Can you imagine a party where everything that could go wrong does? The British comedy The Party is a film that shows exactly that!
The film begins with Janet waiting for her party to begin. She just won a seat in parliament. The party is expected to be a private one with her husband Bill, best friend April and her husband Gottfried, close couple Martha and Jinny and her son Tom. Bill is frail and not in the most pleasant of moods. April has a very blunt mouth and isn’t afraid to say what she believes to be true, no matter how spiteful. Gottfried appears not to be with his wits. Tom is trying to keep his cocaine habit a secret. The couple of Martha and Jinny appear to be the only guests who have it together. Of course, they’re happy as they’re expecting triplets.
The party is supposed to go smooth, but April appears to be saying something to start a spat anytime soon. Gottfried is always embarrassing April. Tom’s frustrations about his marriage are becoming obvious. Nevertheless Janet is toasted by all.
Then the chaos begins. Janet first receives a text from a man wanting her back in her life, to which she declines. Bill announces he’s dying to all. Janet is broken, but he’s vague on what his condition is. Only Gottfried appears to believe him and is willing to help him. Then unfaithfulness has been revealed about both Martha and Jinny and it threatens not just their relationship, but the birth of their children. Then Bill admits to Janet, he’s been seeing another woman. Janet is infuriated. Only Gottfried stands by his side. Tom does more coke and contemplates hosting himself, but later throws the gun in the garbage. Janet is upset by the whole thing with no one but April to give her words of comfort. However Janet soon finds Tom’s gun in the garbage. Then Bill reveals to Tom the ‘other woman’ is his wife. Tom responds by punching Bill. Bill appears dead on the floor and is being resuscitated. Martha and Jinny try to look like the happy couple they were. Then Janet goes to the door after hearing the doorbell. It’s the other man. To which, she points the gun at him: “You said you loved me. You liar!”
At first, I thought The Party would be a political film. I was tempted to think that at first glance. Instead it became the perfect location for a single-location film. It does a very good job in packing in just about anything and everything that can destroy all seven involved in the story. One thing does lead to another and the results are crazy. However a story like this about a party where everything goes wrong for everybody has to have situations that don’t come across as ridiculous. You have enough slapstick movies doing that.
To make a party where everything goes wrong, but still look intelligent takes a lot of effort in writing. It succeeds in doing that. The characters in which the actors adapt had to make the comedic situations work. The situations looked quite believable, despite the banality of all of them happening at once. Even the most bizarre situations didn’t come across as looking stupid. This is one of the best over-the-top comedies I’ve seen in a long time. The over-the-top elements aren’t even physical or slapstick; it’s all about the story and characters. Even filming this comedy in black and white added to the film.
The biggest accolades in making this bizarre story work goes to writer/director Sally Potter. This story packs in a lot of comedic punch that appears to work every time and does not cross over the line into stupidity and ridiculous. It takes a lot of effort to create something like that and make it work, and Potter made it work. Everyone who saw it the same time I saw it was laughing a lot. It’s hard to pick who the biggest performer was. Kristin Scott Thomas was definitely the protagonist, but Patricia Clarkson was able to steal the show with whatever she said each time. Bruno Ganz and Timothy Spall owned their moments by playing their characters well. Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer also grabbed their moments, and Cillian Murphy knew how to come out of nowhere to get his moments too. Basically it’s not on the strength of a single actor, but of all seven in the ensemble. They all made this comedy work with whatever they did or said.
The Party is 71 minutes of tragicomedy energy of the best kind. It’s a reminder of how writing rather than cheap one-liners is what works best in comedy. I guarantee you will be laughing.
Félicité appears to be a film about an African woman who sings in bars to make a living, but it’s a lot more.
Félicité is a woman living in DR Congo. The film begins with her waiting for the result on a repair for her refrigerator. It needs a new fan and it will cost. She then goes to the local bar to perform her music. That’s how Félicité makes her money, by singing. The bar is mostly locals. The repairman Tabu is one of those who catches her performance. However the bar has a lot of roughness and fights are frequent.
One day, her 14 year-old son is hospitalized. He was in a motorcycle crash. His leg is so badly injured, an operation is needed or else it will be amputated. Félicité is told she needs 1,000,000 Congolese Francs in order for the operation to happen. Singing from bar to bar is not enough. Félicité first tries locals who know her, but gets either little money or negative flack. Félicité then goes around the richer areas of Kinshasa posing as family members asking for money.
She’s close to the amount she needs, but it’s too late. The leg became so terribly bruised, amputation was needed. Félicité is shattered. However she develops a loving relationship with the repairman Tabu after he successfully repairs her fridge. He’s able to give the comfort she needs. She develops the confidence to start singing with an elite choir in a college as a hobby. Tabu is also able to talk to Samo and instill in him the confidence to live again.
Tabu again returns to one of Félicité‘s shows, but leaves with another woman. Félicité sees him the next day. She is very unhappy with him, but admits her heart is still with him. Félicité returns to singing in night clubs and singing with the high choir.
The way this film is made is common what one would have for a French film. There’s a storyline with a beginning, middle and end, but there’s also a lot in the background that adds greatly to the story. We see it in Félicité‘s singing. She sings the common African songs in the bars. She also sings gracefully in the elite choir. A lot of what she sings about in the night clubs is the struggle of African people in their daily lives and she belts out her emotions when she sings. A lot of what she sings in the high-class choir is graceful and gives acclaim to God and acclaim to life. Singing is not just a profession for Félicité; it’s a way of life.
Another background element of the film is Félicité‘s life and the lives of all those around her. She exhibits the struggles common of African women of trying to raise a child and trying to make pay. There are many scenes where you see Félicité walking down the streets of Kinshasa. Often the film shows about the difficulty of those living in the DR Congo, or Africa as a whole. We’re talking about a country with a very low wage and people struggling very hard to make ends meet no matter how much or how little they get. The 1,000,000 francs Félicité needs for her son’s operation translates to $650 American dollar. It may not sound like too much to you and me, but it’s almost two years income for the average Congolese. Even seeing how Félicité poses as a family member to rich people in their gated and locked houses shows the rich-poor divide in the country. Often I felt when I was watching Félicité, I was seeing a glimpse of African life.
Alain Gomis does a very good job of storytelling here in this film he directed and co-wrote with Olivier Loustau and Delphine Zingg. Gomis himself is a French director of Senegalese parents. You can see this story is personal to him too. He does a very good job of telling Félicité‘s story while giving people a god look at what life in Africa is like. Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu does a very good job in her debut role. She was able to play Félicité like she is the African ‘everywoman.’ Papi Mpaka also plays Tabu very well. At first, Tabu is just there in Félicité‘s presence, but soon becomes part of her life and her son’s life. It’s like he come from nowhere to be what Félicité needed. The music is one of the biggest elements of the film. The film may be about a night club singer but the music Félicité engages in says a lot about the film and about life in Africa in all its joys and heartaches.
Félicité is a four-nation film collaboration of Senegal, Belgium, France and Lebanon. The film is Senegal’s official submission in the category of Best Foreign Language Film for the 2017 Academy Awards. This is the first time the nation of Senegal has ever submitted an entry into this category. The film won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film festival, won a Human Rights In Cinema award at the Istanbul Film Festival and was nominated for Best Film at the Sydney Film Festival and the Chicago International Film Festival.
Félicité is a film that doesn’t just dimply tell a story. It gives a glimpse into the difficulties of life in Africa.
The VIFF is my best chance to see a Canadian feature film each year. I got my chance with Suck It Up. I’m glad I saw it.
The film begins with Ronnie collapsing by a lawnmower drunk. Ronnie has just lost her older brother Garrett. Faye is in Vancouver having a job interview for a school board job she really wants when she learns the news about Ronnie. Ronnie was her best friend until Faye broke up with Garrett last year. She is encouraged by Ronnie’s guardian aunt and uncle to come over to Calgary. Faye meets with them all and they feel the best way to help Ronnie recuperate is for her and Faye to go someplace for a getaway. Faye decides to go to their old cabin in Invermere.
At first, you think things won’t work. Faye is the cool one under control while Ronnie is outrageous enough to flash her breasts to any car full of guys passing by. Once in Invermere, they try to make themselves comfortable in the cabin. However it seems Ronnie is making herself all too comfortable with every guy she meets up with. Especially this creepy guy names Dale who rubs Faye the wrong way. As Ronnie is getting closer to a guy names Shamus and his freewheeling friends from the bowling alley, Faye meets a guy of her own. His name is Granville. Granville may come across as geeky at first because of his asthma and diabetes, but the two connect as Faye is charmed by his artistic dreaminess.
Things prove too much for Faye as Ronnie’s craziness is cramping her style and her life. Faye tries to have a good time, but can’t deny that she has things to take care of in her life, like a potential job in Vancouver. One day, Ronnie and her friends come after a day of fun and give Faye some lemonade. It’s after Faye drinks it that she finds out it’s laced with MDMA, and just 1/2 an hour before her job interview on Skype! Faye humiliates herself during the interview.
Even though Faye is given a second interview days from now, Faye appears to be the one falling apart now. It’s not just about the interview and dealing with Ronnie. It’s because Faye is having trouble dealing with Garrett’s death. She can’t handle that she didn’t answer the call from Garrett’s phone just hours before he died. She came to Invermere with Garrett’s ashes and two envelopes from Garrett: one for her and one for Ronnie. She open’s Ronnie’s envelope instead. Even hearing info about Garrett from a woman names Alex who works at the town ice cream parlor makes things all that more frustrating for Faye.
Then the two decide to hold a party at the cabin. All of their Invermere friends are invited and they all show up, including shady Dale and his mud-filled inflatable pool for mud wrestling. Ronnie’s in a partying mood but Faye is having issues. It’s still all about Garrett. Spending time with Granville doesn’t make things easier and talking with Alex makes things worse. Then Ronnie films out what Faye did with her letter. She confronts Faye with harsh words about the phone call from Garrett’s phone. This leads to a fist fight where they both end up in the pool of mud. But after that, the two suddenly make peace and resolve all that happened. Even the opened letter. It turns out Garrett was a controlling person in his life and tried to control both of them. Faye and Ronnie pack up with Ronnie being in great spirits and not looking as troubled as she was at the beginning. They promise to get together again soon.
At first, I found this comedy entertaining. Then I did a bit of thinking. This is a kind of comedy that I can see the script working in Hollywood. Have you seen a lot of the Hollywood comedies in theatres now? They’re pretty dreadful, eh? They’re relying too much on jokes with shock value and even lewd or crude one-liners to get a laugh. They make you think they’re that desperate for laughs. This comedy doesn’t need to rely on one-liners or crude jokes. All it has to rely on are the characters and the scenarios to make this work. That’s what made this comedy work. We have a bizarre situation of two friends who are two opposites going away to a resort town to help one recover from her brother’s death. The other friend has unresolved issues over his death too. The mix of the two causes havoc, but it all ends when they get into a fight where they accidentally end up in the mud wrestling pool. Then the friendship is rekindled and they’re both able to make peace with his death. To think Hollywood couldn’t think this up, but Canadians did!
The film is also about ironies. The two girls are complete opposites. You first wonder how on earth they became friends in the first place. You first think Granville is a nerdy guy, but he becomes the perfect one for Faye. There are even times later on when you wonder which of the two are having a harder time dealing with Garrett’s death. It’s the fistfight that becomes the turning point where Faye and Ronnie are finally able to resolve things and go back to being the good friends they were. In the end, both get over his death when they come to terms with what a control freak he was in his lifetime. Even seeing Ronnie toss Garrett’s ashes off a cliff with them still in the jar is a bit of comedic irony too.
One thing about the film is that it doesn’t try to mess with the crowd too much. The subject of death and how Ronnie’s family is full of cancer-related deaths even makes you wonder if this would become a tragedy soon, but it doesn’t. It’s able to take a dark troubling matter and turn it into a good comedy. It also won’t get too manipulative. One thing you’ll notice is that there are no flashbacks to when Garrett was alive, nor are there scenes of Garrett coming from nowhere to talk to either of the two. Another thing about this film is that the story lines are placed out very well. I’ll admit the film starts on a scene that makes you think it could have been given another take, but the film gets better over time and the whole story is kept consistent from start to finish.
This film directed by Jordan Canning and written by Julia Hoff was very well-done and well put-together, even more than most Hollywood comedies nowadays. This is kudos for Julia because this is her first screenplay for a feature-length film. Erin Carter did a great job as Faye and Grace Glowicki was great as Ronnie. The film needed them to be in their characters to make it work, but they were able to keep their roles from being one-dimensional. I addition, they had the right chemistry together to make this story work on screen. Dan Beirne was also very good portraying the misfit Granville who wins Faye’s love. Toby Marks was also great as Alex: the one caught in the middle between Faye and Garrett.
Suck It Up is a Canadian-made comedy that is way better-done than most of today’s Hollywood comedies. It starts out sluggish and even may appear to tread into ‘drama territory’ at times, but it ends on the right note.
The VIFF is a chance for some eccentric ideas to come across on the big screen. Friendly Beast is a Brazilian film that allows insanity to go wild.
The film begins at a nice small restaurant in Brazil. The owner Inacio takes pride in his business and appears to have things cool and under control. He may be nasty to some of the lesser workers, but what restaurant owner isn’t? Waitress Sara seems to be the one who most helps him without question.
During the night, Inacio is dealing with a couple that appear to be like any other. Then a robbery happens. Instead of letting the two take what they need, Inacio attacks them and holds them captive. It doesn’t stop there. Inacio then makes his ‘lesser’ workers captive too, and then the dining couple! Sara willingly goes along.
Inacio uses his time to antagonize and even torture the people he holds hostage. He even accuses kitchen-hand Djair of planning this robbery. We learn that Sara also has the same diabolical urges as Inacio and she takes the same pleasure in inflicting torture, especially in the female diner. It goes from one thing to the next, from torturing one person to killing another. Whatever Inacio commands, Sara follows along. Inacio even comes across as threatening to her, too. However Sara gets even with him in the end and turns the tables. Inacio is not so much the man in control!
What we have here are common things we’d find in a horror film. They’re also things that can parlay into one of those horror movies that come off as dreadful. We have a restaurant owner who appears to be in control on the inside. He appears no nastier and no more controlling than your typical restaurant owner. That all changes after the failed robbery. Son he terrorizes the robbers, then his coworkers, then the dining couple. Then the waitress joins into his sinister plan, only to be the one who overtakes him in the end.
Yes, the making for something dreadful. However what keeps it from being dreadful is that the film is well-written and well-acted throughout. In order for Inacio to suddenly become sinister when the robbery happens, the transfer to madness has to work well. It also has to work for Sara when she too becomes part of this mad scheme. If you saw the movie, you’d see that it worked out well. Inacio first making victims of the robbers and them making everyone in the restaurant captive, including the couple dining out, worked out in the film and did not come off as ridiculous. Sara suddenly controlling Inacio also worked too, and it added for a surprise twist for an ending.
A film like this even has to have some dark sick humor added to this as well. There are elements of that too, like stealing a dead person’s earrings to seduce someone, or flirting in the presence of a man who’s bleeding out. There’s also that scene where Inacio makes a phone call to his wife trying to sound cool and collect and that it’s just another day at the place, when it couldn’t be further from the truth!
Gabriela Amaral did a very good job in writing and directing a bizarre and darkly humorous horror movie that’s big on thrills and intrigue, but puts the right limit on the gore. Betcha didn’t think a woman director/writer can create a good horror film, did you? Murilo Benicio did a very good job with the character of Inacio in turning him from a typical restaurant owner to a Charles Manson-like madman. Luciana Paes also did a very good job in making Sara go from a regular waitress to sinister to being the one who overtakes Inacio. The other actors in their minor parts also did well and contributed greatly to the film.
Friendly Beast is a surprising horror film. It’s well-written, well-acted and does not come across as cheesy and ridiculous like so many horror films.
Dragonfly Eyes is a Chinese experimental film that attempts to use surveillance camera footage as a way to tell a story. It’s a unique story in its own.
The story begins in a Buddhist monastery. A young girl named Qing Ting, which means ‘dragonfly,’ has left the monastery in search of a better life. Ke Fan is a young man working a job at a cow farm. One day he catches the attention of Qing Ting. They have conversation, but it’s brief. She knows him and his farm work, but she tries to keep a public distance from him. She’s concerned for her social status about how she’ll look conversating with a ‘farm boy.’
Eventually she admits that she does love him and the two become a couple. However Qing Ting loses her job at a cleaner’s when a pushy rich woman gets more demanding and then demands Qing Ting be fired. Ke Fan swears to Qing Ting he will gets revenge for her. He does just that by driving in front of the rich couple’s car and smashing in their front at a red light. The incident lands Ke Fan a four-year prison term.
Four years have passed and Ke Fan is released from prison. The first thing he does is try to look for Qing Ting. He goes to where she used to live, goes to her former jobs. No sign. Then he learns of an internet celebrity by the name of Xiao Xiao. He sees her and notices that it’s Qing Ting. He tries to conversate with her, but she keeps on denying she’s Qing Ting. Then one day, she gives negative comments about a singing star. That leads to a lot of online flack delivered to her. Xiao Xiao is devastated and it drives her to suicide. Ke Fan learns of this. He feels what he must do is undergo plastic surgery to have Qing Ting’s face. After the operation, he returns to the monastery where she used to serve. It is there she chooses to stay.
This is definitely a film you can call experimental. You can also describe it as ambitious for Xu Bing. One thing we learn is that China is a country full of surveillance cameras. The average person’s face is seen on surveillance cameras 300 times a day. The cameras are all state-run. It is through this that Xu Bing came up with the idea to do a fictional story through use of surveillance. I tried to be as observant as I could with the film. I was trying to spot out if Xu Bing was using the same actors to play Ke Fan and Qing Ting. One thing about the film is that the parts are voiced over by Lui Yongfang for Qing Ting and Su Shangqing for Ke Fan.
I do give Xu Bing kudos for trying to make a film of this caliber and this experimental. However I have to say that it is flawed. The biggest thing is a story that appeared to make sense from time to time, but ended in a bizarre fashion. How does one try to keep the spirit of a deceased person alive by undergoing plastic surgery to look like them? The scene where Ke Fan joins the monastery made a little more sense as it can be seen as a way to keep Qing Ting’s spirit alive. However the plastic surgery really has me wondering.
I can understand that Xu Bing is trying to make more than one statement to make in this film. I think through the character of Qing Ting, he trying to make a statement of one being consumed by materialism. We have a young girl who leaves the monastery and then gets consumed in the modern world of materialism, and then she commits suicide. Also I feel with this film using surveillance camera footage, I think he’s also trying to make a statement about the chaos of this world we live in. It’s noted when the film goes from footage used as part of the drama shifting to general surveillance footage consisting of car crashes, people on the go, a disaster, a woman drowning in a pond, and even business footage. Whatever statements Xu is trying to make, it doesn’t come across smoothly and it comes across rather confusing. I will acknowledge Xu’s Dragonfly Eyes as a brave first-attempt at a ‘surveillance-drama’ and anticipate better in the years to come.
Dragonfly Eyes is an ambition attempt at creating a live-action film through surveillance footage, but it comes off as messy and confusing.
It’s our impulse that whenever we hear the term ‘Italian film,’ we think of either Life Is Beautiful or something in the spirit of Fellini. 7 Minutes is a completely different film. It’s a film about a serious topic and worth seeing.
The film starts at a textile plant in Italy. There’s been a merger with a big French company. The merger is seen as a threat to 300 female employees as they fear their jobs would be outsourced, and they protest outside. The heads of the Italian company plan to meet with the French CEO Mme. Rochette. However it’s only after Mme. Rochette meets with some of the female protesters that she starts talking with the Italian company.
The heads talk with the CEO in one room. Ten females who are part of the textile section wait in another room expecting anything, even the worst. Bianca is the only woman from the textiles section allowed in the meeting with the bigwigs. She looks onto their discussions in an untrusting matter awaiting their fate.
Finally the news comes to them. No jobs are really in jeopardy. However the eleven including Bianca are given an issue to vote on. They are asked to accept their current jobs as long as they give up seven minutes of their break time. This first seems like a simple thing to vote on; vote ‘yes’ and keep their jobs secure as well as the jobs of the 300 other woman who are now out celebrating. However Bianca is not happy and speaks her disagreement. The others are easier-going and all vote ‘yes’ at first.
However all realize they really need to think this through. They didn’t do it the first time. Some see it as more than a vote on a simple labor issue. Some see it as a test to see how much of a ‘sheep’ to the system they could make of themselves. Others however feel they are justified in voting ‘yes’ and give substantial reasons. Even one worker who’s pregnant feels this vote could affect the future of the daughter she’s carrying inside. A lot of discussion comes of this. We learn it was because of faulty machinery why one ended up in a wheelchair, and was pressured into signing an agreement that it was her fault. we hear from immigrants like Albanian Hira and African Kidal about their own difficulties. Then we hear from Bianca who always got far in the company by playing the system, but now wants to be the courageous one and stand her ground. Then there’s one who’s pregnant and needs to be rushed to the hospital to give birth. Before she leaves, she requests her vote be ‘no.’
Meanwhile time is running out. It’s 4pm. More than five hours have passed and a final vote has not been reached. This is especially infuriating for Mme. Rochette as she has a flight to catch. She becomes impatient and just lets it out on the Italian colleagues in French. However the ten have to come to a vote. Bianca announces her ‘no’ vote and announces she will resign as the labor leader of her group. There is a final vote at the end: five vote ‘yes,’ six vote ‘no.’
This film is very insightful. At first you think this film is about voting over a simple labor compromise, but it’s not. This thing about voting over a seven-minute compromise to their break time would prove to me more than just about that compromise. You’d hear in their conversations that it would be about a lot more. It would be about what other businesses would do. It would be about businesses trying to make other possible compromises in the future. It would even be a test of one’s personal dignity and what they believe in. It’s unfortunate that these women have to vote on this compromise for the sake of hundreds of jobs for other people, but it’s an issue that very common right now and could happen close to home. That’s why this dialogue in the film is so important.
The story isn’t just about the yes-voters and the no-voters stating their case. The story is also about the eleven women involved in the voting. We have eleven women of various different backgrounds. They range in ages from a 60-year old veteran of the place to a 20 year-old newcomer, married or divorced mothers to single women, two immigrants from Albania or Africa, and even a woman disabled from an injury on the job. All of them make their backgrounds and life-experiences known in the film as they all try to reach their final vote. Whenever you hear one of the women state her reason for her vote, what you hear is the story of at least a thousand other women who share her experience. What they say is that valuable.
The film does bring dignity to the six that vote ‘no.’ The film however does not try to make the five women who vote ‘yes’ look like they’re stupid or ‘conformist sheep.’ You just have to hear their stories on why they voted the way they did. The film does keep the dignity of those that voted ‘no,’ but also brought a human side to those that voted ‘yes.’ You’ll see in the film that those that voted ‘yes’ at the very end didn’t do it like they were in a flock of sheep. A lot of heart and soul and a lot of heavy thinking went into their ‘yes’ vote too.
The film is actually based on a stage play by Stefano Massini. I’ve never seen the stage play, but it’s very possible the play was just set in the meeting area with the eleven women discussing the deal. There would have to be some elements needed to bring this play to the big screen and make people want to watch it. I think the element of having the boss from France, Mme. Rochette coming over and holding the meeting adds to it. That scene near the end where she gets frustrated with the long wait and walks out telling off the Italians in French said quite a bit. It had me wondering: “Is that what people in France think of Italians?” It also sent a message of the disconnection between the business hierarchy and workers that obviously exists. Mme. Rochette appears at the beginning to be empathetic with the workers, especially Hira. She appears to be a congenial partner with them especially when she receives the gift of the big mozzarella. However the truth about how she feels gets revealed when the women delay their vote long enough. That doesn’t simply speak of Mme. Rochette, but lots of other CEO’s worldwide. I think a lot of them feel they need to have a disconnection from them in order to make business happen, no matter how cruel.
This film directed by Michele Placido, who co-wrote the screenplay with Toni Trupia and original playwright Stefano Massini, did a very good job in creating an intriguing film where most of the action takes place in one location. Massini’s play on its own is excellent in creating well-dimensioned roles for all eleven women in the play. Placido makes the right additions for the sake of the film while maintaining the importance of the debate as the focal point. The standout actress of the film has to be Ottavia Piccolo. She does a very good job in playing a woman who achieved a lot of success in playing along with the system, but now wants to be the strong one. Piccolo allows her role as Bianca to be a role that speaks as much in silence as she does in dialogue. All eleven women who are part of the voting scene all have roles that are full of volume. Each of the roles represent a woman everyone knows and were well-acted out.
7 Minutes is more than a film about a labor issue being voted upon. It’s also about people in this modern work world, most specifically women, and their feelings coming across as they vote.
Summer 1993 is a unique Spanish film for its depiction of childhood. It’s also a unique story about a girl that’s semi-autobiographical.
The story begins with a young six year-old girl named Frida who’s recently orphaned. She has lost both her parents to AIDS with her mother dying in the summer of 1993. The whole family including the mother is hugely concerned for Frida’s well-being. Her mother’s brother Esteve agrees to take care of her. Frida is taken to their mountainside pueblo in the Catalan Pyrenees to like with him, his wife Marga and 3 year-old daughter Anna.
It’s taking a long time for Frida to get adjusted to her new surroundings. She feels like a misfit in the town and very rarely socializes with anyone else. On top of it, she feels uncomfortable around the chickens. AIDS isn’t spoken around her and her family. When in conversation, they simply refer to it as ‘that illness.’ It does become apparent what ‘that illness’ is when Frida cuts herself and her family panics.
She also misses her mother, but doesn’t know how to grieve about it. Every day, she goes to the tiny grotto near the farm and prays to her mother. There’s even a time she places a pack of cigarettes to her mother by the Madonna. That’s the best way Frida knows how to grieve.
Over time, Frida appears to be developing a friendship to Anna; possibly even a sisterhood. It would become apparent Frida’s acting out when she plays a game with Anna in the woods only to leave Anna behind. Anna is found, but with a broken arm. The family is infuriated with the way Frida is acting, feeling she has no morals. Unknown to Esteve and Marga, Frida hears it all. Frida starts feeling like she’s unloved and decides the thing to do is to run away. It’s there as the family comes to search for her that Frida is reminded that she is loved. It becomes a turning point for her as she now feels like an accepted person at home and in the community.
This isn’t your typical film from Spain. Usually most fans of ‘arthouse’ film think of Pedro Almodovar when the word Spanish film comes to mind. Here, Carla Simon is not aiming to be the artist Pedro Almodovar is reputed to be. This film is actually autobiographical of Simon. She herself lost her mother to AIDS in the summer of 1993. Her father died some time before. The summer of 1993 was the first summer she spent with her new family. Basically Simon wanted to send a message with this film: “With the movie, I wanted to express the fact that children can suffer a thing so cruel but they are still able to understand death. That we have to talk to them about death, because a six year-old child can understand. The question/thing/issue is how they manage their feelings. We talk also about children’s ability to adapt, how they can survive and keep going, and the fact that children are more able than adults.”
It wasn’t mentioned whether Frida’s actions in the film mirrored Carla’s actions in real life. However Frida did exhibit a lot of common behavior traits common in children that have lost a parent at their young ages. The film shows how Frida goes from being a child who exhibits behavior relatives don’t know what to make of to soon belonging to a family and even grieving at the end.
Carla Simon directs and co-writes with Valentina Viso a story that’s intriguing, but also very natural and without overdoing the drama. It plays the events out as they come without trying to grab hold of attention. All the better for it. On top of it, the story is shown through the child’s point of view, which makes it that more autobiographical. Young Laia Atrigas does a very good job of playing Frida. She does a no-nonsense job of playing a six-year old girl and doesn’t try to be cutesy. She just does what she needs to do. The adult actors in the film, especially David Verdaguer and Bruna Cusi, also do a very good job in their parts as the concerned but confused foster parents. The film is set very well in its Catalan settings with scenes in both the pueblo and in the Catalan village. The film gives the feel of being in Catalonia. The film also included something noteworthy of the time as we see Frida wearing a T-shirt with Cobi: the mascot of the 1992 Summer Olympics from Barcelona.
A bit of trivia. Summer 1993 is Spain’s entry this year in the Academy Award category for Best Foreign language Film. It is the second film in the Catalan language to be submitted as Spain’s entry in that category. The first ever is Black Bread.
Summer 1993 is a story about a young girl’s change of surroundings and how she responds to it. It’s autobiographical depiction works well as it plays out in a no-nonsense fashion. The better for it.
WORK CITED: Zorita, Kristina. “Interview With Director Carla Simon” European Women’s Audiovisual Network. 6 March 2017<http://www.ewawomen.com/en/events/interview-with-director-carla-simon.html>
I started my trip to the Vancouver International Film Festival seeing an animated film called Tehran Taboo. This film is a very telling film in its subject matter and how it plays out in animation.
The story begins with Pari. She’s recently separated from her drug-addicted husband who’s now in prison. To get anywhere in Iran, including getting better things for her 5 year-old mute son Elias, she needs her husband’s signature on documents. She pleads to a judge with religious connections to no avail, but makes her an offer for her to be a ‘madam’ under his system. She refuses at first, but soon changes her mind. She is introduced to the prostitution business and is even given residency for her and her son.
Sara appears to have a happy marriage with her banker husband Mohsen, but it’s not. She finds the marriage discomforting especially since her in-laws are in the way. She finds a way into the system of prostitution. She even ‘works’ with Pari.
Babak is a traditional musician trying to make a name for himself. One night after a lousy show, he has sex with a woman she dances with. The next day, she comes to him saying she needs an operation in her vagina to make her appear like a virgin. She claims she’s getting married in five days. If her fiance finds out, he’ll have her killed. It’s up to Babak to get the money for the operation or find a serum. He even meets up with a hard man she claims to be her fiance.
All three situations criss-cross in the middle of Tehran. All three meet different endings. In the end, the truth about Sara is revealed to Mohsen. It’s right after she makes a phone call for a prostitution request to a man of high government ranking. The man then orders her number traced by the morality police. Sara eventually loses it all. Babak would also lose it all. Just as he is on the verge of coming across the money needed for the operations, he witnesses public hangings. That could be an omen of his own demise. We also learn that the woman was not to be married, but part of a prostitution business where virgins are paid higher money. Despite the difficulties, things work out for Pari. She’s able to make a good income and be able to send Elias to a good school.
This animated film– animated through rotoscope– is an impressive story about three situations all intersecting with the world of prostitution. They all face their own challenges as all have to deal with the laws in Iran: both law-based and religion-based. The influence of religion is seen throughout the film as there’s cases where the husband is required to authorize along with the wife, religious clerics hold high jobs, and the morality police all around ready to arrest even on public signs of affection. Even the fact that there’s such thing as a Morality Police gives an insight of what type of system Iran has been under since the Islamic Revolution of 1978.
Prostitution is very much a hush-hush business almost universally but you can bet it is especially secretive in Iran. We’re talking about a country where adultery is considered grounds for execution. However it’s seen by these three women as a chance to make a higher income. This is especially beneficial since the income for the average Iranian is very low. Pari has a chance to receive a better life for herself and her son thanks to her work, and the red tape of a judge involved. Sara sees prostitution as a chance to escape the strain of her marriage, especially with pushy in-laws. However this ring of prostitution is a detriment for Babak as he finds himself dealing in this business without him knowing. We learn that ‘fiance’ is actually part of the business too much too late for Babak.
This is a story that takes three situations in Tehran and often has them criss-crossing together through each of the characters. Even the protagonists in one of the sub-plots will find themselves involved in the other two plots too. The three stories intersect with both the photo studio where the photographer would take pictures of those involved and Elias the mute son who says nothing, but is a witness to all that goes on. The story plays itself out both as a story with a lot of intrigue and even some comedic moments, like when they have to deal with a gynecologist with poor personal hygiene or the photographer always changing backgrounds.
SPOILER WARNING: In the end, it’s Pari who’s the one that benefits most from this system of prostitution, if not the only one benefiting at all. Babak finds himself stuck in the middle of what would become what many believe to be his tragic fate in the end. Sara loses it all in the end, and it’s obvious her drug-induced jump at the end is a suicide. It’s evident she feels like she has nothing to live for. Pari, on the other hand, had the unfairness in her favor. She struggled with the unfairness of the Iranian legal system demanding her husband’s signature for many things; that’s the law in Iran. How could she when her ex-husband is in prison? But when the Iranian judge offered her an entry into the prostitution business, it opened doors for her and Elias. It even allowed her to achieve things without her husband’s signature. Despite the struggles, it appears Pari is the only one who won.
This is the first feature-length animated film for Ali Soozandeh. Ali was born in Iran but would emigrate to Germany. It’s easy to see why the film’s countries of production are listed as Germany and Austria. There’s no way Iran would allow for a film like this to be released! The film which he directed and co-wrote with Grit Kienzlen is a very good story of intrigue and will raise a lot of eyebrows about what’s going on ‘underground’ in a country like Iran. All the actors did their parts very well, whether it be doing their voices or acting for their rotoscope images. I feel the rotoscope method of animation fits the film very well in terms of telling its story. Rotoscope also helped well with Waltz With Bashir a few years ago.
Tehran Taboo is an excellent animated film about the secrets of Iran few know about. The stories of those involved, and why they do it, are made very clear.
This year seems like the year I’ve seen more experimental film at the VIFF than ever before. The latest experimental feature I saw was Forest Movie. It was shot all in Vancouver and it does a lot with the 65 minutes it has.
The film begins with images of a forest and then phases into a young woman sleeping. The young woman was actually dreaming of the forest. She sends a text message to her friend that she can’t meet up: she’s sick. The friend accepts.
What she does right after is put on a jacket and bring along her bag and portable chair. She simply leaves from her apartment suite near Powell St. and Nanaimo St. and walks to a forest inside the city. The visit is simple as she walks across the paved trails over the rocks and branches with her cellphone turned off. A complete getaway. There are times she takes breaks like for when she eats something or feels she needs to write poetry or prose in her notebook. Other than that, just simply walking through the forest.
Then she finds a grassy spot that’s open and surrounded by the trees. She uses that spot as a place to set up her chair and relax. There’s a twenty-minute shot of the area of the forest she witnesses from her chair. It just consists of that view, changes of sunshine or cloud, and the surrounding sounds of the outdoors or her dealing with her chair, bag or notebook.
Night soon falls. She actually fell asleep during her time sitting in the forest. Night approaches. She’s all alone in the dark relying on her cellphone as a flashlight. She rushes to find the exit to the forest, but is lost. Images of her attempt to exit consist of her cellphone light shining or complete darkness with nothing but sound. Morning breaks and we see her walking back to her apartment as if nothing dreadful happened.
No question this film can be defined as experimental. The film is what it is. It’s a story about a young woman seeking tranquility in a forest and is willing to deal with whatever comes to her. The director Matthew Taylor Blais was in the audience and would later hold a Q&A after. Before the film started, he said: “No two people will have the same impression of this film.”
I got what he was after in this film: he wanted us to create our own thoughts, impressions and opinions about this film. That explains why actress Ana Escorse is given no dialogue at all in this film. The film is all about what we see and what we hear. I was open to this. The film gives us images and scenes that try to get us to form our own opinions. For starters, I actually thought the woman really was sick from the texts she sent. I though she went to the forest possibly for natural healing therapy. That scene in her apartment that shows an Aboriginal dream catcher could may have made some, including myself, believe she’s into Aboriginal spirituality and may see the forest as the medicine she needs. Even the scene where you see trees just outside a condo leads you to think this is an urban forest close to downtown Vancouver in Stanley Park, when it’s actually shot in Pacific Spirit Regional Park close to UBC.
Later shots add into the opinions we form about this film. The scenes where she takes out her notebook and writes or draws might get one to think she’s using the forest for creative inspiration. That twenty-minute shot of the forest’s view is an attempt to get us to rely on the background sounds to form our own opinions about what’s happening from this view. The end scene of her trying to leave the forest at night is also one that gets us to rely on our thoughts of what’s happening. The scene with the biggest impact is the scene where the camera makes like we see her escape through her eyes. It consists of the background sounds and the cellphone light cutting in and out. It’s actually the scene with the most drama as one would wonder will she make it? Will she get lost?
Matthew Taylor Blais does a very good job with this film. I was more welcoming with the experimentation in this film than I was in PROTOTYPE. I think Blais’ intro before it began helped me to be more welcoming. It’s an experimental film that pays off and allows the audience to create their own impression. It allowed me to create mine. However it is to say that it does take some creative risks that would be questionable. I welcomed that twenty-minute shot of the forest scenery, but some were not so welcoming. In fact I saw a few people leave the theatre during that scene, including a group of four. That’s one of the risks of creating an experimental film like this. Not everyone is as welcoming as me to such experimentation.
Forest Movie is an experimental film that allows the audience to exercise their imagination and make their own judgements about what’s happening in the story. This is experimental film that pays off greatly.
One thing of the VIFF I consider to be a treat is whenever I attend a shorts segment. The segment I saw entitled New Skins And Old Ceremonies was a selection of seven shorts from Canadian directors. They were all unique in their own way.
Lost Paradise Lost: dir. Yan Groulx- Two people named Julie and Victor are out of love and find themselves boarding a bus full of strangers to anywhere. Where it takes them is a bizarre place for those out of love and rivals and threats to deal with. An eccentric short nonetheless, but it captures the feel well and makes sense in the end.
Flood: dir. Amanda Strong- It’s an animated short about an indigenous person and how the Canadian system did what it could to make them and their people feel inferior. It’s a story worth telling. The mix of stop-motion for modern images and traditional indigenous art adds to the story. The film ends with a renewed sense of pride.
Cherry Cola: dir. Joseph Amenta- Two drag queens are out on a night to dress up, have fun, and get revenge on an ex-boyfriend. It seems confusing at first, despite being intriguing to watch. You first think it’s a comedy, but the story ends on a dark note. It exposes an overlooked heartache some transvestites have.
The Good Fight: dir. Mintie Pardoe- A young woman goes into a sex toy shop to buy a toy. This woman is a nun about to be ordained. She struggles with her sworn commitment to celibacy, but the secret does get exposed. And with a surprising ending. Directed by a recent UBC graduate, the story is basically for the sake of shock value as it appears no actually research on the Catholic Church and vocations were done. Basically that’s all it is: entertainment for hedonists.
Sea Monster: dirs. Daniel Rocque and Kassandra Tomczyk- Tomczyk co-wrote, co-directed and stars in this short. Charley and Aria are a couple cooped up in a hotel madly in love, but both are coping with trauma. Aria dreams of a squid. Then the two make out on night in the fashion of a squid, followed by a bizarre aftermath. This is a film that’s nothing short of experimental. This film is good at getting creative in its time frame and setting.
Thug: dir. Daniel Boos- We first see how three friends– Eman, Simon and Josh– are shooting a low-budget gangsta film. Director Josh recommends to Eman that he creates a hold-up scene on Simon unexpectedly to make the film more ‘real.’ Eman agrees, despite the risk to their friendship. It does a lot more; it arouses suspicion from the local police. Later, Eman and Simon talk about roles they wish they could play before Eman auditions for a role as a gangster thug. This short film sends a message about how minorities in acting get the short end of the stick in terms of the roles they are offered and are often limited to racial stereotypes.
Let Your Heart Be Light: dirs. Deragh Campbell and Sophy Romvari- Both Deragh and Sophy write, direct and act in opposite names in this short. Sophy is confined to spend Christmas alone after a break-up. Deragh pays a visit and makes her Christmas. The film is slow and lacking in energy, but it does a good job of making use of its time and keeping with the Christmas vibe.
In summary, all seven were different in their own way it terms of both style and quality. There were a couple that were either inconsistent in story or lacking in energy. There were a couple that were eccentric, but the eccentricities worked for the film. There were also some films that made you think. The ones that made me think were my favorites as the messages came across very well and very effectively.
New Skins And Old Ceremonies makes for a unique array of seven shorts by Canadian directors. Some were good, some were bad, but all were an opportunity for the directors to make names for themselves.