Monday, September 30, 2013

#VIFF2013 Days 2-4 Diary

Blue is the Warmest Colour (La vie d'Adèle - Chapitres 1&2)
directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
This is an otherwise simple and entirely predictable story made exceptional by perfectionist filmmaking and fearless acting. Kechiche is a master of making everything seem entirely natural, and both actresses leave absolutely nothing on the table. It's strongest moments are during the first half, with the extraordinarily detailed introduction and development of Adèle's character, and during the last half hour where this chapter in her life is brought to a hopeful conclusion.
directed by Alexander Payne
United States
Bruce Dern won Best Actor at Cannes for his role in this, and it is an admirably strong performance. However, the film felt over-sentimental, and is full of one note cartoonish supporting characters. On the plus side, June Squibb has some scene stealing hilarious dialogue; and the stark black and white cinematography, which purposefully gives the film a 1970's look, is perfect for the Middle-America small town setting.
Manuscripts Don't Burn
directed by Mohammad Rasoulof
As deliberate of a political film as you will ever see. Because of its blatant message, this thriller feels rather tedious at times, but it is amazing that it even exists. The creative situation in Iran right now reminds me of the one in Czechoslovakia at the end of The Prague Spring. Brave filmmakers risking everything to present their work to the world while under an oppressive regime.
Tom at the Farm (Tom à la ferme)
directed by Xavier Dolan
A complete departure from Dolan's usual work, especially compared to last year's epic Laurence Anyways. Gone are the showy slow motion 'music video' flourishes, but his undeniable sense of style is still highly evident. Most noticeably, the aspect ratio changes to widescreen during the action sequences. It's a solid psychological thriller, and the rural setting and dialog help to create and maintain a strong sense of unease. If nothing else, this stands as proof that Dolan is capable of playing more than one note.
directed by Thomas Arslan
The tale of a group of German American immigrants heading for the 1890's Gold Rush in northern British Columbia. Feels like a faster paced Meek's Cutoff, and has a score highly reminiscent to Neil Young's in Dead Man. As always, Nina Hoss easily commands the screen, but it's fascinating to watch what the long and difficult trek does physically and mentally to the entire group.
Our Sunhi
directed by Hong Sang-soo
South Korea
Full of the director's trademark statically shot long conversations over food and alcohol. These lead to quite a few funny moments, but also lots of repetition that comes close to crossing the line between amusement and tedium.
Big Men
directed by Rachel Boynton
A brave and balanced documentary that takes a behind the scenes look at what happens to a business, the government, and the local people when a massive oil field is discovered off the coast of Ghana. Remarkable for the amount of willing participants that the director managed to get in the film. All sides get fair representation with candid interviews that include CEOs, presidents, and armed rebel leaders.
The Great Passage
directed by Yûya Ishii
An enthralling and highly enjoyable tale set in the mid 1990s, that follows a socially awkward bookworm hired by a publishing house to create a new modern dictionary. A solid ensemble cast (including an outstanding Ryuhei Matsuda), carries this quirky film across a few different genres before coming to a touching end.
Harmony Lessons (Uroki garmonii)
directed by Emir Baigazin
A chillingly bleak but effective tale that underlines the inescapable brutality and violence that exists within man and nature. The stark cinematography received the award for Outstanding Artistic Contribution at this year's Berlinale, and it was well deserved. Every single shot is absolutely stunning, you can't look away even when the onscreen actions are at times so very horrifying.
directed by Peter Greenaway, Edgar Pêra, Jean-Luc Godard
Portugal, France
Any collection of shorts is guaranteed to be uneven, and this is no exception. Greenaway's segment is the most accessible, and plays out as a one take live annotated museum tour through the Portuguese city of Guimaraes; Godard's is an intense and fascinating film history lecture/montage that cheekily calls out 3D as the 'Three Disasters'; While Pêra's incomprehensible sci-fi segment is what the fast forward button was invented for.
directed by Flora Lau
Hong Kong
Lau's quiet feature debut premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes this year. It has that sleek and elegant look you'd expect from a film shot by Christopher Doyle. Carina Lau is excellent as a rich housewife who suddenly has to adjust her lifestyle. Chen Kun is equally good as her chauffeur who has some desperate problems of his own. It's pretty to look at, trouble is, we're never given anything to become truly invested in these characters and the conclusion seems slapdash.
Another House (L'autre maison)
directed by Mathieu Roy
Director Mathieu Roy's highly personal first feature film is another involving family drama from Quebec. It's about an Alzheimer's sufferer and his two battling sons. He began his career with documentaries, and that is evident here in the many on-location sequences. Particularly impressive is the final aerial shot.

Friday, September 27, 2013

#VIFF2013 Day 1 Diary

The 32nd Vancouver International Film Festival officially began today and I managed to catch four screenings. All at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodwards, one of this year's new venues. It's a modern university lecture hall with a capacity of 350, and a state of the art projection system that looks and sounds fantastic, though it doesn't take long before you notice that the seats were obviously designed more for taking notes during one hour classes than comfortably enjoying multiple films in a day.
Honeymoon (Líbánky)
directed by Jan Hřebejk
Czech Republic
A beautifully filmed Czech drama that won Best Director at Karlovy Vary in July. Great build up of tension throughout helped by some excellent camera work. However, the mystery itself was let down by final act revelations that were unconvincingly handled. Even though the dramatic impact was dulled, there's still more than enough here to recommend it. It's brimming with that wonderful Czech sense of humor, and it ends with a masterfully staged and thought provoking closing shot.
La maison de la radio
directed by Nicolas Philibert
Nothing groundbreaking here, after all, the magic of radio is meant to be heard and not seen. Yet this doc still provides an interesting behind the scenes look inside the studios of Radio France (French public radio). We get a bit of everything from mundane daily meetings, weather and traffic reports, news flash rehearsals, eclectic guest performances, to the late night call-in dedication show.
The Rocket
directed by Kim Mordaunt
In some ways this one hits many of the same notes as last year's Rebelle, with its story about an ill luck child in a dangerous country. They also share some gorgeous digital cinematography that takes full advantage of the natural scenery. The major difference is The Rocket is a much lighter and positive tale. The main child actor is charismatic and delivers an enjoyable performance, and the James Brown impersonator is one of the most amusing supporting characters I've seen in awhile. Story wise, the final act resolves a little too neatly and quickly, even for a fairytale, but all in all this is a strong and entertaining debut film. Also kudos for not getting heavy handed with any political grandstanding.
directed by Parvis Shabazi
Curiously, it opens with the classic sounds of Father and Son by Cat Stevens, a fantastic tune that grabs your attention right away, though it's significance is not readily apparent in this story set in contemporary Tehran that primarily follows a young naive female med student who experiences her first time living in the city. Her character is horribly frustrating to watch, like one of those walking horror movie clichés who always seems to defy common sense for no reason other than to move the plot along. Fortunately it also serves as an overall snapshot of young adult life in Tehran, and that alone makes this a fascinating watch.

Monday, September 23, 2013

2013 Vancouver International Film Festival: Preview

The 32nd Vancouver International Film Festival kicks off this Thursday (September 26 - October 11), with sixteen exciting days of cinema from around the world.

Boasting a lineup of 340 films from 70 countries projected on 9 screens (a number of them brand new venues to VIFF that have been outfitted with the latest cinema tech) this year's fest promises to be the best one yet.

As always, there is a strong selection of competition titles and awards winners from the major international festivals.

From Cannes:
  • Nebraska by Alexander Payne (Best Actor, VIFF 2013 Opening Film)
  • Blue is the Warmest Colour by Abdellatif Kechiche (Palme d'Or)
  • Like Father, Like Son by Kore-eda Hirokazu (Jury Prize)
  • Heli by Amat Escalante (Best Director)
  • The Past by Asghar Farhadi (Best Actress)
  • A Touch of Sin by Jia Zhangke (Best Screenplay)
  • The Great Beauty by Paolo Sorrentino (Official Selection)
  • Borgman by Alex van Warmerdam (Official Selection)
  • Young and Beautiful by François Ozon (Official Selection)
  • Grigris by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (Official Selection)
  • Michael Kohlhaas by Arnaud des Pallières (Official Selection)
  • Ilo Ilo by Anthony Chen (Camera d'Or)

From the Berlinale, regretfully missing 2013 Golden Bear winner Child's Pose but still a great batch of films:
  • Closed Curtain by Jafar Panahi & Kamboziya Partovi (Best Script)
  • Gloria by Sebastián Lelio (Best Actress)
  • Harmony Lessons by Emir Baigazin (Outstanding Artistic Contribution)
  • Vic and Flo Saw a Bear by Denis Côté (Alfred Bauer Prize)
  • The Rocket by Kim Mordaunt (Best First Feature)
  • The Broken Circle Breakdown by Felix van Groeningen (Panorama Audience Prize)
  • Paradise: Hope by Ulrich Seidl
  • A Long and Happy Life by Boris Khlebnikov
  • Gold by Thomas Arlsan
  • Camille Claudel 1915 by Bruno Dumont

From Venice:
  • Stray Dogs by Tsai Ming-liang (Jury Grand Prize)
  • Miss Violence by Alexandros Avranas Best Director, Best Actor
  • Tom at the Farm by Xavier Dolan
  • Tracks by John Curran

There's also a healthy amount of contenders for the 2014 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in the line-up:
  • Australia's The Rocket by Kim Morduant
  • Belgium's The Broken Circle Breakdown by Felix Van Groeningen
  • Canada's Gabrielle by Louise Archambault
  • Chile's Gloria by Sebastián Lelio
  • The Czech Republic's Burning Bush by Agnieszka Holland
  • Georgia's In Bloom by Nana Ekvtimishvili & Simon Gross
  • Italy's The Great Beauty by Paolo Sorrentino
  • Japan's The Great Passage by Ishii Yuya
  • Mexico's Heli by Amat Escalante
  • The Netherlands' Borgman by Alex van Warmerdam
  • Saudi Arabia's Wadjda by Haifaa al-Mansour
  • Singapore's Ilo Ilo by Anthony Chen
  • Taiwan's Soul by Chung Mong-Hong
  • Venezuela's Breach in the Silence by Luis and Andrés Rodríguez.
The 668 seat Vancouver Playhouse Theatre, one VIFF's 'new' venues.

One very exciting development this year is the addition of genre-film sidebar Altered States. A series of seven films, all of which will have 'midnight' (11:30pm) showings at The Rio, Vancouver's destination for cult cinema. This is a feature that was missing from VIFF for too long:
  • A Field in England by Ben Wheatley (Special Jury Prize, 2013 KVIFF)
  • Antisocial by Cody Calahan
  • Big Bad Wolves by Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado (Best Film, Best Screenplay, 2013 Fantasia)
  • Borgman by Alex van Warmerdam (Official Selection, 2013 Cannes)
  • Halley by Sebastián Hofmann (Special Mention, 2013 Fantasia; CineVision Award, 2013 Filmfest München)
  • Willow Creek by Bobcat Goldthwait
  • XL by Marteinn Thórsson (Best Actor, 2013 KVIFF)

The finest tradition of VIFF is the Dragons & Tigers section, which has the honor of being the largest showcase of East Asian films projected at any festival outside of Asia. Every year the section jury presents the Dragons & Tigers Award for Young Cinema to the best film from a new director. Past well-known recipients of this award include Kore-eda Hirokazu (Maborosi, 1995), Hong Sang-soo (The Day a Pig Fell into the Well, 1996), Lee Chang-dong (Green Fish, 1997), and Jia Zhangke (The Pickpocket, 1998). Seven films have been nominated to receive the 2013 award:
  • 9 Muses of Star Empire by Lee Hark-joon (Canadian Premiere)
  • Anatomy of a Paperclip by Ikeda Akira (International Premiere)
  • Burn, Release, Explode, the Invincible by Kim Soo-hyun (International Premiere)
  • Four Ways to Die in My Hometown by Chai Chun-ya (World Premiere)
  • My First Love by Tsuruoko Keiko (World Premiere)
  • The Spider's Lair by Jason Paul Laxamana (International Premiere)
  • Trap Street by Vivian Qu (2013 Venice, Critics' Week)

For the second consecutive year, we will be providing full coverage of the festival, so be sure to check back for daily reports and capsule reviews.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

2013 Venice International Film Festival: Award Winners

The 70th annual Venice International Film Festival has now come to an end, with the closing awards ceremony hosted by Eva Riccobono, held Saturday (September 7) evening at the famed Sala Grande in Venice's Palazzo del Cinema.

The Venezia 70 International Competition jury, presided by legendary filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci presented the Golden Lion for Best Film to the documentary Sacro GRA from Italian director Gianfranco Rosi.

The Best Director trophy went to Greek director Alexandros Avranas, for his film Miss Violence, which also won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor to Themis Panou for his role as the patriarch in the troubling Greek drama.

The Volpi Cup for Best Actress went to veteran Italian actress Elena Cotta, for her role in the film Via Castellana Bandiera (A Street in Palermo), the directorial debut by Emma Dante.

Read on for the full list of award winners from Venezia 70:

Friday, September 6, 2013

2013 Venice International Film Festival: Day 10

Venezia 70 Competition Jury (Jiang Wen, Carrie Fisher, Virginie Ledoyen, Martina Gedeck, Andrea Arnold, Pablo Larraín, Bernardo Bertolucci, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Renato Berta) © la Biennale di Venezia
  • Day 10 - Friday, September 6

  • Screening today:

    The final film in this year's competition lineup, from Algeria co-produced by France, Es-Stouh (The Rooftops) by Merzak Allouache.

The veteran director's latest film is one that explores the troubled complexities of Algerian society. It is set amongst the rooftops of a working-class neighborhood in Algiers.

Screening out of competition, from Japan, 許されざる者 (Unforgiven) by Lee Sang-il.

From the Japanese born Korean director, a remake of the 1992 Clint Eastwood western, set in late 1800s Ezo (Hokkaido). It stars veteran Japanese actor Ken Watanabe.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

2013 Venice International Film Festival: Day 9

Festival Director Alberto Barbera © la Biennale di Venezia
Day 9 - Thursday, September 5

Screening today:

In competition, from Taiwan, Stray Dogs by Tsai Ming Liang.

From the previous Golden Lion winner for Vive l'amour (1994), a tale of a poor homeless family on the margins of society in modern day Taipei.

In competition, from Italy, Sacro Gra by Gianfranco Rosi.

From the acclaimed Italian documentarian, his latest is inspired by Rome's giant ring-road.

In competition, from France, La Jalousie by Philippe Garrel.

A semi-autobiographical story set in present day France, starring the director's son Louis Garrel, and Anna Mouglalis.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

2013 Venice International Film Festival: Day 8

Scarlett Johansson on the red carpet 03/09/2013 © la Biennale di Venezia
Day 8 - Wednesday, September 4

Screening today:

In competition, from the USA, The Unknown Known by Errol Morris .

A documentary portrait of Donald Rumsfeld, former US Secretary of Defense.

In competition, from Italy, l'Intrepido (A Lonely Hero) by Gianni Amelio.

Taken from the weekly comic books the director read as a child. A story set in present day Italy about an unemployed man who fills in for random people as a temporary replacement.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

2013 Venice International Film Festival: Day 7

Palazzo del Cinema © la Biennale di Venezia
Day 7 - Tuesday, September 3

Screening today:

In competition, from Israel and France, Ana Arabia by Amos Gitai.

This one depicts a moment in the life of a group of Jews and Arabs who live together in an enclave in Israel. Notably filmed in one continous shot.

In competition, from the UK, Under the Skin by Jonathan Glazer.

Glazer returns to Venice with his first film in nine years, the last one was Birth (2004). His latest is based on a novel written in 2000 by Michel Faber, it stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien in human form on a journey through Scotland.

Also of note, screening Out of Competition, from South Korea, Moebius by Kim Ki-duk.

Winner of last year's Golden Lion for Pieta. The South Korean director's latest is unfortunately not in competition, but it looks to be another delightfully twisted creation.

Monday, September 2, 2013

2013 Venice International Film Festival: Day 6

Palazzo del Cinema © la Biennale di Venezia
Day 6 - Monday, September 2

Screening today:

In competition, from Canada, Tom à la Ferme (Tom at the Farm) by Xavier Dolan.

The 24-year-old director's fourth feature, and his first in competition at a major festival. This is a psychological thriller based on a play by Michel Marc Bouchard that seems to be an intriguing departure from his established comfort zone of stories about unrequited love. It stars Dolan, alongside Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lise Roy, and Evelyne Brochu.

In competition, from the UK and the USA, The Zero Theorem by Terry Gilliam.

A very interesting looking sci-fi starring Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon, Mélanie Thierry, and Tilda Swinton from the imaginative director who brought us Brazil and 12 Monkeys.

Screening in the Orizzonti section, from the USA, The Sacrament by Ti West.

Rising horror director Ti West's highly anticipated latest is about a pair of investigative journalists who find themselves mixed up with a dangerous cult while working on a story.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

2013 Venice International Film Festival: Day 5

Palazzo del Cinema © la Biennale di Venezia
  • Day 5 - Sunday, September 1

  • Screening today:

    In competition, from the USA, Parkland by Peter Landesman.

    Captures the assassination of President Kennedy and the immediate aftermath through the stories of witnesses and staff at the hospital where the wounded president was taken. The cast includes James Badge Dale, Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden, Billy Bob Thornton, Jackie Weaver, and Paul Giamatti.

    In competition, from Japan, 風立ちぬ (The Wind Rises) by Hayao Miyazaki.

    A historical fantasy from the master of animation. His first solo effort since 2008's Ponyo, it is based on a manga that tells the fictionalised biography of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the 'Zero', the legendary long range fighter plane used by the Imperial Navy in WWII

    The third film in competition today, from Greece, Miss Violence by Alexandros Avranas.

    The story of a family of an eleven-year-old girl who unexplicably decides to leap to her death from her balcony on her birthday.

    Also of note, screening in the Orizzonti section, from the USA, Palo Alto by Gia Coppola.

    The directorial debut from the grandaughter of Francis Ford and niece of Sofia. An unflinching tale on teen angst and adult ineptitude starring James Franco, Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, and Val Kilmer.

86th Academy Awards (2014): Foreign Film Submission List

Once again it's that time...

For the third year running, I will be keeping tabs on, and also attempting to watch and review as many of the foreign film submissions to the Academy Awards as possible.

A record number 76 entries have been accepted to the 2014 Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film.

According to the official rules, the deadline for submissions was 5 p.m. PT on Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Read on for the list of films submitted to the 86th Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film Competition: