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.
directed by Jan Hřebejk
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.
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.