Film­maker hits hard with

It comes with a trig­ger warn­ing, but Is­abella Ek­löf’s film is an in­tensely moral work

The Georgia Straight - - Movies - By by Adrian Mack

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.)


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