Fest gives filmgoers reasons to be cheerful
In this week’s roundup of features at the Vancouver International Film Festival, we find one elemental Canadian dancer, one overcaffeinated “starchitect”, one Beastie Boy, two reincarnated kids, and a certain Charles Chaplin hanging loose in the South Seas. And that ain’t the half of it! Once you’ve hoovered up every last word on this page, check back next week and at Straight.com for even more.
2 COOL 2 BE 4GOTTEN (Philippines) Life at a sleepy high school in Pampanga, rife with unethical and oppressive instructors, changes with the arrival of interracial pretty boy Magnus Snyder. This is particularly true for top scholar Felix. When he’s enlisted to help the new student with his schoolwork, the quiet Felix is drawn out of his loner shell and into the wild ways of Magnus and his devilish younger brother Maxim. As Felix’s closeted attraction to Magnus grows, he becomes increasingly enmeshed in the Snyder family’s dark tensions, which involve their hard-partying mother. Despite uneven acting, a tendency toward heavy-handedness, and unnecessary performance-art interludes, the film demonstrates admirable attunement to the introverted Felix as he hurtles down a coming-of-age trajectory with seemingly no way out other than disaster. International Village, October 9 (4:15 p.m.) > CRAIG TAKEUCHI
7 MINUTES (Italy/france/switzerland) The title refers to the seemingly minuscule concession in allowable break time when a French clothing behemoth took over an Italian textile company in 2012. Here, one of the smarmy owners is played by writer-director Michele Placido, and his daughter Violante is one of the allfemale workers who must vote yea or nay on the new terms. The film never quite escapes its origins as a stage play, with each of the committee members given button-pushing soliloquies—you could call it 12 Angry Women—and the whole thing is underscored by smarmy piano music, telling you how to feel throughout. Worst of all, the end-titles tell you about the real-life impasse that inspired it, but not how the damn thing turned out! International Village, October 4 (1:30 p.m.) and 6 (9:45 p.m.) > KEN EISNER
ARMED WITH FAITH (USA) Some of the most neglected soldiers on the frontline of the so-called War on Terror are found in one of its epicentres: Pakistan. This short, well-assembled doc focuses on a bomb-disposal squad—one that’s constantly at work in its own backyard. The film is jittery but not hard to watch, since it focuses less on explosions (although they do happen) than on the members of the squad, nonideological fellows with few resources but much devotion to public safety. Their leader, a career army officer with a perpetually worried family, is fully aware that the uneducated and usually quite young rubes who get suckered into suicide bombings can’t get at actual enemies and so take it out on their neighbours. His responses, and those of the lower-ranking men, are ingenious and sympathetic. But what can they really accomplish in a world determined to blow itself up? SFU, October 5 (9 p.m.) and 7 (11 a.m.) > KE
BECOMING WHO I WAS (South Korea) Whether or not you believe in metempsychosis, this tender, picturesque documentary about a boy convinced he is a rinpoche, an honorific Tibetan term for a reincarnated monk, has multifaceted appeal. In the northern Indian region of Ladakh, Padma Angdu is convinced he was a lama in a former life in Kham, Tibet. He sees his former monastery in dreams, re-creating it in drawings and models, and is taken under the wing of an elderly lama and traditional doctor. What becomes most apparent is the difficulties that Angdu faces: ostracization, difficulties in adapting to monastic life, separation from his family, painful rejections, and the challenge of reaching far-off Tibet, which the pair set off for on foot, despite warnings of a crackdown by Chinese forces. Despite being an old soul, Angdu still has plenty of tantrums, tears, and giggles. Panoramic cinematography of mountainous vistas and snowscapes and a sentimental soundtrack infuse Angdu’s story with an epic quality. Even if you remain skeptical about reincarnation, Becoming is intriguing and moving. Vancity, October 8 (8:15 p.m.) and 11 (6:15 p.m.) > CT
BIG TIME (Denmark) Fans of architecture will want to flock to this aptly artful look at Bjarke Ingels, the young Danish starchitect with the audacity to design Vancouver House—a shimmering, twisting tower built to look like a curtain opening on a zigzagging mass of low-rise, grass-roofed residences. But director Kaspar Astrup Schröder so celebrates Ingels’s supercaffeinated creativity and form-exploding aesthetic that this doc is going to entertain just about anybody. As one developer asks him at one point, “How do you sleep?” You can almost see the activity and ideas bouncing around Ingels’s brain—and that brain will bring him some great difficulty at the film’s climax, on his 40th birthday. But where Big Time really excels is in its years-long, intimate portrait, visiting Ingels’s idyllic yet humble roots in Denmark, where he grew up by a lake, playing outdoors, and working odd jobs. Some of the best scenes feature the architect, who once wanted to be a cartoonist, illustrating his ideas with a fat Magic Marker on a scroll of paper. With swooping pans, Schröder also captures the magic of Ingels’s impossible structures—most notably, the eco-friendly power plant that launched his career. That’s the one with a ski slope on the roof and smoke rings blowing out from its chimney. SFU on October 8 (6:15 p.m.); International Village, October 10 (4 p.m.) > JANET SMITH
CASTING (Germany) This perfectly sharp-edged gem is about people trying to make a German-tv version of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s lesbian melodrama here retooled in hetero fashion. With less than a week to go before shooting should begin on an unfinished soundstage, a novice director still hasn’t found her female lead. And an aging playboy actor (terrific Andreas Lust) who’s been hired merely to read lines with the older women auditioning for the prestigious part finds himself one of the few constants in a flailing enterprise. He proceeds to both use and blow his advantages as they arise. Network, career, and sexual politics share equal billing in a devilishly fun entertainment about what it takes to keep us amused. SFU, October 4 (9 p.m.) and 6 (4 p.m.) > KE
CHAPLIN IN BALI: JOURNEY TO THE EAST
(France) “Humour is found in the small discrepancies of reality” is just one observation made here by one Charlie Chaplin. At the time, he was the most famous man in the world, and the pressures of wearing that mantle prompted him to make an extended South Seas getaway in 1932, just after the advent of sound threatened to make his acute storytelling modes seem old-fashioned. There’s a surprising amount of great footage following his ocean voyage with brother Sydney, through Suez, to Ceylon and Singapore, and then Bali itself, where German polymath Walter Spies became their guide to a new way of seeing things. Although the doc’s somewhat academic narration doesn’t quite make the case that the Little Tramp was philosophically altered by his sojourn—as well as completely dropping Spies’s part of the story—the expert choice of relevant clips from Chaplin’s long career helps make this a must-see for fans, and for the merely curious. Vancity, October 7 (9:30 p.m.); SFU, October 9 (4:30 p.m.); Cinematheque, October 11 (7 p.m.) > KE
CRISIS MANAGEMENT (International) For some reason, almost all the humans depicted in this shorts collection are deeply unpleasant. That might be survivable, but the depicters aren’t very impressive either. Some efforts, like “Hunger”, a longish Mexican effort about wasted life, are so colourfully mounted, you can easily enjoy the misanthropy. But the dependence here on human nature’s worst impulses—bullying, deceit, institutional and individual cruelty, plus the reliably taboo incest—makes this a tough sit, aesthetically and morally. I couldn’t make much sense of Britain’s “There Was a Man, a Girl, and a Rocket”, a satirical number about a kid missing her astronaut dad, but the title sure is nice. International Village, October 5 (6 p.m.) and 8 (4 p.m.) > KE
THE ENDLESS (USA) All sorts of subterranean modern American anxieties get filtered through this agreeably pulpy exercise. (The only thing worse than being in a suicide cult is not being in a suicide cult?) Brothers Aaron and Justin return to the desert-based Ufo-contact community they escaped as young adults, drawn by varying degrees to the group security it offers, mandatory castration aside. Directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson star, also very agreeably, in a movie that doesn’t go where you expect, but rather in the direction of Phil Dick doing Lovecraft. (Lovedick? Dickcraft?) Like their cult hit Spring, this new flick is a little too fussy about explaining itself, but it’s also tons of fun, effectively designed, and oddly breezy for a film containing such a seriously heavy nucleus of unthinkable dread. Rio, October 6 (11 p.m.) and 9 (9 p.m.) > ADRIAN MACK
FAREWELL (Austria) Best known for his Marat/sade play, Peter Weiss was also an incisive poet, painter, and novelist, although his works have rarely been published in English. Based on an autobiographical novel that is usually translated as Leavetaking, this 80-minute essay draws on home movies, drawings, archival footage, and Weiss’s own incisively carved words to convey the essence of his unusually dramatic childhood. Initially drawn to the atavistic lure of Nazism in his youth, he had to be reminded by his closest friend that having a Jewish father meant he couldn’t fully enjoy what he later recognized as “the insane notion of a collective destiny”. They had the means to escape, and he took art, music, and life lessons in London, Prague, and Stockholm, although his family’s security was already smashed by the accidental death of his beloved sister before the war. It’s quite sombre, and some viewers may struggle with the decision to have a young, and very good, actor reading Weiss’s lines in modern settings. (There’s even a Clash tune at one point!) But I found it deeply moving throughout. International Village, October 8 (1 p.m.) and 9 (8:30 p.m.) > KE
A FISH OUT OF WATER (Taiwan) When a small boy’s past-life memories get too powerful to ignore, his parents must help him search for the seaside family he insists he was born into. They are Taipei personalities, too busy for everything, but the boy’s fixations upend the family, which is also looking after the dad’s ailing father. Director Lai Kuo-an is reaching for something transcendent the movie never quite reaches, and it’s too gentle to deliver much emotional wallop. Water images and sounds support the primordial sensibility of this Taiwanese tale, which has some of the mythic feel of Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda. And this Fish is a pleasure to watch for geometric, wide-screen compositions that favour blue, green, and coral pink. International Village, October 7 (3:15 p.m.) > KE
GOLDEN EXITS (USA) Surely we’ll never run out of indie flicks about nebbishy bookworm types who manage to attract the kind of smart, hot gals who, in real life, might drop everything for Javier Bardem but are here thrilled at the chance to hang out with Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz. The gravel-voiced little guy, who’s been okay in support roles, is out of his acting depth as a misanthropic archivist already beleaguered by wife Chloë Sevigny and sister-inlaw Mary-louise Parker when sexy Australian Emily Browning signs on to his latest project. The gals jam lots of wisecracks into this latest, slightly more opulent effort from Alex Ross Perry, who made sketchy no-budgeters like The Color Wheel and Listen Up Philip, but it’s still all about the guys. The latter film’s Jason Schwartzman shows up here, too. And, of course, in next-gen Woody Allen Land, he’s catnip for the ladies! International Village, October 7 (9:30 p.m.) and 9 (2:15 p.m.) > KE
TIME TO COME (Singapore) Framed by the unearthing of a time capsule from 1990 (phone books and VHS cassettes, anyone?) and a new “time cube” being loaded up in Singapore, filmmaker Tan Pin Pin’s documentary draws just enough from its banal scenes of daily life in the city-state to sustain interest. There’s a serenity to this photographic, non-narrative, non-narrated work that captures the tidiness and orderliness of this Southeast Asian cosmopolis. Vacant roadways, well-behaved rows of students quietly reading, malls devoid of human presence, tree stumps being ripped out of construction sites—all are up for observation without any overt commentary. But it’s perhaps one of the film’s initially enigmatic shots— an underwater view of a polar bear running in circles through water— that is the most unexpectedly revealing of what the film is indicating, not just by what is depicted but also by what is felt. Cinematheque, October 5 (9 p.m.); International Village, October 6 (3:30 p.m.) > CT
I’VE GOT THE BLUES (Hong Kong) A crankily original artist meets his match in a volatile filmmaker as Hong Kong veteran Angie Chen attempts to profile Yank Wong, a painter, designer, and rootsy musician (his guitar-plucking explains the title) who refuses to let anyone else tell his story. That requires Chen, a UCLA grad originally from Shanghai, to follow the guy on his H.K. haunts, and to Macau and Paris—where he left two daughters with different mothers—while attempting to smoke and drink him under the table. It takes some time to get used to their bantering style, but the film reveals mounting pleasures as we get to see more of Wong’s work, both in the studio and on the walls of some bohemian salons. His certitude that he always knows best—something he uses to belittle others while smiling—is irritating, however, and Chen knows and shows it. International Village, October 4 (6:30 p.m.) and 5 (12:45 p.m.) > KE
KEEP TALKING (USA) An excellent addition for those who enjoy the positivity of Alanis Obomsawin’s Our People Will Be Healed, this nuts-and-bolts doc looks at the reclamation of Indigenous languages in coastal Alaska. Director Karen Lynn Weinberg talks to scholars, students, artists, and elders in still-active fishing communities about their oncefading cultures, and learns some surprising things. These include the positive influence, dating back to the 19th century, of Russian Orthodoxy, whose priests learned Aleut instead of forcing the locals to speak their language. Memorably, one old-timer recalls, “Church is where we thought about fishing, and the boat is where we thought about God.” International Village, October 5 (10:45 a.m.) > KE
LOUISE LECAVALIER IN MOTION
(Canada) Raymond St-jean’s documentary opens with familiar scenes of the platinum-haired Montreal dance powerhouse: dreadlocks swinging, Louise Lecavalier barrel-rolls and hurls herself into David Bowie’s arms at the height of her La La La Human Steps fame. The film also talks to the now cropped-haired, 58-year-old force of nature about her childhood, when she never considered dance an option due to her muscular frame. But mostly, it’s a portrait of Lecavalier now, the way she creates in the studio, how she dances, and where she performs around the world. For fans who’ve seen her here in recent years, it’s dance heaven. What comes across most—in person and in extended dance sequences—is her boundless, unstoppable energy, a vivaciousness and endless curiosity that propel her ever forward and defy all concepts of age. If only we could bottle that… SFU, October 9 (6:30 p.m.); Vancity, October 11 (11 a.m.) > JS
MEDITATION PARK (Canada) Mina Shum’s deeply felt comedy-drama brought the house down at a buoyant and sold-out gala screening on VIFF’S opening night (September 28). Some flaws aside, it’ll be a crowdpleaser wherever it travels, this tale of a diffident Chinese wife and mother— played with timorous, almost childlike charm by septuagenarian wuxia legend Cheng Pei Pei—who discovers that just-turned-65 hubby (she calls him “old man”) is having an affair. He’s by turns rascally, vulnerable, and brutally patriarchal, which gives Arrival’s
Tzi Ma a lot to sink his teeth into, and he pulls it off with a real brio that isn’t always supported by the script. But this is Cheng’s film, and it’s her journey from house mouse to emancipated older lady that got the VIFF audience on its feet. Certainly no less rousing: this love letter to Hastingssunrise, the best old neighbourhood in the city, complete with backyard-parking grannies (“po-pos”) and family block parties in crane-festooned New Brighton Park, goes straight to what Vancouver should be fighting to protect. Rio, October 11 (6:15 p.m.) > AM
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NEVER TEEN HELL STEADY, YEARS: NEVER > KE HEAVEN STILL
(Canada) It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at U.K. vet Shirley Henderson’s unsparing depiction of a middle-aged Canadian coping with Parkinson’s disease. Her gruff older husband (Nick Campbell) and ne’erdo-well son (Quebecer Théodore Pellerin, excellent here even if he looks nothing at all like his “parents”) have their own problems in the wintry oil country of northern B.C. (The Fort St. John and Fort St. James locations are often riveting.) While the boy is questioning his own sexuality and general place in the world, his loving mum finds her own world rapidly diminishing. Writer-director Kathleen Hepburn spun this off from a short film, and could have taken the time to go a little further into what these folks would be without their problems. But she’s a serious talent to watch. International Village, October (12:15 p.m.) and 10 (6:45 p.m.)
(International) The kids are not all right in this collection. There are violent intrusions on innocence, especially in the creepy goth tale “Don’t Be Afraid of the Light” and the punkistic “Nobody Likes You”. The fear of vicious impulses torments an otherwise normal teen in the searing Danish drama “Overlove”, while abrupt changes in culture intrude on a quiet life in “TV in the Fish Tail”, set in a remote Himalayan village. Elsewhere, high-school basketball dominates two very different stories, to ultimately positive effect. And in the gentle-toned “The Fashion Show”, an English girl dresses her pet lamb for a county fair and dreams of faraway futures. Good show! International Village, October 4 (11:15 p.m.); Vancity, October 7 (6:45 p.m.) > KE
LA TENEREZZA (Italy) When you’re done with the agitated indie flicks and hinterland documentaries, and ready for a high level of grown-up moviemaking, Tenderness is a title for you. The latest effort from Stolen Children’s Gianni Amelio looks at two damaged Italian families who share a courtyard in the centre of old Naples. Things start with a sad-eyed translator (terrific Giovanna Mezzogiorno) visiting her aged dad in the hospital. We think he’s in a coma, and that we’ll follow her home. But the old guy (renowned theatre director Renato Carpentieri) was just playing possum, and the movie really centres on him. A cranky retired lawyer who has shut out the world, he gets quietly entranced by the lively young family that moves in across from his kitchen in the big, noble building his family used to own. With novelistic detail, the tale is so carefully mounted and beautifully photographed, you can forgive it for going slightly off the rails after some bad things happen. Look for one incendiary scene with ’80s star Greta Scacchi (The Coca-cola Kid), an Australian-brit who, it turns out, was born in Milan. Playhouse, October 5 (6:30 p.m.); International Village, October 11 (1:30 p.m.) > KE
THAT TRIP WE TOOK WITH DAD
(Romania/germany/hungary) Here’s a fascinating, slightly overextended trip back to the bad old days of Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania, when the defection of one person could, and did, bring dire consequences to a whole family. In this case, set in the political storms of 1968, two smart-ass siblings are already picked on for their ethnic German heritage, although this helps a little when they drive through East Germany to get to a strangely disappointing West, in order to help their sick father. That might sound grim, but the film is handled with the humour that distance can bring, even if talented young filmmaker Anca Miruna Lazarescu is quite close to the subject: in real life, her father was one of the two constantly squabbling brothers. International Village October 8 (9:30 p.m.) and 11 (12:15 p.m.) > KE
TOUCHING THE POETIC (International) If you’re ready for a master class in how to curate a program of interlocking shorts, check out this engrossing journey into the weird, wild, and definitely wonderful. Cars, stars, and bars are some of the thematic elements connecting attempts—some pretty damned abstract—by humans to reach for something ineffably deep in the universe. In some cases, the search is literal, as in “Chasing Stars”, which heads to a Swiss observatory and uses time-lapse images (and classical music) to dazzling effect. “The Kodachrome Elegies” combines home movies and archival stills to capture the colour of fading memories, and technology. The human body is refracted through fleeting patterns of light and sound in “Rhythm of Being”. Most uplifting, in “The Language of Ball”, a newly arrived Arab lad who speaks no English finds a first friend on the multi-culti basketball courts of New York. International Village, October 6 (8:45 p.m.); Vancity, October 10 (12:45 p.m.) > KE
WORST CASE, WE GET MARRIED
(Canada/switzerland) The essentially horrifying tale of a damaged teenybopper is given an airy, counterintuitive touch that doesn’t quite jell by veteran filmmaker Léa Pool. Holding everything together is a fantastic Sophie Nélisse, dressed like Jodie Foster in 1975 and flouncing through the film with the right degree of hormonal volatility while she inflicts herself on a too-kind 29-year-old chef played by the likable Jean-simon Leduc. A sugary, gum-snapping vibe is your cue that Nélisse’s Aicha is the unreliable narrator here, which helps to square the bafflingly unwise behaviour of the adults in her life—and the way a key trauma is presented—but which also muddles the inevitably tragic ending. It’s still worth your time, especially with its central performance, but in wanting to incite the viewer, Worst Case doesn’t quite build its case. International Village, October 7 (7 p.m.) and 8 (1:15 p.m.)
Starring Kate Winslet. Rated PG
At least one giant obstacle 2
must be crossed in this fitfully engaging tale of two crash survivors who must descend from a snowcovered peak to stay alive. That is the truly daunting task at hand, and whatever’s between them is strictly of the molehill variety.
Manly man Idris Elba plays Dr. Ben Bass, an English neurosurgeon on his way to a delicate operation in Denver when his flight is abruptly cancelled. And Kate Winslet is Alex Martin, a conflict-zone photographer headed to her wedding in the same city. There are several upgrades made by screenwriters Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe to Charles Martin’s novel, The Mountain Between Us. In the original, Ben’s surname was Payne, and here he’s bumped up from orthopedics, while his counterpart was called Ashley and wrote articles for women’s magazines.
The author describes her, helpfully, as a cross between Winona Ryder and Julia Ormond. They weren’t available, apparently, and neither were Margot Robbie and Rosamund Pike, who both dropped out before Winslet climbed aboard. Several other directors were previously attached, and this remains an odd fit with Israeli-palestinian Hany Abuassad, best known for the smallscale political thrillers Omar and Paradise Now, which both garnered Oscar nominations.
On-screen, British Columbia plays the Rockies, and does a fine job, too, thanks to appropriately wide-screen cinematography by Australia’s Mandy Walker, who also shot the similarly expansive Tracks and more human-scale Hidden Figures. The chief pleasure of wilderness-survival stories normally comes from Macgyver-like tricks and crazy accidents that make us contemplate our own untested ingenuity. Here, most of the accidents are unfortunate, as when the pilot of the private plane hired in the first sequence croaks in the second, leaving Ben slightly injured and Alex with a deep leg gash, which the good doctor tends well. (Spoiler alert: the pilot’s dog lives!)
In the book, her limb was completely broken, making the hero hoist her for the whole trek. Fortunately, Winslet carries her own filmic weight, even with a somewhat iffy American accent, while Elba has the calming presence required for an inherently gruelling adventure. If their Mountain had been made in Hollywood’s Golden Era, the leads would be sniping at each other like Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. Here, they get along a lot better than that. Consequently, the script works absurdly hard to keep them apart, heading toward an ending that’s just as corny as any Harlequin romance. Wonder if they’ll be showing this on airplanes.
> KEN EISNER