There are over 100 films to watch at the Vancouver International Film Festival this year that it’s hard to keep up, so here are shorter reviews of three films I’ve watched this week.
Flowers of the Field
Director Andrew Stanely’s first feature film follows a man who is deeply conflicted about his sexuality who checks himself into a retreat designed to “recapture masculinity.” The story that unfolds is fascinating and challenging.
Aaron (Alex Crowther) is captivated by the leader and facilitator of the retreat, John (Ryan Hollyman). However, as time goes on, it becomes apparent that John is only maintaining the appearance of having things all figured out, as he oscillates between quiet understanding and violent bursts of anger towards the men he is teaching.
Alex Crowther and Ryan Hollyman are both excellent here, both deeply conflicted in different ways and bringing the nuances of those conflicts to screen in completely different ways. Crowther’s Aaron, in particular, trying to process what he is feeling vs what he thinks he should be feeling is a thing to behold.
The one problem the Flowers of the Field has is its pacing. Some will call it deliberate, but for me, it was just slow. Everywhere the film wants to go is interesting, but it takes a little too long to get to any of them. Your mileage may vary on this point, and it is still very much worth looking at.
The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel
The New Corporation is a film with high expectations. The follow up to the early 2000s documentary The Corporation, it explores the capitalist and corporatist world we live in now, the same one Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott (whose The Magnitude of all Things is also screening at VIFF) predicted 17 years ago.
The situation seems dire. The world we live in is all but controlled by the corporations now, via marketing and government lobbying and a variety of other tools, the influence they exert on us is equal parts intense and disguised, and the film makes that abundantly clear with a variety of examples.
For all its good intentions, though, the film feels a little like it is preaching to the choir. Don’t get me wrong, it is incredibly well produced and presented, and the last third, in particular –which highlights what people are doing, and can do, to fight back– will inspire some hope and hopefully some people to action. If you have been paying attention at all for the last twenty years, or even just the last four, there won’t be much new information for you.
Black Bear is a difficult film to talk about without spoiling anything, but its dual nature has to be discussed by nature of talking about it. At first, the film presents a young writer Allison (Aubrey Plaza) who has come to a remote, lakeside property owned by Gabe and Blair (Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon), a pregnant couple who have relocated there from the city.
Gabe flirts with Allison, both immediately and openly, in front of his Blair, which puts added pressure on their already strained relationship. These are people who probably once loved one another but who should have moved on, and maybe would have if it were not for the baby they are mere weeks away from bringing into the world.
The atmosphere quickly becomes so thick with tension that you could cut it with a knife. But, then, just when things start to come to a head, the film abruptly shifts gears into part two, and suddenly we are on a set for a film starring Allison and Blair and directed by Gabe. I don’t want to say much more, but Black Bear is a film that seems to want to deconstruct itself, to present both the story it’s trying to tell and the backstage version of telling it, and for the most part, succeeds.
It doesn’t quite stick the landing; the last scene will probably leave you wondering what exactly the film is trying to say. However, each of its three lead actors is so fully committed to the material and effectively give two great performances each, I am not sure that that matters. Black Bear is very much worth your time.
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