Vancouver Film Fest Capsule Reviews of 'Heartbeats,' 'I Wish I Knew,' 'Nostalgia For The Light' & More
Even though the 2010 Vancouver International Film Festival came to a close more than a week ago, we still have plenty of films to report on, and hopefully more reviews to come after this writer catches up on screeners. The closing night film, "The Illusionist," is included in this rundown, as well as many other titles worth looking for, and some, well, not so much. So, please forgive us for the delay. After all, it's been a busy past week and change here at The Playlist, what with our new home and all. First, a rundown of stuff this writer saw at the excellent fest, which mostly agrees with other writers who wrote about them already here.
So, yeah, this paragraph is pretty much the blog equivalent of saying, yep, I agree, and that's about it: "Strange Case of Angelica" was something of a chore to sit through, as was the silly and often laughably preposterous "The Tree." South Korea's own version of Woody Allen, Hang Sang-soo, had two films at VIFF, one, "Hahaha," his best film yet (in this writer's opinion), the other, "Okie's Movie," a middling, unsuccessful effort. As for the Swedish crime film, "A Somewhat Gentle Man," you could do worse, it was fine. The clever and respectful of its source material doc, "The Arbor," was most notable for its structure and concept, which felt new. Another gem from the Romanian new wave, "Aurora" is a film I'm eager to revisit, in hopes of grasping its narrative abstractions and understanding the haunting character study better, as frightening a prospect as that may be. Though this writer would surely give it a slightly higher grade (an A or A- seems about right), Mike Leigh's "Another Year" is one of the strongest efforts of his career. Finally, my introduction to the cinema of Abbas Kiarostami was a welcome one, with his elliptical and masterful "Certified Copy" proving to be a brilliant take on a marriage that's possibly past its expiration date.
Yet another film in the style of Alejandro González Iñárritu and Fatih Akin. Like "Babel" or "Edge of Heaven," this film wants you to feel something from the constant misery and struggle of its characters. Personally, this writer is growing tired of this cross-generational, everyone is connected through coincidences type of storytelling. It's damn near as boring as faux found-footage or vampire movies these days. That's not to discredit director Denis Villeneuve's efforts entirely, as the film has some powerful moments (just like the other titles referenced a few sentences ago), but it ultimately rests on the strength of its climactic reveal, which some may find to be devastating and powerful, but left me wondering, is that it? It's more like a well-crafted soap opera, to be honest. [B-]
Who would've thought this would be a disappointment? Not this writer, who was eager to see anything from the director of the beautiful and magical "Triplets of Belleville." But that's exactly what we got after sticking around for the closing night film of the fest. Of course, Sylvain Chomet has still conjured up some magnificent images to go with the unfilmed Jacques Tati script about a magician who's faded into obscurity thanks to the wicked consequences of modernity. We wanted to love this one, bad, but it's just lacking...something. Maybe it's a pulse perhaps, which makes it hard to engage with the film. But damn, did we say it already? The animation is stunning. So good, in fact, that the film is still worth recommending, even more so if you're a Tati fan. We may have to give it a second chance, as it did come at the end of a very long two weeks, and 40+ films(!), so perhaps its qualities will come to the fore after a cleansing. Perhaps. [B-]
"Nostalgia for the Light"
At first a bit beguiling in its dual narrative pursuits, which seem as likely to share a movie's run time as Michael Moore and health food, "Nostalgia for the Light" is a documentary that rewards the patient viewer. And the kind that loves visual experiences, akin to "Koyaanisqatsi" and "Baraka" mixed with this year's pretty-cool-for-what-it-was Imax doc "Hubble 3D." As much fun as the time-lapse photography is, it's the correlation between the nature of time, perception and memory with the very sad story of women trying to find the remains of family in a Chilean desert town turned concentration camp from the Pinochet era. How director Patricio Guzman managed to gel these things together cohesively, and still manage to make an interesting film, is beyond me, which is wholly appropriate given the subject matter. It's about the mysteries of the universe, after all. [B]
"When We Leave"
Just how vital is the ending to a film? "When We Leave" proves that it's pretty goddamn important. So important, we'd argue, that this film dropped an entire letter grade because of its totally unnecessary and seriously flawed conclusion. Honestly, it's pretty simple, take some scissors to the final two minutes or so, when a ridiculous tragedy is heaped on our already abused protagonist, played by the beautiful and powerful Sibel Kekilli from the excellent "Head-On," and you've got one hell of a powerful cinematic experience about a progressive woman trying to break free of her familial and societal constraints. All of the hardship we've experienced for two hours almost feels like a waste of time when the credits roll. We're not even sure Lars Von Trier is mean-spirited enough to end a film like this. Well, ok, he is, but he'd find a better way to integrate it in to the story, we bet. Just trying too hard, and its just too bad. [C]
"I Wish I Knew"
Those unfamiliar with master Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke ("Still Life," which is fantastic) should do themselves a favor and acquaint themselves, especially if the ever-evolving state of China is of interest. Jia skillfully mixes documentary moments and interviews with narrative fiction. With "I Wish I Knew," he's far more successful at it than with his previous effort, "24 City," which kept this writer at too far a distance to really get into. It's utterly engaging as we dig in to Shanghai's artists, film history (an interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien is especially interesting) and the rich cultural history of the city, creating a fitting elegy that's likely to make anyone long for their past, especially those memories of a place we remember fondly, but no longer exist anymore with time's unflinching momentum. A beautiful film. [A-]
Sigh. Well, I guess they call it the sophomore slump for a reason, huh? This new effort from French Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan, whose previous effort, "I Killed My Mother" made quite the splash at Cannes a few years back (and was quite good in this writer's opinion), is the kind of misfire one might expect from a young, gifted director who suddenly has oodles of praise heaped upon a first film. Not only is it frustratingly derivative (seriously, if you've seen anything from Godard, Truffaut or even Woody Allen you'll just be bored with the whole affair), but it feels incredibly padded, as Dolan doesn't have any qualms beating a dead horse time and time again (ex: count how many times
the french version of Nancy Sinatra's 'Bang Bang' 'Bang Bang' performed by Dalida in Italian is played over slow motion shots of people walking; my guess: way too fucking much!). All the characters have the kind of cloying ticks and quirks seen in standard, middling indie fare, and what could have been a great chance to poke fun at a certain, all-knowing age group (early-to-mid 20-somethings), is instead a missed opportunity. Too bad. Dolan is still one to watch, but I'm more excited for what his fifth, or sixth film will be like, after he matures and learns to come up with his own ideas. [C-]
"The Man from Nowhere"
A revenge film from South Korea? Whaaaa???? Crazy, right? Genre films of late don't get much better than the recent crop from current gold standard for world cinema at the moment, but "The Man From Nowhere," starring heartthrob Won Bin (the accused son from "Mother"), is not on par with the top tier of "Oldboy" or "A Bittersweet Life." But it does have its fair share of kick-ass action, even though you have to sit through some bullshit plot about a little girl losing her mom, that being the reason our lead becomes a bloodthirsty, knife-wielding madman out to save her from some nasty drug dealers. The film takes the easy route as it drives head first into standard, if not still fun to watch, fight scenes. A couple moments stand out: one scene sees our hero jump out a third story window as the camera follows him all the way out and down (very cool), and the finale is appropriately blood-soaked, and at times quite funny, only to be undermined by cheesy sentimentality that doesn't work at all. [C+]
You know, at film festivals, sometimes the most popular titles can be the most frustrating to sit through. Especially when you know so many other great films are being missed because everyone is lining up for something that's, well, not really worth all the hype. Case in point: "Aftershock," from China. It's exactly the kind of film that, admittedly, can play well to a mainstream, less foreign-film-inclined audience, and it does. But goddammit anyway! It simply takes the template of "Titanic" and "Pearl Harbor" (real-life disaster/tragedy mixed with a fictional narrative and characters) and does a few things new with it (instead of a romance, it's about a separated family), but ultimately falls apart due to its poorly conceived script, which relies on coincidence and cliche far too often and to an annoying degree. After the Tangshan Earthquake of 1976 hits in the beginning, a character actually looks up at the sky, waves her arms and screams: "God, you bastard!" So, yeah, that's what we're dealing with here. [C-]