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VIFF 2017: Yet More Award Winning Films Screening at VIFF

2017 Vancouver International Film Festival

Today on VanRamblings, we'll present three more award-winning films that are set to screen at the 36th annual Vancouver International Film Festival, films without Canadian distributors in place, films you are likely to miss unless you purchase a ticket for an upcoming VIFF screening, worthwhile — even life-changing — cinema that you simply don't want to miss.

A good example? Renowned Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki's The Other Side of Hope, the tale of a Syrian refugee who stows away to Finland, Kaurismäki, as always (and always to good effect), mines the narrative with the deadpan humour for which he is justly famous, all the while refusing to flinch from heartbreak and hardship. Winner of the Silver Bear at the Berlinale this year, here's another VIFF 2017 film that is not to be missed.

Here is how The Telegraph's Tim Robey begins his 5-star review ...

The Other Side of Hope, Aki Kaurismäki's gorgeous and cuttingly poignant comedy, begins with a young Syrian asylum seeker emerging from a coal pile in Helsinki's industrial port. He is Khaled (Sherwan Haji), and has wound up here by accident, after escaping violent persecution by jumping aboard a freighter in Eastern Europe.

Coated black, head to toe, he finds his way to a shower and cleans up, before asking a local official where to find the police. "Are you sure?" asks the man, a young black guy, quizzically — a question that's pure, distilled Kaurismäki, in its loving irreverence, implied empathy, and suggestion of a community that wants to help the down-and-out however it can.

Khaled, though, wants to do things by the book. Handing himself in as an illegal migrant, he checks in to a Reception Centre and is grilled about his journey to Finland from the rubble of Aleppo, which is so laden with aching tragedy and racist abuse that you wonder how on earth Kaurismäki can bring a smile back to our faces, let alone the torrents of laughter, later on, that his film manages to unleash."

Excerpts from other critics' review, all of which reviews are laudatory ...

  • Rory O'Connor, The Film Stage. People like Aki Kaurismäki, Haneke, and von Trier, amongst others, might try, on the surface, to feign a certain resistance to humanism and yet their kind seem to be the only ones capable of delivering something as vital as this. The Other Side of Hope is a film that talks about hope without pretension, while maintaining a defiant faith in human decency — not to mention the faith that cinema itself still has the ability to translate that decency, with humour and clarity, to the screen.

  • Jessica Kiang, The Playlist. Kaurismäki's wonderful new Berlinale Silver Bear winner makes a stonefaced, droll but paradoxically urgent case for a truth that desperately needs to survive these post-truth times: people are people and borders are bullshit. Warmhearted, sad-eyed and straight-faced, a film with a jaunty Finnish-folk-heavy soundtrack, The Other Side of Hope offers granular, tragicomic, personal and often despairing filmmaking, wrapped up in a story that is full of hope.

For the past 21½ years, month in, month out, each and every month (including the months when we were dying of cancer), VanRamblings has submitted a 1,000 word 'philosophical' column on some aspect of the film industry — to The Fraser Journal, the baby of my longtime editor Mari Miyasaka, who has not only found a way to put up with me over all those years, but has worked steadfastly to create a Japanese language magazine that while distributing in Metro Vancouver, has found a loyal audience across far-flung locales and countries spanning the globe.

As you might well expect, then, over the years VanRamblings has developed a great affection for Japanese cinema, most particularly those films which screen at VIFF that are often sponsored by The Fraser Journal. Films such as Close Knit, part of VIFF 2017's Gateway / Dragons and Tiger series, winner of both the Teddy Jury Award, at Berlinale 2017, and recent Audience Award winner at the 2017 New York Asian Film Festival.

The international première of Naoko Ogigami's magestic film Close-Knit in the Panorama Special section of Berlinale 2017 was met with raucous applause as the ending credits rolled, with an additional enthusiastic two minutes of applause once the lights were up.

One of Berlinale 2017's triumphs, Close Knit will screen twice at VIFF 2017, both times at the Cineplex International Village in Cinema 10, on Tuesday, Oct. 10th at 6:30pm, and again on Thursday, October 12th at 4:15pm.

Here are excerpts from two reviews of Close-Knit ...

  • Rory O'Connor, The Film Stage. Combining cinematographer Kozo Shibasaki's naturalistic aesthetics and attention to texture and detail with a central theme of nurture taking over from nature, Ogigami's film could quite easily be mistaken for the work of her contemporary Hirokazu Kore-eda, another great director of modern Japanese melodrama. The fact that she has chosen to focus on an LGBT experience, something that has been absent from Kore-eda's work to this point, might suggest that Close-Knit is somehow a departure from that tradition of filmmaking. Surely the contrary is true: it's another story of Japanese life, not a different story necessarily, and it's presented exactly so. Director Naoko Ogigami's film never feels weighed down by its delicate subject matter, nor does it underplay it or come across as didactic in its delivery. Indeed, with 11-year-old Tomo's (Rinka Kakihara) future and (for want of a better word) simple goodness in the balance one might find the tremendous emotional swells of Close-Knit so moving at times that one can barely hear the sound of fresh ground being broken in Japanese cinema.

  • Guy Lodge, Variety. A nuanced, softly lit family portrait, with compassion and conflict held carefully in balance, Naoko Ogigami's gentle, sweet-souled celebration of alternative family structures, in which a maternally neglected young girl finds security in the care of her uncle and his transgender partner, Close-Knit offers a warm, practical, pastel-shaded cardigan of a film, with a winning but not too cutely played performance by Rinka Kakihara as 11-year-old Tomo, a young girl who has had to grow up a little faster than her peers, thanks to the fecklessness of her mother (Mimura), an overgrown adolescent who thinks nothing of disappearing on a whim for days on end. Note: Close-Knit is not to be viewed on an empty stomach; much of the film's key dramatic interaction takes place around lovingly prepared meals.

So, above, we have another standout film to add to your VIFF schedule.

An absolute must-see at VIFF 2017, Sami Blood arrives as a multiple award winner: the Grand Jury Prize and Best Actress (Lene Cecilia Sparrok) winner at last spring's Seattle Film Festival; Special Jury Prize winner and another Best Actress win for Sparrok at Tokyo's 2017 Film Festival, with a Best Director of a Début Film win, for Amanda Kernell, in Venice. If the trailer above doesn't have your heart pounding in anticipation of screening Sami Blood at VIFF 2017, you may want to check your pulse.

There's no Canadian distributor in place for Sami Blood. See it at VIFF 2017, or miss out entirely on the opportunity to see one of cinema's most celebrated Scandanavian films to arrive on our shores this decade.

Here are lengthy excerpts from two reviews of Sami Blood ...

  • Michael O'Sullivan, The Washington Post. Sami Blood — a beautiful, haunting film, anchored by a startlingly accomplished lead performance by Lene Cecilia Sparrok — relates the story of the Sami people of Scandinavia, an indigenous race that has been the victim of ethnic bigotry and systemic cultural suppression in Norway, Sweden and other Nordic countries. Set mostly in the 1930s, the poignant feature début by filmmaker Amanda Kernell, Sami Blood serves up a slice of that troubled history, with its story of 14-year-old Sami reindeer herder Elle-Marja, a precocious spitfire who, with her little sister Njenna, has been sent from the village where they grew up to a Swedish state-run boarding school for Sami children.

    Played by real-life sisters Lene Cecilia and Mia Erika Sparrok, Elle-Marja and Njenna are delights, but it's the elder sibling's performance that is the revelation. With her wide features and darting eyes — half furtive and half curious — the teenage newcomer beautifully embodies the survival instincts and self-loathing of a girl who has internalized the prejudice surrounding her and who uses her brains and moxie not to deflect attacks but to deny her own identity. This lovely, lyrical little film never seeks to hammer its point home with the viewer. Rather, Sami Blood leaves its questions about identity hanging in the air, like the scent of something or someone that passed by long ago, but that still lingers — mysterious and mesmerizing — in the breeze.

  • Alan Scherstuhl, The Village Voice. Amanda Kernell's scrupulously shaped coming-of-rage drama opens with Christina (Maj-Doris Rimpi), an elderly woman wearing sparkling pearls and a pitiless countenance, turning bitterly obstinate when taken back to the Lapland of her birth for her sister's funeral. She'll speak to no one, vows not to stay the night, and has zero tolerance for displays of yoik, the local throat singing. Stuck in a hotel despite her protestations, she watches a helicopter lift, the green-humped mountains behind it frosted at the peaks. The world around her is gorgeous, a true pleasure to regard, and she stares at that chopper as if it were her only possible rescue from damnation.

    Then we flash back eight decades. Sami Blood plunges into the origins of that anger, examining with rare anthropological acuity the abuse of the indigenous Sami people of northernmost Europe — "the filthy Lapps," we hear a blond boy spit as young Christina (now named Elle-Marja and played by Lene Cecilia Sparrok) troops through the woods with her schoolmates. Writer-director Kernell, making an auspicious début, expertly tracks Elle-Marja's adolescent development — her longings, the process of growing into her own body — and her realization that, no matter her intelligence or aptitude, Sweden offers nothing to a Sami beyond the plains she was born on.

    A courageous and compelling, yet quietly observant film, even given the matter-of-factness of its scenecraft, Sami Blood is a film about girlhood and racism, passing and escape. It's also about guilt, about the toll taken on a life of rejecting one's minority origins in accordance with (and in defiance of) the majority's unjust prejudice. The finale finds a ninety-year-old Elle-Marja — now Christina — flooded with grief about the family she left behind. It's overwhelming.

That's it for today's post, then, with three more films that are set to screen at VIFF 2017 presented for your consideration. More VIFF 2017 previews will be published on VanRamblings later in the week.

Full VanRamblings coverage of VIFF 2017 is available by clicking here.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at September 18, 2017 6:30 PM in VIFF 2017


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