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VIFF2012: An Odd But Rewarding Festival Draws to a Close

Vancouver International Film Festival

In the films we see at VIFF, as is the case with film we screen during the remaining 11½ months of the year, we demand cinema possessed of insight, wit and intelligence, poetry and craft, honest reflections on the human condition, fidelity of intent and purpose for the characters we see on screen, and that they be moving with a melancholy subtext (even if it's a comedy). We want to see films on the human condition.

We feel much the same about the people we let into our life. We demand the very best from our children, Jude and Megan, and have never sanctioned anything other than complete emotional honesty. Of course, we demand fidelity from our friends and family. We demand of our friends that they are loyal to a fault, have our best interests at heart, that they never ever engage in passive aggressive behaviour so as undermine our fragile heart. Our friends must be possessed of a keen insight into themselves, as well as us, and into the human condition, in general.

Of course, we demand of our friends that they possess a keen wit and and an enquiring and overweening intelligence, that they possess a consuming interest in the political realm — here at home, in the province, federally and beyond (we expect quite a sophisticated analysis, as well) — and in respect of politics we don't care whether someone's a Liberal, an NDPer, supports the Green party, or ... well, we'd include the Conservative party in the above delineation, but honestly, we'd be misleading you if we indicated a support for Stephen Harper's Tories. We do have many friends in the Progressive Conservative parties resident in provinces across Canada — we appreciate their moral take on the issues and their commitment to community and social justice, and have found generally their approach to politics to be humane, and when you get right down to it, to the left of most of our so-called left friends (we've moved in left circles for 50 years).

Oops, getting off topic. Patricia won't like the digression above, she demands writing about film, and scolds us if we disappoint her. And as Patricia is our muse for these nightly, reflective essays on VanRamblings, we might as well get on with things. So to placate Patricia, and because we actually like to write, and because we saw a life raft of terrific films on Tuesday, we'll provide you with some insight into ...

Beyond the Hills

Beyond the Hills (Grade: A): After dealing with the psychodrama that began our day in line outside the Granville 7 (sheesh, I mean, really?), we settled down to the 153-minute screening of Cristian Mingui's fictionalization of a 2005 incident involving a novice who died after being subjected to an exorcism in Romania's Tanacu monastery: an irrational horror at the heart of 21st-century Europe. We hadn't really done our homework on the film prior to Tuesday's screening, and kept saying to ourselves during the film's first two-thirds, "Cristian Mungiu is turning out a film in support of those who seal themselves away in rural monasteries, to a life of ... what? Really, that's Mungiu's follow-up to 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days?" And then, and then, at the two-thirds point in the film, the honesty and fidelity, intelligence and insight, and honest reflection on the human condition emerged (beginning with a spectacular "speech" by a resident doctor in the Romanian hospital, where the monastic novice has been transported).

Migawd, did the doctor set things straight. A little passionate honesty goes a long, long way, in our books. We felt so emboldened after the screening that we engaged one of the senior VIFF staff to address and resolve an outstanding issue of concern, but were disappointed to find only a passive-aggressive response to those expressed concerns, and an utter and absolute lack of fidelity in our contact. Still, a common response when one is feeling under attack, although such was not our intention, and we hope against hope, our demeanour (we strive to be respectful at all times). Hey, we recognize that we've been a pain in the ass at this Festival for some people (although we find we are considered to be charming by others, according to the feedback we've been receiving); but that comes from demanding the best from all of us, and settling for no less. Be honest and sincere, think about the things you say, be prepared to take action where necessary and be responsible for yourself and for all of your utterances. Both of us will be be a better off for the experience, when a little humanity, a modicum of humour, kindness and wit is brought to our engagement.

Good thing, then, that Festival Director Alan Franey never, ever, ever disappoints. We could write that Alan Franey is the best arts administrator in the City, but that would only be the partial truth. Alan Franey is probably not only the hardest working, but the most sophisticated, intelligent, insightful, organized, humane, caring, warm, and dedicated (we could go on for quite a bit longer) arts administrator in the country. Alan Franey ranks as one of the finest corporate leaders it has been our privilege to interview and engage, at any point in our 40+ years as a working journalist.

Hannah Hoekstra, starring in Sacha Polak's debut film, Hemel

Hemel (Grade: A): Arriving at VIFF2012 with immense buzz, after winning the Critics' FIPRESCI Prize at Berlin this year, at Tuesday morning's screening, Hemel was everything, and more, that had been promised. A chilly, chilly film emotionally, the lack of emotion onscreen was more than made up for by the promised and delivered outré sex, general kinkiness and nudity (here's some video), mostly involving Hemel ("Heaven" in Dutch). A character study delving into Hemel's experience of life, uneasy resolution is reached by movie's end. How did Hemel become who we see onscreen? With its insinuating trance score offering aural landscape to all we see before us, this movie about a wild and out-of-control, verging on dangerous, woman leaves us to ponder whether her sexual acting out is a product of, or a response to, rape in late adolescence or her early teens years, or derives from her involvement in street, child prostitution, again in late adolescence or her early teen years — the time when a sense of a child's sexuality begins to emerge and cohere — or is the product of a very early, and sustaining, sexual relationship with an adult, sometimes an uncle or a neighbour, but more generally the father. That the answer to the film's puzzle revolves around bodily fluids and function, takes the whole issue of resolution to a new and disturbing conclusion. Sacha Polak's provocative character study of a beautiful Dutch twentysomething enables Hannah Hoekstra to shine in this year's most stunning, star-making performance.

A couple of quick notes: we loved, loved, loved Come As You Are, and find ourselves grateful beyond words for the recommendation to see the film, from many, many of our VIFF cinephile friends. We also took in a second screening of When The Night, early last evening, and we liked the film much more during a second viewing — that's going some when you take into account that we loved When The Night when we first saw it in preview three weeks ago. We didn't think it possible to love the film any more than we already did; we were wrong. We loved When The Night's cinematography, performances, narrative, insinuating score, as well as it's evocative setting.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at October 10, 2012 3:12 AM in VIFF 2012


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