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VIFF 2009: The Revolution of Song, Day 3, Vancouver's Film Fest


Saturday, October 3rd, Day 3 of the 28th annual Vancouver International Film Festival, proved to be a banner day, one of the best full days VanRamblings has experienced at the Film Festival in recent years, with five films on tap, and every one as confrontational, transporting, important, and life-changing as any filmgoer would wish to be the case. Watching the very best in film from Russia, the U.S., Tibet, Hong Kong and Japan, may have tuckered us, but at the conclusion of our filmgoing day we felt stronger, more human, wiser and better for the experience.

Film informs our lives. Once again this year there are hundreds of Festival-goers who have taken two weeks away from the prosaic activities of their "usual" lives to immerse themselves in Vancouver's annual Film Festival, who have joined a revolutionary cadre of like-minded cinéastes, all of whom know that it is our connectedness and our common humanity that unites us in common cause as, together — each in her or his own way — we strive toward a better, a fairer and more just world, not just for those of us who reside in Vancouver, on our little lambent and beautiful spot on the planet, but for us all, in every country on our spinning globe.

Together, we will continue our struggle, our inexorable journey towards the realization of a time of peace and justice for all, a time which draws closer with each passing day. The films at Vancouver's annual Film Festival help to remind us that we are all in this together, that it is not our politicians who 'rule' us, it is we who are self-determinant of the future of our world.

As the first film of the day and, perhaps, what will emerge as our favourite fiction film of the Festival, from director Alexey Balabanov (The Brother) ...

Morphia (Grade: A+): A cautionary fable, on the effects of morphine on the body politic, and more specifically in the life of a young rural physician in the
hinterland of Russia, circa 1917, with it's comic burlesque soundtrack offering counterpoint to the otherwise tragic goings on, and given the film's historical sweep, and graphic insight into early, breakthrough surgical techniques, Morphia throughout emerges as humane and grand, yet achingly intimate, as we the viewer are offered a portrait of Russia at a turning point. For its naturalness and uncommon level of intimacy, Morphia has become our favourite film thus far in 2009's annual Vancouver Film Festival, and the best, and most worthwhile film, we expect to see in 2009. Screened for a final time at 12:15 pm Sunday. Let's hope the programmers include Morphia for a "Best of the Fest" screening, in our Fest's latter days.

Would there be any film screening at this year's Fest that could compete for our affection for Morphia? Well, yes, there is. And, it's the documentary ...

Soundtrack for a Revolution (Grade: A+): Words cannot be found to express just how moving, and how powerful an historical a document Soundtrack for a Revolution will prove for contemporary viewers, and will remain for generations to come, as an utterly essential chronicle of the U.S. civil rights movement in the late 1950s thru the late 1960s, and of the role music and song played in carrying through one of the great revolutions of our time. Stanford University professor and documentarian Bill Guttentag (in attendance at this year's Fest), with his filmmaking partner Dan Sturman (Nanking), present contemporary and never-before-seen historical and archival newsreel footage — as well as stand-out performances by the Blind Boys of Alabama, Richie Havens, Joss Stone, The Roots John Legend, Wyclef Jean, Mary Mary, Angie Stone and host of others — to tell a riveting story of hope, of the peaceful freedom marchers, of Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King, Jr., and of the tens of thousands who finally triumphed in the struggle for justice and equality. Soundtrack for a Revolution played for the last time on Saturday at the Fest, but is due for release in 2010.

Tibet in Song (Grade: B+): With compassion and resilience, Fulbright scholar, and former political prisoner, Ngawang Choephel, presents his Special Jury Prize winner at Sundance this year, an autobiographical story of the filmmaker himself and, more importantly, a risk-taking chronicle of the struggle of the people of Tibet to regain their culture, even and in spite of the onslaught of China's ongoing "cultural revolution." For human rights activists and ethnomusicologists, Tibet in Song is essential filmmaking. Screens twice more, on Sunday, October 11th @ 6:30 pm, Granville 7, Theatre 2, and Monday, October 12th @ 1:50 pm, Granville 7, Theatre 2.

Written By (Grade: A-): A time-bending, phantasmagorical meditation on love, loss and sorrow, and a contemporary ghost story, Dragons and Tigers candidate, Wai Ka-fai's sensationally compelling and, at all times, emotionally resonant Hong Kong set film, Written By tells the story of Lau Ching-wan, a lawyer who dies in a car accident, leaving his daughter, Melody, blind and his wife a widow. In setting about to help her mother overcome her grief, Melody pens a novel in which the family died but the father survived. In her novel, to deal with his own grief, the father writes his own book, in which he died in the accident but his wife and daughter survived. And so it goes in an endlessly recursive loop as the dead are resurrected in fiction, where the reality of tragic circumstance becomes fantasy, and the mourning and grief of children and their parents transform from melodrama into a fantasia of familial grief resurrected as hope and emotional transcendence. With a lovely, evocative, whimsical soundtrack, Written By plays twice more, Tuesday, October 6th @ 11 am, Granville 7, Theatre 7, and Monday, October 12th @ 2:30 pm, Granville 7, Theatre 3.

And, finally, the perfect way to end a glorious third day at the Festival ...

Air Doll (Grade: A): An entirely engaging ode to love, and a meditation on the human condition, director Kore-eda Hirokazu's beautifully rendered tale of urban alienation tells the story of Nozomi (Bae Doo-Nai), the air doll (inflatable sex doll) of the title, as she comes alive and sets about to explore the world through the innocent eyes and the curiosity of a young child. As the story somehow manages to retain its sense of childlike innocence throughout (given the 'role' of the title character), as the main character learns to come to terms with the human heart, Kore-eda's urban fairytale explores the themes of the objectification of women and girls in contemporary society, the inherent disposability of our consumerist culture, the human yearning for fulfillment and connection, heartbreak, solitude, life, death, and the idiosyncratic nature of human experience, Air Doll emerges as one of the must-see films at 2009's Vancouver Film Festival. No more screenings available (the last one was today at 4 pm), so let's hope that the folks at the VIFF brings Air Doll back for 2009's Best of the Fest series.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at October 4, 2009 12:24 PM in VIFF 2009


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