VIFF Film Reviews: Love in the Medina; Mountain Runners; Hunter’s Bride

Reviews of three films from the Vancouver International Film Festival.
Love in the Medina. (Drama, 113 mins, Morocco, dir. Abdelhaï Laraki). When I first visited it in 1965, Casablanca was mostly a dull, westernized port city. But the old city, the Medina, was a romantic labyrinth of alleyways where the lingua Franca was not French, but Arabic. Things don’t seem to have changed, according to this film about an illicit love affair in the Medina. Predictable though the plot is, the film works well. Surprisingly, it reminded me of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist.

Mountain Runners. (Documentary, 90 mins, USA, dir. Todd Warger/Brian Young). I don’t know the height of Mount Baker, but you can see its snow-covered peak from Vancouver, even though it sits across the border in Washington state. This amusing documentary describes the efforts of the burgers of Bellingham, a mid-sized city even in pre-World War One times, to promote a race (by train, car and foot) from downtown to the summit of the mountain and back again. Using vintage footage and re-enactments, the film documents the dangers of the race: cars crash, blizzards bliz, a speeding train loses a collision with a massive bull, one racer falls unnoticed down a crevasse. A winner, especially if you know the area.

Hunter’s Bride. (Opera, 135 minutes, Germany, Director Jens Neubert). Carl Maria von Weber’s 1821 opera Der Freischütz is rarely performed on stage despite its pivotal role in German romanticism. This is probably because of the fiendishly complicated Wolf’s Glen scene, which must suck up most of the production budget. Director Neubert, however, is not restricted by the limits of the stage, and he unleashes Twenty-first Century technology to produce a credible Satan-summoning. Confusingly, he also frames the opera in the context of Napoleon’s mounting defeats. I have never seen the opera, but I don’t think it contains the battle scene that Neubert inserts. If you like opera, this is a must-see. The singing is first class. Juliane Banse as Agathe and Regula Mühlemann as Ännchen are deliciously sexy; Michael König and Michael Volle as Max and Kaspar not so much. Rene Pape makes a cameo appearance as the hermit.


About aharmlessdrudge

Way back during the late Bronze age -- actually it was the 1950s -- all of us in high school had to take a vocational test to determine our interests and, supposedly, our future careers. I cannot remember the outcome, but I do recall one question that gave me pause. "If you were to win a Nobel prize, would it be in literature or in physics?" I hesitated over the question: although I enjoyed mathematics and science more than English class, I did have a couple of unfinished (and very bad) novels hidden away at home. I cannot remember what I chose back then, but the dilemma followed me to university, where I switched from mathematics to English and -- after a five-year stint in journalism -- back to mathematics. I recently retired as a professor of statistics. Retirement. What a good chance to revive my literary ambitions. I have finished a novel -- more about that in good time -- and a rubble of drafts of articles about mathematics and statistics is taking up space on my hard disk.
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