or halted by the personal relationships behind the screen, and in some ways found some of this interesting. But the interest just wore off pretty quickly


: I have rented the 1970 film Cromwell for comparison's sake,

If I have ever seen this is was as a boy. I do remember liking this period of history, and the BBC's "By the Sword Divided" series


: (I note that the video box for the 1970 film promises big battle scenes -- in a G-rated movie!?

Yeah sure - aren't all those Roman / biblical epics we love all big battle scenes? Do they not get a G over there cos there usually a PG (Ben HUr, Spartacus) or a U(The Robe, Fall of the Roman Empire) over here.


: -- whereas To Kill a King had very little of that; in its focus on people running around and making declarations, it is almost more of a TV-movie.)

Nod, but somehow you don't really care much about them in the end. Disappointing.

Matt

#8 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 14 September 2003 - 02:59 AM

MattPage wrote:

: : I note that the video box for the 1970 film promises big battle scenes --
: : in a G-rated movie!?
:
: Yeah sure - aren't all those Roman / biblical epics we love all big battle
: scenes? Do they not get a G over there cos there usually a PG (Ben HUr,
: Spartacus) or a U(The Robe, Fall of the Roman Empire) over here.

Well, those particular films were all produced before the American ratings system was set up, but in re-issues, Ben Hur was rated G and Spartacus was rated PG-13 -- the other two have apparently not been rated, according to filmratings.com.

Anyway, I just finished watching Cromwell (or, as I like to call it, Albus Dumbledore Vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi), and it made for a very interesting contrast to To Kill a King -- it's much more cinematic (wide landscape shots, big battle scenes), much more political (to the point where Richard Harris's final speeches seem to be delivered directly to the audience), and much, much heavier on the theological aspects of the Civil War and the events that followed; in addition, Lord Fairfax is a very minor character with just a few lines here and there, and while the film does emphasize the personal lives of Cromwell and King Charles I, it does so in order to underscore the degree to which they sacrificed those lives for what they believed to be the good of the nation; there is none of this "to be true to myself" crap. Some of the lines spoken by Alec Guinness at the trial of Charles I sounded exactly like Rupert Everett's lines in the other film, which leads me to think that both films were working from transcripts of that trial. However, there are significant differences, too; IIRC, the Tim Roth film shows the death warrant for Charles I being signed BEFORE the trial, which effectively makes a mockery of the hearing before the court, whereas the Richard Harris film very clearly shows the death warrant being signed afterwards (and both films make a point of noting Fairfax's refusal to sign the death warrant). Timothy Dalton has a minor role as a relative of the king's who brings in some foreign troops, and it was weird to see Alec Guinness kiss a woman, in the scene where Charles I bids farewell to his queen; it occurred to me as I saw that scene that I don't think I have ever seen Guinness in anything but essentially sexless roles until now (Bridge on the River Kwai, The Lavender Hill Mob, Lawrence of Arabia, Little Lord Fauntleroy, Doctor Zhivago, A Passage to India, Star Wars -- there's no romance or physical intimacy for him in ANY of these films, at least not that I can recall). It was also fascinating to see Charles I, who was head of the Anglican Church but was also married to a Catholic wife, waffle on the question of whether he should seek help among Catholic countries, given that the actor who played him was a Catholic in real life. All in all, an interesting and complex film, which ends on a somewhat triumphant note to the effect that England at last had become a democracy of sorts, yet respects the awkward positions in which various people found themselves and acknowledges that the events which made that democracy possible were prompted by no small degree of mutual misunderstandings, stubborn obstinacies and bitter ironies.

But none of that has anything to do with the film festival, per se. To THAT end, I caught a couple other films on video, both of which concern schizophrenia, oddly enough. (And between these videos, I took a break by watching the first episode in the new Simpsons boxed set ... and it was the episode in which Homer is sent to a psychiatric ward. The world is full of strange coincidences.) People Say I'm Crazy (USA, 84 min.) is billed as possibly the first film about schizophrenia to be directed by someone who suffers from that disease, and while it's a bit rough around the edges, I found it pretty affecting, to hear him talk about how the most trivial things can send him into fits of paranoid speculation, and how the worst part of his illness is the violent fantasies that sometimes come unbidden to his mind. Interestingly, the director is also an artist who makes really beautiful and intricate woodcuts, and he talks about how his art is part of a "search for God" (looking at his art, he says, "How do you say, 'This is enigmatic'? 'This is full of wonder, full of awe'?"), and his father, who apparently lives further away from him than any other member of his family, is an Episcopalian minister.

The other schizo-themed movie is See Grace Fly (Canada, 91 min.), which stars local actress Gina Chiarelli and is, according to our very own Ron, based on (or perhaps I should say inspired by) an incident involving Gina's father and aunt. It's about a missionary who comes back from Africa for his mother's funeral and discovers that his sister is wandering the streets telling people about the Second Coming; she seems to know things without being told about them, so we, the viewers, may be inclined to take her prediction more seriously than we would otherwise. I'm not sure what else to say about the film yet, since I'm still chewing on it and I'm hoping to interview Gina for the local Christian paper, but I have to say that projects like these do make me nervous -- partly because the Christian elements feel a little stilted, like the producers wanted to raise certain issues but were afraid to do so in a realistic manner for fear of offending the non-Christian audience, but also partly because there are elements that could seriously raise the hackles of Christian audience members and could almost be seen as a bid on the part of some Christian artists to be taken seriously (I am thinking here particularly of how the missionary's, um, love life is handled). I say this, BTW, knowing nothing about the beliefs of the people involved in this film -- but these thoughts do come to mind partly because I see a few people involved in this film who are also involved in Ron's theatre, so I suspect that at least SOME of the people involved have some sort of Christian bent themselves. Oh well, more stuff to talk about if and when I get the interview! (Odd little trivia note: Tom Scholte, the guy who plays the priest in this film, was in Arts One at UBC with me 15 years ago, and he dropped out of my Religious Studies 100 class after a few weeks because the teacher -- who had done a guest lecture at my Pentecostal high school a couple years before -- didn't seem very 'spiritual' to him. He has since starred in all three of local indie auteur Bruce Sweeney's feature films (Live Bait, Dirty and Last Wedding; the latter two also co-starred Benjamin Ratner, a great local actor who also stars in See Grace Fly).)

#9 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 14 September 2003 - 04:34 AM

Further thoughts on the Cromwell films. One thing I didn't mention here is that the 2003 film begins and ends with Fairfax looking at the corpse of Cromwell, which Charles II has had exhumed and hung from a gallows, whereas the 1970 film ends with Cromwell's tomb (or with Cromwell himself lying in state -- I couldn't tell) and it zooms in on a plaque that lists his titles and concludes by saying, "Christ, Not Man, Is King". The 2003 film begins with Fairfax saying that crowns corrupt ALL who wear them, and it suggests that Cromwell fell for the glory that comes with power and, by becoming "Lord Protector of England", became just a substitute king; yet the 1970 film asserts that Cromwell TURNED DOWN the opportunity to become king when it was offered to him, and scorned it in doing so, but reluctantly made himself "Lord Protector of England" when it became apparent that Parliament was failing to do its duty as he envisioned it; the 1970 film concludes with a bit of narration which tells us that Charles II ended up restoring the monarchy, but England was "never to be the same again", so we are left with the impression that Cromwell served a vital and useful purpose. (The 2003 film, OTOH, ends with a note to the effect that Cromwell changed the course of European history, BUT it would be another 130 years or so until the French killed THEIR king, almost as though this were a desirable goal.) So that's another interesting contrast between the two films, I think -- the 2003 suggests that Cromwell's efforts were futile, certainly within the lifetime of those who knew him at any rate, whereas the 1970 film suggests that Cromwell's efforts were quite successful, at least insofar as his efforts were pivotal in changing the nature and direction of English politics.

FWIW, before these films, I think my only exposure to the English Civil War was what I saw in an old 1970s TV adaptation of Lorna Doone and what I heard in Monty Python's song 'Oliver Cromwell' (which was set to a tune by Chopin!).

#10 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 18 September 2003 - 09:06 PM

Overdue for an update. And for those who live in the Vancouver (or even Seattle?) area or were otherwise thinking of being in the vicinity during the festival, I am currently planning my moviegoing schedule here. I'm revising it constantly, but if you want to get a sense of where and when to catch me between September 25 and October 10, that's the best way to find out.

Anyway, on to other films. Birdman Tale (Indonesia, 90 min.) is an interesting film about sexual curiosity, political unrest, and spiritual yearning that is dedicated to Theys Eluay, a man who is described in the program as a nonviolent independence-movement leader who died after being taken into military custody two years ago. The film, which was actually shot and edited on video, is set in the mostly Christian province of Papua, and the script frequently cites portions of the Song of Songs, though there are elements of local customs and traditions, too -- among other things, there is the title, which refers to a man who teaches people how to dance wearing a sort of bird outfit (they call it "cassowary dance"), and who goes into hiding, wearing this outfit almost as a sort of camouflage in the forest, after Eluay is arrested. Meanwhile, his teenaged son has developed an obsession with a woman who left her rosary behind in church, and who is often seen crying (I was especially touched by the way she compares herself to Mary Magdalene while making her confession, and says, "Someone has taken away my God, and I don't know where he is now"). This is the sort of film you watch more to learn about another culture than to experience a work of art, but I liked it, overall.

Then came Los Angeles Plays Itself (USA, 169 min.), an essay on how Hollywood has portrayed the city that it sort-of calls home. I'm a big sucker for any film that consists almost entirely of clips from other movies, and it was fascinating to see the same architecture used over and over again across the decades (the interior of one large and spacious building has appeared in the 1950s B-movie classic D.O.A., Blade Runner, the 1990s Jack Nicholson film Wolf, and several others). I also appreciated the deeper social, historical and philosophical elements that director Thom Anderson explored, and his sardonic delivery certainly keeps things entertaining. But I find some of his theories rather dubious. Does anyone really believe that Los Angeles has an "inferiority complex" about itself just because the people who live there refer to it as "L.A." and not "Los Angeles"? (The film's very title, in fact, is a variation on the gay porn film L.A. Plays Itself.) Nearly everyone I know calls my home province "B.C." and not "British Columbia", and we're quite proud of the place. His occasional use of phrases like "incremental genocide" also sounds too politically charged to me, too. And I don't think Los Angeles itself is being particularly slighted when filmmakers get creative with the city's geography during car chases and the like -- the same could be said of just about ANY city that has appeared in a film. (I remember a friend of mine in New York saying how much fun it was to watch Darren Aronofsky's Pi and see how a chase that began in one train station continued in another, etc.) But I greatly value the way Anderson shows how films like Chinatown, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and L.A. Confidential have fed a cynical, complacent mentality by portraying the history of Los Angeles as a history of conspiracies, when in fact many of the historical incidents depicted or alluded to in these films -- the building of dams and freeways, etc. -- were all done in the open, often as the result of a public vote after politicians had begun smearing each other in order to tip popular sentiment one way or the other. Some of Anderson's arguments regarding modernist architecture, and the way these buildings were designed with utopian ideals in mind but are frequently depicted as dens of evil, are also intriguing, even if I don't share his modernism.

And then, today, Bus 174 (Brazil, 133 min.). Yowzers. What a devastating double-bill with City of God this would make. It's primarily about a hostage incident that took place on a bus in Rio three years ago, though the filmmakers use this incident as a launching pad for exploring some of the bigger social problems in that city -- the crowded prisons, the terrible treatment of street orphans, and especially the woefully incompetent police (believe it or not, becoming a police officer in Rio is described in this film as the sort of job one gets if one cannot get any other job, and to show just how low a priority the police force is over there, the cops in this case didn't even have any radios -- they had to communicate using HAND SIGNALS, even though the hostage-taker could see everything they were doing through the window). I got tired of the hostage-taker's bragging very quickly (the phrase "all talk, no action" went through my mind a few times), and I thought the police certainly COULD have acted a lot sooner (and more effectively) than they did by taking him out fairly early (perhaps during one of those episodes in which he stuck his arm out a window and waved his gun around, thus temporarily putting his hostages out of danger), but by the end, the film had forced me to look at the hostage-taker in a different light -- and that's all I'll say about that. Oh, and one other thing: You know how they say that, in the movies, a person is not really dead if you don't see that person's body? Well, it turns out it works that way in real life, too.

#11 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 20 September 2003 - 03:37 AM

Caught two more films today. The Only Sons (China, 102 min.) is described in the program as an "underground" film, or video, and I can certainly see why -- it paints a rather unflattering portrayal of life under Communist rule. The film's Chinese title apparently translates more accurately as "Beautiful Scenery", whereas the English title, I think, serves to underscore the film's religious element; one of the minor characters is a preacher who is heard giving short sermons on Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac and God's sacrifice of Jesus, and the main character, a man named Ah Shui, happens to be considering selling his soon-to-be-born son on the black market in order to raise some money with which he can (1) bail his younger brother out of jail and (2) finance his sister's high-school education. Alas, his efforts -- which are heavily influenced by a local Communist teacher who makes a big show of the favours he can do for people -- are all destined to come to naught, and the end result is about as tragic and depressing as a Thomas Hardy novel. The question for me is how religion fits into all this. The film begins and ends with the minister's boat sailing down the river and 'Amazing Grace' playing on the soundtrack, and I wonder if we are supposed to read this as bitter irony or as a sign that there is something deeper going on here; at the moment, I am inclined to think irony is the likelier explanation, given that what little we see of the minister brings to mind the old phrase 'so heavenly minded he's no earthly good' -- he prays for people's souls but shows little interest in the lives they live in the here and now. There is also the fact that the minister uses the story of Abraham and the ram to show how God always gives us what we need, and that does NOT seem to be what happens in the life of the protagonist here.

Then they showed The Saddest Music in the World (Canada, 100 min.), and I haven't got a clue what to say about it -- the only other Guy Maddin films I have seen to date are five- or seven-minute short films, and while I am impressed with his bizarre and feverish use of silent-cinema techniques, I had never seen him pursue that vision at feature length before. The film is very surreal, very funny, and more than a little melodramatic; it takes place in Winnipeg in 1933, at the height of the Great Depression and just before the Americans repealed Prohibition, and it concerns a music contest held by a beer baroness (Isabella Rosselini) who, upon hearing that Winnipeg is the 'world capital of sorrow', wants to see which nation has the saddest music. Tellingly, the American team consists of people from other nations who have been bribed into joining the American team by its Canadian-expat director (Mark McKinney of Kids in the Hall and Saturday Night Live fame) -- there isn't a single genuine American in the bunch. The dialogue here is just hilarious, in a twisted kind of way, and the imagery is seriously strange; I don't think I shall ever forget the artificial legs made of glass and filled with beer. Oh, and David Fox, the guy who plays McKinney's father, kept reminding me of a cross between Christopher Plummer and Charlton Heston. I think I really have to see Maddin's other films now.

#12 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 26 September 2003 - 12:01 PM

I was too busy with work and stuff to catch any more films in advance, so I didn't get around to seeing any more of them until the festival began yesterday. And I started with Day of the Wacko (Poland, 95 min.), a black comedy about a bitter, divorced, middle-aged poet (or is he only a wanna-be who TEACHES poetry?) who is profoundly annoyed by everyone and everything. His morning is a series of petty, obsessive rituals, and despite being something of a 'neat freak' (each time he wipes his butt, he says he uses up to half a roll of toilet paper), he also disdains hygiene if it costs him money (when he spills some corn flakes on the floor, he picks them up one by one, blows on them, and puts them back in the bag; he even washes his feet in the water that he has just used to wash his ass). He reads junk flyers out of respect for the trees that were felled to print them. He complains about his gay and racist neighbours. He and his ex-wife trade creative insults in the presence of their son. And somehow this all reflects on Poland. In one of the many darkly satirical TV clips, we see politicians argue over the Polish flag until it rips apart and bleeds -- does this guy pine for the old one-party state? I would hope not -- not if he's going to link the fate of the Poles to the crappy conditions in the toilets on the trains, conditions that I suspect would go back to the Communist era. (I lived in Poland for a year when I was six, and my family's photo album from that era includes side-by-side comparisons of the bathrooms and kitchens etc. in Polish and West German homes.) Dogs provide a recurring motif in this film -- the protagonist abuses them and is abused by them, and he sometimes acts like one too, getting revenge against one woman whose dog craps under his window by running over to her window and crapping under it himself, and fantasizing about crawling up to his dream lover and sniffing her from behind. Things get increasingly surreal near the end, during his visit to a beach. And hovering over all this craziness is the music of Chopin, providing an ever-elusive and unattainable promise of psychological peace.

Then came Distant (Uzak) (Turkey, 110 min.), which won the Grand Jury prize at Cannes as well as an acting award that was shared by the two leads. Once again, a film about a jaded, divorced, middle-aged artist of sorts who fills his life with little routines, only this time he's a photographer who has 'sold out' and given up his artistic aspirations in favour of making a buck; he now shoots pictures of ceramic tiles, presumably for a catalogue or something. And then his life is interrupted when a relative of his comes to town looking for work. The film is very explicitly going for a Tarkovsky-esque feel -- the characters talk about Tarkovsky and I think we even see Stalker on the TV at one point (though when the relative goes to bed, the photographer quietly replaces the film with a porno; and when the relative comes back into the living room, the photographer quickly switches to another program, then surfs the channels in a vain attempt to bore his relative into going away). And since the film is directed by a photographer, some of the images are very, very striking, like the shipwreck in the snow. I would say I 'appreciated' this film more than I 'liked' it, but like Tarkovsky's films, this is probably not the sort of thing you can 'get' on the first viewing.

And then, Prisoner of Paradise (Canada/USA, 93 min.), an Oscar-nominated documentary which covers the life and career of Kurt Gerron, a very popular actor and director in 1920s Berlin who worked with the likes of Peter Lorre and Marlene Dietrich but whose career came to an end under the Nazis because he was Jewish; nowadays, no one in Germany has heard of him. Like other "Jews who would be missed" -- academics, scientists, artists -- Gerron was sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where regular concert and cabaret nights were staged for German officers and for Jews who were about to be "resettled" (as one former inmate says, "Every concert, every cabaret, was an hour and a half of freedom"); an inspector for the International Red Cross even wrote a glowing report of the excellent conditions in which the Jews were supposedly living. Emboldened by their ability to fool the Red Cross, the Nazis then decided to make a film that would convince the world that these Jews were living in joyful luxury -- and they told Gerron he had to direct it. Given a choice between directing his first film in several years and being killed for resisting his orders, Gerron made the film -- for this, he was despised as a traitor by some of his fellow inmates, but he was still sent to Auschwitz in the end. (Co-director Malcolm Clarke said in the Q&A afterwards that he actually found Gerron's bunkmate -- a man who stopped talking to Gerron as soon as Gerron took the job -- and was ready to interview him, but the bunkmate backed out at the last minute, crying and saying, "I can't say anything bad about Kurt Gerron, because he went to the gas chamber, and I still live.") Gerron made his film after the Allies had already landed in Normandy, and it's not clear whether anyone ever got to see the entire film (though portions of it were, ironically, used in German propaganda films, allegedly showing how good the Jews had it while Aryans were dying on the front -- a fact that Clarke brought up in the Q&A but is not in the film), so this probably isn't the most essential story that could be told about the Holocaust. But it is remarkable to hear that the filmmakers had a lot of difficulty finding funding for this film because no one wanted to produce a movie about a 'traitor'. For that reason alone, I think this film does need to be seen -- there is a story here that many would prefer to deny or suppress.

#13 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 26 September 2003 - 03:38 PM

And now, this morning, Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (Denmark / Scotland, 106 min.). If anyone can make a light comedy about a suicidal and amusingly anti-social bloke and his terminally ill brother, and about the efforts of both of these characters to try to find love and friendship and a sense of family, then I guess Lone Scherfig, director of Italian for Beginners, is the one to do it. Even more interesting is the fact that this is yet another Scottish film produced by a Dane, kind of like Breaking the Waves (and FWIW, Lars von Trier is listed in Wilbur's credits as a "script consultant"). Wilbur is not a Dogme film, but given the interest in that group that exists on this board, I would not be at all surprised if Wilbur got its own thread soon; for now, suffice to say that I thought the film was okay, but it had that everything-ties-up-neatly-in-the-end quality that Italian had, and my experience of the film was hampered somewhat by the way it seemed to lurch ahead on a couple of plot points, almost as though transitional scenes had gone missing somewhere. And while I love black comedy as much as the next person, and possibly more so, I am not so sure what to make of the LIGHT approach that films like this take to life-and-death matters. Scherfig does give the more serious moments their due (a scene by the bathtub comes to mind), but I don't think she really conveys the DREAD of living with someone who is suicidal, except to make us laugh at the way the other brother hides his knives and so forth.

#14 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 30 September 2003 - 02:00 PM

Yikes, I'm falling behind. I had to work Saturday, but after that I caught two films. The Housekeeper (France, 86 min.) stars Jean-Pierre Bacri (who I think I recognize from The Taste of Others) as a grumpy sound engineer whose wife has left him, so he hires a girl half his age to tidy up the house. Before long, the girl says her boyfriend is kicking her out and she needs a place to stay, so she moves in, supposedly temporarily, and then, of course, she hasn't stayed in Bacri's house for long before the two of them start sleeping together. (The wife, who appears in just one scene, is played by Catherine Breillat, the notorious director of Romance and Fat Girl! I recognized her the instant Bacri tore her picture off the wall and ripped it in two -- it's a publicity photo. The housekeeper, meanwhile, is played by the star of Rosetta, and there were times when I thought this film could have been called Emilie Dequenne's Breasts.) There is very little about this film that one could call original or that would make it a must-see, but I liked the characters and I felt both sympathy and amusement as the way the girl managed to wrap the man around her finger. The man's old friend is also quite a character -- he paints portraits of chickens before cooking them for dinner!

After that, A Problem with Fear... or Laurie's Anxiety Confronting the Escalator (Alberta/Quebec, 94 min.), Gary Burns's follow-up to the similarly mall-bound, and in my opinion superior, waydowntown. Paulo Costanzo plays a guy who has phobias about everything, and it seems his phobias are beginning to come true whenever he thinks about them -- on the news, they call it a 'Fear Storm'! The film is a cute satire on the exploitation of fear by corporations and the media, and I liked the eccentric girlfriend Dot, played by Emily Hampshire -- there is something almost Hal Hartley about this film -- but I think it might have worked better as a short film, possibly even a quirky Twilight Zone episode.

Then, Sunday. First, The Weather Underground (USA, 93 min.), a riveting documentary on the radical student movement that sought to bring down the American government through terrorism in the 1970s (beginning with a two-day riot in Chicago in October 1969). Festivals like this often feature documentaries that lionize radical left-wing movements, no matter how mayhemic they get, so it was fascinating to see a film in which the participants look at their actions a few decades later and try to bring some kind of perspective to what they did. The film, directed by Bill Siegel and Sam Green (the latter of whom also made a documentary about the original 'bannerman'), skilfully plumbs the political tensions both in the world at large and within the progressive movements of that time, and it balances the personal and political elements very well too. And what a punchline! (I don't want to spoil it -- you'll have to see the film.) It was also very interesting to watch this while I was in the middle of reading the 1979 novel on which Die Hard was based.

Then, Emile (British Columbia, 92 min.), the Carl Bessai film that Ian McKellen made on Vancouver Island after he had finished working on X2. McKellen plays a British professor who comes to Canada to receive an honorary degree from the University of Victoria, and he uses this opportunity to try to connect with his only living relatives -- a divorced niece (Deborah Kara Unger) who reminds him of her mother, and her 10-year-old daughter (Theo Crane, who also plays Unger's younger self in the flashbacks). Did I say 'flashbacks'? This film is one of those movies which keeps shifting back and forth in time, as McKellen looks back on all the things he regrets about his life, and one of the interesting things is that McKellen plays the same character at all points, even when he's supposed to be a teenager or young man being sent off to England to pursue his studies by his bullying older brother. I think the film had a few too many close-ups, and I thought the climactic scene at the university was too brief, and I don't know if I would have cared for the film so much if anyone other than McKellen had been the star, but as an example of an actor practising his craft, I liked it quite a bit.

Then, yesterday, The Barbarian Invasions (Quebec, 99 min.), which I have already commented on here. I saw two other films yesterday, but I'll write about those later -- I have to get back to the festival!

Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 08 June 2005 - 10:43 AM.


#15 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 01 October 2003 - 02:01 PM

Okay, time to catch up. Two nights ago, I caught Broken Wings (Israel, 87 min.), which is about a family struggling to get by nine months after the death of its husband/father. The mother has taken a part-time job as a mid-wife in a hospital, and her 17-year-old daughter ends up putting her rock-band dreams on hold and bearing many of the parental responsibilities (she has two brothers, aged 16 and 11, and one 6-year-old sister). I thought the film lacked focus and momentum at first, as it followed the various family members, but ironically, it all comes together right at the point when a new trauma threatens to drive the family apart for good. There are definitely some good performances here; I especially liked the scene where the 17-year-old starts crying in the recording booth. And the way the one character says "Life could be worse, right?" is one of the most touchingly desperate expressions of hope I have seen in a film in a while.

Then, Twentynine Palms (France, 109 min.), a typical exercise in French eroto-nihilism which is presumably NOT to be confused with the Chris O'Donnell straight-to-video flick 29 Palms. Why is it that arty foreign films always seem less profound when they hire English-speaking actors? I saw this film because I have seen Bruno Dumont's other two films, La Vie de Jesus and L'Humanité, so I went into the film expecting lots of silence and barren landscapes and anatomical correctness (e.g., "Someday I want to see you pee," says a guy to his girlfriend, "No," she replies, and then the camera cuts to a shot of her peeing, so that we can see what the boyfriend cannot), but I have to say I just didn't 'get' this film -- it seemed to be going through the motions as it showed a couple driving around the Joshua Tree National Park, stopping every now and then to have sex or get into an argument, and then, out of the blue, when it's time for the movie to stop, there's a shocking act of violence or two. I came away from the film thinking Dumont had tried to do what Breillat did in Fat Girl, but whereas Breillat's film EARNED the right to throw in a shocking twist ending, and whereas Breillat's film was good enough to watch again to chart the foreshadowing etc., the ending of Dumont's film felt imposed, and I have no interest in seeing it again to see if I can make any more sense of it.

Then, yesterday, I kicked things off with a terminally-ill-movies-starring-Sarah-Polley-that-also-represent-an-interesting-mix-of-international-talent double-bill. The Event (USA/Canada, 110 min.) is set in New York, and it stars Parker Posey as a cop and Olympia Dukakis as the protagonist's mother, but the other big names are Canadian, including Don McKellar as an AIDS victim who decides to go out with a bang, Brent Carver as the AIDS worker who arranges McKellar's euthanasia party, the aforementioned Polley as McKellar's sister, and director Thom Fitzgerald, who hails from Nova Scotia. This film is basically a three-hankie weepie celebrating the righteousness of assisted suicide -- there were sniffles all throughout the theatre -- and the fact that even I was compelled to shed a tear or two just gives me that much more reason to loathe the film's manipulativeness. (As a sign, perhaps, of the emotional impact of this film, almost the entire audience stayed reverently in its seats through the closing credits.) And make no mistake about it, this film is very didactic and it has an agenda, as it tut-tuts anyone who would dare question the moral appropriateness of suicide (unlike, say, The Barbarian Invasions, which raises the subject of euthanasia but is much more ambivalent about it, recognizing that it is, in some way, a sign of defeat, a sign that one lacks faith). The film -- Dukakis's character, in particular -- goes on and on about how much love it took for McKellar's friends and family to kill him at his request, and Dukakis gets to say things like, "Sometimes the only way to protect a defenseless child is to let him go back to God." Posey's aging mother also makes statements like "Getting old sucks" and, when Posey asks if her father ever expressed interest in suicide, "If only he'd asked." What goes through an old actress's mind when she says such things, I wonder.

After that, and in the very same screening room no less, My Life Without Me (Canada/Spain, 100 min.), which has one of the more peculiar and eclectic collections of talent that I've seen in a while. Produced by Pedro Almodovar and directed by Isabel Coixet, yet filmed in Vancouver, the film stars Polley as a 23-year-old woman with a loving husband (Scott Speedman) and two cute daughters who discovers she's got just a few months left to live, so she she makes a checklist of things to do -- including getting another man (Mark Ruffalo) to fall in love with her, just to see what it feels like -- and she keeps her condition a secret from her husband, children, and mother (Deborah Harry!) even as she tries to manipulate things so they can all have a good life without her; she also decides to pay her father (Alfred Molina) a visit in prison. My Life Without Me is more subtle and playful and thoughtful and inviting than The Event, and I think it's a better film overall, but when you think about it, what Polley does to these people is pretty selfish, and I cannot help but wonder if the filmmakers would go as easy on a married MAN who seduced a woman behind his wife's back just because he knew HE had only a few months to live. I do like the film, though, even if I don't like what some of the characters happen to do within the film. Oh, and trivia note: the film also marks a sort of re-union for Pulp Fiction co-stars Amanda Plummer (as Polley's food- and diet-obsessed co-worker) and Maria de Medeiros (as a Milli Vanilli-loving hairdresser).

This was then followed by The Fog of War (USA, 105 min.), a series of century-spanning reminiscences by Robert McNamara which is yet another fascinating, spellbinding, eye-opening Errol Morris flick and easily the best film I have seen at the festival so far -- interestingly, unlike virtually every other Morris film I've seen, Morris's voice does not remain off-camera until the final scene but comes up often as an interrogator of sorts throughout the movie -- and Gus van Sant's Elephant (USA, 81 min.), which manages to capture both the banal reality of high-school life yet also its somewhat dreamy quality, all of which leads up to a Columbine-style massacre. I like the way the film shifts around in time, and I like the many long travelling shots, but I'm still trying to figure out what I make of van Sant's decision to start and stop the film the way he does. I'm sure we'll talk about both of these films some more in threads of their own when they get released theatrically.

#16 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 01 October 2003 - 09:52 PM

Just got home from seeing The Far Side of the Moon (Quebec, 105 min.), Robert Lepage's very funny and visually poetic adaptation of his own play about sibling rivalry, the space race, and the line between narcissism and self-knowledge. I have seen all of Lepage's films except for Possible Worlds, and I think this just may be his best yet -- mind you, the only other film of his that has made any lasting impression on me to date is . Lepage plays two estranged brothers: Philippe, a doctoral student who has repeatedly failed to defend his thesis (regarding the inter-relation of science and philosophy in popular culture) and who pays the bills by working in telemarketing, and André, a gay TV weatherman. The film is mostly Philippe's, though, and his obsession with rocket science and extra-terrestrial life sometimes reminded me that the first time I ever saw Lepage was when he appeared in Jesus of Montreal as the actor who records some narration for an educational film about space. This film was shot (and projected) in high-definition digital video, and it's easily one of the best-looking films of that sort that I have ever seen; Lepage makes graceful, evocative use of visual effects to suggest that space is like a womb, the universe is like a fishbowl, and so on. Someone (I forget who) once said a good movie is a movie with three great scenes and no bad ones, and The Far Side of the Moon easily qualifies -- off the top of my head, I am reminded of Philippe's chance encounter with his ex(-girlfriend? -wife?), his bitter rant in the bar about the obstacle to reconciliation that bitterness is, his long-distance phone conversation with André, and of course some of those fantastic visuals. Oh, oh, and the hilarious bit of physical comedy in the old-folks home when André retrieves a bookshelf. In the odd-coincidence department, this film makes use of Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata', as did Elephant which I saw last night (and I think at least one other film I've seen in the past week made use of Beethoven's 7th Symphony, too); plus (mild spoiler alert?) this is yet one more Canadian film in which we discover that an old person's death was actually a suicide.

#17 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 02 October 2003 - 04:20 PM

I caught Alexander Sokurov's Father and Son (Russia/Germany, 84 min.) last night, and, uh, well, I can certainly understand why the reporters at Cannes asked if there was something "homo-erotic" about the film, and I can also understand why Sokurov got upset and complained that they were trying to read "filth" into his film, but at the same time, I don't think Sokurov can justifiably claim to be surprised by such questions. The film begins with a lot of heavy breathing and intertwined limbs before you figure out that what we're looking at is two almost-naked men embracing each other, and it's not until just a bit later that you find out that these men are father and son; what's more, these men are both current or former military men, so they are in perfect physical shape; and what's more, in the program notes, Sokurov himself says, "The son's features constantly remind the father of his wife. He doesn't separate his son from his still persisting love: this is his unity with his beloved woman." So, like, when the two men gaze soulfully at each other's faces, I don't think Sokurov can turn around and claim that there is NOTHING erotic about the film's subtext. At the same time, though, I would not want to say that the physical intimacy between these two characters automatically translates to sexual intimacy; and I remind myself that this film takes place in a country where men greet each other with kisses, sometimes on the mouth, the way that we greet each other with handshakes. Anyway, there is something dreamlike and Tarkovskian about this film that I liked -- the scene where the son talks to his (ex?-)girlfriend through the window is especially beautiful and tantalizing and poetic -- and I wouldn't mind seeing it again at some point. Interestingly, though, quite a few people walked out of the theatre over the course of the film, so I suppose it's definitely not for all tastes.

#18 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 07 October 2003 - 01:27 PM

I'm slipping! Three days went by in which I attended no festival films -- partly due to the fact that I had to prepare for Regent College's conference on faith and film, partly due to other things -- but on Sunday, I eased back into the festival groove with two films. Gaz Bar Blues (Quebec, 115 min.) won the ecumenical jury prize at Montreal last month, and it's a reasonably interesting look at a working-class family -- one father, three sons -- who run a gas station in the late 1980s. One of the sons goes to Berlin to take photos of the falling Wall, and the photos we see in the film were actually taken by the director, Louis Bélanger, back then; interestingly, the son in question becomes disillusioned by the unification of Germany and the spread of capitalism to the east (a process that begins with the selling of chunks of the Wall as souvenirs), so he tries to patch it up! The character is arrested for this, and in the Q&A after the film, Bélanger assured us that he had not done this particular thing himself. He also told us he had not roughed up the gas-station company's regional inspector, the way the character in the film does in one scene -- rather, in real life, it was Bélanger's older brother who did this! (And then they apparently patched things up some time after that; the inspector helped the brother get a job.) Some of the characters who hang out at the station are fairly eccentric; I especially liked the gruff guy who issues stern warnings to the brothers, lest they get involved with the wrong crowd, and who gets rather impatient with a little girl after the air pump destroys the tire on her bicycle.

Then I saw Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property (USA, 62 min.), a documentary that is less about the apocalyptic leader of an 1831 slave revolt in Virginia and more about the various attempts made by artists and historians to interpret this character's life over the years -- in novels, in plays, and so on. It reminded me to some degree of discussions around the historical Jesus, which sometimes seem to be more about the historians who specialize in this subject than about the subject itself. The filmmakers dramatize the historical events as well as the novels and so forth that were based on those events, using different actors in each dramatization, and at the end, they put themselves in front of the camera, and they take the audience behind the scenes of these dramatizations, emphasizing that they, too, are part of this ongoing process. Very meta.

And then, yesterday, I returned to the festival with a vengeance. After catching a press screening of Kill Bill in the morning, I caught Zabriskie Point (USA, 110 min.), a 1970 film by Antonioni that the festival is showing as part of its retrospective 'Los Angeles Plays Itself' series. How odd, to go from a film which celebrates the trashier aspects of 1970s pop culture to a film that was one of the artier products of 1970s pop culture. Zabriskie Point begins on an almost documentary note, as a bunch of white students meet with the leaders of the Black Panthers and discuss the pros and cons of expressing their solidarity -- it was very, very interesting to see this footage and to hear all this talk of revolution just one week after seeing The Weather Underground, which brings an historical perspective to this era, highlighting some of the divisions among these groups and showing where all that talk went in the end. Interestingly, when the two main characters have sex in the desert shortly after they meet, Antonioni suddenly brings in a montage in which we see LOTS of people having sex in the desert -- couples, threesomes, maybe even foursomes -- and it's clear that the sex between the two characters, who are basically total strangers, is not meant to be some isolated fling but is supposed to be part of some sort of all-you-need-is-love movement towards oneness; and yet that, too, is one of the attitudes of the age that invites some skepticism in The Weather Underground.

After that, Casa de los Babys (USA, 95 min.), in which John Sayles explores yet another important social issue -- the adoption of third-world children by reasonably well-to-do first-world women -- from a variety of perspectives, including the women themselves, the nurses who look after the infants, the people who work in the hotels for these women, the locals who dream of moving to America, the locals who object to the way that their country's infants are being treated as just another globalized 'resource' to be 'refined' by the richer nations, the boys who were NOT adopted and now live in the streets, etc. Some might think that Sayles has bit off more than he can chew, since he has to tackle all this stuff in such a short time, but I liked the film, and I think it does a very good job of balancing the quasi-abstract political issues with a rather warm and deeply felt humanity; indeed, I think it's fair to say that Sayles has given US a lot to chew on. Folks here may also be intrigued to learn that Mary Steenburgen's character is described as a "born-again" type who does not "proselytize", and she attends the local Spanish AA meetings even though she has the weakest grasp of the language of any character in the film. (Oh, and like Kill Bill, this film co-stars Daryl Hannah -- yet another odd little coincidence today.)

After that, just two more films. At Five in the Afternoon (Iran / France, 106 min.), which won the ecumenical jury prize at Cannes, could almost be a sequel to Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Kandahar -- it is based on a novel of his and directed by his daughter Samira, and it takes place in Afghanistan shortly after the fall of Taliban. The main character is a woman who pursues an education behind her father's back and dreams of becoming the first female president of her country some day; meanwhile, her father complains that blasphemy has overtaken the country (women no longer hide their faces from men! what is the world coming to!) and it is almost as though God had died. One of the running gags of this film is that this woman expresses a great interest in the political goings-on of other countries, but whenever she meets refugees or others who have come from other countries, they can never tell her who is running their country; in one amusing (if slightly silly) scene, she meets a French soldier who DOES know the name of his president, but cannot tell her why, exactly, the French people elected him. Another recurring theme was the contrast between humans, who have belief and doubt, and animals, who do not. Certainly an interesting film, but it felt a bit long to me -- I mean, how many shots do we NEED of the protagonist secretly putting on her high-heeled shoes?

Then came Kiss of Life (Great Britain / France, 86 min.), a film that the program compares to the works of Kieslowski, but which did not achieve that level of mystical profundity, at least not for me. Maybe the fact that it was the fifth film I saw that day and I was starting to get tired had something to do with it. Anyway, the film is about a mother who, as the program says, tries to "make things right" with her family AFTER she is killed in a car accident. I didn't recognize the actress, but David Warner plays her father(-in-law?) and Peter Mullan plays her husband, who spends the entire movie trying to get home from some United Nations operation somewhere in eastern Europe. Not much here that resonated with me, though it might be somebody else's cuppa.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 08 June 2005 - 10:48 AM.


#19 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 11 October 2003 - 12:36 AM

Peter T Chattaway wrote:
: Anyway, I just finished watching Cromwell . . .

Which, I note, has just come out on DVD.

: The other schizo-themed movie is See Grace Fly (Canada, 91 min.),
: which stars local actress Gina Chiarelli . . .

FWIW, it was announced tonight that Chiarelli won the "Women in Film and Video Vancouver Artistic Merit Award" for this film. The VIFF media office also sent out a press release a few nights ago declaring:
Gina Chiarelli, who plays Grace McKinley in Pete McCormack's SEE GRACE FLY, got not one but two standing ovations at the film's sold-out screening at the Ridge on Sunday night. Canadian Images programmer Diane Burgess says as she escorted Chiarelli to the front of the theatre the crowd erupted in a spontaneous five-minute standing ovation. Then following a lengthy question and answer period, the crowd gave her another standing ovation. SEE GRACE FLY, a British Columbia film, deals with the difficult subject of schizophrenia. One seasoned journalist was heard to remark that Chiarelli's performance is "Oscar-worthy."
FWIW, several other awards were announced tonight too: "Most Popular Film" went to the Argentinian film Kamchatka (which I almost saw but did not) and "Most Popular Canadian Film" went to the documentary The Corporation (which did not interest me); also, "Best Documentary Feature" went to Los Angeles Plays Itself and the "Chief Dan George Humanitarian Award" went to John Cadigan's People Say I'm Crazy, both of which I have already mentioned here.

In other news, I found my own festival attendance slacking off big-time this week, as I got distracted by meetings and mainstream screenings and the like. Since my binge on Monday, I made it to only three other festival films, all of which happened to be Vancouver-made. On Tuesday, I caught On the Corner (B.C., 95 min.), the debut feature from Nathaniel Geary, whose 1998 short film Keys to Kingdoms was based on a poem by local Christian social-justice activist Bud Osborn. On the Corner won the "Best Feature Film from Western Canada" award tonight, and I think it is probably the best film I have seen yet to come out of the Downtown Eastside, widely reputed to be the poorest and most drug-infested neighbourhood in Canada. I have heard that people in Nova Scotia who saw this film were shocked and asked afterwards if Vancouver really had neighbourhoods as bad as this -- and to them, all I can say is, Have you never seen Da Vinci's Inquest? (That's a popular Canadian TV series about a Vancouver coroner; the real-life coroner who inspired the series -- and co-wrote a few episodes -- was recently elected mayor here.) What I find most remarkable about the film is that it doesn't TRY to be a social-issues movie the way that, say, Casa de los Babys does -- the movie works very well as an intimate, personal story about a Native teen who runs away from his foster home up north, comes down to Vancouver to stay with his sister, discovers that she's a heroin-addicted prostitute, and begins to get involved in the street scene himself. The film has a strongly docu-realist style, yet it doesn't seem as self-consciously Vancouverite or even Canadian as a lot of films that have come out of here -- you get the feeling this story could happen anywhere, or at least anywhere that has neighbourhoods like this one. (Perhaps not in Nova Scotia.)

Then, today, I caught Moving Malcolm (B.C., 96 min.), the directorial debut of local actor Benjamin Ratner -- in which he plays a guy whose bitchy ex-girlfriend (Showgirls' Elizabeth Berkley) persuades him to help her elderly father (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen's John Neville) move to a new address. Some nice moments here and there, but it didn't hold together the way I thought it should; like a lot of Canadian films, it felt a bit like a glorified student film. And then, after that, I caught The Delicate Art of Parking (B.C., 87 min.), which happened to be runner-up for the "Most Popular Canadian Film" award. I interviewed writer-director Trent Carlson about five years ago, in connection with a short film he had just made, and he mentioned that he was hoping to make a movie about parking enforcement agents someday; and at last, today, I got to see the film itself, and it's an amusing mockumentary, though it has a few slow patches. One of the main characters is an anal-retentive guy who comes across like a mix of Radar from M*A*S*H and Tobey Maguire in his more uptight roles (maybe because the character is named Graham Parker -- a relative of Peter's, perhaps?), and what was really amusing was that, after the screening, a real-life parking-enforcement retiree got up during the Q&A, took the mic from the producer's hand, and began to go on and on about the virtues of those who hand out parking tickets and the difficulties they face (they get physically assaulted once a year, on average, and they do take the people who assault them to court!), and he sounded just like the more earnest characters in the film -- and you could tell this wasn't planned, because the producer and the actors were all looking at each other wide-eyed and trying to suppress their laughter, and basically wondering, "Who IS this guy!?"

And on that note, this year's festival ended, for me.

#20 M. Leary

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Posted 17 October 2003 - 11:11 AM

And now, this morning, Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (Denmark / Scotland, 106 min.). If anyone can make a light comedy about a suicidal and amusingly anti-social bloke and his terminally ill brother, and about the efforts of both of these characters to try to find love and friendship and a sense of family, then I guess Lone Scherfig, director of Italian for Beginners, is the one to do it.



That rings true, it really had that serendipitous melancholy that pervaded Italian for Beginners. I don't have my notes on the film handy, but I recall thinking that one of the points of the film was to thrust us into the same moral indecision that some of its characters are going through. The directing was just alright, and some of the comedy was just really out of place (the little girl alternates between being really smart and really really stupid). But quite frankly, I could not suspend my moral disbelief as much as Scherfig wanted me too. Sure they need love and family and all that, but what sort of love and family are you going to find through the choices they were making?

The film has its moments mostly because Wilbur is a pretty funny guy.