It does seem awkward to do a wrap-up for the Vancouver International Film Festival. Not just because it’s way into December, but because most of the film festival was online! Plus all my VIFF activity for 2020 was online! Nevertheless I feel it’s worth it.
2020 was an interesting festival as it had to resort to mostly online viewing of films. There were airings of films at theatres like the VanCity and Cinematheque, but they were very few and had limited capacity. Despite all this, the online system did give the opportunity to watch many of the films that were part of this year’s Film Festival. There were 102 feature films, 98 short films and 19 talks and events at this year’s VIFF. The number of VIFF Gold passes sold out. Despite the lower number of films, viewership was still good as it totaled over 50,000 online views.
For me, this was a unique experience to view a film festival all all online. I first had a goal of seeing ten films online. There was some time where I thought I had a lot of catching up to do as there were days I didn’t watch. Then it was like the last five days I did a lot of cramming. Like two films a day each day. In all honesty, I prefer watching films in the theatre. Having them in the theatre is better for demanding my attention. If I watch it on a computer, I will easily be distracted by other things online or want to sneak a websearch in. If I’m in the theatre, it’s nothing but that film.
Nevertheless I was successful in seeing fifteen feature films and two shorts segments. I saw six Canadian films or film segments, one multinational set of shorts, four American films, four European films, and two Asian films.Those who know me know my film goals for the VIFF consist of three main goals: one Canadian feature-length film, one shorts segment, and one contenders of the Best International Feature Film Oscar. The goal of a Canadian film was accomplished with Monkey Beach: the first VIFF film I saw this year. The shorts segments I did twice with Programme 2 and Reel Youth. The International Feature contender I was not able to do. During VIFF, there weren’t even ten countries that gave their official submissions to the AMPAS Academy. At the time, none of them were shown at the VIFF. The reason why so few is because the 2020 Oscars will be held on April 30th and the other countries were in no rush. During that time, I went with films I felt would best contend: Undine, Father and There Is No Evil. As time passed, it would eventually be revealed none of those films became their nation’s official submission in the category. Looks like this was one goal I had to put on hold this year.
One thing that was not absent from this year’s VIFF was their award winners. Awards were still given out. I’m happy to say that three of the films I saw won awards. One thing about this year’s awards was that because of the nature of the festival, most of the people’s choice or audience award categories could not happen. Thus only one audience award. Included for this year are VIFF Immersed awards for virtual reality that is sponsored by VeeR VR network. Here’s a list of the award winners from this year’s VIFF:
BC Spotlight Awards
Sea To Sky Award
Presented by Telus
WINNER: Nuxalk Radio (dir. Banchi Hanuse)
Special Mention: Cosmic (dir. Meredith Hama-Brown)
Best BC Film Award
Presented by CreativeBC, Encore by Deluxe
WINNER: The Curse of Willow Song (dir. Karen Lam)
BC Emerging Filmmaker Award
Presented by UBCP/ACTRA, AFBS & William F. White
WINNER: Jessie Anthony for Brother, I Cry
Best BC Short Film
Presented by Telus Storyhive
WINNER: Cake Day (dir. Philip Thomas)
Special Mention: Sunken Cave And A Migrating Bird (dir. Qiuli Wu)
Canadian Film Awards
Best Canadian Film
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: Beans (dir. Tracey Deer)
Special Mention: Nadia, Butterfly (dir. Pascal Plante)
Emerging Canadian Director
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: Violation (dirs. Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Macinelli)
Best Canadian Documentary
Presented by the Rogers Documentary Fund
WINNER: Call Me Human (dir. Kim O’Bomsawin)
Special Mention: Prayer For A Lost Mitten (dir. Jean-Francois Lesage)
Best Canadian Short Film
Presented by Side Street Post
WINNER: Bad Omen (dir. Salar Pashtoonyar)
Special Mention: Moon (dir. Zoe Pelchat)
Most Promising Director of a Canadian Short Film
Presented by Delta Air Lines
WINNER: Acadiana (dirs. Guillaume Fournier, Samuel Matteau and Yannick Nolin)
Special Mention: Labour/Leisure (dirs. Jessica Johnson, Ryan Ermacora)
VIFF Impact Award
Presented by The Lochmaddy Foundation
WINNER: The Reason I Jump (dir. Jerry Rothwell)
Rob Stewart Eco Warrior Award
Presented by RBC and Cineplex
WINNER: The Hidden Life Of Trees (dir. Peter Wohlleben)
VIFF Immersed Awards
Best Cinematic Live Action
WINNER: Kowloon Forest (dir. Alexei Marfin)
Best In Documentary
WINNER: By The Waters Of Babylon (dirs. Kristin Lauth Schaeffer and Andrew Halasz)
Best In Animation
WINNER: The Book Of Distance (dir. Randall Okita)
Honorable Mention In Animation
In The Land Of Flabby Schnook (dir. Francis Gelinas)
WINNER: Ecosphere: Raja Ampat (dir. Joseph Purdam)
VIFF Immersed Volumetric Market Awards
Sponsored by VeeR
- Uninterrupted (dirs. Nettie Wild and Rae Hull)
- A Vocal Landscape (dirs. Omid Zarai and Anne Jeppesen)
Before I wrap up my blog, I’ll give you the other films in which I saw at the fest. All films listed below are Canadian unless otherwise noted:
- Monkey Beach
- Time (USA)
- Inconvenient Indian
- Reel Youth Film Festival (multinational)
- Jimmy Carter: Rock And Roll President (USA)
- Cured (USA)
- Shorts Segment: Programme 2
- Beauty Water (South Korea)
- Undine (Germany)
- Father (Serbia)
- There Is No Evil (Iran)
- Summer of 85 (France)
- Black Bear (USA)
- Jumbo (France)
And there you have it. That’s my wrap-up of the film festival. I know it took me a long time to finish it all up, but I finally mustered the energy after all my work and courses. As for next year, we’ll see how the VIFF is carried out. Will they do more online films? Will they reduce the number of theatres or keep the same number they had in 2019? All I can say is I hope to see the VIFF films back in theatres. I like volunteering and being part of events. Only time will tell how VIFF 2021 is played out.
I ended my VIFF with the French film Jumbo. It was part of the Altered States slate. I agree the film was something else!
The film begins in an amusement park in a French city. Jeanne Tantois is the park custodian. Her job over there is just her labor. She has a fascination with many of the rides there, but she doesn’t get along well with too many of the men that she works with. She’s a young girl who lives with her parents. Her mother Margarette wonders when she will find the right boy. At home, she creates things like celestial ceiling images or mobiles consisting of a lot of LED lights. There in her room, she lets her imagination run free. She even has a belief that objects have souls, even moving motorized objects.
One day, a new ride comes to the amusement park. It’s a 25-foot tall ride set to accommodate 32 at a time. Jeanne cleans the light bulbs, but soon notices the ride, named ‘Jumbo,’ is communicating with her. She’s surprised by it all. Jumbo offers her a ride. She accepts with her riding alone, and she appears to enjoy it in an erotic sense. Over time, she has gotten to have a closer liking to Jumbo. Jumbo communicates with her: green lights for yes, red for no. Soon her liking for Jumbo isn’t just simple. It’s intimate.
Not everybody is accepting upon hearing Jeanne’s love for this carnival ride. The other teens from her school including a group of boys poke fun at her. Her boss and the head custodian look at her with huge suspicion or something’s wrong with her. Margarette meets Jumbo, rides him, and is shocked that she could be attracted to an object. However it takes a lot of convincing to her mother that her attraction to Jumbo is real and is her everything.
The relationship between her and Jumbo grows. One night she lays down on Jumbo and his oils enter into her almost as if a sexual pleasure. Then the workers at the amusement park are given awards for the best services. Jeanne is given an award for her services with the bullying boys watching from the back. Then the shocking news. Jumbo will no longer be at the amusement park. Jeanne is devastated. Even more so when she learns Jumbo will be transported to an amusement park in Belgium. Her boss makes it clear it’s her attraction to Jumbo that caused their decision. That leaves Jeanne no other choice. She must marry Jumbo before he’s taken away. Margarette and her stepfather are willing to assist her in the marriage. The two perform the rites as both Jumbo and Jeanne accept. All three go for one last ride and get off in time before the bullying boys from her school can get them.
Now there have been films about people having feelings of love to objects in the past. However this is something unique as it’s of a young female with an attraction to a carnival ride. This could have come across as a dumb story. However there is such a thing as objectophilia. Writer Zoe Wittock learned of a story of a Florida woman who was in so love with a carnival ride, she tried to marry it. Even then, to make it believable, it required that from a believable character. Jeanne is that character. She herself is a dreamer who likes to draw and is fascinated by lights and stars. She even mentions at the beginning of her belief that objects have souls of their own. It was necessary for her to say something like that for her objectophilia to be believable.
Even with the imagination, the film had to make Jumbo come alive as well. If Jeanne sees the soul inside Jumbo, we the audience have to see it too. It works as we see Jumbo come to life whenever Jeanne is around and when Jeanne conveys her emotions and feelings. Plus right at the end, Jeanne’s mother and stepfather have to see Jumbo’s soul for themselves in order for Jeanne to marry it. As bizarrely erotic this story is, it needs to have the scenes to make us believe it and the characters to make it work. And it does.
Top credit goes to writer/director Zoe Wittock. Before Jumbo, she wrote and directed four short films. Jumbo is her first feature-length film. It’s also marks her return to film work after a five-year hiatus. A woman sexually attracted to a carnival ride looks like the premise for a bad movie or something completely freakish. Zoe, however, is able to make it work with the story and making the story of Jeanne’s love believable and also giving character to the ride. Additional credit should go to Noemie Merlant. It’s also the believability of Noemie’s performance that keeps Jumbo from being dismissed as a stupid movie. She made the objectophilia believable and not look as freaky as one would anticipate. It’s very surprising to see her play a completely different character than Marianne from Portrait Of A Lady On Fire as well as a different time period. There’s also excellent acting from Emmanuelle Bercot as the mother who has to struggle to accept her daughter’s objectophilia and in the end be encouraging to Jeanne in marrying Jumbo.
Jumbo appears like a film that would not win too many awards on the film festival circuit, but it has won one and has received nominations. It won Best Feature Film at the Chattanooga Film Festival, nominated for a New Direction award at the Cleveland Film Festival, nominated for a Best First Feature Award at the Philadelphia Film Festival, a New Visions Award nominee at the Sitges – Catalonian Film Festival and Best International Film at the Jeongju Film Festival.
Jumbo has what would first be dismissed as a ridiculous story. What made it work was the actors making the story and the bizarreness believable as we watch.
And there you have it! That’s the last of my film reviews of this year’s VIFF! my wrap-up of this year’s Festival is coming soon!
It’s funny I didn’t see my first American live-action film at the VIFF until the second-last day of the Festival. Black Bear was that film. It was quite a story.
The film begins with a woman in a swimsuit out by the dock near a lake in the Adirondacks region and just meditates by the water instead of swimming. We later see that woman walking down a road in what appears to be a remote area of the woods. She has a lot of baggage. A man stops to ask if she’s lost. She says she’s an actress-turned-director names Allison. He introduces himself as Gabe. He is actually the director who will be working with Allison on an upcoming production. Allison is willing to accept Gabe’s offer to bring her luggage to the place. During the walk she reveals she chose directing because she’s hard to work with. She’s known for emotional outbursts. She hopes to spend some time at the cottage in hopes that the natural greenness with help her unblock her creativity and help her to produce her next project. They arrive at their cottage near the lake with his pregnant wife Blair waiting. Gabe tries to introduce Blair to Allison, but you can sense the jealousy in Blair’s body language, even though she tries to hide it.
During the dinner, things really get heated. Blair talks of how they moved from Brooklyn to the Adirondacks; because Brooklyn was too expensive and they were getting nowhere in the film business. Blair soon gets all confrontational with Gabe. She even gives him a hard time in front of Allison about a comment she perceives as his male chauvinisms. Allison sides with Gabe, adding more suspicious feeling from Blair. The dinner leads to more friction from Blair about Gabe and how she can’t stand the world he creates. Late at night, Gabe finds Allison alone. The two develop a good conversation. Then it leads to a lot more. It turns out Gabe has had a thing for Allison since they first met and she has a thing for Gabe too. Right while they are about to have sex, Blair physically attacks both of them. She knew it all along and she’s infuriated. She even chases Allison out, but it leads to an area in the woods where Allison is confronted by a black bear. The bear doesn’t attack Allison at all.
The film then progresses forward weeks or months later to the wrapping up of the film. The shooting is taking place around the cottage and the dock. The crew is setting up. The directors are having confrontations of how to have the next scenes shot. Gabe and Blair are cooperating well for this project. It’s possible they’ve decided mostly for the sake of the film to put all personal feelings aside. But for the last scene, Allison appears to be out of it. The calm, cool Allison from that time before is not there. She appears angered or hurting inside. However the final scenes still need to be shot.
As Allison becomes more uncooperative with the actors and crew on the set, she finds a place to withdraw herself. Problems arise all over the place. The crew have their issues of setting up and one has a severe stomach problem. The directors have an ego clash over what is to be done. Gabe and Blair have talks about the film that appear to be more about their relationship, or fading relationship. The actors squabble with each other. However it’s Allison who’s the biggest of the problems. She’s just become an emotional time-bomb. It’s unclear why she’s that way but any attempt from anyone to get her to work properly on the scene, especially from Gabe, only succeeds in making her even more confrontational. Eventually she does agree to the scene, but it appears things could go better. After the shootings done, she leaves the cottage where she comes across the bear again. Again the bear doesn’t attack and Allison smiles for the first time today.
This is an interesting story about a bizarre love triangle and how it intermingles with film. An actress who wants to venture into film decides to meet with the director of her next film. She makes the way into the house and the wife suspects something. Everything falls apart from that point on. Blair starts friction with Gabe while Allison appears to coax him. It results in an affair that drives Blair angry. Three weeks later, work on the film happens and Allison can’t take it anymore. She becomes an emotional timebomb. You’re left wondering why? She said at the beginning of the film she was confrontational on the set. Is that the reason why Allison is acting like a time bomb? Or could it be she still has feelings for Gabe? Or is something deeper than that? Even of a natural sense? You’re left to wonder.
Despite how interesting the story is, it does get confusing. The first story appears to set up for the second story. I can understand how films don’t try to reveal everything mainly so the audience can make their own decisions, but there’s still too much that’s unclear. One of the things that’s unclear is whether the marriage between Gabe and Blair ended. They get along better while shooting. You’re left to wonder did they patch things up or did they split and are now getting along better? Another is Allison. I know I mentioned how Allison’s behavior on the final day of shooting get you wondering. If you saw the scene yourself, you yourself would find it hard to decide the biggest reason why she’s acting that way. Also confusing is the role of the bear in the film. The film’s two scenes are titled Part One: The Bear On The Road and the second scene is Part Two: The Bear By The Boat House, but you don’t see the black bear until the very end. The bear doesn’t attack Allison in either scene and the appearance of the bear causes Allison to smile at the end. You’re left to wonder what’s the symbolism of the bear? Allison coming to grips with her mentality? Her tranquility with nature finally reached? You’re left wondering.
Despite the confusing story, this is an ambitious film from writer-director Lawrence Michael Levine. This is the sixth film and third feature-length film he writes and directs and the first of his films he doesn’t act in. The film is impressive that it is a psychological film about human nature and how personal problems, especially among people in the arts, cause the friction, but its imperfections are noticeable. The best work from the film comes from the actress Aubrey Plaza. She goes from an actress who doesn’t appear to be the type to call a time-bomb at first to one who fits the description of ‘time-bomb’ perfectly. Her transformation was excellent because she was portraying two different Allisons and it worked excellently. Christopher Abbott was also good as Gabe: the director left confused in all of this. Sarah Gadon was excellent with portraying Blair as one who does not shy away from letting her personal feelings show. Additional technical efforts that highlight the film are the cinematography of Robert Leitzell, the cinematic score of Giulio Carmassi and Bryan Scary, and the images of pencil and paper of going from scene to scene and the end credits.
Black Bear hasn’t won too many awards on the film festival circuit. It was a nominee for a NEXT Innovator Award at the Sundance Film Festival and a New Vision Award at the Sitges – Catalonian Film Festival. Nevertheless those who saw it have talked a lot about it and its story and it has become a major attraction at film festivals.
Black Bear does make for a drama about a bizarre love triangle. It’s a story of the affair and the aftermath. The problem is there’s too much in the film that is unclear, including the inclusion of the bear.
I was eager to watch There Is No Evil because of a lot of the pre-festival buzz surrounding it. it’s a very thought-provoking film.
The first quarter of the film is a simple setting. It’s a man named Hashmet and his wife. They’re coming home in the same car doing daily tasks before they arrive home and picking up the daughter from school. The wife is actually arriving home from work. They talk about plans of going to a wedding and of caring for his wife’s mother. The husband actually works his job in the early morning. After the wife and daughter arrive in their well-to-do home, have their dinner and go to bed, the husband then goes off to work. He wears a uniform of a guardian. He makes his way to a private room with some food. With his job, he has to wait until all lights in a section turn green. There are a few red ones. Then the lights are all green. He presses a button. The button involves a platform men who are about to be hanged stand on. The button he presses drops the platform from underneath their feet and they hang until their deaths: whether it’s immediate or by strangulation of the noose.
The second quarter of the story shows a bunker room for soldiers. It is Iranian law that a young soldier is to assist with the execution process. It can be any one in the bunker area. Pouya is the one chosen. He is completely against committing this act. He will have to perform this act or else he will not receive a completion certificate, which will mean no chances for a good career. He talks of doing mutiny and escaping with his girlfriend. All of the other soldiers think this is too risky of a move. Some even think he’s a sissy. Then the moment for his service comes. Pouya is all prepared and dressed. As they’re walking their way to the gallows, Pouya suddenly revolts against the guard. He then makes his way into another room where he also revolts against the security guards. Pouya then breaks free. He meets his girlfriend in a remote locate. The two drive off where they talk of their future plans for outside Iran.
The third quarter of the film belongs to a young soldier named Javad. Javad is on a three-day leave from his military service. First thing he does on his leave is bathe in the river before seeing his girlfriend Nana, whom he hopes to marry one day. Nana’s family is setting up a memorial service in the house. Javad willingly attends the private service until he sees the picture of who the memorial service is for. It’s for a man Javad helped execute. Javad is brought to guilt over what he did. He tells Nana and she is heartbroken. He tries to convince her of what he did. He said “If we say no, they will destroy our lives.” He can be seen trying to wash his face in the river. To some, it may look like he’s trying to drown himself.
The fourth and final quarter is the story of a couple and their niece. Their niece Darya arrives at the airport after arriving from Germany and they’re excited to see her. The trip is supposed to be a nice get-together, as he takes Darya in the rural countryside. Darya is uncomfortable with the hunting trips as she refuses to kill a living thing. However the get-together is to turn solemn as the uncle has some heartbreaking news to tell. He is dying and has less than a year to live. Darya is heartbroken. However the uncle has two other pieces of news to confess to her. The first is that he used to participate in the process of capital punishment as a soldier. The second is that he is Darya’s father. Darya is upset with all this news. She can’t even begin to look at him in the face. The story ends asking more questions than answers.
The main topic of the film is the death penalty in Iran. It’s good that a film about this topic is made. Iran is second only to the People’s Republic of China as the country that carries out the most executions. Many believe Iran carries out the most per capita. The crimes for execution range anywhere from murder to rape to even crimes considered non-capital in other countries like armed robbery, arson, burglary, counterfeiting and even non-crimes like fornication, blasphemy, homosexuality and adultery. Often when there are hangings, their bodies are out on display in the public streets of the cities. The film shows that those people who do the escorting of prisoners to be executed are soldiers of the Iranian army. Such is a military duty. There may be some soldiers that think it’s the right thing, some that think nothing of it, and some that are dead-set against it. Whatever the situation, military service is mandatory in Iran if you want to have a future of any kind. If you reject your military duty and don’t receive a completion certificate, you won’t be able to apply for a passport or a job. Although the part involving Hashmet has nothing to do with the military, it shows that he can have a well-do-to life through this system. Executioners are well-paid in Iran.
This film presents four different stories of capital punishment. The people are not linked in any way whether it be the people they execute or any family relation so it almost looks like four short films stringed together. The first is of a man who carries out his daily life with a good standard of living by Iranian standards and does his job normally. The second is of a young soldier who is dead-set against it and plans to commit mutiny. The third story is of a soldier who realizes who he led to execution when he’s over at a house for the memorial. The fourth is a man who’s the biological father of the girl and has to confess his past before he dies. These films can stand alone, but they’re all interconnected in this feature film that has something to say about the death penalty, and the systemic regime of Iran that supports this system of rewarding those who carry out the duties.
The film is well-constructed as it sets up for the main topic of the film and the second and third stories are more a case of the rebel and the conformist who regrets what he does. The fourth story is a bit unique as it’s of a man who is nearing his death and he regrets what he did. The fourth story didn’t make the most sense. Often you wonder why the daughter is angry. Is it his past of participating in executions? Or is it his truth he had to tell? It’s hard to understand at that point.
This film is a remarkable achievement for director/writer Mohammad Rasoulof. Just right after the 2017 Cannes Film Festival where his film A Man of Integrity premiered and won the Un Certain Regard Award, he was arrested for ‘endangering national security’ and ‘spreading propaganda’ against the government. He was eventually sentenced to a year in prison and banned for life from filmmaking. Rasoulof is not the first Iranian director to be criminally sentenced. Jafar Panahi who directed 3 Faces was also given a prison sentence and a ban on filmmaking. We should admire these Iranian directors. They’re risking their freedom to tell the truth that the government wants hidden. With Rasoulof, he’s defying his lifetime ban to tell his feelings about the death penalty in Iran. His assembly of four short films into a feature-length film of a common theme is his brave attempt at sending the message to the world. Although it’s a strong assembly until the last film doesn’t seem so clear in its message, it is worthy of admiration and being labeled an accomplishment. I don’t think there was a single standout performance among the acting. There was no single lead performance. All the actors who performed in their vignettes embodied the character and the story well. Also world noting, Rasoulof’s daughter Baran plays Darya in the film.
There Is No Evil has had an impressive tally on the film festival circuit. It started to year off by winning three awards at the Berlin Film Festival including the Golden Bear for Best Film. Since then, it has also won Best Narrative awards at the Heartland Film Festival, Montclair Film Festival and the Philadelphia Film Festival. It’s also won the Audience Award at the Sao Paulo Film Festival and Rasoulof won the Best Director Award at the Valladolid Film Festival where it was a nominee for the Golden Spike Award for Best Film.
There Is No Evil is a powerful film with something to say about capital punishment and the regime that promotes it. The four stories are not related by story but by the common theme. All four have something to say about the subject. A proud accomplishment from a director who could be criminally punished again for making such a film.
Summer of 85 is a film that will first attract people to watch for differing reasons. Some who are fans of French films, some for the LGBT-themes story, some who are fans of retro-80’s stuff, or some who are fans of teen love stories. Those who see it should be pleased.
The film begins with a young male, only 16. His name is Alexis and he’s under arrest by authorities. He’s frustrated over what he did. The authorities are wondering why he did what he did. Recklessness? Anti-semitism?
Alexis is willing to let us know how it all started. It all started one hot summer day along the Normand coast. One day he decides to go boating. However it’s on the day of a thunderstorm and Alexis is not all that good at sailing to begin with. His boat capsizes and it throws Alexis in the water. Alexis is almost drowning in the water until he’s rescued by a young male his age. His name is David Gorman. He is 18 years-old, Jewish, and works with his mother’s tourism business along the coast. Alexis is awestruck by David. David takes Alexis to his house where his mother offers him a bath to warm up.
Alexis and David are too completely different individuals. Alexis is the shy one just trying to find his way in the world. David is the daredevil rebel who isn’t afraid to drive like a crazy on his motorcycle and believes in living life unpredictably. Over time, Alexis and David are a lot more than simple friends. They do many a thing together like go to parties, go to carnivals, go to amusement parks and go to the beach. David’s mother even takes a liking to Alexis. Alexis’ mother notices that he’s become less shy since he met David. One night, the two rescue a drunken man who almost drowns in the beach. Another time after a fun night, the two make a promise to each other. If one dies before the other, they dance on their grave.
One day, a woman enters the picture. Her name is Kate and she’s a young student from the UK who speaks excellent French. David is welcoming to having Kate with the two of them, as a friend, but Alexis is uncomfortable with it. The two take Kate out sailing. Even though Alexis goes along with it, you can tell as David keeps Kate company, Alexis is sensing something. Eventually Alexis is justified. At a party, Alexis catches David making love to Kate. Alexis confronts David in his mother’s store. David acts like he couldn’t care less about Alexis’ feelings and just throws in his face how boring he is. Alexis starts a fight with him and trashes the store before leaving. David goes out to look for him and even gets violent at a party with others.
The next day, Alexis goes to visit the store, but David’s mother is infuriated with him. David died in a motorcycle accident trying to search for Alexis and she completely blames him for his death. She even threatens to call the police when Alexis comes to the house. Alexis is heartbroken and distraught. His mother doesn’t know how to deal with him. The only person he feels he can see about this is Kate. Kate says he’s over at the morgue. The only way Alexis can see David’s body is if he poses as his girlfriend. Alexis agrees to do so. As he sees the deceased David, Alexis can’t help but make love to him one last time, which gets them both booted out of the morgue. Kate is upset with how Alexis has been acting and has a falling out with him. Alexis feels he has one last mission. He goes to the town cemetery. He goes to the Jewish section to search for the newest grave. He finds David’s grave. He dances on top of it with Rod Stewart’s ‘Sailing’ playing from his Walkman. That’s when the police arrest him.
Alexis’ mother tries to reach out to him before his trial. Kate meets with Alexis one last time before she returns to the UK. She just lets Alexis know both of them weren’t in love with David. They were in love with their own image of David. At the trial, Alexis is given a lenient sentence. The Summer of 1985 appears on the verge of ending as Alexis notices a man at the beach. He’s the drunkard whom he and David saved from drowning. Alexis learns that he’s gay. The two get to know each other better.
I’m sure that when you first start to watch this film, many of you will impulsively thin kat the beginning you will get another case of Call Me By Your Name. I mean it has all the makings: Mediterranean Coast, a boy-meets-boy story, adaptation from a novel. However there are a lot of differences you’ll notice as time goes on. First of all this boy-meets-boy story is of a 16 year-old and an 18 year-old. One’s the more orderly, more sensitive type. One’s the rebel who likes to let loose. The inclusion of the young woman in the middle also adds for some twists and turns. Also like, CMBYN, this film is an adaptation of a book. The book is actually a 1982 British book by Aidan Chambers titled Dance On My Grave.
The film is as much of a tragedy as it is a comedy. David breaks up with Alexis in the most heartless way. David then dies young. Alexis doesn’t know how to deal with David, especially with seducing his corpse (and disguised as a female). He does the dance he promised, which is what leads him to be arrested in the first place. There are moments of heartbreak, but there are moments that will have you laughing. I’m sure you won’t have a hard time finding the humor in there.
At the same time, the story is a funny reminder to many of us of our young-and-stupid days. About days when we become adults for the first time and just let it all out in having fun as limitless as it gets. The film is also a reminder of our own immaturities as young adults. It’s noticeable in Alexis as he doesn’t know how to deal with his emotions. It’s evident in David how he drops Alexis cold because he sees him as a bore. Yeah, cases when we were that insensitive to those that ‘loved’ us are an uncomfortable reminder of our own immaturities we had when we were becoming adults. However the biggest surprise for me is that it’s set in 1985 and the public treat the gay couple like it’s no big deal. I remember 1985 very well. People were not that accepting of gay couples back then. Plus with the AIDS epidemic getting a lot of attention, the gay lifestyle was seen with a lot of contempt. Anyways, if the story included the realities of the time, it wouldn’t have made for the delight it is.
This is an excellent film from French director Francois Ozon. Ozon has had over twenty years of an illustrious filmmaking career including 8 Women, Swimming Pool, Potiche, Frantz and By The Grace Of God that won the Silver Bear at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival. This film doesn’t have the same awards-caliber as some of his past films, but it’s still a remarkable film as it shows a side of teen love most films don’t show. Some could even say this film looks a lot like a queer version of a John Hughes teen comedy. Also remarkable are the acting performances of the main protagonist Felix Lefebvre and his love interest Benjamin Voisin. Felix was excellent in depicting Alexis as the sensitive one who falls in love for the first time. Felix was great in depicting Alexis with his sensitivities, insecurities and immaturities. Voisin was excellent in playing the rebel whose bad-boy sex-appeal knows how to win Alexis and Kate, but is too selfish and stupid to relate to others. Philippine Velge was also excellent as Kate: the British girl in between the two. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi was also very good as David’s mother and did an excellent job in going from a loving mother to one grieving and hurting badly. Isabelle Nanty is also good as Alexis’ caring and concerned mother.
Summer of 85 hasn’t been a big darling at too many film festivals. Comedies like these normally aren’t. It hasn’t even won awards for LGBT-themed films. However it has been a nominee for the Gold Q-Hugo Award at the Chicago Film Festival and was nominated for two awards at the San Sebastian Film Festival. I’m sure when the awards season comes up later than usual in 2021, it will win or be nominated for many LGBT-themed awards.
That’s the unique thing about Summer of 85. It’s part-tragedy, part-comedy. Part teen romance, part coming-of-age story. Those who see it will be delighted.
DISCLAIMER: I know we’re well into December and the VIFF ended almost three months ago, but I have been too busy with work and my part-time courses. They all left me with no time for me to finish my blogging. Now I have the time and I aim to finish my last five VIFF blogs over this next week.
Violation is another Canadian-made feature I took an interest in. Especially since it’s part of the Altered States slate of the VIFF. That film is definitely something else!
The film begins with a woman and a man alone in a cabin. They appear to be ready to engage in something sexual. Even something kinky and involving bondage. The woman ties the man’s hands up and he is excited for what he thinks he’s going to get. He’s waiting for it, but instead she hits him hard across the head and he’s unconscious.
The film then flashes back to the beginning. Miriam is a woman on the edge of a divorce and with a new boyfriend, Caleb. She goes on a getaway with her younger sister, Greta, whom she hasn’t seen in years. The getaway is in a cabin by the lake just outside the woods and joining Greta is her fiance Dylan. The getaway looks to be a good time to relax and reunite with family members.
However all that changes one day. Miriam decides to sleep for awhile during the daytime, but Dylan enters in for more than just a visit. You can tell that Dylan violates her by the mere image of her eye and her look of horrific shock.
Returning back to after Miriam hit Dylan, Miriam has a lot of cleaning detergents and tarps. It’s clear she wants todo more than just kill Dylan. She assumes Dylan is already dead after she first hit him across the head, but even with Dylan’s face covered, Dylan regains consciousness. She has to kill him, and she strikes his head again and continues until he’s sure he’s dead.
It doesn’t end there. Miriam now has to dispose of Dylan’s body. Trying to do that is very hard as she will have to decapitate him and saw off his body… and clean everything up so it’s all unnoticeable. She even has to have his body drain of blood above the bathtub. She does that with immense difficulty. She then saws off his head and legs and wraps his whole body in a tarp. After all that, she takes his bagged body and burns it to the point it’s nothing but ashes blowing in the wind by the lake. It may be over but Miriam is not the same. You can tell as a Russian couple are arguing nearby a shore and she interferes to tell the man to leave his wife alone. The look on her face at the end says it all.
The film then flashes back to before the whole murder and disposal happened. Miriam and Greta are out for a carefree swim on the beach. They get into good conversation about memories, but Miriam has to tell Greta the truth about Dylan. Miriam tell her but Greta does not believe her. In fact, Greta gives her a reaction of betrayal. The film ends with the look on Miriam’s face just before she’s about to commit the murder.
Right before the film was about to begin, one of the VIFF emcees said that the directors are known for making films of uncomfortable viewing. This film has a lot of uncomfortable things about it. First off being a rape, then a murder during a sex act, then a dismemberment. It does give you the impression that these filmmakers want to do some unwatchable elements Lars von Trier may have not tapped into. The rape wasn’t graphic, but we get a sense of what’s happening by the sex sounds of Dylan and the wide-eye of Miriam. The dismemberment was very graphic. I wondered how on earth they were able to get a realistic-looking fake body to do the scene. The first attempt at murder was graphic as well as the successful second attempt.
Actually the scene where Dylan thinks he’s about to have sex with Miriam was quite graphic. When I saw the erection, I wondered if it was real or not? I’m no prude, but I’ve always considered an erection on film to be the stuff of porn. So when I saw that scene, I was thinking “I hope that’s a dildo!”
The film attempts to tell a story of a woman who’s a victim of misogyny and plots her revenge. The film shows how the whole incident changed her. You can tell as she reacts when she comes across a Russian couple arguing after she finished with the murder. I’m sure misogyny and men who act as sex predators is a major message of the film. However I think the film mixes things up in the storytelling. You’ll notice it’s not chronological from start to finish. It’s a lot like Pulp Fiction where it goes from one time period of a story to the next and mixes it up in various scene. This film does the same thing too. However the arrangement of the story seems like it didn’t make sense to have one scene one place and another scene one place and to have the image of Miriam before she commits the murder at the very end. I don’t think the placements were well-placed. I get the ending, where they show the look on Miriam’s face and it showed a person irreversibly changed, but I think placement of sequences could have been better.
Despite its flaws, one of the film’s best storytelling qualities are the various filmshots. The rape scene is only scene through the eye of Miriam. That image and the sounds accompanying are all you need to know to get the message. The overhead shots of the lake area aren’t just picturesque scene shots. They’re also shots sending the message that anything can happen in the remote outdoors. The scene of Dylan’s ashes all in the air and around the lake area send the message that Miriam is leaving it all behind. And by leaving it all behind, it’s everything: Dylan, sister Greta, Caleb, and especially the life Miriam once led.
This film is a very good work for directors Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer. They have written and directed many short films before and some shorts together. This is the first feature length film for both as writers and as directors. It’s flaws are noticeable, but it definitely succeeds as an ambitious work. I strongly believe I will see better from both of them in the near future. Madeleine also does an excellent job in embodying the character with both the emotional and psychological transitions throughout the story. This is a story she co-wrote so it makes sense that she knows the character inside out. Outside of the role of Miriam, there weren’t too many other roles that were well-developed. Anna Maguire’s role as Greta was the only supporting role that showed any depth. Jesse LaVercombe’s role as Dylan was too two-dimensional as the predator who appears charming at first. The additions of the music of Andrea Boccadoro and the cinematography of Adam Crosby add to the film.
Violation has won awards and earned nominations at many Canadian film festivals. Directors Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli have received the most acclaim with the Emerging Canadian Artists award at the Calgary Film Festival, a Rising Stars award at the Toronto Film Festival, a Best Canadian Film nomination at Toronto, a Best Canadian Feature Nomination at the Montreal Film Festival and a Discovery Award nominee at the Directors Guild of Canada Awards.
Violation is a story about being violated by a predator and getting revenge. However it’s a story that’s not put together the best and ends on a confusing note. Hard to make sense what the film was trying to be.
The Serbian film Father is not one of the more featured films of the Festival. However it is a unique film that’s worth seeing.
The film begins with a woman taking her two children to a construction plant. Her name is Biljana and she has a gasoline tank in her hand. She shouts out that she threatens to burn herself and her children unless she receives her husband’s overdue wages. The men there try to stop her, but she sets herself ablaze. The men are able to put her out in time and take her to the hospital.
Word not only gets to her husband Nikola. Word has also gotten to the child and family services in his region. The leader, Vasiljevic, is very suspicious of what type of father Nikola is and conducts people to investigate both the children and the house. Those who investigate the children ‘notice’ some flaws in them. Those who investigate the house point out how lacking it is in modern functions or how out of date it is.
Vasiljevic has made it clear that if Nikola modernizes the house, he could have his children back. This is frustrating enough as he has had no income for two years and he is constantly seeing his wife as she’s in the hospital. He does everything he can in the period of a few days, but Vasiljevic is still disapproving. His children are in foster care indefinitely and he’s not allowed to even see them. Before Nikola leaves, he is told by one man about how corrupt Vasiljevic is and how he has close associates of his in every village. Vasiljevic takes the children and puts them in the foster care of friends of his and skimming government money for this. Nikola’s made aware what Vasiljevic did is a common thing he does.
Although it’s difficult, especially as he wants to be by the hospital bedside of his wife, Nikola decides to make a 300 km trip to Belgrade and meet with social services to get his children back. Nikola has a friend with a computer draft him with a letter to the minister, pack fruit and stale bread, and set out on foot to Belgrade.
The trip is long and Nikola witnesses poverty and barren wasteland as he walks on. He comes across buildings that have decayed over time. He comes across stores that have been abandoned. He witnesses the best of people and the worst of people along the way. Some help him out while some steal or fight with him. He also develops a temporary friendship with a dog he met at an abandoned gas station he slept at. He also gets some help from truck drivers and ‘good samaritans’ who drive him.
When he arrives in Belgrade, he is brought to the very government office he needs to visit. He tries to meet with the minister, but is told he can only meet with him tomorrow. He has nowhere to sleep or to eat and leaves himself to sleep outside right by the entrance. As he is sitting out, a media team notices him and his story and will interview him for an evening news story. One person who saw the news and saw his story drives over to see him and gives him food.
The next day, he meets face to face with the minister. He heard his plea, he learned his story from the news. The minister tells him of the guidelines he will direct in order for Nikola to get his children back. A man drives him back to his town and to his home. However Nikola comes across an uncooperative Vasiljevic. Vasiljevic tries to act like Belgrade has no control over him and even demeans him of the story in the news. However Nikola has had enough. He demands to see his children, if not have them returned to him.
His wish is granted and he hugs his daughter with no problem, but the son is embarrassed of him. Nikola pleads to him, but the son finally hears his word. As the children are led away Nikola, tries to stop them from hurting his children, and is able to hug his son, as he looks onto the foster family with mistrusting eyes. Nikola returns to his house, only to learn everything is stolen by the neighbors. He goes over, gets everything, and has everything ready for the start of his goal.
It’s a story that has a lot to say. I’ve never lived in Serbia so I don’t know what the laws are in terms of family. However this does have a lot to tell about corruption in Serbia the filmmaker knows about. Interestingly the corruption of the social services does seem to resemble how the US government has been like under the Trump administration. We see it as a case of an honest man being messed around by a dishonest system. Even how Vasiljevic tries to act like Belgrade has no control over him and he can do what he wants does remind us of Trump as well; a leader’s false sense of invincibility and how they think they can abuse power all they want.
The 300km trip to Belgrade is a telling story. Nikola sees poverty all around him. We see Belgrade as a city that’s been working to modernize itself, but the film makes it appear like the rural lands have been neglected or overlooked and people like Nikola caught in the middle. One notable scene is that scene of Nikola seeing a group of villagers, just as impoverished as him, engaging in a folk dance and holding a Serbian flag. It looks like it’s sending a message how people in even the poorest of areas seem to still have the sense of Serbian pride. They may hate the government or the system, but they love Serbia. Even that scene of Nikola being driven by a man with many Orthodox religious artifacts sends a message of the Serbian people.
SPOILER WARNING: Do Not Read This Paragraph If You Don’t Want To Know The Ending. The ending scene is also very key. Right after Nikola is done seeing his children for that brief reuniting, a woman who works for Vasiljevic is willing to give him some associates who could help. I think that sends a message that even people who work for the system are forced in their job to do things they don’t want to do, but have to because it’s their job. That ending scene where Nikola learns his house has been robbed by the villagers, but retrieves all his belongings by going to all the houses and taking them without a single one resisting also sends a message that his struggle is their struggle too. That scene at the end where he is sitting at the dinner table with no food, but the plates for all four set up, also sends a message of his next goal of bringing back his whole family and he will stop at nothing to achieve it. Just like he did on that trip to Belgrade.
This film is another great work for Srdan Golubovic. He first achieved international renown in 2001 with his 2001 film Apsolutnih sto. Two of his films, 2007’s The Trap and 2013’s Circles, were Serbia’s submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. This film which he directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Srdjan Koljevic and Ognjen Svilicic is a good work as it tells a story of a man and also sends a message too. It comes across as a story telling of the Serbia Belgrade forgot over time while at the same time telling of a father’s love and his willingness to do what it takes to get his family back. The acting of the main protagonist Goran Bodgan is excellent. Most North Americans will notice the Bosnian actor as Yuri Gulka from the Fargo series. Bodgan does an excellent job of speaking volumes of his character and his story without saying a lot. The supporting actors, both young and old, also did a very good job in the roles they had. The cinematography of Aleksandar Ilic is also excellent and is all critical to the storytelling.
Father has had a good run in the film festival circuit. It won Best International Narrative at the Calgary Film Festival and was a Best Film nominee at the FEST International Film Festival and the Minsk Film Festival. It was also a nominee for Best Balkan Film at the Sofia Film Festival.
Father is a film with the common motif of a long trip and people met along the way. Nevertheless it is a good story that has a lot to tell about Serbia, and even mirror the world as a whole.
Undine was the first live-action foreign-language film I saw at the VIFF. It’s a very unique story.
The film begins with a man names Johannes breaking up with his girlfriend. She is distraught and even says she’ll have to kill him. Her name is Undine Wibeau. Undine tries to go about her daily life as she works as a historian at the Berlin City Museum. There she shows people a model of the city and tells of the history of Berlin. Undine has a unique ability to focus in on places and areas. She has an area of the Spree River in focus.
At a remote area of the Spree River, a man named Christoph works in the water to weld or to search out treasures found in the ocean floor. That is his profession. Undine returns to the cafe where she and Johannes used to drink at. That’s where she meets Christoph for the first time. The conversation gets friendly, but an accident happens. The accident causes them to bump into the cafe’s fish tank, causing it to break and spill all over. Both Undine and Christoph fall to the floor in love. However the owner is furious and bans the two from the cafe forever.
Over time the relationship between Christoph and Undine grows. They even move in together. One time during his job, Christoph offers to show Undine what he’s seen. Undine goes down, but without the scuba gear and she later floats off. He senses something peculiar about her. His sense of peculiarity grows right during his job he comes across a sunken ship with the name Undine on it.
Even though the relationship between Undine and Christoph grows, Undine still can’t help but think of Johannes. It strikes her as she goes about her job but when she looks at a part in the module that resembles the location of the cafe, she gets the sense that Johannes is there. Even while she’s walking romantically with Christoph in a park, she noticed Johannes with his new girlfriend. She turns her head, but returns back to Christoph. However Christoph sensed something. It wasn’t just the turn of the head but the the change of her heartbeat. It infuriates him, but Undine confesses the truth. That it was her ex.
Heartbroken, Undine goes to the cafe where Johannes is. Despite the owner being infuriated by Undine’s presence, she meets with Johannes and says he wants her back. The next day, an emergency happens at Christoph’s job site. The oxygen has been cut from his scuba outfit and he’s removed from the river unconscious. Undine is distraught to learn the news. She goes over to the hospital to see Christoph, but there’s a woman by his bedside. Christoph is unconscious and comatose. The woman tells Undine he’s brain-dead and she unleashes her anger on her. Undine leaves, going to Johannes’ place later that night. Johannes is in the pool while his girlfriend goes in the house to get a drink. Undine enters the pool. While Johannes is happy to see her, Undine drowns him. The then leaves and walks into the Spree River naked.
Two years pass. Christoph is alive and well. He recovered from his coma. The woman from the hospital, Monika, is his girlfriend and they are expecting their first child together. However Christoph is sensing something back to the Spree River. He returns one night alone, and there he sees her: Undine. She is alive and well and she belongs in the water. It becomes clear who is truly in Christoph’s heart.
One thing about this film is that it gets into the myth of the undine. For those who don’t know, the undine is a lot like the mermaid most us are familiar with. However the mermaid is just one of the images of the undine. The mythical undine is a lot darker than the mermaid who wants to please the man she meets. In fact one aspect of the undine is if the man is unfaithful to her, he is doomed to die.
What this film does is try to get to the common image of the undine in both its positive qualities and its negative qualities too. In a sense, the film is more of a reminder of the undine myth. The film also tries to set the myth of the undine in the modern world. In modern-day Berlin to be exact. Undine Wibeau is the undine in the modern world who lives along the humans, but gets to the true sense of who she is when she’s in the water.
One unique thing about the film is how they use Berlin as part of the telling of the story. Undine works as a historian with an urban development team. She knows a lot of Berlin’s history form centuries back to the days of division with the Berlin was to the present and its developments. The history also provides clues to Undine’s own past and own identity. One would be surprised how a story of an undine in modern Berlin would come to be.
This is another good film by Christian Petzold. Petzold has become one of Germany’s most heralded directors in recent years with films like Barbara, Jerichow and Phoenix. Here he delivers another good film. It’s very well-done, but it does have its flaws. The energy level does seem to get lost somewhere near the end. Nevertheless it is mostly well-written and well-acted. Paula Beer is also excellent as the mythical Undine. Her role may have lacked dimension, but she was very good in capturing the mythical figure of the undine well. The two leading men, Franz Rogowski and Jacob Matschenz, were good in their roles, but I felt their roles were underdeveloped. Hans Fromm did an excellent job with delivering the cinematography for the film.
Undine has done quite well on the film festival circuit. At the Berlin Film Festival in won the FIPRESI Prize and was nominated for the Golden Bear for Best Film. Beer herself won the Silver Bear Prize at that Festival for Best Actress. It’s also been a nominee for Best Film at the Denver Film Festival, Beijing Film Festival, Seville European Film Festival and a Best Narrative nominee at the Montclair Film Festival.
Undine is a good attempt at telling a modern-day story of the undine myth. It doesn’t keep the energy or the vibe consistent throughout the film, but it is picturesque and has a good sense of the characters.
It’s interesting that the first foreign-language film I see at the VIFF is an animated film. The Korean film Beauty Water is definitely something else.
The film begins in a production studio for a television network. It starts with a conversation between the actors and actresses and conflict arises. In the background is Yaeji, the make-up artist. She’s overweight and has average looks. She doesn’t get involved in any arguments. She’s just there listening in. The actors and actresses then come to her when they get their make-up done. Even if the prima donna actress berates her looks, she carries on as if nothing is happening. After work, she goes home to live with her parents. The parents have always been there for Yaeji from her days pursuing ballet as a child to her present career.
One day the producers of an advertising show think Yaeji is perfect for an advertising campaign. It’s to do about a cooking gadget. In that advertisement, they will show Yaeji eating. She agrees, but she is completely embarrassed when she later learns of all the mocking internet memes on social media. Embarrassed to tears with her body, she decides to fix things for her. She saw an ad for a product called Beauty Water. You wash your face in the water for 20 minutes and you peel away the old skin for a new beautiful face. But it’s not simply peeling away the skin. It’s peeling away the thick excessive flesh.
Yaeji orders a bottle and uses it on her face. The result leaves Yaeji happy that she’s now beautiful, but it’s not enough. She wants enough Beauty Water to change her whole body. She begs to her parents for financial assistance, but would be the equivalent of four months of their income. Yaeji begs to them, believing she’ll be nothing without that Water. They agree and the bottles of Beauty Water come in time to change her whole body.
The end result is both a face and a body of a beauty perfect to get noticed by television producers and the rich and famous. She rushes out and buys expensive stylish clothes from Seoul’s Gangnam District. She attends a party for the rich and famous over in Gangnam. She wins the notice of a production company of Jihoon. She also wins the attraction of a certain handsome man she noticed at the party.
However she is insecure. She’s afraid the effects of the Beauty Water won’t last. She also still has images of her past self she wants to forget, but reappear out of nowhere. With the money she made in her new modelling career, she’s able to afford more Water and soaks in a bath of it. Unfortunately, the phone dies before the alarm is to go off at the 20-minute mark and the Water goes deeper into her flesh leaving her almost depleted. She begs to her parents for them to give her some of their flesh. They agree by bathing in the water and giving their removed flesh to Yaeji.
Despite her new flesh, Yaeji’s body looks hideous. Nevertheless she still plans to meet up with the man she met. She tries to hide the effects from the man while she’s over at his place. She even goes to a woman who helps her return the form of her body, or at least make it human-like. However when she returns back to his place, she makes a shocking discovery. She sees identifications of other women. Did they also use the water? Did he kill them? She tries to escape him, but it’s of no avail. She learns the awful truth of him. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say she’s still alive in a way you won’t expect.
This film is a film that’s a good example of the common style of Korean animation. Most of you may already familiar with the style of anime from Japan and a lot of the grim and even bizarre stories and images it showcases. Korean animation is also similar in its way of showcasing bizarre and grotesque imagery and bizarre storylines. This film is good in showcasing the bizarre style of Korean animation that could just rival anime. However it’s not just for shock and gore. It has a story to say.
The main message of the story is to show the nations obsession with beauty and youth and how it’s actually quite damaging. If you’ve noticed in the last twenty years, South Korea has emerged in the world’s eyes with its entertainment industry being seen as a force to be reckoned with. We already have K-pop phenomenons like BTS, 2ne1 and BigBang. All of them are young with picture-perfect looks, clothes and bodies. The television and film industry in South Korea is also obsessed with youthful beauty.
You can tell director Cho Kyung-hun has something to say about this film. South Korean society in recent decades as it has worked to become a world power has become a nation that values beauty, wealth and prestige. There’s a lot of plastic surgery young women in South Korea undergo. There’s also news of many women in South Korea having eating disorders. This film has even been advertised with a tagline: “In a society as obsessed with physical appearance as modern South Korea, ugliness is a fate worse than death.” I think that’s the point Cho is trying to make. He’s trying to show how damaging the obsession with physical beauty is in Korea, but doing it with the bizarre style that is Korean animation. Very rarely is there a film that tries to both freak you out and get you thinking.
The story itself is creative. It aims to get one thinking while at the same time aiming for the thrills and shocks. Already the first shock is near the beginning when you see this Beauty Water make one not simply peel off skin but flesh! That’s what the Water does and that’s why Yaeji uses it on her whole body, even though it’s intended for just the face. It’s hard to notice a flaw in the story. I admit I don’t understand Asian animation styles. There are times I wonder if it did get the message across or did it rely too much on the shock imagery.
Beauty Water does more than just show an animation style that’s common in Korea. It also has a message to tell about beauty and how a society values it almost dangerously. It conveys the message in a very bizarre style.
Most of the familiar VIFF categories from past years are back for the online festival for this year, including Altered States. The first Altered States film I saw was the locally-filmed The Curse Of Willow Song. It was something else.
Willow Song is a troubled girl. The daughter of Chinese immigrants who both passed away, she followed in her older brother Mission’s footsteps to live a life of crime to survive. Manual labor wasn’t enough for her. Only the arson she committed landed her a prison sentence. She’s done with her time but she spends her time in a detention centre in Vancouver as she works to build her life. Her one friend is Flea, another girl at the detention centre. Flea appears to be the only one she can trust right now. Willow is not allowed to see any close family, especially her brother, for fear she will return to her criminal ways.
It is very hard for Willow to reintegrate back into society. One labor job that appeared to have steady work ended as the boss accepted an opportunity in Edmonton. The detention centre doesn’t seem to be working well to help her get back on her feet. The society she’s around has a contemptuous look at young Asian-American females. On top of that Wolf, the pusher from the place she burns down, keeps harassing her how much she owes him.
She gets relief when she least expects it from Dani: a figure from her past. Dani has found a place for Willow to live all the way out in Surrey in an abandoned Warehouse area that has common housing amenities. There, Willow is able to have a set-up similar to that of a comfortable home. One thing. When Willow sleeps at night, there appears to be something dark and mysterious growing on the walls.
Despite her new shelter, Willow knows she still has issues to deal with. She still has to reintegrate herself back into society. Also she has to avoid any contact with Mission or Wolf. That’s not an easy thing to do as she tries to get a labor job, but the boss just pays attention to her physical and racial features. He hires her, but drops her after the first day. Obvious sexual harassment. Walking down the streets of East Van, she does bump into Wolf. He hasn’t forgotten her. He still wants the money from her and won’t stop until she does. In addition, she meets up with Flea, but Flea appears to have turned her back on her. The growth on the walls continues to get bigger and bigger.
Soon, Willow’s secret shelter doesn’t stay secret for long. First to know is Mission and his gang where they go to conduct some activities. It’s only after an altercation with others that they go. Flea finds Willow’s whereabouts and they appear to have made peace. Only it turns out Flea gave Wolf the info about her secret place. Wolf and Flea then go over to her place. Wolf is ready to chase her down and kill her. Willow tries to run and hide herself wherever she can, but Wolf is determined. Willow tries to hide herself in a room full of chairs. Wolf is determined to get to her, but something happens to Willow as she’s hiding. When Wolf gets to where she is, Willow has become this monster of black smoke. She can attack Wolf and there’s nothing he can do. Flea tries to search for Wolf, but Willow has a surprise for her.
This is definitely a horror-thriller movie. However it does a lot more. It sends a message about some Asian-Canadians who slip through the cracks of the system. This is in the focus of Willow: a young Asian-Canadian female. She’s orphaned, best at skilled labor, and has been with her brother’s crime ring. Seeing how Willow wants to get back on her feet but the system either failing or falling short does send a message about problems that are out there. What happens to Willow often happens to many other girls too. I guess that’s why it’s shown in black and white. Because of the black and white world Willow lives in.
Another unique element is the thriller aspect of the film. The ending where Willow turns into this bizarre deadly spirit is bizarre to see. I actually read in an interview with director Karen Lam that she mentions of “psychokinesis (PK), where people can create an energy when under extreme stress that resembles a poltergeist.” That’s something unique. This is also the first time I’ve ever seen something like PK in a film, especially used by the protagonist. It was evident that Willow had her PK growing over time as it grew on the walls before her big confrontation with Wolf when it really came out.
This is a great work from writer/director Karen Lam. It’s a film that does keep you intrigued with the protagonist and what will happen next. The film was nominated for ten Leo Awards (BC’s equal to the Oscars) and it won two including Best Director for Lam. It’s well-deserved as this is a film that really succeeds in telling its story and keeping the audience intrigued. Also excellent is the acting of Valerie Tian. She does a good job of playing the protagonist with a troubled past and something supernatural she doesn’t know what to make sense of. Ingrid Nilson is also excellent as the traitorous Flea. She’s good at playing a lot of street girls that will befriend you one minute, then take what you have the next.
This film is part of the VIFF series Altered States. Many of you know that I’ve been seeing a lot of Altered States films for many VIFFs of the past. Those we the thriller/horror films that were shown at the Rio Theatre during their 11:30 weekend shows until they dropped them after 2018. Altered States are back this year and they’re mostly all online.
The Curse Of Willow Song is more than just a film of a young woman with a supernatural gift. It’s also a film with messages about our society and discrimination. It definitely knows how to end in unexpected manner.