Interesting how a lot of films I’ve seen at the VIFF are to do about deep dark secrets being exposed. Petra is one of those films that exposes some dark secrets.
The film is seven chapters starting with the second chapter. Petra is a young budding artist. She is arriving at the estate of a well-known artist named Jaume. Over at the place, we sense an unhappy vibe. The house consists of wife Marisa, son Lucas, housekeeper Teresa, her husband Juanjo and their son Pau. She is seeking artistic guidance from Jaume, but gets nothing but insults from her. That leads her disheartened with her own work. Jaume is actually a tyrant to everyone he works with. Lucas talks with Petra of a dark ‘confession’ and tries to advance to her, but she rejects.
In the third chapter, Jaume had just finished having sex with Teresa. He criticizes her for not enjoying the non-consentual sex and threatens to tell Pau. Teresa later commits suicide. At the funeral Lucas looks at his father with contempt. Moving to the first chapter, Petra’s mother is dying. She tells of an artist she loved. However she does not reveal it to be Jaume. She doesn’t want Petra to have Jaume in her life. In the fourth chapter, Petra confronts Jaume with reason to believe he is her father. She tells him of a letter her mother wrote years ago. Marisa later admits there has been infidelity in both their lives. Throughout their marriage, they both have had their share of various lovers.
In the sixth chapter, Jaume does admit to Petra that he is her father. Right as Petra is pregnant. He also tells that truth to Lucas. Lucas is infuriated. He tries to shoot Jaume but Jaume reminds him he doesn’t have what it takes. Instead Lucas shoots himself. In the fifth chapter, we learn that Petra and Lucas have become more than just friends. They even get romantic. In the seventh chapter, the people try to deal with their lives after the death of Lucas. Marisa confesses to Petra that Lucas is not Jaume’s son, but the son of an extramarital affair she had. Petra is infuriated and tells Marisa never to see her again. Jaume is seen conversing with Pau. Then as Jaume walks away, Pau shoots him dead. The film ends with Petra looking after her daughter and Marisa showing up as a meeting of goodwill. The film ends with them conversing together in a friendly manner.
The film is definitely one in which goes from something simple to being a film where dark truths are exposed. At first you think Petra is there to see Jaume to learn how to be a better artist. That would appear to be the case. However then it becomes clear that Petra is soon after a truth. A truth that could not just destroy Jaume, but those around him too. In time, a truth about Marisa is also exposed. Dark secrets come to the forefront and a lot of lives are destroyed because of it. You sometimes think there’s no way the film would end with anyone at peace, but somehow it does.
The unique thing about Petra is not just telling the story, but doing it in a non-chronological order . This may be a film of seven acts, but it begins with act two, continues with act three, but then leads into act one. There’s also the shift from act four to act six, and then leading back to act five. That shifting around of the acts works because the film presents itself in situations that has the viewer asking why the situation? Why the friction? It’s when it goes back to the recent past that we get the answers why. This playing around in time, just like it’s done in Pulp Fiction, works for telling the film’s story.
Also it’s unique how this film takes place in the world of art. I know I’ve seen a lot in terms of the freeness or even the foolishness of the way actors live out their love lives. It’s interesting seeing this about an adulterous artist whose wife is just as adulterous. It often leaves you wondering if they lived a strained marriage where they decided to stay together for the sake of Lucas? Or were they an open marriage? There are a lot of open marriages in the world of arts and entertainment. It makes you wonder.
Whatever the situation, the film sometimes seems it’s as much about Jaume as it is about Petra. Petra is a woman searching for the truth and relating to the people she meets along the way. However the film shows just how much of a monster Jaume is. I know that arrogance is common among artists and even berating behavior, but Jaume appears to be a person with no conscience. He berates the artists he works with and Petra’s work, he berates Lucas for being unable to break away from him, he lures his housekeeper in sexual temptation, and even appears at the end as if he doesn’t care about Lucas’ death. It’s no wonder after Jaume is shot to death, Petra and Marisa appear to be at peace as they meet. I think that was it about the film. Jaume was the tyrant in people’s lives and Petra would be that missing link that would free others.
This is the latest film from Spanish arthouse director Jaime Rosales. Rosales has developed a reputation over the years starting with his 2003 short film The Hours Of The Day which won the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes, his 2007 feature Solitary Fragments which received a lot of critical renown, and 2014’s Beautiful Youth which was nominated for Un Certain Regard at Cannes. Here he directs a story he co-wrote with Michel Gatzambide and Clara Roquet. He places it in an artistic setting with a mostly quiet environment, but that doesn’t take away the intensity of the friction. Instead the quiet slow nature makes you feel the friction. Barbara Lennie does a very good job of playing the lead protagonist, but it’s Joan Botey playing the tyrant Jaume that steals the show. Both do an excellent job of managing their roles well.
Petra is a film that tells a story in a varying chronological order. However it does so to get us to the heart of the story in a surprising way.
I’m not too familiar about the Korean movie industry. However The Running Actress does offer some interesting insights.
The film is divided into three acts. Act 1 consists of Moon going on a hike with two friends. Then they soon run into producer Won Dong-yeon and two of his colleagues. Later all six of them go on a dinner together. However the dinner is discomforting to Moon as all they focus on is her looks and having her work in their film for free. She’s unhappy about it and on the way home, she has the manager stop the car and she runs out!
Act 2 is all about the discomforts of fame, especially past fame. She has to deal with past images of her in the limelight. She also has to deal with the fact she hasn’t had a role in so long, and the first role to come in recent times is for her to play the mother of an adult child. At her age? She tries to get a loan, but is turned down. She tries to use a sick estranged in-lay for assistance, but it comes to no avail. Home life with her husband and small child is no escape from all the pressures. At the end of it all, she is back in the car with her manager and again demands he stop the car. She runs out screaming again!
Act 3 is at a wake for a director she worked with during her young-and-famous days. She doesn’t plan to stay there long because she wasn’t on good terms with the director. However noticing the small size of the wake — just her, his wife and son — she stays there longer. She even starts up a conversation with an old acting acquaintance. Then a younger actress who the director has last worked with comes in and mourns out loud. She later joins in a conversation with all and it turns ugly as the director’s widow has a lot of wrath towards her. The film ends with Moon and the young actress walking together in friendly conversation.
The funniest thing about this film is that it makes the Korean film industry so bitingly close to that of Hollywood. I may not be very familiar with the Korean film industry or how it operates, but this film is a reminder that judging an actress by age isn’t simply a Hollywood-only thing. I can see that happening in Korea especially since we have this whole K-Pop phenomenon. Young singers handpicked mostly for their youthful looks and then trained for four years as an act together to top the charts. I can easily see how the Korean film industry can be very youth or young-adult oriented. I don’t know what types of movies they shell out in Korea but I can see it happening.
In the meantime there’s Moon So-Ri. She had it big for so many years and then she lost it. She’s so starved for money, she has to rely on an estranged ailing in-law for help to get it. Her slate of film roles dry up because of her ‘yesterday’s news’ status, and her only chance is playing a mother of a young adult. Interesting that Hollywood wouldn’t be the only film industry to be as judgmental as that in terms of an actress’ age.
At the same time, it not only tackles the dark side of the entertainment profession in a humorous way. It also pokes fun at the emotional reactions of those involved too. Moon herself has her moments where she just can’t hold it in and just lets it out. Even at the funeral for Director Lee, there are the over-the-top emotional reactions from those as well. It really shows how interesting the people in entertainment are like.
The star of the film is Moon So-ri. She wrote it, directed it and stars lead in it. In actuality, this film was actually three short films Moon did as she was completing an MFA program at Chung-Ang University. I think she did a smart thing by putting the three together and creating a feature-length movie. It’s humorous and smart. It draws on some of Moon’s own experiences, but also includes some fictionalizations too. She does a very good effort as a whole here. The supporting players also do a good job in their own acting here. She even has her own real-life husband Jang Joon-hwan play himself in the film. It’s also interesting real-life producer Won Dong-yeon agree to be in it. I think he probably agrees with the message.
The Running Actress is a humorous look at a reality of the stupidity of the entertainment industry. It’s also a humorous look at the emotional attitudes of the artists involved. Moon So-ri does a good job of showing a stupidity in a humorous way.
The VIFF may have ended two weeks ago but that won’t stop me from writing reviews of what I saw. Especially since most will be released more widely in the future.
With the VIFF, I have a good chance of seeing a wide variety of film from around the world. Earlier on, I had the good fortune to see the Iranian film 3 Faces. It appears slow, but says a lot.
The film opens with a young woman, Marziyeh, shooting a selfie-style video with her smartphone. She is in tears. She says her family will not accept her desire to become an actress and they demand she marries a man she does not love. She then appears to hang herself as the phone drops to the ground.
Later we see two people in a car. They are director Jafar Panahi and actress Behnaz Jafari. Panahi was the first one to receive the disturbing video which he was told came from a friend and then forwarded it to Jafari. Jafari doesn’t know whether to feel guilt over her death or believe that this whole video is a fake. Both drive over to her home village, a Turkish-Azeri speaking village, to find out the truth. They first want to search the village and then search the nearby cave where they believe the suicide would most likely happen.
As they drive, they get a good sense of the traditional mindset of the people that live there. There are some younger people who recognize the two and are in love with their movies. The more traditional people tell a bigger story. In one case, they see an old woman settling herself in her pre-dug grave with a lamp to keep snakes away from her for the ‘bad’ she believes she did. Another older villager insists Behnaz take tea with her and he gives her his eldest son’s circumcised foreskin as a talisman. Along the way, they come across a bull on the road lying there because his leg is broken. The owner says the bull cannot be killed because he is a ‘stud bull’ who once impregnated 10 cows in one night.
Then it happens. They come to the house of Marziyeh and her family. A lot of younger people are excited to meet the actor-director pair, but they know nothing of what happened to Marziyeh. She has been missing for three days. Then out of nowhere comes Marziyeh. She’s alive, but Behnaz is infuriated for her sending that ‘lie of a video.’ Marziyeh insisted that the video was a plea for help. If her family found out the truth, her brother would kill her. Behnaz reluctantly accepts Marziyeh and allows her to come into the car. During the ride back to the highway, Behnaz gets a phone call. It’s from Shahrazade: an actress and dancer Jafar worked with years ago. Shahrazade says she’s bitter about the way the directors treated her and now lives as a recluse writing poetry and painting landscapes. The film ends with the car stopped halfway down the road and the two women– Behnaz and Marziyeh — walking together.
The film may be slow and not too heavy on the drama, but it tells a lot. As many would know, Iran is going through a very restrictive regime. Even though it’s a democracy, religious law is still hard-lined. One can get a sense on how limited the roles of women are in a country like Iran. However Panahi takes it one step further as he focuses on a village in Northern Iran which is close to the borders of either Turkey or Azerbaijan. In fact Panahi comes from the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan. He gives a good sense of the traditional, even superstitious, mindsets of the people. The village people appear good hearty people who have good souls despite their superstitions appearing strange. However it’s Marziyeh who best can demonstrate the ugly side of it all. Marziyeh, a young woman with ambitions, does not fit in well. Especially since her village has desires for how a woman should live.
Mind you the film isn’t just about women in small remote villages in Iran. There’s also that phone call from Shahrazade. She was infuriated how male directors have treated her on the set so she decides to go her own direction, even if it means becoming a recluse. I think that film says a lot of how women are treated all over Iran. That scene where Panahi walks off with Marziyeh is possibly intended to speak a message about women choosing their own direction. Maybe Jafari is admitting his own mistreatment of women too.
Jafar Panahi is taking a big risk with this film. Actually his whole career as a filmmaker has been a big risk. Panahi’s films have upset the government of Iran because it either defies the strict Islamic conventions the Iranian government expects him to follow or they feel the films depict Iran in a negative manner. Whatever the reason, Panahi has been arrested and sentenced in 2010 to six years in prison for ‘propaganda against his country.’ On top of that, he was given a twenty-year ban on filmmaking from the Iranian government. The six-year prison sentence was reduced to three months due to international pressure spawned from a wide ‘freedom of speech’ campaign. His filmmaking ban is still in effect and 3 Faces is the fourth film he’s made under the ban. According to IMDB, this film was filmed in Tehran. No doubt if the Iranian government saw this, they would be infuriated. Especially since it makes the country’s treatment of women look bad. When I saw the film during the VIFF, I saw a lot of Iranian immigrants in the audience. I’m sure there were a lot of people, especially women, who share the same sentiments in the film.
The film Panahi acts, directs and co-writes with Nader Saeivar is a slow story that speaks volumes with what is shown scene after scene. Having a female co-write the story– another radical move in a country like Iran — really sends the message out there about what it’s like in Iran for women. Note that the film’s script won the Best Screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival and was a nominee for the Palme d’Or. As an actor, Panahi acts like the silent observer as the story unfolds between Jafari and Marziyeh. The acting of Jafari and Marziyeh doesn’t really stand out in terms of grandiose performance, but their performances fit the story perfectly. The acting from the people playing the villagers added to the story and their characters were very believable.
3 Faces is a unique film that speaks volumes in its slow manner. 3 Faces is also a very radical film by a film maker who is already facing political persecution. It’s not just simply a film, but a courageous act.
One of the first features I saw at the VIFF this year was the Indian film In The Shadows. I left with a lot of mixed feelings about it that I still have.
The film begins with Khuddoos: a storekeeper and a loner in Old Delhi. He is distant from other people but prefers getting whatever closeness he can from them through surveillance cameras he has put up through the neighborhood. His only friend Ganeshi visits him on a daily basis. One day, he catches something of his interest. Next door lives a family with a 14 year-old boy named Idris or ‘Idu.’ He lives with his family consisting of his mother Saira, currently expecting her third child, and his father Liakat who owns a butcher shop. Liakat expects Idu to help with the business and do deliveries. However he wants to spend time talking with his friend Ginny who is lucky to attend school. When Saira learns he didn’t do the delivery expected and saw Ginny, she gives him money for Liakat to cover it up. When Liakat comes home, he eventually learns the truth and reacts violently to Idu. Khuddoos hears it through the wall. He is shocked from what he hears.
Both try to move on from that incident. Liakat apologizes to Idu and says he won’t do it again, but Idu doesn’t believe it. Meanwhile Khudoos can’t get the incident out of his mind. He tells Ganeshi about it. He knows how lax the police are about dealing with cases of abused children, but he’s determined to help. Life continues on for the two. Idu spends more time with Ginny and tells of his dream of escaping his father. Khuddoos manages his shop and tries to do business as usual. However the incident doesn’t leave Khuddoos’ mind. He even misses meet up with Idu by a few second.
Then it happens. Saira needs to give birth and Idu and his younger brother are the only ones there. But Liakat isn’t there. Idu has to do all the work. The doctors arrive too late. The baby dies. Both the father and the mother take it hard. However Idu feels it’s Liakats fault and isn’t afraid to say it in his face. Liakat reacts violently to which Idu responds back with violence. That leads Liakat to become even more violent. Khuddoos hears it and tries getting the police after the situation. The police are too slow to respond.
Idu has had it. He wants to run away. He’s fully convinced his father’s a monster. He tells Ginny, but Ginny mentions that he will miss him. Meanwhile Khuddoos does what he normally does; goes to the same restaurant to eat and gets drunk. The manager tries to boot him out for good because of his constant drunkenness, but Khuddoos tries to state his case, that he is hungry. Khuddoos knows he has to leave his seclusion behind. Soon Idu makes a break for the train station to finally leave Liakat behind, but the father spots him at the station. Upon returning home, Liakat says neither he nor Saira will be out of his sight.
Enough is enough. On a quiet night, Idu sees Liakat asleep. Idu smothers him. As he does, Khuddoos breaks through the walls. Liakat is dead. And Khuddoos goes into the room. Witnessing a photo, he wipes the dust off and sees the image of the boy. The others come across Khuddoos’ cameras in his hideout.
The film is intended to be a psychological drama. It’s a case of a man who’s cut himself off from the world but slowly comes back in once a domestic disturbance happens. I get how writer/director is trying to draw a connection with a man in self-seclusion, but the overall film didn’t make too much sense. It may be because of my expectations. I was expecting Khuddoos and Idu to meet, that Khuddoos would be the one who rescues Idu from any further harm. I’m sure most were expecting the same result. Somehow I can’t see the point of Khuddoos not meeting face to face with the boy as the ending drama unfolds. I’m sure the director had his reasons for having the story that way– that the two never meet — but it didn’t make a lot of sense. Jain could’ve simply made two films, or left the story of Idu on its own.
Despite the story being confusing, I do give credit for Manoj Bajpayee for portraying a character with a lot of personal demons who’s trying to break free from his own personal exile. I also give high marks for Om Singh portraying a boy who wants to break free from his own prison which isn’t in his mind. It’s at home. Shahana Goswami was also very good at portraying the mother in between it all.
In The Shadows is a psychological thriller that attempts to tell a two-in-one story, but it doesn’t entirely make too much sense in the end.
Every VIFF I make the effort to see some of the later shows, including the latest during the weekends at the Rio. The first I saw was the Japanese movie One Cut Of The Dead. It turned out to be a hilarious time.
The film begins with us seeing a young girl about to kiss her zombie boyfriend before killing him. Then Director Higurashi yells ‘Cut!’ This is a scene from a zombie movie being shot. However this is the 42nd take. The director is obviously frustrated. He berates the actress Chinatsu by telling her she lives a lie. He even abuses the actor Ko as he scolds him for his performance. However Nao, a middle-aged make-up lady, recommends a thirty-minute break to overcome the stress, to which the director accepts begrudgingly.
During the break, the two from the scene drink and talk with Nao while the crew and director go outside. Nao talks of how this used to be a water filtration during World War II and even demonstrates to them her hobby of learning self-defense. She even tries to teach them the Pom method for when being attacked by the back, but suddenly a severed arm comes flying in. Then we see the best boy Kazahara is a zombie. One of the techs has become decapitated. They’re all freaking out. But Higurashi likes this. Now that there are real zombies happening, he feels he can get some real acting out of them and calls action as the zombies are around.
It’s up to the three to flee their way out of this zombie mayhem. They leave the water site and try for the van. It doesn’t work out. Chinatsu goes into hiding, but is soon spotted by a zombified man. Ko tries to protect her, but time is running out as all zombies are after them. Meanwhile Higurashi is seizing each moment to shoot their parts. As they run for their lives, they head to the top of the facility. Chinatsu senses Ko is a zombie and that is the case. In the meantime, she has to deal with Nao who’s on the attack. At the end of it all, Chinatsu battles Nao and has no choice but to kill Ko in passion. Higurashi complains she didn’t do the scene right but she kills him on the spot. Chinatsu then goes to the area of the building where she stands in a star made of blood in triumph as the credits roll…
…and then we go back to a month earlier. There’s a channel in Japan that’s about to be launched: The Zombie Network. The channel has called Higurashi to direct an uncut zombie show as part of the channel’s opening. Higurashi has never really done zombie movies, but the network accepts him because of his motto of his films being ‘fast, cheap, but average.’ Elsewhere his daughter Mao has developed a reputation as a crew person. Frustrated with the junk she gets at work, she wants to develop into a career of filmmaking of her own. The mother Nao used to be an actress until she met Higurashi. Her marriage and the birth of Mao led her to forget about her dreams. She didn’t mind it, but now it’s become mundane as she tries to kill her time with hobby after hobby, including video lessons of self-defense.
Higurashi meets with the people to do with the script of the film entitled One Cut Of The Dead. The first rehearsal is crazy because Chinatsu brought her baby and they can’t rehearse well. Chinatsu also has issues as she is a major heartthrob and her agent says that being in a movie with too much blood can interfere with her star status. Also at the first rehearsal is nerdy Kazahara, a crewman whose stomach doesn’t go well with hard water, and a man with a drinking problem. Mao is originally disinterested in the project until she learns major teen idol Ko will be a part of it. This comes as moody Mao is about to move out of the house. Higurashi tries to forget about Mao’s move out until he talks with one of the men playing a zombie and he talks of how he misses his daughter. However when the actor who plays the director doesn’t show, people recommend Higurashi play the lead. Before Mao leaves, she talks with her mother Nao about her ambitions. Nao asks Higurashi to be a part of it.
Then comes shooting day. You can bet this could be a big break for Higurashi. First trouble is the crew man with the stomach issue drank hard water and the portaloos for the film and crew aren’t here! Secondly the man that’s supposed to play the zombie drank a whole bottle of sake and is drunk on the floor! The director tries to continue with shooting with the crew trying to help out however they can. Then the craziness. When it comes for the zombie’s part, Higurashi has to carry the drunken man to make him move into his part. Then comes the crew man with the stomach problem. He has to go outdoors and… you know. The crew try to help as much as they can. Mao tries to step in to save what she can. The network people are in an area away watching everything that is happening live and they don’t know what to make of what’s happening. Then Nao really gets into her part. The director knows she has to be controlled but she’s able to Pom her way out. She requires sedation! Then there’s the camera crane required to do the ending shot. It feel from the roof and is broken. So Mao and Higurashi organize a human pyramid for that long final shot. After a lot of misses, it finally happens with Mao being the camera girl on top. The whole insane craziness works to perfection. The show is a success!
The film is very creative and very fun. The film starts out as a zombie movie which we first think is a simple short film. Just for reference, the VIFF is known for showing a short film of 20-30 minutes before the actual feature. Most features with a short before the start list the short in the program. I myself thought that was the case. It was a short film meant to be shown before the actual feature. Then it became evident that it was a case of the short zombie show followed by the making of the zombie show from start to finish. That was very smart of them to do such a thing. Plus they make the story work. The making of the film is a story of its own in how this director is placed with this demand from the network, they try to get things ready for a month, the rehearsing starts out shaky, and then the director and his wife find themselves actors. Then there’s the hairiness of shooting as one actor got himself drunk on sake and one crewman has a bad stomach because of the hard water and one camera breaks. It’s like from start to finish, it looks like something that would fail or fall apart, but it works in the end.
Funny thing about the film is that it includes the family element of it all. The director has a reputation of being “fast, cheap, but average.” The daughter has earned her own experience on the set and feels she can establish herself. She feels it’s time to move out. The father doesn’t take the move-out well at all. Meanwhile the mother is a former actress who quit to become a full-time mother and housewife. She killed her time by adopting hobby after hobby, but her daughter gives her a chance to be an actress again by recommending her for the film. In the end, it helps bring the family together.
The film has been known for its surprise success in Japan. I don’t know about ‘fast, cheap, but average,’ but the film was produced by Tokyo acting and directing school Enbu Seminar at a cost of only $70,000 to make and made by mostly unknown actors. The film made its debut at the Udine Far East Film Festival in April where it won the second-place audience award. It has since been invited to 60 film festivals. Back in Japan, it made a box-office run starting in June. The film had modest expectations. Enbu Seminar hoped that 5,000 tickets would be sold during its box office run. Instead it became a big hit in Japan already amassing $24.4 million and is now the 13th-highest grossing film in Japan right now. When I went to see it for its 10:45 showing at the Rio, the theatre was surprisingly packed. Word has gotten around.
Top kudos to writer/director Shinichiro Ueda for inventing the story and making it come alive. His two-shows-in-one was fun to watch and very winning. The whole cast also has to get top kudos for helping to make this story come alive in a very entertaining way. They have as much to do with the movie’s surprise success as Ueda. You have to admit that it’s very rare to have a film within a TV show within a film. Excellent job!
One Cut Of The Dead proves to everyone who sees it why it’s the surprise hit in Japan. It’s the ‘guilty pleasure’ movie you won’t feel guilty about enjoying!
Many people will consider the Falkland Islands War of 1982 a ‘forgotten war.’ Theatre Of War will show you six men who can’t forget it: the soldiers.
First off, I’ll answer what most of you are already asking; What are the Falkland Islands and why was a war fought over them in 1982? The Falkland Islands are a set of islands 300 miles east of the coast of Argentina. They’re 4,700 square miles wide and the population is almost 3,400. The islands were discovered by Europeans starting in the 16th century and were thought to be uninhabited. It was in the 18th century when Europeans started making the islands inhabitable with the French inhabiting the east island and the British inhabiting the west island. France eventually surrendered its ownership to Spain years later. The British captured the east island a year later, but a war was never started. Over time, the Spanish took over and the Argentineans, who refer to the islands as the Malvinas, attempted a garrison in the 19th century. Over time, the British asserted their rule over the land in 1832.
It would continue to be under British rule even though the Germans sought to own it in 1912. Naval conflict abounded with the British winning. However the Argentineans started another garrison in 1982: 150 years after British rule was declared. It was then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher started what would be remembered as the Falkland Island War. The war lasted 10 1/2 weeks and left over 900 dead. The UK won the war and British rule was reasserted.
In this documentary, we are introduced to six men: three British, three Argentinian. On the British side is Lou Armour: marine corporal, David Jackson: a young soldier at the time, and Sukrim Rai: a Nepalese immigrant who fought for the UK. On the Argentinean side is Gabriel Sagastume, Marcello, Marcelo Vallejo and Ruben Otero. Throughout the film, they tell of their experiences of what it was like to go to war at such a young age. Lou Armour actually led the British Marines. They also talk of the struggles they’ve had with their lives in the years that followed. A lot of them tell of their stories of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, especially when it came into their lives quite late.
The unique thing about this documentary is that they don’t just talk about their stories. Very often, they act out their stories. We see all six at the pool and one talks of an incident in 2004 when he nearly drowned himself. We see two at an empty discotheque as one tells of his story of loneliness in a bar. We see one British and one Argentinean soldier showing copies of magazines published around the time of the war. It’s interesting what each magazine had to say. We see one Argentinean use tiny plastic army men to tell the story of how Argentinean soldiers first claimed the Falkland Islands and the battle that started the war. We see the six in a rock band as one ‘singer’ shouts out “Have you ever…” and tells of instances only a soldier can ever experience both in battle and in post-battle life.
However this wasn’t just simply a vanity effort what they were doing. The six also visited Argentina to tell their stories. There were times the six went to schools together telling children their stories of the war. There were times they even had to answer questions from the children. However the most interesting moment came near the end. The soldiers had six 18 year-old Argentinean men dress up like them to re-enact a moment from the war. As the soldiers were dressing them up in their war uniforms or applying scar make-up, they were telling their stories. One even showed another what it was like to wield a knife in battle. It’s interesting as they told their stories to the boys, it showed the luxury these 18 year-old boys of today have. They don’t have to be called up for battle. They can live their care free life. That was made evident just as it led to the end scene where the young men re-enacted the battle at the former soldiers’ directions.
The unique thing about this documentary is that it shows the foolish side of war. We have six men from both sides and they tell their stories. They made to be made to look like heroes in their own country but they don’t feel like heroes. They even made spoof of the political situation behind it. One scene includes soldiers in face masks of Margaret Thatcher and the Argentinean president locking lips. The film even showed that this is of a war in which the opposite sides can have a peaceful disagreement. We see that in one scene where an Argentinean and a Brit talk of the history of the Falklands/Malvinas. Both feel strongly that those islands belong to their country, but they’re able to disagree peacefully without enmity or even a fistfight.
The interesting thing is that these six soldiers did this documentary just as they were about to perform in an onstage docudrama called ‘Minefield.’ Before they performed in the play, they had the opportunity to do all this. The soldiers reunited and sorted out their differences. They went to places where they experienced these traumatic events in their lives to recreate the moment. They went to schools to educate the young children of Argentina. They even met with six young Argentinean men to give them the experience of what it is to fight in a war about a set of islands none of them really knew. This is an important docudrama worth seeing because it does tell you a lot of how a simple war that lasted three months can change lives forever, most for the worse. The film doesn’t simply show how foolish fighting over a small set of islands are, but makes other wars of past look foolish too.
Lola Arias did a very good job in creating a meaningfully documentary of what many consider a meaningless battle. Lola takes a lot of incidents from the school visits, the meeting with the young actors, the on-stage work, and various scenes solely for the documentary and brings it all together. It’s pieced together in a mixed way that may seem like it doesn’t go in a straight pattern. Maybe Arias had her reasons for doing so. She does however include a lot of important scenes and a lot of poignant moments throughout the documentary. It may not appear to have ended in a solid manner but the whole documentary tells a lot.
Theatre Of War isn’t just about six soldiers coming together, settling their differences and making peace. It’s an important reminder of that war and it shows how war is something you can’t leave behind. Even long after you’ve dropped your guns.
It’s usually good to take a break and watch a documentary that doesn’t have a political agenda heavily shown. I was able to see that in United Skates.
The film begins by showing various African-Americans going out and having a good time on skates. Very soon we see some of the more sensational moves that are frequently seen at the rinks. They’re stylish or they’re acrobatic. Whatever it is, they’re all out to have a good time. Young or old, single or with family, they’re all out to have fun. This is a phenomenon that has been going on for decades nationwide. A place where various African-American skaters have their own moves and their own fanfare.
Soon into the movie we learn how roller rinks are considered a top getaway for African Americans. Roller rinks may have had their biggest heyday in the late-70’s and early-80’s for most Americans, but African-Americans kept it lasting long after that. It was a getaway from the harsh realities of daily life. It was one place they could take their kids away from the harsh realities of urban living. It was also a place where the first hip-hop and rap artists found a stage to perform on. Yes, roller rinks were an integral part of the early years of hip-hop culture. When night clubs and radio stations, even the soul and urban stations, wouldn’t give those artists their time, roller rinks gave them their stage. Coolio and Salt ‘N Pepa can vouch for that. There are even scenes in Straight Outta Compton that show NWA perform at roller rinks during their early days. In fact there was even a case in the 90’s where two roller rinks in Los Angeles would be the different domains of two rival gangs: the Bloods and the Crips. When one rink closed, the other rink became neutral territory for the two.
The documentary shows how roller rinks have gone from commonplace nationwide starting in 1982 to disappearing gradually starting in the 90’s to today being probably one tenth of what it was. Modern times have proved to be a very trying time for roller rinks. Gentrification has been a pressure with turning a lot of top recreational areas into land for condos. Roller rinks, commonly seen as something of the past, have fallen prey and have seen closures. If an African-American family wanted to take their family to a roller rink, they would have to travel a longer distance.
We even meet a family from Los Angeles before the closure of the World On Wheels rink. The mother has a huge love for roller skating as she has been doing it since her child hood. She was able to share that same love with her children. When they go to World On Wheels, it is family time. It is time for the kids to show their decorated skates, time for all to show off their moves, and a time for the son who has behavioral disorders a place to avoid getting in trouble. Then World On Wheels closes in 2013. They show closing day. The rink tries to make a party of it. Young and old come to have fun one last time. We see people in their late-50’s early-60’s — people that were a part of the ‘roller boogie’ heyday– skate around with the same love. The closing day is as much a day of heartbreak as it is of fun.
Then the rink closes. We see how the owner tries to take everything out of the rink from the lockers to the concessions. We also see how the family tries to cope. They drive hours to a different rink, but face heat because the wheels their skating with are too small.World On Wheels welcomed their skating wheels with open arms. Also the rink has an urban night or soul night. African-Americans undergo security checks. There’s no security checks for white families. It’s obvious the family doesn’t feel welcome here. It gives a sense that these rinks are out to exclude African-Americans. The pressure hits the family hard too as the son committed a crime and has to spend time in prison. The film shows other rink closures too and how much it hurts those that love it.
However like one former rink owner says, patience is the true test for anyone. Over time, there would be skate clubs abounding over social media where people can go out an skate, whether it be in parks or outdoor rinks. Also World On Wheels reopens after popular demand. The re-opening is welcomed with open arms. And the family that was the centrepoint of the story can now skate as a family wearing whatever wheels they want to. We also see the son, just out of prison, having fun again.
It’s obvious the film has a point. The film obviously is showing how roller rinks are important for the vitality of African-American families. It was roller skating where there were a lot of segregation protests. Even roller rinks in the 60’s were a focal point as African-Americans simply wanted to skate on the same rinks as whites. They didn’t want to be confined to blacks-only church halls. It also shows how important roller rinks were towards hip-hop musicians. However the documentarians Tina Brown and Dyana Winkler allow the people to tell their stories. There’s no narration here. Some graphics that tell a lot but it’s the people from the owners to the families to the hip-hop musicians who tell their story about roller rinks and why they don’t just simply love it, but consider it a key part of themselves. You can bet the audience will feel the energy. There were many times people were cheering on the moves and they gave the film a big applause at the end.
United Skates has a point to say, but it doesn’t just simply say it. It shows it. It also makes you open your eyes and notice that roller rinks aren’t simply a relic from the ‘roller boogie’ phenom. They’re now and they vital.
NOTE: The website of United Skates has a page where you can donate to keep roller rinks open. Their goal isn’t just to show how important they are, but also to get the viewers to help keep them open. If you want to donate, go to: https://www.unitedskatesfilm.com/donate
There are some things iconic with disco from the 1970’s. There’s the film Saturday Night Fever, the music of Donna Summer, and the night club Studio 54. Co-founder Ian Schrager has mostly been quiet about his years of Studio 54 and how he and Steve Rubell ran it. In the documentary Studio 54, he finally breaks his silence.
The film begins as Ian Schrager is about to have the book of Studio 54 published. Ian starts talking about his upbringing. He grew up in Brooklyn. He came from a neighborhood mostly of working class Jewish families who worked in hopes that their children would have a better life. Ian met Steve Rubell in college. He attended Syracuse University where he earned a BA and later earned a JD from St. John’s Law School. It was through a fraternity at Syracuse that he met Steve Rubell.
It was the mid-1970’s. Two important things were happening. Firstly, Manhattan had lost its charm. It became dumpy and seedy with the times. Instead of being this place of charm and pizzazz, it had fallen on hard times where it was full of crime and X-rated lewdness and trashiness. Secondly was the emergence of disco music and its style of partying. Already in areas of Brooklyn and Queens, there were night clubs or discotheques that were very popular with their free-spirited dancing and flamboyant styling. The feel of disco came at the right time as it was right after the end of the brutal Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal left many Americans disheartened. It’s like Ian said, “People were tired of being serious.”
Ian and Steve took it into a chance for opportunity. The first thing they did was rent out a theatre that was originally an opera house and was last used as a CBS Studio. Steve and Ian hired workers, most gay men, for months to do all sorts of construction and all sorts of decorations. They also hired Jack Dushey as their financial backer. It was their vision to create a night club no one on earth had ever seen before. Even before opening day, they went around advertising to celebrities that this was the place to go to.
Opening day, Studio 54 is a big hit.Celebrities do show and lots of people from the public were let in too. From that period on, you had what could be an oasis from the real world as you had all sorts of people of race, gender, sexual orientation and class status getting in and having a good time. While people mostly shunned others out in their day-to-day lives, people came together in Studio 54 and had a good time. The place was seen as a must-visit for celebrities and they had a blast with the dancing atmosphere and the special one-of-a-kind effects and decorations in the place. News had come about that Studio 54 was the place to be.
However there were some realities that would come about. First of all Studio 54 was known for Ian and Steve to go out into the crowd of people outside and pick-and-choose who got in. They let in a lot of people, especially gay men, but they left others out. At first people were understanding, but a backlash would soon brew. Also there was the hidden secret that there were people using drugs in Studio 54. The club had a reputation for freeness and drugs were part of it. Then there was the fact that Studio 54 couldn’t wait for their liquor license at first and relied on catering permits during their waiting period to serve liquor. The authorities didn’t overlook that and soon they had Studio 54 closed temporarily. It put a damper in a lot of attendee’s lives. It was within time that Ian and Steve finally did get the liquor license.
However the success of that would only be temporary. Soon Steve gave an interview to Playboy that was ‘Only the mafia does it better.’ He also said ‘don’t tell the IRS about our practices.’ That’s all it took for the club to get raided. What was found was cocaine with the intent to traffic and $2 million in unrecorded under-the-table money. The arrests of Schrager and Rubell made headlines. Soon Studio 54 was no longer the place to be. The club reopened, but for a life of only a few months. The two hired Roy Cohn and had recruited an army of lawyers to defend their case. In the end, the two plead guilty and were sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison. They were let out after serving one year each.
After Studio 54, both Rubell and Schrager looked for other ways to succeed after their release. They tried their hand at opening new night clubs that fit with the 80’s times. Constantly before the opening, Rubell would be interviewed about Studio 54’s infamy. Rubell would confess that they did a lot of wrong things and that they both changed and smartened up. Rubell’s time to redeem himself after Studio 54 was short-lives. Rubell had AIDS and he died of it in 1989. Schrager was luckier as he would later open the night club Palladium and manage the Morgans Hotel Group. Ian married twice and has fathered three children. He even received an unconditional pardon from Barack Obama in January 2017; three days before Obama stepped down from his presidency.
The documentary is a film that allows Schrager to tell his whole story and break the silence of what he was holding back for a long time. Over the 35 years since his release from prison, Schrager has worked to make Studio 54 a thing of the past and establish himself as a responsible successful businessman. He has succeeded in doing so and even gives lectures for people involved in business.
However the film also reminds us of what we knew of Studio 54 and what we didn’t know. For a long time, it was seen as a place for celebrities, disco dancing and culture of freeness. It was a place where hundreds of celebrities came to visit or eventually became regulars. It was also a place which gave many gay men a sense of belonging. We should not forget that the 1970’s was a time when a lot of laws criminalizing same-sex activity were being struck down and declared unconstitutional. Gay men who were long seen as outsiders or scums of the earth were now given a sense of belonging and a sense of freedom and Studio 54 was the place in New York to do it. Even Steve Rubell who kept his homosexuality hidden from his own family found Studio 54 as a place where he could freely love.
One thing is that the image of Studio 54 as a place for celebrities and dancing would make it too iconic to the disco era. Many claim that it was the closure of Studio 54 that led to the end of the disco era and the slow fading of the freeness that came with it. We should remember that the 1980’s would come about heavy stock trading and Wall Street becoming the place to do intense business. There was also the AIDS epidemic as it not only took the life of Steve but the lives of many construction men and dancers. The documentary does give the sense that when Studio 54 died, that’s when these ugly realities came to be. The documentary even shows of Ian and Steve’s friendship and how it was something that still lived on after Studio 54’s demise. Upon Steve’s death, Ian felt it was like losing a brother.
Studio 54 is unique for that it tells all from those survivors who had a big impact in the business. There’s Ian and there’s Jack. There were also some men who did a lot of the construction and renovating. There was also Steve Rubell’s brother who told his side from what he witnessed of Steve. The film includes a lot of imagery through photos and footage. The film also includes a lot of disco music that was part of Studio 54’s heyday. Seeing Studio 54 almost takes you back to that time and you can feel the freeness of that era.
Studio 54 is the ideal documentary for those who still fondly remember the disco era of the 1970’s. It brings back a lot of memories and tells you things you never knew about the place to your surprise.
For my first feature of the VIFF, I saw a Czech film entitled Patrimony. The film makes for an entertaining comedy about a subject one would not find comedy material.
The film begins with a funeral for a musician: a trumpeter. The wife, a fashion designer herself named Eva, finds herself lonely and she feels she will be left completely alone. The daughter Tereza is also hurting. She calls his phone just to hear the answering machine to hear his voice. Meanwhile she’s also struggling with her battle with cancer. Despite being helped by her husband, she feels she needs time to be with her mother.
As the daughter visits, the first thing they do is lay his ashes to rest; at least the urn as the mother wants them on his cactuses. However the daughter stumbles across a possible secret in her father’s coat. She sees a drawing of her father and a child. It’s not hers. She notices it’s from a boy names Tomas. Tereza has always been raised to think she was an only child. Could her father have fathered a child with another woman? Even her mother confesses that both she and Ludwik had extramarital affairs. It is from that revelation they decide to go on a trip to find Tomas, using Ludvik’s Volga Gaz 21.
The first visit is with family members in a nearby town. They learn more about Ludvik and his past. They also encounter a lot of crazy happenings inside the house as she has three daughters of various ages to look after. As they go on to their next place of visit, both women discover a sense of freedom when they go from place to place from country farms to town carnivals. Eva herself finds herself interested in other men. However Tereza is not immune from realities as she still has her cancer battles and the status of her marriage in question. Also revealed from Eva is that she was just as adulterous as Ludvik during the marriage.
The next place they visit is an elderly person’s home. One of Ludvik’s ex-lovers is there. She herself has a lot to say about Ludvik and even gives away another big secret they never knew. No doubt that gives Tereza a lot of concern on her mind. At the same time, it appears Eva doesn’t want the ‘love son’ of Eva to be a reality.
It’s then a visit to a family member out in the countryside. They’re a couple who farm apple trees. The husband used to lead, but he now has a mental condition where he’s despondent most of the time, but suddenly becomes the farm boss in an instant. During the visit, her husband comes to assist. It’s there where he confronts her on the status of the marriage. She gives him the hard truth. Just as he’s stating his case, the farm head goes back into his phase as the ‘farm boss’ and orders those around to get to work and pick apples. All including Eva, Tereza and her husband help out.
It’s there where the husband confesses his truths about the marriage and gives Tereza a day to think it over. It’s also through that visit that they learn the Eva knew about Tomas all along and even played step-mother at times. She kept it a secret from Tereza the whole time. The film ends as the two are in pursuit of Tomas and Tereza has made her decision about the marriage.
There are two unique things about this film. The first is that it makes a comedy of what would consider to be a dark situation in people’s lives. One would think the grieving process of a death, a bout with cancer, and learning of a family secret would not combine into a comedy, but it does. It does it very well with a mix of humor and drama. The film however doesn’t stray away from the emotional aspect of the situation and what has happened. Nevertheless the blend of the humorous and the serious works here.
The second thing about the film is that you think the story is about one thing, but it turns out to be about something else in the end. You think that the film would end with the daughter and the mother seeing the son Tomas. However it doesn’t end that way. Instead it’s about hidden truths unraveled. At first it’s made to look like a truth Eva doesn’t want to know, but instead it’s a truth Eva tried to hide from Tereza. Who knew that Eva made a better closer mother to Tomas than Ludwig did? At the same time, it’s about a mother/daughter relationship as the two are slowly healing together as they’re going on this pursuit. The rockiness of Tereza’s marriage is brought to light, but that too is helped by the trip, in a surprising way.
One of the common themes of the film is the topic of death and the nearing of the end of one’s life. It begins after the death of Ludvik. It starts with a focus of how Eva will live without Ludvik. It also focuses on Tereza and her bout with cancer. She thinks it’s fatal while the mother reminds her that her chances of survival are still very good. It deals with family and ex-lovers who have either felt the strains of aging or are themselves in the closing chapter of their lives. It’s a theme which is dealt with in good sensitivity in this film but also blends in humorous elements. It’s a tricky job to do where the fine line can easily be crossed, but Jiri succeeds in doing it.
Jiri Vejdelek directs and co-writes with Iva Jestrabova an excellent story that’s full of real feelings and emotions, but also made comical at the same time. Eliska Balzerova does a very good job of balancing the dramatic with the comedic in her acting. Tatiana Vilhelmova is also very good as the daughter coping with everything around her. However the two show an excellent mother/daughter chemistry that makes this story work. The supporting characters also did their jobs well as their characters came across as believable and very three-dimensional.
Patrimony is a very smart Czech comedy that’s very entertaining. It follows a smooth story line, but it doesn’t end the way most would anticipate it to. Maybe the plot you thought it would be about wasn’t the main plot after all.
With every VIFF, it’s a goal of mine to see at least one shorts segment. I had the good fortune of seeing a segment as my first VIFF show. The segment titled Escape Routes consisted of six shorts by Canadian directors. Three of them were filmed in BC. All six were intriguing to watch.
The Subject (dir. Patrick Bouchard): We see a body on the table. We see a spike coming out of a foot at first. Then we see it start to be dissected. What’s happening is a whole lot of imagery happens around his body and coming from out of his body. Then when he’s dissected in his upper chest, we see a steel inside.
What’s happening in this film is the animator dissecting his own body. This film is the animator using self-dissection to show what his works are all about. His emotions, his memories, his fears, all go into his work. A couple of religious entendres may be telling how it plays into his fears. Even the artistic patterns that form around his skin give a picture about what the animator is saying about himself and how it plays into his works.
Girl On A Bus (dir. Matthew B. Schmidt): The film begins with people questioning about a girl who disappeared. Then the film shoots to a scene on a bus. A teenage/young adult female is one of the passengers and she’s just relaxing and looking at Instagram photos. The bus takes a break at a gas station along the highway. She uses the outside bathroom and changes her hair, makeup and clothes to something very different and takes social media pictures. The driver can’t recognize her and thinks a passenger is missing. As police are questioning the ‘missing girl,’ she gets interrogated and gives misleading questions. She mentions she’s running away but doesn’t say why. She leaves the interrogation booth. A picture from a child identifies her as the missing, but she walks away when asked.
At first, it seems like a nonsense film. A girl changes her look but is labeled missing? Then you get the sense of what’s happening. She says she’s running away but gives a vague answer why. When told to stay at the booth as the police leave temporarily, she leaves. When asked if the photo of her on a child’s pad is her, she doesn’t answer and walks away. It makes more sense later on. She comes across as a girl who wants to escape from it all. It’s not apparent exactly the reason or reasons why, but it’s obvious she wants to escape from everything. Only on social media would she want to be around people. I can identify because I had those same feelings when I was her age. A very good short story of a film.
Best Friends Read The Same Books (dir. Matthew Taylor Blais): The film consists of no sound at all, but of images of plants, colors, bushes, parks, coasts, and the director reading a book in various places and various seating positions on a bench. The film ends with a set of colors.
I’ll take it for what it is. This is the director trying to film in an abstract sort of way. The images, around various areas of Greater Vancouver, are meant to tell about his surroundings and reading the same book.
Train Hopper (dir. Amelie Hardy): The film begins with a passage of Allen Ginsberg’s poem America. Then cuts into a video of a young man who’s a customer service agent working at his desk with his headset. Later we catch the young man around trains on the train tracks. Then we see him hopping on the trains between the cars and going along for the ride. We even see his self-recorded videos of him during the trips. Within the second-half of the film and video footage, we hear the man talk about his dreams and his imagination and why he takes these trips, which include trips crossing into the United States. The film ends with audio of Ginsberg’s America.
The film begins with a statement that the Beat Generation is not dead. The whole film is a picturesque reminder that even in this day and age, there are still young people who still dare to dream, who dare to still want to live their dream out. This film shows it with this young man who’s a customer service agent by profession, but dreamer by passion. An excellent cinematic portrait.
Acres (dir. Rebeccah Love): The story begins with a young man working on a farm. Later on, his sister, her husband and a former girlfriend of his join for dinner. They talk about him managing his father’s farm after his death, as well as a dispute over use of the land that will require legal attention. The sister and brother-in-law leave for home but the ex-girlfriend decides to stay overnight. Possibly to help him with his situation. She is a photographer by passion. The two were in love while they were in college. This is happening while they’re talking of a way to properly mark the burial site of his father’s ashes. He had ambitions of becoming a businessman, but passions in his life that involved travelling caused him to leave everyone behind, including the family and even her. She tries to get to the bottom of this. Especially since this caused their break-up. Eventually they do rekindle.
The film is a picturesque way of showing a real-life situation. It’s a quiet situation, but one that needs to be discussed and resolved. The filmmaker does it with good storytelling and honest dialogue.
Biidaaban (dir. Amanda Strong): This is the one short that’s fully animated. There’s one young person of Indigenous decent, Biidaaban, and an older Sasquatch shapeshifter Sabe. They live in the same dwelling. They communicate with what you first think is a smartphone, but is actually a mystic rock that creates images and dialogue. Biidaaban seeks to collect sap from maple trees in a neighborhood. Sabe will assist Biidaaban. As they collect the sap, they are suddenly taken over by spirits and enter into a mystical world.
Upon the film’s Q&A, we learn the film is not just about Indigenous legends and myths. It’s also about gender-fluidity as Biidaaban is a gender-fluid youth. From what I remember about the Q & A, the gender-fluidity does tie in with Indigenous culture. The whole film was very dramatic and very mystical. The genre of animation allows the viewer to feel the imagination of the film and capture the mysticism.
All six shorts were very intriguing to watch. Even with one more thrilling than the other, and one not trying to be thrilling at all, all had something to say. Sometimes you wondered if all six fit the term Escape Routes. Some of the subjects or plots in a film or two didn’t look like physical escapes at all. However many of them turned out to be escapes of the mind. Escaping isn’t just about a road to somewhere.
Escape Routes was an excellent selection of six Canadian shorts. Each were different in their own way. All of them had something to say. And all would come off as an escape from something. You had to see it to know it.