VIFF 2018 Review: Winter Flies (Všechno bude)

Winter Flies

Winter Flies is the story of two Czech boys having fun braking the law.

“You’ve only got this time in your life to be young and stupid, so go for it!”

-my advise to young people

Winter Flies is the second entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars I saw at the VIFF. This Czech film is one that will surprise you.

The film starts on a winter’s day with a young boy carrying what appears to be a gun and wearing an outfit that makes him look like a bear. Turns out it’s a pellet gun. The boy’s name is Hedus. Soon an Audi arrives. It’s driven by a teenage boy with a shaved head named Mara. Despite the meeting together starting on a bad note, Mara decides to invite Hedus along.

The film then flashes to a police office. Mara has just been arrested for grand theft auto of that Audi. The female police officer, Officer Freiwaldova, is not impressed with Mara. He’s 15 and has a pregnant girlfriend back home, or at least he claims so. The film goes frequently from their ‘road trip’ to Mara being interrogated. They interrogate him about the trip and as well about the pink female sweater they found in the car.

Flashing back to the trip, Hedus drams of joining the French legion and asks Mara advise over girls. Mara acts like he knows it all, but soon they spot a girl on the road. She’s an older girl named Bara and looks like she’s abused. However she accepts a ride from the two as they don’t appear too threatening. During the trip, they stop at a park near a small lake. Hedus is having fun being up a tree and talking to Mara. Meanwhile a man is trying to sell them a dog. The boy laugh it off, only for the laughter to end when it appears the man is trying to drown the dog. They go to the rescue of the dog and Hedus even fires his pellet gun at the man. The dog is now theirs.

Back at the police office, Freiwaldova tries to get Mara to map out the trip, but he refuses and even hits on the Officer. Freiwaldova is frustrated with dealing with Mara. This is a long process as the Officer keeps on asking questions as she’s smoking cigarettes she puts in an ashtray with a fly in it. Continuing on the trip, the three come to a man who’s willing to give the three shelter for the night. They think it’s okay, and Bara sees no problem as long as she can protect herself. However things go wrong when they notice the man is about to rape her. That’s when Hedus and Mara act in and start acting violently to the man. They then take off again. However it’s soon where Hedus tries coming onto Bara. It’s there where she demands to be let out. So that’s all that’s left in the trip. The two boys, the dog and Bara’s pink perfume-scented sweater for them to masturbate over.

Overnight doesn’t seem to stop them. They learn they’re in a self-driving Audi as it can drive itself even while Mara is asleep at the wheel! In the morning, Mara learns they’re close to the town where his grandfather lives. However when they get to his house, Mara find his grandfather on the floor suffering from a heart attack. Mara, more concerned for anyone, gets his grandfather to a nearby hospital. Flashing back to the interrogation scenes, Freiwaldova is hoping to use this incident to find out more information about Mara. She calls the hospital to find out the name and tells Mara one of the men died last night. That makes Mara cry and confess information. It’s right after that where she admits she lied and says she did it to get any info out of him. No doubt Mara is pissed off.

Reflecting back to the trip, the Audi does eventually find itself caught by police in a small Czech town. It’s only a matter of time that the car is stopped and Mara is arrested. Hedus was nowhere to be seen. It’s the end of the road for Mara with him being at the police office, or is it? Hedus is outside the police office and the Audi is close outside. Hedus also found a ladder that reaches up to the office Mara is interrogated in. Hedus is sly enough to fire his pellet gun on all the police vehicles. That’s enough to distract all the officers and leave Mara alone in the office. Alone except for the fly in the ashtray coming back to life. Then Hedus climbs up the ladder and tries to get Hedus to escape. They’re back on the road again!

We should really hate those two jerks. One is stupid with an overactive imagination. The other is an irresponsible rebel with complete disrespect to just about everyone, including the police. We should also hate the two at the very end. However one critic made a point that I agreed with. They said the two make the rebellion and the irresponsibilities of adolescence look charming and even funny. I have to agree because that is the magic of art. It can take characters that we would look down on in the real world and make them look likable and even charming. We see that here as Mara does bring out the charm of the anti-authority jerk we really should hate. Hedus also brings out the charm of the weird boy with an over-the-top wild imagination. That was what the story is about in a nutshell: two adolescent misfits on a wild ride.

The film not only brings out the characters’ charms but may also remind us of our own adolescent ‘glory days.’ There are many scenes that were funny and hilarious, but would look terrible or disgusting in real life. Like when Mara is being a jerk to the officer, or when the two start hitting on Bara right after she was about to be raped the night before, or even when the two masturbate over Bara’s perfume-scented sweater. It’s a guilty pleasure to laugh at moments of stupidity like that because they will remind us of us and our own stupidities. I’m sure you remember the days you used to flip the tweeter to whoever you wanted! The film has other humorous moments as well like when the fly in the cigarette ashes appears to come back to life or when the two boys are able to sleep in the self-driving Audi with no problem. The latter should also be symbolic as it appears the two boys appear to be on a trip to nowhere. Maybe they don’t really care if they don’t have a destination, as long as they’re away. That’s another joy of being young: venturing into the unknown.

One thing to take note is that even though the two are characters of teens we should hate, Mara does show some vulnerability. One case is when a man is about to drown a dog. Mara gets Hedus to fire his pellet gun at the man while Mara goes to rescue the dog. Also that scene where Mara and Hedus are seen helping their grandfather who is having a heart attack. It sends you the message that Mara does have a heart, despite his rebellion and carelessness. Also that scene where Mara is crying when he thinks his grandfather has died shows he still has a child-like innocence in him that comes out when you least expect it. Those are scenes that bring out Mara’s redeeming qualities and make you actually like him and feel for him. He’s not the heartless jerk we’re first led to believe he is.

We should give a lot of respect to Slovenian-born director Olmo Omerzu and Petr Pycha. Who would’ve thought this was Pycha’s first ever feature-length script? Pycha’s story and Omerzu’s direction help make this film and its characters entertaining and charming in ways you least expect it. Tomas Mrvik was very good at the young protagonist Mara. This is Mrvik’s first film but he succeeds in making Mara hatable, but charming at the same time. Also acting for the first time is Jan Frantisek Uher. He did the idiocy of Hedus very well and surprised us all in showing Hedus is trickier than we thought. Lenka Vlasakova was excellent as Officer Freiwaldova. She did an excellent job in delivering the more dramatic parts and made them work for the film.

Winter Flies is the Czech Republic’s entry for this year’s Academy Awards for the Best Foreign Language Film category. The film was nominated for the Crystal Globe for Best Film at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival where Omerzu won Best Director. The film is also quite remarkable for including a lot of elements in a story of teenagers most teen films, especially those made by the Hollywood system, wouldn’t include. Stealing an Audi, allowing it to self-drive while asleep at the wheel, teen boys talking about getting ‘pussy,’ the two masturbating and climaxing in their pants, I doubt Hollywood would dare to make a teen-themed film with scenes like those!

Winter Flies is a humorous story. However the funniest thing about the film is that it makes likable characters out of two we should really hate!

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VIFF 2018 Review: Edge Of The Knife (SG̲aawaay Ḵ’uuna)

Edge Knife

Tyler York plays a Haida man who’s inner monster overtakes him in Edge Of The Knife.

One of my goals each VIFF is to see a Canadian feature-length film. I had the good fortune when I went to see Edge Of The Knife. Not only is it a Canadian feature, but possibly the only feature-length film ever completely in the Haida language!

The film begins with the carving of a wooden mask and then burning it in a fire. The story begins with a meeting of two Haida families over at the Haida Gwaii in Northwestern BC in the 19th Century. It’s an annual fishing camp the families have together. Adiits’ii is the oldest son of and close to the family of Kwa and his son Gaas, who sees Adiits’ii as his mentor. Kwa’s wife Hlaaya finds his appetite for challenges to be too reckless for her son. However Adiits’ii often feels belittled by his own family. Sometimes Kwa makes him feel inferior.

In the evening, Adiits’ii decides to take Gaas onto the waters on boat. Overnight a storm hits the coast. The families fear the worst for Adiits’ii and Gaas. The next morning, the bad news. Gaas is found dead on the coast. Adiits’ii is missing and presumed dead. However Adiits’ii is still alive. He’s in a remote forested location and feels he can’t return because of the reactions from others he fears. Secluded, he becomes overtaken by a huge spirit. He transforms into a Gaagiid/Gaagiixiid — the legendary Haida Wildman  — and his behaviors become feral and even demonic. The whole family searches for Adiits’ii. Kwa and his wife are first to discover Adiits’ii, but lashes out at him wanting to kill him. The wife tries to stop him, but that leads Kwa to speak out his belief of who he thinks Gaas’ true father is. The families work to get Adiits’ii captured before they can free him from his possession. They set up a trap and they succeed. It’s at a ritualistic ceremony that involves prayer and piercing of the chest that they have to free Adiits’ii from the possession of the Gaagiixiid. The film ends with Adiits’ii carving out a mask out of wood, the very mask seen at the beginning, and burning it. At the end, we notice it’s in the image of how Adiits’ii was when possessed by the Gaagiixiid.

As far as film quality goes, this is a film I’d call great, but not excellent. The story is very good as it focuses on physical actions and unspoken feelings. However I have seen Canadian films with better dialogue and better story lines. Culturally, this is an excellent film as it captures the Haida culture and the Haida language without any interruption of the English language. Also it captures Haida mythology with excellence. It introduces us to the Gaagiixid. I am not familiar with Haida culture at all, but the film gives me a good understanding about the mythological belief of other beings. We should remember that Adiits’ii is a person with personal demons. He feels like the misfit and he feels like he’s belittled. Although he doesn’t say it, it’s obvious. After the accidental death of Gaas, it’s his guilt that gets the best of him and runs away. It’s there when he turns into the Gaagiixid. I believe the Gaagiixid is all about his personal demons and bad self-image. He had to conquer the Gaagiixid inside of him to truly come to peace with who he is and what he did.

This is an accomplishment of a film as far as culture goes. First off, this is a film done by not one, but two First Nations directors: Gwaii Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown. Secondly, this is a film done completely in the Haida language. This is a film that is essential for the language. At first, Haida was the only language the people spoke. However with the happenings of past history and with modernization, there are only twenty fluent Haida-speakers left. Even though there is educating young people inn the Haida language or even a resurgence of bringing back the language, the struggle is still there. This film does an excellent job in displaying the language and the culture of the Haida people. The idea of the film came back in 2011 by University professor Leonie Sandercock. In making the film, those involved received a Partnership Development Grant of $200,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, so even arts funds knew of the importance of this film to be made. Also to create a time before European settlers arrived really involved a lot of effort. The whole

Also the film has been widely welcomed and celebrated by the Haida peoples and other First Nations peoples of BC. I remember a couple of times during the VIFF, I was waiting to see a film after Edge Of The Knife over at the theatre I was to attend. Each time I was in line, I was given the news that there would be a 30-40 minute delay of the start of my film. As Edge Of The Knife finished, I saw more than just people exiting. I saw some dressed in traditional First Nations costume. Some even brought drums and performed a song of celebration. When I saw that, I felt I had to see Edge Of The Knife when I had the chance. This was more than just something. I’m glad I did.

Gwaii Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown did an excellent job in directing and creating a world far back in the past and appear authentic. The script by Gwaai and Jaalen Edenshaw, Graham Richard and Sandercock was not too intense in terms of dialogue, but it does present a very good story that’s more about emotions and image-based. Tyler York did a very good job as Adiits’ii. His acting was more about what was inside of him rather than what he said. Willy Russ almost stole the show as Kwa. The actors involved are more of a Haida community rather than actors by profession. All did a very good job. The film was light on special effects, but the effects fit the film and the scenes right. It didn’t need more effects than necessary.

Edge Of The Knife may not be the best Canadian film I’ve seen or even the best of subject of First Nations peoples. However this is a very culturally-important film that deserves to be shown. It also tells its story in both an entertaining and mesmerizing way. Definitely worth seeing.

VIFF 2018 Review: The Guilty (Den skyldige)

Some of you are wondering when will I finish with my blogs about the VIFF? This is my fourth-last review. The end is coming very soon.

guilty

The Guilty is a unique drama which centres on the officer (played by Jakob Cedergren) and the voices he hears through his headset.

I usually like film that delivers the unexpected. That’s the best thing about the VIFF. The Guilty is a Danish film that delivers on surprises in the best way.

The film begins with Asger Holm operating the emergency call system at the Copenhagen police department. He has his call technology with him which includes the computerized phone system and a monitor consisting of a map mapping out the geographical range of the cellphone calls he receives. His calls are mostly mundane as it’s an evening and of situations that aren’t so violent and more cases of stupidity. Asger also receives the occasional phone calls from his lawyer. Cellphone calls on his personal line are not allowed during his job.

Soon there’s a call he receives that causes him concerned. It’s of a woman named Iben. She first tries to hit on Asger, but we soon learn she’s in the back of an SUV driven by Michael, her ex-husband. The monitor shows her travelling close to the Sjaeland area but there’s no knowledge what the car looks like or the license place. Asger tells police along the route to look out for a white van, which no one finds. Asger researches her ex-husband’s name and finds out he’s a convicted felon. On top of that, Iben has two small children she misses a lot.

We should keep in mind Asger is nearing the end of his shift, and must transfer whatever feedback to the next person who will be working the shifts. Nevertheless Asger sticks to it. Asger sends police to the house to tend to the small children while he tries to get police to chase the van. Asger receives a phone call from the police who visited the house. The police found the daughter with blood all over her but no wound. However they found the infant son dead with stab wounds all over him. Asger is convinced that Michael committed the murder. Asger learns the van has stopped and tells Iben to get something where she can hit Michael on the head  as part of an escape. She does so. When Michael calls in about being hit on the head, Asger lashes out at him and hangs up.

Now that Iben has escaped, it’s a matter of keeping her in a single location until the police arrive. Meanwhile Asger receives distracting phone calls from his lawyer about his trial for tomorrow. Asger will go on trial for the wrongful shooting death of a 19 year-old. Right while Asger is keeping Iben on the line, he learns a shocking result. Iben thought there were snakes inside her infant son. So she took a knife and stabbed him to cut them loose. Asger now has more to deal with. He first has to let his fellow police know of the shocking turn of events. He also has to deal with Michael and reassure him that he now accuses him of nothing and to stay calm. Also Iben now wants to jump into the coast water, now realizing the terrible thing she did. Asger reassures him and keeps her calm. Asger even tells her about the wrong he is about to face the music about. It works as Asger is able to keep Iben on the line and for police to come to her. The ordeal finally ended on the right note as Asger walks off.

This is more than just a detective story. This is a film that allows us to be the judge and jury of the whole action too. All we have is Asger on the phone, the police computer screens and those on the phone Asger converses with. The story is successful in giving us a scenario where we all think a common thing and make common assumptions: that Iben is abducted by her ex-husband, that Michael murdered his infant son, that Michael will murder Iben next. However it’s right in the middle that we are reminded that what we think we know is not the true story. I even remember hear gasps  or reactions of shock in the audience when it was made clear that Iben killed her infant son. That is the top quality of the story. With it being in one location and consisting of telephone conversations adding to the story, it allows us to confront what we thought we knew and shock us with the truth that we don’t see, but hear. Also the cellphone conversations to Asger along the side appear to be distractions to the story at first, but later prove vital in telling the story about Asger. It too gives us our own thoughts at the beginning, but later reveals a truth we didn’t know.

I have seen a lot of single-location films before. However I thought for the longest time that it would be next to impossible to do a single-location feature-length film. This film proved me wrong. It may have switched rooms on occasion, but it kept the story within the same building and was able to use it with the use of cellphones or computer terminals. The phone conversations that deliver the unseen drama work to the quality of the film and help make the story. I know I said the film’s gift is working with what we don’t know or what we assume at first. Everything in which the film did helped make the story work for us and kept us glued to our seat.

The story is not only about what happens through the phone conversations. The story is also about Asger Holm. When the film begins, we first think it’s about an officer assisting on an emergency line at the police station and that the story is mostly about Iben. Later on we learn the story is also about Asger.  We are led to believe that emergency operator is his assigned job. We often wonder why Asger won’t leave the crime situation to others, even after he’s told his shift is over. We wonder if he cares about being fired. It’s later we learn that Asger has a blemish too. The following day, Asger will need to go on trial for the shooting death of a 19 year-old. We soon understand his phone operations are not his job. It’s because he has been demoted since the shooting incident. As for continuing with dealing with Iben, it appears more than just sticking to it and doing the right thing despite the risks to his job. I think he knows this day will be his last day of any kind of police work and that may be the additional reason why he’s doing it. He know that his career will end with a blemish and I believe he wants his last act of police work to be a job of dignity. At the end of the film, he is not acknowledged at all by his co-workers and walks off. Nevertheless we in the audience know the excellent work he did. It is quite something how a policeman about to face trial becomes the one who prevents Iben from committing suicide and puts her in the right hands.

This film is an excellent work by Gustav Moller. This is actually Moller’s first-ever feature length film with only brief experience doing a short and two television episodes. This film he directs and co-writes with Emil Nygaard Albertsen who’s also mostly known for work in TV and shorts really delivers on the story and is excellent pieced together. The story becomes like a puzzle that needs to be pieced together piece-by-piece and it succeeds greatly in piecing it all together. Also excellent is the acting from Jakob Cedergren. The story is him, the computers and the phone calls he receives. Being the one who centres on the crime story as well as other stories that surround him through outside cellphone calls, he makes the story work and makes it interesting. He helps us focus on the situation and makes what could be a boring story interesting, thrilling and even thought-provoking. Also excellent was the acting of Jessica Dinnage. There’s no physical acting here. The only acting we have of Jessica is her voice through her cellphone calls. Nevertheless her voice-acting was perfect in both telling the story and in embodying the character. Her voice over the phone and the things Iben said really made the unexpected drama happen.

The Guilty is Denmark’s entry in the Academy Awards for Best Foreign-Language Film. The film won the Audience Awards at Sundance as well as a nominee for the Grand Jury Prize. The film has also won a wide variety of awards at other film festivals such as the Critics Choice Award at the Zurich Film Fest, the Special Circle Jury award at the Washington DC Film Fest, the IFFR Audience Award at the Rotterdam Film Fest and the World Cinema Winner at the Montclair Film Fest.

The Guilty is a remarkable film. Not just because of how it’s filmed on a single location, but also because of how it reminds us what we think is not what’s fact. Definitely an unforgettable eighty-five minutes.

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This blog is dedicated to Rick Lewak,

My Blog’s biggest fan.

1952-2018

VIFF 2018 Review: Burning (버닝)

Burning

One of my goals at the VIFF is to see at least one film which is a nation’s entry into the Academy Awards for the Best Foreign Language Film category. The first of three I saw during the VIFF was Burning from South Korea.

The film begins with Lee Jong-su performing odd jobs in Paju. One day he runs into a former neighbor and classmate from his childhood. Her name is Shin Mae-hi.  Mae-hi confesses to Jong-su that she always liked him but he always ignored her. Could it be because he was a farmer’s son and she was more urban? At the date later on, Mae-hi tells Jong-su that she has pursued an acting career. She’s disappointed to see that Jong-su hasn’t pursued a career in writing as he wanted to do in college.

The romance sparks up so high, they have sex in her apartment. She lets Jong-su know she will have an acting gig in Nairobi very soon and she wants him to feed her cat. He agrees. Jong-su never sees the cat, but always sees the food gone and the litterbox used. Also when he’s at her place, he masturbates in her bedroom. Mae-hi returns, but three days later than expected because of a terror warning. Mae-hi also returns with a Korean man named Ben: a man she bonded with during the crisis. The three have dinner together. Mae-hi recalls a sunset she saw during the trip. She cries, confessing she wanted to disappear. Ben doesn’t understand why people cry and admits he never cried himself.

Jong-su has things to take care of back home. He has to look after the family house and farm as his father is awaiting trial. Jong-su often watches the relationship with Mae-hi and Ben from afar with envy. However he’s suspicious of Ben. Ben is confident, but doesn’t mention what he does for a living. Jong-su pays a visit to Ben’s place and notices an area where there is a lot of women’s jewelry and decorations in the bathroom. Jong-su later joins the couple in a restaurant. There Mae-hi shows them the dance she learned in Nairobi. Jong-su likes what he sees, but he notices Ben is unamused.

The trio then go to Jong-su’s farm where they find themselves getting high and Hae-mi dancing topless. Hae-mi recalls a memory where Jong-su rescues her from a well. After Hae-mi falls asleep on a sofa, Ben makes a confession to Jong-su that he like to burn an abandoned greenhouse every two months. He notes his area is full of greenhouses. Ben claims the next burning will be close to Jong-su’s house. Ben also tells Jong-su that Hae-mi considers him her best friend. But as she awakens from her drunkenness, Jong-su calls her a whore as they leave.

Jong-su takes this to heart as he is careful over the neighborhood to spot out of any gas houses are burned down. None are, but he receives something even more disturbing. He received a phone call from Hae-mi one night that cut out after that cut off after a few seconds of ambiguous noises. The concern grows as Jong-su makes call after call to Hae-mi with no response. He goes to her apartment which is surprisingly clean and shows no sign of the cat. Jong-su contact’s Hae-mi’s family, but they say they haven’t heard from her in some time and she owes them a lot of money. Even Ben makes claim of Hae-mi not returning calls as Jong-su approaches him.

Suspicious of it all, Jong-su starts stalking Ben. Ben is unaware that Jong-su is stalking him, but treats Jong-su with friendliness. Ben even introduces Jung-su to his new girlfriend and even says they have a new cat. As Jong-su makes his way to the bathroom, he sees the watch he gave Hae-mi. Looks like the truth about Ben and what happened to Hae-mi came out. It’s just after Jong-su’s father has been sentenced that we get the final act of the drama.

The film is a quiet mystery. I call it quiet because there is little if any score. The film quietly lets the events unravel as they happen. It lets the facts quietly but surely become clearer over time. We learn more about what happened to Mae-hi. Mae-hi may be very free as is expected of an artistic person, but no sign of her for a long time does rise to suspicion. We soon learn more about Ben. He comes across cool and confident and the type of person who wouldn’t hurt anyone, but it’s Jong-su who sees Ben’s true colors. We also learn more about Jong-su. Jong-su comes off as an awkward son of a temperamental farmer undecided about his dreams. Jong-su comes as the type of person too awkward to do anything seriously violent, but as truths unfold, the monster inside him comes out. The story comes just as his father is sentenced for his violent actions, Jong-su becomes judge, jury, and executioner on Ben. Having all this happen in a film with no score or any other cinematic gimmicks works well for the film. I think something like a musical score may have hurt the drama.

In addition, the film answers more with what we don’t see than what we see. The value of the unseen is first given credit involving the scenes of tending to Hae-mi’s unseen cat. We never see the cat and neither does Jong-su, but the food is eaten and the litterbox is used. The unseen is key for resolving the mystery of Ben. The unseen is where Ben acquired all the female jewelry and decorations. He talks of his ‘hobby’ of burning gashouses down. However it becomes more obvious about what these burning are. And it took the piece of Hae-mi’s jewelry just after Hae-mi goes missing to get the sense that Ben is a killer, and the burnings is a secret word for murder. It’s at the end that the burnt gashouse ends up being Ben’s car with a fatally-wounded Ben inside.

Top credits go to Lee Chang-dong. Lee has had an impressive film making career in South Korea. However it was 2003’s Oasis where he won the Best Director award at the Venice Film festival that he first caught international notice as well as the Chief Dan George Humanitarian Award at VIFF 2003. Poetry took his career to a new height after he won the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010. This film in which he directs and co-wrote the script with Oh Jung-mi is an excellent work of its own. It won the FIPRESCI Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Fest. Awards aside, the film does keep one intrigued. The story doesn’t make a lot of sense at first, but the drama slowly builds over time. Yoo Ah-In does a very good job as Jong-su. He does a great job of playing a character who first seems harmless, but has a monster inside of him. Steven Yeun, a Korean émigré to the United States, does a good job as playing a character cool and calm, but has a dark secret. Jeon Jong-seo is also very good as the free-spirited Hae-mi.

Burning is a suspense that starts quiet but slowly builds over time. Its quiet drama is its best asset and adds to the film.

VIFF 2018 Review: The Seen And Unseen (Sekala Niskala)

Seen Unseen

A young Indonesian girl uses myth and spirituality to deal with her dying twin brother in The Seen And The Unseen.

At film festivals, you often see a lot of cutting edge film. Very rarely do you see a film that’s family-friendly. The Seen And The Unseen is a film that should rightfully called family-friendly.

The film begins with a young Indonesian boy named Tantra being brought into a hospital bed. The mother is hurt. However the twin sister Tantri is naive and doesn’t know what’s really happening. You can tell by how she breaks the egg in her hand that it’s very serious. A flashback shows how the two were in more playful times.

The family live on a farm and the hospital Tantra is staying at is in the city. Unknown to her mother, Tantri takes trips to visit Tantra. She brings puppets, eggs, plants and a musical instrument. One day Tantra does a shadow-puppet show for Tantri where he tells of his illness. She returns to the hospital to play games, sing, dance and dress up in traditional costume. They even share time where they dress up as birds.

However the mother notices it and she’s not happy. Even though she understands, she advises Tantri not to do it anymore. Nevertheless Tantri feels the spirits of her brother in the farm fields. She even feels her own spirits in the animals and in the sky. Then the news comes. Tantra’s cancer is getting worse. She spends as much time as she can with him whether it’s in the hospital or in the dream world. In the dream world, he’s alive and well and active. Even as she goes with her parents with a temple crowded by monkeys, she can feel his spirit. Even as his death eventually comes.

The thing of the film is that it takes a stressful situation like a child sick and dying and it incorporates Balinese culture as a way to escape. Tantri is the twin of Tantra so of course she has a strong with him. The culture incorporated in the film is very much rooted in images of monkeys and birds. When he’s sick with a potentially fatal illness, she goes to elements of the Balinese culture to play with him and communicate with him. She even uses the elements to get into her own spirits. However for Tantra, the more serious and debilitating his illness gets, the more his imagination flies. It becomes evident that there’ something in the unseen. The mother doesn’t see it. I guess that was the point; a world seen only by the two children.

The culture in the film is also central in the relationship between two twins. It is there where in Tantri’s dreams, the two can act out their stories, or where they can become the spirits of animals. They share songs, dances, dress in animal costumes and play games. The two have a balance together. When Tantra is nearing death, Tantri senses something in his spirit. It’s this world of culture and animal imagery that help Tantri in dealing with her brother’s looming death.

If I have one complaint, it’s the ending. I felt like the ending was too brief. All the events led from his admission to the hospital up to his death. I was anticipating something post mortem whether it be Tantra’s spirit in the form of animals or imagery. It was not to be. I assume it was the director’s choice for the ending to be that way. However I felt it did take away from the film.

Top credits go to writer/director Kamila Andini. Childhood is an essential part of her filmmaking as she also wrote and directed The Mirror Never Lies. I know the subject of a child dying makes for something that would be tricky to make watchable, but Andini creates something beautiful. Through the imagery, the looming death of Tantra doesn’t look so harsh. The film even has spiritual elements and the focus of the soul living on. I admire Andini for having those elements in the film. In terms of acting, top credits go to Thaly Titi Kasih. She was the protagonist in the film and she did a very good job without getting manipulative or overbearing in emotions. Even though she’s the sister in between this, she’s not trying to be manipulative. Also goo din the film is Ida Mahijasena as the brother whose spirit comes alive at night when the body is fastly dying.

The film has won the Best Feature Award at the Adelaide Film Festival and won the Generation KPlus Award at the Berlin Festival. It was also a nominee for the Platform Prize at the Toronto Film Festival. The VIFF doesn’t have any special awards for family-related films. Here’s hoping in the future.

The Seen And The Unseen is a film that wouldn’t normally get children too interested, but it’s a beautiful film. One could even describe it as ‘spiritual.’ However it’s definitely cultural.

VIFF 2018 Review: Volcano (вулкан)

VolcanoI took an interest in seeing Volcano knowing that it was to be the one feature-length film at the VIFF from Ukraine. I was left with a big surprise with what I saw.

The story begins in Southern Ukraine as Lukas is hired by the OSCE to be an interpreter during the Crimean conflict. Instead of soldiers or diplomats to transport, he has three people in the fashion business. As he tries to fill up with gas, he is out of coverage. He tries to get a cab for the three, only to find them gone. Lukas boards a bus, but it breaks down in a remote area. He stays over at a youth home and is beset by teens who only care about drinking and partying. He just leaves for a moment, but he left his wallet, passport and jacket inside the place. They won’t allow him in.

He finds help in a place he least expects. A failed inventor named Vovo who lives with his mother and daughter Marushka. It’s good for one night, but he feels one night is enough. After that, he wants to move onto his mission. Besides Vovo is too eccentric. The next day, he finds himself in a violent conflict with local militia men, a mass brawl culminating in a fireworks display, and being attacked by men for no reason with him ending up in a dug-out pit in a dead sunflower field.

The only person to discover him is Vovo. Vovo gives him some good advice “It is total anarchy. If you get used to it, you will survive.” During the time, he learns Vovo’s way of doing things, even if it seems off. Lukas even helps with some of the metal scavenging that Vovo seeks out in both land and sea. Occasionally Lukas gets reminders from the news of the conflict and that there’s a nationwide search for him. To take a break from it all, Vovo, Mama, Lukas and Marushka go to a one-man circus show, but it does include flashes of reality. The show includes saluting the new young soldiers in the war and a performance by a choir of woman from a village that was flooded to make way for a hydro-electric dam.

It’s not to say that it has its own difficulties. Vovo gets in conflict with his mother about his ambitions. Also Marushka flirts with Lukas, unknowing that he’s married. However Lukas confesses about the crossroads he’s going through in his life and questions his life, love and ambitions.

Without a doubt, the film is very bizarre. This is something I was not expecting to see at first. It does seem odd for a film of a man who gets separated from OSCE bureaucrats in the middle of southern Ukraine, loses the car with people he was to taxi, goes from place to place and every wrong thing happens, only have the one place he can call a shelter being the home of an eccentric metal scavenger. The story is very entertaining and even humorous. It becomes ironic how an eccentric man becomes the best person for Lukas to be with in this hard time. It does however touch on some serious elements, like when Lukas is dealing with the life he’s supposed to be leading and even dealing with whether he truly loves his wife. Being completely away from it all does get one thinking deeply about the things in one’s life. Here it made Lukas think. It’s an intriguing story of how a young man becomes found while lost, and in the most unlikely place.

Throughout the film, there are a lot a scenes related to the Crimea conflict. First off, there’s Lukas acting as an interpreter for the OSCE. The television at Vovo’s household constantly gives stories of the ongoing conflict. There’s also the television showing Putin talking of how Ukraine is a part of Russia (of which I gave the finger to). There’s also the event of the one-man circus where they later hold an event saluting the latest young soldiers for Ukraine. I think the message Roman Bondarchuk is trying to say in the film is that even though Ukraine has a lot of areas that are unruly and anarchic, it is still worth defending.

This is a unique film for Roman Bondarchuk. This film he directs and co-writes with Darya Averchenko and Alla Tyutyunnik is a bit of a drama and a comedy into one. A bizarre situation of how one becomes found when lost. This is his first feature-length film that isn’t a documentary. It’s not that huge on actions or thick on dialogue, but the scenes he has tells a lot about the story and about Ukraine. This is also a debut for actor Serhiy Stepansky. Stepansky has actually had more experience as a sound mixer. Here he gives a good performance of a person who’s quiet, thinks a lot, but colorful in character. Viktor Zhdanov was a good show-stealer as the eccentric inventor Vovo. Khrystyna Deilyk was also a good attention-stealer as the flirtatious Marushka.

Volcano has already won top film awards like the Golden Apricot at the Yerevan Film Festival and the Grand Prix at the Split Film Festival. It has also been nominated for Best Film at festivals of Sao Paulo, Karlovy Vary and Athens.

Volcano may seem like a slow film that doesn’t seem like it makes a lot of sense, but you’ll come to understand it later after you leave the theatre.

VIFF 2018 Review: Dovlatov (Довлатов)

Dovlatov

Dovlatov is a focus on writer Sergei Dovlatov, played by Milan Maric (right), and what drove him to defect from the USSR.

Every now and then one sees a biographical film that not a lot of people know a lot about, but grow to understand after the film’s end. Dovlatov is the Russian film of the Soviet-American writer Sergei Dovlatov.

It is November 1, 1971. Leningrad resident Sergei Dovlatov has a talent and a yearning to write, but the Soviet government won’t accept his writings. His writings are very truthful to what is happening, but the Soviet government wants writings that glorify the nation, especially the Soviet regime of the time, and champion factory workers. With Leonid Brezhnev in power, the pressure is even harder as writers of such are either censored or unemployed. Dovlatov is denied membership into a Writers Guild and can’t get any of his poems or stories published. Dovlatov is reduced to pounding out articles for a factory magazine like many of his peers. Dovlatov is expected to help contribute to a film from the factory where workers dressed up as legendary writers commemorate Soviet achievements on the eve of the Revolution. Dovlatov can’t take that seriously and his superiors aren’t happy.

His married life is a frustration. He is on the verge of divorcing his wife Lena and he’s currently living with his supportive mother. He is allowed to see his daughter Katya. Dovlatov does find a break from it all. Each day he meets up with many other literary comrades going through similar struggles in this Communist regime. They listen to jazz, play music and tell stories of their frustrations.

Dovlatov’s life during this six-day period seems like a daily ritual. He begins the day with assignments he finds uncomfortable, tries to make the necessary connections to get his Guild status, and ends his day in a literary and artistic salon with colleagues of his own.

However there are two incidents that shake Dovlatov up. The first is when he’s sent to do a celebratory article of subway builder and poet Anton Kuznetsov. They meet in a subway dig with the intention of doing a ‘pure and prose’ article, but both are shocked to have discovered skeletons of children from a World War II bombing. The second is when he meets with a friend who’s a Black Market dealer. Often throughout the film, Dovlatov talks of looking for a German doll for his daughter. He talks with the man, but the police crack down on him and shoot him dead. The film ends after those six days.

I’ve seen a lot of biographic films. I’ve seen a lot of biographies that are frequently from birth to death. There are even some that focus on the period of a person’s life where they emerge into their greatness. They could be a short period of time but most end up being a long period of time. There have often been a lot of films that focus on that one moment in a famous person’s career that either makes or breaks them, like the Emancipation Proclamation in Lincoln or the writing of In Cold Blood in Capote. It’s even possible to use a week’s period of time that could be when this famous person chances leading into the future path of greatness.

Here in Dovlatov, the focus is on six days. Usually a film maker would pick out a six-day period that could be what changed Dovlatov. Instead the film focuses on a six-day period that could be any six-day period in Dovlatov’s life before he finally defected to the United States in 1978. I think what the focus of the film maker was intended to be was to focus what it was like for Dovlatov to live in Soviet Leningrad. The filmmaker’s intention is to have Dovlatov’s feelings and mindset resemble his works of writing. We shouldn’t forget that soon after the death of the USSR, writers that defected or writers that talk of past-Soviet life became writers of high fixation. Dovlatov may have died in 1990 at the age of 48, but his writing became hugely admired in Russia.

The film doesn’t just show life in Soviet Russia at the time, but gives the viewer a good feel of it. It seems slow at first, but it is very telling. It’s about a writer seeking renown or simple publication, but won’t get credentials because he won’t conform to the writing style the Soviet government demands. During his life, he sees the troubles and the weariness of people in Soviet Leningrad. We should also remember that Leningrad was the name of St. Petersburg during the days of the USSR. What he sees is ugly and hard. Even his own personal life is a frustration. He may get a break when he’s at the parties with his artistic colleagues, but it’s only temporary. The next day, he has to go back to doing what the government wants him to do. One can see the frustration he goes through. One could even understand how trying to get a German doll for his daughter isn’t really something simple and may actually be valuable for this film.

This is the latest film from Russian director Alexei German Jr. German Jr. has had racclaim for his films in the past like 2005’s Garpastum which was nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, 2008’s Paper Soldier which won the Silver Lion in Venice and 2015’s Under Electric Clouds. In this film he directed and co-wrote the script with Yuliya Tupikina, he delivers a piece that’s less of a film with a beginning, middle and end and more of a film that’s a portrait of a famed writer. It’s interesting they casted a Serbian actor, Milan Maric, to play Dovlatov. Maric has a reputation as a stage actor and this is Maric’s first film role. Maric does a very good job getting into the heart and soul of Dovlatov and he plays the part very well.

Dovlatov may not make sense to most people who see it at first. For those that are into writers and into the writing of Sergei Dovlatov, it’s a good look into the inside of the man and what made his writing.

VIFF 2018 Review: Djon Africa

Djon Africa

Djon Africa is about a young man, played by Miguel Moreira, who is searching for his father, but discovers a lot more.

What can I say? Illnesses have a lot to do with why I’ve been late in publishing my blogs from the VIFF. However things have been getting better lately. So I can come back at it.

One thing I like about going to the VIFF is I get the chance to see films that are ‘off the beaten path.’ One of which was the Portuguese film Djon Africa which was a good story to watch.

The film begins with a 25 year-old Portuguese man names Miguel. He works construction during the day and is musician Djon Africa by night. He is a bit of a slacker. He was raised by his grandmother and has family roots in the African island of Cape Verde. However he doesn’t feel at home in Portugal. He’s asked about his father and his grandmother often says ‘a bit of a player and a scoundrel.’  One day he goes clothes shopping with his girlfriend and a storeowner suspects him of shoplifting. Racism?

One day he comes across a good amount of money. He makes the decision to travel to Cape Verde in search of his father. The problem is he has nothing to go with. He doesn’t know what his father’s name is, which town he lives in or who his family is, other than a sister who lives in the capital city of Praia. Nevertheless he is determined. During the flight, Miguel already begins envisioning the Cape Verde he knows nothing about by dreaming of the stewardesses dancing in the aisle.

Then Miguel arrives in Praia, the capital city of Cape Verde. Even as he gets off the plane, he notices how more picturesque Cape Verde is in comparison the Lisbon. The first place he goes to do his search is visit his aunt. Unfortunately he hears the bad news from family in mournful prayer that his aunt has been deceased for a year. He learns the aunt has family in Taffaral, but when he gets there, he learns he’s possibly in the wrong Taffaral; Cape Verde has two Taffarals. To make the search more frustrating, Miguel loses a lot of his belongings after a night of getting intoxicated on Cape Verde’s firewater liquor grogue.

During that time of island-hopping from place to place, he comes across the natives in various ways. He comes across a lot of younger girls who have taken aback with his dreads and even call him ‘Bob Marley.’ He comes across a goat-herder Maria Antonia who impulsively gets him to work her land. He agrees. One can sense that Miguel is losing focus in his search for his father and has started falling in love with the country he never knew. Then he gets a phone call from Portugal. It’s his girlfriend back in Lisbon telling him she’s pregnant. The film ends with one final image of Miguel walking the street.

It’s a common story to see sons search for their father. We see it time and time again. However this does have its own way of telling the story. The biggest ingredient is the land of Cape Verde and the people themselves. The people that Miguel come across, the places that he visits, they make for Miguel’s time here and are key to changing him as a person. It’s even people like the farmer who teach Miguel to be responsible. The meeting face-to-face with his father doesn’t happen, but I believe it was the intention of the film to be a lot more than that.

One thing about the film is that it gives a lot of charming images of Cape Verde: of the people, of daily life, of the geography. All of which play a role as it is part of Miguel’s experience in Cape Verde as he tries to find his father. During the time he learns a lot about where his father comes from even though he hasn’t met him face to face. Miguel even learns more about himself.

SPOILER WARNING: DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING: The ending where you see Miguel walking down the street will get you wondering. Especially since it’s after his girlfriend calls Miguel to let his know she’s pregnant. Sure, we simply see Miguel walking down the street, but it does get you wondering. Will Miguel be like his father that he decides to stay in Cape Verde? Miguel has sure come to embrace the island. Also that image where Miguel walks down and an older man in dreads looks back: possibly his father. It may give you the idea that the two may meet someday soon. Maybe it’s best that the movie end there, with the two not meeting and with it being unclear Miguel will return to Portugal for his girlfriend. They say film should leave people asking questions instead of getting answers.

Top notes go to directors Joao Miller Guerra and Filipa Reis. The personal couple are most experienced in making documentaries and short films. Here you can sense that the story is told documentary-style as Miguel learns something new every day and grows as a person. Also worth admiring is the performance of Miguel Moreira. He doesn’t do any over-the-top drama in his acting. His acting is all about growing inside as a person, and we see that in the film. Also deserving high recommendation is cinematographer Vasco Viana. The images of the geography of the land and the people are very key in this personal story of Miguel. Vasco delivers excellent images that help make the story.

Djon Africa may come across as a boring film at first, but it’s a story about personal growth. You have to see it to understand it, as well as understand the ending.

VIFF 2018 Review: Ben Is Back

Ben Is Back

Ben Is Back is about a son (played by Lucas Hedges) returning home from rehab for Christmas, but under the watchful eyes of his mother (played by Julia Roberts).

Another movie from the VIFF anticipated for bigger release later on is Ben Is Back. The film consists of a lot of dark subject matter, but does feature a lot of elements that make it worth seeing.

It’s Christmas Eve in a New England home. The Burns family is rehearsing at church for the Christmas play. Unbeknownst is that their son Ben has returned from rehab to spend Christmas with them. He sees that the house has an alarm system since he was sent there. Smart parents. When the family arrives, they are shocked to see him there. Ben has fun with his two younger half-siblings at first, but mother Holly, stepfather Neale and sister Ivy are nervous. Holly decides 24 hours and Ben must be in her supervision. Ben agrees.

On Christmas Eve, she tries to take his mind off things by going to the mall. The first person they see is the doctor: the one who prescribe painkillers he claimed weren’t addictive, but were. Holly gives the doctor a piece of her mind. To take Ben away from the frustration, she takes him to a store. Ben notices Clayton, the town pusher, going down an elevator. As Ben appears changing in a store,  Holly notices Ben is taking too long and suspects the worst. Holly shouts to get Ben out.

After that, they go to a church hall that’s holding an AA meeting. In the hall are two or three teens Ben deals drugs to, including one that wants to meet up with Ben later and get ‘done.’ Ben agrees, but that infuriates Holly to the point she takes him to a cemetery and tells him to pick his grave.

The family with hope the Christmas play will take their mind off things, until they see the mother of one of Ben’s ‘customers.’ The daughter died and the mother is looking distraught. Ben is moved to tears during the show. Coming home, they find the house broken into and the dog is stolen. The father pins the blame on Ben. Ben feels he has to help the family out and get the dog back. Ben learns the dog is with Clayton who’s holding it hostage for money Ben owes him. Ben and Holly go out together to get it solved. However there are people who want Ben dead.

Ben soon leaves Holly on his own pursuit to get things done. Holly takes the other car and searches like mad to find Ben. Holly finds herself in the home of the mother of the deceased daughter. Holly tries to be friendly with her. The mother gives her something in case Ben overdoses. Ben meets with Clayton to get the dog back, but Clayton expects a favor involving drug trafficking. While Holly feels lost, Ivy calls and says she’s able to track Holly and Ban through her iPad. As Ben does the ‘favor’ for Clayton, Clayton ‘pays’ him with a special pill. Meanwhile Holly senses Ben in a solitary location, thinking he’s dead. The story ends with a hugely climactic moment.

I’m sure when a lot of you first heard the premise of the film, some of you probably thought “I know where this is going.” The film I’ll bet you were thinking about is Rachel Getting Married. It does seem like it’s starting in similar fashion as Rachel Getting Married where a child who’s in rehab returns home for a special occasion. One thing to say is that a child returning from rehab during a holiday or a festivity is a common occurrence in real life and something a lot of families experience on a day-to-day level. It’s a story that can be played out in real life hundreds of different ways. Some may be redeeming and some may even be tragic.

Ben Is Back is a different story from Rachel Getting Married. Kym goes through her struggles at home, but returns back to rehab as a stronger person. Those who saw Rachel know that’s the main theme is about healing and the struggle to achieve it. Ben Is Back is a different story. Ben Burns is home for 24 hours in a town that’s full of memories of his drugged past. On top of it, Ben is a former dealer who is responsible for leading other teens of his town to their own drug addiction, including one fatal. You hope that Ben stays as strong through the fight the way Kym was, but you see that Ben succumbs to a lot of the pressures along the way. The film ended with a different ending from the message of hope Rachel appeared to have. True, Ben’s ending was more dramatic and almost ended up making for a tragedy, but it made for its own story.

One of the key themes of the film is that of family relations. Without a doubt, the biggest relation of focus is a mother for her son. Holly has seen the hardest of the issue. She has to lay down rules for Ben during these 24 hours. She is also very suspicious Ben will back to his old ways during that time. One key scene is when Ben is talking about drugs to a teen he saw during an AA meeting. Infuriated, she takes Ben to a cemetery and tells him to pick his grave. Of course that was very impulsive and very wrong of Holly, but it represents the frustration of dealing with a child of drugs Holly is supposed to have a ‘tough love’ attitude about it, but doesn’t go about it best. The whole film is a case where Holly wants to keep Ben sober during that period of time, but the events become a case where it’s down to where she just wants him to be alive.

Other family relations play a part in the film. There’s the sister Ivy who’s very nervous about Ben coming home feeling he’ll be a wreck again. In the end, she becomes the one who is best in helping Holly find Ben. Then there’s the stepfather Neal Burns. He feels a load of contempt for Ben and his addiction. When the dog is stolen, Neal touts the whole blame on Ben. Even while Holly is searching, Neal doesn’t bother helping, even referring to Ben as ‘that drug addict’ instead of his own stepson. It’s only until the end that he’s willing to help.

One weak thing about the film is the ending. I know that it ends right at the very moment of the drama, but it does seem like it ends the film abruptly and way too soon. I know directors have two or three alternate endings for a film, but it makes you wonder if this was the right choice for ending?

This is a good film for writer/director Peter Hedges. It may not be his best film as he has had bigger accomplishments in the past, but this is a film Peter can be proud of. Peter’s son Lucas has become one of the biz’s rising stars right now. It started happening with Manchester By The Sea and he’s been on a role. This film is one of two films he plays a lead role in. I have not seen Boy Erased, so I can’t compare. He does a very good very intense performance here. His career can only get better. However the film belongs to Julia Roberts. Even though Lucas plays the titular character, Julia stole the show as the mother. Her emotions and feelings shown in the film are like so many mothers in that situation. She played the part excellently and stole the show. There were other minor performances that were very good like Courtney B. Vance as the stepfather with an axe to grind, Kathryn Newton as the nervous sister and Michael Esper as the heartless drug supplier.

Despite the abrupt ending, Ben Is Back is an excellent movie about the struggles of drug addiction. You might first think it’s a rehash of Rachel Getting Married, but it tells its own story.

VIFF 2018 Review: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Can Ever Forgive

Melissa McCarthy plays author-turned-forger Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Most of the time I like going to the VIFF to check out the out-of-the-ordinary cinema. However when a film with a lot of Oscar buzz hits the VIFF, I admit I’m tempted to see that. I was lucky to have my chance with Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The story begins in 1991 with 51 year-old Lee Israel at her customer services job. She obviously hates her job because she has a bad attitude and gets a lot of ‘old’ comments from the younger workers. She shows up at work with a glass of scotch in her hand, curses at her co-workers and then curses at her boss. That’s it. She’s fired. After being fired, she just simply downs the rest of her scotch.

The thing is Lee Israel was born to write. She wrote for Esquire magazine for many years and published biographies of Talullah Bankhead, Dorothy Kilgallen and Estee Lauder. However her status as a successful writer ended years earlier after her biography of Lauder flopped. On top of that, she’s trying to publish a biography of Fanny Brice, but her agent says it’s not going to be a hit. Her lack of commercial success in writing couldn’t come at a worse time. She has expenses up to her eyeballs with a cat who’s sick and needs new medicine, outstanding veterinary bills form past visits, overdue rent from a landlord, and an old typewriter that keeps breaking down. Whatever money she can get, it comes from typed original letters of famous authors. She doesn’t get much money from the bookstore; one where the young author isn’t afraid to run into Lee what a has-been author she is.

One day she goes for her usual drink of scotch at her local bar. Also getting a drink is a washed-up stage actor named Jack Hock. Hock himself had a downfall after irreverent behavior at a party while drunk: peeing in a closet! This is a chance to rekindle a past friendship. They have a lot of catching up to do. This comes around the same time Lee is continuing research for her book about Fanny Brice. One day at a library while doing research on Brice, she comes across an original typewritten letter written by her. She takes it home and notices the font on the letter matches the font on Lee’s own typewriter. That gives Lee an idea to add in a juicy P.S. sentence about Fanny’s ‘love’ for a woman. She takes it to a bookstore that buys original letters from authors and they buy it for good money. However she’s told that letters with juicier detail get bigger money.

That gives Lee an new idea for success: making fake letters of renowned deceased authors. Her next subject is Noel Coward. Here she tries to get information on the type of letterhead Coward typed his letters on, the typewriter used and the subjects Coward normally talked about. Her letters are of Coward talking about his homosexuality. Israel also gets practice of forging signatures. She goes to a bookstore that buys letters for bigger money and it works! Lee can afford to pay off the vet, buy medicine for her ailing cat, pay off her landlord and even go out on a first-class night with Jack Hock to a drag cabaret performance. Soon she goes to a memorabilia show with Jack and learns all about authenticators. That just makes her more determine to succeed. She picks more deceased authors like Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, Louise Brooks and Ernest Hemingway,  buys the right typewriters, bakes the letters and envelopes to make the right aging, does the right forgery on the signatures. The work pays off. The authenticators fall for it and Lee gets paid good money! Lee’s also good at making phone calls disguising herself as director Nora Ephron. Lee also makes friends with a bookshop owner named Anna.

However reality does catch up. Lee is told by one of the bookowners that he senses a forgery as a friend of his who knew Noel Coward wouldn’t be so public about his homosexuality. Within time, all bookstore owners are given a fax from the FBI alerting them of Lee and her alleged fraud. Even an unscrupulous bookdealer threatens to report her to the FBI unless she pays him $5000. Does that stop her? No, as long as she has Jack. Jack is the one making the sales with the bookstore owners on the juicy forged letters. She even goes to libraries with access to archives and steals letters to cash in on. Jack brings her the money, but starts getting suspicious of whether he’s trying to steal from her. FBI agents threaten her with interrogation, but she garbages all her typewriters to avoid being caught.

One time she goes away for a three-day trip of ‘consulting’ archives and leaves Jack to take care of her cat, which includes giving him medicine. Lee steals more letters, and even meets up with her ex-girlfriend. The ex tells her of how distant she became after the flop of her Estee Lauder book. Meanwhile Jack gives the cat the wrong medicine and even gets his new boyfriend to stay overnight at her place. It’s when she returns that it all falls apart. She finds Jack making love to a man in her place, she finds her cat dead, and she soon finds herself arrested for her forgery. After much talking from her lawyer, she’s told she will most likely be found guilty and her persona and alcoholism could works against her for her sentence. She confesses her wrongdoings in court despite having no regrets. Her sentence is six months house arrest, to repay the booksellers she ripped off and to attend AA meetings.

The story ends on a positive note. She rekindles her friendship with Jack, who’s dying of AIDS. She buys a new cat and does her writing from a computer. One day, she even passes a bookseller who has the ‘Can you ever forgive me’ letter where Lee forged Dorothy Parker’s likeness. Lee sends an appropriate response. It’s up for you to see what the response was. And the response from the store owner.

When one does a story about a person in the past doing all these actions, it’s always a question on whether the film is relevant for the present. Would a film about a washed-up author forging letters about deceased celebrities and authors most of today’s generation don’t have a clue about be relevant? I can see relevance in it as it is a reflection of our present. Firstly we live in a time of celebrity worship as lots of people go to Instagram or Twitter to check out the latest dirt from their celebrity. Gossip pages get huge hits because people love shoving their nose in others’ dirty laundry. It’s easy to see why these fake letters about these celebrities’ personal lives would spark a lot of interest and make Lee Israel rich.

The interesting thing is that it sheds a light on the literary industry as well. I know we live in a culture where we’re encouraged to appreciate authors for their literary efforts, but all too often we forget that authors are subject to the same cruel industry that musicians face in the movie industry and actors face in businesses like Hollywood. The New York Times Bestseller list is the Bestseller list to end all Bestseller lists that decides the happening writers and the wash-ups. It’s no wonder Lee felt the frustration of this. You could understand why despite Lee’s success in forgery, she still wanted to be known as an author.

The film is not just about the act of crime and the difficulties of being an author. It’s also about Lee herself. Basically overall it showcased her biggest weakness: her attitude. She blamed her loss of her customer service job on ageism, but she swore at her bosses and drank gin on her last day. Her attitude cost her relationship with her ex-girlfriend. It also almost cost her friendship with Jack. It may even had to do with why she wasn’t getting writing jobs. A bad attitude can be costly. Lee would have to face the music of her wrongdoing. The biggest statement was when Lee was too afraid to face Anne in the store just as she was about to get sentenced.

Marielle Heller directs a very clever comedy about a writer starving for success, even if it’s illicit. Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty took on Lee’s memoirs and deliver a script that tells the story and more. Nicole provided the edge of a 50-something woman just trying to make something of herself. Whitty provided the backdrop of the difficulties of Lee and jack being LGBT in New York in 1991. The script not only tells the story but tells a lot more too.

Also what adds to the film is Melissa McCarthy playing Lee Israel. Hard to believe the first pick for the role was Julianne Moore. Melissa caught moviegoers’ attention when she played the feisty Megan Price in Bridesmaids. It’s been success ever since and she’s one of the most happening things in big-screen comedies right now. However most of her comedy roles in popcorn comedies have been over-the-top performances. Here, McCarthy takes on a role of a literary figure with humor and makes it three-dimensional. Possibly her best performance since Bridesmaids. Stealing the show from Melissa is Richard E. Grant. He makes the film as much Jack’s as it is Lee’s. He played Lee’s partner in crime well and the two had good chemistry. Jane Curtin was also good, and unnoticeable, as the literary agent. Dolly Wells was also good as Anne: the lonely shop keeper.

Can You ever Forgive Me? makes for a smart and entertaining comedy. So entertaining, you just might want to buy one of Lee Israel’s forged Dorothy Parker letters soon after.