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VIFF 2011: Award-Winning & Festival Buzz Films, Part Two


We're only hours away from the kick-off to the 30th annual Vancouver International Film Festival, 16 days of cinematic glory on our west coast shores, a time when we might immerse ourselves in the best of film from across the globe. With so much to see, how to make sense of the tsunami of cinema that will wash over us between now and Friday October 14th?

Yesterday, we provided some insight into 16 of the films that will screen at VIFF30, the work of talented filmmakers that have garnered accolades and awards on some far distant shore, as well as those buzz films that taken the critics by storm. Today we present 16 more films for your cinematic edification, replete with linked reviews and insight. So, here we go ...

SLEEPING BEAUTY, starring Emily Browning

  • Michael: With a rave from Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells, who writes "Michael is easily the most gripping and cunning film I've seen (at Cannes)." Even given the subject matter ("the film acquaints the audience with the behaviour and mentality of a child molester in ways that are up-close uncomfortable"), Wells says, for him, the film was "the cream of the crop" at Cannes 2011. IndieWire's Eric Kohn calls the film a triumph. Variety's Alissa Simon says Michael is challenging, while taking note of "Michael Fuith's strong lead performance, (and the film's) creepy accumulation of ordinary detail and suspenseful twists."

  • Miss Bala: Mexico's Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, there's probably not a more propulsive film you'll see at VIFF30 than Miss Bala (Bala means 'bullet' in Spanish). The Playlist's Kevin Jagernauth writes, "a magnificently paced and deeply complex portrait of the out of control situation in Mexico," the story involving a naïve Tijuana 23-year-old beauty-pageant contestant (Stephanie Sigman) who finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time — witness to a night-club massacre perpetrated by a gang of narcotics dealers.

  • My Little Princess: Screen Daily's Alan Hunter writes, "Painful personal experience is distilled into poignant drama in Eva Ionesco's promising first feature, the autobiographical events from the 1970s shaped into a fairytale-like narrative illuminating the abusive nature of Ionesco's relationship with her mother Irina and eternal arguments over the limits of artistic freedom." THR's David Rooney writes, "the director is the daughter of Irina Ionesco, whose provocative nude photographs of her child made waves in the Paris art world of the 1970s." As is the case with Michael, the film portrays controversial subject matter to be sure. Decide for yourself. Here's a link to the trailer for My Little Princess.

  • Nana: Winner of the Best First Feature award at Locarno, Sight and Sound's Isabel Stevens writes, "Another tender character study and another isolated rural setting was offered by Valerie Massadian's début, Nana, the film's perspective confined to that of the titular four-year-old girl (Kelyna Lecomte) — so we know as little as she why her mother suddenly abandons her one day in their remote cottage." Variety's Jay Weissberg writes, "Unquestionably the director's forté is her symbiotic relationship with the charismatic Kelyna Lecomte, as Nana, and her considered engagement with questions of post-Edenic innocence that encompass the natural world's cycle of birth and death."

  • Outside Satan: Variety's Rob Nelson liked the film when it played at Cannes earlier this year, but he was the only one (apparently). IndieWire's Eric Kohn says French provocateur Bruno Dumont's new film lacks inspiration. Slant magazine's Glenn Heath, Jr. has these words, "Instead of giving the viewer a glimmer of humanity to latch onto, Dumont deals in a cold-shoulder cinema that's both pressurized and limited, relentless, and distant. Hors Satan shoves these troublesome motifs down our throat until there's no more room to breath. He demands sympathy for the devil without thinking why." The film is included here because Dumont has won the Grand Prix award at Cannes twice, most memorably for his haunting film, L'humanité.

  • Policeman: Winner of a Special Jury Prize at Locarno 2011. IndieWire's Eric Kohn writes, "Everyone seems lost in this unsettling story of brawny Israeli anti-terrorist officers and the equally clueless activists they're eventually tasked with hunting down. While blatantly topical, this is not a political film of the moment, but rather a calculated meditation on purpose. (Employing) a persistently muted, disquieting tone (the film while) problematically fragmented is loaded with insight into the nuances of Israeli society." Conversely, THR's Todd McCarthy writes, "A political Israeli film with strong dramatic and topical value. A boldly conceived and bracingly told political drama, Policeman possesses a special contemporary pertinence in the wake of the recent massive protests relating to the vast class and economic disparities in Israel." Variety's Alissa Simon calls the film, fascinating but uneven.

  • The Price of Sex: Variety's Eddie Cockrell writes of Mimi Chakarova's documentary, "Fearlessly researched and undeniably urgent, Bulgarian-born photographer-journalist-activist-helmer Mimi Chakarova indefatigably follows the harrowing path of human sex trafficking, from the poorest corner of Eastern Europe to the flesh pits of Dubai and Istanbul, the picture earning the Nestor Almendros Courage in Filmmaking award at the Human Rights Watch festival, and placing solidly among the audience favourites at SilverDocs."

  • Pure: Variety's Alissa Simon is somewhat over the moon when writing about Lisa Langseth's winner of the Flash Forward Award (best first feature) at Pusan (2010), and Best Film, Ghent 2011, writing, "Adapting her own play, Langseth explores issues of class and culture in contemporary Sweden, her protagonist 20-year-old Katarina Alicia Vikander, in a visceral performance), the tightly wound daughter of a suicidal alcoholic." The film? Multi-layered, dark. We'll be there.

  • Restoration: THR's James Greenberg writes, ""An old-fashioned slice of life from Israel, more personal than political, the kind of small-scale, well-crafted story that used to be a staple of European cinema and is rarely seen nowadays." Winner, Grand Prize, Karlovy Vary 2011; Best Screenplay, Sundance 2011.

  • A Simple Life: Variety's Justin Chang says about this winner for Best Actress at Venice 2011, "Suffused with the gentle, unforced humanity viewers have come to expect from Hong Kong helmer Ann Hui, A Simple Life is a tender ode to the elderly, their caregivers and the mutual generosity of spirit that makes their limited time together worthwhile," while THR's Neil Young is not quite so enthusiastic, when he writes, "An overlong tale of a Hong Kong family's ailing maid. Based on actual people and events, Susan Chan and Roger Lee's script is a bittersweet, unmistakably heartfelt look at ties between people who aren't blood relations but who have in effect a mother/son bond."

  • Sleeping Beauty: Well, if you were going to depend on Alex Billington's review you'd run, not walk, from a screening of this movie. Here's Billington: "Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty is the kind of film I hate. Made by an amateur Australian novelist-turned-filmmaker named Julia Leigh, who shouldn't be directing and, perhaps, should never direct again. It's bland, boring, tasteless, has a story about as thin as thread, is full of pointless fade outs and lacks more than 10 seconds of music in the entire film (which I cannot stand). I guess the redeeming value, if there was one, is that Aussie actress Emily Browning is naked in nearly every scene. But not even for good reason." Fortunately for Ms. Leigh and Ms. Browning, the Globe and Mail's Liam Lacey doesn't agree (the 'story': Emily Browning plays a university student who takes on a strange kind of prostitution: she's drugged and, in her comatose state, old men go to bed with her to do whatever they want, short of penetration.); IndieWire's Eric Kohn's on board, too, giving the film a B+.

  • Top Floor, Left Wing: This winner of the FIPRESCI prize, presented by the International Federation of Film Critics, which also received the Panorama award at Berlin 2011, impressed Variety's Jordan Mintzer, and Screen Daily's Lee Marshall, who says "A botched hostage taking turns into an oddly compelling little banlieue-set comedy drama in French director Angelo Cianci's first feature. The script's genre bending pursuit of laughs and tension in more or less the same measure shouldn't rightly work, but somehow it does, as the film's well-received Berlinale Panorama screening demonstrated."

  • Tyrannosaur: Screen Daily's Mark Adams loves British actor Paddy Considine's directorial début. The Guardian's Jeremy Kay raves that the film is a début with claws. Jeffrey Wells can't stop talking about Olivia Colman's "shattering performance." THR's David Rooney is over the moon about Tyrannosaur, as well. Guess where VanRamblings will be at 9 p.m. Thursday evening? Yep, that's right: Empire Granville 7, Th 3.

  • Wish Me Away: Variety's Joe Leydon writes, "An inspirational account of coming out, Wish Me Away is fascinating both as a biographical portrait of Chely Wright, the first significant American country music artist to openly identify herself as gay, and as a backstage look at how an entertainer prepares to make a revelation many might view as career suicide." THR's Stephen Farber is enthusiastic, "Beautifully made doc celebrates a trailblazer in the country music world."

  • Without: Having received a special jury mention at this year's Slamdance Film Festival, Variety's Rob Nelson writes, "The film's abundant virtues include stunningly evocative visuals and an intense performance by Joslyn Jensen as a 19-year-old struggling with mysterious personal issues while working as caregiver to a catatonic old man in Puget Sound. Demanding and rewarding one's close attention, this subtle début feature by writer-director Mark Jackson tells much of its story through a vivid presentation of the young woman's daily rituals as they — along with her moods — gradually change shape."

  • You've Been Trumped (Grade: A-): Offering a scathing indictment of the Scottish government, and shining a particularly unflattering light on the financial buffoon Donald Trump (who personifies pretty much everything that's wrong with the American capitalist system), director Anthony Baxter's rousing documentary revolves around Trump's controversial plan to build a luxurious golf resort in the rural coastal village of Aberdeen, a development originally rejected by the Scottish government arising from significant concerns around environmental degradation. Trump's financial clout, though, eventually wins out, the decision by the government to approve the golf course moving newly radicalized Aberdeen farmers to engage in a battle royale with Trump's bully forces, who play despicably and dirty, indeed. Mr. Baxter will be present at VIFF screenings of the film next week. We'll see you there.

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Come on back tomorrow, the official kick-off date of the 30th annual Vancouver International Film Festival, for 16 more 'reviews'. VanRamblings will settle in to our own idiosyncratic daily coverage of VIFF30 with our first 'official' post on Friday morning. In closing today's post, note should be made that reviews published on this site are purely subjective in nature; you may very well love a film VanRamblings otherwise didn't care for.

For instance, VanRamblings is absolutely over the moon about The Sandman, by far our favourite film thus far (we caught it at a preview screening). The Sandman is a must-see. Even so, at the screening we attended, patrons were present who were not as swept away by this magical and hopeful film as we were. Unimaginable, we thought to ourselves, that this deserving winner of the Audience Award at Filmfestival Max Ophuls, 2011 should not receive universal acclaim for its inventiveness and hope-filled reflection on the human condition. But there you go.

As we wrote above, attending our much-beloved VIFF, and watching the films you love may be considered purely a subjective, and we hope salutary, experience. Enjoy your 30th annual VIFF. We'll see you in line.

(Click here for Part One of our Festival 'introduction' buzz column)

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Full VR daily coverage of the Vancouver Film Festival may be found here.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at September 28, 2011 9:49 AM in VIFF 2011


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