Filmmaker hits hard with
It comes with a trigger warning, but Isabella Eklöf’s film is an intensely moral work
They streamed from the theatre in disgust. The year was 1990, and the Vancouver International Film Festival had Henry: Portrait of a Serial elected to give
Killer its B.C. premiere, triggering outrage from viewers who didn’t care to see Michael Rooker packing his dismembered girlfriend into a suitcase. Paraphrasing Nick Hornby, who watched a similar phenomenon unfold in London, “What did people expect? It isn’t called Henry: Portrait of an Elephant.”
Like any good film festival, VIFF brings a lot of classy product to the city while keeping its margins open for a good ruck. Headlining this year’s Altered States program, Lars Von Trier’s The House That Jack Built reportedly makes mincemeat out of Henry, offering a portrait of a serial killer so unremittingly vile that it had people vomiting into their hands at Cannes. Isabella Eklöf sure liked it, though.
“He’s so ill, all of his films are so flawed, but they’re still great art,” says Von Trier’s fellow Dane, calling the Georgia Straight “The from Copenhagen. House That Jack Built is cold and clinical, and really boring sometimes, but what I realized is that, shit, for the first time in my life, I feel like I’ve been inside the mind of a sociopath.” Interestingly, Eklöf pointedly ignores the inner lives of the characters Holiday, in her debut feature and one of Jack the titles besides most likely to keep VIFF’S complaints department working late this year. In contrast to the kind of psychological narrative Eklöf deems Holiday “cheap, pointless, even dangerous”, simply observes opaque, waifish Sascha (Victoria Carmen Sonne) as she meanders around a high-end Turkish vacation spot at the pleasure of her loathsome drug kingpin boyfriend, Michael (Lai Yde). She drops mollies, flirts with other men, admires her own reflection, and appears largely unmoved by the escalating brutalities Michael visits on those around him, herself included.
But the film isn’t an indictment of its characters. As Eklöf states in her own Holiday press notes, is “a film about materialism”, bathed in the ironic glow of a sun-drenched Turkish holiday resort, with a detachment that turns from unnerving to unbearable once we arrive intensely moral work. Take away the sexual violence and it would still unsettle the viewer. Its very form challenges the way we’ve come to receive commercial cinema itself, smuggled through a fable about the corrosive effects on humanity of late-stage capitalism.
“Some people have never seen a socalled sociological film before and they don’t know how to decode it,” Eklöf says. “I get that. It’s one step at a time. Maybe next time they see a film like this, it’s easier for them to decode.”
So the long game here is deconditioning the viewer?
“Yeah,” she replies with a laugh. “It’s the master plan!”
from page 12 because we see that the operator who would become the richest man in the world isn’t even fake-interested in improving the place; instead, he ensures his niche in history by breaking up the European Union and pitting Americans against each other. Then there’s the little matter of what actually happens
International to witnesses who speak out. Village, September 28 (3:45 p.m.) and 30 (9:30 p.m.)
SAMOUNI ROAD (France/italy) Twenty-nine members of the Samouni family were slaughtered during Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2009, a story told here through the words of remaining family members (principally Amal, a cheerful child with shrapnel in her head) and Simone Massi’s wonderful line-drawn animation. Hamas and Fatah circle the tragic event—“every political group would seize the opportunity,” says the mother of young Mahmoud, fearing his radicalization— but the film gives no quarter to Israeli forces who targeted this innocent farming clan. Matching declassified audio with reconstructed drone footage, we hear a commander grow testy over an unanswered order to shoot a group that
Samouni Road includes children. As such, dispenses with “objectivity”—a myth under these circumstances, too often employed by western media to excuse
Vancity, atrocities. See it and weep. September 30 (6 p.m.); International Village, October 2 (noon)
SHARKWATER EXTINCTION (Canada) A moment of sheer wonder near the end of Rob Stewart’s final film pictures the conservationist lingering face to face with a gigantic, curious hammerhead shark against the whitesand floor of a shallow bay. Like so many other vividly shot scenes of his communion with the creatures here, it’s intensely moving. His 2017 diving death hangs over almost every moment, but it also gives the film a weight and urgency that ensure its place as a legacy to his work. With the same signature
Sharkwater, energy as in his 2006 the affable activist travels to dangerous places to track the accelerating demise of shark populations—flying drones over mob-owned fin-harvesting docks in Costa Rica, diving into night waters to secretly film creatures caught in gillnets, and toting hidden cameras into the frozen holds of fishing boats stacked with tens of thousands of sharks in Cabo Verde. “My parents worry about me all the time, yeah. I just have this belief that I’m gonna be okay,” he says in one haunting voice-over. Besides offering fascinating underwater footage, the film acts as an ode to that fearlessness—but also to the wonder and curiosity that
Centre, September 28 drove his vision.
(6:30 p.m.); International Village, September 30 (2 p.m.)
SPLINTERS (Canada) Coming out with same-sex attraction can be hard enough. But how do you handle coming out with different-sex attraction after that? That’s the predicament that Belle (Sofia Banzhaf), known to her family as a lesbian, faces when she returns to her family’s apple farm in Nova Scotia. She has a secret, and his name is Rob (Callum Dunphy). She struggles to keep her relationship with her boyfriend hidden from her controlling, change-resistant mother (Shelley Thompson), who is grieving her husband’s death. Thom Fitzgerald’s gentle adaptation of Leeanne Poole’s stage play convincingly articulates small-town dynamics as tensions mount during preparations for the funeral of Belle’s father. Yet, even when the characters are being inappropriate (frequently hilariously so), a pervasive tameness, coupled with an overextended musical-performance scene, unfortunately dulls the potentially
International sharp edges of the proceedings. Village, September 28 (1:30 p.m.); Rio, September 30 (6 p.m.).
WHAT WALAA WANTS (Canada/ Denmark) Another in a strong slate of films this year examining the Middle East, this NFB coproduction covers six years in the life of Palestinian teen Walaa. She’s a spark plug and a motor mouth—mom is missing for most of Walaa’s youth, incarcerated for attempting to aid a suicide bomber—so Walaa’s undisciplined fire isn’t exactly ideal when she begins training with the Palestinian Security Forces. Filmmaker Christy Garland’s camera gets remarkably close to this lively, if damaged, family, where domesticity, cheerful or otherwise, is always underlined by fear and a permanent sense of assault. It’s a high-resolution picture of occupation as destiny. Walaa prevails inside a world with severely curtailed choices, but as for brother Mohammed: “When I’m away from her it’s as if my soul has left me,” says the strikingly sensitive boy, at 11 years old, of his absent mother. What lies ahead is gutting
International Village, October 1 to watch.
(10:45 a.m.) and 3 (9:15 p.m.)
THE WHISTLEBLOWER OF MY LAI (USA) The Kronos Quartet has always displayed a social and aesthetic conscience in its music, mixing the modern western canon with littleknown sounds from Asia and Africa while rediscovering forgotten composers from many traditions. Here, the Bay Area stalwarts are seen rehearsing (and occasionally performing) a new work excavating the real-life story of a U.S. army helicopter pilot who put his life and career in jeopardy by protecting Vietnamese civilians from the worst massacre of that benighted war, which remains largely uncomprehended by the American public. It’s called an opera, but the piece is really an extended, and deeply affecting, study for quartet with stellar Vietnamese instrumentalist and tenor Rinde Eckert as the titular hero, who was vastly mistreated, and is seen in vintage footage. The film’s another success for activist filmmaker Connie Field, best known
Have You for her series on apartheid,
Heard From Johannesburg?. International Village, October 1 (7:15 p.m.); Vancity, October 2 (1:45 p.m.)