Monday, September 26, 2011

VIFF 2011: Preview 4

With just days left to the opening of the VancouverInternational Film Festival, we take time to spotlight another ten noteworthy films playing. If you haven’t done so already, you can read up my earlier entries for VIFF here.

First Position (US; directed by Bess Kargman) 

Those of you who watched a little too much Black Swan will be relieved to hear that the ballet world is less about self-mutilation and perverted fantasia, and more about the hard work and toll it takes on the human body. This documentary follows six young children from around the world as they strive to compete in the Youth America Grand Prix, a fiercely competitive international ballet competition that can launch an aspiring dancer from obscurity into the upper echelons overnight. The film is presented in numerous languages with English subtitles, as director Kargman travels the globe to visit with each of her subjects. Although most films for VIFF are unrated, First Position one of the only films that has been classified – with a “G” rating – so that those under the age of 19 may attend and be inspired by young artists at the outset of their careers.

White (South Korea; directed by Kim Sun and Kim Gok)

This title should appeal to those of us who remember the remarkable 1999 anime horror film Perfect Blue. South Korea’s White (its original title literally translates to “The Memory of the Curse”) details what happens to a fictional all-girl pop group who record a new single to revive their flagging careers. The problem? The song comes with a lot of baggage (think of the curse attached to The Exorcist when it was in production). Those who have recorded the song and released it have had bad things happen to them … really terrible things. Can the curse be lifted? In addition to being a horror film, this is also an examination of the contemporary music business in Asia and the pressures it places on its young stars to remain forever young – and profitable. You can preview a trailer, albeit without subtitles, here

The Green Wave (Iran; directed by Ali Samadi Ahadi)

You can’t talk about this year’s Arab Spring uprisings without referencing social media. This was arguably the first time in history that social media surpassed mainstream media in reporting unfiltered, hard-hitting, play-by-play accounts of the systematic abuses and crimes that accompanied political revolution. Inspired in no small part by Waltz with Bashir and Persepolis, Ahadi’s Iranian-German collaboration recounts the true stories of people who witnessed the Arab Spring first-hand by blending live-action documentary footage with stylized animated accounts of what happened. The film’s titular colour refers to the movement and symbol for those seeking Ahmadinejad’s removal from office after what was regarded as his fraudulent election as president in 2009.

No One Killed Jessica (India; directed by Raj Kumar Gupta)

How can 300 people at a crowded nightclub not see that the bartender was shot dead, point-blank, in the face, right in front of them? This is a fictionalized account of the sensational 1999 killing of Jessica Lall, an aspiring model and bartender who was shot dead by a politician’s worthless son for refusing to serve him alcohol after last call. The scandal rocked the Indian justice system and exposed the corruption coursing through its veins. Although the assailant went free, justice is indeed served eventually, as an outraged nation finally understood for the first time the systemic abuse of the rich and entitled to absolve them of their crimes and responsibilities.

Elena (Russia; directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev)

What would you do to save your son? Elena drastically tries to put the money together to buy her ne’er-well-do son’s way into university and prevent him from military service, but can she put it together in time? She must resort to desperate measures with some unsavoury characters in an attempt to keep her family together. Elena received the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes film festival and boasts a score by British composer Phillip Glass.

Starbuck (Canada; directed by Ken Scott)

Each year, VIFF hosts a Canadian Gala at the midway point of the festival, to celebrate Canadian cinema and showcase a noteworthy homegrown film. This year’s entry is a raucous French-language comedy about a ne’er-do-well butcher’s delivery man who works for his father, is barely employable and whose girlfriend feels he is too immature to father her children. He owes the mob money. It then comes to his attention that a certain fertility clinic to which he made numerous deposits over the years has resulted in his fathering 533 children! And now, over 100 of his offspring are launching a class action lawsuit to “out” the name of their father. The film’s title does not reference the ubiquitous coffee company, but rather a Holstein bull that impregnated hundreds of bulls by progeny in the 1980s. (The Blogger feels that this was a missed cross-promotional marketing opportunity.)

The Salt of Life (Italy; directed by Gianni Di Gregorio) 

From the writer / director / star of 2009’s smash Italian comedy Mid-August Lunch comes a delicious slice of Roman life. Gianni (played by the film’s director) has settled into a comfortable, dull life in Italy as a retiree. His wife, daughter and her boyfriend all take him for granted. His mother fritters away his money by gambling. Just when his existence appears to be thankless, one of his closest friends reveals that he and all of his contemporaries have been taking lovers on the side for years, and Gianni is the only one without one! Determined to reinvigorate his life and not be left behind, Gianni embarks on a series of adventures to make himself youthful and attractive to the opposite sex again, even though he hasn’t dated in decades. It’s appropriate that The Salt of Life is presented by, of all companies, the giant insurer Desjardins.

Michael (Austria; directed by Markus Schleinzer) 

This film’s titular character is an insurance executive with a home in the suburbs. He is charismatic, successful, and women are drawn to him irresistibly. Yet something is just a little bit off: why does he not bring anyone home or ever have visitors? Does anyone suspect the ten-year-old boy he keeps as a sexual captive in his basement? Schleinzer’s directorial debut is loosely based on Austrian TV presenter Natascha Kampusch, who was infamously kidnapped as a child and held captive until she escaped in August 2006 (her captive committed suicide that same day after a nationwide manhunt). Not for the faint of heart, Michael caused considerable controversy when it screened at Cannes this year, with noted film critic calling this “an uneasy triumph”. Subject matter aside, the film was praised for its narrative sensibilities.

The Mill and the Cross (Poland; directed by Lech Majewski)

What’s it like to live inside a painting? Majewski’s English-language costume drama is a speculative account of 12 of the hundreds of subjects inside of Peter the Elder’s famed masterpiece The Way to Calvary. Who are the subjects? What were they doing at that point in time? Were they really off to Calvary? Majewski’s film boasts unusual casting, including former action star Rutger Hauer in a leading role, together with veteran British actors Charlotte Rampling and Michael York. Reminiscent of the acclaimed 2003 film masterpiece Girl with a Pearl EarringThe Mill and the Cross is a remarkable technical achievement that played to rapturous reception at Sundance and dozens of film festivals this year, as evidenced by the itinerary on the flim’s website.

Mitsuko Delivers (Japan; directed by Ishii Yuya)

Hara Mitsuko has it rought. She’s pregnant and due to give birth any day now, her GI babydaddy isn’t around, and rather than going home to her parents, she travels into her old working-class Tokyo neighbourhood and tries to revive her old digs by helping out nearby businesses. Can she deliver in more ways than one? The film is presented on the Dragons & Tigers Awards Gala, which is presented to the best young Asian film at VIFF.