Round up reviews of films I've seen at the Vancouver International Film Festival week 3, in order of preference/impact:
Impression: VIFF announced the People's Choice today, and if it wasn't for the fact that the Dardene brothers' feature was screened just last night, I'd think that it would've given the eventual winner a pretty good run for its money, judging from the crowd reaction. I distinctly heard a "woot!" and there were tears flowing around me. The moment Cyril (played with so much angst and sweetness by Thomas Doret) unexpectedly clutched for dear life onto Samantha, there was no doubt he got her complete attention, and the audience's (mine) in turn. The child abandonment story tugged at the heart with such ease, no manipulative strings attached could be seen or cared to be found. It was sweet, without the saccharine, tough without the embellishment, and heartbreaking without the melodrama. There was a long, silent, beautiful sequence of him riding a bike after a particularly crushing turn of event that showed off both his incredibly exact performance and the Dardene brothers' master direction. I'm not one to have maternal feelings, but this boy's transparent yearning gave my ovaries a good squeeze.
Reaction: So that's what a maternal feeling is like.
Impression: With The Artist, Hazanavicius made a loving tribute to the silent era in the same zesty, playful manner as many of the era's films. While it ridiculed the arrogance of its silent stars, it also paid respect to the inventiveness and the heart of many artists that drove the industry. The use of sound was clever in a way that really highlighted the shock and awe of its introduction to the screen. The audience ate this up; I could see this film going a long way at the Oscars.
Reaction: How come it took us this long to have this movie made? I want that dog! So. Bad.
Impression: Going to see the film with no prior knowledge of what it was about really added to the uncertain feeling of what was happening to its characters. Alps focused on a group of unlikely grief performers, taking on the role of the departed as family members tried to come to terms of the baggage left behind. There are performances within performances, and after a while, I started to wonder if the real thing was just a performance. The absurdity and odd humourous moments didn't negate the sad state everything was weighed down by. I don't know how this compares to Dogtooth, the director's previously acclaimed film (and surprising Academy Awards Foreign Film nominnee), but it makes me all the more interested in what else he has to offer.
Reaction: Prince is alive! Prince is alive? He is!
Impression: While I was curious about the comparison the film's director had been drawn to Haneke, I was worried about how it was going to turn out, given the delicate nature of child exploitation. Would the young actor be introduced unnecessarily to the reality of pedophilia? How would they handle the sensitive scenes? It's one thing to have adults acting out a scripted horror; it's another to have a kid exposed to such horror, even in pretense. Other than one shocking scene played out in a humourous tone that nevertheless was quite terrifying, the film for the most part spared its audience its most tragic scenes, opting instead to hint at them with pre- and post-preparation by Michael, the unknown sickness that dwell amongst everyday people. Following the modern European clinical, matter of fact aesthetics to approach difficult, dark social underbelly subject matter, the film made no attempt at a cause and effect explanation of what made Michael Michael - he had a presumably loving family (a mother and a sister who cared enough to cry over him, at least), a successful career (he prided himself over not being "one of the four" who'd lose his job in this tough economic time), and a hint of a precocious mind (he purportedly made way for Christmas right after Easter as a child because he was "impatient"). There was something unsettling about him though - one got a sense that his meticulous and methodical way of ordering his everyday activities belied a rigid, contemptuous, deeply insecure boy who never developed a true adult connection with the world. I can't imagine playing a pedophile to be all that easy, but Michael Fuith did an incredible job of acting the part, looking both ordinary and creepy. I can't look at that face the same way again. Sorry, Michael.
Reaction: I can't watch.
Impression: MMMM had a dream-like flow about it, which was rather typical of an indie flick. The titular character's daze coloured all that we could see. "I know who I am," she said with a slight quiver. Her mouthful of a name pointed out the contrary though - she was as lost as lost can be. She was neither a teacher nor a leader, a dream whispered to her by John Hawkes' cult leader in an attempt to lure the directionless youth into giving herself over to a promised defined, pure life. One could see how the haves - in their glass house and suppressed guilt and hatred - could be held up as a reason not to be for the have nots. It makes seductive the counterpoint lifestyle for those looking to be held in something they could feel with their hands. Martha spouted the same values those with high morales might even line themselves up with, but she parroted them like one would a school lesson. She was but a mouthpiece for the discontent, no more authentic and loving than the world she ran away from. Durkin made an interest point of allowing her two worlds to collide so seamlessly, despite the stark contrast (one that was hinted at as a possible danger with the consequence of one bump in the night with her fellow "housemates"). The only way one could tell the past from the present was the people occupying the scene - cinematically, they were all the same. She was a beautiful vessel (her beauty was commented a few times in the film) for the two sides to impose their will on, not unlike what various groups try to do with our youth. In some ways, the film showed how powerful the desire to belong can be, and that same desire could lead us down a rabbit hole we may not come back from. Unfortunately, the characters felt quite derivative, and Olsen felt a bit too Maggie Gyllenhaal at times even in her manner. It was a solid film, but no greatness here.
Reaction: Wow, Elizabeth Olsen is like a cross between the Olsen twins and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Death is love? *rolls eyes*