VIFF 2015 Reviews


8 October 2015

With these last   I am    done. 50 films reviewed below.

Best So Far

45 Years Taut drama featuring two of the best actors around.

The Daughter Based on the Ibsen play, The Wild Duck.

Experimenter. Exam nightmares come true.

Golden Kingdom A surprise sleeper from Burma.

Marshland A police procedural in which the landscape plays a part.

Meru.  A vertigo inducing film about mountain climbing.

My Friend Victoria Race relations in France. Or not.

A Nazi Legacy: What Our Fathers Did Sons of the Holocaust face their fathers’ sins.

Nina Forever What to do when your ex-girlfriend just won’t stay dead.

No Land’s Song Learn why Iranian women are not allowed to sing in public.

New Reviews (and reviews to come)

The Club (Chile) You think the Islamic State is evil? Visit a  sanctuary for the  worse. and get a load of these Jesus-squeezing catholic child abusers. The  only honest one kills  himself.

Green Room  (USA) A bloody  good bloody drama starring (of all  people) Patrick  Stewart as a   backwoods honcho   who imprisons a  gypsy   rock band in his bar. Two of the cast of tens survive.

James White (USA)   A  no-good son reforms to take care of his dying mother. Great acting and direction from first-time film-makers.

London Road (UK) This adaptation of a National Theatre blockbuster fails to engage.

Already reviewed

100 Yen Love (Take Masaharu, Japan). Ichiko is a fat. slovenly 32-year-old who spends her days gobbling junk food and playing video games with her nephew while her sister and mother struggle to keep the family business — a bento takeout joint — going.  Until . . . . Well, that’s really the problem. For some undisclosed reason,  Ichiko suddenly becomes an adult, gets a job, gets her own place to live. And takes up boxing. There is nothing remotely realistic about the plot here.

45 Years (Andrew Haigh; UK) You can’t go  wrong with an intense drama fleshed out by two of Britain’s best actors. And director Haigh never misses a beat. Retired  teacher Kate (Charlotte Rampling) gets a shock when her husband of 45 years Geoff (Tom Courtenay) receives a letter from Switzerland  informing him that Katya’s body has been found, frozen in a glacier for more than 50 years. Katya? The name means nothing to Kate. But it means too much to Geoff. Rampling is brilliant as a woman who begins to suspect she has  been second-best for 45 years. Highly recommended.

Accused (Paula van der Oest; Netherlands) Canadians  of a certain vintage will remember the case of Susan Nelles, a nurse  falsely accused of using digoxin to murder newborns in a Toronto neonatal ward.This is the Dutch version. And the Dutch, like Canadians, confuse the brutality of the crime  with the question of who did it.

Alice in Earnestland (South Korea) To quote Monty Python, this film is “just plain silly”. And I  don’t mean that as a compliment.

All Eyes and Ears (Vanessa Hope; USA/China) US – China relations   in the last decade as seen through  the eyes (figuratively speaking) of both dissident blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng and Lily, the 11-year-old Chinese-born adopted child of the American ambassador. A nice juxtaposition of points of view. Check this out if you would like to learn about Jon Huntsman, an intelligent Republican senator who has a chance to be a presidential candidate.

The Anarchists (France) A political romance with echoes  of the Red Army Faction or the Stern Gang. It’s 1899 in Paris and a young cop is sent to infiltrate a group of anarchists. And of course he falls for one of the girls. So, what to do when the group plans assassinations?

The Assassin (China) “Is you is or is you aint my enemy?” It is hard — no, impossible — to sort out who’s on which side and why in this colourful but dilatory medieval Chinese drama.

Breathe Umphefiumla (South Africa) I am not sure what to make of this film, in which  black South Africans step way  out of their own culture to present  an African version of Puccini’s La Boheme, complete with the famous soaring arias. If you know the opera, the film is both satisfying  and disappointing. But what would Africans say if we dipped into their culture and reproduced their melodies for our own enjoyment.    Oh, wait.

The Chinese Mayor (China)  Mayor Geng Yanbo of Datong is ruthless in his desire to recreate Datong’s splendid history and turn his town into an international historical tourist destination.  Geng has no tolerance for incompetence: contractors who fail to deliver on time are brusquely fired. But he runs into problems with residents of the city quarters he wants demolished.

The Competition (Spain/Andorra, Angel Borrego Cubero). I’ve been to the tiny principality of Andorra, high in the Pyrenees between France and Spain. It was quaint, beautiful and friendly. It has one city, also called Andorra, famous only for its Romanesque murals. So why does the government of Andorra suddenly announce an architectural  competition to design a multi-million gallery to house its treasures, a competition that draws entries from the likes of Frank Gehry, Zeha Hadid and Jean Nouvel? See the entries, bet on the winners. You’ll be surprised.

The Daughter    (Simon Stone; Australia) The sins of the previous generation come to rest heavily on the youngest. Based on Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. Highly  recommended.

Dheepan (France) Posing  as family, Tamil officer, a widow and an orphan girl manage to make their way  as  refugees from Sri Lanka to France. Where things  are worse than in Sri Lanka. Good plot up until the last five minutes, when Clint Eastwood seems to have taken   the helm. The first five minutes in the refugee camp, however, are illuminating.

The Dinner (; Italy) Two brothers, one a ruthless lawyer, the other a compassionate pediatric surgeon, discover that their teenage  children may have committed a brutal crime. This popular film delivers the emotional goods (with one bang to start and another to finish). But the drama might have played out better in the hands of Henry James or Joseph Conrad.

Embrace of the Serpent (Columbia). Heart of Darkness doubled. A shaman leads two separate European missions, 40 years apart, down the Amazon in search of a magical healing plant. Ostensibly an indictment of western religious and commercial interference in native culture. What happens to the Christian mission 40 years after the priest dies is particularly unnerving. Ends with a 2001: A Space Odyssey colour show that stands for hippy enlightenment. In black and white except for the light show. Original and worth a view, so long as you don’t take it seriously.

Erbarme dich: Matthhaus Passion Stories (Ramond Cheling; Netherlands). If you are a Bach enthusiast you will love this retelling of the Christian story of the death of St. Matthew by such luminaries as Peter Sellers and Pieter Jan Leusink. This is not an analysis of Bach’s work, but an interpretation by Christian believers. Well worth a viewing even by atheists such as I.

Experimenter (USA) This docudrama is about Stanley Milgram. Vaguely familiar name? Read on. Suppose you volunteer to be a subject in a Yale University experiment designed to assess the effect if punishment on learning. Another subject is chosen at random to be the learner and is secluded in another room where he or she is given a memorization task. You as teacher test the learner using a set of questions. If the learner gets the answer wrong, you inflict an electric shock. The more answers the learner gets wrong, the greater the shock. After a while, the learner’s grunts of pain turn into screams. But the scientist in charge insists you keep increasing the shocks. Would you stop? This is the famous experiment undertaken by Milgram, the psychologist who discovered that the majority of “teachers” obeyed orders and continued increasing the “punishment”. Milgram’s point is that most of the human race, like Nazis, will obey orders. Milgram’s research in other areas led to the “letter on the street” phenomenon and the “six degrees of separation” phenomenon. Intriguing fellow.

The Falling (Carol Morley; UK) It’s too easy to poke fun at this story of mass fainting hysteria at an English girls’ school  in the late 1960s. But what else can you do? There is little chance to identify with the main character and the hysterical act-outs are comical rather than dramatic. I’m with the stern headmistress all the way — “You girls! Cut it out!”

Frank and the Wondercat (Tony Massil, Pablo Alvarez-Mesa; Canada) The adventures of a cat called Fudgie-Wudgie. And his owner Frank., who dresses him up. The cat is interesting. Less so the owner, on whom the film dwells. Five minutes on YouTube’s cat movies can get you more fun than this flick.

From Scotland with Love (Virginia Heath, UK). I found the best part of this film happened when the whiney, awful music died and the credits rolled. This flick is nothing more than a monotonous montage of film clips of Scottish newsreels from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Boring, boring, boring.There is no theme, no structure, nothing. And I grew up partly in Scotland in those decades. The clips and the songs went on and  on until I wanted to scream. This is trash. Everyone else loved it.

Golden Kingdom (Brian Perkins; USA/Burma) Praise of the resourcefulness and bravery of children. When their abbot is called away, four novice monks ranging in age from about six to 14 are left to fend for themselves in war-torn Burma. I highly recommend this film.

Hilda (Andres Clariond Rangel, Mexico). Part comedy, part tragedy. Rich by marriage, middle-aged Susanna tries to relive her   college days by adopting the personality of her young maid, Hilda. Things get really out of hand when her husband tries to arrange a dinner party for some wealthy American investors. Get in touch with your inner cynic here.

Hockney   (UK) A biography of one of the most intriguing artists of the Twentieth Century. If you know Hockney, you will love it. If you don’t you may grow to love his work.

Hurricane (France). Great photography follows the life — and the storm has a personality — of a hurricane from its   birth in Senegal to its landfall in Puerto Rica, Cuba and the mainland.

In Transit (Albert Maysies, USA). This is a work of genius. How could you ever get  on a train running from Seattle to Chicago and manage to interview the dullest passengers in America. The  people we meet are so dense they could bend light. Competes  with From Scotland with Love  as the most annoying film so far. I am in a minority in dissing this film, so maybe you will like it.

Love Among the Ruins (Massimo Ali Mohammad, Italy/USA) The 2012 earthquake in northern Italy shook loose a crack  in the wall of Ferrarra’s art museum revealing several canisters of film from 1922.  The first part of this documentary describes the origins of the film and its  restoration. Then we see the film itself in all its silent glory. A worthy tribute to the masters of silent black and white film. The special effects featuring the Zeppelin are impressive considering the film is nearly 100 years old.

Love is all You Need (Kim Longnotto; UK) No, it isn’t. You also need an editor.   One who would  pare down to 30 minutes this ramble through sexuality as presented in British film. I get the story. I lived it. Sex in Britain before the 1960s was such a dirty, creepy secret that it makes me shudder to recall it. Now we have  gay sex, inter-racial sex and even gay inter-racial sex. Good. But I already knew that. Preceded by a 19-minute montage from Austria called The Exquisite Corpus, that attempts to present pornography in its proper setting. What was  titillating in 1950,  for example, is laughable now — topless men in jock-straps and and women in thongs. But the film maker cannot leave well enough   alone: we are assaulted by a  barrage of cinematic pyrotechnics  that leave the viewer with a headache rather than illumination.

Marshland (Spain) Ostensibly  this is a police procedural investigating the disappearance of two young sisters in the Las Marismas marshes of southern Spain. But it is set in September 1980, just five years after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, and the police investigators have to set their politics aside to discover the perp. The mystery  is intriguing, but the high-altitude shots of   the marshes that director Alberto Roderguez includes are spectacular.  Highly recommended.

Meru  (USA) If heights make you queasy, avoid this account of two attempts (made by the same three climbers) to reach the top of the “Shark’s Fin” or Meru, a smooth granite peak rising above most of the Himalayas. Having nearly died on the first attempt, the three get  together to try again. This despite the fact that in the interim one of the climbers suffered brain damage in a skiing accident, and the other two were nearly swept away in separate avalanches. You leave the theatre with the certain conclusion that these guys are nuts. But they make a nail-biting  film.

Monty Python: the Meaning of Live  (Roger Graef, James Rogan; UK). Thirty-something years after  their last show, the  surviving  members reunite for a live performance in London. Python fans will love it (the parrot, the Pope, the cheese shop and the rest are here, at least in  part). Non-fans will not smile. Well, you’ve got to look on the bright side of life.

My Friend Victoria  (Jean-Paul Civeyrac; France) The double meaning in this film makes it well-worth seeing. Based on a short story by Doris Lessing, it probes the life of Victoria, a French-born woman of African ancestry who gives birth to a daughter by Thomas, a white Frenchman who is the scion of a left-wing but rich Parisian family. Far from being racist, the rich family rejoices in their newly-found grand daughter and showers her with gifts and affection, much to Victoria’s discomfort. By inviting us to tease out the reason for Victoria’s alienation, director Civeyrac offers an analysis of racial conflicts in modern Europe. Or does he? There is little overt racism in the film. Victoria’s best friend (also black, and the narrator of the film) bounds through college, lands a perfect job as a reader for a publisher and moves easily through the mixed race society of Paris. Watch the film carefully and you might discover more reasons for Victoria’s pain than the colour of her skin.

My Internship in Canada  (Philippe Faladeau; Canada) Only if you are Canadian will you get the jokes about an obscure rural Quebec MP who, owing to a political quirk, winds  up with the balance  of power.

My Life with a King (Carlo Encisco Catu; Philippines) The “king” here is Francisco Gunto, the elected king of Kapampangan poetry. The post is so important to the Pampangan people of the Philippines that it comes with a crown and a chauffeur. The latter job falls to city boy Jaypee, who is assigned to transport the irascible, hard-drinking Francisco, via motor scooter, to competitive poetry readings. They are invariably late.

A Nazi Legacy: What our Fathers Did (UK) This is the most emotionally searing films I have seen so far at the festival. Director David Evans introduces us to the sons of two Nazi high officials who oversaw the murders of thousands of Jews during the second world war. The trouble is the two sons don’t agree. Niklas Frank, son of Hans Frank, is quite open about his father’s guilt. Horst von Wächter, son of Otto von Wächter, stubbornly denies that his father was responsible.

No Land’s Song ( Avat Najafi , Iran/Germany/France)  Fed up with the ridiculous ban on women singers in Iran, singer Sara Najafi (sister of the director Avat Najafi) plots a complex route to present a concert of women vocalists. Despite implacable hostility from the religious powers, she succeeds. If you enjoy music or even if you are merely ticked off by religion, this film is for you. Watch the imam writhe as he makes up fairy tales about women in order to justify the ban.

One Million Dubliners (Aoife Kelleher; Ireland)  An emotional trip around Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery, which has been receiving the remains of Ireland’s  citizens — rich and poor, famous and forgotten — since 1832. But far from a jingoistic rant, this is an   examination of death, and life. The last few  minutes are an unwelcome surprise.

Original Copy (Florian Heinzen-Ziob, Georg Heinzen; Germany) The pointy end of a Bollywood production is its actual screening in a theatre. Here we follow the efforts of the sign painter at the Albert Talkies Cinema in Mumbai to prepare a giant mural featuring all the stars. An appreciation of artist Sheikh Rehrman and his talented assistants.

Paco de Lucia: A Journey  (Francisco Sanchez Varela; Spain) Even if you know little about flamenco, you will be  pleasantly impressed by the musical talents of Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucia and his colleagues. There is little foot stamping and a lot of intricate string plucking.

Racing Extinction(USA) A good kick in the pants for those of us who, like me,  have ignored the destruction that humankind has wrought on sealife.

Rams (Iceland). Two brothers, both sheep farmers, battle old hatreds as an  epidemic of deadly scrapie savages their herds. Very good, very popular film, but I was unable to rave.

Remember (Canada) High production values and the efforts of Christopher Plummer and Atom Egoyan ensure this will come out commercially soon. An intriguing plot keeps the action going, but in retrospect it makes little sense.

Royal Tailor (Lee Wonsuk; South Korea). Who knew high fashion could be so dangerous? In this original period piece set  in medieval Korea, young free-lance tailor Kongjin (Ko Soo) comes to the rescue when the new king orders court tailor Dolsuk (Han Seokgyu) to supply a complex ceremonial robe overnight. Kongjin’s success leads both to an ambivalent friendship with Dolsuk and, unhappily, to an entanglement with court intrigues involving the new king’s legal wife and the young girl he wants to marry. No sword-play; lots of needle-play.

A Syrian Love Story (UK, Sean McAllister) The hidden actor  in this documentary          is the director Sean McAllister who combed the streets of Damascus in search of a family torn apart by war. It was McAllister’s luck rather than talent that he stumbled into the family of Arer, a Palestinian, bringing up four children while his wife Raghda was imprisoned by Assad regime. War or no war, Arer and Raghda are so far apart emotionally and intellectually that this marriage seems doomed. Many film fest people disliked McAllister’s manipulation of the couple, but I rather liked the central conflict. So I am recommending it.

A Tale of Three Cities  (Mabel Cheung; Hong Kong/China). Get your tickets early; this film will be a big hit in the Chinese community of Vancouver. Like Dr. Zhivago, this is a romance in war time. Young widow Chen and her lover Fang meet during the Japanese occupation of China. Over the next decade they are repeatedly torn apart and reunited first by the Japanese then by savage fighting between Chang Kai-shek’s army and the communists. You know they will survive because the story is based on the lives of the parents of martial arts star Jacky Chan.

Very Semi-serious (US) Every week the cartoon editor of the New Yorker magazine selects for publication just 14 or 15 out of hundreds of submissions. If you like witty one- panel cartoons, see this.

Ville-Marie  (Guy Edoin; Canada) This film starts with an emphatic bang that might lead to expect a mystery thriller. Instead, what follows is a taught drama featuring an internationally famous actress, her gay son, a paramedic and an emergency room nurse.

We Did it on a Song (David André, France). A docu-drama-musical featuring five high school students in Boulogne-sur-mer facing the final examinations that will determine whether they will be able to fulfill their dreams. And, yes, they occasionally break into song.

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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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