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VIFF 2007

October 8, 2007

Day Twelve: 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival


Although not as strong as the first week, the second week of the 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival has possessed enough credibly realistic cinematic endeavour (in other words, fucking good cinema) as to gladden the heart of any true Festival-goer. Honestly, the 2007 VIFF has emerged as the strongest Festival in years, not just for the films VanRamblings has attended and swooned over, but also for the dozens of others films for which the buzz is near euphoric.

In addition to the films VanRamblings has written about previously, there are ever more films that are must-sees, films without conventional distribution which we can only hope (if there is a God in the heavens) that Mark Peranson and the programming crew at the VanCity Theatre will bring back during the next year ...


Battle in Seattle (Grade: A): One of the two punch-in-the gut films to screen at this year's Festival (the other, London To Brighton), offering a fictive treatment of the World Trade Organization’s 1999 meetings in Seattle, Battle in Seattle is the single most gut-wrenching film we've seen this year. The scene with Charlize Theron in the alley way is simply the most devastating two-and-a-half minutes of filmmaking you'll see this year. Who'da thunk that a fictional rendering of the 1999 World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Seattle would prove both so moving and movement-oriented? A tour-de-force work by first-time helmer Stuart Townsend — with outstanding, Oscar worthy performances from Charlize Theron, Sam Riley, Michelle Rodriguez, Woody Harrelson, Andre 3000 and Ray Liotta — Battle in Seattle is an absolute must-see when it returns for its regular run later this year. One of the best films of 2007.


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Grade: A+): Easily the best film at the 2007 VIFF, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is also the best film of the year (quite simply, you won't see more accomplished cinema this year). From the wrenching central performances of Marie-Josee Croze and Mathieu Amalric to the work of the film's outstanding supporting cast (Max von Sydow and Emmanuelle Seigner, among others), from Janusz Kaminski's cooly luminous cinematography to Ronald Harwood's erudite script, and mostly for its humanity and hopeful reflection on the human condition — man, woman and child — The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is must-see cinema. Slated to open in Vancouver on Christmas day.


The Edge of Heaven (Grade: A): German cinema is particularly strong at this year's Fest, but the best trend overall in world cinema in 2007 is the taut, spare nature of filmmaking from across the globe. Not ponderous American hoo-haw, but honest-to-goodness storytelling about real people, in films that don't dawdle and lead you on, but get in, rip your heart out with the story that is being told, and get out, leaving you devastated, changed, a better person for the experience. How wonderful to see Hanna Schygulla after all these years, and how wonderful, too, to witness the birth of a cinematic auteur in writer-director Fatih Akın. How fortunate for you that The Edge of Heaven screens twice this week — Tuesday, Oct. 9th at 1 p.m. at the Granville 7, and Wednesday, Oct. 10th at 10 a.m., again at the Granville 7. You'll want to skip work to see The Edge of Heaven.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 1:37 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2007

October 7, 2007

Final Week: 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival


Ran into Festival Board Chair, Michael Francis, in the early afternoon, at Bean Around the World on 10th Avenue, in Vancouver's West Point Grey neighbourhood. An impromptu discussion of this year's Festival ensued, and a number of topics were covered, including ...

  • Length of the Festival: In recent days, there's been a rumour floating throught the line-ups and the cinemas that in 2008 VIFF will shorten the length of the Festival to 10 days, from its current 16-day run. "Not so," says Francis. "I'm not sure where that rumour might have originated, but we'll be a 16-day Festival next year, as we've been for many years."

  • Box Office Is Up 30% This Year Over Last: This past week the rumour floated around that box office was up 30% in the first week. "True," says Francis. "But, overall, we'll probably be up 4 or 5% in 2007 over 2006. Because so many people are purchasing their tickets online, over the Internet, and because so many patrons purchased their tickets in the first week of the Festival, box office was indeed up approximately 30% over last year, but that figure won't sustain through the end of the Festival."

    "Something else we've done this year, as well, is keep a closer eye on the box office, and when it was deemed appropriate, and when we became aware of increased demand to see a particular film, we changed venues for the popular films to a larger venue, like Theatre 7 at the Granville 7 Cinemas, or increased the number of screens on which a film is available. That innovation served to increase box office in the first week."

VanRamblings offered to Francis that the 2007 VIFF was one of the strongest in years, a sentiment with which Francis was in full accord. "Of particular note, too, is the success of the Film Forum this year, probably our most successful year ever," Francis enthused. "So not only do we have strong, important films from across the globe screening at our Festival this year — at a time when international cinema has never been stronger — interest in the craft of filmmaking has also emerged as an ever stronger focus of the Festival and Festival participants."

Francis and VanRamblings also spoke briefly about our favourite films at the Festival this year, about Festival director Alan Franey (about whom we are both supportive), and the general all-around good feeling among Festival-goers and Festival staff this year. "2007 very much feels like the beginning of something new, as if we are just now embarking — as is world cinema — on a new and more vibrant path, that the previous 26 years have laid the foundation for an even stronger Festival in the years to come."

And, so one might hope.

C'mon back on Monday, October 8th, for snapshot reviews of second-week favourites (Battle in Seattle, Edge of Heaven, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), and buzz films not already reviewed on this site (Bliss, Empties).

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 3:39 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2007

October 1, 2007

Day Five: 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival
Misery and Destruction: And The Hits Just Keep on Comin'


Raining outside. Again. First up on the film schedule tonight was ...

The Counterfeiters (Grade: A): Truly one of the strongest films at the 2007 VIFF. Telling the true story of a disparate group of imprisoned artists, financiers and master forger / counterfeiters secretly assembled in a Nazi concentration camp to forge millions of pound and dollar notes to support the German war effort, Stefan Ruzowitzky's tense, award-winning WWII story of survival and martyrdom offers testament, once again, to the strength of German filmmaking on the world scene, and serves to remind us too of the inhumanity of the German nation state in the 1930s and early 1940s. The Counterfeiters plays again Tuesday, October 9th at 2 p.m. at the Granville 7, and Wednesday, October 10th at 7 p.m. at The Ridge.

And for the second part of Monday night's double bill ...

London to Brighton (Grade: A-): Ordinarily VanRamblings' memory is pretty good, but somehow we walked into this film thinking it was a gritty, British caper crime drama, sorta like Layer Cake. And we were wrong, way wrong. Instead what London to Brighton offers is a terrifyingly accomplished cinematic roller-coaster ride in which the lives of an abandoned 11-year-old street kid (played with devastating force by newcomer Georgia Groome, in a frighteningly tragic début performance) and Kelly (Lorraine Stanley), a tough Cockney hooker with a swollen left eye, are in peril and on the line.

A big hit in Great Britain, but with no distributor in North America, either you set about to catch the next screening of London to Brighton on Wednesday, October 3rd, 4 p.m. at the Granville 7, or at 7 o' clock next Monday, October 8th at The Ridge or you'll miss it, and won't even be afforded an opportunity to watch it on DVD. Which even if you don't realize it now, would represent a loss of relatively significant proportion for you. Almost needless to say, this is yet another must-see at the 2007 VIFF.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:38 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2007

September 30, 2007

Day Four, 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival
Suffering and Salvation on a Rainy Sunday in Vancouver


The rains continued to pour down throughout the day, the only respite a few stolen hours inside a darkened movie theatre watching independent, foreign and documentary film that, in all likelihood, will never find its way back to our sodden west coast shores. And, it was ever thus. The talk in the early part of the day was of Telefilm Canada, the idealist versus the pragmatic argument: can't Canada produce better films, says one, while the other replies: Telefilm Canada exists to provide an opportunity for novices in the filmmaking industry to gain experience. Still, the question remains: Can't Canada make better films, films which reflect who we are and present Canadians to the world in a way that expresses our distinct culture?

The first film of the day, on a soggy Sunday morning, was ...

4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (Grade: A): Downbeat, harrowing at times, with an unforgiving strain of melancholy throughout, director Cristian Mungiu sets his Romanian tale of an unwanted pregnancy in 1987 Bucharest, employing a handheld dogme filmic style to track Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and her friend, Găbiţa (Laura Vasiliu) through the arrangements the two make for a black market abortion. Minimalist filmmaking, with extended tracking shots that serve to explore the discomfort of the protagonists, however difficult 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days may be to watch, there is no question that this is tour-de-force filmmaking. Screening again Monday, October 8th at 7 p.m., and Thursday, October 11th at 4 p.m., once again this is must-see 2007 VIFF film fare.

Taking a midday break and a journey home, VanRamblings returned to the Festival wars at 3:30 p.m. for a screening of ...

For the Bible Tells Me So (Grade: B+): A conventional documentary that has something of importance to say, that presents its arguments against intolerance in a reasonable and sincere manner, without seeming to hector you, or lecture you ... just good old-fashioned advocacy filmmaking. As Justin Chang writes in his Variety review, "Filmmaker Daniel Karslake lobs a grenade into the culture wars with his heartfelt, provocative and unabashedly polemical For the Bible Tells Me So, which examines the intersection of homosexuality and religion ..." Another 2007 VIFF must-see.

Bookending the day was the Cannes winner for Best Actress ...

Secret Sunshine (Grade: B): The story of a distraught mother who, first, loses her husband, and then her son, there was something unsettling and threateningly magical realist about this story of loss and salvation gone wrong. Intriguing and compelling to watch, yet somehow distant and dramatically unsatisfying, there's no question Jeon Do-yeon gives a startlingly vivid performance as a woman coming to terms with unfathomable family tragedy, and for that alone this film is worth catching.

VanRamblings will slow posting throughout the week (actual "being at the office" work beckons), yet we'll attempt to post sporadically. For the next couple of days, this is what is on our film schedule radar ...

On Monday ...

The Counterfeiters, and the raucous London to Brighton.

And, on Tuesday ...

Iska's Journey, which Variety reviews here. And, in the late evening ...

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, which is reviewed by Variety here.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:58 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2007

September 29, 2007

Day Three, 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival
Another Day That Just Knocks Your Socks Off


As the weather office had been promising all week, on Saturday the rains finally came, the sort of chill, damp mid-November autumn day that arrives much too early this year.

Given that Sunday will mean an early morning for the 10 a.m. screening of the Cannes Palme d'Or winner, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, VanRamblings took the early morning hours on Saturday to spend an extra few minutes in bed, planning the day's film activities. Bundled up in the appropriate rain gear, VanRamblings headed downtown shortly after 2 p.m. to line up for tickets for the 3:30 screening of the Sundance Jury documentary winner ...

Manda Bala (Grade: B+): Director Jason Kohn's vivid portrait of corruption, crime, fear and anomie in modern-day Brazil, where the very act of getting up in the morning is fraught with the prospect of one's imminent death, Manda Bala is gruesome at times (VanRamblings turned our eyes away during the ear reconstruction scenes), yet ultimately hopeful in tone and possessed of an insight into a Brazil that few of us in the northern hemisphere are even remotely aware of. Another must-see at the 2007 VIFF, Manda Bala screens again next Friday, October 5th at 4:15 p.m.

Although VanRamblings would have preferred to stay to listen to the post-screening questions the audience would place to Jason Kohn, who was in attendance at the screening, that darn pass line-up line outside the Granville 7 beckoned — either passholders get in line by 5 p.m. to pick up their evening tickets, or chances are they won't see the films on their schedule. VanRamblings waited on damp, dreary rain-slicked Granville Street til 5:30 p.m., when we picked up our evening passes for ...

You, The Living (Grade: C-): Although director Roy Andersson picked up the Jury Prize at Cannes, in 2002, for Songs From The Second Floor, his latest — Sweden's entry in the 2007 Oscar derby — is utterly pointless film fare. Surprisingly, Jason Anderson in Eye Weekly gave You, The Living five stars when it played at the Toronto Film Festival, calling it "austere, ingenious, hilarious, romantic, hopeful and dyspeptic". One is left only to wonder what drugs Mr. Anderson took the day he screened You, The Living, because for VanRamblings this film was an unwatchable, pretentious, uninvolving waste of 92 minutes (witness the numerous walk-outs).

The find of the day, though, the real Saturday stand-out was ...

Beaufort (Grade: A-): Sparse but powerful, Beaufort recounts Israel's evacuation of the Southern Lebanese mountaintop fortress of the title, in 2000. Telling the personal stories of a group of young soldiers held hostage in a vast labyrinth of concrete tunnels and bunkers while attempting to defend Israel's interests, stationed within an inhospitable Lebanon and under constant attack by the deadly forces of the Hezbollah, director Joseph Cedar's bleak, emotional film may not break any new ground when it comes to filming the drama of war, but that doesn't make Beaufort any less compelling. Another must-see at the 2007 Vancouver Film Festival.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:59 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2007

September 28, 2007

Day Two, 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival
Beautiful, Strong Women Abound at This Year's Fest


Nine films screened by VanRamblings in the first two days of the 2007 VIFF, and six of those films proved to be outstanding. At this juncture it must be said: this is a fucking great Festival, one of the strongest in years.

The first film on Friday was one of the most hotly anticipated documentaries of the year, and a certain Oscar contender come years' end:


My Kid Could Paint That (Grade: A-): With 4-year-old Marla Olmstead an absolutely engaging presence at the centre of, but oblivious to, the maelstrom of activity involving questions as to the veracity of her talent for painting vibrant, ethereal abstracts, during the compact 81-minute running time of producer-director Amir Bar-Lev's thought-provoking film, the viewer is taken on a roller coaster ride the likes of which you're unlikely to experience in the cinema anywhere outside a screening of this film, this year. Marla's embattled dental assistant mother, Laura, comes across as the single most sympathetic, articulate, bright, strong and caring person you're likely to see on film this year. Rotten Tomatoes scores this film at 100%, and deservedly so. Screening again next Friday, October 4th at 6:20 p.m. at the Granville 7, and at 4 p.m. the following Thursday, October 11th at 3 p.m. this is one film you don't want to miss. Another must-see at the 2007 VIFF.

Next up on the day's film journey ...

7 Years (Grade B-): The second sub-par film in the Spotlight on France film series, 7 ans is a kitchen sink drama which relates the somewhat perverse story of a young woman who, in the course of visiting her husband in jail, comes to have an affair with one of her husband's keepers. Gritty and real, yet dramatically unsatisfying, 7 years offers low-budget, hardscrabble cable fare which manages only to be sporadically involving.

Taking a break in the afternoon to enjoy unseasonably warm and sunny weather, it was back to the Granville 7 at 6:20 p.m. for a screening of ...


Caramel (Grade: A-): Along with Shotgun Stories, this Lebanese film may very well be VanRamblings' favourite film thus far at the 2007 VIFF. Early Almodóvar in style and presentation, Caramel will likely emerge as the most accomplished film to screen at the this year's fest. Written, directed and starring the stunningly beautiful and talented Nadine Labaki, the film emerged as a big hit at Cannes this year. In the early going Caramel would have to be considered the odds-on favourite for a 2007 Best Foreign Film Oscar. Sun-drenched and absolutely lovely in its evocation of modern-day Lebanon (a revelation all on its own), Caramel harkens back to the country when it was considered to be the Paris of the Middle East. Every frame of this picture is painterly, and every line of dialogue and every performance is little short of revelatory. And, yet, this is "only" a picture about five women who operate a beauty salon in Beirut. Obviously, it is about so much more, and so much so that you'll want to make sure that you skip work on Monday afternoon, October 1st at 2 p.m. to catch the final screening of this absolutely wonderful film.

As the final film for the 2nd day of the 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival, Mr. Shayne, music aficionado that he is, insisted on ...

Control (Grade: A-): Joy Division were the link between the Beatles and Nirvana, a Manchester-based band that pioneered the post-punk sound of the late 70s. In this revelatory adaptation of Debbie Curtis' chronicling of the era and first-hand account of the life and death of her husband / lead singer of Joy Division, Ian Curtis — adapted from her recently-published in-depth biographical account, titled Touching From a Distance — director / chronicler of the era, Anton Corbijn's stunning high-contrast monochrome movie played to appreciative, jam-packed Friday night houses in both the Granville 3 and 4, where the audience was kept in rapt attention by a film that was all at once somber, sad and compelling. Another 2007 must-see.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:51 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2007

September 27, 2007

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 11:59 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2007

September 17, 2007

2007 Vancouver International Film Festival
Another Epic Immersion in Films From Across The Globe


On Thursday, September 27th, the annual marathon Vancouver International Film Festival opens its 26th edition. Over the course of the next 16 days, the city will play host to more than 350 films. Statistically, VIFF is Canada's largest film festival. Here's a breakdown: 242 features, 90 documentaries and 119 shorts — representing 50 countries, 42 world premières, 29 North American premières and 34 Canadian premières.

Beyond the record number of débuts, VIFF '07 is mounting more film-related events — celebrity appearances, director Q&A's, forums, panels — than ever before. VIFF continues to be both a supermarket of films and an industry convention all in one, while offering a window on the world to an ever-increasing and enthusiastic group of cinéastes from across the globe.

This year, the Vancouver International Film Festival expands its traditional Dragons & Tigers: The Cinemas of East Asia series to include a spotlight on China. Speaking at the Festival launch earlier in the month, Festival Director Alan Franey emphasized B.C.'s importance as Canada's "Pacific Gateway" to Asia. "China will take centre stage — not just this year but for the next couple of years," Franey announced at VIFF's VanCity Theatre.

Meanwhile, all the usual VIFF features will be back: Galas and Special Presentations, Non-Fiction Features; Canadian Images, Cinema of Our Time, and Spotlight on France. New this year is Climate for Change, a series that will include both dramatic features and documentaries emphasizing fresh information, vision and cinematic artistry, a $25,000 juried environmental film series committed to eco-consciousness, sponsored by Kyoto Planet.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 12:30 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2007


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