One of the first features I saw at the VIFF this year was the Indian film In The Shadows. I left with a lot of mixed feelings about it that I still have.
The film begins with Khuddoos: a storekeeper and a loner in Old Delhi. He is distant from other people but prefers getting whatever closeness he can from them through surveillance cameras he has put up through the neighborhood. His only friend Ganeshi visits him on a daily basis. One day, he catches something of his interest. Next door lives a family with a 14 year-old boy named Idris or ‘Idu.’ He lives with his family consisting of his mother Saira, currently expecting her third child, and his father Liakat who owns a butcher shop. Liakat expects Idu to help with the business and do deliveries. However he wants to spend time talking with his friend Ginny who is lucky to attend school. When Saira learns he didn’t do the delivery expected and saw Ginny, she gives him money for Liakat to cover it up. When Liakat comes home, he eventually learns the truth and reacts violently to Idu. Khuddoos hears it through the wall. He is shocked from what he hears.
Both try to move on from that incident. Liakat apologizes to Idu and says he won’t do it again, but Idu doesn’t believe it. Meanwhile Khudoos can’t get the incident out of his mind. He tells Ganeshi about it. He knows how lax the police are about dealing with cases of abused children, but he’s determined to help. Life continues on for the two. Idu spends more time with Ginny and tells of his dream of escaping his father. Khuddoos manages his shop and tries to do business as usual. However the incident doesn’t leave Khuddoos’ mind. He even misses meet up with Idu by a few second.
Then it happens. Saira needs to give birth and Idu and his younger brother are the only ones there. But Liakat isn’t there. Idu has to do all the work. The doctors arrive too late. The baby dies. Both the father and the mother take it hard. However Idu feels it’s Liakats fault and isn’t afraid to say it in his face. Liakat reacts violently to which Idu responds back with violence. That leads Liakat to become even more violent. Khuddoos hears it and tries getting the police after the situation. The police are too slow to respond.
Idu has had it. He wants to run away. He’s fully convinced his father’s a monster. He tells Ginny, but Ginny mentions that he will miss him. Meanwhile Khuddoos does what he normally does; goes to the same restaurant to eat and gets drunk. The manager tries to boot him out for good because of his constant drunkenness, but Khuddoos tries to state his case, that he is hungry. Khuddoos knows he has to leave his seclusion behind. Soon Idu makes a break for the train station to finally leave Liakat behind, but the father spots him at the station. Upon returning home, Liakat says neither he nor Saira will be out of his sight.
Enough is enough. On a quiet night, Idu sees Liakat asleep. Idu smothers him. As he does, Khuddoos breaks through the walls. Liakat is dead. And Khuddoos goes into the room. Witnessing a photo, he wipes the dust off and sees the image of the boy. The others come across Khuddoos’ cameras in his hideout.
The film is intended to be a psychological drama. It’s a case of a man who’s cut himself off from the world but slowly comes back in once a domestic disturbance happens. I get how writer/director is trying to draw a connection with a man in self-seclusion, but the overall film didn’t make too much sense. It may be because of my expectations. I was expecting Khuddoos and Idu to meet, that Khuddoos would be the one who rescues Idu from any further harm. I’m sure most were expecting the same result. Somehow I can’t see the point of Khuddoos not meeting face to face with the boy as the ending drama unfolds. I’m sure the director had his reasons for having the story that way– that the two never meet — but it didn’t make a lot of sense. Jain could’ve simply made two films, or left the story of Idu on its own.
Despite the story being confusing, I do give credit for Manoj Bajpayee for portraying a character with a lot of personal demons who’s trying to break free from his own personal exile. I also give high marks for Om Singh portraying a boy who wants to break free from his own prison which isn’t in his mind. It’s at home. Shahana Goswami was also very good at portraying the mother in between it all.
In The Shadows is a psychological thriller that attempts to tell a two-in-one story, but it doesn’t entirely make too much sense in the end.
Let’s face it, films about euthanasia are rarely watchable. However Danish film In Your Arms (I Dine Hænder) succeeds in making a film that’s watchable and even entertaining and touching.
Niels is a man with a debilitating illness. First it left his legs useless, then its making his arms more useless day by day, and Niels wants to die. Maria is a nurse at Niels’ hospital who longs for freedom, especially after the end of a troubling romance. Maria finds it very hard to be a nurse to Niels, one of her many patients. She finds him very stubborn and selfish, especially after he recently tried to slit his wrists.
Niels has a wish to die. He wants to be taken to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland. His mother and brother don’t want it, feeling it’s just Niels being selfish again. Maria is reluctant at first but agrees to comply. She has decided to be the one to accompany Niels on his trip from Copenhagen to Switzerland which also consists of a stop in Hamburg, Germany.
After his family bids Niels good-bye, Niels and Maria board the train and it’s there that the two get to know more about each other, such as their likes and their personal lives. In Hamburg, Niels wants to be taken to places where he spent his younger years, especially the restaurants and bars.
During the time, he’s able to meet again with people from the past. Maria meets two key people. One is Niels ex-girlfriend from his ‘Hamburg Days.’ She learns he has a four year-old son. The other is the pub manager. He invites Maria to visit during the night. Maria agrees and it’s over at the pub that night it appears that Maria is able to live again. Unfortunately it comes at a price to Niels as she’s not there to help him first thing in the morning. Niels does not want his son to see him dying so she is able to make Niels watch his ex-girlfriend pick up his son so he can see him for the first and only time in his life.
During the trip, it appears as though the relation of Maria and Niels is growing. Often making one question it’s a friendship or even more. As Maria drives down the wide roads of Germany to the Swiss border, the two decide to take in the nature that they view. Maria even swims in the lake despite how snowy cold the day is. Then they finally reach Switzerland and visit the clinic where Niels wants to end his life. After receiving details of what the following day will entail, Maria spends one last night with Niels. The ending is somewhat predictable and melodramatic but done right.
I don’t think this film is trying to peddle the message of euthanasia, although it’s obvious the film maker has no qualms about it. As for me, I’ll save my view. However it appears the film is not about euthanasia. This looks like many film before it of a dying person spending their last days. Even still I believe it is to do about the relation between the two. At first, both Maria and Niels were polar opposites. He was an ailing patient in the care facility. She was a nurse who just happened to take care of him along with the others. The chances of the two being friends were slim to none but it was that trip that changed it. The film does question whether Niels did love Maria all along or if Maria did love Niels in any which way. The bond of friendship was obvious but was it more than that? I think the film maker wants to keep us guessing. Even despite whatever friendship occurred, Maria knew she still had to honor Niels’ wish even though it would hurt her dearly.
It’s not just about the two together but the two as individuals. Niels has had it with life. The disease has taken away all that he has to live for. Maria longs to live but her job and failures at relationships prevent her. It’s when the two join together on the trip that things become better for them. Niels is able to die content and Maria is able to discover her freedom within herself.
I will admit that this is a rather short film. Nevertheless this is a good melodrama that presents itself well. Samanou Acheche Sahlstrom has written and directed a good drama that centres on the characters both as individuals and as a pair. It’s the bond that occurs during the time of the trip that helps make the story. The acting from both Lisa Carlehed and Peter Palugborg made the story work as well as develop the necessary chemistry for the film. In Your Arms has won two awards at the Gothenburg Film Festival and was nominated for a producers award at the Hamburg Film Festival. Here at the VIFF, it made its North American debut.
In Your Arms may be short and may lack the qualities to make it a film of renown. What it achieves is honest sensitivity and a connection to the story and its main characters.
A Field In England is intended to be a historical drama/dark comedy. This makes for a unique and daring combination but does it work?
The story is set in the British Civil war of the 1600’s. Whitehead, an alchemist’s assistant, flees from his strict commander and meets a deserter from his own side and two other deserters from “the enemy’s” side. They all try to leave the war behind in search of an alehouse. Meanwhile they have a stew made with the mushrooms they found along the ground. Along the way they meet with an Irishman whom Whitehead had been sent to hunt down for stealing his master’s documents.
The Irishman however tries to get control over the group by letting them know of a treasure in the ground underneath. Whitehead is able to locate the area while the other three are digging or supervising. The exhaustion if digging takes its toll on the two diggers as they get into a fight and one is shot by the one supervising. After all the others run off, the one who did the supervising must now do the digging himself where he learns there’s nothing more than a skull. The Irishman then shoots him and then goes after Whitehead and the one surviving deserter. The two manage to escape and head back to the camp. However one of the deserters originally thought to be dead returns only to get embroiled in a shooting with the Irishman. After an ensuing shootout between the others, Whitehead is the one left standing and he buries the four. After burial, he returns to the hedgerow he originally deserted and finds the three soldiers still standing.
The thing about this movie is that it often appears clueless. All too often I’m sitting there in the theatre wondering what the point of the movie is or what the point of certain scenes were. Was his point about the British Civil War? Was his point about the warring factions: the Royalists and the Roundheads? Was it about the attitude the deserters shared? Was it to be experimental as noted by the many bizarre images? Was it another case of Ben Wheatley getting into his violence obsession? I was left very confused. The violence and even the alleged sodomy part really had me questioning. Even the special visual effects like the exploding sun and the strobe images had me wondering if Wheatley was trying to be experimental in his work.
I will admit that this is just my judgment from watching as I am unfamiliar with Ben Wheatley’s work. He has established a reputation in England with seven years of film making and video making under his belt. He is also primed and ready for the mainstream as he has already been slated to make an American-made film Freakshift and a sci-fi series for HBO in the future. Nevertheless I’ve been left assuming that A Field In England, which is directed by Wheatley and written by his wife Amy Jump, is an experimental picture for Wheatley. I saw nothing in the storyline involving any facts or factoids about the British Civil War and more of a focus on torture, violence and hallucinations. Even the language used in there didn’t sound like talk that would be used from the 17th Century but contemporary times.
The film has already received some acclaim. It has already won a Special Jury Prize at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival and was a Crystal Globe nominee at that festival. It has also made its round of film festivals and has already been released on DVD.
A Field In England appears to be more of a trip of psychedelia and violence than historical documentation or historical fiction. The best I myself can classify this film is an experimental work.
Back on Saturday, I started my volunteer work for the Vancouver International Film Festival. It is my fourth year volunteering. It’s great being part of an event that gathers a lot of media attention and helps promote filmmaking.
If you look back to the late 1970’s, you might remember there being film festivals like the Toronto Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival that garnered very little attention but were growing at the time. They were still below the ranks and renown of the more established film festivals in Europe like Cannes, Venice and Berlin. Since then, Sundance and Toronto have made a major impact on the film world with its releases and its promotion of films. The Vancouver International Film Festival started in 1982 and now ranks as one of the top film festivals in North America. It nevertheless does carry a bit of an identity crisis but does have a lot to offer.
Since the Vancouver International Film Festival, the VIFF, opened in 1982, it has grown to an annual attendance of 150,000 every year since 2003. The 2000’s saw the construction of a special theatre, the VanCity Theatre, and an adjacent office for the VIFF organizers. This year it features over 300 films from 59 countries. Quite a lot. Nevertheless many feel that the VIFF is sandwiched in the role of playing second-fiddle to the Toronto Film Fest. In fact one person frequently tells me that we always get the ‘leftovers’ from Toronto. It is true that we get a lot of films that have already had their show at Toronto, especially those that get a special presentation at the Visa screening room. Very rarely, if ever, does a big-name actor show up. At most, a big feature will only have a tech person in the audience at the VIFF. What’s also true is what the VIFF has to offer on its own. Firstly the VIFF has more Asians films than any film festival in North America. This year there are more than 100 from dozens of countries. The VIFF also features more Canadian films and works than any other film festival in Canada. Not even Toronto has as much. They’re too busy hyping up the Oscar contenders. The VIFF also features loads of documentaries. There are dozens this year too from a wide variety of topics. The VIFF also features a lot of short films and films for youth. The film festival is not simply a festival showing straight features but a wide variety of films from across the spectrum from shorts both animated and live action to at least four films longer than 4 hours. There’s also the possibility of Q&A sessions from directors and even actors.
The VIFF also has a lot of dealings going on. Some films will catch the eye of distributors and will work things out to have them shown to the big screen. Others, like documentaries, will be able to be shown on specialty television networks. Some will be promoted as videos or films for special groups or resource centers. Like last year I saw the Canadian film Two Indians Talking and the director said in the Q&A that she hopes for it to be put on DVD and shown in First Nations resource centers. Then there are those where the VIFF will be the furthest their film will get. That’s the nature of the beast in filmmaking and promoting. It’s always a case of chance and luck of how far it will go.
Another thing the VIFF did was that it had a special panel. With this being the 30th Year of the Festival, it had a look back to the early years of the Festival and also hosted a free forum about the future of film. I wasn’t there at the Forum but I’m sure there’s a lot of discussion. I myself believe the world of film faces a lot of challenges in the years and decades ahead. One is the future of creativity and taking film in new directions in what is essentially a bottom-line business. Film can allow for a lot of creative minds to express themselves but there’s this beast called ‘showbiz’ where the subject of movie marketability is inescapable. Whether creativity can be taken in new directions and possibly even change filmmaking, only time will tell. Another factor to take into consideration is the multitude of media sources one now has, including some that didn’t exist ten years ago. When the VIFF opened, film’s top rivals were television, VCR and the newly-created pay TV. Multiplexes were increasing but it was still possible for a single-screen cinema to hold its own. Today, we have digital cable with hundreds of channels at our fingertips. We have websites like Youtube and Netflix. We can watch a movie on our laptop or even on our cellphone. Multiplexes are now the mainstay for big screen cinemas and single screen cinemas nowadays have either succumbed, are now in the fight of their life, or have to have some backing from some film source or company. Some of you may already have read some of the current difficulties of running a cinema as noted in my Hollywood Theatre article. Just to give a heads up, there’s going to be a multiplex opening in the new shopping mall at the New Westtminster station: ten cinemas with a total of 1800 seats. A multiplex with samll per-screen theatres; another example of what’s happening with the movie business. Don’t get me wrong. There will be a future for film–there’s no doubt in my mind– but it has a bumpy road ahead.
This year, there were some changes in the venues with the Festival. The Granville 7 still remains the biggest venue for showing films but the Visa Screening Room is no longer Cinema 7 on the top floor. Instead it’s the Vogue Theatre. The Park Theatre is not one of the alternative theatres this year. The VanCity and Pacific Cinematheque are still being used for the Festival. Last year, the Festival opened with the screening of a Canadian film–Barney’s Version— with promotion of Telefilm Canada. This year they open with Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, a film from Spain. Last year, they closed with the animated movie The Illusionist. This year, they close with the French film The Kid With A Bike.
In its thirtieth year, the Vancouver International Film Festival shows strong signs of growth. It may have a while before it joins the ranks of Sundance and Toronto but I’m sure it will continue to establish its own identity in the future. For more information about the Festival, go to the VIFF website.
In A Better World is the winner for this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It is only the third of the five nominees I’ve seen: the others being Canada’s Incendies and Spain’s Biutiful. I finally had the chance to see In A Better World a while back. This film has a story line that really gets one thinking.
The film begins as a Danish boy named Christian reads a eulogy at his mother’s funeral. He appears calm and composed but his mother’s death troubles him. He and his father move from London to Denmark where he spends his spare time on the roof of his grandfather’s silo looking out. We then meet Anton, a Swedish doctor who lives in Denmark but spends most of his time working in a refugee camp in Sudan. The villagers, especially the children, regard him as a hero but home life is difficult as he is on the verge of a divorce and he doesn’t see his sons as often as he’d like.
Their paths cross as Anton drops his son Elias off to school. A group of bullies taunt Elias because of his awkward looks. As Christian interferes, he too is assaulted. As Elias is bullied again the next day, Christian assaults the bully with his bike pump and threatens him with a knife at his throat never to hurt him again. Anton hopes to teach the two boys about the wrongs of violence as he himself witnesses it in the refugee camp each day. He gets a chance as his son is fighting with another boy in a playground and the father of the other son hits Anton. From atop the silo, Christian is able to spot where the man who hit Anton works by his car. Anton takes the boys again to see him confront the man where he gets hit again. Anton wants the boys to see how violence fails but they don’t get his intended message.
Later Anton is called back to work in the refugee camp. He soon has to deal with tending to the wounded warlord despite villagers pleading for him not to help. It’s later after a female patient dies that the warlord coming asking for her body that Anton leads him out where he is met by villagers ready to lynch him. After coming across fireworks in the silo, Christian gets an idea to create a bomb to blow up Anton’s attacker’s van. Meanwhile Christian’s relationship with his father takes a turn for the worse as Christian lets out his frustrations about his mother’s death, including his father’s failed promise that his mother would get better. Elias tries to talk to his father via Skype about Christian’s plan but Anton is exhausted after a stressful day. Elias then agrees to Christian’s plan. They go out one Sunday when no one is to be around and set the bomb off under the van. As Elias notices joggers, he wards them off but the bomb explodes knocking him unconscious.
Anton comes rushing back to Denmark after learning Anton is unconscious and hospitalized. When Christian tries to visit Elias in the hospital, Elias’ mother tells him to leave and calls him a ‘brat’ and a ‘psychopathic killer.’ Christian runs off and goes to the top of the silo contemplating to jump, only to be stopped by Anton. He reconciles with his father and goes to visit Elias, relieved knowing that Elias is alive and recovering well. The movie ends as Anton returns back to Sudan and is greeted by the adoring children.
There are a lot of subjects in this film. One of which is about communication barriers between people. There’s the main protagonist Anton struggling with communicating to his wife while they’re on the verge of splitting up. Anton again struggling to be there for Elias while he’s thousands of miles away in Sudan. Anton struggling to be an idealist to the boys and show how weak violence is when the boys expect Anton to be a hero. Christian struggles to relate with his father just after his mother’s death. He also struggles with the personal troubles of himself. There’s also the subject of making hard decisions. Anton has a duty of being a doctor to the refugees while Elias faces problems of his own. Anton is faced with a hard decision of being a doctor to the wounded landlord while the people insist that he doesn’t help him. Overall Anton is trying to be the man of reason and he has his share of successes and failures. Elias makes a tough decision whether to rejects Christian’s plan to blow up his father’s enemy’s van or not. All of which deliver in the results in the choices they make, or fail to make.
This is another impressive script from Susanne Bier. Although I have not seen her past works, I know she has developed a reputation. She has produced many works in Sweden and Denmark and even has one American release: 2007’s Things We Lost in The Fire. This is her latest work. The script she co-wrote with Anders Thomas Jensen also touches base on another subject of the film. Before they wrote the script for the film, Bier and Jensen had a discussion about how Denmark is perceived as having a harmonious society. They then wanted to write a story where dramatic turns of events would disrupt the image of a place perceived as blissful. The film’s original title is Hævnen, which is Danish for ‘revenge’. This film is a stark reminder that it’s quite possible in countries like Denmark that appear to be harmonious and peaceful, violence can happen through the actions of a single instigator. The film does a good job of setting situations of violence, both in Denmark and Sudan, while capturing the perceived peacefulness of Denmark at the same time.
The acting in the film was also excellent. The lead actor, Mikael Persbrandt, was excellent in portraying a man trying to maintain peace and show rational thought in hugely stressful situations both on the job and at home. Young actor William Johnk Neilsen was excellent as the troubled Christian. Also excellent were the performances of Trine Dyrholm and Markus Rygaard. The film did a good job of not overdramatizing events and maintaining its themes along with the storytelling. The cinematography added to the storytelling of how acts of violence can happen in such a peaceful place like Denmark.
It’s hard to say if In A Better World deserved the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. I’d hate to compare it against its rivals. Nevertheless it was a very good film in its own right. It keeps one thinking as they leave the theatre.