September 24, 2016
This year's broad selection of Vancouver International Film Festival films showcases award-winning films that wowed viewers at international festivals, presented to Vancouver audiences for the first time. Selections from Cannes include Ken Loach's Palme d'Or-winning I, Daniel Blake; Olivier Assayas's Personal Shopper and Cristian Mungiu's Graduation, which tied for Best Director; and Maren Ade's highly acclaimed Toni Erdmann, awarded the Cannes Critics' Prize. From Berlin, Gianfranco Rosi's Golden Bear winner, Fire at Sea, will mark the director's VIFF debut, and Mia Hansen-Løve returns to the Vancouver International Film Festival with her fourth outing Things to Come, which won her Berlin's Best Director award.
As we've written about I, Daniel Blake, Graduation & Fire at Sea previously, today VanRamblings will introduce you to Personal Shopper, Toni Erdmann and Things to Come, as well as Barry Jenkins' widely acclaimed Moonlight.
Personal Shopper. Kristen Stewart is the medium, in more ways than one, for this sophisticated genre exploration from director Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria). As a fashion assistant whose twin brother has died, leaving her bereft and longing for messages from the other side, Stewart is fragile and enigmatic — and nearly always on-screen. From an opening sequence in a haunted house with an intricately constructed soundtrack to a high-tension, cat-and-mouse game on a trip from Paris to London and back set entirely to text messaging, Personal Shopper brings the psychological and supernatural thriller into the digital age.
Here's what The Guardian's lead film critic Peter Bradshaw had to say in his five star review of Personal Shopper ...
"... captivating, bizarre, tense, fervently preposterous and an almost unclassifiable scary movie from Olivier Assayas, the film delivers the bat-squeak of pure craziness that we long for at Cannes, although at the first screening some very tiresome people continued the festival's tradition of booing very good films.
Personal Shopper has that undefinable provocative élan that reminds me a little of Lars Von Trier's Breaking The Waves. It is actually Assayas' best film for a long time, and Stewart's best performance to date — she stars in a supernatural fashionista-stalker nightmare where the villain could yet be the heroine's own spiteful id. Is it The Devil Wears Prada meets The Handmaiden (also in Cannes, and at VIFF) with a touch of Single White Female?
Kristen Stewart's performance is tremendous: she is calm and blank in the self-assured way of someone very competent, smart and young, yet her displays of emotion are very real and touching. She is entirely devoted to her smartphone, which is to be the conduit of her fears and there is a dash of pure Hitchcockian brilliance in a scene where she turns it on and a backlog of texts starts mounting up, bringing danger ever closer. With his reckless, audacious Personal Shopper, Olivier Assayas has brought excitement to the festival."
Peter DeBruge in his Variety review calls Personal Shopper "a spine-tingling horror story," while Indiewire's Eric Kohn writes, "Personal Shopper presents a fully realized universe that merges visceral dread with deeper observations about its causes," and Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells, and a surfeit of other films critics, are quite simply gaga over the film.
Here's what Lee Marshall wrote in his Screen Daily review ...
"Surprising, awkward, refreshing and, at times, downright hilarious, German director Maren Ade's dazzlingly original follow-up to her 2009 Berlinale Silver Bear winner Everyone Else is that rarest of things: a nearly three-hour-long German-Austrian arthouse comedy-drama that (almost) never drags. Eliciting laughs and applause — in all the right places — at its Cannes press screening, this tale of a prankster father who uses practical jokes and disguises to rescue his adult daughter from the work-obsessed spiral of seriousness he feels she has sunk into also manages, without an ounce of schmaltz, to address big issues relating, among other themes, to a stressed, permanently online modern world where work is no longer something we leave behind at the office; how families communicate (or fail to); business ethics and sexism in the workplace."
Giovanni Marchini Camia writing in Filmstage gives Toni Erdmann a solid "A", writing, "This is a superb second feature well-deserving of Berlin's Jury Prize, one of the most stirring cinematic experiences of the year, immensely rewarding to witness, ferocious, dazzling, and a masterpiece."
Things To Come. One of VanRamblings favourite directors, in our books Mia Hansen-Løve can do no wrong, and a plethora of film critics would seem to share our sentiment in their reviews of her latest, Things to Come. Writing in Variety, Guy Lodge says ...
"Mia Hansen-Løve and Isabelle Huppert prove a dream partnership in the director's gorgeous, heart-cradling post-divorce drama. Huppert is such a persistently and prolifically rigorous performer that she risks being taken for granted in some of her vehicles, but this is a major, many-shaded work even by her lofty standards. Hansen-Løve's oeuvre has acquired its own signature character of light, with sunshine streaming through even exchanges of most disconsolate darkness; conversely, only in the film's contented, Brittany-set pre-credits prologue, set several years before a heartsore storm, do skies turn a flannelly grey. Hansen-Løve's musical selections surprise just as often with their note-perfect sympathy to the action at hand: A critical use of that old chestnut Unchained Melody — crooned here not by the Righteous Brothers, but by the Fleetwoods — reps a very different appropriation of another film's glory from the Kiarostami hat tip, but the outcome could hardly be lovelier."
That's all we're going to give you, no précis of the story, no more excerpts of reviews, but only, "Go see Things To Come; you won't be disappointed."
Moonlight. One of the must-sees at VIFF 2016, a certain Oscar contender, and one of the best-reviewed films of the year, Barry Jenkins' acclaimed tour-de-force, a Special VIFF Presentation, will screen only once, on Friday, October 7th, 9pm at The Centre for the Performing Arts.
We'll do something a little different this time: Here are few "A" reviews ...
- The Guardian (5 stars), Benjamin Lee. Moonlight is a profoundly moving film about growing up as a gay man in disguise, a difficult and damaging journey that's realised with staggering care and delicacy and one that will resonate with anyone who has had to do the same. We're starved of these narratives and Jenkins' electrifying drama showcases why they are so hugely important, providing an audience with a rarely seen portrait of what it really means to be a black gay man in America today. It's a stunning achievement.
- Screen Daily (A), Tim Grierson. An indelible portrait of an imperilled life, Moonlight is quietly devastating in its depiction of masculinity, race, poverty and identity. Ambitious in scope but precise in its execution, this deceptively small-scale character piece reverberates with compassion and insight.
- The Hollywood Reporter (A), David Rooney. A haunting reflection on African-American masculinity, writer-director Barry Jenkins' intimate character study traces the life of a black gay man from his troubled Miami childhood to maturity, the film laced with superb and widely varied music choices that often play in illuminating contrast to the scene unfolding, the drama divided into three chapters unfolding during formative times of the central figure's life, the early scenes especially beautiful, the film filled with moments of swoon-inducing romance to equal those of suffering and solitude, Nicholas Britell's score melancholy and melodic, James Laxton's cinematography soaked in sleepy, sun-scorched light early on and then burnished, darker tones later, it would be tempting to call Moonlight an instant landmark in queer black cinema, if that didn't imply that the experience it portrays will speak only to a minority audience. Instead, this is a film that will strike plangent chords for anyone who has ever struggled with identity, or to find connections in a lonely world. It announces Jenkins as an important new voice.
And there we are. Four more indelible must-sees at VIFF 2016.
VanRamblings has now previewed twenty acclaimed VIFF films that are about to arrive on our shores having garnered critical acclaim at film festivals across the globe. Previous VanRamblings' VIFF 2016 columns, very much like the one today, may be found here. Enjoy the read!
September 23, 2016
The cinema is so many things at once. And when VanRamblings looked at the films in this year's VIFF selections, we became aware of the fact that it is a form of response. The Dardenne Brothers, Ken Loach, Cristian Mungiu, Gianfranco Rosi, and Kleber Mendonça Filho are sounding alarms, while Jim Jarmusch, Kenneth Lonergan, Barry Jenkins, Maren Ade and Olivier Assayas are fixed on internal landscapes, proclaiming the urgency of self-realization. What can also be seen in this year's Vancouver International Film Festival lineup is a bounty of vital work from artists from all around the world who will not stop until they see their visions all the way to the end.
Today on VanRamblings, four more outstanding VIFF films that are destined for greatness in the annals of human scale cinema.
The Birth of a Nation. Winner of the Audience and Grand Jury Prizes at the Sundance Film Festival this year, up until the emergence of the controversy surrounding the film's writer-director Nate Parker and his co-writer and friend Jean Celestin arising from 1999 sexual assault charges leveled against both, The Birth of a Nation was an odds-on favourite for a Best Picture Oscar nomination, and perhaps a win. Now? Not so much. VIFF is very much aware of the controversy, VIFF Chief Programmer Alan Franey stating, "We need to be sensitive to the opinions and controversies here so we will be doing our best to keep people in that safe zone of not prejudging or getting too upset, making sure opinions don't get treated as fact if they're just opinions." Note should be made that Nate Parker was acquitted of the sexual assault charge. Jean Celestin was convicted and later granted a new trial, though the woman declined to testify again and the case never made it back to court. In 2012, the unidentified woman took her own life.
Will you attend the single screening of The Birth of a Nation, at 5pm, Saturday, October 1st at The Centre for the Performing Arts? The issue is art versus realpolitik. Nate Parker will be present in Vancouver to introduce the Special Presentation of his award-winning, and much lauded film ...
"A significant achievement for writer, director, producer and actor Nate Parker, a searingly impressive debut feature, a biographical drama steeped equally in grace and horror, The Birth of a Nation builds to a brutal finale that will stir deep emotion and inevitable unease, the film an accomplished theological provocation, one that grapples fearlessly with the intense spiritual convictions that drove Nat Turner to do what he had previously considered unthinkable.
Artfully modulated and fitfully grueling, Nate Parker's well-researched screenplay offers its own bold take on the widely contested narrative of Turner, a Virginia-born slave and Baptist preacher who led the 1831 uprising that claimed 60 white lives and led to the killings of 200 blacks in retaliation, and served as a crucial moment of insurrection en route to the Civil War three decades later. The film's most resonant element isn't its physical realization so much as its spiritual and intellectual acuity, its warm, earthy saintliness, and its historical and contemporary evocation of the ongoing black struggle for justice and equality in the United States. The Birth of a Nation earns that debate and then some."
The above quote is from Justin Chang's Sundance Festival review in Variety.
The Handmaiden. A bodice-ripper, a sexy and depraved lesbian revenge story about a pickpocket who poses as a maid to swindle a sequestered heiress, an erotic thriller that prioritizes female sexuality and exquisite set design to intoxicating effect, an intensely pleasurable and lavishly shot Gothic melodrama, exquisitely filmed, kinky, brimming with delicious surprises and spiced up with nudity and verbal perversions, accomplished South Korean director Park Chan-wook transposes Sarah Waters' sapphic Victorian potboiler Fingersmith to Japanese-occupied Korea at the beginning of the twentieth century, the story told in three parts and from multiple points of view like a modern-day Rashomon. Amidst the heavy slogging of VIFF, The Handmaiden may be just the sort of palliative you'll require to rescue yourself from VIFF's annual foray into cinema of despair. You know who you are. See you at a screening of The Handmaiden.
Under the Shadow. Curtis Woloschuk and the Alt(ered States) crew of twisted programmers put in so many hours in preparation for their genre defying series, and year-in, year-out VanRamblings pays the series short shrift. Not this year. First off we'll start from this brief column by Indiewire editor Anne Thompson ...
"Wait a second. Can the U.K. submit a film for consideration for the Best Foreign Language Oscar? Sure. As long as it's not in English. Take last year: Ireland, not Cuba, submitted Spanish-language film Viva. And France controversially chose the Turkish Mustang as its official entry over a list of top French auteurs. If the submitting country paid for the movie and supplied key personnel, it doesn't matter what language it's in. The French produced Mustang and its director Deniz Gamze Ergüven, born in Turkey, is based in Paris. (Her next movie is English-language.) And the Irish produced Viva, even though director Paddy Breathnach shot with local actors in Havana.
And thus the UK's selection organization, BAFTA, has submitted writer-director Babak Anvari's well-reviewed Sundance mother-daughter drama Under the Shadow, a 1988 Iran-Iraq War thriller shot in Farsi starring Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi and Bobby Naderi."
Otherwise, there's this representative review of Under the Shadow ...
"Consequence of Sound (A-). Terrifying, a spooky ghost story that singes the nerves as much as it coddles the mind. Set in 1988, the story follows a small family in Tehran trying to cope with the tail end of the Iran-Iraq War. This isn't an easy life: bombs come and go, windows are taped in the likelihood of an explosion, and the basement provides daily refuge from any oncoming missiles. These aren't even the larger issues, at least not to Shideh (Narges Rashdi). When we first meet the brave mother and wife, her dreams of studying medicine are crushed by a stern administrator. "I suggest you find a new goal in life," he tells her, following a severe brow beating about her riotous political history. You see, Shideh is a black swan — she's rebellious, strong, fierce, and independent.
Everything clicks in Under the Shadow. Rashdi is captivating, sweating her way through a terse 84-minute performance that's physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausting. Her chemistry with Avin Manshadi is equally remarkable, almost too real, which sells the heart-stopping finale in ways similar productions have stumbled hard. Director Babak Anvari spares no expense with his characters, dedicating as much time to their backstory as he does to the film's creepy mythology. Extraordinary, captivating, jarring, calimitous, genre bending, claustrophobic, messy, convincing and unnerving, Under the Shadow embraces the original tenets of horror, back when eerie tales were meant to enlighten rather than simply scare. On his first try out, Anvari wildly transcends the limitations that modern audiences have placed on the genre, and it's a bold testament to his abilities as a filmmaker."
Worth considering for a terrifying VIFF screening, don't you think?
Growing Up Coy. There is no more humanizing experience than attending the annual Vancouver International Film Festival, to remind ourselves once again that we're all in this together, that there is much injustice in the world, and our world will only change if we fight for, demand that change. Growing Up Coy is a film of the moment, the story of Coy Mathis, a transgender girl who was born a boy, garnered international attention in 2013 when her parents, Jeremy and Kathryn Mathis, filed a complaint accusing the school district of violating the state's anti-discrimination law.
The Mathises went on to win their case, but not before coming under heavy criticism for putting Coy, then a 6-year-old first grader, in front of reporters and camera crews and on television with Katie Couric. Now, they're poised to be foisted back into the spotlight with the documentary Growing Up Coy, which had its premiere on June 16 in New York at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.
Directed by Eric Juhola and produced by his husband, Jeremy Stulberg, Growing Up Coy picks up with the Mathis family in early 2013, about six weeks before they went public with their case. Together with their lawyer, the Mathises believed that speaking openly was necessary to sway the public in Coy's favour and to help win her case. But, as the documentary shows, the move unleashed a media feeding frenzy that previewed the fights that would roil America in 2016, fraying the couple's relationship, drawing excoriations from talking heads and internet trolls, at times alienating their four other children and indelibly etching Coy's name into cyberspace's inexhaustible memory bank.
Nigel M Smith's four star review in The Guardian is as good an entry point as any into providing meaning for the struggle of the Mathis family.
Today's, and previous VanRamblings' VIFF 2016 columns that present information, trailers, and reviews by thoughtful and erudite critics of films screening at VIFF 2016 — and soon, much more — may be found here.
And, oh yeah, the opening paragraph of today's VanRamblings column? An excerpt from the opening address by Kent Jones, the director of the 54th annual New York Film Festival, which opens the day after our home grown VIFF gets underway, on Friday, September 30th.
September 22, 2016
There is always something new to see at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and always an acclaimed director debuting a new film that is worth catching up with. It's a lesson that should be kept in mind as the ever-competitive fall movie season — of which this now 35-year-old festival has, surprisingly for many, long been an important pillar — gets underway.
The VIFF programme this year as in the past contains multitudes — that it counts short masterworks, below-the-radar genre items and avant-garde mind-blowers among its essential offerings each year — is a fact that easily gets lost amidst the deafening reams of Oscar hype that issues forth throughout the fall movie season. A massive annual confluence of art and industry, as well as a cinematic buffet of tremendous cultural and aesthetic diversity, can invariably be reduced to just a handful of heat-seeking titles.
In today's VIFF highlights column, VanRamblings will introduce you to four more films that may or may not garner Oscar attention, but should most certainly garner attention from you in order to sate your cinematic palate.
Aquarius: One of VanRamblings' favourite 2012 highlights was Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho's Neighbouring Sounds, which we called a masterwork. In 2016, Mendonça is back with Aquarius, the controversial Cannes debuting film that Brazil did not choose as its Best Foreign Film Oscar entry (at Cannes, Mendonça protested the suspension / inevitable impeachment of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, holding a sign that read "Brazil is experiencing a coup d'etat" and "54,501,118 votes set on fire!"), which means that if you don't see Aquarius at VIFF you may not get to see it at all — now, there's incentive enough to see the work of this master.
Variously described as a richly detailed and colourful character study, with a riveting and magnetic performance by Sonia Braga at the film's centre, Braga plays Clara, a 65-year-old widow and retired music critic, who refuses to sell the beloved Recife beach apartment she's lived in for most of her life, finding herself under attack from a powerful property company, former neighbours, and members of her own family who question her judgement.
Says Giovanni Camia in Filmstage, "Aquarius establishes Mendonça's authorial voice & his place as one of the most eloquent filmic commentators on the contemporary state of Brazilian society," going on to write ...
"Aquarius' central narrative has a clear social-allegorical dimension, the film's opening introducing two important motifs: a bygone sense of unity that has disintegrated in the present, and the idea of memory — and therefore history — as embedded in materials being swept away by contemporary economic processes. Mendonça's despondency at these developments is succinctly expressed through the dissolve that closes the scene: a shot of the apartment filled to the brim as the entire family dances together gives way to one of the same apartment, 34 years later, now empty.
Clara is the film's heroine and Braga deserves high praise for her phenomenal performance. Stately, headstrong, and all-too-recognizably human, she's a delight to watch from start to finish, keeping the viewer mesmerized by her charisma and intensely rooting for her victory. And, anyway, how could one not love a 65-year-old who smokes a joint before the final showdown with her nemeses?"
Clearly, you'll want to place Mendonça's Aquarius on your must-see list.
American Honey. The North American debut for acclaimed British filmmaker Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank), American Honey took Cannes by storm back in May, Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells writing ...
"American Honey is a truly exceptional film, a kind of millennial Oliver Twist road flick with Fagin played by both Shia Labeouf and Riley Keogh (Elvis' granddaughter) and Oliver played by newcomer Sasha Lane ... but with some good earthy sex thrown in. There's no question that Honey stakes out its own turf and whips up a tribal lather that feels exuberant and feral and non-deodorized. It doesn't have anything resembling a plot but it doesn't let that deficiency get in the way. Honey throbs, sweats, shouts, jumps around and pushes the nervy. (Somebody wrote that it's Arnold channelling Larry Clark) It's a wild-ass celebration of a gamey, hand-to-mouth mobile way of life. And every frame of Robbie Ryan's lensing is urgent and vital."
Praise for American Honey is near universal, the acclaimed Jury Prize winner at Cannes this year, Variety's Guy Lodge writing ...
"American Honey is a ravishing feminine picaresque, a scrappy, sprawling astonishment, as a girl's gaze meets a boy's across the packed aisles of a Midwestern Walmart, the euphoric EDM throb of Calvin Harris and Rihanna's 2011 smash We Found Love hijacks the soundscape, setting a love story emphatically in motion by the time he hops up to dance on the checkout counter. "We found love in a hopeless place," the song's chorus ecstatically declares, over and over, as well it might — does it get more hopeless than Walmart, after all? It's a gesture so brazenly big and romantically literal that it can't help but have your heart, and it's such an early, ebullient cinematic climax that Arnold dares repeat it two hours later, cranking up the song again in a more fraught, nervous context. Like much of what the director risks, she shouldn't get away with it, but most defiantly does."
We're in. Can't wait. See ya at a VIFF screening of American Honey.
Elle. As Variety critic Guy Lodge writes at the outset of his review of Elle,
"You've never seen a rape-revenge fantasy quite like Elle, not least because the rape, revenge and fantasy components of that subgenre have never been quite so fascinatingly disarranged. Knowingly incendiary but remarkably cool-headed, and built around yet another of Isabelle Huppert's staggering psychological dissections, Paul Verhoeven's long-awaited return to notional genre filmmaking pulls off a breathtaking bait-and-switch: Audiences arriving for a lurid slab of arthouse exploitation will be taken off-guard by the complex, compassionate, often corrosively funny examination of unconventional desires that awaits them."
Sometimes you want to go into a VIFF knowing almost nothing about the film. VanRamblings could quote at length a surfeit of critics like The Hollywood Reporter's Jordan Mintzer, who writes about Elle that it is "a beautiful dark twisted French fantasy" or Lisa Nesselson in Screen Daily who writes, "Elle features a tour de force turn from Isabelle Huppert, the film suspenseful and unsettling from first frame to last, a delectably twisted tale of a woman who reacts in unconventional ways to being raped by an intruder, the film a shocking amoral romp with dark humour in curt dialogue exchanges." ... but, in this one particular instance, apart from the snippets above, we'll leave it up to you as to whether you wish to attend a VIFF screening of Elle, with the peerless, Oscar nominatable Isabelle Huppert at film's centre, and Dutch director Paul Verhoeven back at top of form.
Fire at Sea. Winner of the Golden Bear at Berlin (read: the top prize), and one of the most buzzed about documentaries of the year, Gianfranco Rosi's superb and haunting illumination of the Syrian refugee crisis, in addressing Africa's migration woes Fire At Sea turns it humanist focus on the 150,000 migrant refugees who cross from Libya in overcrowded boats each year to make their first contact with Sicily and European soil.
Capturing the migrant drama through the periscope of his camera, Rosi focuses on the small Sicilian island of Lampedusa, where wave upon waves of desperate boat people bring their dramas, tragedies and emergencies to Europe's shore, and the place where the the Italian navy and coast guard rescue as many survivors as they can. Writes Demetrios Matheou from Berlin in his IndieWire review ...
"The selection of characters is small, precise. The dominant personality of the film is Samuele, a nine-year-old boy and a terrific bundle of good humour and contradictions, not least the fact that while confidently clambering around the island's rocky hills with his trusty, homemade slingshot, he's uncomfortable on water, and prone to seasickness, which is a little inconvenient for an islander.
We follow Samuele at school, with his uncle on his boat, and his grandmother at home, and roaming the island with his friend. When he has to wear an eye patch to deal with his lazy eye (a convenient metaphor for Rosi, perhaps, aimed at the less conscientious of those in the international community?) it plays havoc with his slingshot aim; when speaking to the doctor about his breathing problems, he wonders himself if it may be because he's anxious, a little Italian Woody Allen in the making."
Fire At Sea is one of the most talked about documentaries of the year, and chances are Rosi's film won't make it back to our shores, with VIFF likely providing your sole opportunity to screen Gianfranco Rosi's compassionate, humane, powerful, at times shocking but intensely human, documentary.
Today's, and previous VanRamblings' VIFF 2016 columns that present information, trailers, and reviews by thoughtful and erudite critics of films screening at VIFF 2016 — and soon, much more — may be found here.
September 21, 2016
The cinema of despair arrives back on our shores for the 35th consecutive year, as the prestigious and always provocative 35th annual Vancouver International Film Festival is set to commence on Thursday, September 29th, bringing joy and a degree of pathos to the lives of all those who love film as creative and challenging art, and art that provides a humane and, in most instances, insightful window into this ever-changing world of ours.
Today's VanRamblings column presents four more VIFF films we believe may be worthy of both your time and your consideration at VIFF 2016.
Note should be made that reviews for the four films are not universally over-the-moon, although there's enough good that has been written about each film that further salutary investigation by you may be well warranted.
Each year for the past 20 years, VanRamblings has chosen 20 - 30 films from the VIFF programme, in advance of the Festival, that we've identified as "sure fire winners" based on what we've heard from friends, and have found in reviews on the 'Net. Our track record has been this: out of 20 films we've identified each year, five have emerged as life-changing cinema, nine have proved worthy of our time & we're glad we caught the films, three have provided travelogue-like entertainment, and three we've just hated.
Still and all, appreciation of film is subjective — one person's cup o' tea may not be another's cup o' tea. Read on, assess, then decide for yourself.
I, Daniel Blake. Winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year (which is to say, the Grand Prize winner), 80-year-old U.K. writer-director-social activist-kitchen sink dramatist Ken Loach's latest powerful foray into humane cinematic agitprop emerges as one of the two films to which VanRamblings is most looking forward to screening at our VIFF 2016.
From David Rooney's review at Cannes, in The Hollywood Reporter ...
"For more than 50 years, Ken Loach has been making social-realist dramas tied together by a prevailing thread — the compassionate observation of the struggles of the working class to hold onto such fundamental dignities as a home, a job and food on the table within a hostile system that often views them unfairly as the cause of their own misfortunes.
Vividly drawn, full of beautifully subdued performances, authentic, entirely of the moment and anchored by incisive characterizations rich in integrity and heart, and by an urgent simplicity in its storytelling that's surprisingly powerful, I, Daniel Blake portrays ordinary people pushed to breaking point by circumstances beyond their control, and by a government welfare system of circuitous Kafkaesque bureaucracy seemingly designed to beat them down."
Deeply moving and at times darkly funny, Ken Loach establishes himself yet again as the Clifford Odets of contemporary British cinema as his new film intervenes in the messy, ugly world of poverty with the secular intention of making us see that it really is happening, and in a prosperous nation, too. I, Daniel Blake is a film with a fierce, simple dignity of its own. Screens for a first time on Monday, October 3rd, at 3:45pm at The Playhouse; on Thursday, October 6th, 3:15pm at The Centre; and on the last day of VIFF, Friday, October 14th, 6:30pm at The Centre.
Graduation. Romanian Palme d'Or winner (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) Cristian Mungiu's latest follows a doctor's attempts to help his daughter pass a life-changing school exam with superbly subtle observation. As Peter Bradshaw writes in his five-star review in The Guardian ...
"Graduation, is a masterly, complex movie of psychological subtlety and moral weight, about the shabby choices people make as they claw their way up: people constrained by loyalty to others who have helped them with wrongdoing, who use those others' corruption as an alibi for their own failings, and those who hope that the resulting system of shifty back-scratching somehow constitutes an alternative ethical system. But how about the children, those innocent souls for whose sake all this grubbiness has been endured? Should they be preserved from graduating into an infected world of compromise and secret shame?"
An intricate, deeply intelligent film, and a bleak picture of a state of national depression in Romania, where the 90s generation hoped they would have a chance to start again, there are superb performances from Adrian Titieni as surgeon Dr Romeo Aldea, and 18-year-old Maria Dragus — who played the priest's daughter Klara in Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon. It's a jewel in an exceptional Cannes 2016 lineup."
With unfailingly convincing performances, a script that keeps the proceedings on a slow burn throughout, Mungiu's direction is the kind that refrains from drawing attention to itself, inviting the audience to fully immerse itself in the story and forget about the people behind the camera. Screens on Friday, September 30th, 1:15pm at Cinema 10, International Village; Wednesday, October 5th, 8:30pm, at The Centre; and for a final time on Tuesday, October 11th, 3:15pm at The Playhouse.
Yourself and Yours. Hong Sang-soo continues in the same intellectually playful vein that he explored in last year's VIFF favourite Right Now, Wrong Then. This is a film which, through use of characters who may or may not be doppelgangers, memories which may or may not be faulty, leaves us with questions that it resolutely refuses to answer, and as such may prove difficult for some members of the audience to process. Going in to TIFF, advance word on Yourself and Yours was not great, either, because the film had been rejected from Berlin, Cannes et al.
As Stephen Dalton writes in his TIFF review, in The Hollywood Reporter ...
"The discreet charm of Yourself and Yours will depend entirely on your tolerance levels for stylistic ticks and the ramblings of tedious, self-pitying drunks and slackers and their minor relationship dramas. Still, South Korean director Hong Sang-soo possesses a distinctive voice and an interesting track record, but his latest exercise in flimsy whimsy may be for indulgent hardcore fans only."
Wendy Ide is much more generous in her Screen Daily review ...
"Hong Sang-soo uses his trademark long takes, with occasional zooms, to capture the meandering conversations that play out between the characters. It's a technique which places emphasis on the performances. Fortunately, the actors are more than up to the task, particularly Lee You-young who is as beguiling as she is elusive. Ultimately, the film makes a case that perhaps it's better not to know everything about the person you love. And sometimes you just need to shed the baggage and start the relationship again from the beginning."
Blithe-bordering-on-farcical, wry and perplexing, with a darker than usual tone, fans of Hong Sang-soo will find plenty to like in Yourself and Yours, namely its wry humor, but for the uninitiated, it may prove a difficult entry point into the prolific filmmaker's work. Screens twice, on Sunday, October 9th, 8:30pm at Cinema 8, International Village; and for a final time on Thursday, October 13th, 2pm at Cinema 10, International Village.
Two Trains Runnin' (Grade: A-). An absolute knockout, one of the critics' and passholder favourites screened in preview at VIFF, and set to unspool at the 54th annual New York Film Festival as part of its Spotlight on Documentary program, Sam Pollard's Two Trains Runnin' is pure cinematic poetry set amidst the racial tensions and general social upheaval that were the order of the day in the '60s, when churches were bombed, shotguns were blasted into cars and homes, and civil rights activists were murdered.
In June of 1964 hundreds of university students eager to join the civil rights movement traveled to Mississippi, starting what would be known as Freedom Summer. That same month, two groups of young men — made up of musicians, college students and record collectors — also traveled to Mississippi. Though neither group was aware of the other, each had come on the same errand: to find an old, long-forgotten blues singer and coax him out of retirement. Thirty years before, Son House and Skip James had recorded some of the most memorable music of their era, but now they seemed lost to time, their music preserved only on scratchy 78s.
A tribute to a generation of blues musicians and the story of how the search for these pioneering musicians intertwined with the American civil rights movement, Two Trains Runnin' is an entirely remarkable document about how on June 21, 1964, these two campaigns collided in memorable and tragic fashion, and how America's cultural and political institutions were dramatically transformed, a story as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. Screens on VIFF's opening day, Thursday, September 29th, 6:30pm at The Cinematheque; Saturday, October 8th, 3:15pm at The Rio; and on Wednesday, October 12th, 6:30pm, at Cinema 9, International Village.
Today's, and previous VIFF 2016 columns may be found here.
September 20, 2016
The 35th annual Vancouver International Film Festival begins with Maudie, a biopic of the reclusive Canadian painter Maud Lewis, and ends 16 days later with Terrence Malick's Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience, Malick's 45-minute cinematic odyssey across time and history.
Among the well-known international filmmakers whose work will be presented at VIFF are France's André Téchiné, Olivier Assayas, François Ozon and Mia Hansen-Løve, Japan's Hirokazu Kore-eda, Romania's Cristian Mungiu, Cristi Puiu and Radu Jude, Belgium's Joachim Lafosse, Chile's Pablo Larrain, Spain's Pedro Almodóvar, China's Jia Zhangke, Iran's Asghar Farhadi, South Korea's Park Chanwook, Brazil's Kleber Mendonça Filho, the U.K.'s Terence Davies and Ken Loach, and the latest celebrated work from acclaimed American filmmakers Kenneth Lonergan and Jim Jarmusch.
As we'll do each day for the next 8 days, VanRamblings will attempt to provide insight into the critically acclaimed films which will arrive on our shores after having garnered recognition at film festivals spanning the globe. But first off today, a film that swept the Sundance Film Festival in January, a lock for a Best Picture Oscar nomination, a Best Actor Oscar nod for Casey Affleck, and a probable Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod for the always sublime Michelle Williams ...
A wrenching drama about a grief-stricken New England family, Manchester by the Sea is, as Sasha Stone wrote in her Telluride review, "sad and beautiful, not a dark film, nor really a depressing one. It's just about living with the truth laid bare." Justin Chang writes in his Variety review ...
"Kenneth Lonergan's beautifully textured, richly enveloping drama about how a death in the family forces a small-town New Englander to confront a past tragedy anew, gives flesh and blood to the idea that life goes on even when it no longer seems worth living, which diagrammatic description provides little justice to Lonergan's ever-incisive ear for the rhythms of human conversation, as he orchestrates an unruly suite of alternately sympathetic and hectoring voices — all of which stand in furious contrast to Casey Affleck's bone-deep performance as a man whom loss has all but petrified into silence.
While Manchester by the Sea is very much about uncles, nephews, fathers and sons, Lonergan, always a superb director of actresses, gives the women in his ensemble their due. It's been a while since Michelle Williams had a role this good, but she's lost none of her unerring knack for emotional truth, and she has one astonishing scene that rises from the movie like a small aria of heartbreak."
From Manchester by the Sea's sound design and cinematography to Affleck's and Williams' haunting performances, Kenneth Lonergan's third feature film emerges as one of the best films of 2016, and a must-see for anyone who says they love film, as the transformative art of our age. Manchester by the Sea screens three times at the Centre for the Performing Arts, on Thursday, October 6th at 6pm, Saturday, October 8th at 2:15pm, and on Wednesday, October 12th at 8:30pm.
The Ornithologist. Screening at the 54th annual New York Film Festival at the same time it screens at VIFF, here's what the New York Times' lead film critic Manohla Dargis had to say about João Pedro Rodrigues' The Ornithologist in her Toronto Film Festival weekend wrap-up column ...
"The single most delightful and narratively adventurous movie I saw at Toronto, The Ornithologist very loosely recasts the story of Anthony of Padua, a Portuguese saint who died in the 13th century. Set in the present, this genre-buster pivots on Fernando (the lovely, pillow-lipped French actor Paul Hamy), whose one-man expedition into the wild goes weirdly, at times hilariously, wrong and then right. During Fernando's travels, he's waylaid (and hogtied) by pilgrims; takes a tumble with a goatherd; and exchanges gazes with the locals, notably the birds who look down upon him in long shots that, in movies, are known as bird's-eye or God's-eye views.
Directed by João Pedro Rodrigues of Portugal, The Ornithologist meanders as headily as its protagonist, zigging and zagging through one pastoral location and down one narrative byway after another. I'm still trying to figure out who the three bare-breasted huntresses are; they turn up on horseback with a heraldic blast of a horn, dogs barking and hooves pounding. That isn't a complaint, but an acknowledgment of the story's glories and mysteries, which makes The Ornithologist a good metaphor for both moviegoing and the festival experience at its best. Mr. Rodrigues opens up a world like a scroll as he shifts from realism to the fantastical and then the allegorical; pauses to meditate on the beauty of the world; and insists on the fusion of the spirit and the flesh. I can't wait to see it again."
VanRamblings' friend, Mathew Englander — who has just returned from TIFF — also raves about The Ornithologist, as do any number of thoughtful film critics. The Ornithologist screens only twice at VIFF, on Thursday, October 6th at 3:15pm in Cinema 8 at International Village, and Monday, October 10th at 6:15pm at the Vancity. Get your tickets soon, cuz when word gets out on The Ornithologist tickets are gonna be hard to come by.
And finally for today, Alison Maclean's acclaimed New Zealand production ...
Another one of Mathew Englander's favourite TIFF films, here's what New Zealand film critic Graeme Tuckett has to say about The Rehearsal ...
"New Zealand director Alison Maclean's The Rehearsal is a small, but undeniably ambitious film. Maclean (Jesus' Son) — shooting a script she co-wrote with Emily Perkins, adapted from the novel by Eleanor Catton — drives the play-within-the-film conceit into some smartly constructed scenes. Most successful — and often, ironically, superbly well acted — are the scenes set in the drama school classroom. In the best of these vignettes, Kerry Fox is a near-hypnotic presence, passive-aggressively manipulating and undermining her charges, while she preens and struts in front of them. Fox doesn't quite plumb the depths of repressed sexuality of Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal — a film The Rehearsal surely owes a debt to — Fox is far more overtly likeable and forgiveable here than Dench was allowed to be in that under-rated gem. But the character, if we watch closely, is no less chilling."
An impressive technical work with a collection of remarkable performances, and well-composed imagery, with The Rehearsal Canadian born but New Zealand raised writer-director Alison Maclean has created an emotionally textured adaptation of Man Booker award-winning author Eleanor Catton's first novel, a drama that's as piercing as it is potent. The Rehearsal screens three times at VIFF 2016, on Friday, September 30th at 10:45am in Cinema 10 at the International Village; Saturday, October 8th at The Playhouse; and for a final time on Sunday, October 9th at The Centre.
Today's, and previous VIFF 2016 columns may be found here.
September 19, 2016
Vancouver International Film Festival tickets are on sale daily at the Vancity Theatre on Seymour Street, just north of Davie. This year's festival will run from Thursday, September 29th through Friday, October 14th where 365+ films, including 219 full-length features, from 75+ countries will screen.
Get ready for a cinematic onslaught: Tickets and passes for the 35th annual Vancouver International Film Festival have been on sale since the first part of the month. This year's edition of VIFF, which takes place September 29-October 14, will screen upwards of 365 domestic and foreign films, including 219 full-length features and 130 short or mid-length films from 75+ countries which will play on nine screens at seven venues.
This year's glossy programme (once again, available at no charge) may be found at the Vancity Theatre, as well as at libraries, coffee shops, community centres and VIFF sponsors all across the Metro Vancouver area.
And as per usual, films will screen (mostly) throughout the downtown core, from the Vancity Theatre (185 seats) on Seymour Street in new Yaletown, to the Cinematheque (194 seats) on Howe Street, in the burgeoning South Granville area. Many VIFF screenings will occur in the thriving, relatively new Crosstown neighbourhood, nestled in between the hustle and bustle of downtown, the new-money flash of Yaletown, the historical character of Gastown, and the colourful grit of Chinatown, with screens available to patrons at the 350-seat SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (in the Woodwards building, at Abbott and Hastings), the nearby Cineplex International Village Cinema, in Cinemas 8, 9 and 10 (799 seats in total), and the Vancouver Playhouse, on Hamilton Street (668 seats).
Perhaps the most glorious (as well as largest, and most comfortable) venue is The Centre for the Performing Arts, on Homer Street, between Georgia and Robson (1800 seats, 900 on the main floor), due west of the Vancouver Public Library. The Rio Theatre, at Commercial and Broadway (420 seats), will also play host to a wide range of VIFF 2016 films.
Beginning Tuesday, VanRamblings will publish insight into 25+ films which arrive at our 35th annual VIFF having won awards and critical acclaim at film festivals spanning the globe, from Venice and Berlin, to Cannes & Locarno, from Tribeca and Toronto, to Seattle, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, London, Park City Utah's Sundance Film Festival, and more, as we attempt to provide you with insight into what may emerge as worthy entries, among them films which are likely to gain Oscar recognition early in 2017.
Full, daily VIFF coverage — which began on Monday, September 19th — will be available here through and beyond Festival end on October 14th, or by simply returning to VanRamblings each day. Commencing on Tuesday, September 20th, 2016 VanRamblings will provide 8 straight days of coverage of the 25 - 30 award-winning and under the radar films that will screen at the 35th annual Vancouver International Film Festival that may be worthy of your interest and your consideration.
VanRamblings will also provide coverage of the International Shorts programme (thank you Sandy Gow!), and will publish an interview with the tremendously gifted Vancity programmer Tom Charity that we hope readers will find both informative and heartening. Looking forward to seeing you back here at VanRamblings regularly and often, as we seek to provide VIFF 2016 coverage we hope will be of ongoing and consuming interest to you.
September 18, 2016
With a British Columbia provincial election looming fewer than nine months away — on Tuesday, May 9th, 2017 — the time has come for VanRamblings to arise phoenix like from the ashes of the 2016 Canadian federal election.
In the coming months, there will be much that will be written on this blog as to why any thinking, socially aware, informed and compassionate British Columbian must choose to vote for the New Democratic Party of British Columbia over Canada's most right-wing, least responsive (except in the lead up to an election) Liberal-in-name-only provincial political party. That most important work will begin in November, in the weeks following the ...
35th annual Vancouver International Film Festival, to which VanRamblings will dedicate almost all of its energies over the course of the next month, with the first of 30 VIFF columns to be published Monday, September 19th.
Following the conclusion of Vancouver's annual film festival by the sea, chances are that VanRamblings will focus, mainly, on the upcoming U.S. election, offering opinion and reflection on what is to be wrought on Tuesday, November 8th south of the border, and the implications of the most important election in the United States in more than 50 years.
Although VanRamblings' primary focus following the U.S. election will be British Columbia's perhaps not quite so consequential provincial election, VanRamblings will also turn its attention to Vancouver municipal politics, focusing mainly on Park Board & School Board, as strong opinion abounds.
And, finally, in a departure from past VanRamblings practice, this blog will increasingly turn its attention to a personal journal, mordantly titled fixin' to die rag, more as a service to VanRamblings' two lovely children, Jude and Megan, so that they (and you) will come to better understand who it is that has composed posts on VanRamblings dating back to February 2004.
As has long proven to be the case, what you will find published on VanRamblings will please almost no one (opinion, fidelity and truth are hardly in vogue these days), least of all my children (and their mother) in respect of the fixin' to die rag, most political figures of every stripe (as always, one can expect much consternation from the good-hearted folks involved in COPE), and those who reside on the political spectrum far from the territory where VanRamblings has long found its philosophical home.
Welcome back to VanRamblings — a raucous ride is all but guaranteed!