It’s my tradition to end the VIFF by seeing the very last film they show. It’s always on the final day and at the Rio Theatre at 11pm. This year, it’s Housewife: a horror-thriller from Turkey in English. It wasn’t just the last showing at the VIFF, but its only showing at the Festival and a Canadian Premiere too.
The film begins on a snowy day 20 years ago. Seven year-old Holly lives a quiet life with her family until one day, her sister menstruates. Her mother reacts chaotically as if it’s a curse and kills both her sister and her father. Flash forward twenty years later. Holly is married, but the memories still haunt her from that horrific night. Her husband wants to start a family, but she pops birth control pills without him knowing.
One day, a childhood friend meets up with Holly again. They reconnect after all these years. The friend even invites Holly to an event her and her husband will be attending called ‘Umbrella Of Love And Mind.’ Holly comes to the event with her husband. The two couples are having a nice time together. Then the event starts. The event gives an impression it’s like a bizarre cult. The audience is introduced to a charismatic mastermind by the name of Bruce O’Hara. Bruce picks Holly right out of the audience as the first person he ‘demonstrates’ on. He’s able to get her mind to travel to another level and even into her fears. Holly and the crowd are impressed, but her husband is unhappy and mistrusting.
Holly carries on with life after the event, but the memories are now mixed with bizarre visions of murder. Holly goes back to Bruce for help. He continues to put her under his mind control. Meanwhile the husband is getting upset. He feels this is all a hoax. Finally Holly goes back one last time. The dreams are now of Bruce committing murder on Holly, ripping off her face and even wearing it! The movie ends on a bizarre, if not ridiculous, note that makes the film look like it’s incomplete or missing a lot of stuff to make sense.
The thing about the film is that it attempts to create the intrigue of a thriller it should create, but later comes across as confusing and even clumsy at the end. The opening looks promising as the opening scene shows some elements of Carrie in it. Actually even before you go to see the film, you’d get a sense that this would be a horror film, or something close to it. The master-of-the-mind who comes off like a cult leader is where you first start thinking if this will help the story or make it look ridiculous. Especially when he comes dancing onto the stage with ‘I’m Your Boogie Man’ playing in the background. It’s as the story moves into the second half that it starts treading into areas that are either confusing or ridiculous. The film even ends on a bizarrely ridiculous note that gets you wondering what the point of this story is.
It even gets you wondering what is director Can Evrenol trying to do as far as it being a thriller movie? Is he tapping into common thriller elements? Is he trying to create new thriller elements for the cinema? What is he trying to do? I left thinking he didn’t accomplish too much in the 80 minutes of the film, except add a lot of bizarre gore that makes you wonder what its point is. Maybe if he and co-writer Cem Ozuduru gave the film more time and better script, we’d get a better understanding of it, possibly even a decent understanding of it.
The acting was not the best. This is Can’s first English-language feature and he hires either Turkish or European actors for the roles. You can notice the accents. Lead protagonist Clementine Poidarz did well with her role, despite noticeable imperfections. David Sakurai looks awkward and even wooden in his role as Bruce O’Hara and even looks like he isn’t fully in character at times.
Housewife is Can Evrenol’s first attempt at an English-language feature and his first feature-length horror film. It’s not much of an accomplishment since its imperfections are very noticeable.
And there you have it! This is the fourteenth and last review of all the films I saw at this year’s Vancouver Film Festival. Quite the experience. My wrap-up is coming soon.
The Altered States series at the VIFF provide for a lot of films that cross into the genres and subject of horror, paranormal and the supernatural. Animals is a Swiss film that taps into the supernatural with mysterious results.
The film begins with a suicide outside an apartment building in Austria. A young woman falls to her death. Soon after, a couple by the name of Nick and Anna are to leave on a long trip in the Swiss Alps. Nick rents his suite out during the trip. The taker is a woman named Mischa, who looks very similar to the woman from the floor above.
The two then go on their vacation. Nick is a celebrity chef and Anna is a children’s book author. You can tell the marriage has been going through a lot of difficulties. Some things, like how Nick doesn’t want to have children, are said, but some aren’t. Then all of a sudden, Nick accidentally hits a sheep on the road. The collision kills the sheep and damages the car, but the two aren’t hurt seriously. Later that night, Nick receives the dead sheep wrapped up.
Back at the apartment, a man comes knocking to win back the love of Andrea. He keeps insisting in tears that he wants her back terribly and that his life is nothing without her, but Mischa keeps insisting: “I don’t know you.”
Nick and Anna try to go on with their lives and their marriage after the collision. However Anna is very suspicious of infidelity. Especially after she sees Nick get too friendly with a waitress by the name of Andrea. An attack by a robber on Anna from their car late at night seems to reconfirm Nick’s love to Anna. However Anna had a dream days earlier that Nick was the one who pulled her out, which is why she’s uncomfortable. Nick keeps notes of recipes that he is to use for some of his shows, but Anna is suspicious. Anna gets what she suspects; there is another woman in Nick’s life. When she tells him the news, it appears that Nick hears something completely different. It’s like he’s deaf and in another world.
Back at the apartment, Mischa is in love with another man. Two men are outside her apartment how they were both loved and neglected by her. Days pass and Nick comes across a news article about a ‘horrific sheep collision’ on a country road. The picture of the incident shows Nick looking distraught with a woman being carried away in an ambulance. Nick is shocked. That can’t be since they both survived the incident. They next day, another collision with a sheep happens. This time Anna is taken away in an ambulance. The film ends with a surprise, albeit too rushed.
The film focuses on a wide variety of common themes in a thriller. It focuses on the supernatural, a case of image versus reality, the power of dreams, and even the foretelling of the future. Nick and Anna are living out a slow but intense personal drama in their lives. However things intertwine right after they rent the house to Mischa. There are images of the future, not all pleasant. There is a barrier of communication, or Nick could be in another world of his own. There is a housesitter who either looks like a person who used to live at the apartment or is the same person with a completely different identity. Plus there are the animals that appear to tell something about what will happen in the future. There’s the sheep on the road, the birds that hit the house, and the cat that talks in French. The film can often be seen as including many thriller elements Alfred Hitchcock included in his films. It’s not just the birds reminding one of The Birds. It’s even the feel of the unknown, the mysterious and even the feel of being chased down that adds to the Hitchcock feel in this film.
The problem with this thriller is that it sometimes moves too slowly. The film has a lot of moments that create suspense, but it drags on in a pace that can be too slow for a thriller of such. I can understand why directors would want to slow scenes down for the sake of creating the intensity of the moment, but it appeared to take too long. The film creates intrigue, but it doesn’t keep its feel of the thriller consistent. It also seems like Swiss-born Polish director Greg Zglinski is trying to pack too many elements into the film. It’s impressive that it uses a lot of common thriller elements like the supernatural, the power of dreams, and the future happening in the moment, but it gives a sense that something’s missing. On top of it, Zglinski and co-writer Jorg Kalt appear that they don’t have the story stitched together properly. It’s a film that like a puzzle set that needs to be pieced together, but it doesn’t feel like it’s pieced together well. Even the ending that shows two completely different emotions on Nick gets one wondering.
The film’s actors are the highlight of the film. Birgit Minichmayr does a very good job of playing the wife caught between a fading marriage and this mystery happening before her eyes. Philipp Hochmayr is not given very much range in his role, but he does a good job in what he is given. Mona Petri also does a good job with her multi-personality role as Mischa/Andrea. In addition, the music by Bartosz Chajdecki adds to the drama of the film when it’s there.
Animals is a thriller that shows a lot of potential at first, but comes off as slow, not all together and even incomplete at the end.
I was lucky to see a lot of Canadian film this year at the VIFF. The last Canadian film I saw was Indian Horse. It touches on a dark moment of Canada’s history, but it also gives a ray of hope.
The story begins with Saul Indian Horse in a rehab clinic for alcoholism. He is around other First Nations people who tell of their experiences being raised in a Residential School. It’s there where Saul needs to make sense of his past.
His first memories come back to 1958: before he was taken to the School. He had a grandmother who spoke in her Ojibway language and still practiced Indigenous spirituality. Her daughter, Saul’s mother, was raised in the School. It changed her terribly. She called the mother’s religion blasphemy and would only speak English. The grandmother would be undaunted and would comment on how she was drinking the ‘white man’s drink.’ Their first son, Saul’s older brother, was to be home from the School temporarily, but was terribly sick. Eventually the brother died. Saul never saw his parents again.
It was just Saul and his grandmother shortly after. The grandmother took Saul to a remote location to try to hide Saul from being taken by authorities to the School, but she died. The authorities did find Saul and took him to the School. The first day was terrible. Saul was joined by a boy named Lonnie who spoke nothing but Ojibway. They were told how they would be made to speak English, revoke their ‘pagan Indian religion’ and not act like ‘savages.’ It all started with the cut of Saul’s ponytail.
The School was where the First Nations children were ‘schooled’ and ‘raised.’ They weren’t taught much in school as far as education went, but they were taught a lot of the Catholic religion. As far as ‘raising’ the children, the priests and nuns ‘raised’ them through abuse and humiliation, even keeping them captive in the basement cage at times. Saul witnesses it all and is even victim to the abuse. He witnesses Lonnie constantly beaten for speaking Ojibway, Lonnie’s failed escape and being held captive for punishment, one girl held captive for behavior and even dying in the cage, and her sister later committing suicide.
Saul did find a way out of the horror. There was one priest, Father Gaston, who appeared to be less strict than the others. He introduced the boys of the school to the sport of hockey. The school had a hockey team and the boys were allowed to watch Hockey Night In Canada. Saul wanted to play but he was too small at first. Fr. Gaston allowed him to tend the uniforms and clean the ice. That time allowed Saul to learn skating for himself and to learn hockey…using frozen horse turds as pucks. Fr. Gaston is astounded by Saul, but the head priest is reluctant to let Saul on the team. After a year, Saul is allowed on. It was a smart decision as the team came the surprise winner at many games with Saul outpowering and outplaying players way bigger than him.
Saul improves so much over the years in hockey, he’s allowed to leave the school early to play for a team on a nearby reserve. Before he leaves, he promises Lonnie he’ll see him again. He’s given a rooming home by an Indigenous couple who are empathetic to what he went through. He even blends well with his new team: The Moose. The Moose are not just a team that plays well, but a team with a brotherly bond. Whenever they win, they celebrate together no matter who the big star is. When they go to a bar to drink, they stand their ground against any bigoted white men why try to fight them.
Years later, Saul is offered a big opportunity to play with a team from a big city, and play professionally for money. The coach, Jack Lanahan, makes an offer in from of Saul’s teammates. Saul refuses at first, but his teammates encourage him to go for it. Saul accepts. Saul is the only member of the team that isn’t white and the team makes him feel like a misfit. On the ice, things aren’t any less discomforting. The crowds taunt him and whenever he scores a goal, they throw Indian figures on the ice. The media isn’t any kinder as a drawing depicts him as a warrior and even the journalist writes him as a warrior. Saul can’t take it anymore and he quits the team, and hockey as a whole. Years later, Saul is doing menial jobs like dishwashing for a restaurant. As he walks the streets of the town, he sees so many First Nations people with drinking problems. Then one day he notices Lonnie on the street with a bottle in his hand. That leads to Saul dealing with his own bout of alcoholism.
It’s 1989. Saul was hospitalized with liver problems. The doctor tells him any more drinking, and he will die soon. Saul check into a rehab centre specifically for First Nations people. There he hears many residential school stories similar to what he endured or what he saw happen to others. One of the counselors ask him if he ever cried. He never has; Saul has always made himself stoic in emotions. He’s asked to go retrace his past. Saul goes back to all the places he knew. First place he returns to is the residential school. It’s no longer running and is now just a shabby building. As he tours the place, he’s reminded of the memories of the ice rink where he learned to play, of the basement where students were locked up, and even the stairway where we learn Fr. Gaston used to perform ‘abuse’ on him. Saul returns to the land in the woods where he lived as a child before being sent to the school. It’s there Saul cries for the first time. It’s also there where he experiences a reconnection with his family and his indigenous heritage. This time he feels the pride. Then he returns to the reserve and is welcomed by his foster parents and The Moose with open arms.
This film is remarkable because it touches on a subject that remains the darkest blemish in Canadian history. The residential school system was set up with contempt in indigenous culture. The white English-French Canadians who ran Canada over a century ago always saw indigenous culture as ‘pagan,’ ‘wicked’ or ‘demonic.’ They felt they were doing the right thing by ‘whitewashing’ the indigenous people. Instead they created a huge mess that was very hurtful to the indigenous people. I attended high school in downtown Winnipeg and I saw firsthand the social problems the indigenous people endured from the late 80’s onward like alcoholism, drug abuse, homelessness, teenage pregnancies, gang violence and suicides. One scene that stuck out for me was when the white authorities were taking Saul away to the schools as his grandmother lay dead beside him. They only cared about taking Saul: they didn’t care about the recently-deceased grandmother at all. What does that tell you?
It’s only until revelations of abuse at the schools, both physical and sexual, surfaced in the 90’s after the system was dismantled that we finally got our answers why the indigenous had all these problems. It’s only now since the beginning of the 21st century that efforts have been made to reconcile and to clean up this mess. The stories experienced by the children that were put in the schools were echoed in the 2012 novel Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. The novel has earned huge renown and even won awards since its release. The story of Saul is a story commonly echoed by many indigenous people that were ‘prey’ to this system.
Now adapting Wagamese’s novel into a film would prove to be a challenge. This was a story that needed to be told, no matter how painful the details. However the goal was not just to simply create a film, but create it in a ‘movie’ format so it can be viewed by a wider audience. Direction ended up in the hands of Stephen Campanelli who actually has a reputation in Hollywood as a cameraman, mostly for Clint Eastwood’s films. Campanelli has become Clint’s most trusted ‘camera eye’ since The Bridges Of Madison County. Scriptwriting was given to reputed Canadian scriptwriter Dennis Foon, but not without consultation with Wagamese himself.
The film had to include a lot of important elements of what happened both in the lives of the protagonist and what the indigenous peoples endured over the decades. However if this was to be a movie, the film had to be made into something watchable. The days back in the 90’s when we used to admire directors like Harmony Korine and Lars von Trier who’d take the unwatchable and shoved it in people’s faces are long gone. Making it ‘watchable’ would be a huge challenge. The subject of child abuse is never easy to write about. Seeing images of bigotry toward the indigenous children makes it additionally harder to watch. I don’t deny that anyone who went through the system will say that the depictions of abuse were ‘light’ in comparison to their experiences. However they were very good in telling exactly what they went through. The priests and nuns insulted them, humiliated them and even tortured them whenever they did wrong or didn’t live up to their standards. I may be Catholic, but I felt a lot of wrath towards the priests and nuns who taught at the schools when I was watching. I even thought: “They’re in hell now!” However the film also pointed to their mindset too. The film gave the impression that the priests felt the using abuse to teach and punish was the right thing to use not just on the indigenous, but in raising children as a whole. We shouldn’t forget there were people back in the 50’s that thought using abuse to raise children and punish them was the right thing.
Another element the film had to include was the common prejudices indigenous people received which helped lead to their lifelong identity crisis. The image of indigenous people has always had a difficult time. I don’t want to get started about all those ‘cowboys and indians’ movies of decades past. Imagine an indigenous child watching one of those. How’s he supposed to feel about his identity? The film does a good job in showing the identity crisis the indigenous continued to face just after Saul leaves the school. They would face prejudice whenever they’d go into a bar or any other place mostly filled with white people. Whenever an indigenous would make news of an accomplishment, they would be subject to journalism depicting them as a ‘warrior.’ That scene of Saul reading over that news story is something very common. There are a lot of white people who think that depicting the indigenous as ‘warriors’ through sports names like Redskins or Tomahawks are doing the right thing. Instead it only adds to their inferiority complex.
I think the purpose of the film is to show Saul’s experience as an indigenous person from childhood to adulthood as difficulties shared by most indigenous people in Canada. Throughout the film, I was thinking that this film is not based on a true story. It’s based on a thousand true stories. I’m sure there are many indigenous people who will see the abuse or bigotry or feelings of inferiority happening to Saul and the people around him and feel that this is their story too. This is a mirror of what happened in their lives too.
However going back to how this film was to be in a ‘movie’ format, it still needed to be watchable. There were certain harsh truths that could not be hidden from the movie, but the story is about finding a way out of the harshness and even finding a feeling of belonging after it all. The story of hockey makes for excitement and gets you cheering for Saul. Those in the audience who never read the novel want Saul to come out the winner. Even after we see all that Saul has been through, we want Saul to come out triumphant after all the ordeals he had been through in his life. The ending is the highlight because the end scene of Saul’s recovery and coming to terms with his past shows a ray of hope. All of Canada has seen the harm the system has done to the indigenous people. Even the indigenous peoples of Canada themselves don’t want to hurt anymore. They want to live their lives and be seen as people deserving of respect. The end scene may be a bit simple and may be seen as ‘sugar coated’ by some, or even a ‘prodigal son’ moment by a few, but it’s also part of the theme of hope. That scene where Saul returns to his foster parents and the Moose greeting him is a reminder of those that will never leave you no matter what. There are people that will find you when you’re lost.
Director Stephen Campanelli and writer Dennis Foon did a very good job of bringing the novel to the big screen in movie format. There were some noticeable imperfections and even a thing or two that could have been done better, but that doesn’t stop this for being an accomplishment for Canadian cinema. As for author Wagamese, unfortunately Wagamese died on March 10th of this year at the age of 61. It’s unfortunate Wagamese didn’t live to see its debut at the TIFF. Many in the indigenous communities say he’s still here in spirit.
The actors did a very good job in their roles. All the actors who played Saul did very well, but the standout had to be Sladen Peltier who played Saul at 9. He never acted before, but he was excellent. Forrest Goodluck was also very good too. The 19 year-old from Albuquerque has professional experience already through roles like Hawk in The Revenant and has two films to be released soon. Even newcomers like Ajuawak Kapashesit and Bo Peltier were impressive. The film shows a lot of good young indigenous talent in Canada that have a promising future. The music was a good mix of original score by Jesse Zubot and modern-day indigenous music or indigenous pop.
I know I’ve often said about Canadian film that there’s two groups: Quebec and English Canada. I’ve often elaborated how Quebec is the class of the field while English Canada is struggling with its identity in film. This is a film that I feel can change that. This is a very professionally-done film about a story that creates a lot of intrigue and gets one hoping for the protagonist. Oh, remember I said that Campanelli was a cameraman on many of Clint Eastwood’s films? Well, Eastwood himself is an executive producer of this film! This film was a big hit at the TIFF and won the Audience Award at the VIFF. I heard during a Q&A that this film will have an American release in April. That could open more doors for Canadian film in the future.
Indian Horse attempts to do something tricky in film making: attempt to make a ‘movie’ out of a hard subject in Canadian history. It succeeds in doing so, albeit imperfectly, and even serves as a ray of hope for the future.
Can you imagine a party where everything that could go wrong does? The British comedy The Party is a film that shows exactly that!
The film begins with Janet waiting for her party to begin. She just won a seat in parliament. The party is expected to be a private one with her husband Bill, best friend April and her husband Gottfried, close couple Martha and Jinny and her son Tom. Bill is frail and not in the most pleasant of moods. April has a very blunt mouth and isn’t afraid to say what she believes to be true, no matter how spiteful. Gottfried appears not to be with his wits. Tom is trying to keep his cocaine habit a secret. The couple of Martha and Jinny appear to be the only guests who have it together. Of course, they’re happy as they’re expecting triplets.
The party is supposed to go smooth, but April appears to be saying something to start a spat anytime soon. Gottfried is always embarrassing April. Tom’s frustrations about his marriage are becoming obvious. Nevertheless Janet is toasted by all.
Then the chaos begins. Janet first receives a text from a man wanting her back in her life, to which she declines. Bill announces he’s dying to all. Janet is broken, but he’s vague on what his condition is. Only Gottfried appears to believe him and is willing to help him. Then unfaithfulness has been revealed about both Martha and Jinny and it threatens not just their relationship, but the birth of their children. Then Bill admits to Janet, he’s been seeing another woman. Janet is infuriated. Only Gottfried stands by his side. Tom does more coke and contemplates hosting himself, but later throws the gun in the garbage. Janet is upset by the whole thing with no one but April to give her words of comfort. However Janet soon finds Tom’s gun in the garbage. Then Bill reveals to Tom the ‘other woman’ is his wife. Tom responds by punching Bill. Bill appears dead on the floor and is being resuscitated. Martha and Jinny try to look like the happy couple they were. Then Janet goes to the door after hearing the doorbell. It’s the other man. To which, she points the gun at him: “You said you loved me. You liar!”
At first, I thought The Party would be a political film. I was tempted to think that at first glance. Instead it became the perfect location for a single-location film. It does a very good job in packing in just about anything and everything that can destroy all seven involved in the story. One thing does lead to another and the results are crazy. However a story like this about a party where everything goes wrong for everybody has to have situations that don’t come across as ridiculous. You have enough slapstick movies doing that.
To make a party where everything goes wrong, but still look intelligent takes a lot of effort in writing. It succeeds in doing that. The characters in which the actors adapt had to make the comedic situations work. The situations looked quite believable, despite the banality of all of them happening at once. Even the most bizarre situations didn’t come across as looking stupid. This is one of the best over-the-top comedies I’ve seen in a long time. The over-the-top elements aren’t even physical or slapstick; it’s all about the story and characters. Even filming this comedy in black and white added to the film.
The biggest accolades in making this bizarre story work goes to writer/director Sally Potter. This story packs in a lot of comedic punch that appears to work every time and does not cross over the line into stupidity and ridiculous. It takes a lot of effort to create something like that and make it work, and Potter made it work. Everyone who saw it the same time I saw it was laughing a lot. It’s hard to pick who the biggest performer was. Kristin Scott Thomas was definitely the protagonist, but Patricia Clarkson was able to steal the show with whatever she said each time. Bruno Ganz and Timothy Spall owned their moments by playing their characters well. Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer also grabbed their moments, and Cillian Murphy knew how to come out of nowhere to get his moments too. Basically it’s not on the strength of a single actor, but of all seven in the ensemble. They all made this comedy work with whatever they did or said.
The Party is 71 minutes of tragicomedy energy of the best kind. It’s a reminder of how writing rather than cheap one-liners is what works best in comedy. I guarantee you will be laughing.
Félicité appears to be a film about an African woman who sings in bars to make a living, but it’s a lot more.
Félicité is a woman living in DR Congo. The film begins with her waiting for the result on a repair for her refrigerator. It needs a new fan and it will cost. She then goes to the local bar to perform her music. That’s how Félicité makes her money, by singing. The bar is mostly locals. The repairman Tabu is one of those who catches her performance. However the bar has a lot of roughness and fights are frequent.
One day, her 14 year-old son is hospitalized. He was in a motorcycle crash. His leg is so badly injured, an operation is needed or else it will be amputated. Félicité is told she needs 1,000,000 Congolese Francs in order for the operation to happen. Singing from bar to bar is not enough. Félicité first tries locals who know her, but gets either little money or negative flack. Félicité then goes around the richer areas of Kinshasa posing as family members asking for money.
She’s close to the amount she needs, but it’s too late. The leg became so terribly bruised, amputation was needed. Félicité is shattered. However she develops a loving relationship with the repairman Tabu after he successfully repairs her fridge. He’s able to give the comfort she needs. She develops the confidence to start singing with an elite choir in a college as a hobby. Tabu is also able to talk to Samo and instill in him the confidence to live again.
Tabu again returns to one of Félicité‘s shows, but leaves with another woman. Félicité sees him the next day. She is very unhappy with him, but admits her heart is still with him. Félicité returns to singing in night clubs and singing with the high choir.
The way this film is made is common what one would have for a French film. There’s a storyline with a beginning, middle and end, but there’s also a lot in the background that adds greatly to the story. We see it in Félicité‘s singing. She sings the common African songs in the bars. She also sings gracefully in the elite choir. A lot of what she sings about in the night clubs is the struggle of African people in their daily lives and she belts out her emotions when she sings. A lot of what she sings in the high-class choir is graceful and gives acclaim to God and acclaim to life. Singing is not just a profession for Félicité; it’s a way of life.
Another background element of the film is Félicité‘s life and the lives of all those around her. She exhibits the struggles common of African women of trying to raise a child and trying to make pay. There are many scenes where you see Félicité walking down the streets of Kinshasa. Often the film shows about the difficulty of those living in the DR Congo, or Africa as a whole. We’re talking about a country with a very low wage and people struggling very hard to make ends meet no matter how much or how little they get. The 1,000,000 francs Félicité needs for her son’s operation translates to $650 American dollar. It may not sound like too much to you and me, but it’s almost two years income for the average Congolese. Even seeing how Félicité poses as a family member to rich people in their gated and locked houses shows the rich-poor divide in the country. Often I felt when I was watching Félicité, I was seeing a glimpse of African life.
Alain Gomis does a very good job of storytelling here in this film he directed and co-wrote with Olivier Loustau and Delphine Zingg. Gomis himself is a French director of Senegalese parents. You can see this story is personal to him too. He does a very good job of telling Félicité‘s story while giving people a god look at what life in Africa is like. Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu does a very good job in her debut role. She was able to play Félicité like she is the African ‘everywoman.’ Papi Mpaka also plays Tabu very well. At first, Tabu is just there in Félicité‘s presence, but soon becomes part of her life and her son’s life. It’s like he come from nowhere to be what Félicité needed. The music is one of the biggest elements of the film. The film may be about a night club singer but the music Félicité engages in says a lot about the film and about life in Africa in all its joys and heartaches.
Félicité is a four-nation film collaboration of Senegal, Belgium, France and Lebanon. The film is Senegal’s official submission in the category of Best Foreign Language Film for the 2017 Academy Awards. This is the first time the nation of Senegal has ever submitted an entry into this category. The film won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film festival, won a Human Rights In Cinema award at the Istanbul Film Festival and was nominated for Best Film at the Sydney Film Festival and the Chicago International Film Festival.
Félicité is a film that doesn’t just dimply tell a story. It gives a glimpse into the difficulties of life in Africa.
The VIFF is my best chance to see a Canadian feature film each year. I got my chance with Suck It Up. I’m glad I saw it.
The film begins with Ronnie collapsing by a lawnmower drunk. Ronnie has just lost her older brother Garrett. Faye is in Vancouver having a job interview for a school board job she really wants when she learns the news about Ronnie. Ronnie was her best friend until Faye broke up with Garrett last year. She is encouraged by Ronnie’s guardian aunt and uncle to come over to Calgary. Faye meets with them all and they feel the best way to help Ronnie recuperate is for her and Faye to go someplace for a getaway. Faye decides to go to their old cabin in Invermere.
At first, you think things won’t work. Faye is the cool one under control while Ronnie is outrageous enough to flash her breasts to any car full of guys passing by. Once in Invermere, they try to make themselves comfortable in the cabin. However it seems Ronnie is making herself all too comfortable with every guy she meets up with. Especially this creepy guy names Dale who rubs Faye the wrong way. As Ronnie is getting closer to a guy names Shamus and his freewheeling friends from the bowling alley, Faye meets a guy of her own. His name is Granville. Granville may come across as geeky at first because of his asthma and diabetes, but the two connect as Faye is charmed by his artistic dreaminess.
Things prove too much for Faye as Ronnie’s craziness is cramping her style and her life. Faye tries to have a good time, but can’t deny that she has things to take care of in her life, like a potential job in Vancouver. One day, Ronnie and her friends come after a day of fun and give Faye some lemonade. It’s after Faye drinks it that she finds out it’s laced with MDMA, and just 1/2 an hour before her job interview on Skype! Faye humiliates herself during the interview.
Even though Faye is given a second interview days from now, Faye appears to be the one falling apart now. It’s not just about the interview and dealing with Ronnie. It’s because Faye is having trouble dealing with Garrett’s death. She can’t handle that she didn’t answer the call from Garrett’s phone just hours before he died. She came to Invermere with Garrett’s ashes and two envelopes from Garrett: one for her and one for Ronnie. She open’s Ronnie’s envelope instead. Even hearing info about Garrett from a woman names Alex who works at the town ice cream parlor makes things all that more frustrating for Faye.
Then the two decide to hold a party at the cabin. All of their Invermere friends are invited and they all show up, including shady Dale and his mud-filled inflatable pool for mud wrestling. Ronnie’s in a partying mood but Faye is having issues. It’s still all about Garrett. Spending time with Granville doesn’t make things easier and talking with Alex makes things worse. Then Ronnie films out what Faye did with her letter. She confronts Faye with harsh words about the phone call from Garrett’s phone. This leads to a fist fight where they both end up in the pool of mud. But after that, the two suddenly make peace and resolve all that happened. Even the opened letter. It turns out Garrett was a controlling person in his life and tried to control both of them. Faye and Ronnie pack up with Ronnie being in great spirits and not looking as troubled as she was at the beginning. They promise to get together again soon.
At first, I found this comedy entertaining. Then I did a bit of thinking. This is a kind of comedy that I can see the script working in Hollywood. Have you seen a lot of the Hollywood comedies in theatres now? They’re pretty dreadful, eh? They’re relying too much on jokes with shock value and even lewd or crude one-liners to get a laugh. They make you think they’re that desperate for laughs. This comedy doesn’t need to rely on one-liners or crude jokes. All it has to rely on are the characters and the scenarios to make this work. That’s what made this comedy work. We have a bizarre situation of two friends who are two opposites going away to a resort town to help one recover from her brother’s death. The other friend has unresolved issues over his death too. The mix of the two causes havoc, but it all ends when they get into a fight where they accidentally end up in the mud wrestling pool. Then the friendship is rekindled and they’re both able to make peace with his death. To think Hollywood couldn’t think this up, but Canadians did!
The film is also about ironies. The two girls are complete opposites. You first wonder how on earth they became friends in the first place. You first think Granville is a nerdy guy, but he becomes the perfect one for Faye. There are even times later on when you wonder which of the two are having a harder time dealing with Garrett’s death. It’s the fistfight that becomes the turning point where Faye and Ronnie are finally able to resolve things and go back to being the good friends they were. In the end, both get over his death when they come to terms with what a control freak he was in his lifetime. Even seeing Ronnie toss Garrett’s ashes off a cliff with them still in the jar is a bit of comedic irony too.
One thing about the film is that it doesn’t try to mess with the crowd too much. The subject of death and how Ronnie’s family is full of cancer-related deaths even makes you wonder if this would become a tragedy soon, but it doesn’t. It’s able to take a dark troubling matter and turn it into a good comedy. It also won’t get too manipulative. One thing you’ll notice is that there are no flashbacks to when Garrett was alive, nor are there scenes of Garrett coming from nowhere to talk to either of the two. Another thing about this film is that the story lines are placed out very well. I’ll admit the film starts on a scene that makes you think it could have been given another take, but the film gets better over time and the whole story is kept consistent from start to finish.
This film directed by Jordan Canning and written by Julia Hoff was very well-done and well put-together, even more than most Hollywood comedies nowadays. This is kudos for Julia because this is her first screenplay for a feature-length film. Erin Carter did a great job as Faye and Grace Glowicki was great as Ronnie. The film needed them to be in their characters to make it work, but they were able to keep their roles from being one-dimensional. I addition, they had the right chemistry together to make this story work on screen. Dan Beirne was also very good portraying the misfit Granville who wins Faye’s love. Toby Marks was also great as Alex: the one caught in the middle between Faye and Garrett.
Suck It Up is a Canadian-made comedy that is way better-done than most of today’s Hollywood comedies. It starts out sluggish and even may appear to tread into ‘drama territory’ at times, but it ends on the right note.
Dragonfly Eyes is a Chinese experimental film that attempts to use surveillance camera footage as a way to tell a story. It’s a unique story in its own.
The story begins in a Buddhist monastery. A young girl named Qing Ting, which means ‘dragonfly,’ has left the monastery in search of a better life. Ke Fan is a young man working a job at a cow farm. One day he catches the attention of Qing Ting. They have conversation, but it’s brief. She knows him and his farm work, but she tries to keep a public distance from him. She’s concerned for her social status about how she’ll look conversating with a ‘farm boy.’
Eventually she admits that she does love him and the two become a couple. However Qing Ting loses her job at a cleaner’s when a pushy rich woman gets more demanding and then demands Qing Ting be fired. Ke Fan swears to Qing Ting he will gets revenge for her. He does just that by driving in front of the rich couple’s car and smashing in their front at a red light. The incident lands Ke Fan a four-year prison term.
Four years have passed and Ke Fan is released from prison. The first thing he does is try to look for Qing Ting. He goes to where she used to live, goes to her former jobs. No sign. Then he learns of an internet celebrity by the name of Xiao Xiao. He sees her and notices that it’s Qing Ting. He tries to conversate with her, but she keeps on denying she’s Qing Ting. Then one day, she gives negative comments about a singing star. That leads to a lot of online flack delivered to her. Xiao Xiao is devastated and it drives her to suicide. Ke Fan learns of this. He feels what he must do is undergo plastic surgery to have Qing Ting’s face. After the operation, he returns to the monastery where she used to serve. It is there she chooses to stay.
This is definitely a film you can call experimental. You can also describe it as ambitious for Xu Bing. One thing we learn is that China is a country full of surveillance cameras. The average person’s face is seen on surveillance cameras 300 times a day. The cameras are all state-run. It is through this that Xu Bing came up with the idea to do a fictional story through use of surveillance. I tried to be as observant as I could with the film. I was trying to spot out if Xu Bing was using the same actors to play Ke Fan and Qing Ting. One thing about the film is that the parts are voiced over by Lui Yongfang for Qing Ting and Su Shangqing for Ke Fan.
I do give Xu Bing kudos for trying to make a film of this caliber and this experimental. However I have to say that it is flawed. The biggest thing is a story that appeared to make sense from time to time, but ended in a bizarre fashion. How does one try to keep the spirit of a deceased person alive by undergoing plastic surgery to look like them? The scene where Ke Fan joins the monastery made a little more sense as it can be seen as a way to keep Qing Ting’s spirit alive. However the plastic surgery really has me wondering.
I can understand that Xu Bing is trying to make more than one statement to make in this film. I think through the character of Qing Ting, he trying to make a statement of one being consumed by materialism. We have a young girl who leaves the monastery and then gets consumed in the modern world of materialism, and then she commits suicide. Also I feel with this film using surveillance camera footage, I think he’s also trying to make a statement about the chaos of this world we live in. It’s noted when the film goes from footage used as part of the drama shifting to general surveillance footage consisting of car crashes, people on the go, a disaster, a woman drowning in a pond, and even business footage. Whatever statements Xu is trying to make, it doesn’t come across smoothly and it comes across rather confusing. I will acknowledge Xu’s Dragonfly Eyes as a brave first-attempt at a ‘surveillance-drama’ and anticipate better in the years to come.
Dragonfly Eyes is an ambition attempt at creating a live-action film through surveillance footage, but it comes off as messy and confusing.
It’s our impulse that whenever we hear the term ‘Italian film,’ we think of either Life Is Beautiful or something in the spirit of Fellini. 7 Minutes is a completely different film. It’s a film about a serious topic and worth seeing.
The film starts at a textile plant in Italy. There’s been a merger with a big French company. The merger is seen as a threat to 300 female employees as they fear their jobs would be outsourced, and they protest outside. The heads of the Italian company plan to meet with the French CEO Mme. Rochette. However it’s only after Mme. Rochette meets with some of the female protesters that she starts talking with the Italian company.
The heads talk with the CEO in one room. Ten females who are part of the textile section wait in another room expecting anything, even the worst. Bianca is the only woman from the textiles section allowed in the meeting with the bigwigs. She looks onto their discussions in an untrusting matter awaiting their fate.
Finally the news comes to them. No jobs are really in jeopardy. However the eleven including Bianca are given an issue to vote on. They are asked to accept their current jobs as long as they give up seven minutes of their break time. This first seems like a simple thing to vote on; vote ‘yes’ and keep their jobs secure as well as the jobs of the 300 other woman who are now out celebrating. However Bianca is not happy and speaks her disagreement. The others are easier-going and all vote ‘yes’ at first.
However all realize they really need to think this through. They didn’t do it the first time. Some see it as more than a vote on a simple labor issue. Some see it as a test to see how much of a ‘sheep’ to the system they could make of themselves. Others however feel they are justified in voting ‘yes’ and give substantial reasons. Even one worker who’s pregnant feels this vote could affect the future of the daughter she’s carrying inside. A lot of discussion comes of this. We learn it was because of faulty machinery why one ended up in a wheelchair, and was pressured into signing an agreement that it was her fault. we hear from immigrants like Albanian Hira and African Kidal about their own difficulties. Then we hear from Bianca who always got far in the company by playing the system, but now wants to be the courageous one and stand her ground. Then there’s one who’s pregnant and needs to be rushed to the hospital to give birth. Before she leaves, she requests her vote be ‘no.’
Meanwhile time is running out. It’s 4pm. More than five hours have passed and a final vote has not been reached. This is especially infuriating for Mme. Rochette as she has a flight to catch. She becomes impatient and just lets it out on the Italian colleagues in French. However the ten have to come to a vote. Bianca announces her ‘no’ vote and announces she will resign as the labor leader of her group. There is a final vote at the end: five vote ‘yes,’ six vote ‘no.’
This film is very insightful. At first you think this film is about voting over a simple labor compromise, but it’s not. This thing about voting over a seven-minute compromise to their break time would prove to me more than just about that compromise. You’d hear in their conversations that it would be about a lot more. It would be about what other businesses would do. It would be about businesses trying to make other possible compromises in the future. It would even be a test of one’s personal dignity and what they believe in. It’s unfortunate that these women have to vote on this compromise for the sake of hundreds of jobs for other people, but it’s an issue that very common right now and could happen close to home. That’s why this dialogue in the film is so important.
The story isn’t just about the yes-voters and the no-voters stating their case. The story is also about the eleven women involved in the voting. We have eleven women of various different backgrounds. They range in ages from a 60-year old veteran of the place to a 20 year-old newcomer, married or divorced mothers to single women, two immigrants from Albania or Africa, and even a woman disabled from an injury on the job. All of them make their backgrounds and life-experiences known in the film as they all try to reach their final vote. Whenever you hear one of the women state her reason for her vote, what you hear is the story of at least a thousand other women who share her experience. What they say is that valuable.
The film does bring dignity to the six that vote ‘no.’ The film however does not try to make the five women who vote ‘yes’ look like they’re stupid or ‘conformist sheep.’ You just have to hear their stories on why they voted the way they did. The film does keep the dignity of those that voted ‘no,’ but also brought a human side to those that voted ‘yes.’ You’ll see in the film that those that voted ‘yes’ at the very end didn’t do it like they were in a flock of sheep. A lot of heart and soul and a lot of heavy thinking went into their ‘yes’ vote too.
The film is actually based on a stage play by Stefano Massini. I’ve never seen the stage play, but it’s very possible the play was just set in the meeting area with the eleven women discussing the deal. There would have to be some elements needed to bring this play to the big screen and make people want to watch it. I think the element of having the boss from France, Mme. Rochette coming over and holding the meeting adds to it. That scene near the end where she gets frustrated with the long wait and walks out telling off the Italians in French said quite a bit. It had me wondering: “Is that what people in France think of Italians?” It also sent a message of the disconnection between the business hierarchy and workers that obviously exists. Mme. Rochette appears at the beginning to be empathetic with the workers, especially Hira. She appears to be a congenial partner with them especially when she receives the gift of the big mozzarella. However the truth about how she feels gets revealed when the women delay their vote long enough. That doesn’t simply speak of Mme. Rochette, but lots of other CEO’s worldwide. I think a lot of them feel they need to have a disconnection from them in order to make business happen, no matter how cruel.
This film directed by Michele Placido, who co-wrote the screenplay with Toni Trupia and original playwright Stefano Massini, did a very good job in creating an intriguing film where most of the action takes place in one location. Massini’s play on its own is excellent in creating well-dimensioned roles for all eleven women in the play. Placido makes the right additions for the sake of the film while maintaining the importance of the debate as the focal point. The standout actress of the film has to be Ottavia Piccolo. She does a very good job in playing a woman who achieved a lot of success in playing along with the system, but now wants to be the strong one. Piccolo allows her role as Bianca to be a role that speaks as much in silence as she does in dialogue. All eleven women who are part of the voting scene all have roles that are full of volume. Each of the roles represent a woman everyone knows and were well-acted out.
7 Minutes is more than a film about a labor issue being voted upon. It’s also about people in this modern work world, most specifically women, and their feelings coming across as they vote.
Summer 1993 is a unique Spanish film for its depiction of childhood. It’s also a unique story about a girl that’s semi-autobiographical.
The story begins with a young six year-old girl named Frida who’s recently orphaned. She has lost both her parents to AIDS with her mother dying in the summer of 1993. The whole family including the mother is hugely concerned for Frida’s well-being. Her mother’s brother Esteve agrees to take care of her. Frida is taken to their mountainside pueblo in the Catalan Pyrenees to like with him, his wife Marga and 3 year-old daughter Anna.
It’s taking a long time for Frida to get adjusted to her new surroundings. She feels like a misfit in the town and very rarely socializes with anyone else. On top of it, she feels uncomfortable around the chickens. AIDS isn’t spoken around her and her family. When in conversation, they simply refer to it as ‘that illness.’ It does become apparent what ‘that illness’ is when Frida cuts herself and her family panics.
She also misses her mother, but doesn’t know how to grieve about it. Every day, she goes to the tiny grotto near the farm and prays to her mother. There’s even a time she places a pack of cigarettes to her mother by the Madonna. That’s the best way Frida knows how to grieve.
Over time, Frida appears to be developing a friendship to Anna; possibly even a sisterhood. It would become apparent Frida’s acting out when she plays a game with Anna in the woods only to leave Anna behind. Anna is found, but with a broken arm. The family is infuriated with the way Frida is acting, feeling she has no morals. Unknown to Esteve and Marga, Frida hears it all. Frida starts feeling like she’s unloved and decides the thing to do is to run away. It’s there as the family comes to search for her that Frida is reminded that she is loved. It becomes a turning point for her as she now feels like an accepted person at home and in the community.
This isn’t your typical film from Spain. Usually most fans of ‘arthouse’ film think of Pedro Almodovar when the word Spanish film comes to mind. Here, Carla Simon is not aiming to be the artist Pedro Almodovar is reputed to be. This film is actually autobiographical of Simon. She herself lost her mother to AIDS in the summer of 1993. Her father died some time before. The summer of 1993 was the first summer she spent with her new family. Basically Simon wanted to send a message with this film: “With the movie, I wanted to express the fact that children can suffer a thing so cruel but they are still able to understand death. That we have to talk to them about death, because a six year-old child can understand. The question/thing/issue is how they manage their feelings. We talk also about children’s ability to adapt, how they can survive and keep going, and the fact that children are more able than adults.”
It wasn’t mentioned whether Frida’s actions in the film mirrored Carla’s actions in real life. However Frida did exhibit a lot of common behavior traits common in children that have lost a parent at their young ages. The film shows how Frida goes from being a child who exhibits behavior relatives don’t know what to make of to soon belonging to a family and even grieving at the end.
Carla Simon directs and co-writes with Valentina Viso a story that’s intriguing, but also very natural and without overdoing the drama. It plays the events out as they come without trying to grab hold of attention. All the better for it. On top of it, the story is shown through the child’s point of view, which makes it that more autobiographical. Young Laia Atrigas does a very good job of playing Frida. She does a no-nonsense job of playing a six-year old girl and doesn’t try to be cutesy. She just does what she needs to do. The adult actors in the film, especially David Verdaguer and Bruna Cusi, also do a very good job in their parts as the concerned but confused foster parents. The film is set very well in its Catalan settings with scenes in both the pueblo and in the Catalan village. The film gives the feel of being in Catalonia. The film also included something noteworthy of the time as we see Frida wearing a T-shirt with Cobi: the mascot of the 1992 Summer Olympics from Barcelona.
A bit of trivia. Summer 1993 is Spain’s entry this year in the Academy Award category for Best Foreign language Film. It is the second film in the Catalan language to be submitted as Spain’s entry in that category. The first ever is Black Bread.
Summer 1993 is a story about a young girl’s change of surroundings and how she responds to it. It’s autobiographical depiction works well as it plays out in a no-nonsense fashion. The better for it.
WORK CITED: Zorita, Kristina. “Interview With Director Carla Simon” European Women’s Audiovisual Network. 6 March 2017<http://www.ewawomen.com/en/events/interview-with-director-carla-simon.html>
I started my trip to the Vancouver International Film Festival seeing an animated film called Tehran Taboo. This film is a very telling film in its subject matter and how it plays out in animation.
The story begins with Pari. She’s recently separated from her drug-addicted husband who’s now in prison. To get anywhere in Iran, including getting better things for her 5 year-old mute son Elias, she needs her husband’s signature on documents. She pleads to a judge with religious connections to no avail, but makes her an offer for her to be a ‘madam’ under his system. She refuses at first, but soon changes her mind. She is introduced to the prostitution business and is even given residency for her and her son.
Sara appears to have a happy marriage with her banker husband Mohsen, but it’s not. She finds the marriage discomforting especially since her in-laws are in the way. She finds a way into the system of prostitution. She even ‘works’ with Pari.
Babak is a traditional musician trying to make a name for himself. One night after a lousy show, he has sex with a woman she dances with. The next day, she comes to him saying she needs an operation in her vagina to make her appear like a virgin. She claims she’s getting married in five days. If her fiance finds out, he’ll have her killed. It’s up to Babak to get the money for the operation or find a serum. He even meets up with a hard man she claims to be her fiance.
All three situations criss-cross in the middle of Tehran. All three meet different endings. In the end, the truth about Sara is revealed to Mohsen. It’s right after she makes a phone call for a prostitution request to a man of high government ranking. The man then orders her number traced by the morality police. Sara eventually loses it all. Babak would also lose it all. Just as he is on the verge of coming across the money needed for the operations, he witnesses public hangings. That could be an omen of his own demise. We also learn that the woman was not to be married, but part of a prostitution business where virgins are paid higher money. Despite the difficulties, things work out for Pari. She’s able to make a good income and be able to send Elias to a good school.
This animated film– animated through rotoscope– is an impressive story about three situations all intersecting with the world of prostitution. They all face their own challenges as all have to deal with the laws in Iran: both law-based and religion-based. The influence of religion is seen throughout the film as there’s cases where the husband is required to authorize along with the wife, religious clerics hold high jobs, and the morality police all around ready to arrest even on public signs of affection. Even the fact that there’s such thing as a Morality Police gives an insight of what type of system Iran has been under since the Islamic Revolution of 1978.
Prostitution is very much a hush-hush business almost universally but you can bet it is especially secretive in Iran. We’re talking about a country where adultery is considered grounds for execution. However it’s seen by these three women as a chance to make a higher income. This is especially beneficial since the income for the average Iranian is very low. Pari has a chance to receive a better life for herself and her son thanks to her work, and the red tape of a judge involved. Sara sees prostitution as a chance to escape the strain of her marriage, especially with pushy in-laws. However this ring of prostitution is a detriment for Babak as he finds himself dealing in this business without him knowing. We learn that ‘fiance’ is actually part of the business too much too late for Babak.
This is a story that takes three situations in Tehran and often has them criss-crossing together through each of the characters. Even the protagonists in one of the sub-plots will find themselves involved in the other two plots too. The three stories intersect with both the photo studio where the photographer would take pictures of those involved and Elias the mute son who says nothing, but is a witness to all that goes on. The story plays itself out both as a story with a lot of intrigue and even some comedic moments, like when they have to deal with a gynecologist with poor personal hygiene or the photographer always changing backgrounds.
SPOILER WARNING: In the end, it’s Pari who’s the one that benefits most from this system of prostitution, if not the only one benefiting at all. Babak finds himself stuck in the middle of what would become what many believe to be his tragic fate in the end. Sara loses it all in the end, and it’s obvious her drug-induced jump at the end is a suicide. It’s evident she feels like she has nothing to live for. Pari, on the other hand, had the unfairness in her favor. She struggled with the unfairness of the Iranian legal system demanding her husband’s signature for many things; that’s the law in Iran. How could she when her ex-husband is in prison? But when the Iranian judge offered her an entry into the prostitution business, it opened doors for her and Elias. It even allowed her to achieve things without her husband’s signature. Despite the struggles, it appears Pari is the only one who won.
This is the first feature-length animated film for Ali Soozandeh. Ali was born in Iran but would emigrate to Germany. It’s easy to see why the film’s countries of production are listed as Germany and Austria. There’s no way Iran would allow for a film like this to be released! The film which he directed and co-wrote with Grit Kienzlen is a very good story of intrigue and will raise a lot of eyebrows about what’s going on ‘underground’ in a country like Iran. All the actors did their parts very well, whether it be doing their voices or acting for their rotoscope images. I feel the rotoscope method of animation fits the film very well in terms of telling its story. Rotoscope also helped well with Waltz With Bashir a few years ago.
Tehran Taboo is an excellent animated film about the secrets of Iran few know about. The stories of those involved, and why they do it, are made very clear.