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VIFF 2009

October 16, 2009

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 6:44 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2009

October 15, 2009

VIFF 2009: Winding Down, But Festival Still Going Strong


Four more films to see on Wednesday, the second-to-last full day of the 28th annual Vancouver International Film Festival.

Arrived early for the passholder's line-up, just before 9:30 a.m., and stood in line to make sure that VanRamblings secured a pass to ...

An Education (Grade: A-): Quite as heartbreakingly lovely, and transporting, as it's been reported to be, with an even lovelier ingenue performance from 'find of the year' actress, standout performer and certain Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan, in addition to Ms. Mulligan's breakout performance, the whole cast acquit themselves well, particularly Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike, Cara Seymour and Olivia Williams, although Dominic Cooper, Peter Sargaard, Sally Hawkins and Emma Thompson are hardly pikers. Really, first-rate Oscar bait entertainment, and a VIFF must-see.

Next, we trucked on up to Pacific Cinémathèque, on Howe Street, to see ...

Empire State Building Murders (Grade:C+): French director William Karel and co-writer Jerome Charyn have crafted a film in which they've remixed classic noir genre footage from the '30s, '40s and '50s and edited them to tell an 'original story'. Essentially, in the viewing, a piffle and much too clever for it's own good, the movie's central conceit revolves around the 'real life' retelling of a series of murders that occurred within the Empire State Building. James Cagney is the central star of yesteryear, but given that he's been dead for a few years, actors Ben Gazarra and Anne Jeffries carry the storytelling weight. Clever, yes. Entertaining? Not so much.

Back to the Granville 7, on a rain-drenched Wednesday, Day 14, to see ...

A RAIN-DRENCHED DAY 14 AT THE 28TH ANNUAL VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL A rain-drenched Day 14 of the 28th annual Vancouver International Film Festival

The next film, introduced by writer-director, Alix de Maistre, herself ...

For a Son (Grade: B+): Sort of a Gallic take on Clint Eastwood's The Changeling, Alix de Maistre's For a Son is teeming with atmosphere and dark, brooding tension, as the psychodrama ratches up the stakes: is 'Tony' (Kevin Lelannier), the young man who presents himself as Catherine's (Miou-Miou) long lost son, in fact her long missing son, or will the detective who originally conducted the missing child investigation, Omer (a very effective Olivier Gourmet) find that 'Tony' is a fraud? Abounding with outstanding, natural performances, and first-rate camera work, the audience in attendance at Granville 7 was pleased they caught this VIFF film.

After a fine, natural organic dinner at Nuba, Mr. Know-It-All and 'Showbiz' Shayne took the bus (it was pouring outside) five blocks back to the Empire Granville 7 cinema for our final VIFF 2009 screening of the day ...

John Rabe (Grade: A): A challenging, but rewarding, way to end an inclement Day 14 of the Festival occurred with the screening of writer-director Florian Gallenberger's much acclaimed, award-winning epic drama, a moving, historically accurate and effective re-telling of the 1937 Rape of Nanking, when an invading Japanese army massacred more than 300,000 residents of Nanking, China over a six-week period. With a narrative rooted in the real John Rabe's personal journal, and with breakthrough performances from the whole cast — including Bavarian Best Actor winner Ulrich Tukur, Daniel Brühl (recently seen in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds), Zhang Jingchu (recently seen, and impressive, in the lead role in Night and Fog, which screened early at VIFF 2009), among others — given that John Rabe is Germany's Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee this year, you're likely to see Gallenberger's very fine film on an art screen near you soon, when you'll want to ensure you take in a screening. A VIFF must-see.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 1:33 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2009

October 14, 2009

VIFF 2009: An Out-of-The Blue Documentary Day


With just three days to the end of the 28th annual Vancouver International Film Festival, Mr. Know-It-All and 'Showbiz' Shayne are hard at it, catching as many of the remaining VIFF films as is humanly possible. Your dynamic duo managed to screen five great VIFF documentaries over the course of a very long Tuesday, and have plans to see many, many more of the well-received VIFF fiction films before the Festival wraps late Friday evening.

The first non-fiction film on tap on a chilly, overcast Tuesday morning ...

VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM CENTRE Vancouver International Film Centre, Seymour north of Davie Street

The Inheritors (Grade: A-): The 'story' of child labour — focusing on the child labourers themselves — situated in every region of Mexico, and the particularly hardscrabble life these very young children lead, Eugenio Polgovsky's The Inheritors explores young lives defined by hard work and integrity of purpose. The film's almost wordless narrative focuses on the three-to-seven year old children as they harvest beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and any number of other vegetable and fruit crops, as they carry a third of their weight in overladen 6 - 8 kilogram pails to the produce transport truck. In addition, we see the children producing and laying earthen bricks, cutting sugar cane, ox-plowing fields and planting by hand. Made for only $35,000, The Inheritors is, throughout, magical and involving, hopeful and, in its own way, transporting. Most assuredly, The Inheritors is one of VanRamblings favourite VIFF films in 2009.

Next, VanRamblings sauntered up to Pacific Cinémathèque to see ...

Crude (Grade: B): Part of the VIFF's 'Way of Nature' environmental series, producer-director Joe Berlinger is better known for award-winning non-fiction dramas like Brother's Keeper, Paradise Lost, and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, but this time around Berlinger has chosen to go the 'issue-oriented' route, with varying degrees of success. Overall the film does possess its gripping moments — when Berlinger, or a member of his crew, interview a family member whose life has been devastated by Chevron's mistreatment of the natural environment — but too often the film's approach is desultory, as it records the struggle of the Ecuadorean people to have the catastrophically impacted jungles of the Amazon remediated. Focusing on Ecuadorian activist lawyer Pablo Fajardo's David and Goliath court battle with multi-national oil conglomerate Chevron, Crude relays its message through 'talking heads', giving the narrative an adverse static feel. As praiseworthy as Berlinger's non-fiction telling of this little known story may be, he does not entirely succeed in his laudable mission.

Following a quick break for lunch at Starbucks, VanRamblings was off to see ...

American Casino (Grade: A): Positing that the predatory home mortgage lenders, and Wall Street, targeted inner-city African American neighbourhoods, and individuals who were in no position to pay a mortgage, even at a sub-prime rate, producer-director Leslie Cockburn's tremendous Tribeca Film Festival award-winning documentary involves from beginning to end, as it examines the subprime mortgage meltdown and its devastating impact, most particularly, on poor African-Americans across the U.S., all the way through to the equally devastating impact the financial crisis has had on wealthy Californians with swimming pools, whose previously secure lives have now been all but destroyed.

VanRamblings carried on with our VIFF duties by lining up for, and seeing ...

Sweetgrass (Grade: B+): Beautiful and evocative, with humour and grace documentary filmmakers Lucien Castaing-Taylor (who addressed the audience before the 7 p.m. screening at the VanCity Theatre, and took questions afterward), and partner / co-director Ilisa Barbash, offer an extraordinary piece of visual anthropology as they track the last sheep drive, in 2003, up Montana's vertiginous Beartooth Mountains to summer pasture. Unhurried and unadorned, and empathetic to the weather-worn cowboys on the trail who, while on the trail, live in teepees made of branches and canvas, cook from stoves that have been used for generations, and ride on worn saddles across Montana's gorgeous blue sky country, there's both a zen peacefulness, and a reassuring 'old western' feel, to Sweetgrass that impresses mightily, and at every moment.

And for our final VIFF film on a rainy, overcast Festival Tuesday, Day 13 ...

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector (Grade: A-): British director Vikram Jayanti captures Mr. Wall-of-Sound himself, the ever weird — but phenomenally talented, if broken — Phil Spector, responsible for a groundbreaking set of 1960s hits, ranging from The Ronettes' Be My Baby to Ike & Tina Turner's River Deep - Mountain High, not to mention his role as producer of the Beatles' last album, Let It Be, in a series of candid, revealing interviews, recorded in 2007 during his first trial for the murder of 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson. As cultural anthropology, Jayanti's film can't be beat. Offering a fascinating insight into a brilliant, if troubled mind, The Agony was fun to watch (no mean feat), if a bit disturbing at times.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 3:04 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2009

October 13, 2009

VIFF 2009: A Photo Essay on the 28th Annual VIFF

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 2:29 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2009

October 12, 2009

VIFF 2009: A Quiet Sunday Along Granville Street


Up late again, but on the bus and downtown in enough time to catch ...

The Exploding Girl (Grade: A-): Essentially, the story of Ivy (Zoe Kazan), a young vulnerable woman, with epilepsy, who travels home on a break from college to upstate New York to visit her mother. Not so much mumblecore in presentation, but rather more naturalistic and heartfelt, director Bradley Rust Gray (Salt), in focusing on Ivy's every day life, and her relationship with her terminally indecisive friend, Al (Mark Rendall, in an outstanding performance) presents a more honest portrait of what it means for a twenty-something to live with the restrictions imposed by adult epilepsy than any you'd ever find on a disease-of-the-week TV show. For very good reason, Zoe Kazan won the Best Actress award at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year. The Exploding Girl has finished its 2009 VIFF run.

Now, we could tell you that we didn't get downtown in time to pick up our ticket for Police, Adjective, and that we prevailed on a 'too busy for words' Pierre LeFebvre (pictured below) to take VanRamblings' pass to give to 'way-too-busy-for-words' Exhibitions Manager, Bob Albanese, to give to Mr. Shayne, so Mr. Shayne could pick up a ticket for the evening screening, because VanRamblings had a Thanksgiving dinner to attend, and wouldn't be available to stand in line at 4:30 p.m. to pick up ... well, we could tell you that tale of sadness and woe, and of how we imposed on Mr. LeFebvre and Mr. Albanese, and tears would flow, and readers would be aghast, but ...

VIFF 2009 CONCIERGE AND GUEST RELATIONS MANAGER, PIERRE LEFEBVREVIFF's Pierre LeFebvre, 2009 Concierge and Guest Relations Manager

Instead, we'll eviscerate ...

Police, Adjective (Grade: D-): The story of a Romanian police detective experiencing a crisis of conscience, surrounding the surveillance of three young people who are doing no more than smoking a little dope. That this teenage activity is not looked favourably upon by the authorities, and more particularly his boss, turns into a long, boring, pointless philosophical discussion about morality, and the role of the state to uphold social mores. Patrons walked out in droves. VanRamblings didn't. We should have.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 3:29 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2009

October 11, 2009

VIFF 2009: Thankful for the VIFF Staff & Volunteers


Weekends are always tough for cinephiles, at the annual Vancouver International Film Festival. On weekends, VIFF draws novitiates to the Festival, and almost inevitably they 'talk'. The weekenders play with their iPhones or Blackberries or Samsung smartphones, the blue glow of the phone in the darkened theatre a disconcerting distraction from the more real-life drama on the screen. Better to attend matinée screenings on a weekday, as many of the filmgoers who love films are choosing to do, than risk having one's experience of the Festival tainted by a texter, or a talker.

But enough of that. On this day, as we celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving ...

We are, on this Sunday, in the waning days of the 28th annual Vancouver International Film Festival so, perhaps, the time has come to acknowledge the very fine work of the staff and volunteers who create this Festival-by-the sea for all of us grateful patrons, each and every year.

First off, note should be made of the following: with 640 screenings of 377 films, thus far in the days of our annual Festival everything has gone off with uncommon aplomb. There have been no technical glitches, no one has reported seeing a DVD version of a film because the 35mm print failed to arrive, films start (mostly) on time, Festival staff and volunteers are invariably helpful and pleasant (which goes a long way to making the Festival an overall better experience for filmgoers) and, once again this year, from programmers Alan Franey, PoChu Au Yeung, Mark Peranson, Terry McEvoy and so many, many others, to the hard-working theatre managers, staff have created a first-rate filmgoing experience for the appreciative throng who attend screenings throughout each and every day.

VIFF PROGRAMME MANAGER POCHU AU YEUNG & 'A PROPHET' STAR REDA KATEB VIFF Programme Manager PoChu Au Yeung, and 'A Prophet' star Reda Kateb

We caught only one film on Saturday evening, the Cannes' stunner ...

A Prophet (Grade: B+): With a 'been there, done that' quality about it, given the surfeit of prison dramas we see on TV and film on this side of the pond, this Cannes 2009 Grand Jury / Palme d'Or winner, offers a French prison set drama that is as hard-edged as you might expect it to be, as it tells the story of 19-year-old petty criminal Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim), who's been sentenced to six years in prison, amidst competing 'tribes'. Director Jacques Audiard traces Malik's development from cowering inmate to prison yard kingpin, and beyond, in a surprisingly humane manner, considering the amount of blood and gore onscreen. From beginning to end, it is Malik's maturational process, and our awareness of his keen, innate intelligence, that makes A Prophet compellingly watchable film fare.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 4:17 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2009

October 10, 2009

VIFF 2009: The Second, Wearying (But Hopeful) Week Begins


As is the case with most film critics, in the first week of any Festival, VanRamblings' star burns luminous and bright. By the time the second week rolls around, though, we're weary. Most films critics 'pull out' in the second week. VanRamblings, though, will probably just reduce the length of our daily postings, altho' we'll still be there for you through Festival's end.

In the days leading up to the beginning of the Festival we 'rest' each day, sequestered inside a darkened theatre at various of the media screenings, and then when the Festival officially commences, from early morn to very late at night, Mr. Know-It-All and the inimitable 'Showbiz' Shayne may be found at one of the VIFF venues watching, bleary-eyed, one of the 4, 5, or 6 films on our schedule for the day. By the time the second week of the Film Festival rolls around, we are more than a little the worse for wear.

And, thus it was on Friday, after securing only two hours sleep (that darn Board of Variance thing reared its head late on Thursday evening, with the arrival in VanRamblings' e-mail Inbox of a correspondence from Joan Bunn, about which Mr. Know-It-All was thankful) — and not to mention the taking of five hours to write and post to the web, each day for you our constant reader, this after a lllooonnnggg day inside a darkened theatre, does take its toll — that Mr. Know-It-All found himself back in the lineup for tickets for his and 'Showbiz' Shayne's planned Friday evening screenings.

While waiting in the lineup, we conversed with Jackie, a retired teacher and organizer of our annual, local Latin American Film Festival, and longtime VanRamblings reader, Julian (so, he's the one) who told VanRamblings about all their favourites at this year's Festival. Now, as constant reader might well expect, Mr. Know-It-All is rarely at a loss for words, but this particular late afternoon, given the 2 hours sleep and all, VanRamblings was pleased just to listen to Jackie (playing the role of journalist, asking the questions Mr. Know-It-All should have been asking), and Julian.

Julian asked Jackie what Latin American films were her favourites at this year's Festival, and she enthusiastically responded with: the Peruvian film The Milk of Sorrow (her favourite and now, unfortunately, gone), Argentina's Berlin Silver Bear winner, Gigante (also gone), and Chile's The Maid (one more screening, Thursday, Oct. 15th @ 11 am, Gran7, Th7).

As for Julian, he recommended: Lebanon's The One Man Village (now gone), France's Villa Amalia (about which we've heard good things, and Jackie also liked, and which will screen for a final time this coming Tuesday, October 13th @ 9:15 pm, at the far-flung but still glorious Ridge Theatre).

Who should we see in line asking a question of the folks about to hand out the tickets for passholders but Aussie import, Jeff Sinclair (sorry, this is the only photo we have of the very talented and hard-working Jeff), a founding partner of XOMO Digital, the principal person behind this year's invaluable Apple iPhone app, the VIFF Fan Guide. Jeff was voluble, wonderful and informative, and answered some questions we had about posting to the Fan Guide (most of which we think we caught, given that VanRamblings was half asleep). We'll write more about XOMO Digital in the coming week.

Anyone attending most of their film festival screenings at the Empire Granville 7 will know that, this year, there is hardly a surfeit of decent places to grab a bite between films. One of the more reliable, tasty and healthy places to nosh is Halawie Alawie's always reliable Falafel Maison, on Robson.

HUSSEIN ALAWIE, OWNER OF FALAFEL MAISON Hussein Alawie, proprietor of Falafel Maison

Not only did we enjoy our Shawarma sandwich, Hussein was kind enough to treat us to the single most delicious falafel we'd ever eaten (guess where Mr. Know-It-All, and 'Showbiz' Shayne, are going for dinner tonight?).

Back it was, then, for 'Showbiz' Shayne, and a still weary, but at least sated, VanRamblings, to stand in line for the 7 pm screening of ...

Amreeka (Grade: B+): One of the buzz films coming into the 28th annual Vancouver International Film Festival, writer/director Cherien Dabis' Amreeka is at all times honest and heartfelt while relating its immigrant story of Palestinian divorcee Muna Farah (played by Haifa-trained actress Nisreen Faour, in a powerfully rendered performance), who wishes to get herself and her adolescent son, Fadi (Melkar Muallem), out of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Set post 911, as Bush II was preparing to invade Iraq, the xenophobia to which the principal characters are exposed by their American neighbours is, at all times, disillusioning and impactful. Somehow, though, Muna and Fada manage to prevail, despite the intolerance to which they are subjected, and by film's end a sense of a fitful optimism emerges.

'Showbiz' Shayne and Mr. Know-It-All then repaired to the Starbucks, on the southeast corner of Smithe and Granville, where we engaged in conversation with two, young middle-eastern women who had also taken in the screening of Amreeka (and loved it as much as VanRamblings did), both of whom, like VanRamblings, are employed as mental health workers in the Downtown Eastside (while working on their Master's degrees at UBC).

And, then, it was time for Shayne's and VanRamblings' final screening of the day, the Tribeca Festival winning film (directed by Conor McPherson) ...

The Eclipse (Grade: B+): Set in Cobh County, Ireland, McPherson's supernatural tale tells the down-to-earth tale story of Michael Farr (a superb Ciaran Hinds), a recently widowed father left to care for his two teenage children. Michael has agreed to act as a driver for writers attending the annual Cobh Literary Festival, which causes him to meet (and, we suspect, fall in love with) Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle), a London-based writer of ghost stories. Addressing the themes of grief, love and the possibility of the unknown, with its not entirely successful supernatural theme, The Eclipse is, overall, still winning and eminently watchable (the budding romance between Michael and Lena, for instance, is near breathtaking), and from movie's beginning to end the performances are both authentic and heartrending, and always engaging. Due to screen twice more before Festival's end, first tomorrow, Sunday, Oct. 11th @ 9:00 pm, Ridge Theatre, and the next Thursday, Oct. 15th @ 4:00 pm, Ridge Theatre.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 3:35 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2009

October 9, 2009

VIFF 2009: A Potpourri of Festival News From Near and Far


As VanRamblings does every year as VIFF enters its second week, we'll set about to bring you news from other scribes, present to you various of the Festival Media Releases, and cover what we will leading into the 'winding down' of the 28th annual Vancouver International Film Festival.

First up today, on Thursday evening VIFF announced South Korea's Jang Kun-Jae's Eighteen as the Dragons & Tigers Award winner for Young Cinema, with a welcome cash prize of $10,000. Eighteen will screen for a final time on Saturday, October 10th @ 4 pm at Pacific Cinémathèque.

In the week before the Festival got underway, Federal Minister of Canadian Heritage James Moore announced that VIFF would receive $467,000 in funding as part of the Marquee Tourism Events Programme, designed to promote travel to Canada, which has to be a relief to VIFF folks, given the economy and the deficit they ran last year.

This year's VIFF theme is "An Open Mind is Advised", and thus ...

... which is one of the three spots running before each VIFF screening.

The folks at Eye Weekly in Toronto recommend Pedro Cósta's Ne change rien, Maren Ade's Everyone Else, Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor's 'astonishing' experiential doc Sweetgrass, and Lisandro Alonso's S/T, all of which have VIFF screenings upcoming over the next seven days.

Over at E-Film Critic, Jason Whyte has published a number of interviews ...

ALEJANDRA AGUIRRE & J.B 'SHOWBIZ' SHAYNE AT THE FESTIVAL Alejandra Aguirre & 'Showbiz' Shayne at the 28th annual Vancouver Film Festival

The Vancouver Observer's Volkmar Richter also posts daily on the Festival.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Straight's Janet Smith, Ken Eisner and Mark Harris take a sneak peek at the 28th Vancouver International Film Festival, with capsule reviews of more than 100 films, reviews available here and here.

Have you got an iPhone? If so, VIFF is seeking 'social media contributors' who will be taking photos (as VanRamblings has); VIFF will post the photos (and text) in real-time to the web. If you're interested, contact Jeff, at Xomo Digital (the folks behind the VIFF Apple app), by e-mailing him at (or, call him at 604-626-1773).

The 28th Vancouver International Film Festival has also spotlighted ...

And, as we wrap up today's post: Derrick O'Keefe, over at has done a darn fine job of covering the docs at this year's Festival, while "Canada's national newspaper", that esteemed 'old grey lady', the Globe and Mail, has set about to publish daily reviews of VIFF 2009 films.

And, for what it's worth, VanRamblings has taken some photos, mostly using our iPhone (thus the often grainy quality), over the course of the past few days, only 36 pictures published for now, but more coming later.

Well, it's back to the Festival for VanRamblings. See you here tomorrow.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 12:12 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2009

October 8, 2009

VIFF 2009: 'Week One' of Vancouver's Film Fest Concludes


VanRamblings asks: Is there any more glorious and rewarding way to spend 16 days of your life than to be huddled in a Vancouver Film Festival theatre with hundreds of other movie-loving patrons just as dedicated as you are to participating in an event that brings to our shores the very best of world cinema, which provides an insightful window on our contemporary world, and seeks to remind us that we are — wherever we live across this planet of ours — participants in a common struggle for justice, equality and humanity, in our endeavours to make our Earth a better place for all of us?

Day 7 of the, always glorious, 28th annual Vancouver International Film Festival brought the conclusion of Week One of our Festival-by-the-sea, with another week (and a couple of days more) still left to go, with even more moving film fare yet to be screened in the Festival's remaining days.

Before we commence with, as the case may be, eviscerating or praising the films we saw on Wednesday, note should be made that the fine folks at VIFF have added a special final screening, this Saturday, of Soundtrack for a Revolution. The film, about which we wrote on October 4th will screen ...

Soundtrack for a Revolution
Saturday, October 10, 2009
1:50 p.m.
Granville 7, Theatre 2

Soundtrack for a Revolution is our favourite film at this year's Festival.

You'll want to click on Buy on this page, or reserve your ticket TODAY, at 604.685.8297. Once you've secured your ticket (for your friends, as well), you'll want to make sure to line up for the film at least an hour in advance.

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Okay, here we go: Wednesday proved another salutary day on our Festival screening schedule, with four more much-anticipated films on tap ...

Salt (Grade: B+): Tracking award-winning, internationally-renowned photographer Murray Fredericks on his annual solo pilgrimage to Lake Eyre, in the northern region of South Australia, as he captures the desolate beauty of the remote hinterland to which he has travelled each year for the past decade, it is not just the breathtaking imagery and spectacularly beautiful photographs Fredericks has taken and we see on the screen, it is as well Fredericks' own story, his love for his wife and how he has set about to come to terms with the death of his parents that proves moving and transformative for him, as well as for us. Fredericks' award-winning 28-minute short, which will screen for a final time this Saturday, October 10th @ 11 am, at the VanCity Theatre, is paired with the tremendous ...

12 Canoes (Grade: A): One of our very favourite films at the Film Festival this year, in 12 Canoes Rolf de Heer has filmed the stories of the Yolngu people of Ramingining, the founding Australian aboriginal culture, through 12 wonderful, movingly narrated visual poems, covering Creation through the arrival of the 'First White Men' to Kinship, Ceremony, Language, and contemporary days. De Heer's 66-minute cinematic tour-de-force is one of the must-see films at the 28th edition of Vancouver's annual Film Festival. As above, paired with Salt, Saturday, Oct. 10th @ 11 am, VanCity Theatre.

Next up, on our 'climate change' film schedule, Yann-Arthus Bertrand's ...

Home (Grade: C): A brutally condescending piece of alarmist 'feel good' climate change crap, Home is at best second-rate Imax fodder, but in 2-D on the Granville 7 Visa screen, in order to protect one's sanity it was best to leave the theatre to commisserate with fellow filmgoers who were equally put off by Glenn Close's droning, patronizing narration, to discuss with them far better, far more worthwhile films they'd seen and recommend.

For instance, Jurgen recommended: Broke, which screens again at 1:30 pm, Saturday, Oct. 10th @ Pacific Cinémathèque, and a range of 'music films', including Ashes of the American Flag: Wilco Live (Tues., Oct. 13th, 4:20 pm, Gran7, Th2), Charlie Haden: Rambling Boy (Thurs., Oct. 15th @ 6:30 pm, Gran7, Th2 and Fri., Oct. 16th @ 1:15 pm, VanCity ), and Phil Grabsky's In Search of Beethoven (Wed., Oct. 14th @ 11 am, Gran7, Th2).

Mr. Shayne and VanRamblings then tripped outside to Granville Street, as we waited for the next movie to begin, and ran into ...

Videomatica's Graham Peat Videomatica's Graham Peat, outside the Granville 7

For those of you who live elsewhere, and may not be aware of the handsome gentleman pictured above, Graham Peat is the 'art house' video God of Metro Vancouver, British Columbia and western Canada.

Way back in 1984, Graham and his partner, Brian, opened up Videomatica, in trendy, friendly Kitsilano, and as they say in the movies, the rest is history. With the largest collection of 'nostalgia DVDs' (1910 thru the swinging '60s), and 'art house films' available anywhere in western Canada, Videomatica is the place cinephiles go to, after the Festival is over, to catch the films they missed at the Fest. Although it is true that only 20% of the films that play the Vancouver International Film Festival ever arrive back on our shores to play on a big screen, somehow each year, Graham manages to find a goodly number of the more recommendable film festival titles to place on the shelves of his essential West 4th Avenue video emporium.

Afer bidding Graham adieu, it was time for the final screening of the day ...

Precious, from the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire (Grade: B+): A certain Oscar nominee — Oprah is one of the executive producers of this film, and let's face it, her imprimatur carries a lot of weight, in Hollywood and elsewhere — and one of the two break-out films from this year's Sundance Film Festival (the other, An Education, which will play twice next week), Precious, from the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire tells the bleak, gritty, harrowing story of Clareece "Precious" Jones, an overweight black teenager in 1980s Harlem. Bullied at school, tormented by her mother, and repeatedly raped by her stepfather (at movie's outset, she is pregnant with her second child by her 'father'), Precious' life is a living nightmare. Precious, the film, does not offer your regular, subtle film festival fare. The only restrained aspect in the film is singer Mariah Carey's subdued performance as Precious' social worker. Screens again tomorrow, Friday, Oct. 9th @ 2:30 pm, Gran 7 Th 3.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 11:45 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2009

October 7, 2009

VIFF 2009: A Comme Çi, Comme Ça Tuesday at the Festival


Wandered down the street to catch the bus, and then on downtown to the Granville 7 to catch a 2:10 pm screening of the Turkish film Pandora's Box or, perhaps, a 3:30 pm screening of Forbidden Door, from Indonesia, although VanRamblings couldn't necessarily decide on either, so we ended up asking for tickets for both (a tried-and-true film critic ploy to 'play the field' at film fests), and thus we hunkered down in the Granville 7 for ...

Pandora's Box (Grade: B-): There's a 'paint drying' quality to director Yesim Ustaoglu's Golden Conch winner at the San Sebastian Film Festival, as well as a gorgeous travelogue quality as cinematographer Jacques Besse takes the viewer on a lush journey through the Turkish countryside, and into the heart of modern-day Istanbul. Pandora's Box is a pleasant enough way to spend a Festival Tuesday afternoon, but given that we were unthrilled, we cut out early to join Shayne for a 3:30 p.m. screening of ...

Forbidden Door (Grade: C): No sooner had VanRamblings snuck out early from the screening of Pandora's Box, and into Theatre 3 for a screening of Forbidden Door, than we realized that entering the cinema to see Forbidden Door was akin to entering the third level of hell. We stayed for, oh say, a whole 5 minutes, and headed out to the Starbucks for a mid-afternoon snack. Mr. Shayne, who somehow stuck it out to watch the Best of Puchon Festival winner gave us this report: "Dramatically incoherent, ambitious (but to what end?), excruciatingly bloody and violent, with one of the most gruesome, most pointless, most viscera-filled final scenes in any movie I would never care to see again." Mr. Shayne, tell us how you really feel.

Not a particularly salutary afternoon at the Festival, all things considered. Would Mr. Shayne and VanRamblings fare better in the evening?

Around 4:30 p.m., VanRamblings got in line for an evening ticket for R. J. Cutler's well-reviewed new documentary, The September Issue. We already had our ticket for the 9:15 screening of Mother, snagged earlier in the day.

Upon entering the theatre, VanRamblings was very pleased to see the beauteous, tough, strong, talented, feminist / leftist / progressive, Alejandra Aguirre (our favourite Vancouver-based photographer). Ali even managed to take a better-than-decent photo (below) of Mr. Shayne and VanRamblings, a heretofore unheard of artistic feat ...

j-b-shayne-and-ray-tomlin-at-the-festival-oct-6-09.jpg 'Showbiz' Shayne & 'Mr. Know-It-All' / VanRamblings (Ray Tomlin) at the Fest

While Ali was across the aisle from J. B. and VanRamblings, who should be sitting in the left aisle seats directly behind us? Yes, our favourite Film Fest attending couple, Donna and Frank (sorry for the blurry photo). So, here we were, in a packed theatre, rarin' and ready for the 7 pm screening of ...

The September Issue (Grade: B+): Not exactly The War Room, director R J Cutler's stunningly produced documentary covering the Clinton run to the White House in 1992, The September Issue is — with its core message of "it's not how you feel, it's how you look" — an energetic, always involving and surprisingly moving portrait of Vogue editor / dominatrix Anna Wintour who, along with a winning 'supporting cast' (most particularly, longtime Vogue Features Editor, Grace Coddington) emerges as the feel-good flick of the 2009 Festival, insightful, enchanting and always compellingly watchable.

And, for our final film on a lustrously beautiful Tuesday at the film festival ...

Mother (Grade: A): Just your average, run-of-the-mill Korean psychosexual thriller, replete with blood and violence, taboo schoolgirl imagery, raucous consensual sex involving a very young girl, and a mother who will go to any ends to rescue her son from the clutches of the judicial system, including ... well, that would be giving it away, wouldn't it? The most audacious film of the year, from director Bong Joon-ho (The Host), Mother offers a taut tale of murder and suspense that moves slowly in its first half, and in its second half grabs you by the lapels, throws you around, and just doesn't let go. Plays again on Thanksgiving Monday, Oct. 12th @ 1:20 pm, Gran7, Th7.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 4:48 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2009

October 6, 2009

VIFF 2009: Monday, Day 5, Anomie, Despair, Connection & Hope


Another day, another four movies. And so it goes.

First up today, though: for all of us iPhone users out there, the VIFF Fan Guide went up midday Monday, resplendent with an easy to surf and readable guide to the daily films on offer at the 28th annual VIFF.

Up late again on Monday, but still managed to get downtown by 11 a.m. to pick up four tickets for the day, the first film on tap ...

Lost Times (Grade: A-): The Hungarian Film Week top prize-winner, this slice-of-life relationship drama revolves around the lives of three protagonists, a troubled young auto mechanic, Ivan (Jozsef Kadas) who cares for his willful, autistic teenage sister, Eszter (Térez Vass, writer-director Aron Matyassy's wife), as he also tries to come to terms with his relationship with girlfriend, Ilus (Eszter Földes). A grippingly effective pastoral thriller (tension arises both from circumstances involved in Ivan's cross-border gas smuggling business, and the fallout from Eszter's sexual victimization). Still, narrative aside, the real reward offered by Matyassy's film — as is the case with all other worthwhile VIFF films — is the entirely authentic insight into the humanity and circumstance of the characters on the screen. First-rate filmmaking, due to screen for a final time later this week, on Thursday, October 8th @ 9 p.m., Empire Granville 7, Theatre 4.

Ran into journalist / blogger extraordinaire, Frances Bula, lining up at the Granville 7 box office. We couldn't help but 'molest' her (VanRamblings is just a tad smitten with the indefatigable Ms. Bula's very fine mind), but we trust she wasn't too offended. Then it was off for Frances, her beau Doug, and a weary VanRamblings to Granville 7's Theatre 4 for a screening of ...

Applause (Grade: B+): Cold, desolate, abandoned and alone. Here's yet another film that reinforces the operating theme of the Festival: wherever you live on our planet, no matter your circumstance or living condition, life is a struggle for every one of us, and just getting through each day has to be considered a triumph of our will just to survive. The narrative thrust of Applause involves imperious aging stage actress, Thea (Denmark's Paprika Steen, in an outstanding, gritty performance), who has set about to recover her life, following treatment for her alcoholism, by re-establishing ties with her two young sons. That all does not go well is a given. But it is the tenderness of each character portrayal on screen, and the chance for Thea's redemption that holds us in thrall. Played Monday for a final time.

The most salutary event of our filmgoing day occurred when, for the first time since Fest's outset last Thursday, we ran into Donna and Frank — who were not able to start their Festival-going til Monday due to work commitments — by far our favourite Festival attending couple lo these many, many years. Somehow, Donna and Frank manage to put up each year with VanRamblings prattling on about one film or another, ad nauseam it must seem to them (and those poor unfortunates listening in). Just knowing we'll see Donna and Frank each day til Fest's end is just downright heartening. The Vancouver Film Festival is all about, among myriad other things, relationships, camaraderie, and being in this thing together.

Once again, we also ran into David Bordwell, prominent American film theorist, film critic, author, and Professor of Film Studies, Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who travels to the VIFF each year, and who told VanRamblings he'll be in town thru week's end. Aaahhh, the life.

Following a dinner break (we took the bus home to make a homemade organic chicken caesar salad), we rode the bus to Nelson and Seymour, walked the two blocks to the Granville 7, and joined the line for ...

Kamui (Grade: B+): Japanese director Yoichi Sai's stirring adaptation of the 40 year old Manga sword-and-sorcery source material tells an epic tale of treachery and shark hunting pirates through the experience of Kamui, a lonesome young renegade ninja nomad who cannot find a place for himself in the world. Kamui, the film, comes replete with all of the techno-wizardry pyrotechnics you'd expect from a film of this sort, and from beginning to end Kamui is just a helluva good time, a tree-top and seaside ninja battling, saturated ocean vista Asian 'western' that satisfies throughout. Plays twice more this week, on Thursday, Oct. 8th @ 10:45 am, Gran7, Th7, and Saturday afternoon, Oct. 10th @ 2:30pm, Gran7, Theatres 3 + 4.

Somehow the inimitable J. B. Shayne and VanRamblings managed to stay out of trouble while we strolled the darkened downtown streets awaiting the beginning of our final film of this glorious filmgoing Monday ...

Breathless (Grade: B+): Surprisingly comic, and just about the most foul-mouthed movie you're likely to see this year, with its jazz-inflected trance score, this low rent Korean gangster flick, even given the gloss and stylized sheen brought to the proceedings by first-time director / South Korean screen star Yang Ik-june, Breathless still manages to explore the same sort of anomie that is to be found in the best VIFF flicks, with it's combination of melancholy and despair, tempered by just the slightest hint of hope. Plays for a final time this Friday, Oct. 9th @ 1:15 pm, Gran7, Th7.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 2:04 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2009

October 5, 2009

VIFF 2009: Sunday, Day 4, A Rather Low Key Day


Night and Fog (Grade: A): Still. Based on the actual 2004 Tin Shui Wai murder-suicide involving a mainland immigrant, her Hong Kong husband, and their two children, Ann Hui's dark, muted and harrowing tragedy unfolds in flashback, from movie's outset tracking how Lee Sum (Simon Yam) came to murder his wife Ling (Zhang Jingchu) and their twin 6-year-old daughters. Given the film's arresting subject matter, it is Zhang Jingchu's utterly still portrayal of Ling that will endure for audiences long after the film has ended. Screens twice more, on Monday, Oct. 5th @ 6:20 pm, Gran 7, Th 4, and Monday, Oct. 12th @ 4:00 pm, Ridge Theatre.

Night and Fog

Next up on the 'still' theme, this absolute gem from Sweden ...

The Girl (Grade: A): More than an idyll, director Fridrik Edfeldt's The Girl explores the summer days of 10-year- old Anna (Blanca Engström), left (unknowingly) alone to care for herself amidst the uncertainty of all that may unfold as the days and weeks pass. That tragedy, or near tragedy, awaits seems inevitable. Still, there's a hot air balloon ride, catching frogs in the creek with her friend Ola, and the knowledge that by movies' end, despite all, Anna has survived, quiet, alone and with uncommon bravery. One of this year's must-see films, The Girl screens twice more: Wed, Oct. 7th @ 1 pm, Gran7, Th 6, and Thu, Oct. 8th @ 7:15 pm, Gran7, Th 6.

Ran into neighbour, Festival programmer, Guide editor, chief projectionist and all-around 'go to' guy, Jack Vermee, meditating outside the Granville 7 — looking none-the-worse for wear, given his almost fatal car accident last year — as he was preparing to introduce Kill Daddy Goodnight director-screenwriter Michael Glawogger, before the 9:15 screening in Theatre 3 ...

Kill Daddy Goodnight (Grade: C): This is what one sardonically refers to as a "kitchen sink drama", as in the filmmaker has thrown everything and the kitchen sink into a potboiler mess of a film, bereft of engaging characters, and in this instance with a plot that remains incoherent throughout, as it delves none-too-deeply into a Nazi massacre and pending parricidal genocide, among myriad other 'themes'. Kill Daddy Goodnight screens at noon today, Gran7, Th 3, and Thurs., Oct 8th @ 12:15 pm, Gran7, Th 6.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 1:55 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2009

October 4, 2009

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 12:24 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2009

October 3, 2009

VIFF 2009: A Day of Celebration, Day 2 of Vancouver's Film Fest


If the emergent theme of Day 1 of the 28th annual Vancouver International Film Festival was magical realism, nature and the quest for spiritual transcendence, the operating theme of Day 2 of our glorious, west coast Festival-by-the sea was a decidedly more proactive, celebratory and hard won "running, not ambling, towards an uncertain, but hopeful future."

First up on a chill autumn Friday afternoon ...

La Pivellina (Grade: A): One of VanRamblings' four favourite films thus far in the Festival, La Pivellina proves to be an absolutely captivating, and utterly original, cinéma-vérité exploration of a tight-knit circus family who come to care for a 2-year-old infant girl who has been left abandoned in a virtually desolate inner-city park. Humane, transcendent in its authenticity it is, throughout, the wondrous "performance" of the film's central "star" — 2 year old Aia (Asia Crippa) — the 'la pivellina' (the little squirt) of the film's title, that will render almost any audience, and particularly those who have raised children, to surrender helplessly and in grateful servitude to this at all times magnificent Italian-Austrian co-production. See La Pivellina next Friday, Oct. 9 @ 4 pm, Ridge, or Monday, Oct. 12 @ 9:15 pm, Gran7, Th3, cuz, with no distributor in place, this is one of the 80% of films playing at our glorious Fest that ain't ever gonna be coming back to Vancouver.

As VanRamblings has said to many (and much to their consternation, we believe) it is the duty of every film critic to fall in love with the actors on screen. This happened early last year with a screening of the Taiwanese short, The End of the Tunnel, when we fell head-over-heels in love with Sandrine Pinna, for us the breakout Asian actress of the decade. And, thus it was that we found ourselves, early on Friday evening, at a screening of ...

Yang Yang (Grade: A-): Essentially, an exercise in style, but even more a magnificent showcase for the beautiful and wondrously transporting Sandrine Pinna, the sophomore feature of Taiwanese writer-director Cheng Yu-chieh (Do Over), Yang Yang, with its darkly brooding trance score (which promises cinema-off-the-rails, but doesn't deliver) is nonetheless an absolutely captivating, melancholic exploration of the life of teenager Yang Yang, the central character, who despite her beauty, humanity and humility, cannot find anything approximating love. Only the running scene at film's end promises the hope of personal independence and acceptance, and the emerging notion that we must love ourselves first before we may be open to the love of those around us. Trite maybe, but utterly true and transformative. A certain Dragons & Tigers awards candidate, Yang Yang plays once more, next Tuesday, October 6 @ 1:30 pm, Gran7, Theatre 7.

And, finally, to bring Day 2 of the Festival to a close ...

The Maid (Grade: A-): Winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize (drama), and a Special Jury Prize for star Catalina Saavedra, at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Chile's The Maid grips the viewer from the outset, as director Sebastián Silva takes us on a relentless, slow moving roller coaster ride, deep inside the bruised psyche of the film's central character, the bitter, passive aggressive Raquel, the "maid" of the title, and a wondrous, if sometimes unhinged, character on screen. Again, it is Raquel's late night run through the streets of Santiago that promises the long sought salvation previously elusive to the film's woebegone title character. Plays once more, this coming Sunday, October 4th @ 4 pm, Ridge Theatre.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 1:36 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2009

October 2, 2009

VIFF 2009: The Cinema of Despair Returns


Up a bit late on Thursday, the first day of the 28th annual Vancouver International Film Festival. See my #17 Downtown Translink bus a block away, break out into a sprint and then a run, and jump onto the bus. Arrive at Seymour and Smithe at 10:50 a.m., and rush to join a very long ticket line snaking around the corner of Smithe and Granville.

Was pleased to hear about a change in policy for picking up tickets outside the Granville 7, this year. No longer do you have to line up in the morning for daytime screening tickets, and again at 4:30 p.m. (til 5:30) for tickets for the evening screenings. This year, you can pick up your tickets for the day at day's outset, thus allowing enthusiastic cinéastes to catch the 3 p.m. screenings that we've missed in years past. Kudos to the Fest folks.

Arrived too late to see the Mexican film, Nora's Will, but caught up with friend, John Skibinski, later in the day, who said the film was involving and got stronger as it went along. John told the inimitable Mr. Shayne, and VanRamblings, that Nora's Will was the first of what turned out to be a two-part Jewish-themed double bill, as he stayed in Granville 7's Theatre 2 for a screening of Defamation, a hard-hitting Austria-Denmark-Israel-USA produced documentary, which John thought was provocative, even if the film's theme of "anyone who questions Israel is an anti-Semite" was, for John, unconvincing, "although it did give me pause for thought," he added.

Chose instead the film that Ralph, and Diane, and a whole host of others had opted for as their first film of the day ...

Letters to Father Jacob (Grade: B): In many ways, Letters to Father Jacob perfectly represents why filmgoers attend the Vancouver International Film Festival each autumn. A slice-of-life, transformative Finnish drama, in exploring the remote interior lives of the film's two protagonists - a bitter, forbidding, disillusioned middle-aged woman recently pardoned from prison, for what we suspect from the beginning is murder; and, a blind, sickly rural parish priest whose grasp of matters spiritual transcend corporeal concerns - with quiet authority director Klaus Haro reminds us that in the human condition it is the good we do in our lives that will lead us to salvation. Scheduled two more times before Festival's end, first on Sun, Oct 11 @ 7 pm, Ridge; and again on Thurs, Oct 15 @ 6:20 pm, Granville 7, Th4.

Coming out of the theatre, spoke with two Finnish women, Irene and Kaya, who loved Letters to Father Jacob, and thought the film timely given its subject matter, and the recent visit of the Dalai Lama to our shores, to discuss with us the kind of peace and wisdom Haro explores in his film.

Next up on the film trek through our day ...

Katalin Varga (Grade: B+): With a relentless, eerily surreal technicolour noir feel about the proceedings, transplanted Brit director Peter Strickland's bucolic, Transylvania set revenge thriller emerges at all times as gripping and unsettling film fare, the journey through the verdant rural countryside offering needed counterpoint to the film's darker goings on. A great début feature, and one of the films to catch at the VIFF, Katalin Varga emerges as an early favourite, at this year's Festival. Screens twice more, Wed, Oct 7 @ 9:30 pm, Gran7, Th3; and Thurs, Oct 8 @ 9:30 pm, Ridge Theatre.

And, on the spur of the moment, snuck into ...

We All Fall Down (Grade: C+): Gary Gasgarth's prosaic documentary look at the story behind the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the U.S. explores the rise and fall of the U.S. home lending system, related by a series of talking heads, including Wall Street bankers, respected economists, public officials, industry experts and homeowners themselves. Unfortunately, anyone who can read, or anyone who's addicted to MSNBC / CNN / Charlie Rose / 60 Minutes probably knows pretty much everything Gasgarth, and writer Kevin Stocklin, relate in their film. Wait to see this on PBS or, perhaps, the CBC.

Took a break for dinner, at the new Urban Fare on Alberni Street, within the Shrangri-la Hotel, the best - and cheapest - hot deli / salad bar in town.

Ran into broadcaster Pia Shandel while waiting in line, who politely budged into Mr. Shayne's 'first in line' spot, and who proceeded to introduce us to director Pete McCormack, homegrown documentary filmmaker (Uganda Rising, See Grace Fly) who, after touring his film to Film Festival's across the continent, brings one of the buzz films to this year's Festival, Facing Ali, a moving chronicle of boxer Muhammad Ali, to Vancouver. About Facing Ali, Pia raved, "brilliantly done!" (she'd seen the film in a media screening earlier in the week). Facing Ali screens next Thursday, October 8th @ 9:30 pm, Gran7, Th7; and again on Friday, October 9th @ noon, Gran7, Theatre 3.

We Live In Public (Grade: B): Director Ondi Timoner's fast-paced, but ultimately empty, documentary telling of tech visionary Josh Harris' story, a '' millionaire who is by turns self-absorbed, ego-maniacal, fascistic, exploitative, narcissistic and puerile, it's Timoner's failure to dig below the surface that, finally, frustrates the viewer. Provocative, and well-made, but ultimately erratic and unsatisfying. But, given that VanRamblings seems to be in the minority here, you may want to catch one of the remaining screenings of We Live In Public, either on Friday, October 8th @ 1:20 pm, Gran7, Th2; or, Wednesday, October 14th @ 9:30 pm, Gran7, Theatre 1.

Spoke with two, young Korean women about the films they intend to catch at this year's Festival. On their list: Pandora's Box, Air Doll, and two high-energy, much-anticipated ninja films, Ninja Assassin and Kamui.

And, finally, to end the first day of the 28th annual Vancouver Film Festival, our first tour-de-force screening of the fest, Lars von Trier's controversial, frustrating and transcendent 2009 Cannes' award-winning provocation ...

Antichrist (Grade: A-, the minus for the violence in the 2nd half of the film): For the first sixty minutes, in a rather tranquil, insightful manner Scandanavian director, and cinema's enfant terrible, Lars von Trier delves deep inside the sorrow of an erudite couple whose tiny infant son has crawled out of the window of their seventh-floor apartment and fallen to his death. Meditative and almost mystical in its telling in the early going, in the second half of Antichrist, von Trier steers the film right off its tracks, turning a well-made psychodrama into a bloody, visceral, hysterical, wretched, fantastical horror film. Really, you've got to have a stomach for this sort of thing; nothing you read will prepare you for Antichrist. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg (winner, Best Actress, Cannes) are near mesmerizing in the lead roles. The shocking nastiness of the latter half put aside, Antichrist is true tour-de-force filmmaking, and worth catching. Screens one more, bloody, time: Sat., Oct 3, 11 am @ Gran7, Theatre 7.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 1:07 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2009

October 1, 2009

28th Annual Vancouver International Film Festival


The Vancouver International Film Festival remains one of the largest film festivals in North America, and a première Canadian cultural event. Founded in 1982, in its 28th year VIFF continues as a fall fixture on the international film festival circuit, and the largest Asian film festival in North America.

The 2009 edition of the Festival takes place a bit later than usual this year, from October 1st thru 16th, when more than 150,000 locals, and those traveling to our city from afar, will choose from a selection of more than 640 screenings of 377 films, from 80+ countries from across the globe.

The 24th edition of the Film and TV Forum, established to foster the art of cinema, facilitate the meeting of cinema professionals from around the world, and to stimulate the motion picture industry in BC and Canada, began Tuesday and will conclude Saturday, with New Filmmakers' Day. The Forum offers 5 days of classes, seminars, and roundtable discussions for budding local cinéastes, and those interested in the filmmaking process.

As to the Festival proper, the 28th edition features 217 feature length fiction films, 92 feature length documentaries, and 140 shorts. There are 89 Canadian films in the programme, consisting of 20 dramatic features, and 13 non-fiction features.

OPENER/CLOSER: The opening night gala attraction will be A Shine of Rainbows, a Canada-Ireland co-production from Indian-born Canadian filmmaker Vic Sarin (Partition), which tells the story of an extraordinary woman who helps an orphan boy find self-acceptance and love through her unique gifts of colour and magic. The film stars Connie Nielsen.

The Festival ends 16 days later with a screening of Queen To Play, Caroline Bottaro's directorial début which employs chess as metaphor for life while exploring class and gender empowerment. The French-German co-production stars the always radiant Sandrine Bonnaire, and Kevin Kline.

GALAS: Between these two glitzy bookends, three other high-profile films will be given special premières and gala celebrations: on Oct. 2nd, Excited, the Canadian Images gala film, from Vancouver-based director Bruce Sweeney, offers a romantic comedy about sexual dysfunction; on Oct. 8th, Japanese director Yakusho Koji's Toad's Oil, a sprawling, magical fantasia about fathers, sons and truth and lies in relationships, as this year's Dragons and Tigers Award Gala; and, on Oct. 10th, the Anniversary Gala film, An Education, given that it's 2009's buzz Sundance film, stars certain Best Actress Oscar nominee, Carey Mulligan, in an absorbing, evocative, superbly constructed coming-of-age character study; most assuredly a sell out at its gala screening, and the two other scheduled screenings.

WORLD CINEMA: The spotlighted country this year is Japan but, as usual, the French presence pummels the competition with more than 28 features, including new work from Jacques Audiard, the Grand Jury Prize winner at Cannes this year, A Prophet; Catherine Breillat (Bluebeard); Alix de Maistre (For A Son); and Alain Cavalier (Irène).

Other international marquee names include Spain's Pedro Almodóvar (Broken Embraces), Sweden's Lukas Moodysson (Mammoth), the Czech Republic's Jan Hrebejk (Shameless), Germany's Maren Ade (Everyone Else), Grand Jury Prize winner in Berlin this year; Taiwan's Cheng Wen-tang (Tears), and Hong Kong's Wai Ka-fai (Written By).

AWARD WINNERS: From Sundance, in addition to Audience Award Winner, An Education, this year's VIFF has programmed four other Sundance winners, including Chile's The Maid, World Cinema Prize, Drama; Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, Grand Jury Prize; Tibet in Song, World Cinema Special Jury Prize; We Live In Public, Grand Jury Prize, Documentary; and, from this year's Berlin Film Festival, in addition to Maren Ade's Grand Jury Prize winner, Everyone Else, VIFF has programmed Gigante, winner of the Silver Bear, and Best First Film awards; from New York's Tribeca Film Festival, Ireland's The Eclipse was awarded a Best Actor Prize for Ciarin Hinds; and, from Cannes 2009, Canada's I Killed My Mother, winner of three prizes, including Best Director, Director's Fortnight; Police, Adjective (Romania), Jury Prize winner (Un Certain Regard); and Michael Haneke's eagerly anticipated The White Ribbon, Palme D'Or winner.

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: This year, as in past years, the heavily juried New York Film Festival (Sept. 25 - Oct. 11) overlaps with Vancouver's International Film Festival. At the opening press conference in early September, Festival Director Alan Franey proudly pointed to the following films, which will play both prestigious film festivals: in addition to those films already mentioned (Precious, Broken Embraces, Bluebeard, Everyone Else, Police, Adjective, and The White Ribbon), the VIFF will present Lars von Trier's latest provocation, Antichrist (winner, Cannes' Best Actress award, Charlotte Gainsbourg); 100 year-old filmmaker, Manoel de Oliveira's, Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl; Dragons and Tigers candidate, Independencia; recent Venice Film Festival award winner, Lebanon; Bong Joon-Ho's, Mother; Pedro Costa's Ne change rien; Andrey Khrzhanovsky's, A Room and a Half France's breathtaking documentary, Sweetgrass; and, Portuguese director João Pedro Rodrigues' touching To Die Like A Man.

NON-FICTION FEATURES: In the non-fiction / documentary feature film category, the following films have garnered awards, including Gerald Peary's magnificent For The Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism; Salt, Fredricks and Michael Angus' breathtaking 2009 Best Australian short winner; Dana Perry's Boy Interrupted; Mexico's The Inheritors; Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith's The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers; and, Libby Spear's controversial Playground, chronicling the child sex trade in North America.

For a full rundown on the 377 films, a schedule and ticket and series pass information, go online to, or order tickets at the VISA advance box office at the VanCity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street, noon til 7 daily. All Festival attendees must purchase a $2 membership. You can also charge by phone, at 604-685-8297, noon til 7 through October 15th.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 1:31 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2009


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