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VIFF 2009: Gone, But Not Forgotten, VIFF Over for Another Year


The oh-so-glorious 28th annual Vancouver International Film Festival wrapped on Friday, October 16th. More than 377 films, from 70+ countries across this planet of ours, the VIFF films screened more than 640 times, on 10 different cinema screens over 16 days ... and, it's over for another year. With a mixture of sadness and elation (the latter because of all the fine films we saw this past two-plus weeks), VanRamblings returns to our prosaic life. And it was always thus. Of course, there's always next year.

Today, in our final VIFF 2009 post, VanRamblings will provide insight into our favourite fiction, and non-fiction, films at VIFF 2009 ...

In the fiction film category, VanRamblings absolutely loved ...

Morphia: A Russian film, set in 1917 against the backdrop of the pending Russian revolution and telling the story of a young physician practicing in the hinterlands, this was epic, historic, humane filmmaking of the first order, by far our favourite film at this year's Festival.

The Girl: Always subdued, powerfully affecting, the story of a 10-year-old girl left behind by her parents on the family farm, expecting that her aunt will care for her, but doesn't, with two months on her own, we worry about her safety, and her ability to prevail. But, almost miraculously, she does.

Lost Times: Next to The Girl, the most affecting film we saw at VIFF 2009, this Hungarian import told a story that was always, always compelling to watch onscreen. You lived with the characters, and came to care for them deeply. Is there any more apt tribute to the filmmaker, and the performers, than to say that you came to love, and care for, the characters onscreen?

Night and Fog: VanRamblings saw Night and Fog in preview, and immediately fell in love with Zhang Jingchu (who was also in John Rabe), our favourite VIFF performance this year. Ms. Jingchu is gonna be a big star!

Written By: A heartrending, but surprisingly 'magical' story about a family in distress following the death of the father/husband, from the recursive storyline to the affecting performances, to the cinematography, Written By had style to burn, but kept things low key, and always human scale.

Air Doll: Who'da thunk that a film about a 'sex doll' who finds a heart and comes to life would emerge as one of the most affecting films we'd see at this year's Festival? From beginning to end, writer-producer-editor-director Kore-eda Hirokazu held us in sway, as he explored themes ranging from the objectification of women to hearbreak. First-rate filmmaking.

The Exploding Girl: A gentle character study about Ivy (Zoe Kazan), an absolutely lovely film about a young college student with epilepsy who comes home for her semester break, director Bradley Rust Grey's melancholy film looks closely and deeply at Ivy's capacity for love, her vulnerability, and the ordinary day to day things young people do during an uneventful summer in Brooklyn. Outstanding, first rate cinema, all around.

VanRamblings was also mightily impressed with ...

Mother: About a mother who desperately searches for the killer who framed her son for a horrific murder, director Bong Joon-ho (The Host) creates a viscerally intense psychological study about a mother's capacity for love.

John Rabe: Epic filmmaking, writer-director Florian Gallenberger's true-story account of a German businessman who saved more than 200,000 Chinese during the Nanjing massacre in 1937-38, when Gallenberger's film arrives back in theatres (and it will), you'll want to rush out to catch it.

Breathless: Foul-mouthed and involving throughout, Breathless is just what you'd expect from great South Korean cinema: gripping, no-holds barred movie-making. Writer-director Yang Ik-June delivers in spades.

La Pivellina: Who'da thunk that writer-directors Tizza Covi and
Rainer Frimmel could create a film that revolves, almost entirely, around a 2-year-old girl (Asia Crippa). But they did, and what a wonderfully affecting film La Pivellina turned out to be.

Yang Yang: Last year, we fell head-over-heels in love with Sandrine Pinna. So, when we saw that she had the lead role in a new film by writer-director Cheng Yu-chieh, we rushed right out to make sure that we had tickets for Yang Yang. A bit of a piffle, the film focuses entirely on Ms. Pinna, a warm, able actress, and the next big star from China. We were in heaven!

The Maid: Even given that Catalina Saavedra (as the maid) is hardly a sympathetic character, you just couldn't take your eyes off the screen, wondering what was going to happen next. Writer-director Sebastián Silva creates award-winning cinema. One of the audience favourites at VIFF 2009.

Antichrist: 'Showbiz' Shayne's favourite film at VIFF 2009, although VanRamblings found Antichrist to be very well made, and loved the first half of this film, when proceedings went off the rails, we were somewhat less enamoured. With Antichrist, provocateur Lars von Trier outdoes himself.

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Of course, there were non-fiction films VanRamblings loved, especially ...

Soundtrack for a Revolution: Far and away, VanRamblings' favourite documentary at VIFF 2009, Bill Guttentag and Dan Furman's powerful film traces the history of the American civil rights movement through the freedom songs protesters sang on picket lines, in mass meetings, and in jail cells as they fought for justice and equality.

American Casino: By far, the most effective film in the 'Follow The Money' series at VIFF 2009, Leslie and Andrew Cockburn's lively, if depressing film (given that the subject matter deals with the financial devastation of Americans across the U.S.), 'Casino' takes an effective, and moving, look at how the Wall Street meltdown has impacted working class Americans.

Playground: Not didactic in the least, Libby Spears' eye-opening documentary tracks the child sex trade across North America in a non-pedantic, impressively effective, always moving, informational and cinematically compelling manner. You're guaranteed to learn some things you would never have expected to be the truth. A first-rate film.

The Inheritors: Producer-director Eugenio Polgovsky brought one of the most affecting, well-made and moving documentaries to VIFF 2009, with his compelling non-fiction film about child labour in rural Mexico, where he sets about to effectively examine the legacy of hard work in the Mexican family.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at October 16, 2009 6:44 PM in VIFF 2009


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