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First Day: 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival


Awoke to leaden skies, with a chill in the morning air and just the slightest hint of rain. In other words, perfect Film Festival-going weather.

Took transit downtown, and when alighting from the bus ran into Armand, the recently-retired head of Warner Brothers' western Canada DVD distribution, who was on his way to a 'pioneer's luncheon' for all those involved in some facet of the film industry in British Columbia, from theatre managers, publicists, booking and distribution agents and writers, to just about anyone else involved in some facet of the film business in Vancouver.

Once Armand trundled off on his way, VanRamblings made our way down to Pacific Cinémathèque for our first screening of the Fest, a film from the Spotlight on France series, titled ...

La France (Grade: C): Essentially a trifle, a melancholy WWI story of a young woman who disguises herself as a man to join a wayward squad of seemingly lost soldiers, in hopes of finding her husband. A low-budget second outing for director Serge Bozon, whether it's the soldiers breaking out into periodic Beatle-esque song, or a story that doesn't quite seem to know where its going, although La France is decidedly un-Hollywood fare, it doesn't mean that you're going to want to rush out to see this VIFF film.

Emerged from Pacific Cinémathèque into a fine mist shower, so bundled up for the five-block walk to the Empire Granville 7, the main Film Festival venue, where tickets were available for our second screening of the day ...

Losers and Winners (Grade: C+): Part of the Non-Fiction Features series, Losers and Winners tracks a group of Chinese workers brought to Dortmund, Germany to dismantle a coking plant for reconstruction in China. Even though the docs' production values are flat, the story of a German workforce hired to provide aid to the Chinese workers dismantling the factory, and the insight provided to the audience as to what is expected of Chinese workers makes for fitfully compelling viewing.

After the screening of Losers and Winners, VanRamblings joined the inimitable Mr. Shayne outside the Granville 7 to pick our passes for our third film of the day ...

September (Grade: B+): Set in 1968, this was the first film at the 2007 VIFF to sweep us off our feet, the cinematography of the prairie landscape of western Australia lush and beautiful, and the story of two boys — one aboriginal, one white — coming to terms with changing times compelling fare from beginning to end, and a must-see at the 2007 VIFF.

Next it was time to wait in line (from just after 4 p.m. til 5:40 p.m. !!!) to pick up our passes, outside the Granville 7, for the evening fare on our viewing schedule ...

Shotgun Stories (Grade: A+): In this highlight of our first day's filmgoing, Michael Shannon, as "Son" Hayes, offers a shattering performance of coiled rage against the travesties of a life gone terribly wrong, and seemingly out of control. Painting a withering portrait of near anomie and dispossession in Little Rock, Arkansas, the film's title is apt given what occurs in the film's second half, but Shotgun Stories is less a low-key revenge thriller than a character study of one segment of the lumpen class in the southern U.S. First-rate production values, great performances throughout, and a sure directorial hand by tyro helmer Jeff Nichols makes this another must-see, particularly given that there's no distributor in place for what is, most assuredly, one of the best films of the year.

And, as the final film of the day ...

Atonement (Grade: B+): With a critics score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, does Atonement require comment from VanRamblings? Mr. Shayne was swept away by the majestic, epic scope of the picture — and there's no denying that director Joe Wright does a superb job of bringing Ian McEwan's acclaimed novel to the screen — but Keira Knightley ... this is the kind of film which requires heaving bosoms, and even though they were present in Ms. Knightley's previous collaboration with Mr. Wright (Pride and Prejudice), in Atonement Ms. Knightley (porcelain beauty though she may be) proves to be so anorexically thin as to be distracting. Still, a good film.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at September 27, 2007 11:59 PM in VIFF 2007


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