Our crack team of critics gets to work on the second week of the Vancouver International Film Festival.
There’s love, and war, and all the jazz that goes in between—of the Blue Note variety, in particular—as the Vancouver International Film Festival rolls into its second week of screenings. Here’s what our critics saw and, for the most part, liked. Be sure to go to Straight.com for more reviews, news, and features.
ALL GOOD (Germany) The common German phrase “Alles ist gut” is Janne’s mantra as she tries to move on from a sexual assault that happens after a drunken high-school reunion. But the violation, shot in detached banality on an apartment floor, starts to catch up with her—especially at work, when she has to see her boss’s brother-in-law, the awkward, somewhat remorseful perpetrator. Eva Trobisch’s striking first feature asserts itself as one of several strong explorations of sexual harassment hitting VIFF at this #Metoo moment. And it goes beyond headlines and into the real nuances of assault. In Aenne Schwarz’s subtle hands, you can see a woman putting on a strong, assured front, but also the all-too-human self-doubt that starts to nag at her. Did she misconstrue what happened? Did she give in too easily? They’re questions that are unfounded but all too familiar to women everywhere— and they begin to unravel her marriage, her career, and her world. International Village, October 5 (7 p.m.) Janet Smith
AT WAR (France) Led by Laurent (wonderful Vincent Lindon), striking workers at a French auto-parts company tenuously hold their ground while demanding to meet with the company’s remote CEO, removed by one country and several orders of not-giving-a-shit in Germany. Ruthless in exposing the pathologies of corporate culture and the fatuousness of its defenders (and its victim-enablers), Stéphane Brizé’s red-blooded drama is structured as a series of conflicts that lead to that final showdown, each one escalating the unavoidable cycle of class conflict to a chaotic and viscerally depicted climax. When the big boss eventually shows up, he’s full of almost comically glib platitudes, until the reptilian cant of a true capitalist zealot finally pours out. His fate is more satisfying (and funnier) than the perhaps unnecessarily melodramatic turn that awaits others, but until then, At War is like Gallic Ken Loach: a fantastic blast of humane and righteously angry cinema. Playhouse, October 8 (6:30 p.m.) Adrian Mack
BAIKONUR, EARTH (Italy) An eerie combination of nostalgia, historical displacement, and sci-fi lyricism marks this brief yet languorous look at one of the most remote places on Earth. Like Chile’s Atacama Desert, this stark slab of open plain in Kazakhstan is perfect for certain astronomical pursuits, and so became the central launching point of the Soviet space program. There are still vestiges of it there, some in use and others abandoned, and Italian filmmaker Andrea Sorini lets the mystery unfold as his camera probes the grassy spaces, brutalist architecture, and neon-lit karaoke bars of a flickering quadrant on the map of forgotten humanity. International Village, October 4 (7 p.m.) and 7 (4:30 p.m.) Ken Eisner
BAREFOOT (Czech Republic) Top Czech director Jan Sverák gives us a kind of prequel to his postwar classic The Elementary School, with mixed results. Although the subject remains interesting—the Nazi occupation as seen through the eyes of a small boy mostly removed from the horror, à la England’s Hope and Glory—the characters are not particularly engaging and the movie strains a bit too hard for comic relief. SFU, October 6 (11 a.m.); Playhouse, October 8 (9:15 p.m.) KE BLUE NOTE RECORDS: BEYOND THE NOTES (Switzerland/usa/u.k.) Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, two Jews who fled Nazi Berlin in the 1930s and later started a trad-jazz and boogie-woogie record label, became prime movers for modern stuff in the ’50s. Their advocacy of iconoclast Thelonious Monk alone would have ensured their place in history, but key recordings by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Art Blakey, and many others aded to an indelible mark. The label’s funky side, repped by Lee Morgan, Grant Green, and Lou Donaldson (who wheezingly appears here), kept finances afloat, with their sounds widely sampled in the early hip-hop era. The film contains complete new performances by Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, and will be riveting even for folks who know most of the story. Unlike other labels, BN paid for all rehearsals (at Rudy Van Gelder’s stellar studio), encouraging original compositions with challenging arrangements, while Wolff snapped soulful photos that have since helped keep the music alive. (By the way, Nora Jones is almost the only woman on hand.) Rio, October 6 (12:30 p.m.); SFU, October 11 (6:45 p.m.) KE
CARMINE STREET GUITARS (Canada) When is a guitar more than just a guitar? Ask any guitarist and you’ll get an earful. But if you ask Rick Kelly, proprietor of a long-standing Greenwich Village music shop, he’ll show you that it’s an opportunity to reclaim big chunks of old New York and turn them into instruments with experience built right in. Kelly’s not the most charismatic subject, but top players like Bill Frisell, Nels Cline, and Toronto’s Christine Bougie stop by to play and sing. Veteran doc director Ron Mann also focuses on gothmaned apprentice Cindy Hulej, who wandered into Kelly’s shop as an artist and stuck around to become a master luthier. SFU, October 7 (4:30 p.m.) KE
CUBAN FOOD STORIES (Cuba/ USA) Cuban expat filmmaker Asori Soto narrates his gentle and soulful return to his homeland in search of the flavours he pines for. What quickly becomes apparent is that in a country where things can be abruptly taken away—whether by politics, economics, or natural disasters— residents have learned to make do as much as they can with whatever they have, no matter how little. Such is the case with its most delicious cooking, this documentary opines. Appreciation for simplicity (and humility) is a recurring theme, as Soto visits cooks in the unlikeliest locations, from a remote mountain abode to river- and oceanside kitchens. Although tinged with melancholy, the focus here is on how resourceful, resilient, and vibrant Cubans are in the face of hardship. Expect your stomach to growl and your wanderlust to be aroused. International Village, October 7 (9:30 p.m.) Craig Takeuchi DJON ÁFRICA (Portugal/cape Verde/ Brazil) An imaginative, perhaps overly chill Portuguese guy with dreadlocks feels stuck in his cinder-block suburb (including some locations and even faces we remember from the cult hit Tabu). So young Djon scrapes together the euros to fly to Cape Verde, home of the father he never met, in hopes that the old guy still lives there. Directors Filipa Reis and João Miller Guerra have only made documentaries, and they cast ethnographic eyes over the rocky African archipelago, home to a disproportionate amount of great music, from Cesária Évora to Horace Silver. The picaresque story gets pretty wispy at times, as if the filmmakers ran out of ideas or money. But they compensate with delirious flights of fancy, especially when it comes to Djon’s encounters with beautiful local women. International Village, October 9 (9:45 p.m.) and 11 (11:15 a.m.) KE
FATHER TO SON (Taiwan) A highly familiar concept (look at VIFF’S Djon África) is given a number of wonderful twists in this poetic, time-jumping, and deeply humanistic Taiwanese effort. Here, the man (unforgettable Michael JQ Huang) who barely knew his dad is already in late middle age and is facing his own mortality. The fact that he’s an inventor as well as a handyman—his overstuffed hardware store is practically a character in the movie—allows him the chance to return to Japan, where his absent dad was a foreign worker. A parallel story with a young Hongkonger returning to Taipei carries less heft, but allows for considerable variety of tones and rhythms. And for once, the abandoned fellow has a fine relationship with his own son, so that’s already unusual. Highly recommended. International Village, October 8 (10:45 a.m.) and 10 (9:15 a.m.) KE
THE IMAGE YOU MISSED (Ireland/ Usa/france) A strange hall of mirrors that never quite brings its twin protagonists into full focus, this Image will still be interesting to people who care about the challenges built into documentary filmmaking and parsing the ongoing conflicts in Northern Ireland. Dublinborn Donal Foreman barely got to know his Irish-american father, Arthur Maccaig, a photographer and filmmaker who got hooked on capturing different phases of the IRA struggle. Maccaig died a decade ago, and the estranged son subsequently visited his father’s Paris apartment, where he found considerable footage and other memorabilia, much of which had never been seen publicly. SFU, October 8 (1:30 p.m.); Cinematheque, October 10 (7:15 p.m.) KE
IMPULSO (France/spain) The opening montage of hypermagnetic dancer Rocio Molina signals that this is definitely not going to be a documentary about the flamenco you know. The young star is blindfolded and wearing spandex shorts, funky red knee socks, and kneepads as she hammers the floor mercilessly. In Emilio Belmonte’s fiery new portrait, she sometimes looks possessed on-stage; in one scene, her mother tears up while talking about how much she worries over the mental toll of her daughter’s performing. The avant-garde and improvisational directions Molina takes flamenco in are just as striking. At the Seville Bienal de Flamenco, Molina slithers across a floor of white gravel, her black bata de cola dragging behind her like she’s just risen from the primordial ooze. In another piece, her skirt is a giant sheet of plastic brushing bloodlike black and red paint over canvas. Belmonte interweaves intimate scenes at her family ranch, where Molina and her musicians create their work. It coalesces as an exhilarating look at both the power of art and the new face of flamenco. International Village, October 7 (10:45 a.m.); Rio, October 10 (6 p.m.) JS
IN THE SHADOWS (India) In this psychological drama, Khuddoos (Manoj Bajpayee) is heavily preoccupied with observing his neighbours through video surveillance, to the neglect of his own needs. His obsession intensifies when he begins to hear a boy next door being physically abused by his father. As Khuddoos becomes consumed with finding the elusive boy, the film shifts toward Idu (Om Singh), who is devoted to his pregnant mother but wants to leave his abusive father. Despite a convincing performance, Bajpayee is constrained to a limited and repetitive role as his condition and situation deteriorate, with Idu’s story taking prominence. What unfolds won’t be as much of a mystery as the narrative implies, but elicits enough curiosity to sustain interest. International Village, October 5 (11:15 a.m.). CT
INTRODUZIONE ALL’OSCURO (Argentina/austria) The Italian title is just one of many red herrings dangled by Argentine director Gastón Solnicki, who prowled wintry Vienna after Austrian pal Hans Hurch died in Rome, in 2017. Hurch was a film critic and historian who ran the Vienna International Film Festival for two decades before his sudden heart attack, and Solnicki honoured his “most flamboyant friend” by visiting some of the haunts he shared with Hurch, who had a fondness for nicking porcelain souvenirs from cafés. Solnicki, who often wears a black poncho, doesn’t always explain his cinematic choices, or his inclusion of seemingly random bits of street dialogue and music ranging from Bach to Muzak Billy Joel. Particularly nice is a clip of Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise, with Herbert Marshall as a jewel thief named Gaston. These fragments are fun, frequently puzzling, and somehow add up to an existential portrait—of a city, if not of a person. Cinematheque, October 4 (9:15 p.m.); Vancity, October 7 (4 p.m.) KE
IT’S BORING HERE, PICK ME UP (Japan) This nervy little item plays like it was made by a millennial female who takes no shit. But in fact, director Hiroki Ryuicho is an older man, responsible for oddball youth-culture items like Vibrator and Tokyo Trash Baby. But he is adapting from a novel by a millennial female who takes no shit, as reflected in several former girls (and one ambiguously oriented character), now pushing 30 and looking back at their golden years of high school in a town that became much too small for them. The formally playful effort jumps between decades and central POVS, but the common thread is everyone’s swoony recollections of the school’s hunky heartthrob, who may or may not still be around. Did we mention that it’s also a musical? International Village, October 9 (7 p.m.) and 10 (11:15 a.m.) KE
IYENGAR: THE MAN, YOGA, AND THE STUDENT’S JOURNEY (USA) The late B.K.S. Iyengar’s contributions to and influence upon the world of yoga are detailed in this comprehensive documentary. The then 90-year-old Iyengar (still doing backbends) discusses the roots of his form of hatha yoga, which involves the use of props in asanas (poses), and illuminates the deeply considered philosophy underscoring his holistic pursuit of mental, physical, and spiritual health. His popularization of yoga is illustrated through examples interwoven as threads throughout the film, ranging from girls at a Mumbai orphanage benefiting from the practice to archival footage of western Tv-show hosts interviewing Iyengar as a curiosity. However, this portrait isn’t a deification: while some interviewees speak highly of him, others note his flaws, and his brusque, often critical approach is also on display. Needless to say, it’s essential viewing for practitioners. International Village, October 9 (11:45 a.m.); Playhouse, October 11 (6:30 p.m.) CT
LEVEL 16 (Canada) There’s clearly a place in the world for Danishka Esterhazy’s grim fairy tale, which zaps our current anxieties with the institutional dread of early Cronenberg. The film takes place within a high-security allgirl boarding school/orphanage run like a concentration camp, but there’s revolt brewing inside teen Vivien, seriously chafing against the militaristic order, vitamin regimens, and daily lessons in “female virtue”—not to mention the spates of physical torture. Sara Canning gets to have the most fun here as an Ilsa, She Wolf of the Ss–like warden, and indeed, if Level 16 had been made 40 years ago as a drive-in movie, we’d feel comfortably removed from its cartoon Nazi horrors. In a world of escalating corporate psychopathy and humans as pure resource? Not so much. The pacing is deadly and the impoverishments of budget a little too visible, but Level 16 manages to unnerve all the same. International Village, October 7 (3 p.m.) AM
LOVE AND BULLETS
(Italy) Do you really want to see the mobsters of Gomorrah or The Sopranos break into song on a regular basis? The answer will likely determine your inclination to sit through 134 minutes of tongue-incheek shenanigans involving a tacky widow whose big-shot husband has faked his own death, a hit man in on the ruse, and a streetwise nurse caught up in the mayhem. The setup is fun, and things peak with a big production number of Flashdance theme “What a Feeling”. But the original music isn’t nearly as catchy, and the story flags soon after that. Rio, October 6 (2:45 p.m.); Playhouse, October 11 (9:15 p.m.) KE
LOVE AND COMPASSION (International) Grief and Regret might be a more telling title for this package of shorts, most of which deal with mortality and bitter memories. Such strong contenders as a Mexican tale of a single mother going to the circus, a Spanish look at two sisters with different fates,
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Aenne Schwarz takes the lead in Germany’s All Good, one of a number of strong movies at this year’s festival that deal with sexual harassment; In It’s Boring Here, Pick Me Up, Hashimoto Ai returns to her small town looking for the hunky heartthrob who still haunts her memories of youth.