It’s the most romantic time of the year in Vancouver. Glorious fall, which brings us the most vibrant display of colour on Victoria Drive, and the Vancouver International Film Festival!
Here are my picks for this year. France, China, Spain, the UK, Canada, and the US are represented. I’ve mostly gone for light entertainment, romance, and inspiration, with some exposure to other cultures as well. As lovely as Vancouver is, it will be wonderful to experience the romance of faraway places for a while.
Miss and the Doctors, France – Romance, Women Directors, 102 min
Sunday, Sept. 28, 5:45 PM, Tinseltown
Two very different pediatrician brothers (Cédric Kahn, Laurent Stocker) fall for the same barmaid (the luminous Louise Bourgoin) in Axelle Ropert’s (The Wolberg Family) intelligent romance. “Reminiscent of… [the] cleverly scripted adult dramas of François Truffaut’s late period. It’s at once astutely observed and deeply, though subtly, passionate… The direction and performances are spot-on throughout.”—Hollywood Reporter
My review in brief: A charming film. All three main characters are wonderful. The men are heart-breaking. The woman is beautiful. It’s in French. It made me cry. What more could you ask for?
Dirty Singles, Canada – Comedy, 99 min
Tuesday, Sept. 30, 7 PM, Rio (on Broadway near Commercial)
Jack (Paul Campbell) and Meagan (Alex Paxton-Beesley) have got it all. They’ve just bought a house, they’re thinking about a family and they have a close-knit circle of zany friends that love them. A few hookups, breakups and breakdowns later, the circle unravels and then regroups in this sharp-edged and libidinous comedy from writer-director Alex Pugsley.
My review in brief: Ho hum. Not nearly as sexy as it was cracked up to be. Though I found Melissa Hood to be luminously, classily gorgeous and inspiring in her role as Caprice. A bit of sharp dialogue, but neither I nor my friend found ourselves caring about these characters. The emotion didn’t touch us. There was nothing fresh about the situations or insights. Nice to see real Canadian snow falling in some of the outdoor scenes, though! All filmed in a 3-block radius in Toronto.
Martin’s Pink Pickle (How could you resist that title?), Canada – Drama, Romance, 79 min
Wed., Oct. 1, 1:30 PM, Tinseltown
A boy follows his girlfriend to Hope, an ironically named town where his dreams die a slow death. However, his settled lifestyle is disrupted by a trip back to the city for a medical appointment, where he and a friend become stranded for 24 hours. René Brar tells the story of two troubled kids who never really grew up while examining the complex nature of relationships.
– And presumably filmed in Hope and Vancouver!
My review in brief: I enjoyed this one a lot, in part because of the familiar locations. Downtown Hope! Commercial Drive (in one very brief flash). The pier and tunnel at New Brighton. So that part was fun. The two main characters were very likeable, and the story revealed depth to Martin as it unfolded. Very moving use of archival photos, as well. In some random glitch of the universe, there were problems with the sound. After about 10 minutes of not being able to hear the main sound track, though the background sound was loud and clear, VIFF staff apologized and said the film would be re-run from the beginning. Since this was a film festival, we were all wondering if the sound was supposed to be like that. Was this a way to evoke Martin’s inner world—a sense of being cut off and distant from his life? This glitch might have done more to establish his character than the film would normally convey!
The Iron Ministry, China – Experimental & Avant Garde, 82 min
Thursday, Oct. 2, 9:15 PM, Cinemateque
Award-winning documentary filmmaker J.P. Sniadecki travelled throughout China by train for three years, capturing—with dazzling range and astonishing intimacy—the public and private spaces, faces and thoughts of Chinese people on the move. The film’s visceral forward-charging play of light and sound is pure cinema; what its Chinese passengers have to say to us is nothing short of revelatory.
My review in brief: A curious mixture of bleakness and hope for the future. Hearing the passengers’ views of the political situation in China was heartening. The overall feeling of the endless train noise, shaky camera view, and vibration was uneasy and vaguely disturbing. Some humorous moments and a feeling of shared humanity creating the most lasting impression of the film.
The Two Faces of January, UK, France – Crime, Thrills, Mystery, 96 min
Saturday, Oct 4, 9:30 PM, Vancouver Playhouse
Bizarre circumstances make reluctant bedfellows out of American con artist Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and Athens hustler Rydal (Oscar Isaac) in Hossein Amini’s absorbing 60s-set adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel. As they evade the authorities, Chester’s wife (Kirsten Dunst) finds herself torn between these seductive charlatans. “An elegantly pleasurable period thriller, a film of tidy precision and class.”—Telegraph
My review in brief: Entertaining and gripping. Beautiful faces, plot twists, and the drama of being on the run made this a fun movie to watch on a Saturday night. Some beautiful Greek scenery too. And a psychological element that added some depth and interest to the male characters. Kirsten Dunst’s character was more a plot element than a character in her own right.
Advanced Style, USA – Fine Arts, Style, Women Directors
Sunday, Oct. 5, 7 PM, Vancouver Playhouse
Prompted by Ari Seth Cohen’s wildly popular blog (itself indebted to Bill Cunningham’s guerrilla fashion photography), Lina Plioplyte’s inspiring documentary profiles seven New York women—aged “between 50 and death”—whose eccentric approaches to style and glamour reflect their inextinguishable vitality. “They reject the youth-culture diktat that age makes you invisible, and offer us all an example of self-acceptance.”—Globe & Mail
– This looks very inspiring! For us women of a certain age!
My review in brief: Advanced Style was fantastic, and the women attending at the Vancouver Playhouse put considerable effort into getting into the mood of the film with an amazing display of beautiful dresses and footwear! I wore my beautiful green suede boots with 5-inch wedgie heels. It was an uplifting, touching movie, very inspiring, and the director did a Q&A at the end. She started filming these women when she was about 25. She’s now 32. She spoke of starting to get wrinkles (give me a break!), and being inspired by the possibility of aging with verve. Definitely, it was very inspiring to see these women living life with beauty and style, not fading into the background. I was also interested in the New York setting, as I will be visiting there for the first time during the last week of October. They mentioned a few places in the film that I hope to check out while I am there: Patina Vintage Store in Soho (oops, seems to be closed now), Off Broadway Boutique (one of the women in the film, Lynn Dell, owns this store), and Katz’s Deli (where Meg Ryan had a very enjoyable salad!).
Advanced Style started as a blog by Ari Seth Cohen, because he appreciated the style and wisdom of older women, and loved roaming the streets of New York to take pictures of sassy divas. He is now taking pictures of stylish older gents as well.
Looking for Light: Jane Bown, UK – Fine Arts, Biography
Tuesday, Oct 7, 6:45 PM, SFU Woodwards
“An excellent, intelligent, and unfussily traditional documentary about a gifted artist who photographed many key 20th-century figures, including Mick Jagger, John Betjeman, Queen Elizabeth and Samuel Beckett. Now 89, a frail and lucid Bown reflects on her life… Others pay homage… and speak insightfully about aesthetics, technique, and the context of Bown’s work. Directors Luke Dodd and Michael Whyte’s austere filmmaking eminently suits the material…”—Guardian
– Mick Jagger caught my eye, of course! (I have removed the film promo pic after viewing the credits and seeing that Jane Bown asserts her copyright to all her photos. Though I am sure the film promoters had recevied the rights to use the pic of Mick to promote the movie, I will err on the side of the spirit of Jane’s wish.)
My review in brief: A gentle film, full of longing. I enjoyed this view into the quiet dynamo that is Jane Bown. The stills of her portraits were stunning, conveying the realness and complex humanity of her subjects.
Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed, Spain – Audience Award Winner, 108 min
Wednesday, Oct 8, 6 PM, Center for Performing Arts (777 Homer St.)
Spain, 1966. A hapless English teacher (Javier Cámara) hits the road for the strawberry fields of Almeria, hoping to meet his idol John Lennon. David Trueba’s whimsical dramatic comedy is delightfully unpredictable. “This small gem offers a lovely evocation of Spain as well as a touching tribute to an unforgettable moment in time…”—Hollywood Reporter. Winner, Best Film, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Goya Awards 2014.
My review in brief: I loved this movie: the characters, the Spanish countryside, the simplicity of another time. The film speaks to the desire many of us have to connect with the people we admire, and to feel we have made an impact. The fact that I could relate to one of the film’s bullies as he tended his meagre tomato crop shows the movie’s capacity for evoking compassion.
Blind Massage, China, France – Disabilities, Literary, Romance, 114 min
Thursday, Oct. 9, 9:00 PM, Vancouver Playhouse
Based on Bi Feiyu’s best-selling novel, Lou Ye’s sensual drama explores a Nanjing massage parlour and the desires of the sightless masseurs and masseuses employed there. As the camera and actors (including the extraordinary Guo Xiaodong and Qin Hao) grow as intimate as lovers and Lou artfully conveys how his characters experience the world, the film becomes “entirely engrossing…”—Variety. Winner, Best Cinematography, Berlin 2014.
– I had heard this was a practice in Japan, during my massage training at Esalen. I didn’t know it was also the practice in China. I wonder what they will see through their fingertips?
My review in brief: A major disappointment. I walked out. The write-up said nothing about the graphically horrible scenes of spurting blood that occurred in the movie. If I had wanted to see this, I could have gone to any slasher movie at the local multiplex. I wish I had walked out at 7 minutes instead of 70. Unfortunately, there was nothing about the skill and art of blind massage, which was what had interested me in the film. This is an ancient tradition, and I thought the film would honour it and provide insight. Sadly, no.
Last Minute Addition – Welcome to New York, US, France – Cinema of Our Time, 125 min
Wednesday, Oct. 1, 3:45 PM, Vancouver Playhouse
This fictionalized account of the meteoric fall of Dominique Strauss-Kahn is luridly rendered and lent enthralling velocity by Abel Ferrara. A sexually explicit sensory assault, it stars a magnetic, magnificently vile Gérard Depardieu as gluttony personified. The former IMF chief may go by “Mr. Devereaux” here but his transgressions and vices are instantly recognizable as those that came to a head—and made scandalous headlines—in 2011. While Devereaux controls the economic fate of nations, his debauched desires go unchecked, allowing Ferrara to craft a portrait of corrupt authority every bit as incendiary as Bad Lieutenant.
“A bluntly powerful provocation that begins as a kind of tabloid melodrama and gradually evolves into a fraught study of addiction, narcissism and the lava flow of capitalist privilege… Ferrara is no stranger to drawing great, uninhibited, end-of-tether performances from his actors… Depardieu is remarkable here on several fronts: He seems more present, more committed to the role than any of the several dozen he has played since Claude Chabrol’s Bellamy in 2009, and he charges brazenly into whatever breach Ferrara demands of him… When Devereaux is forced to strip nude by prison officers and must agonizingly contort his body to complete the task, it’s the actor and not the character who conjures our sympathies. Elsewhere, though, it is Depardieu the canny, empathic performer who finds a tragic dimension in the heretofore monstrous Devereaux…”—Scott Foundas, Variety
My review in brief: Wow! Very powerful film. A humanizing account of a sex addict. This movie was fascinating on so many levels. The documentary style was Dogme 95-like with its avoidance of background music to cue viewers on what to feel. The script was realistic, with unique voices for characters from the different milieux. Depardieu’s depiction was brilliantly complex—animalistic, self-absorbed, and yet with moments of brutal clarity about human nature. Jacqueline Bisset’s performance as his wife Simone was also an inspiration, particularly in the scene where she is almost drawn back into love with him through her own animal response to his body.
Final Addition: A Different Drummer: Celebrating Eccentrics, Canada – Comedy, 87 min
Friday, Oct 10, 1:15 PM, SFU Woodwards
Academy Award-winning director John Zaritsky (Leave Them Laughing), a bit of an oddball himself, returns with an engaging, light-hearted look at eccentrics. From a desert hermit to Denman Street’s Duck Lady, we’re introduced to those who dare, or are driven, to be different. Eccentrics are healthier and happier, as we discover in this funny, touching and thought-provoking film.
My review in brief: After the horrible experience of Blind Massage I had to add another movie so I could end VIFF on a good note. This film was the perfect antidote. An uplifting, inspiring celebration of people who are not afraid to express their uniqueness in the world. Check out the movie’s website and take the quiz to see if you are an eccentric! Bottom line: eccentrics seem to inspire people and bring joy into the world. And they are smarter than your average duck!
John Zaritsky gave a Q&A after the movie. Wow, this guy has won a lot of awards! He was able to reassure the audience that Laura-Kay is living in an SRO hotel on Granville Street and receiving medical care for her MS. Her duck is allowed to live with her. The film was inspired by a book by Dr. David Weeks that documents a 10-year study of eccentrics. Zaritsky contacted some of the book’s subjects as a starting point for his film, and he mentioned two eccentrics who declined to appear in the film. One of them was Lord Bath, a British peer who has 75 wifelets living on his estate! 😮
Zaritsky’s next project might be a follow-up film on the Thalidomide babies that he has filmed twice previously. They are now about 50 years old.
A bit about the study: “One of Dr Weeks’s most vexing diagnostic tasks was to distinguish between eccentricity and neurosis. “Simply put,” he says, “neurotics are miserable because they think they’re not as good as everyone else, while eccentrics know they’re different and glory in it.” After the research was completed, Dr Weeks and his team came up with a 15-point empirically based list of characteristics that define eccentricity.” From an article in The Independent.