Category Archives: VIFF – Festival and Reviews

VIFF 2021 Review: Zo Reken

The driver of the minivan in Zo Reken, Pascal Antoine, is a fictional driver. The passengers are real minivan passengers and they have a lot to tell.

What do I look like in this vehicle?

This van draws attention for all the wrong reasons.

I’m sure most people outside of Haiti have never heard of a ‘Zo Reken.’ The documentary Zo Reken is as much about the vehicle itself as it is about the political and living situation in Haiti.

The film begins with Pascal Antoine performing his music at a night club. After the show, he and his bandmates have drinks and then pack their gear up in a vehicle they call a ‘Zo Reken’ and head off. We learn a ‘Zo Reken’ is the nickname in Haiti for a Toyota 4-by-4 Land Cruiser minivan. It’s named after the ‘Zo Reken’ drink which consists of letting a shark bone sit in it. The vehicles most commonly called a ‘Zo Reken’ in Haiti are normally used to transport humanitarian aid to hospitals or various other sites.

However a violent coup to overthrow Haitian president Jovenel Moise has happened and brutal protests in the streets of capital Port-au-Prince have occurred. The nation is in a strict lockdown and Zo Rekens are no longer allowed for humanitarian aid. Antoine hacks a Zo Reken and uses it to help transport other Haitians around the capital. One thing is he will have to find routes along the bumpy roads that don’t collide with the violent fiery protests. Also he must he aware of people he passes throwing rocks at the vehicle.

The first passenger he transports is a man up a hill and avoiding barricades of fire set by protesters. As the man is transported, he talks about the humanitarian aid from non-governmental organizations, or NGO’s as they’re commonly called, that it’s more hinderance than a help. In a lot of ways, he sees the humanitarian aid from the NGO’s and international community as broken promises from these nations. They promised to bring Haiti out of the poverty and recover, but the poverty continues, as it has for decades. That explains why he and other Haitians see the Zo Rekens that transport the aid representing the NGOs or the continued repression, or simply power.

Later on, he transports another man. This Zo Reken is intended to be a vehicle to protectively transport many people across the capital during this turmoil. Soon this Zo Reken comes to represent a bus for many Haitians who otherwise would have to walk on foot. The second man he transports talks about the hidden anger among the impoverished to the rich. He understand why many would want to throw rocks at the Zo Reken. Anything that represents the wealth gap is seen as a target of wrath from the people. The types of people he transports along the way are various. He transports one man as he’s to have a job interview for a very rare opportunity for prosperity and timeliness is make-or-break. He transports a woman passenger and she has a lot to say of the situation for the women in Haiti.

The Zo Reken he drives soon finds itself in part of the drama. A man is badly injured during the protests. Protests have been violent to the point they’ve claimed a lot of lives. Pascal has to transport this man to a hospital. It’s not an easy thing as he has to avoid other protesters and barricades. He comes across one barricade: a burning trunk of a tree. He has to find detours to get the man to the hospital as one person carries an IV bag. It’s like this Zo Reken becomes like an ambulance.

late at night, Pascal is relaxing outside a bar, sitting outside his Zo Reken. His friends come and drink, but they speak their mind about all that has happened in recent days and what is happening in the country. They talk of the rich and powerful and how they kill the people and how they may face their own comeuppance one day. They talk of the international community that they feel they do not help the nation and more the cause of the problem than the solution. Many feel feel they don’t want international aid and feel that it’s better off Haiti hold its own and develop on its own terms. They have that much of a lack of trust to foreigners. The documentary ends with Pascal driving the Zo Reken off as we see a rear-view image of the path he’s leaving behind.

The driver Pascal Antoine is fictional. Pascal acts as the driver of the Zo Reken each and every time. The passengers are real. Their situations are real. The Haitian riots of 2018-2020 and the overthrow of president Jovenel Moise are real. Haiti is the most impoverished nation in the Americas. The country has been through decades of brutal rule, whether be it in the form of dictatorships or democracies. You can go back as far as 1957 with the Duvaliers until Baby Doc fled the country in 1986, then Aristide in the 1990’s and now Moise.

What you have is an angry country. Most of the nation has known nothing but a lifetime of disease, death and poverty. The nation is mostly known as the world’s biggest producer of baseballs, but their economy is not known for much more. You have a big gap between the rich who own most of the nations wealth and the poor who struggle for simple change to get food to eat. It’s like the coup d’etat to overthrow Moise exposed a lot of anger inside the Haitian people. It was like their anger was inside a bubble and the bubble burst.

The Zo Rekens became a huge presence after the 2010 Haitian earthquake that claimed anywhere from 100,000 to 160,000 Haitians and affected 3,000,000. As aid workers are not allowed in the vehicle and one man uses it to transport people, you can hear from people the voice of the common Haitian. You hear the anger of what people feel in a country with a huge wage gap and poverty all around it. You hear the anger they have towards the international community upon the failure of these nations to live up to the promises of helping build up a stronger Haiti. You hear the anger of the neocolonialism percieved among the people. You hear the anger people have towards the soon-to-be-deposed president and their feelings that he was worse than the Duvaliers. You hear how people fear for the most vulnerable during this critical time in their nation.

As you hear their voice, you can easily see why these Zo Rekens during a time of political turmoil are now seen as oppressors to the people. As you see Pascal wash the Zo Reken in the morning, you can feel he can’t wash away its bad image. Equally, you can also see why this depot holding the medical supplies and various goods for transporting could be seen as a bigger villain than the Zo Rekens that transport those goods. As you see the depot holding these goods in place, you sometimes wonder why is this depot holding everything in place? Why can’t the hospitals simply have these items in need rather than have them waiting at a centralized depot? Why should the Zo Reken take all the blame from the people?

This documentary is a very good eye opener. It sheds a light on a nation few people outside of it know of other than the time it makes the news. Most of the time, the news is dreadful, whether it be of a deposed ruler or of a natural disaster that devastates most of the nation. As Antoine transports the people in the Zo Reken, you hear the voice of the common Haitian among the passengers and those just standing outside. You see the wrath and contempt of the people as the Zo Reken passes them on the street. You even see how Antoine uses the Zo Reken in a crisis situation as it transports a wounded protester to the hospital. During the film, you’re left with the impression that this is the biggest help this Zo Reken did in its entirety in Haiti.

Admiration from writer/director Emanuel Licha. He creates a scenario of a fictional driver in a real crisis situation. He does a good job of not just showing life in an impoverished country like Haiti, but a scenario that exposes poverty through a global lens. What you see happening in Haiti can happen in other impoverished countries too. The marginalization of people in Haiti and the anger of the people can represent the anger of people in any impoverished nation in the world. Pascal Antoine may be the fictional driver of the Zo Reken in the film, but he does a good job of being the centrepiece of this documentary. Him being the central focal point helps as you see Haiti unfold as we watch this documentary.

The documentary Zo Reken is a big eye-opener. It not only introduces you to a country most of us don’t know enough about, but fills you in on the people too. The people are shown as they are in a heated moment in Haiti’s history and what you hear from their mouths say as much about them as their personal feelings.

VIFF 2021 Review: Kicking Blood

Alanna Bale plays a modern world vampire who faces a life-or-death decision in the Canadian thriller Kicking Blood.

Right during the first week of the Vancouver International Film Festival, I fulfilled my first VIFF goal of seeing a Canadian feature when I saw Kicking Blood. It also became my first Altered States film of the VIFF. It’s a vampire story that’s something.

Anna celebrates her birthday with a slice of cake and with Bernice and Gus: two of her co-workers at the library. During the shift, Bernice is upset Gus is leaving her for another woman. That night, Gus is about to make love to Anna. He thinks he’s the one in control. What he doesn’t know is that anna is a vampire. She delivers him the fatal bite!

Somewhere else in the city, Robbie is an alcoholic who’s being booted out of the house of a young woman who’s been looking after him. She caught him making out with her fiance! Robbie finds himself out on the streets. Anna walks by him. She sees him with a bottle in his hands. However she notices something about him. Somehow she’s willing to take him in. She’s able to let him live in her place and feed him well. He is expected to recover from his alcoholism, if he says he’s willing to change. Anna conducts business as usual at the library. She has her friendly conversations with Bernice. She then comes home to Robbie. She learns she has feelings toward him. Feelings of love. But she doesn’t know how to deal with it.

One night in a nightclub, two men named Boris and Ben are having fun and drinking. There they meet what appears to be a woman alone named Nina. Ben is attracted to her. He tries to get closer to her, but Nina knows he’s married and trying to hide it. Soon it’s the three of them with Ben doing cocaine. They’re having good conversation. Anna joins the conversation. However it’s apparent Ben will become Nina’s latest victim. She does eventually bite the life out of him.

It becomes apparent there is a trio of vampires in the town: Anna, Nina and Boris. They bite people out of their lives and then live off their possessions. Anna is very good from hiding it from Bernice and Robbie: two people who mean a lot to her, but how can she keep it a secret? It shows in her restraint as she wants to make love to Robbie, but she can’t get any closer. How is Robbie going to find out? That also hits her as she learns from Bernice she won’t take her pills and will rely on her inner strength and her mentality on her physical condition. A vampire like Anna can’t have connection to humans. How can Anna make this work?

The trio’s next victim is an artist who lives alone. They visit her in her apartment as she’s making a sculpture. They first ask her questions about her art, but then they shift the focus on how her art may be remembered after her death. The questions of her art seen after her death continue, which the artist kindly answers them. Then Nina bites the life out of her. Instead of enjoying this, it’s a turning point for Anna as she shows huge concern.

The last incident of vampirism affects Anna. She knows as a vampire, she can’t connect with humans emotionally. Problem is she has been connecting with humans as she watches Robbie go through his alcoholic withdrawal and as she visits Bernice in the hospital as she’s dying. She is reminded she has human sensitivity. She can’t have that as a vampire If she does, she would have to identify with mortal humans. She reveals her identity to Robbie, but he is shocked and leaves her. While at a bar, he meets Vanessa: an old flame from his college days. The two start heating up.

However the time is coming for Anna. This is the time she will have to choose between life as a vampire or human mortality. First she confronts Vanessa with Robbie. The two face off right in the middle of the road as Nina and Boris arrive. Vanessa is the latest victim. Then the two remind Anna that Robbie is her last chance. One bite of him will keep her immortality active. Refusing to bite will lead to her death. The ending is slow and more about intensity than effects, but dramatic and unconventional.

I’m sure we’ve all seen our fair share of vampire stories. From the classic stories of the legendary Count Dracula to the teen craze of the Twilight series, vampires still intrigue us and captivate us. This is a unique story of a young female vampire who’s part of a trio of vampires. As they welcome themselves in other peoples’ lives, they kill them with one bite and take material things of theirs. Anna is a vampire who works a librarian job, but pursues her victims. Often you’ll understand why a librarian like Anna has so many luxuries. However it’s an odd twist when she takes in a homeless alcoholic like Robbie. Often you wonder why would she? He has nothing to take from. Would he still be one of her eventual victims? More on that later.

The thoughts continue when you learn of the vampire trio she’s a part of. It’s after she meets and tends to Robbie that she starts to reconsider her life as a vampire. She has feelings for Robbie and doesn’t want to kill him, but her vampirism is her immortality. Should she continue to be a vampire and have Robbie as one of her victims? Or will she choose the life of mortality? That she’d rather die than kill Robbie? Even with the presence of Boris and Nina, it gets you wondering. Does she like being a vampire? Or is she controlled by the other two?

The film has Robbie as the surprising secondary character. Anna meets Robbie on the streets right after his previous ‘keeper’ booted him out and with a bottle in his hand. You’re left wondering why would a vampire like Anna take in a man like Robbie who has nothing? Would he be her next victim? Even later as she houses him instead of giving him a fatal bite like all the others, you wonder why is she keeping him alive? Is it something in herself that she sees and only Robbie can bring that out in her? Is it Robbie that gives her the change of heart? Boris and Nina remind her that her biting is her key to immortality and that a vampire is not to connect or empathize with humans. But Robbie is the human that does exactly that. Even though her best friend Bernice is the first human to get her to connect as a human instead of maintain her vampire separation from humans, it’s Robbie who best conveys Anna’s human feelings. It’s also Robbie, as he goes through alcoholic withdrawal, who sends the message to Anna of the vampirism withdrawal, a fatal withdrawal, she could face. Is it worth it?

This is a film full of a lot of twists and surprises. The vampire legend is always full of various elements of the legend. I’m sure many stories play with the legend. One thing that caught my attention is how these vampires are perfectly unaffected by the sunlight. Most vampires are either affected by sunlight or the light is fatal to them. The trio of vampires are unharmed by the sunlight, but it’s the nighttime where their vampirism comes to life. Maybe that’s the trick. They act like everyday humans by day, but their vampire side comes out at night. Even the story of how another woman tries to steal Robbie from Anna adds into the drama. For the most part, the story makes sense. If it’s a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces fit well. The story however carry itself out in a slower-than-usual pace. It settles more for the intensity of the situation, rather than the sensational images of bites of the flesh. Also I feel we learn the fact that Anna is part of a trio of vampires later in the film than we should. However those who come to a film about vampires and are huge fans of seeing ‘vampires in action’ may be disappointed. The ending works, but there were even small bits where it had some flat moments, or could have been better. Like Nina’s last line.

I give top marks to director Blaine Thurier. He does a very good job in directing the play he co-wrote with Leonard Farlinger. I like how he plays along with the legend and creates a unique story of vampires in the modern world. It even gives you the feeling of a vampires-next-door story! Also very good is the acting from Alanna Bale. Playing a character that goes from an everyday girl to a vampire at night to a vampire with human feelings is not an easy task. She does a very good job of it and keeps her focus well. She makes it work. Luke Bilyk is also very good as the recovering alcoholic Robbie. He does more than just play a recovering alcoholic. His role is also that of human feelings and feelings of love to Anna. He does a very good job of showing the importance of Robbie in the story.

The film also has a lot of great supporting performances too. Rosemary Dunsmore was great as Bernice, the librarian who gives Anna her human feelings. Vinessa Antoine was also very good as Vanessa, the woman who tries to win Robbie away from Anna. Ella Jonas Farlinger (daughter of scriptwriter Leonard Farlinger) and Benjamin Sutherland were good as the two other vampires, but their roles lacked dimension.

Kicking Blood is not your typical vampire story. It does offer a twist in the common vampire story that delivers the unexpected. Despite it’s small but noticeable glitches, it will still keep you at the edge of your seat.

VIFF 2021 Shorts Segment: MODES 2

With the Vancouver Film Fest comes segments of short films. That’s my second VIFF goal to see one of those segments. I achieved it when I saw the segment series MODES 2. Six films from six directors from six different nations. They all gave lots to see and hear.

-The Coast (India – dir. Sohrab Hura): The film shows people on the coast of a beach in south India as they swim around and throw themselves to the waves. The film also shows images of a religious ritual, which includes inflicting pain on one’s self. The film also shows images of a nearby carnival. Then ends again with people throwing themselves to the waves.

A video interview from the director says the images are of a religious festival where one begins by facing their personal demons and then ends as they wash their demons away. The images are seen in slow motion with disjointed music added into the score. It’s a very picturesque short film that gives us a fascinating look at people from a world away. It can even give you appreciation for such a festival as the waves form the Indian Ocean are as much of a storyteller as people.

-Happiness Is A Journey (USA/Estonia – dirs. Ivete Lucas & Patrick Bresnan): It’s very early morning of Christmas Eve 2019 at a newspaper deport in Austin, Texas. People gather at 1:30am to pick up newspapers to people’s homes. People gather them in big numbers and know they’ll need a good amount of gas. One of the delivery people is Eddie ‘Bear’ Lopez, a 62-year resident of Austin, who’s been doing this since 1997 without ever taking a day off. The film then follows Bear on his trip. Bear even brings his little dog with him. As he delivers, his trip is long. Ever since people made the move to the online news site of the paper, actual newspaper customers are less and less which means deliveries are further an wider. The film goes along Bear’s long route, which he has completed by 6am.

This is a film, shown with two different simultaneous camera images and consists strictly of the sounds around. No musical score at all. It shows about people who we either take for granted or have shunned their skills away because of our use of technology. It gives respect for a person with a low-paying job who never takes a day off, but somehow finds fulfillment in it. One of the desks in the depot has a sign that says “Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” Maybe that’s the point the two directors wanted to show. That with a job that is low-pay, facing near-extinction, and something most of us would label a ‘loser job,’ Bear finds some kind of fulfilment. Even if he has to work on a holiday.

-Show Me Other Places (Sri Lanka – dir. Rajee Samarsinghe): This film shows all sort of images: what we see on our computer, the images of suburbia, a birds-eye view of a construction site, friends, common people, and luxurious items. The film shows the many ways we see them: on a computer screen, through a VR viewing mask, and on our iWatches. Many images are seen as is, while some are meshed with colors and even other images.

I believe the point the filmmaker was trying to make was to do about imagery. It was about how we see things and also how she sees them. She allows her creativity to take place and show new and creative ways to look at things we commonly look at. In a lot of way, we’re given a new enlightenment when we see her creative imagery. Really gets you thinking.

-Adversarial Infrastructure (Russia – dir. Anna Engelhardt): The film is about a bridge that is the subject of political controversy. The bridge is the Crimean Bridge which connects a southwest tip of Russia with the Crimean town of Kerch with the bridge’s main part located on Tuzla Island. This is a bridge of great controversy as Crimea has been a subject of huge political debate as Ukraine insists is theirs while Putin proclaims Crimea to be part of Russia. This has been like that since 2014 since the Russo-Ukrainian War started. There was even a phony news story concocted by Putin that the bridge was bombed by the Ukrainian army.

The director showcases news stories with a coarsely-drawn computer map of the area in question and a rough computer graphic of the bridge as it would looked bombed out. The director even showcases how bridges are to be the opposite of walls and connect peoples, while this bridge appears to do the opposite. Or at least the media and the Russian government try to make it do the opposite. Myself being Ukrainian-Canadian, this is something of interest to me. The director is very good at using the various images in presenting a story and getting her message across. A message I personally agree with.

-The Canyon (USA – dir. Zachary Epcar): The film begins showing mostly people living in a new residential development. They’re of people relaxing, doing housework, renovating, exercising, playing tennis, a vide variety of activities. The film then shows images of luxuries and then images of peoples and what they have to say. Then the film focuses on a whirlpool-like area of Lake Berryessa in the Napa Valley of California. They talk of how the areas will no longer appear.

I believe the point of this student film and its various images is trying to make is their believe that new residential areas that are cropping up and attracting people will be empty canyons in the future. The buildings and luxuries they’re enjoying now will be swallowed up into nothingness in the future. The man-made whirlpool in Lake Berryessa conjures up images of how that area will be swallowed up over time. I believe that’s the point where they let the images they show do the storytelling as the students prove their point.

-Corps Samples (France – dir. Astrid de la Chapelle): The film begins with the focus on the year 1924. It’s the year Vladimir Lenin, the founder and first leader of the USSR dies, and the year a British mountaineer fell to his death just off Mount Everest. The only thing in common they have in common: both their bodies are perfectly preserved. The film begins with fossils found on Mount Everest during that time. Then it goes on to various images of fossils, stones, metals, minerals and crystals. It shows natural racks and crystals, and it showcases the minerals and chemicals we use for our everyday needs. It showcases on the images of the body of the mountaineer found perfectly intact after all these years. It also showcases the body of Lenin, perfectly intact in his tomb and a tourist attraction.

The filmmaker is either getting us to focus on either the association of minerals and preservation, and how it mixes into our daily lives and the everyday world, or it could be on the focus on something else. Right at the end of the film, she shows an image of a stone and asks us “Are you looking at the stone or is the stone looking at you?” Hearing that, I think it’s a case where a lot of the film is trying to get you to ask yourself that. Are you looking at the stones, crystals, fossils, and minerals? Or are they looking at you? That question of the end really gets you to change what you think the focus of the film is about. Even see it through a different light.

The six films of MODES 2 are about images and sounds. Some make their points clear, while some aren’t as clear and require your imagination to assume what you think its about. The images may be relate to each or other, or not related at all. The music or sounds may be smooth music, disjointed sounds or raw music. I guess that was the whole point of the MODES 2 short films. It’s six short films on sights and sounds and they want to get your imagination involved, and possibly even share the filmmaker’s imaginations. The films also have a message to say, but they want to convey the message creatively, and they want you to embrace the creativity as much as the message.

Even though I was hoping to see a short segment of live-action stories being played out, I’m glad I saw MODES 2. The films were loaded with images and sounds and done in their very own way. Nevertheless they were very good in sending the messages they were trying to send in their own creative way.

VIFF 2021: Mix Of Online And Live Theatre

VIFF 2021 will increase it’s cinema capacity, but restrictions will apply.

It’s a fall tradition of mine. The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) comes back and I end up volunteering for it. It’s a tradition that was broken last year. You can’t blame me. The COVID pandemic severely limited seating capacities and the number of films they could show on screens, not to mention theatre attendance. Last’s year’s VIFF was a case where few shows were shown in theatres and most were screened online. This year, the VIFF makes a big return back to the theatres, if not a complete return.

The International Village which used to allow three of its theatres to show VIFF films during fourteen of its sixteen days isn’t doing it this year. The Centre for the Performing Arts isn’t giving itself to the VIFF this year either. There are five theatres from past years that are VIFF venues again this year: Cinematheque, Vancouver Playhouse, Rio Theatre, SFU Goldcorp Theatre and the VanCity Theatre at the VIFF Centre. The VIFF also acquired four new venues to facilitate for the fest:

  • Annex Theatre – It’s called the Annex because it’s the annex to the Orpheum theatre. It’s a nice cabaret-style theatre that served the VIFF before as a lecture hall or conference room. This time, it will be showing films throughout most of the VIFF.
  • Hollywood Theatre – Those that remember my blogging from bygone days will know the Hollywood is a theatre in the West Broadway area build back in the 1930’s. Although it’s no longer owned by the original members, it has reopened to become a multi-event stage with mostly theatrical shows and music concerts. During the VIFF, it will return to its original purpose as a movie theatre.
  • Studio Theatre: VIFF Centre – Even before the pandemic hit, there was a fundraising initiative underway at the VanCity Theatre of creating a studio theatre meant for screening local films and give more local filmmakers opportunity. It was finally opened this summer and this is the first VIFF in which it will serve as a venue! Just to the left of the main studio theatre at the VanCity, it’s smaller in capacity but can serve its purpose well.
  • Kay Meek Arts Centre – I think this is the first VIFF venue outside of the city of Vancouver ever. Located in West Vancouver Secondary School, this local theatre is also a major centre for arts in West Vancouver.

This year, I’m back to volunteering. I will be at the Playhouse Theatre and working as part of a ‘skeleton crew,’ which is the minimum number of volunteers a facility can have at one time. This is one of the precautions as part of the pandemic. The second is that theatres will only be at 50% capacity. The third precaution is that people are to have their BC Vaccine Card or Vaccine Passport to get into theatres. For those who don’t know what a Vaccine Card or Vaccine Passport is, it’s a scanner code the certifies that one has been vaccinated twice.

For those that are still too nervous about going into a theatre, there are many of the VIFF films that can be streamed online. Many of you may remember that the majority of VIFF films from last year can be streamed from wherever they wanted whenever they wanted. Not the case this year as the online screenings can be screened during select times and there are many that have a limit to the number of online customers of that screening.

The VIFF will be starting today and running until Monday October 11th, which is Canadian Thanksgiving. Returning back to the Festival are VIFF Immersed technology exhibits, VIFF Totally Indie Day, VIFF Talks and Masterclasses and VIFF AMP music conferences. For film lineups, there will be 185 films. 73 of them will get a cinema run. Of the sixteen expected to stand out:

  • The Electrical Life of Louis Wain – The Opening Gala film. It’s an eccentric biographical film of artist Louis Wain who is played by Benedict Cumberbatch and directed by Will Sharpe.
  • Petite Maman – The Closing Gala film. The latest feature from Portrait Of A Lady On Fire director Celine Sciamma. It’s a unique story of the mysterious bond between mother and daughter.
  • All My Puny Sorrows – Michael McGowan directs this film adaptation of the novel by Miriam Toews. Alison Pill stars as a young woman hugely concerned for her talented sister.
  • Belfast – A film loaded with potential Oscar buzz. Kenneth Branagh directs this story of the spark of civilian unrest in 1969 Northern Ireland as seen through the eyes of a child.
  • Benediction – Directed by Terence Davies, It’s a portrait of World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon. It stars Jack Lowden and Peter Capaldi.
  • Bergman Island – Directed Mia Hansen-Love. As the village Ingmar Bergman grew up in has been turned into a theme park , two filmmakers, played by Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth, ponder their relationship.
  • Drive My Car – A three-hour film by Ryusuke Hamaguchi. A recently-widowed theatre director tries to live life again as he puts together a new production, and casts his late wife’s lover as the lead.
  • Everything Went Fine – Directed by Francois Ozon and stars Sophie Marceau and Charlotte Rampling, it’s the story of an 85 year-old man who wants his daughter to end his life, while she tries to change his mind.
  • Memoria – Directed by Uncle Boonmee director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, it’s the story of an orchid grower in Colombia, played by Tilda Swinton, who experiences a booming noise only she can hear.
  • Mothering Sunday – Directed by Eva Husson, it’s about a maid in 1924 who spends time with her lover before he is about to marry a younger woman. Can she change his mind?
  • Night Raiders – Directed by Danis Goulet, this is a futuristic film set in 2043 and Canada plans to return to past colonial ways of treating Indigenous children.
  • Official Competition – The film is about a Spanish female film directer trying to direct two male movie stars with big egos. It’s co-directed by Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat and it stars Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz.
  • One Second – Directed by Zhang Yimou, It’s a story of a man during China’s Cultural Revolution who escapes China’s labor camps to see his actress daughter on screen. It’s no easy task.
  • Red Rocket – Directed by Florida Project director Sean Baker, this film is of a washed-up porn star returning to his hometown trying to reconcile with his wife, but also promoting a young teenaged girl to stardom.
  • The Sanctity Of Space – A documentary directed by Renan Ozturk and Freddie Wilkinson. It’s of the mission to meet with famed cartographer Bradford Washburn whose worked opened up a new world for mountain climbers pursuing Alaska and Yukon.
  • The Worst Person In The World – Directed by Joachim Trier, it’s a coming of age story of a young woman about a young woman who leaves a trail of destruction in her wake.

And there you go. That’s just a brief preview of the highlights at this year’s VIFF. But the VIFF has more films to offer. Way more. It’s worth checking out over these next eleven days.

VIFF 2020 Wraps Up Its First Online Fest

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 the last Sunday of April 2021 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)

Audience Award
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:

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.

VIFF 2020 Review: Jumbo

A carnival ride is the object of desire of Jeanne (played by Noemie Merlant) in Jumbo.

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!

VIFF 2020 Review: Black Bear

What starts as film work leads into what becomes a bizarre love triangle in the film Black Bear.

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.

VIFF 2020 Review: There Is No Evil (شیطان وجود ندارد)

There Is No Evil is four films in one about the topic of the death penalty and how Iran carries it out.Definitely a film that will make people think.

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.

VIFF 2020 Review: Summer of 85 (Été 85)

Summer of 85 is the summer of love for two young men, played by Felix Lefebvre (left) and Benjamin Voisin (right).

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.

VIFF 2020 Review: Violation

Violation is a revenge fantasy co-written, co-directed and starring Madeleine Sims-Fewer.

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.

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