VIFF Roundup III: Days 9-12 10/12/2010
In one day I saw the greatest film ever made by a 101 year-old and the greatest film ever made about a telekinetic tire. The most impressive of these two was Maneol de Oliveira's The Strange Case of Angelica, a film that reveals a youthful invention as well as a century's worth of wisdom. His images occasionally reach profound levels of beauty and the film's lamentation of the passing of an old world is of heartbreaking proportions.
The latter of the two is Quentin Dupieux's Rubber, a modestly successful satire about formulaic filmmaking and how we watch movies. Although it grows tiresome, even with a breezy 80-minute run time, the film maintains a sly cleverness and a sharp sense of humour that can, at times, erupt into hilarity.
Renowned animation auteur Jan Svankmajer's latest feature is Surviving Life, a hybrid of live action and stop motion technique. The film gets off to a nice start, with a funny tongue-in-cheek disclaimer of sorts, but grows tedious as it goes further and further into a dense psychological dramedy that blends dreams with reality. While Surviving Life always exudes intelligence, it fails to entertain or enlighten.
One of the better films to play at VIFF this year, Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy is a deeply-involving conversational drama. As the two leads have an endless multi-topic debate over the course of a day, the ideas become magnified by Kiarostami's exquisite compositions. He examines the nature of originals and their copies, which at first relates to the male lead's theory regarding works of art, but eventually seeps into the film through the copying of behavior, conversation etc. This investigation is constantly reiterated such as with reflections in mirrors which represent alternatives amongst an infinity of perspectives. Kiarostami relates this theme to the passing of one generation to the next exemplified by Juliet Binoche's character and her young son, never seen without his hand-held video game. Seemingly, her son is distracted by this technology and his impatience but it soon becomes clear that's not the case as he outsmarts his mother, and the adults of the film seem to be the victims of 21st century living. By the time the final image echoes the film's concept, I had been as intellectually engaged as during any film this year.
Bruce LaBruce's gay-porn-horror-movie L.A. Zombie may surprise those who see it with an open mind. Featuring extreme gore and hardcore sex acts, the film is emotionally charged with its sensitive portrait of homelessness and sexual anxiety. Close to being a work of silent cinema, L.A. Zombie is composed of beautifully scored sequences featuring Francois Sagat encountering dead people who he copulates with in order to revive them. The relationship between LaBruce's camera and his protagonist is stunning and leads to some of the greatest images in 2010 cinema.
While I'm tragically naive to the cinema of Jacques Rivette, Around a Small Mountain, reportedly his final feature, seems to have a lot of closure. There is something cathartic and maybe even gigantic lurking under what is otherwise a quiet, understated work. The drama of the film is fleeting and uneventful, yet we are drawn in to this story of half-characters and their classical, bare-bones traveling circus. Around a Small Mountain is a great and deceptively mysterious movie.
Armadillo, yet another in a long line of 21st century war docs, is close to useless. We follow several Danish soldiers on a 6-month term that leads to intense combat. The filmmaker's life is put on the line in order to film scenes of war violence, but rather than being impressive this begs the question whether or not getting closer to the action gets us closer to the truth. Clearly not.
Dear Prudence is a consistent, if unremarkable debut film about a teenager dealing with the recent loss of her mother as well as her burgeoning sexuality. While it hits some cliché coming-of-age notes, it boasts an interesting score and some really nice sequences that make Rebecca Zlotowski a filmmaker to watch out for. Most impressive is the lead performance from rising French star Léa Seydoux, who is one of the most promising young actresses.
The worst film I've yet seen at VIFF this year is Xavier Beauvois' Grand Prix winning Of Gods and Men, which poses to be a profound examination of the collective spiritual and existential dilemma of a group of French monks carrying out their mission in the midst of terrorism. The film is so spiritually bankrupt yet high and mighty that it becomes offensive. Beauvois belittles his actors by giving their characters shallow portrayals that take emotional advantage of the viewer, and in the worst case milks the lead actor, Lambert Wilson, for tears every chance he gets.
Winter Vacation is an offbeat comedy that plays like a Roy Andersson film without a budget, or that many laughs, really. Still, its a unique film with interesting ideas that may fail to captivate but at last succeeds in causing intrigue. I can't say I enjoyed it, but I can admire it from a safe distance.
One of the most accomplished American films of the year, Cold Weather is a fresh and thoughtful work from Aaron Katz. The film is shot in Portland, and follows a brother and sister who live in an apartment together. It starts as a small drama but one-third through it becomes an intense mystery story. The brother, Doug, is a forensic science dropout who finds work in an ice factory and befriends a co-worker named Carlos. They become intertwined in a plot they don't understand and Doug has to emerge from his complacency and participate in life, acting as a pseudo-detective for the rest of the film.
Yet another great long-form feature this year (this one is 5.5 hours long), Carlos depicts the exploits during the rise and fall of the notorious Venezuelan terrorist, Carlos the Jackal. Olivier Assayas clearly extensively researched the film, but makes sure that this is not just an exercise of resurrecting history but a compelling work of human depth. His Carlos thinks he is a rock star, but in reality he is an idealist whose ideals become less and less central to his life. There is a point where the revolutionary must face death to complete a mission, or take the easy way out and survive. His choice may be one of cowardice or simply human, but it alters the course of his life as he becomes increasingly pathetic and irrelevant to politics. The way Assayas depicts the fragile relationship between politicians and their politics unveils revealing insights into the futility of organization, planning and government. Carlos is a perfect example of how cinema must look at history; There is not such thing as an objective account, so the only reasonable way to approach the past is with admittedly subjective interpretations, heavily researched though they may be, and only through such subjectivity can we reach the level of truth that this film does.