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September 29, 2016

VIFF 2016: VIFF movie mania is upon us

35th annual Vancouver International Film Festival

It's that time again — Vancouver's yearly 16-day immersion in films from across the globe.

The 35th annual Vancouver International Film Festival is as always a daunting prospect. This year's edition of VIFF, which begins today and runs through until Friday October 14th, will screen 365+ films, including 219 full-length features, from 70 different countries.

Here are some tips on navigating it.

Programme, tickets and venues

As you get ready for a cinematic onslaught, you'll want to pick up a copy of the glossy 2016 VIFF programme, available at no charge all across Metro Vancouver, at the Vancity Theatre, as well as at libraries, bookstores and coffee shops.

2016 Vancouver International Film Festival Programme Guide

You can skip the box office lines and buy your tickets online at viff.org, or simply by pressing on the buy option when choosing of a film of interest to you, and then simply print the ticket at home. Note that there is a service charge for online orders: $1 per single ticket, up to $4 per order. Patrons can save by purchasing ticket packs or all-access screening passes.

Tickets or passes can be bought in person at the Vancity Theatre, or at any of the Festival venues: The Centre for the Performing Arts, The Cinematheque, the Rio Theatre, SFU's Goldcorp Centre, the Vancouver Playhouse or Cineplex International Village. The box offices will be open daily, one half-hour before the day's first screening.

Throughout the Festival, VIFF offers a helpful customer service line, open daily 9am to 7pm, staffed by friendly and informed volunteers, who can answer any of your questions. Simply call 604-683-FILM (3456) for assistance.

What about all those lines?

Each VIFF screening will have three separate queues: a pass-holder line (for those with passes hanging around their necks; you'll know them when you see them), a ticket-holders line (for those who've purchased tickets in advance, and have the tickets in hand) and a rush line. Standby tickets, for screenings that are sold out, go on sale 10 minutes before showtime, at full price (cash preferred). No matter which line you're in, arriving at least 30 minutes early — or for popular screenings (the VIFF website will let you know which screenings are popular and almost sold-out) is a good idea, particularly if you're picky about where you sit.

Food and drink, parking, bus routes

Though most VIFF venues serve the usual popcorn/candy/soft drinks fare, some have a few extras (there's wine at the Vancity, and beer and wine at The Rio, for example). Most venues have a wealth of restaurants just steps from the door.

Outside food and drink is officially not allowed in the theatres, but VIFF-goers have been known to get away with it; be discreet, considerate and tidy (and, please, please, do not eat during the course of a film screening).

VIFF is pretty much a no-car zone — transit is definitely the way to go. Still, there's free parking available at Cineplex International Village for VIFF patrons, with a fair bit of parking in the area around The Rio. Otherwise, you're best taking advantage of Vancouver's transit system. Typing m.translink.ca into your smartphone browser will give you all the information you need to navigate between venues.

What movies should I choose?

There is always something new to see at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Many of the 365+ films have already screened elsewhere, though, either in their home countries or at other festivals such as Cannes, Sundance, Berlin, Telluride, Locarno and Venice, among other far flung places across the globe.

As a service to readers, for the past nine days, VanRamblings has published previews of award-winning and lauded films that have been scheduled as a part of VIFF 2016. Just click here to read 36+ previews of celebrated VIFF feature films (most with trailers, all with reviews from erudite critics).

Several of these titles — among them Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea; Jim Jarmusch's Paterson; Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake; Asghar Farhadi's The Salesman; Olivier Assayas' Personal Shopper; Jean and Luc Dardennes' The Unknown Girl; Paul Verhoeven's Elle; and Barry Jenkins' Moonlight will look to build on their enthusiastic early acclaim. All of these films have been previewed by VanRamblings.

Another one, Nate Parker's Sundance prizewinner The Birth of a Nation, although it has become a lightning rod for controversy given director Nate Parker's 1999 sexual assault charge, promises an unflinching look at slavery, and emerges as a must-see at VIFF 2016.

And those are just the movies everyone recognizes and talks about. That the Festival programme contains still more multitudes - that it counts short masterworks, below-the-radar genre items and avant-garde mind-blowers among its essential offerings each year is a fact that can sometimes by lost amidst the deafening reams of Oscar hype that can issue forth throughout the fall season.

A massive annual confluence of art and industry, as well as a cinematic buffet of tremendous cultural and aesthetic diversity, is invariably reduced to just a handful of heat-seeking titles.

As much as we may look forward to the more lauded VIFF entries, many of which will reach our local multiplex in the weeks and months to come, there are many more VIFF films worth seeking out than the films VanRamblings has highlighted in our nine-day preview. But when a Festival boasts nearly 365+ films to choose from, a critic must start somewhere.

35th annual Vancouver International Film Festival, lineup of the Vancity Theatre


Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 12:33 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2016

September 28, 2016

VIFF 2016: Paradise on the Near Horizon

35th annual Vancouver International Film Festival

Despite the obstructive jaundice diagnosis VanRamblings wrote about yesterday, we do not have pancreatic cancer. Phew! Spent the day in the hospital yesterday undergoing a series of tests, and am scheduled for surgery tomorrow, on the opening day of the 35th annual the Vancouver International Film Festival, and will continue to write daily about VIFF through the end of the this year's Festival, on Friday, October 14th.

So, it is on to the final three previews of lauded films that will arrive on our shores beginning tomorrow in what is a very strong year for VIFF.

Before we get started today, this: Andrew Poon, long one of VanRamblings favourite Communications folks with VIFF — this year working with the very wonderful Owen Campbell, and the doyenne of all things Communication with VIFF, Helen Yagi — wrote yesterday to say that there are six Asian films — all part of the Gateway | Dragons & Tigers series — he believes are worthy of your attention, so take note — Andrew is never wrong ...

  • Crosscurrent. Winner of Best Cinematography in Berlin this year, director Yang Chao brings a beautifully shot film perfect for cinephiles to VIFF this year, Andrew says. Writes Patrick Gamble in Cinevue, "Traversing China, from the riches of Shanghai's financial hub, to the nation's impoverished hinterlands, Yang combines a daring mix of realism and lyrical fantasy to create a sense of where China is drifting, merging imagery and poetry to create a film of uncontrollable sadness, arresting visuals and ruminative grace;

  • Out of the Frying Pan, a phantasmagoria of six dazzling anime shorts, ranging from powerful evocations of earthquakes and tsunamis to scenes from the life of a girl whose mother is a ghost and whose father is a cat (which, by the way, won the Grand Prix award at the 2016 Image Forum Festival), conceptually brilliant works all, and very much deserving of your consideration;

  • Lifeline. Making its North American premiere, Japanese director Shiota Akihiko will be in attendance at VIFF to present his new film, a slapstick, bloody battle between mortality and immortality, and a darkly comedic exploration of the depths one person will sink to save herself and the lengths another will go to in order to lose himself;

  • The Bacchus Lady. No, this film by E Jyong is not about our indefatigable Vancouver School Board trustee, the fabulous Patti Bacchus, but rather is a tour de force from the grand dame of Korean cinema, 69-year-old Youn Yuh-jung, who delivers a powerful performance as a sex worker confronting her and her ex-patron's problems in old age, in a graceful film that while exploring a bounty of taboo subjects provides an engaging picture of the lonely lives of people considered by society as past their sell-by date. Says Clarence Tsui in his review in The Hollywood Reporter, "The Bacchus Lady is certainly audacious, and a powerful reminder of how lives could or would be lived once the youthful vigor is gone";

  • Emma (Mother). An International premiere at VIFF 2016, Indonesian director Riri Riza (who will be in attendance this weekend at VIFF, along with the producer) to present his new film, an adaptation of Alberthiene Endah's novel Athirah, which focuses on social, political, sexual and psychological issues centering on questions of emotional and moral strength, says longtime Dragons & Tigers programmer Tony Rayns, who goes on to say, "Emma (Mother) is infused with Riza's signature lyrical realism, wise and humane as it deals with Athirah's stoic efforts to keep herself and her family together";

  • The Road to Mandalay. Debuting at the Venice Film Festival at the beginning of this month, Chinese-Burmese director Midi Z's Bangkok-set drama revolves around the loves, fears and loathing of two migrant workers in the Thai capital, the film an engrossing drama that works on an intimate level of moving human tragedy while providing insight into the travails that face the Burmese people. Say Vittorio Scarpa in his review in Cineuropa, "A blunt and accurate portrayal of the condition of the many Burmese migrants living in Thailand, searching for opportunities that often end in disaster, based on a number of true stories (among them, the story of the director's brother), Road to Mandalay shows us how the world, when it comes to problems of integration, is extraordinarily small."

Six more films for you to consider as VIFF film fare in 2016.

A Copy of My Mind. Comes highly recommended from VanRamblings' friend Mathew Englander who saw A Copy of My Mind at TIFF, and wrote to us to rave about it. Says Jason Bechervaise in his review in Screen Daily ...

"Prominent Indonesian filmmaker Joko Anwar (The Forbidden Door) sets his new film in Jakarta, telling the story of young couple who fall in love but end up in trouble when the woman steals a DVD from a client. Both affecting and absorbing in equal measure, A Copy of My Mind shirks melodrama to explore the difficulties faced by those living in a city marred by political corruption. Conveys the political and social turmoil faced by so many in Jakarta through the eyes of the two protagonists, it's the pair's genuine and natural abilities that give the film more than a touch of authenticity and sincerity."

Next on to this year's Un Certain Regard winner at Cannes ...

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki. Finnish newcomer Juho Kuosmanen chronicles the buildup to the 1962 world featherweight championship title match in this idiosyncratic boxing drama that is, as Sarah Ward says in her review in Screen Daily, "contemplative, inspirational and sweet rather than brutal and action-packed, a quietly charming film that will punch above its weight on its way to finding a broader audience." Tender, lyrical and bittersweet, as Guy Lodge says in his review in Variety, "It punches its way into the upper ranks of cinematic pugilist portraits by virtue of its exquisite craft and a lead performance of heart-bruising melancholy by Jarkko Lahti."

The Salesman. Iran's Best Foreign Film Oscar entry, Asghar Farhadi, the masterly Iranian director of Oscar winner A Separation offers another finely cut gem of neorealist suspense, Irish Times critic Donald Barnes writing, "The Salesman is flawlessly acted. Ordinary-looking people pass through huge emotions without ever resulting to histrionics. Outbreaks of violence are rare and, thus, when they do occur, they are all the more shocking, Farhadi once again trading in the poetry of the unsaid." Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman writes ...

"The film's title refers to an amateur production of Death of a Salesman that the film's two central characters are both performing in. He's playing Willy Loman, and she plays his wife, the beleaguered Linda. It's a conceit that comes off as something of a contrivance — at least, until the very end, when the parallel between Emad and Willy at last hits home. They are good men who, through the tragedy of their choices, wind up letting down the people they love. Farhadi has fashioned a dramatic critique of what he portrays as the Iranian male gaze — a gaze of molten judgment and anger. As a filmmaker, though, his gaze is true."

And thus concludes VanRamblings 36+ film preview of the 35th annual Vancouver International Film Festival.

A coda: broadcasting legend and longtime VIFF aficionado J.B. Shayne called yesterday to say that he feels a screening of Jim Jarmusch's documentary Gimme Danger is mandatory viewing VIFF 2016, for any one who has any appreciation of rock history and who loves Iggy Pop and The Stooges. Mr. Shayne will be present at the sure-to-be-raucous 9:15pm screening at The Rio on VIFF's opening night, Thursday, September 29th. Betcha his friend John Tanner will be there, as well.

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VanRamblings has now previewed 36+ acclaimed VIFF films that are about to arrive on our shores having garnered critical acclaim at film festivals in every far flung community across the globe. For a survey of all the VIFF films VanRamblings has previewed for VIFF 2016, just click here.



Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 3:15 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2016

September 27, 2016

VIFF 2016: Hey, Is VanRamblings Checking Out, Or ...

35th annual Vancouver International Film Festival

Almost every year as the Vancouver International Film Festival is about to get underway, or has just started, something happens to prejudice VanRamblings' attendance at the festival. In 1992, VanRamblings collapsed at the back of The Cinematheque while watching a screening of Michael Haneke's Benny's Video, which we'd already seen in preview, but wanted to see again. VanRamblings was rushed to UBC Hospital where we spent two weeks watching the U.S. election on TV, and Bill Clinton's performances in the debates. For the most part, VanRamblings missed VIFF that year.

In 2004, VanRamblings attempted to take in an early Sunday morning screening of a film at The Cinematheque, and while parking our car were rear-ended by a late model SUV — we were almost killed. Once we got out of the hospital, we returned to VIFF, standing at the back of the various VIFF cinemas (we couldn't sit) to enjoy the latter half of VIFF that year.

This year — according to our doc, we've been diagnosed with something called obstructive jaundice, the root causes of which we'll discover upon attending UBC Hospital on Tuesday for an emergency battery of tests. Wondering why there was no VanRamblings column yesterday? We were simply too weak. Before week's end VanRamblings' very able physician has indicated that we'll have a definitive diagnosis of the root cause of the current malady, and will take whatever correction action is required.

How many films will VanRamblings get to see at VIFF 2016, and how many columns will we be able to write over the 16-day course of the Festival?

Time and health will tell.

After Love. Belgian director Joaquim Lafosse brought his stunner Our Children to VIFF a couple of years back. In 2016, VIFF brings Lafosse's new, Cannes-debuting family drama After Love — starring the can do no wrong Bérénice Bejo, co-star of the Academy Award winning film, Best Picture Oscar winner The Artist — to our 35th annual Festival by the sea.

Says Wendy Ide in Screen Daily ...

"After Love presents an unflinching portrait of the final weeks of a marriage. Fifteen years worth of simmering grudges about sock laundry have boiled over, the battle lines have been drawn in the house that they are still forced to share, and the time they spend with their twin daughters is neatly apportioned between them. A relationship which is largely built on recriminations and point scoring is a dispiriting thing to witness, and this is certainly a tough watch at times. But it is a compelling drama, with its strong performances and adult themes.

While Lafosse scrupulously avoids taking sides in the break up, it is hard to muster much sympathy for either party. Captured with a handheld camera that prowls around their contested living space like a caged animal, the atmosphere is charged with petty sniping, the atmosphere undeniably sad, with moments of discomfort, where the tensions crackle and the fault lines in the bedrock of the marriage become clear."

Says Peter Debruge in Variety, "As in Our Children, observing how the characters respond to a song reveals far more than any amount of dialogue could, and as Marie and Boris (Cédric Kahn) humour their daughters, we see the love they once shared for one another and realize why it's so hard to break free from its shackles."

All This Panic. One of the buzz films coming out of the Tribeca Film Festival this year, Jenny Gage's intimate documentary portrait of female youth has been called evocative, ethnographic, raw and heartwarming, engaging and reminiscent of the Maysles Brothers' work, Gage and her husband and director of photography, Tom Betterton, appreciative of the girls' beauty, employing magic-hour light throughout, bathing the film's subjects in a soft glow, the filmmakers far more interested in the girls' inner lives.

Says Elise Nakhnikian in Slant Magazine ...

"Loosely tracked over a three-year period as they hang out, play games, throw drunken parties, and interact with their families, the girls talk constantly, and they have insightful and touching things to say about friendship, their hopes for the future, love, sex, and more. The intensity and volatility of young female friendships surface in the relationship between loyal, grounded Lena and high-strung, unhappy Ginger, who start out as best friends, but go through a rocky period after Lena heads off to college and Ginger stays home, where she works and hangs out with a new group of friends.

There are also poignant glimpses into the girls' family lives. A moment of intimacy between Ginger and her little sister, Dusty, on a rooftop is so resonant because we've heard Dusty confess that she wishes she had a closer relationship with the standoffish Ginger. Meanwhile, Ginger's defensiveness and quick temper may be due at least partly to the prickly relationship she has with her father, who can't seem to find a kind word to say to or about her.

Every scene in All This Panic feels vivid and true, in this honest, impressionistic portrait of a cohort of 21st-century American girls."

All This Panic offers a fierce, sure-footed and remarkably intimate portrait.

Goldstone. From director Ivan Sen, Australia's premier filmmaker of aboriginal descent, says Luke Buckmaster in his five-star review in The Guardian, "Goldstone is a masterpiece of outback noir that packs a political punch ...

"... the film belonging to a suite of Australian films that contemplate land ownership in memorable ways, from 1932's On Our Selection to 1950's Bitter Springs and even 1997's The Castle, Goldstone has more weight than any of them, because the film's spiritual roots hark back to the traditional owners of the land. In a small but moving role David Gulpilil plays a man who cannot be bought; his soul is connected to the ground and the sky."

Says Eddie Cockrell in his review in Variety, "The sun is hot, the motives are cold and the film is blazingly noir as Indigenous detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) returns for another investigation of Outback moral rot in multi-hyphenate helmer Ivan Sen's socially conscious, supremely accomplished procedural thriller, a film unequalled in contemporary Aussie cinema."

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VanRamblings has now previewed 27+ acclaimed VIFF films that are about to arrive on our shores having garnered critical acclaim at film festivals in every far flung community across the globe. Previous VanRamblings' VIFF 2016 columns, very much like the one today, may be found here.


Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 12:54 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2016

September 25, 2016

VIFF 2016: Oh My Love, I've Hungered for Your Kiss

35th annual Vancouver International Film Festival

The Vancouver International Film Festival's particular mix of glamour and discovery merge each year during the much-looked-forward-to 16 day festival, attracting hundreds of film people and the glitterati to the Opening Gala party, while at the same time screening 219 feature films from 70 countries, including as many as 20 of the 75 submissions for the foreign language Academy Award, and 140 short and medium length films. Last year more than 150,000 people attended VIFF, making it one of the top film festivals for attendance in the country. From the end of September through until mid-October each year, VIFF is simply the place to be, a cultural must.

Today VanRamblings continues our cinematic investigation of films we think you should place on your VIFF must-see list ...

Julieta. Perhaps lesser Almodóvar, but even lesser Almodóvar is far superior to what you'll see onscreen at your local multiplex throughout most of the year. Pedro Almodóvar is 66, his latest film reflective of the darker themes that increasingly bedevil us as we age. Not light and airy Almodóvar. but not over-serious Almodóvar, either. Even given all the foofaraw, Screen Daily's Chief Film Critic Fionnuala Halligan finds much to recommend ...

"Pedro Almodóvar's 20th feature is a tantalising creature full of hints and omens, a Hitchcockian drama, the story one of loss and grief, this adaptation of three short stories by Canadian writer Alice Munro carefully stitched together into an elusive film, Alberto Iglesias' humming contrapuntal score contributing much to a story given over to sorrow, the film a sad, grieving counterpart to the brazen antics of Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, where the possibility of hope still entices."

Says Rory O'Connor in Filmstage, "Riffing on Spanish telenovelas, Hitchcock, and film noir, Almodóvar has put together an undeniably gorgeous bauble with a simple sort of story that nestles in somewhere between the high and lowbrow. Ugarte and Suárez might have made for great Hitchcock heroines. They certainly make great chicas for Almodóvar."

Adriana Ugarte, who stars in Pedro Almodóvar's new film, JulietaThat's the beauteous Adriana Ugarte above, beseeching you to take in a screening of Julieta.

Paterson. The buzz out of Cannes for writer-director Jim Jarmusch's newest film was through the roof, critics referring to the film's restrained aesthetic and Adam Driver's sublime, understated performance (with much talk of Adam Driver garnering a Best Actor Oscar nod come January 24th 2017) rendering it the director's most recognizably human and poignant film to date. Says Jessica Kiang in her review in The Playlist ...

"Jim Jarmusch's Paterson is like a balm to soothe your aching limbs, quell your clamoring mind and restore your tired spirit. An unfeasibly charming film full of little wisdoms and quiet comforts where we might expect to find provocations, its only deception is that it is so much richer than it seems at first glance. Most cinephiles are well acquainted with Jarmusch-ian minimalism, and the trick of reading more into his droll silences and laconic pauses than exists up on the screen. But, even aside from a difference in tone which favours sincerity over irony, and warmth over cleverness, this is something else: this is miniaturism. Paterson is a tiny little film, sharp in every detail, but minuscule, like a portrait on a grain of rice. And sometimes the smaller you go, the more colossal your impact, which means Paterson might just be Jim Jarmusch's God Particle."

Or, how about John Bleasdale's over-the-moon review in Cine-Vue ...

"No ideas but in things" wrote William Carlos Williams, the patron saint of Jim Jarmusch's sumptuous sonnet to poetry and ordinariness, Paterson. The film presents us with a week in the life of bus driver and lunchtime poet Paterson (Adam Driver). In many way, Paterson's life is idyllic. He is deeply, almost boyishly in love with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani); his work, given he's a bus driver, is remarkably stress-free and gives him plenty of time to think. Like Frank O'Hara, he writes his poetry in his breaks and before his shift. Sure enough we glimpse O'Hara's Lunch Poems anthology in the driver's cab.

There's a shot of Paterson holding a book of William Carlos Williams' poetry which is so sensual and tactile — the heft of the book in the hand, the feel of the paper cover — it will make any lover of books toss their e-readers in the bin. Drama does show up, but Jarmusch wisely sidesteps it. Marvin the bulldog is as bad an enemy as Paterson has to face and he's adorable."

One of the can't miss films at VIFF this year, and another must-see.

After The Storm. From the VIFF programme guide, "Over the years, VIFF has been proud to bring present the work of Kore-eda Hirokazu. Festival favourites like I Wish (VIFF '11) and Like Father, Like Son (VIFF '13) have touched audiences with their warmth and tenderness, their keen understanding of the way families come together and come apart. This year the Japanese master returns with this bittersweet take on life's rewards and disappointments. From Deborah Young's Hollywood Reporter review ...

"The story is beautifully balanced between gentle comedy and the melancholy reality of how people really are. A young divorced dad tries to get back into the good graces of his ex-wife and son in After the Storm, a classic Japanese family drama of gentle persuasion and staggering simplicity from Kore-eda Hirokazu. This bittersweet peek into the human comedy has a more subtle charm than flashier films like the director's child-swapping fable Like Father, Like Son, but the filmmaking is so exquisite and the acting so calibrated it stays with you."

No-one goes into a Kore-eda Hirokazu film expecting dynamite and runaway trucks. But even long-standing fans of the Japanese filmmaker (and in Vancouver, there are many) may be taken aback by the supreme subtlety of his latest, achingly beautiful ode to the quiet complexities of family life.

The Unknown Girl. Palme d'Or winners Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne can do no wrong, their films always subtle and compassionate evocations of the human spirit. From Guy Lodge's review in Variety, "Adèle Haenel joins the rich tradition of superb lead performances in Dardennes-directed dramas, their tenth feature The Unknown Girl offering a film noir, in a thoroughly dressed-down, cleanly lit and most satisfying way."

Or, from Lee Marshall's review in Screen Daily ...

"Haenel's character Jenny looks like a lost little girl at times, but her medical bravura is never in doubt. We first see her with her stethoscope to a patient's back — one of many scenes that manages to stay grounded in realism while saying something more, here to do with the way we interpret the signals people send out. Jenny is tormented by the thought that if she had opened that door to the young African immigrant who had visited her clinic late one night, the girl would still be alive, and it's this torment that powers the dramatic motor of a film that is about the burdens but also the healing potential of responsibility.

The Unknown Girl doesn't take the easy genre route, preferring to focus on the moral spring of Jenny's guilt, which as it uncoils, leads her not only into personal danger, but causes a blur between her doctor and detective roles that comes close to having fatal consequences."

Phew! Well, that's it for today. Four more VIFF films for you to consider.

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VanRamblings has now previewed 24 acclaimed VIFF films that are about to arrive on our shores having garnered critical acclaim at film festivals in every far flung community across the globe. Previous VanRamblings' VIFF 2016 columns, very much like the one today, may be found here.


Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 12:11 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2016

September 24, 2016

VIFF 2016: Four More Indelible Must-Sees

35th annual Vancouver International Film Festival

This year's broad selection of Vancouver International Film Festival films showcases award-winning films that wowed viewers at international festivals, presented to Vancouver audiences for the first time. Selections from Cannes include Ken Loach's Palme d'Or-winning I, Daniel Blake; Olivier Assayas's Personal Shopper and Cristian Mungiu's Graduation, which tied for Best Director; and Maren Ade's highly acclaimed Toni Erdmann, awarded the Cannes Critics' Prize. From Berlin, Gianfranco Rosi's Golden Bear winner, Fire at Sea, will mark the director's VIFF debut, and Mia Hansen-Løve returns to the Vancouver International Film Festival with her fourth outing Things to Come, which won her Berlin's Best Director award.

As we've written about I, Daniel Blake, Graduation & Fire at Sea previously, today VanRamblings will introduce you to Personal Shopper, Toni Erdmann and Things to Come, as well as Barry Jenkins' widely acclaimed Moonlight.

Personal Shopper. Kristen Stewart is the medium, in more ways than one, for this sophisticated genre exploration from director Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria). As a fashion assistant whose twin brother has died, leaving her bereft and longing for messages from the other side, Stewart is fragile and enigmatic — and nearly always on-screen. From an opening sequence in a haunted house with an intricately constructed soundtrack to a high-tension, cat-and-mouse game on a trip from Paris to London and back set entirely to text messaging, Personal Shopper brings the psychological and supernatural thriller into the digital age.

Here's what The Guardian's lead film critic Peter Bradshaw had to say in his five star review of Personal Shopper ...

"... captivating, bizarre, tense, fervently preposterous and an almost unclassifiable scary movie from Olivier Assayas, the film delivers the bat-squeak of pure craziness that we long for at Cannes, although at the first screening some very tiresome people continued the festival's tradition of booing very good films.

Personal Shopper has that undefinable provocative élan that reminds me a little of Lars Von Trier's Breaking The Waves. It is actually Assayas' best film for a long time, and Stewart's best performance to date — she stars in a supernatural fashionista-stalker nightmare where the villain could yet be the heroine's own spiteful id. Is it The Devil Wears Prada meets The Handmaiden (also in Cannes, and at VIFF) with a touch of Single White Female?

Kristen Stewart's performance is tremendous: she is calm and blank in the self-assured way of someone very competent, smart and young, yet her displays of emotion are very real and touching. She is entirely devoted to her smartphone, which is to be the conduit of her fears and there is a dash of pure Hitchcockian brilliance in a scene where she turns it on and a backlog of texts starts mounting up, bringing danger ever closer. With his reckless, audacious Personal Shopper, Olivier Assayas has brought excitement to the festival."

Peter DeBruge in his Variety review calls Personal Shopper "a spine-tingling horror story," while Indiewire's Eric Kohn writes, "Personal Shopper presents a fully realized universe that merges visceral dread with deeper observations about its causes," and Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells, and a surfeit of other films critics, are quite simply gaga over the film.

Toni Erdmann. The most divisive film to play at both the Berlin and Telluride film festivals, one of the best reviewed art films of the year, some folks loved it while others hated it.

Here's what Lee Marshall wrote in his Screen Daily review ...

"Surprising, awkward, refreshing and, at times, downright hilarious, German director Maren Ade's dazzlingly original follow-up to her 2009 Berlinale Silver Bear winner Everyone Else is that rarest of things: a nearly three-hour-long German-Austrian arthouse comedy-drama that (almost) never drags. Eliciting laughs and applause — in all the right places — at its Cannes press screening, this tale of a prankster father who uses practical jokes and disguises to rescue his adult daughter from the work-obsessed spiral of seriousness he feels she has sunk into also manages, without an ounce of schmaltz, to address big issues relating, among other themes, to a stressed, permanently online modern world where work is no longer something we leave behind at the office; how families communicate (or fail to); business ethics and sexism in the workplace."

Giovanni Marchini Camia writing in Filmstage gives Toni Erdmann a solid "A", writing, "This is a superb second feature well-deserving of Berlin's Jury Prize, one of the most stirring cinematic experiences of the year, immensely rewarding to witness, ferocious, dazzling, and a masterpiece."

Things To Come. One of VanRamblings favourite directors, in our books Mia Hansen-Løve can do no wrong, and a plethora of film critics would seem to share our sentiment in their reviews of her latest, Things to Come. Writing in Variety, Guy Lodge says ...

"Mia Hansen-Løve and Isabelle Huppert prove a dream partnership in the director's gorgeous, heart-cradling post-divorce drama. Huppert is such a persistently and prolifically rigorous performer that she risks being taken for granted in some of her vehicles, but this is a major, many-shaded work even by her lofty standards. Hansen-Løve's oeuvre has acquired its own signature character of light, with sunshine streaming through even exchanges of most disconsolate darkness; conversely, only in the film's contented, Brittany-set pre-credits prologue, set several years before a heartsore storm, do skies turn a flannelly grey. Hansen-Løve's musical selections surprise just as often with their note-perfect sympathy to the action at hand: A critical use of that old chestnut Unchained Melody — crooned here not by the Righteous Brothers, but by the Fleetwoods — reps a very different appropriation of another film's glory from the Kiarostami hat tip, but the outcome could hardly be lovelier."

That's all we're going to give you, no précis of the story, no more excerpts of reviews, but only, "Go see Things To Come; you won't be disappointed."

Moonlight. One of the must-sees at VIFF 2016, a certain Oscar contender, and one of the best-reviewed films of the year, Barry Jenkins' acclaimed tour-de-force, a Special VIFF Presentation, will screen only once, on Friday, October 7th, 9pm at The Centre for the Performing Arts.

We'll do something a little different this time: Here are few "A" reviews ...

  • The Guardian (5 stars), Benjamin Lee. Moonlight is a profoundly moving film about growing up as a gay man in disguise, a difficult and damaging journey that's realised with staggering care and delicacy and one that will resonate with anyone who has had to do the same. We're starved of these narratives and Jenkins' electrifying drama showcases why they are so hugely important, providing an audience with a rarely seen portrait of what it really means to be a black gay man in America today. It's a stunning achievement.

  • Screen Daily (A), Tim Grierson. An indelible portrait of an imperilled life, Moonlight is quietly devastating in its depiction of masculinity, race, poverty and identity. Ambitious in scope but precise in its execution, this deceptively small-scale character piece reverberates with compassion and insight.

  • The Hollywood Reporter (A), David Rooney. A haunting reflection on African-American masculinity, writer-director Barry Jenkins' intimate character study traces the life of a black gay man from his troubled Miami childhood to maturity, the film laced with superb and widely varied music choices that often play in illuminating contrast to the scene unfolding, the drama divided into three chapters unfolding during formative times of the central figure's life, the early scenes especially beautiful, the film filled with moments of swoon-inducing romance to equal those of suffering and solitude, Nicholas Britell's score melancholy and melodic, James Laxton's cinematography soaked in sleepy, sun-scorched light early on and then burnished, darker tones later, it would be tempting to call Moonlight an instant landmark in queer black cinema, if that didn't imply that the experience it portrays will speak only to a minority audience. Instead, this is a film that will strike plangent chords for anyone who has ever struggled with identity, or to find connections in a lonely world. It announces Jenkins as an important new voice.

And there we are. Four more indelible must-sees at VIFF 2016.

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VanRamblings has now previewed twenty acclaimed VIFF films that are about to arrive on our shores having garnered critical acclaim at film festivals across the globe. Previous VanRamblings' VIFF 2016 columns, very much like the one today, may be found here. Enjoy the read!



Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 12:25 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2016

September 23, 2016

VIFF 2016: More VIFF Greats, as the Hits Just Keep on Comin'

35th annual Vancouver International Film Festival

The cinema is so many things at once. And when VanRamblings looked at the films in this year's VIFF selections, we became aware of the fact that it is a form of response. The Dardenne Brothers, Ken Loach, Cristian Mungiu, Gianfranco Rosi, and Kleber Mendonça Filho are sounding alarms, while Jim Jarmusch, Kenneth Lonergan, Barry Jenkins, Maren Ade and Olivier Assayas are fixed on internal landscapes, proclaiming the urgency of self-realization. What can also be seen in this year's Vancouver International Film Festival lineup is a bounty of vital work from artists from all around the world who will not stop until they see their visions all the way to the end.

Today on VanRamblings, four more outstanding VIFF films that are destined for greatness in the annals of human scale cinema.

The Birth of a Nation. Winner of the Audience and Grand Jury Prizes at the Sundance Film Festival this year, up until the emergence of the controversy surrounding the film's writer-director Nate Parker and his co-writer and friend Jean Celestin arising from 1999 sexual assault charges leveled against both, The Birth of a Nation was an odds-on favourite for a Best Picture Oscar nomination, and perhaps a win. Now? Not so much. VIFF is very much aware of the controversy, VIFF Chief Programmer Alan Franey stating, "We need to be sensitive to the opinions and controversies here so we will be doing our best to keep people in that safe zone of not prejudging or getting too upset, making sure opinions don't get treated as fact if they're just opinions." Note should be made that Nate Parker was acquitted of the sexual assault charge. Jean Celestin was convicted and later granted a new trial, though the woman declined to testify again and the case never made it back to court. In 2012, the unidentified woman took her own life.

Will you attend the single screening of The Birth of a Nation, at 5pm, Saturday, October 1st at The Centre for the Performing Arts? The issue is art versus realpolitik. Nate Parker will be present in Vancouver to introduce the Special Presentation of his award-winning, and much lauded film ...

"A significant achievement for writer, director, producer and actor Nate Parker, a searingly impressive debut feature, a biographical drama steeped equally in grace and horror, The Birth of a Nation builds to a brutal finale that will stir deep emotion and inevitable unease, the film an accomplished theological provocation, one that grapples fearlessly with the intense spiritual convictions that drove Nat Turner to do what he had previously considered unthinkable.

Artfully modulated and fitfully grueling, Nate Parker's well-researched screenplay offers its own bold take on the widely contested narrative of Turner, a Virginia-born slave and Baptist preacher who led the 1831 uprising that claimed 60 white lives and led to the killings of 200 blacks in retaliation, and served as a crucial moment of insurrection en route to the Civil War three decades later. The film's most resonant element isn't its physical realization so much as its spiritual and intellectual acuity, its warm, earthy saintliness, and its historical and contemporary evocation of the ongoing black struggle for justice and equality in the United States. The Birth of a Nation earns that debate and then some."

The above quote is from Justin Chang's Sundance Festival review in Variety.

The Handmaiden. A bodice-ripper, a sexy and depraved lesbian revenge story about a pickpocket who poses as a maid to swindle a sequestered heiress, an erotic thriller that prioritizes female sexuality and exquisite set design to intoxicating effect, an intensely pleasurable and lavishly shot Gothic melodrama, exquisitely filmed, kinky, brimming with delicious surprises and spiced up with nudity and verbal perversions, accomplished South Korean director Park Chan-wook transposes Sarah Waters' sapphic Victorian potboiler Fingersmith to Japanese-occupied Korea at the beginning of the twentieth century, the story told in three parts and from multiple points of view like a modern-day Rashomon. Amidst the heavy slogging of VIFF, The Handmaiden may be just the sort of palliative you'll require to rescue yourself from VIFF's annual foray into cinema of despair. You know who you are. See you at a screening of The Handmaiden.

Under the Shadow. Curtis Woloschuk and the Alt(ered States) crew of twisted programmers put in so many hours in preparation for their genre defying series, and year-in, year-out VanRamblings pays the series short shrift. Not this year. First off we'll start from this brief column by Indiewire editor Anne Thompson ...

"Wait a second. Can the U.K. submit a film for consideration for the Best Foreign Language Oscar? Sure. As long as it's not in English. Take last year: Ireland, not Cuba, submitted Spanish-language film Viva. And France controversially chose the Turkish Mustang as its official entry over a list of top French auteurs. If the submitting country paid for the movie and supplied key personnel, it doesn't matter what language it's in. The French produced Mustang and its director Deniz Gamze Ergüven, born in Turkey, is based in Paris. (Her next movie is English-language.) And the Irish produced Viva, even though director Paddy Breathnach shot with local actors in Havana.

And thus the UK's selection organization, BAFTA, has submitted writer-director Babak Anvari's well-reviewed Sundance mother-daughter drama Under the Shadow, a 1988 Iran-Iraq War thriller shot in Farsi starring Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi and Bobby Naderi."

Otherwise, there's this representative review of Under the Shadow ...

"Consequence of Sound (A-). Terrifying, a spooky ghost story that singes the nerves as much as it coddles the mind. Set in 1988, the story follows a small family in Tehran trying to cope with the tail end of the Iran-Iraq War. This isn't an easy life: bombs come and go, windows are taped in the likelihood of an explosion, and the basement provides daily refuge from any oncoming missiles. These aren't even the larger issues, at least not to Shideh (Narges Rashdi). When we first meet the brave mother and wife, her dreams of studying medicine are crushed by a stern administrator. "I suggest you find a new goal in life," he tells her, following a severe brow beating about her riotous political history. You see, Shideh is a black swan — she's rebellious, strong, fierce, and independent.

Everything clicks in Under the Shadow. Rashdi is captivating, sweating her way through a terse 84-minute performance that's physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausting. Her chemistry with Avin Manshadi is equally remarkable, almost too real, which sells the heart-stopping finale in ways similar productions have stumbled hard. Director Babak Anvari spares no expense with his characters, dedicating as much time to their backstory as he does to the film's creepy mythology. Extraordinary, captivating, jarring, calimitous, genre bending, claustrophobic, messy, convincing and unnerving, Under the Shadow embraces the original tenets of horror, back when eerie tales were meant to enlighten rather than simply scare. On his first try out, Anvari wildly transcends the limitations that modern audiences have placed on the genre, and it's a bold testament to his abilities as a filmmaker."

Worth considering for a terrifying VIFF screening, don't you think?

Growing Up Coy. There is no more humanizing experience than attending the annual Vancouver International Film Festival, to remind ourselves once again that we're all in this together, that there is much injustice in the world, and our world will only change if we fight for, demand that change. Growing Up Coy is a film of the moment, the story of Coy Mathis, a transgender girl who was born a boy, garnered international attention in 2013 when her parents, Jeremy and Kathryn Mathis, filed a complaint accusing the school district of violating the state's anti-discrimination law.

The Mathises went on to win their case, but not before coming under heavy criticism for putting Coy, then a 6-year-old first grader, in front of reporters and camera crews and on television with Katie Couric. Now, they're poised to be foisted back into the spotlight with the documentary Growing Up Coy, which had its premiere on June 16 in New York at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

Directed by Eric Juhola and produced by his husband, Jeremy Stulberg, Growing Up Coy picks up with the Mathis family in early 2013, about six weeks before they went public with their case. Together with their lawyer, the Mathises believed that speaking openly was necessary to sway the public in Coy's favour and to help win her case. But, as the documentary shows, the move unleashed a media feeding frenzy that previewed the fights that would roil America in 2016, fraying the couple's relationship, drawing excoriations from talking heads and internet trolls, at times alienating their four other children and indelibly etching Coy's name into cyberspace's inexhaustible memory bank.

Nigel M Smith's four star review in The Guardian is as good an entry point as any into providing meaning for the struggle of the Mathis family.

Growing Up Coy, screening at the 35th annual Vancouver International Film Festival

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Today's, and previous VanRamblings' VIFF 2016 columns that present information, trailers, and reviews by thoughtful and erudite critics of films screening at VIFF 2016 — and soon, much more — may be found here.

And, oh yeah, the opening paragraph of today's VanRamblings column? An excerpt from the opening address by Kent Jones, the director of the 54th annual New York Film Festival, which opens the day after our home grown VIFF gets underway, on Friday, September 30th.


Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 12:22 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2016

September 22, 2016

VIFF 2016: More Must-See Films That Will Debut This Year

35th annual Vancouver International Film Festival

There is always something new to see at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and always an acclaimed director debuting a new film that is worth catching up with. It's a lesson that should be kept in mind as the ever-competitive fall movie season — of which this now 35-year-old festival has, surprisingly for many, long been an important pillar — gets underway.

The VIFF programme this year as in the past contains multitudes — that it counts short masterworks, below-the-radar genre items and avant-garde mind-blowers among its essential offerings each year — is a fact that easily gets lost amidst the deafening reams of Oscar hype that issues forth throughout the fall movie season. A massive annual confluence of art and industry, as well as a cinematic buffet of tremendous cultural and aesthetic diversity, can invariably be reduced to just a handful of heat-seeking titles.

In today's VIFF highlights column, VanRamblings will introduce you to four more films that may or may not garner Oscar attention, but should most certainly garner attention from you in order to sate your cinematic palate.

Aquarius: One of VanRamblings' favourite 2012 highlights was Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho's Neighbouring Sounds, which we called a masterwork. In 2016, Mendonça is back with Aquarius, the controversial Cannes debuting film that Brazil did not choose as its Best Foreign Film Oscar entry (at Cannes, Mendonça protested the suspension / inevitable impeachment of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, holding a sign that read "Brazil is experiencing a coup d'etat" and "54,501,118 votes set on fire!"), which means that if you don't see Aquarius at VIFF you may not get to see it at all — now, there's incentive enough to see the work of this master.

Variously described as a richly detailed and colourful character study, with a riveting and magnetic performance by Sonia Braga at the film's centre, Braga plays Clara, a 65-year-old widow and retired music critic, who refuses to sell the beloved Recife beach apartment she's lived in for most of her life, finding herself under attack from a powerful property company, former neighbours, and members of her own family who question her judgement.

Says Giovanni Camia in Filmstage, "Aquarius establishes Mendonça's authorial voice & his place as one of the most eloquent filmic commentators on the contemporary state of Brazilian society," going on to write ...

"Aquarius' central narrative has a clear social-allegorical dimension, the film's opening introducing two important motifs: a bygone sense of unity that has disintegrated in the present, and the idea of memory — and therefore history — as embedded in materials being swept away by contemporary economic processes. Mendonça's despondency at these developments is succinctly expressed through the dissolve that closes the scene: a shot of the apartment filled to the brim as the entire family dances together gives way to one of the same apartment, 34 years later, now empty.

Clara is the film's heroine and Braga deserves high praise for her phenomenal performance. Stately, headstrong, and all-too-recognizably human, she's a delight to watch from start to finish, keeping the viewer mesmerized by her charisma and intensely rooting for her victory. And, anyway, how could one not love a 65-year-old who smokes a joint before the final showdown with her nemeses?"

Clearly, you'll want to place Mendonça's Aquarius on your must-see list.

American Honey. The North American debut for acclaimed British filmmaker Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank), American Honey took Cannes by storm back in May, Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells writing ...

"American Honey is a truly exceptional film, a kind of millennial Oliver Twist road flick with Fagin played by both Shia Labeouf and Riley Keogh (Elvis' granddaughter) and Oliver played by newcomer Sasha Lane ... but with some good earthy sex thrown in. There's no question that Honey stakes out its own turf and whips up a tribal lather that feels exuberant and feral and non-deodorized. It doesn't have anything resembling a plot but it doesn't let that deficiency get in the way. Honey throbs, sweats, shouts, jumps around and pushes the nervy. (Somebody wrote that it's Arnold channelling Larry Clark) It's a wild-ass celebration of a gamey, hand-to-mouth mobile way of life. And every frame of Robbie Ryan's lensing is urgent and vital."

Praise for American Honey is near universal, the acclaimed Jury Prize winner at Cannes this year, Variety's Guy Lodge writing ...

"American Honey is a ravishing feminine picaresque, a scrappy, sprawling astonishment, as a girl's gaze meets a boy's across the packed aisles of a Midwestern Walmart, the euphoric EDM throb of Calvin Harris and Rihanna's 2011 smash We Found Love hijacks the soundscape, setting a love story emphatically in motion by the time he hops up to dance on the checkout counter. "We found love in a hopeless place," the song's chorus ecstatically declares, over and over, as well it might — does it get more hopeless than Walmart, after all? It's a gesture so brazenly big and romantically literal that it can't help but have your heart, and it's such an early, ebullient cinematic climax that Arnold dares repeat it two hours later, cranking up the song again in a more fraught, nervous context. Like much of what the director risks, she shouldn't get away with it, but most defiantly does."

We're in. Can't wait. See ya at a VIFF screening of American Honey.

Elle. As Variety critic Guy Lodge writes at the outset of his review of Elle,

"You've never seen a rape-revenge fantasy quite like Elle, not least because the rape, revenge and fantasy components of that subgenre have never been quite so fascinatingly disarranged. Knowingly incendiary but remarkably cool-headed, and built around yet another of Isabelle Huppert's staggering psychological dissections, Paul Verhoeven's long-awaited return to notional genre filmmaking pulls off a breathtaking bait-and-switch: Audiences arriving for a lurid slab of arthouse exploitation will be taken off-guard by the complex, compassionate, often corrosively funny examination of unconventional desires that awaits them."

Sometimes you want to go into a VIFF knowing almost nothing about the film. VanRamblings could quote at length a surfeit of critics like The Hollywood Reporter's Jordan Mintzer, who writes about Elle that it is "a beautiful dark twisted French fantasy" or Lisa Nesselson in Screen Daily who writes, "Elle features a tour de force turn from Isabelle Huppert, the film suspenseful and unsettling from first frame to last, a delectably twisted tale of a woman who reacts in unconventional ways to being raped by an intruder, the film a shocking amoral romp with dark humour in curt dialogue exchanges." ... but, in this one particular instance, apart from the snippets above, we'll leave it up to you as to whether you wish to attend a VIFF screening of Elle, with the peerless, Oscar nominatable Isabelle Huppert at film's centre, and Dutch director Paul Verhoeven back at top of form.

Fire at Sea. Winner of the Golden Bear at Berlin (read: the top prize), and one of the most buzzed about documentaries of the year, Gianfranco Rosi's superb and haunting illumination of the Syrian refugee crisis, in addressing Africa's migration woes Fire At Sea turns it humanist focus on the 150,000 migrant refugees who cross from Libya in overcrowded boats each year to make their first contact with Sicily and European soil.

Capturing the migrant drama through the periscope of his camera, Rosi focuses on the small Sicilian island of Lampedusa, where wave upon waves of desperate boat people bring their dramas, tragedies and emergencies to Europe's shore, and the place where the the Italian navy and coast guard rescue as many survivors as they can. Writes Demetrios Matheou from Berlin in his IndieWire review ...

"The selection of characters is small, precise. The dominant personality of the film is Samuele, a nine-year-old boy and a terrific bundle of good humour and contradictions, not least the fact that while confidently clambering around the island's rocky hills with his trusty, homemade slingshot, he's uncomfortable on water, and prone to seasickness, which is a little inconvenient for an islander.

We follow Samuele at school, with his uncle on his boat, and his grandmother at home, and roaming the island with his friend. When he has to wear an eye patch to deal with his lazy eye (a convenient metaphor for Rosi, perhaps, aimed at the less conscientious of those in the international community?) it plays havoc with his slingshot aim; when speaking to the doctor about his breathing problems, he wonders himself if it may be because he's anxious, a little Italian Woody Allen in the making."

Fire At Sea is one of the most talked about documentaries of the year, and chances are Rosi's film won't make it back to our shores, with VIFF likely providing your sole opportunity to screen Gianfranco Rosi's compassionate, humane, powerful, at times shocking but intensely human, documentary.

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Today's, and previous VanRamblings' VIFF 2016 columns that present information, trailers, and reviews by thoughtful and erudite critics of films screening at VIFF 2016 — and soon, much more — may be found here.


Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 12:15 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2016

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