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VIFF 2008: An Unusual, But Hopeful, Theme Emerges


An unusual theme has developed at this year's Vancouver Film Festival.

Where for many years the theme of the Festival might reasonably be interpreted as the "Cinema of Despair," in 2008 the theme of despair has been supplanted by a theme of hope, perseverance through hard times, an acceptance of one's life situation, and the construction of an identity that allows the individual to maintain one's dignity, as well as a joie de vivre.

We first experienced this theme on Thursday, the opening day of the Festival, while catching a screening of Lights at the End of the Tunnel.

In the first film of the series, As I Lay Dying, a mother nurses her young son, tamping a wet cloth over his body to lower his temperature and ease her boy's pain. In the second film of the series, Escape, a young boy grieves the loss of his mother, and the loneliness of a solitary farm life with his grandfather. And in the final film of the series, At the End of the Tunnel, an 18-year-old boy blind since age four prevails in the most difficult of circumstances to find love, despite a life of hardship and previous despair.

In each case in the films above, a zen-like acceptance of one's life circumstance emerges, along with transcendence and hope for a better life, an engaged life of involvement in the building one's own unique identity.

That same theme of hope and transcendence emerges in ...

Sugar (Grade: B+): Writer-director Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's affecting follow-up to their 2006 Oscar nominee, Half Nelson, tracks the emergence of a young Dominican baseball phenom, Miguel "Sugar" Santos (Algenis Perez Soto, making his big screen début). Upon arriving in America and assigned to the Single-A Kansas City Chief's farm team, initially at least, Sugar proves to be the pitcher all, including himself, would wish him to be. But as inevitably occurs, Sugar's prospects take a turn for the worse, leaving open the question as to how he will proceed. In the end, Sugar embarks on an unusual and self-directed path that leads him to a sense of connection, fulfilment and happiness outside of professional baseball.

To a somewhat less salutary degree, a theme of hope emerges in ...

Ballast (Grade: C+): Lance Hammer's mumblecore, Bressonian début, set in the dead of winter in the grim, grey and impoverished Mississippi Delta is minimalist, European-style filmmaking. Although hope does emerge in the lives of the film's 3 protagonists, it is not a hope based on understanding of one's circumstance, but rather of hope for barest survival, with little prospect for happiness and transcendence. For VanRamblings, although the subject matter of the film was decidedly un-Hollywood, the indie nature of the film offers not enough for us to wholeheartedly recommend Ballast.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at September 26, 2008 11:43 PM in VIFF 2008


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