DAILY | Vancouver 2012
Reviews of new films by Deepa Mehta, Jem Cohen, John Gianvito, Wang Bing, Ying Liang, and more. Updated through 10/21.
The Vancouver International Film Festival is probably best known for its Dragons & Tigers program, which, according to Katherine Brodsky in Variety, is “the largest annual exhibition of East Asian films outside of Asia,” featuring films from South Korea, Indonesia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Thailand. Shelly Kraicer, who’s co-curated the program for four years now with Tony Rayns, has indexed the 16 Chinese-language films he’s brought to Canada this year.
The 31st edition opens this evening with Midnight’s Children, Deepa Mehta’s adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Booker Prize-winning novel, and closes on October 12 with Leos Carax’s Holy Motors (see the Cannes entry; another batch from the New York Film Festival is on the way). 380 films will be screened in all, and around 235 of them are features. We’ll begin here by taking a quick look at some of the titles gleaned from the Toronto, Venice, and Telluride lineups that won’t be making it to New York.
Midnight’s Children, recently picked up for distribution by Paladin and 108 Media, may get a boost from Rushdie’s return to the spotlight with the publication of Joseph Anton, his account of “a decade of hellish seclusion,” as New Yorker editor David Remnick phrases it, following the fatwa issued by the dying Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989. Remnick: “There is in the memoir a kind of absolute honesty, a willingness to pass clear-eyed judgment on everyone involved—including, most ruthlessly, himself.” Joseph Anton takes its title from the alias Rushdie pieced together from the first names of Conrad and Chekhov and “is written in a deliberately distancing, yet scrupulously accurate, third-person voice, is, in its way, as important a book as Midnight’s Children, the novel that gave birth to the Rushdie phenomenon, in 1981.”
The Telegraph‘s Tim Robey notes that the main character of that novel, Saleem Sinai, “is exactly as old as the independent republic of India, tumbling into the world on the book’s first page at the stroke of midnight on August 15th, 1947…. The Indian-Canadian director Deepa Mehta, best known for her Elements trilogy—Fire (1996), Earth (1998) and Water (2005)—has explored the basis of generational friction in her motherland before, but her earnest slog of a movie, biting off the book’s whole span over an inevitably episodic two and a half hours, feels like sumptuously-illustrated Cliffs Notes rather than fluid cinema. Rushdie can’t complain, since he not only wrote the script but delivers large chunks of it himself as the narrator.”
More from Kaleem Aftab (Independent, 2/5), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE, C), and Catherine Shoard (Guardian, 2/5). Background on the film’s making: Rick Groen (Globe and Mail), John Horn (Los Angeles Times), and Allan Tong (Filmmaker).
“One of the few recent films that I would call truly unclassifiable,” writes Michael Sicinski in MUBI’s Notebook, “The Last Time I Saw Macao is one of two collaborations this year between [João Pedro] Rodrigues (O Fantasma; To Die Like a Man) and [João Rui Guerra da Mata], his co-screenwriter on To Die. (The other film, Morning of Saint Anthony’s Day, is not at TIFF, but will screening in October at NYFF’s Views from the Avant-Garde.) Essentially a personal essay film, complicated by a Rivettian conspiracy noir plot and prefaced by a succulent, transgender paean to the great Jane Russell/Sternberg collaborations, Macao adopts the point of view of a Portuguese gentleman (voice of Guerra) who grew up in Macao and has been called back to help his friend, cabaret singer Candy (Cindy Scrash), who has run afoul of a shadowy group of dangerous men. Within this semi-narrative framework, Rodrigues and Guerra provide a kind of walking tour of Macao in static shots, capturing the searing electric neon and historical collision of colonialist Orientalism and hypermodernity.” More from Calum Marsh (House Next Door), Mark Peranson (Cinema Scope), and Blake Williams.
As Robert Koehler notes, introducing his interview with Jem Cohen for Cinema Scope, Museum Hours is set primarily in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Art Museum and focuses on “Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara), a Canadian woman in town to hold vigil with her cousin Janet, who’s in a coma, and museum guard Johann (Bobby Sommer), who initially helps Anne with her tourist map to find her way around Vienna… Cohen’s blistering in-between film, Chain (2004), took on the alienation factor in both international travel and massive commercial developments like mega-malls as they affected a pair of characters, one being a female Japanese businesswoman visiting the US. Museum Hours, which is infinitely more optimistic, also explores the zone of the commons and how it affects two people, but in this case, both the public museum and the Viennese streets foster the film’s central human subject: a genuine friendship, one of the rarest subjects in the movies.” At indieWIRE, Jay A. Fernandez reports that Cinema Guild has picked up U.S. distribution rights.
Journal de France is “a documentary by Pulitzer Prize winning photographer/filmmaker Raymond Depardon and sound recordist Claudine Nougaret (she has worked on Eric Rohmer’s Summer and Philippe Garrel’s Les Baisers de secours to name a few).” Movie Morlock Jeff: “Part travel journey with Depardon in the present day snapping portraits of life, objects and architecture on the backroads of France, it also serves as an unconventional bio of the artist as Nougaret intersperses archival footage throughout from Depardon’s days as a newsreel cameraman and the photojournalism agency he founded—Gamma. Much of the footage is astonishing—the 1968 invasion of Prague, the overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende, the Congo Crisis of the ’60s, candid street scenes of Paris—and all of it shot with Depardon’s eye for the intimate detail. Scored with some of the photographer’s favorite music, the film is a time-tripping cultural gumbo that tells one man’s history of France… and the world.”
“When American filmmaker, programmer and teacher John Gianvito resolved to make a multivocal feature modelled after Loin du Viêtnam last year, the war in Afghanistan was approaching its tenth anniversary, surpassing Vietnam as the longest overseas conflict in American history.” Aaron Cutler and Mariana Shellard introduce their interview with the filmmaker for Cinema Scope: “Gianvito contacted several directors based in the States as well as members of Afghan Voices, an Afghanistan-based organization teaching documentary filmmaking to young people, to create and combine short works focusing on different aspects of the war. Far from Afghanistan counterpoints vignettes from the American homefront with Afghan Voices’ interviews with Afghan civilians in the streets, hospitals, and their homes and offices. Where Loin du Viêtnam was a series of manifestos intended to place an array of perspectives on the war in dialogue with each other, Far from Afghanistan exposes a prevailing sense of individual alienation and helplessness in the face of a seemingly interminable war.” More from Michael Sicinski (Notebook).
And again, Michael Sicinksi: “Wang Bing, the most well-known exponent of the New Chinese Documentary ‘movement,’ has taken somewhat new approach in his latest effort. Most of the films for which he is best known—West of the Tracks, Fengming, and even his feature film debut The Ditch—have tended to focus on broad social and political themes; Three Sisters is hardly devoid of such questions, but certainly marks a turn toward the intimate. Wang brings us into the lives of three peasant girls in Xiyangtang Province who are living in relative poverty (the conditions are grim, but probably better than those of some other rural Chinese), abandoned by their mother and only periodically seeing their father who must find work in the city. In the leisurely 153 minutes of this director’s cut (which will hopefully be the version that goes out into the world at large), there is nary a pixel wasted.” More from Notebook editor Daniel Kasman and Neil Young (Hollywood Reporter).
And here’s Michael Sicinski in Cinema Scope: “While ‘art film’ has become an ugly term in some circles, redolent of a set of self-conscious bourgeois strategies, Ying Liang is a meticulous filmmaker whose deceptively simple manoeuvres serve to renew the very form. When Night Falls, much like Ying’s The Other Half (2006), exhibits a style that disrupts firm boundaries between fiction, essay, and documentary. For radical Chinese filmmakers today, these divisions represent impediments to accurate thinking, to attaining the means to represent unofficial, non-hegemonic truths. Ying, like such contemporaries as Jia Zhangke, Liu Jiayin, and Wang Bing, treats these classifications as more than historical conveniences that have worn out their welcome.” Much more follows, of course, including another Notebook go-round, where Daniel Kasman reviews the film as well.
“As the quietly passive title character of writer-directors Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky’s Francine, an ex-con (whose crime goes unstated) struggling through menial jobs and bottled-up desires in the rural Hudson Valley of upstate New York, Melissa Leo mostly keeps still and watchful,” writes Bill Weber in Slant. “The filmmakers’ intentions are serious and their oblique approach to narrative is encouragingly ambitious, but Francine ultimately suffers from keeping its anti-heroine’s stunted emotional capacities at arm’s length.” More from Stephen Holden (New York Times), Benjamin Mercer (L), and Tasha Robinson (AV Club, C+). Interviews with Cassidy and Shatzky: Damon Smith (Filmmaker, where Scott Macaulay notes that Factory 25 has acquired North American rights) and Hillary Weston (BlackBook).
Sam Adams at the AV Club: “The protagonist of Ira Sachs’s Keep the Lights On, a slouching, congenitally morose filmmaker played by Danish actor Thure Lindhardt, has poured years of his life into a documentary on a little-known photographer named Avery Willard, whose work, Lindhardt believes, constitutes ‘a visual anthropology of gay life in New York.’ Sachs’s fourth feature doesn’t have anything as ambitious, or as clinical, as anthropology on its mind, but in charting the course of a single gay relationship over more than a decade, he constructs a poignant case study in the changing contours of gay life.” More from Ara H. Merijan (Artforum). Interviews with Sachs: Adam Keleman (Slant) and Anna Tatarska (Keyframe).
“A sober, intelligently made drama, Inch’Allah offers a strong albeit deeply depressing look at the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians chafing under occupation,” writes Alissa Simon for Variety. “Tackling incendiary subject matter in a realist style, Quebecois writer-helmer Anais Barbeau-Lavalette tells an occasionally too-neat story from the perspective of a young obstetrician who is working at a United Nations clinic in the Ramallah refugee camp, but living in Jerusalem.” For the Hollywood Reporter‘s Deborah Young, “it illuminates Western preconceptions more than the motivation behind terrorism.”
“With his Crime and Punishment riff Student, Darezhan Omirbayev completes his trilogy of adaptations of Russian classics after 2007’s Shuga (based on Anna Karenina) and his short film of Chekhov’s About Love for the Jeonju Digital Project in 2006,” writes Boris Nelepo for Cinema Scope. “Beginning with July (1988), Omirbayev has deliberately positioned himself as a disciple of Robert Bresson, and Student is stocked with Bressonian echoes… A colleague of mine even wondered, after watching the film, whether Student was primarily a re-visioning of Bresson rather than Dostoyevsky. Well, why not: the experiment in succession to the French classic is quite interesting, and Omirbayev’s thrifty habit of using only the indispensable means of expression have made the deceptively humble Student a breath of fresh air in Cannes, where the exact opposite type of film was praised: the pompous, loud, and smug.” More from Darren Hughes.
“The year in cinema has been stamped with a modicum of magical realism,” writes Kiva Reardon for Cinema Scope. “First up at Sundance was Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, a film routinely described as ‘lyrical’ and ‘heartwarming.’ Now there is Montréal director Kim Nguyen’s Rebelle [aka War Witch], arriving at fall festivals after bowing in Berlin and taking top honors in Tribeca. The films share similarities beyond critical buzz: both are shot from the perspective of young girls, use amateur actors, and mobilize contemporary tragedies (post-Katrina New Orleans and African child soldiers, respectively) to set their scenes. That said, merely placing Rebelle in such divisive company without further elaboration does the film a disservice. More accomplished than Zeitlin’s work (and with no sparklers), the choice to blend the issue of child soldiers with the supernatural is more than merely whimsical, though ultimately no less problematic.” More from Kurt Halfyard (Twitch) and Eric Kohn (iW).
With Dust, “Guatemalan filmmaker Julio Hernández Cordón has found an original way to explore the contemporary after-effects of civil unrest,” writes Cinema Scope editor Mark Peranson: “his proposition is that the Guatemalan civil war that lasted from 1960-1996 has created a kind of sickness in society, and thus infects every interaction. A complicated character in a complicated film, Juan (Agustin Ortíz Pérez) is unpredictable and choleric, prone to dramatic suicide attempts and violent outbursts—most of them directed at the man responsible for turning his father over to the military, and who still lives just down the street…. An unsettling and at times disturbing work that bears scars from its making, Dust is about the unremitting desire for vengeance and the inability to escape the past—especially when you’re confronted with it every day.”
Cinema Scope editor Mark Peranson: “Hong Sang-soo’s zoomarific In Another Country is about culture clash, in the form of how three somewhat similar characters called Anne (a delightful Isabelle Huppert x3, in the first part playing Claire Denis) is treated in her visit to the small Korean coastal town of Mohang by, among others, her past/current lovers, other women, and the local lifeguard who not only croons her a love song, but also, in the line of the festival, vows that if she swims, ‘I will protect you!’ (recent Hong superstar Yu Jun-sang, hilarious and touching, but mostly hilarious)…. Framed as a screenplay being written by a woman on the run from tax problems, In Another Country is ultimately another recent Hong film about masculinity told through a woman’s perspective (see also the end of Oki’s Movie )…. Effortless products of an auteur’s will, Hong’s infinitely pleasurable films reside in another country of their own.” More from Darren Hughes. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.
“A slight, downbeat dramedy, [Rafaël Ouellet's] Camion is a film that comports itself as though it were examining depression while in fact it pretty much exemplifies it,” writes Michael Sicinski for Cinema Scope. “It’s slow and shambling without ever achieving grace, its characters nominally sympathetic without ever really individuating themselves.”
Eugene Hernandez for Movieline: “A Royal Affair depicts a scandal familiar to Scandinavians that doesn’t require that an audience have a detailed knowledge of European history to appreciate its universal themes. Nikolaj Arcel, writer of the original film version of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, has created an engrossing costume drama that follows [Mads] Mikkelsen’s insightful doctor who betrays a mad king by taking up with his wife.”
“Thomas Vinterberg may never top the complex family dynamics that made his The Celebration into such a remarkable chamber piece, but he hasn’t lost an ability to construct an engrossing narrative with dark, provocative shades of ambiguity.” IndieWIRE‘s Eric Kohn gives The Hunt a B. More from Roger Ebert, Kurt Halfyard (Twitch), and Mark Peranson (Cinema Scope). All praise Mads Mikkelson’s lead performance, just as reviewers did in Cannes.
For Cinema Scope, Boris Nelepo tells the story behind Yousry Nasrallah’s film on the Tahrir Revolution, After the Battle, which premiered at Cannes. “The film is intentionally de-dramatized, it just keeps flowing smoothly. The protests continue, one government is overturned, another never elected, the protests radicalize. After the Battle was filmed without a script and was set to drift freely in an undetermined direction. Finally, life itself provided the ending: in October, a demonstration was forcibly and bloodily suppressed by the army, which released tanks to crush the peaceful crowds. Pulsing with the live energy of street fighting, After the Battle is a political dialogue between parties that struggle to find a common language.” Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.
“In Lore, Australian director Cate Shortland follows five children traversing a devastated Germany in spring 1945 after their Nazi parents have fled the approaching Allies.” For Celluloid Liberation Front, also writing for Cinema Scope, “the fact that Shortland approaches her subject on the same aesthetic terms of her debut, the teen flick Somersault (2004), is a bad omen…. Though Shortland’s intent to look into the unresolved contradictions of the immediate postwar period is praiseworthy, the same cannot be said of the final outcome.” More from the Playlist‘s Kevin Jagernauth.
“Essentially an illustrated audiobook, the 3D animated A Liar’s Autobiography adapts the cheeky memoirs of the late Graham Chapman, using a variety of different artists and styles to relate the story of Chapman’s boyhood, his years at Cambridge, his coming out as a homosexual, his alcoholism, and, of course, his involvement with the groundbreaking British comedy troupe Monty Python.” Noel Murray at the AV Club: “The biggest problem with A Liar’s Autobiography is that it doesn’t seem to have been properly conceived as a movie. Taking tapes of Chapman reading his book and adding little cartoons is not inherently cinematic, no matter how striking the art.” More from Nicholas Bell (Ioncinema, 3.5/5), Eric Kohn (iW), David Rooney (THR), Michael Sicinski (Cinema Scope), and Drew Taylor (Playlist, B).
“Ernest & Célestine is based very loosely on a series of gentle children’s books, given a loopy spin by an animation team that includes the creators of the gleefully warped A Town Called Panic,” writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. “But it’s still very much a kids’ movie. It has a soft, picturebook-like look, and it indulges in both broad, noisy slapstick and heavy-handed messages about not judging people based on their reputation. The movie is also pretty darned delightful.”
Bruce Sweeney’s Crimes of Mike Recket “aspires to be a character study of a smiling sociopath, but this pulseless mystery-thriller displays neither the depth nor the complexity required,” finds Tim Grierson, writing for Screen. “Saddled with indifferent performances and a supremely drab police-procedural structure, the film feels long at just under 80 minutes.” More from Nicholas Bell (Ioncinema, 2/5) and Michael Sicinski (Cinema Scope).
“The Sessions is the type of earnest Sundance programmer that gets praised at cinema’s peril—which is to say, it’s sensitively wrought, offers complex, generously accommodating roles for its actors, and is about as visually compelling as a dog’s behind.” Scott Tobias at the AV Club: “[John] Hawkes and [Helen] Hunt provide The Sessions with a strong emotional core, but [director Ben] Lewin’s utter indifference to style undermines the film at every turn, making it seem soggy, plodding, and ugly where it should be suffused with feeling.” More from Roger Ebert, Linda Holmes (NPR), and Adam Nayman (Cinema Scope).
And more from Scott Tobias, here on Rust and Bone: ” Jacques Audiard’s follow-up to A Prophet got dinged at Cannes mainly for not being A Prophet, but accepted on its quirkier terms, it’s an equally deft and sidewinding drama about two people overcoming disabilities in body and soul.” More from Lórien Haynes (Movieline) and Richard Porton (Cinema Scope).
“A terrific cast helps boost an otherwise conventional chamber piece in A Late Quartet, writer-director Yaron Zilberman’s debut feature about a New York string ensemble trying to stay in tune amid a wealth of personal disasters,” writes Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter. “Featuring endearing performances from Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener, the film mines both the relationship issues and the Upper East Side neighborhoods of Woody Allen’s best work, but could use an added dose of the Woodster’s jokes to spruce up a self-serious scenario that hits the right notes about half the time.” More from Linda Holmes (NPR) and Kevin Jagernauth (Playlist, C). Claire Easton talks with Zilberman for indieWIRE.
“After winning the foreign-language Oscar last year for the dour drama In a Better World, Danish writer-director Susanne Bier goes buoyant and bubbly,” writes Mary Corliss, reviewing Love Is All You Need for Time. “Ida (Trine Dyrholm), a woman recovering from cancer, has just discovered her husband on the living-room couch with a younger woman. With a fender-bender in an airport garage, she literally bumps into Philip (Pierce Brosnan), a stuffy businessman and imminent in-law; she and he are both flying to an Italian wedding that will unite her daughter and his son. Ida and Philip freeze and thaw; they love and love some more…. Even those chilly souls who resist second-time-around romances may surrender to a feel-good movie that, through sheer sunniness, accomplishes its salutary goal.” More from Robbie Collin (Telegraph, 4/5), Stefan Dobroiu (Cineuropa), Leslie Felperin (Variety), Eric Kohn (iW), and David Rooney (THR).
Update, 9/30: Half a Balloon presents a first roundup, noting that VIFF is “a mix of world cinema Big Bads that announced themselves earlier in the year (the Hanekes, the Audiards, the Caraxes,) the knottier shows waiting for partisans, and the sickly, infuriating indies that make you wonder for a brief moment if Avengers comment-section sociopaths might have a point. It has everything you want and need, save Hollywood splash and red carpet craziness.”
Updates, 10/5: Dragons and Tigers “offers such a neat pairing of a veteran director and a newcomer that I can’t resist spending some time on them. Both, it turns out, are interested in memory–not just as a theme, but rather as a process involved in how we watch movies.” David Bordwell on Hong Sang-soo’s In Another Country and Lee Kwangkuk’s Romance Joe.
Sean Axmaker‘s concentrating on Dragons and Tigers as well, and posts reviews of Yoon Jong-bin’s Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time, Jo Sung-hee’s A Werewolf Boy, Byun Youngjoo’s Helpless, Park Sang-hun’s A Mere Life, and Romance Joe.
For Adam Cook, who posts a roundup at Filmmaker, Wang Bing’s Three Sisters is “the film of the year.”
Update, 10/9: David Bordwell takes in a batch of docs: Josh Melrod and Tara Wray’s Cartoon College, Eva Soltes’s Lou Harrison: A World of Music, Kimmo Koskella’s Soundbreaker, and Orrí Jónsson, Kristín Björk Kristjánsdóttír, and Ingíbjörg Bírgisdóttir’s Grandma Lo-Fi: The Basement Tapes of Sigrídur Níelsdóttir.
Update, 10/12: Kristin Thompson reviews Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Neighboring Sounds, Pablo Larraín’s No, Nikolaj Arcel’s A Royal Affair, and João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata’s The Last Time I Saw Macao.
Update, 10/14: Josh Timmermann, who’s been posting a string of dispatches from the festival, wraps with two lists, a top ten and a dozen performances.
Updates, 10/16: Sean Axmaker wraps it up right here in Keyframe, and Adam Cook posts a few more pages from his own notebook over at Filmmaker. Both are rattled by the news that the festival’s main venue, Granville 7, will close permanently on November 4. Sean: “VIFF thrived long before they landed in the Granville and will survive the next incarnation, but it will be a different experience to be sure.”
Meantime, David Bordwell has posted another roundup of reviews, but first: “I’m convinced that the Death of Cinema (or Hollywood, or the Intelligent Foreign Film, or Popular Movie Culture, or Elite Film Culture) is simply a journalistic trope, like Sequels Betray a Lack of Imagination or This Movie Reflects Our Anxieties. In short: an easy way to fill column inches. These squibs seemed especially damp this time around because while these guys were knocking Hollywood and/or art movies I was enjoying the Vancouver International Film Festival.”
Update, 10/21: Kristin Thompson reviews “two animated features and one documentary about an ambitious and lengthy project that never saw the light of day except in butchered form”: Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar, and Stéphane Aubier‘s Ernest et Célestine, Ignacio Ferreras’s Wrinkles, and Kevin Schreck’s Persistence of Vision, the doc on animator Richard Williams, “who made a successful career running a studio primarily making animated commercials and credit sequences.”
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