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VIFF 2008

October 10, 2008

VIFF 2008: Gone But Not Forgotten, Over For Another Year


The annual Vancouver International Film Festival has wrapped for another year, and VanRamblings is verklempt that 'it's' gone until next year.

We spent the final day of the 2008 film festival catching up on screenings we missed ...

The Wrecking Crew (Grade: A-): For a child of the 60s, a lover of the music of the era, and a former sixties disc jockey, VanRamblings was swept away with the nostalgic, and informational, value of The Wrecking Crew. All those licks, on all those songs, and it was ace guitarist Tommy Tedesco, bassist extraordinaire Carol Kaye, percussionist Hal Blaine, and approximately 20 others, who provided the beat to the soundtrack of our lives. The Wrecking Crew were the real musicians in the studio, not the actual band members. What a revelation! One of the must-sees at the Vancouver Film Festival.

Parenting (Grade: B): Five Canadian shorts of varying quality, there's no doubt that Peg Campbell's Your Mother Should Know was one of the programme highlights, an exploration of the mother-daughter dynamic. All and all, a powerful group of films (we were also moved by Marié-Josée Saint-Pierre's Passages). A good way to end our Festival experience.

In the evening, Festival director, Alan Franey, announced the award winners at this year's Fest. The audience favourite in the Cinema of Our Time? Philippe Claudel's I've Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t'aime).

Well, that's a wrap for the 2008 Vancouver International Film Festival. We'll post some of our reflections on the Festival early in the coming week.

Congratulations for a job well done, to Alan and his programming crew, to the Media and all the other VIFF staff, to the incredibly wonderful volunteer staff, to the Board of Directors, and to all the filmmakers — many of whom travelled halfway across the globe to be here — for providing a window on our world to all of those who attended the 2008 Vancouver Film Festival.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:37 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2008

October 9, 2008

VIFF 08: The End is Nigh For Vancouver's Subjective Film Festival


General consensus on the last days of the 27th annual Vancouver International Film Festival is that the quality of films at this year's Fest don't measure up to the films that were available in 2007.

But, then again, very few Vancouver International Film Festivals ever have.

One of the striking aspects of this year's Festival is the uniquely subjective nature of attendees' response to films. For instance ...

Audiences are divided on The Secret of the Grain, half feeling as VanRamblings does that 'Secret' represents one of the strongest films available on the world stage at the 2008 edition of the Vancouver Film Festival, the other half of the madding crowd calling the film loud, boring and overlong. There was a similar response to VanRamblings' Festival film favourite, The New Year Parade, where more than half the audience of 30 walked out of the film midway through, leaving only 14 audience members in attendance at the VanCity Theatre — all of whom raved about the film in an informal scrum after the screening. Who's to know?

Thursday evening we found ourselves in a heated discussion (well, we were heated, anyway) about the merits, or lack thereof, of the German film, Cloud 9. VanRamblings viscerally hated this film, which many have dismissed, and called Old People Fucking. Bereft of insight and tedious in the extreme, the women we were discussing this film with (an erudite group) had much praise for the film. Gosh. There's just no accounting for taste. Whether it's VanRamblings taste, or the taste of the group of women with whom we were conversing, is up for discussion, it would seem.

When all is said and done, we still hate Cloud 9, but are we in the minority?

The same women came away from 3 Women — which we saw on Thursday morning, and loved — critical of the film, calling it a "failure". We were swept away by the film, as were most in the audience (given the comments we heard while exiting the theatre); these particular three women with whom we were conversing were, decidedly, not. Sometimes, there just ain't no ...

Or, as retired Famous Players' manager, Ted Beelby, averred upon leaving a screening of the Canadian film, Crime, "there's 2 hours I'll never get back."

Still, there were at least a couple of buzz films we saw over the course of the past couple of days on which there was some positive consensus ...

Let The Right One In (Grade: A-): A touching, pre-adolescent vampire love story, VanRamblings saw this gory horror delight with a secondary Vancouver school audience who'd been invited to the screening (it's all about building a future audience for the Festival). No one can do atmospheric dark horror like Swedish filmmakers, and Lina Leandersson is simply exquisite as the lost soul of the film. We're glad we saw this film.

Sita Sings The Blues (Grade: A-): Given that first time filmmaker Nina Paley has been unable to gain the rights to the songs sung in the film by jazz/blues singer extraordinaire, Annette Hanshaw, and that permission has been given to screen the film only at selected film festivals, either you caught Sita Sings The Blues here, or you were simply going to be out of luck. A crossover Bollywood / contemporary American tale, based on an ancient text, the Hindu epic poem, Ramayana, paired with modern-day vignettes of a San Francisco couple's passage to India leading to the end of their marriage, Sita Sings The Blues is brilliant from beginning to end.

The power of the music and lyrics of the evocative 1929 jazz and blue soundtrack so heightens a character's interior state, with the blues songs Sita sings — from "Daddy, Won't You Please Come Home?", "Mean to Me ("You treated me coldly")," to "Am I Blue?", you're just pulled in.

VanRamblings was very mezzo mezzo about Ellen Kuras' The Betrayal (Grade: B), about the personal and political betrayal of a family of Laotians (Nixon comes off very badly here), and were even more significantly disenchanted with Donkey in Lahore (which, for filmmaking expertise, we'd offer a Grade: B-; and on a personal basis we'd award a solid Grade:D-).

Apart from the craft of the filmmaking in Donkey in Lahore, we hated the film (for personal reasons, of course). We ask ourselves, would we want to marry off our daughter to an unemployed Australian hobbyist puppeteer with a borderline personality disorder? Nope. We think not.

And it was ever thus at the 2008 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival. Some films you love; some films you don't. But rarely do you find Festival-goers in the very same group, agreeing on any one particular film.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:56 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2008

October 8, 2008

VIFF 2008: Strong, Compelling Films Define VIFF08's Waning Days


As the 27th annual Vancouver International Film Festival draws, inexorably, towards its triumphant close, VanRamblings seems to have found a second wind, and looks forward to catching lots of Festival films Thursday & Friday.

The above said, as is the case with many Festival aficionados, we are feeling a bit weary after catching 4 or 5 films each day, over a period of 16 days.

Secretly, if truth be told, we're sorta glad the Festival is drawing to a close.

But we feel conflicted. Yes, we're tuckered after viewing 50+ hard-hitting foreign films. But, really, we don't want this phantasmagoria of film to end.

Because we've got four screening to take in on Thursday3 Women, Sita Sings The Blues, Afterschool, and Donkey in Lahore — we'll keep tonight's posting mercifully brief. After all, only hours from now, VanRamblings will begin our last full day of the Festival. There's films to see — we'll be there.

Flame and Citron (Grade: A-): One of the must-see buzz films at this year's Festival, Flame and Citron easily lives up to its pre-fest billing as gripping, entirely involving Danish film fare, as director Ole Christian Madsen explores the internecine power struggles in WWII's Danish resistance movement, the subterfuge, and the duplicity. Wonderfully rendered. An important film, and when you get right down to it, an overall better made film than last year's much-ballyhooed Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, The Counterfeiters.

Hunger (Grade: B+): As James Christopher writes in the London Times, "a stunning début feature." A portrait of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands — one of the key figures in the IRA struggles of the 1980s — and set in H-Block of Maze Prison where republican inmates staged a " dirty" protest against the British government's refusal to recognize them as political prisoners, Hunger offers shocking film fare, where contemporary parallels might easily be drawn to U.S. involvement at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

There's one scene in particular that stands out — an intellectual deconstruction of the moral rationale for continuing to offer resistance in the face of certain failure — between Sands (an amazing Michael Fassbender) and Father Dominic Moran (Liam Cunningham, who is terrific).

Margaret Thatcher comes off miserably, almost a monster, in a series of voiceovers inserted throughout the film. Made primarily for a domestic audience, tyro director Steve McQueen's Hunger is still mighty powerful film fare, emerging as another must-see at the 2008 Vancouver Film Festival.

There's more to write, but not now. We'll offer a wrap-up of 2008's Fest, at some point over the weekend, and will post over the next two days, too.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:58 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2008

October 7, 2008

VIFF 2008: The Film Festival Wends to a Close in 3 More Days

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:48 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2008

October 6, 2008

VIFF 2008: Marriage Disintegration in the Fest Spotlight


VanRamblings' return to the Festival was hard-going, for varying reasons.

First up on Monday evening, for a 7pm screening, at The Ridge, of ...

Cloud 9 (Grade: C-): With long, lingering scenes redolent of watching paint dry hour upon tedious hour, Andreas Dresen's woefully uninvolving Cloud 9 proved more than a bit of a tough slog to sit through on Monday evening.

With no one on screen achieving anything remotely close to a rooting interest, this soporific exercise in 'elder porn' — the lead characters are aged 66 - 76, and spend much of the film having sex — ostensibly tells the story of a marriage disintegrating because the titular wife has developed a hankering for new man. The new (but older) man is thrilled because he's getting laid, as is the woman, who experiences satisfying multiple orgasms. The husband being left out in the cold? Happy? Not so much.

With a narrative style bereft of insight, a surfeit of enigmatic performances (we're being generous here), with a story just plain dull in the telling, and with indulgent nude scene after boring nude scene of the principles "making love" (which hardly serves to propel the story forward), Cloud 9 was, for VanRamblings, an utter waste of time, and anathema to what we look for in good filmmaking (i.e. sympathetic, relatable characters; an engaging narrative economy bordering on onscreen poetry; lush, lambent or just downright striking cinematography; and "punch in the gut" storytelling).

THE NEW YEAR PARADEGreg Lyons, and the luminous Jennifer-Lynn Welsh, in Tom Quinn's The New Year Parade

The New Year Parade (Grade: A): An absolutely stunning tour-de-force piece of filmmaking, writer-cinematographer-producer-editor Tom Quinn's The New Year Parade makes for 2008's most auspicious directorial début.

With a luminous, engaging and often heart-wrenching central performance by newcomer Jennifer-Lynn Welsh, there are just not enough good and great things that VanRamblings can write about The New Year Parade.

But we'll certainly try.

Set in an evocative working class neighbourhood in south Philly, in the spare 87-minute running time of the film, Tom Quinn achieves such a warm sense a character and place that the viewer is pulled right inside his tale of a marriage in disintegration, and the impact on all of those directly involved.

There's little wonder that The New Year Parade wowed 'em at the Slamdance Festival earlier this year, where it took the Grand Jury Prize.

Every moment of The New Year Parade is wondrous — from the enchanting and boisterous Mummer's Parade rehearsal scenes, to Welsh's quiet, ruminative high school scenes, from the scenes with Greg Lyons and his entirely sympathetic and humane new girlfriend, Julie (Irene Longshore), to the scenes along the Philly docks, and every scene before, after and in-between. Quite simply, The New Year Parade proves to be a must-see!

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:41 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2008

October 5, 2008

VIFF 2008: Surveying Coverage of the Vancouver Film Festival


As we do each year, VanRamblings will survey coverage of our annual Vancouver International Film Festival, in various media, local and beyond.

The Vancouver Sun ran this story about the winner of the 15th annual Dragons & Tigers Award for Young Cinema, Perfect Life. Diminutive director Emily Tang, who we'd run into earlier in the day at a Starbucks on Seymour Street, gladly accepted the $10,000 prize, which was announced this past Thursday, prior to the 6:30pm, Granville 7 screening of Hansel and Gretel.

The following represents coverage by the Georgia Straight ...

  • VIFF08, Part 1, Still Walking, Craig Takeuchi's screening of the Japanese feature Still Walking, a birthday present for his mother.

  • VIFF08, Part 2, about the long line-ups at VIFF screenings, and ...

  • VIFF08, Part 3, coverage of the Festival opener, Blindness, as well as Witch of the West, and Maman. Parts 4 through 9 of Craig Takeuchi's Georgia Straight blog coverage of VIFF08 may be found here.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Straight's Janet Smith, Ken Eisner and Mark Harris take a sneak peak at the 27th Vancouver International Film Festival, with capsule reviews of more than 100 films, reviews available here and here.

Jason Whyte, of, has been managing almost daily coverage of the 27th edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Jason, VanRamblings, 24 Hours' Volkmar Richter, CITR's J. B. Shayne, and Christian News' critic, Peter Chattaway, held an informal "scrum" (at least, that's what Alan Franey called it when he came over to say 'hi') a couple days back, and compared notes. As it happens, our taste in movies seems to run to a similar vein, as we keep running into one another. This is Jason's 6th year covering the Festival (he lives in Victoria), and although VanRamblings believe that we work hard covering the Festival, we are pikers when it comes to coverage, compared to what Jason is accomplishing.

The Tyee's Dorothy Woodend writes that her "can't miss" picks are: Let the Right One In, one of the big winners at the Tribeca Film Festival this year; Paruthiveeran, also one of Festival director Alan Franey's favourite films in 2008; the quietly devastating Waltz with Bashir, also one of VanRamblings' Festival favourites; The Lie of the Land; and, "to leaven things up with a bit of comedy," Woodend writes, Welcome to the Sticks and The Grocer's Son, both of which have a couple of screenings this coming week.

Sean Axmaker, who also freelances for the Seattle P-I (you can regularly read his reviews on Friday), writes in GreenCine Daily that ...

I've always found Vancouver the most enjoyable film festival of my year, whether for a couple of days or a full week. It's an easy fest to navigate, with seven screens of a downtown multiplex dedicated to the festival and all but one of the ten screens within a few blocks of one another.

iofilm sets about to cover Vancouver's 27th annual Festival, as well.

Vancouver's own, Only magazine (rising from the ashes of Terminal City), offers daily, relatively in-depth coverage of VIFF 08: here's Day One, wwwaaayyyy bbbaaaccckkkk on September 25th, and for a more up-to-date look at the Fest schedule, here's a look at Day Twelve (today).

David Bordwell, Roger Ebert's fave film theoretician, makes it out to Vancouver each year for our annual Festival, and in 2008 - along with companion, Kristin Thompson - has posted, in an erudite fashion, and at some length, on their flick picks that are in the mix to catch at VIFF 08. recommends Flame and Citron (buzz has been very good; we'll catch it later in the week), JCVD (gone, but almost certain to return for a regular run, somewhere, arising from strong positive response here and at Toronto's fest), and Let The Right One In (on VanRamblings' must-see list, and one we'll catch either tonight, or on Wednesday).

Rich, at A Random Walk Through Film, offers in-depth coverage of VIFF 08, where his Fest pix to click are: Sita Sings the Blues, The Song of Sparrows, Cherry Blossoms - Hanami, Let the Right One In, and Still Walking.

The local blog, Civilized Spice, covers the Festival. Then there's WordPress blog coverage (VanRamblings employs Movable Type, as our blog software). weighs in, recommending The Cannery (VanRamblings' favourite restaurant) as a place to grab a bite to eat during the run of the Festival. And, finally, Sarah Fobes writes about her schedule of films to take in at our august, and oh so pleasurable, 27th annual Vancouver Film Fest.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:54 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2008

October 4, 2008

VIFF 2008: The Cinema of Despair Returns


The screening of Wendy and Lucy so unsettled VanRamblings this past Wednesday, that we needed a couple of days to recover from the melancholy that had us in its grip following our mid-week viewing of Kelly Reichardt's woeful reflection on living a sad, dispossessed life in America.

Nonetheless, we trudged forward to continue our Festival attendance.

We became aware, as well, of the buzz films at this year's Fest, some having completed their run, some still to screen. Among the buzz films are: Eden, the small-but-powerful Irish film that tracks the slow disintegration of a marriage; and, Modern Life, Raymond Depardon's film about dairy farmers struggling to eke out a living in the French highlands. Modern Life was greeted with a standing ovation at its Cannes première. Screens again Mon, Oct 6 @ 11:30am, Gran7, Th 3, and Wed, Oct 8 @ 7:15pm, Gran7, Th 6.

Over the past three days, among other films, VanRamblings has taken in ...

Among The Clouds (Grade: B+): Iranian director Rouhollah Hejazi's bittersweet drama, set in southwest Iran near the Iraqi border, presents the touching story of a resourceful 16-year-old baggage porter who becomes smitten with a slightly older Iraqi woman who's not what she seems. Winner of the prize for best Iranian feature début at the Fajr Film Festival, with its lyrical cinematography and a haunting score, Among The Clouds ranks as one of our favourites at this year's Festival. Screens one more time, on Monday, Oct 6th @ 5:45pm, Empire Granville 7, in Th 1.

Firaaq (Grade: C): A narratively confusing, misogynist, sprawling low-
budget melodrama about the 2002 sectarian carnage in Gujarat, where 3,000 Muslims were killed, a film that sets about to address the humanitarian tragedy in Gujarat should offer far better treatment than this.

Tulpan (Grade: A-): Set on the the harsh but lustrously beautiful Kazakh steppe, and presenting the traditional lifestyle of nomadic sheep herders, this Cannes' Un Certain Regard winner is absolutely teeming with life as it tells its eminently engaging story of Asa (Askhat Kuchinchirekov), who shares a yurt with his beautiful older sister Samal (Samal Yeslyamova), his unforgiving brother-in-law Ondas (Ondasyn Besikbasov) and their four boisterous children. With its arresting scenes of a blue sky landscape that seems to go on forever, and with scenes of moving (and often humorous) familial intimacy inside the yurt, Tulpan was a must-see at this year's Fest. As Tulpan has completed its Festival run, let's hope Mark Peranson brings it to the VanCity Theatre for a one-week run at some point in the next year.

The Girl by the Lake (Grade: B+): Playing to a packed house at The Ridge, on a rain-drenched Saturday afternoon, The Girl by the Lake tells the surprisingly leisurely story of the murder of a young woman who is found nude on the side of a rural lake, but with no signs of sexual assault or a struggle. Into the picture comes Inspector Giovanni Sanzio (Toni Servillo), who is called in from the provincial capital to solve the mystery of the woman's death. More concerned with the Inspector's home life with his daughter and their travails revolving around the hospitalization of their wife/mother, and an exploration of the idiosyncracies of the town folk, any one of whom seems a prime suspect (not the least of whom is the father, who has filmed his daughter just a little too lovingly). The Girl by the Lake is not great art, but it certainly emerges as watchable Festival film fare. Mon, Oct 6th 6:40pm, Gran7, Th 3, and Wed, Oct 8th 11am, Gran7, Th 4.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:30 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2008

October 3, 2008

VIFF 2008: A Die Hard VIFF Fan Always Comes Prepared

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:08 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2008

October 2, 2008

VIFF 2008: Road Construction Gets Filmgoers and Fest Staff Down


Update: Great news! The situation written about in the VanRamblings blog post below has been resolved, as of 1:30 p.m. this Thursday afternoon.

Festival Director, Alan Franey, spoke to City and BC Hydro officials early this afternoon, and was successful in reaching an agreement that will see a halt to construction along Granville Street, outside the Empire Granville 7 Cinemas, until the end of the next week, Friday, October 10th, the final day of the 27th annual Vancouver International Film Festival.

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VanRamblings received the following e-mail, this morning, from Ellie O'Day, Media Director for the Vancouver International Film Festival.

The management of the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) is doing everything in its power to avert a serious disruption of our event by construction work just now beginning outside the Empire Granville 7 Cinemas, at 855 Granville Street.

granville-street-construction.jpgThe noise generated from this work could well mean the cancellation of many of the 200 screenings remaining at this venue. We received assurances from street engineers that consideration would be made of the fact that the Film Festival attracts 100,000 attendees to this block between September 25 and October 10.

That consideration appears to be inconvenient now.

We have received sympathetic counsel from everyone we've spoken to at City Hall and at B.C.Hydro, but nothing has so far averted this extremely serious blow to the Festival. Since no explanation has been forthcoming as to why this work absolutely needed to coincide with our brief event, it is time to warn our public. Hopefully a more public airing of our concern will encourage reasonable action to be taken in time.

We will immediately alert you as soon as a decision has been taken to cancel screenings in the 4 screens most badly affected by the jack hammering and street excavation: Theatres 3, 4, 5 & 6. Meanwhile, we apologize to the thousands of festival-goers who have already assembled each day in front of the theatre and found it difficult to make themselves understood against the noise of asphalt sawing.

The time has come for Festival-goers to get onboard, and contact City officials to hold off on Granville Street construction until after Thanksgiving.

Here's what you can do ...

E-mail your Vancouver City Councillors, by clicking here to send an e-mail to Mayor Sam Sullivan, and all Vancouver City Councillors.

Let them know just how you feel about the decision taken by BC Hydro, and the City's Engineering Department, to commence road construction along Granville Street during our the Vancouver International Film Festival, and ask them to hold off on further construction until Festival's end.

Write to Tom Timm, General Manager of Engineering Services, and Peter Judd. By clicking on their names, you'll be taken directly to your e-mail programme. Compose a letter expressing your concern respecting the decision taken by the City to begin road construction along Granville Street during the 16-day running period of the Vancouver Film Festival.

VanRamblings will provide updates on this situation as they occur.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:19 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2008

October 1, 2008

VIFF 2008: Rush to Judgment Occurs a Little Too Soon, It Seems


The prevailing opinion on Wednesday was that VanRamblings had rushed to judgment, respecting the quality of films screening at this year's Festival. In a mid-afternoon tête-à-tête outside the Granville 7, following a screening of the utterly fabulous Wendy and Lucy, cinephile John Skibinski suggested to VanRamblings that, "For years, the stronger films have screened in the 2nd week. Although it's true that nothing has blown me away thus far, there are a great many worthy films yet to screen in the nine days to come."

Wendy and Lucy (Grade: A): Kelly Reichardt is the goddess of minimalist filmmaking. In Wendy and Lucy, there's not one wasted word, nor one scene that is not pivotal to an understanding, and the development, of character and the outcome of the movie. In 80 spare minutes, Reichardt takes us deeper inside the economic and social malaise of the dispossessed than any other filmmaker in America could possibly be capable of.

Michelle Williams is utterly devastating as Wendy Carroll, a drifter passing through Oregon with her dog Lucy, on their way to what she hopes will be a better life, and gainful employment, in Alaska. With dignity and grace, Williams portrays a strong yet vulnerable young woman for whom nothing seemingly has gone right. We fear the worst for her throughout the film, and that real tragedy does not befall her by movie's end is the greatest gift writer-director Reichardt will provide to any film audience this year.

For VanRamblings, films like Wendy and Lucy, and Cate Shortland's equally bleak 2004 Australian export, Somersault - films where the central female character continually places herself in harm's way, bereft of an instinct for survival that would occur to almost any one of us - are very real horror films, where every human emotion causes the viewer to want to yell out at the screen for the character not to move in a particular injurious direction. Sometimes the despair is so great, the pain so devastating, that you have to avert your eyes from the screen. Wendy and Lucy is one of our favourite films to screen at the 27th annual Vancouver International Film Festival, thus far in the Festival's 2008 programme. Screens twice more, Sat, Oct 4 @ 1pm, Gran7, Th7; and Tue, Oct 7 @ 9pm, Gran7, Th4. A must-see.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:17 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2008

September 30, 2008

VIFF 2008: And The Hits ... They Don't Keep on Comin'


Sad to say, 2008 has not proved to be a banner year on the international movie scene, at least from the perspective of what moviegoers have seen presented, so far, at the 27th annual Vancouver International Film Festival.

Festival Director Alan Franey may have searched the world for the best, and he may have found the best foreign cinema available, but best is a relative term. The films on offer at last year's Festival represent more provocative, groundbreaking, and better made cinema than what we're seeing this year.

That said, the films Vancouverites are being treated to (most of which will never return to the city outside of their Festival screenings) are, for the most part, worthy of a cinephile's time inside the darkened Festival exhibition auditorium. For instance, the past couple of days we've seen ...

I've Loved You So Long (Grade: B+): In these early days of the Oscar sweepstakes, the star of this French export, Kristin Scott Thomas, has to be considered an odds-on-favourite for an Oscar nod, and potential win come next February. Although a tad implausible in its overall explication (most particularly, when the "murder" is finally explained, towards movie's end), in the film Scott Thomas plays Juliette, a woman just released from prison after serving a 15-year sentence for murder. Juliette comes to live with her younger sister, Lea (a radiant Elsa Zylberstein), husband Luc (Serge Hazanavicius), and their two children. Slowly, Juliette re-adjusts to the midde-class life she knew before her incarceration. One of the factors that makes I've Loved You So Long compelling viewing - apart from across the board strong performances (Laurent Grevill, as Michel, a colleague of Lea's, is a particular standout, in a supporting role) - is the film's superb, utterly original, touching and at times witty, and very funny, screenplay by writer-director Philippe Claudel. Playing for a final time this coming Sunday, Oct 5th at 1pm, at the Ridge Theatre. One of the 2008 VIFF must-sees.

Summer Hours (Grade: C+): A trifle, and too often a didactic one at that, Summer Hours presents an upper middle class family divesting their late mother's estate. Overall, VanRamblings found it hard to root for the film's group of overprivileged swells; the performances are simply too cool to be engaging. Most particularly, the film fails because too much screen time is given over to treatises on 20th century French art, and furniture design.

Three Monkeys (Grade: B-): How could you not love a film that looks like this? If the story line was pedestrian and uninvolving? If the characters were enigmatic and unengaging? Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan's latest film, in competition at Cannes this year, tells the mood driven story of a politician who convinces his driver, Eyup (Yavuz Bingol) to take the fall for a hit-and-run accident, with the promise of a big payday for the driver at the end of his sentence. From that moment on, nothing goes well: not for the politician, nor the driver's wife or son, or even the driver once he's released from prison. Gorgeous to look at, made with craft, but narratively tedious.

Chris and Don: A Love Story (Grade: B): VanRamblings is going to catch hell for not raving about this picture, but we're very ho-hum about how the story of Christopher Isherwood and his paramour, Don Bachardy, is told. Isherwood is fascinating throughout; Bachardy, not so much. Given that Bachardy narrates the lion's share of the film, viewers would have been better off with a consistent, articulate and insightful third-party narrator, rather than the inarticulate (if authentic) narrator Bachardy proves to be.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:47 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2008

September 29, 2008

VIFF 2008: Canadian Images, Cameron Labine's Control Alt Delete


From the VIFF's Canadian Images series, the following video by the folks at vancouver IAM, an interview with Cameron Labine, on his directorial début, Control Alt Delete, playing next Sunday & Monday at the Empire Granville 7.

Control Alt Delete screens Sunday, October 5, 7pm, Empire Granville 7, Theatre 7; and Monday, October 6, 4pm, Empire Granville 7, Theatre 7.

Thanks to Ian MacKenzie for directing our attention to the video above.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:44 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2008

September 28, 2008

VIFF 2008: Bright Lights, Big City ... In Search of Festival Fare


With 193 features to choose from, not to mention almost 100 non-fiction films, and 62 shorts, those in attendance at the 27th annual Vancouver International Film Festival are presented with such an overwhelming panoply of cinematic choices there is very little chance that anyone would be able to attend even a reasonably representative sampling of the film fare on offer.

Unless, you've got a hankering to attend one of the "series" (The Ark: Elements and Animals, Canadian Images, Dragons & Tigers, Documentaries or Spotlight on France), or wish to focus on films from one part of the world (Asian cinema, for instance), chances are you may miss "the best" of what Festival Director, Alan Franey, and his merry band of Festival programmers, have on offer for your international viewing pleasure.

So, VanRamblings has an idea: travel to New York City's Film Festival, and you won't even have to leave the comfort of a Vancouver cinema. After all, the New York City Film Festival is allegedly "heavily juried", and their 28 selections are meant to represent the "best" of world cinema. One could do worse than catch the 15 films playing the New York Fest that are also on the schedule of the 27th annual Vancouver International Film Festival.

Attend The 46th Annual New York Film Festival ... In Vancouver

New York City's 17-day Festival - which kicked off this past Friday, September 26th - showcases 28 films by "emerging talents and first-rank international artists." Fifteen of their featured "contemporary classics" are set to screen right here in our lush (if rain-drenched) west coast paradise.

24 City: Jia Zhangke's 24 City, with its talking-head interviews and real-time images of work in a Chinese factory, a work of realism? A documentary? "A dispatch from a postindustrial, science-fiction future, the subject is the dizzying changes in the social and economic landscape of China," says the NY Times' lead critic, A.O. Scott. Wed, Oct 1st @ 12:30pm, Gran 7, Th 2.

After School: A follow-up to his Cannes Critics' Week award winner, Unmei Ja Nai Hito (A Stranger of Mine), Kenji Uchida's ingeniously constructed puzzled plotted script for After School feels "overstrained", says Japan Times film critic, Mark Schilling. But, heck, with more than 400 selections from which to choose, After School made the NY cut. You decide. Screens Sun, Oct 5th 7:30pm, Gran 7 Th 2; & Tue, Oct 7th 4:30pm, Gran 7 Th 2.

Chouga: Darezhan Omirbaev's flat reworking of Anna Karenina is strictly fest-related fare, says Variety magazine. Thu, Oct 2, 11 am, Gran 7 Th 4.

A Christmas Tale: A beautifully-cast, tragic-comic ensemble piece in which an extended family gathers for the title holiday, Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale is an intricate, accomplished patchwork of sometimes nutty but always believable human behaviour, says Screen International's Lisa Nesselson. Wed, Oct 1, 3:30pm, G7, Th7; Fri, Oct 3, 9:30pm, G7, Th7.

The Class: Laurent Cantet's Cannes' Palme d'Or award-winner. 'Nuff said. Screens on Fri, Oct 10, 7pm, G7, Th7; and, Fri, Oct 10, 10pm, G7, Th7.

Four Nights With Anna: Variety magazine likes it, The Hollywood Reporter doesn't. Thu, Oct 9, 6:40pm, G7, Th3; Fri, Oct 10, 11 am, G7, Th4.

Gomorrah: Set in the provinces around Naples, where the crime organization known as the Camorra is not parallel to the everyday workings of society but instead is the everyday workings of society, Gomorra's a sweeping, stirring film that has the shoot-and-loot tension of the best crime cinema but also has the scope and serious intent of great drama, says Cinematical's James Rocchi. Screens on Tuesday, Oct 7th, 9:30pm, at the G7, Th7; and again on Wednesday, Oct 8th, 4pm, at the G7, Th7.

Happy-Go-Lucky: Reveals the British master of ensemble dysfunction at a rich, new creative place, where delight and gratitude are emotions to inspire, rather than to doubt, says the NY Festival programme guide. Netted Best Actress honours for Sally Hawkins at the Berlin Film Festival. Screens on Sat, Oct 4, 4pm, G7, Th7; and Wed, Oct 8, 7pm, G7, Th7.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:48 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2008

September 27, 2008

VIFF 2008: Tragicomedy Combining Warmth and Complexity


The Secret Life of the Grain (Grade: A): Unsentimental, deeply moving and radiating a familial and sensuous charm throughout, Abdellatif Kechiche's César award-winning emigré drama, The Secret Life of the Grain, emerged the third full day of the 27th annual Vancouver International Film Festival as one of the early favourites to garner Fest recognition this year, a superbly made, well-acted family drama that packs a powerful emotional punch, and one of the films that is easily recommended for all discerning audiences. Due to screen twice more - on Wednesday, October 1st at 8:30pm (Empire Granville 7, Theatre 4), and again on Saturday, October 4th, at 2:30pm (Empire Granville 7, Theatre 3) - this is one film you won't want to miss.

The story of 61-year-old Slimane Beiji (Habib Boufares), a recently laid off shipyard worker and the divorced head of a passionately boisterous Franco-
Tunisian emigré family, although The Secret Life of the Grain centres on Slimane, in fact it is the many strong, vibrant women in the film - Slimane's daughters and women in his extended family - that pull the viewer into the film (most particularly, Hafsia Herzi, whose potent performance as Slimane's 'adoptive' daughter, provides the film with much of its verve and fulsome energy). The film's remaining women are almost equally as enchanting.

Where the emigré men in the film possess a beaten down quality arising from a worklife that has robbed them of their dignity, most of the women in the film have not only found a way of coping in a sometimes unwelcoming French society, but thriving (not least, one imagines, arising from the sensous beauty each possesses). A leisurely, narrative-driven, intimate family drama, in the process of exploring the emigré experience, The Secret Life of the Grain emerges as moving Festival film fare. A 2008 must-see.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:28 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2008

September 26, 2008

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 11:43 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2008

September 25, 2008

VIFF 2008: A Transforming, Transcendent Window on the World


Work on the Downtown Eastside beckoned in the early part of the day, causing us to miss the three films we had scheduled in the morning and afternoon, but we did make it to the evening screenings we'd chosen ...

Lights at the End of the Tunnel (Grade: A): A quartet of short films -- two from Malaysia and two from Taiwan, the work of filmmakers Ho Yuhang (the touching, hallucinatory dreamscape, As I Lay Dying), Charlotte Lim (the lively, funny, melancholy, Escape), Ho Wi Ding (the mystery thriller road movie, Summer Afternoon), and Chang Rong-ji (the exquisitely poignant, genre-bending boy-meets-girl story, The End of the Tunnel, with an amazingly affecting, tour-de-force performance by newcomer Sandrine Pinna (Yong Zhang) -- will surely emerge as two of our favourite hours within a darkened theatre this year. Playing again at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 26th, at Pacific Cinémathèque, no matter what you do, catch this series, even if it means skipping work, or adjusting your life. A must-see!

Be Like Others (Grade: B+): Iranian-American filmmaker Tanaz Eshaghian turns her camera on Iran, and the story of three 'maybe' transsexuals, and their journey to and from sex change operations that transform their lives. In a country where homosexuality is punishable by death, but where sex-
change operations are perfectly legal within an Iranian theocracy that all but forces these operations on gay men, Be Like Others takes the viewer inside a bustling, modern day Tehran, exposing the humanity and travails of a group of its citizens, while exposing the victimizing hypocrisy of the state.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:59 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2008

September 18, 2008

The Vancouver International Film Festival Looking Good At 27


Iiit's baaack!

The cinematic juggernaut that is our annual Vancouver International Film Festival rolls into town next week, opening with a full slate of films on Thursday, September 25th, at the Empire Granville 7 Cinemas, the Pacific Cinémathèque, the Ridge Theatre, and the VanCity Theatre.

An ambitious rendition of the best-selling book (of the same title) by Nobel Prize winner José Saramago, the opening gala, Blindness, directed by Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener), offers a thought-
provoking, visually impressive meditation on the fragility of humanity in the face of the apocalypse, as a mysterious pandemic descends upon a city without warning, plunging the entire population into darkness.

The Festival closes 16 days later, on October 10th, with the Canadian première of The Class (Entre les murs), Laurent Cantet's 2007 classroom drama winner of Cannes' Palme d'Or.

In the days between these two poles, the Festival will showcase 332 films from 58 countries at 575 screenings, with 193 features, including Cannes' winners: Turkey's Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Three Monkeys (Best Director); Jury Prize winner, Italy's Il Divo; Germany's Cloud 9 (Heart Throb Jury Prize), and Britain's Camera D'Or winner, Hunger.

Sundance winners coming to VIFF include Amin Matalqa's Captain Abu Raed, World Cinema Audience Award winner; and Best Director award-winner, Lance Hammer's Ballast. Tribeca award winners arriving at the 2008 VIFF include Let The Right One In (Sweden), by Tomas Alfredson, which won Best Narrative Feature; My Marlon and Brando (Turkey), winner of the Best New Narrative Filmmaker prize for Hüseyin Karabey; and, Old Man Bebo (Spain), a film about Cuban music legend Bebo Valdes, which garnered the Best New Documentary Filmmaker prize for Carlos Carcas.

Also coming to VIFF, Berlin Film Festival winners The Song of Sparrows (Iran), by Majid Majidi, Best Actor winner for Reza Najie, and Happy-Go-
(UK), by Mike Leigh, which netted Best Actress honours for Sally Hawkins. From France, there's Philippe Claudel's I've Loved You So Long, winner of the Ecumenical Jury Prize, and Boris Despodov's Corridor #8 (Bulgaria), which won Berlin's Forum Award.

Götz Spielmann's Revanche (Austria) took the Femina award at Berlin's Film Festival, while the Youth Jury gave special mention to Nina Paley's, Sita Sings The Blues.

Arriving in Vancouver with strong buzz are: Sugar, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's (Half Nelson) new film, which tells the story of a 19-year-old Dominican baseball pitcher trying to break into the big leagues; and, Wendy and Lucy, Kelly Reichardt's (Old Joy) stripped down, 80-minute drama about a young woman, Wendy (Michelle Williams), who travels from Indiana to Alaska with her dog, Lucy, to find work.

Other films garnering buzz: Tulpan: Russian director Sergey Dvortsevoy's first "fiction" feature, winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes; RR, James Benning's hypnotic homage to the beauty and importance of the train; and, When It Was Blue, Jennifer Reeves' eye-popping, superimposed dual projection montage, structured in four parts representing the directions of the compass and the seasons.

Reeves' film is reviewed on the same page of The Globe and Mail as RR, where there are also four star reviews of Kim Jee-Woon's (South Korea) The Good The Bad The Weird, Steve McQueen's Hunger, JVCD, potential Academy Award nominee Rachel Getting Married, and Waltz With Bashir.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 5:27 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2008


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