Another Vancouver International Film Festival has come and gone, and we saw quite a few movies this time around. While there were tons to see, here are my five favourites of the twenty-plus I saw, presented in alphabetical order.
Ford v Ferrari is a lot of things: a showcase for two of our great actors, one of the best car racing movies ever made, a compelling drama. At its core, though, it’s a story of two men completely dedicated to what they do and doing it despite the system they work in and the company they work for, always asking them to make concessions.
Make no mistake, Ford v Ferrari is an underdog story, but Ford isn’t the underdog, and Ferrari isn’t the villain. Instead, the underdogs are Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, toiling away at making the best car in the world while their bosses are telling them to make the best Ford.
There’s a metaphor for filmmaking in there, somewhere.
Whales are among the more majestic animals on the planet. They’re enormous but graceful, and they play an important part in the cultural history of many of the First Nations peoples of BC. In the Kitimat fjord system, researchers Hermann Meuter and Janie Wray study the orca and humpbacks who make their homes there, and Mirjam Leuze took cameras to chronicle what they do.
The Whale and the Raven is the result and follows is a slightly meandering but absolutely stunning-to-look-at 100 minutes of footage of the north coast of British Columbia.
Synonyms begins with the protagonist Yoav (Tom Mercier) breaking into a luxurious but unoccupied apartment looking for a place to sleep for the night. The clothes on his back, the few things in his bag, are all of his worldly possessions. After a night in the austere accommodations, he takes a shower, and during that shower, someone steals all of his clothes and his bag.
Frantically he runs, naked and dripping wet, down the stairs and after the thief, but it’s too late; his things are gone. Rather than chase them into the street, he returns to the apartment and passes out in the tub, seemingly waiting for death.
This franticness is at the heart of Yoav’s character. He’s in France feeling his past self with the sole, desperate intention to form a new self. But is that even possible?
Animation is a medium. It’s a weird thing to have actually to write down, but to many when you say you’re about to watch an animated film, they make a number of assumptions, but they all basically boil down to the thought that animation is a genre with its own tropes and conventions, but that’s not really the case, is it? Animation is a medium through which we often tell children’s stories, but it’s actually perhaps the most expressive film medium and perfectly capable of telling adult stories.
White Snake exemplifies this fact, an animated epic from China with a soft, whimsical animation style and a dark, violent, and occasionally erotic story to tell.
Antonio Banderas and Pedro Amaldóvar are two of Spain’s biggest film exports and have worked together numerous times. It fits then that in Pain & Glory, the story of an ageing filmmaker in a creative rut who needs to address some unresolved issues from his past, Banderas is basically playing Amaldóvar.
He’s not, of course. Not exactly. Banderas is Salvador Mallo, a respected director who was a maverick in his youth and who has settled into more soulful work in his later years who is suffering from debilitating pain and illness. So he’s basically Amaldóvar in this semi-autobiographical film. He’s also transcendently good in the role.
The Film Festival is a busy time, and I want to make sure that every film gets its due, so in an effort to catch up, here are quick reviews of four films I saw at VIFF but hadn’t had enough time to write about.
When Pope Benedict XVI resigned, there was a ripple of disbelief. None had resigned the papacy in 700 years. There was concern that he was being forced out due to his traditional and hardline stances. That his health was failing, or worse yet, his mind.
Enter Jorge Bergoglio, a Cardinal from South America who was concerned with the poor and reforming the church. Bergoglio had commanded a few votes at the previous papal election, and he and Benedict disagreed on almost everything, but ultimately it was Bergoglio who would next be elected and made Pope Francis.
The Two Popes retells the story of Bergoglio’s life, as he tells it to Pope Benedict in the year leading up to Benedict’s resignation. It’s a charming movie, with more than a few good laughs and two master thespians playing off one another for nearly two hours. In other words: you should definitely see it.
In the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, after Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies, Orpheus is advised that he can head to the underworld to retrieve her. He is told that he must lead her back to the surface world but must not look back for her until they are safely returned. As Orpheus crosses the threshold back to the surface, he relents and turns back, but Eurydice is still below and is then doomed to stay in the underworld forever.
This story is at the heart of the theme in Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a film as concerned with memory as it is with love. As the three principal women discuss in the film, is Orpheus a fool for looking back when he knows that will seal his love’s fate? Or is he a fool for love who wants to catch a final glimpse of his love exactly as she is in that moment, exactly as he loves her, and forgo putting them both through a second painful death?
The loss of a loved one does many things to many people. Some turn quiet and introspective, some get angry and abusive, and some are broken by the experience and become self-destructive.
Daughter is the story of a man dealing with an immense personal loss and who happens to be one of these third types of people. Jim’s (John Cassini) life is in a spiral, a positive feedback loop of drinking and prostitutes and running away from his grief. He is estranged from his wife and friends and is barely present at his job, and all because he doesn’t have the courage or will to face his traumatic past.
That, my friends, is a hell of a setup for a movie. I wish the payoff were as good.
Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) is a cop. You won’t know that immediately, but you’ll know it soon enough. He’s not a good cop. In fact, he’s as dirty as they come. He’s arrived on La Gomera, one of the Canary Islands, to learn an aboriginal whistling language to communicate right under the noses of the Romanian police.
I’m not going to go into the actual plot here because, as a slick neo-noir film, the plot has so many twists and turns that telling you anything might be giving something away. Suffice to say that there is Christi, and there is a femme fatale (Catrinel Marlon as Gilda), and there is a whole slew of bad people on either side of the law.
There’s just one problem: It’s kind of boring.
One moment. It only takes one moment to shatter a person. Everyone has a different breaking point, but we all surely have one. For Tobias and Elin, theirs came whilst on a family holiday, during a routine meal for three with their daughter. It’s Elin who gets sick, swelling up and turning red and eventually, the reason they are airlifted to a nearby hospital. They stay the night and wake up early to sing happy birthday, only to be devastated to find their daughter has passed in the night.
To say this is a gut-punch would be an understatement. The film jumps three years ahead to the couple on their way to a camping trip. A few days away from their lives but isolated together with their mutual grief and self-loathing.
What follows is a surreal misadventure, one that leans heavily into metaphor and is —to put it mildly— difficult to watch. As they wake up in the morning, they are accosted by three individuals (a woman with a hunting dog, a unibrowed brute carrying a dead dog, and an old-timey carnival barker) who proceed to humiliate and murder them. And then it happens again. And again. And again.
The opening scene of The Realm follows Manuel (Antonio de la Torre) from a quiet beach, through a noisy kitchen, and to a table full of friends enjoying wine and seafood. There is laughter and toasting and inside jokes, and a great time being had by all. It’s a joyous scene, but these men and women are no mere friends. They are all government officials, and their good time comes at the expense of the people they have been elected to represent.
This is the world of The Realm, one in which it seems that nearly all government officials are corrupt to some extent and Manuel –our hero– is perhaps the worst of them. He has been living the high life for the last fifteen years off bribes, kickbacks, and graft, but when some of said graft comes to light, his political party ousts him.
That’s a hell of a setup for a story but does the movie equal the potential? Yes, it mostly does.
Sitting comfortably alongside VIFF for a number of years, Feminist Live Reads reaches through the fourth wall to give an even more intimate experience to the moviegoer set. And their love letter tonight to ‘Some Like It Hot’ was part live theatre, part jazz performance, all brought together by some of the most versatile women you’ll ever hear tearing through Billy Wilder’s electric script.
Robert Eggers has made two movies now. Both with predominantly natural light, confident eye and camera, and period set using actual dialogue from sources contemporary to said setting.
The man has a style, is what I’m saying. But whereas The Witch was a good old fashioned horror movie about a family terrorized by their own inadequacies and a witch, The Lighthouse is something different altogether. It’s a chronicle of two men descending into madness, tortured by their utter solitude but also each other’s persistent company.
It’s tense, absurd, it features two powerhouse performances, it’s overwhelming, and it’s an absolute must-see.