Monday, October 02, 2006

Festival notes: A tale of two Black and White Masterpieces

10 days of CIFF have just wrapped up. An exhausting 10 days where I managed to squeeze in 22 movies! Now I have a few days to rest before I head off for an exciting weekend at VIFF to watch some more enticing titles. There were some interesting flicks at CIFF that deserve longer write-ups. But in the meantime, here’s a quick summary of the titles: (*** donates my fav's)

Day One: Friday, Sept 22

Posdata (North American premier, Director Rafael Escola): Rating 6.5/10

A train breaks down and the strangers within the compartment are made to confront their fears/desires as they pass away the time. However, there is a passenger on the train who seems to know more than he should about the others. Clues are given as to this person’s identity and after a while, it is obvious who this person really is. This would have been better as a short film and feels labored at 94 minutes.

Lunacy (Director Jan Svankmajer): Rating 8/10

The midnight showing of this Czech movie was an interesting event! We were warned before hand that there was plenty of “animated meat” in the movie, and sure enough, there really was. The idea of using meat pieces to symbolize the humans trapped in the madness of this world was a great idea but it does get tiring after a while. Nonetheless, this crazy movie is a weird watch but in the end, it makes sense, despite the constant lunacy. Beneath all the layers of sex, religion, meat, the story is a simple experiment in what is the best method to run a mental asylum – whether the patients should be left free or they should be tortured and controlled?

Day Two: Saturday, Sept 23

Mo & Me (Director Roger Mills): Rating 10/10 ***

Salim Amin has made this wonderful touching documentary about his father Mohamed Amin’s interesting life! The movie is perfectly balanced with Salim’s personal family story along with Mo’s struggle to bring the true pictures of Africa to the world. Salim was in attendance
and I ended up having an interesting chat with him about soccer (as it happens we support opposing teams :), middle east and politics.

Blessed with Fire (Iluminados por el fuego, Director Tristán Bauer): Rating 6/10

An Argentine movie about the horrors that the Falklands War left on certain soldiers. The film covers  familiar ground although to its credit, it does deal with the impacts of post-war trauma on people. Unfortunately, the movie never goes deeper than the surface.

Requiem (German film, Director Hans-Christian Schmid): Rating 9/10 ***

Requiem is an amazing movie which served as the original basis for the ..Emily Rose film. What makes this movie worth watching is that the audience is left to figure out for themselves whether the main character is possessed by the devil or not. The tight cinematography enables the audience to be up close with the characters while trying to decipher the situation for themselves.

Day Three: Sunday, Sept 24

The Fight for True Farming (Pas De Pays Sans Paysans, Director Eve Lamont): Rating 8/10

Following the footsteps of last year’s amazing doc The Future of Food comes this interesting film about how our food sources are being corrupted by globalization and corporations. And this is the 3rd documentary in the last 3 years which once again lists the same corporation (Monsato) as the bad guy. Will the corporations win out in the end and force us to eat junk all the time? Or will we be able to return to the pure agricultural ways that ancestors used to before the chemical companies started taking over?

Citizen Duane (Director Michael Mabbott): Rating 7.5/10

A light hearted Canadian high school film about one student’s quest to become town mayor! This was a refreshing movie in the middle of a film festival and will surely get commercial release in Canadian theatres.

Day Four: Monday, Sept 25

Khosla Ka Ghosla (Director Dibakar Banerjee): Rating 10/10 ***

A wonderful Indian comedy about land disputes which anyone living in India can relate to. Anupam Kher, Boman Irani and Ranvir Shorey are just amazing.

The Guatemalan Handshake (Director Todd Rohal)

Right after a wonderful comedy like Khosla.. I had to sit through this offbeat American indie comedy. More people attended this film than Khosla.. and the audience was divided on the final verdict – some liked the originality and others were not too fond of it. The movie had some original scenarios and characters but the quirky characters and non-linear narratives feel forced and don't mesh completely within the film's well shot framework.

Day Five: Tuesday, Sept 26

Monkey Warfare (Director Reginald Harkema): Rating 9/10 ***

A delightful Canadian film about two ex-revolutionaries! Any movie with Don McKellar is an interesting flick and this one is no exception. McKellar is perfect in this movie. A simple story which manages to combine the past exploits of 60’s and 70’s revolutionaries with modern day youth looking to start Fight Club like movements.

La Moustache (Director Emmanuel Carrère): Rating 9.5/10 ***

A man shaves off his moustache but his wife, friends and co-workers don’t even notice the change. In fact, they believe that he never had a moustache in the first place! That sets him off on a journey where he starts unraveling his life and finds some interesting revelations. I loved this movie. It demands a longer write-up on my part which I will do once I am done all the festival screenings.

Day Six: Wednesday, Sept 27

Dosar (Directed by Rituparno Ghosh): Rating 10/10 ***

Konkana Sen Sharma put in another stellar performance and gave Penélope Cruz (Volver) a fine run for one of the best female acted roles from this year's festival selections. On top of that, Konkana's face was the object of the camera's affection unlike in Penélope's case where the camera gazed elsewhere at times.

Day Seven: Thursday, Sept 28

Radiant City (Directors Jim Brown, Gary Burns)

Nicely covers one of the hottest topics in North America: suburban sprawl. There is a fascinating twist in this film which blurs the line between reality and fiction. In the Q&A after the film, both directors mentioned that this film should get people talking, which hopefully happens. Cinematographer Patrick McLaughlin has done an excellent job in making Calgary look so good on screen.

El Violín (Director Francisco Vargas Quevedo): Rating 10/10 ***

Pure beauty! Just like Dosar, this was another example of vintage black and white cinema. This movie also deserves a longer write-up which I will do so in the upcoming weeks.

Day Eight: Friday, Sept 29

A jam-packed day where I attended 4 screenings – two docs and 2 American Indies!

Conquistadors of Cuba (Director Arto Halonen): Rating 7.5/10

An interesting movie about cars and revolution! Back in the 60’s, big American cars were the rage in Cuba. Everyone either owned one or dreamed of owning one. Now in the present time, these big American cars are even more valuable -- the cars are collectibles because of the original owners, be it a dictator (Batista) or a revolutionary (Che). And because of the embargo with America, it is impossible to maintain this cars as the parts are not available. Maximiliano is the only person in Cuba who can fix Che’s car. The fact that he is going blind does not stop him for attempting to preserve a piece of Cuban history as he attempts to restore Che’s car. In between clips of Maximiliano’s life are gorgeous shots of Cuba, archived newsclips and excerpts from an automobile tv show which helps trace all the owners of these collectible cars.

The journey of Vaan Nguyen (Director Duki Dror): Rating 8/10

Here’s a story you don’t hear often – second generation Vietnamese people growing up in Israel! As it turns out, an influx of Vietnamese left their war torn country in the 70’s to take life up in Israel (a war free country, of course). Some continued to live in Israel but others opted to return back. But what about the newborn Vietnamese kids who grew up in Israel? Are they considered Israeli or Vietnamese? These kids face the same problems as other second generation non-white kids growing up in ‘white’ western countries. In the case of this doc, Vaan is the Israeli born girl in question. She speaks Hebrew and has no connection with Vietnam. But she has to examine her identity as her parents attempt to return back home. Ofcourse, the land her parents left behind has being taken over by others and as a result, her parents have no real roots left in their homeland. This is an interesting doc which takes up the common question of identity that ‘white’ western nations seem to force on other non-white immigrants who migrate to lands once not owned by so ‘white’ people.

Mojave Phone Booth (Director John Putch): Rating 7/10

4 short stories intertwined around the real life case of a phone booth in the middle of the Mojave desert. Three of the stories were interesting but the fourth one was dull yet it was required to tie everything else together.

Mutual Appreciation (Director Andrew Bujalski): Rating 8/10

One of those purely independent movies which are either loved by people or simply loathed. I saw plenty of walk-outs during this film which was a shame. You just have to be in the right mood to watch three twenty something friends discuss their lives, career and their desires. Oh this indie is shot in black and white as well.

Day Nine: Friday, Sept 30

Iraq in Fragments (Director James Longley): Rating 9/10 ***

Iraq really is in fragments. It always was. But don’t tell that to the invading occupying forces. They won’t listen, they won’t stand for it. They like to believe they made things better. What I personally feared three years ago is becoming very true now as the Sunni’s and Shia’s exert their own voices. And what about the Kurds? This beautifully shot doc has three parts – the first is a street life story about a Sunni kid, the second is set in Sadr city and the third is a peaceful journey in the northern Kurdish region. The middle section is the most interesting and also the fastest in terms of pace. In fact, the beautiful footage from the Sadr city segment could be easily slotted into a Ram Gopal Verma film or other mafia gangster flicks. Expertly edited and superbly shot (albeit using filtered lens), this was one of the better docs I have on Iraq (or anywhere for that matter).

Mystic Ball (Director Greg Hamilton): Rating 10/10 ***

From one great doc to another! Mystic Ball is a must see simple film about Greg Hamilton’s love of chinlone, the national sport of Myanmar (Burma). Mr. Greg (as he is called in the movie) finds peace and happiness in this simple sport, which unlike other sports is not competitive. This is just a wonderful film that has to be seen by everyone, especially soccer players like Ronaldinho and Henry, who have performed similar skills shown in the movie on a lesser scale. The cinematography is just amazing as the camera footage of the chinlone tournaments is captured superbly.

The Elementary Particles (Director Oskar Roehler): Rating 7.5/10

Two Half-brothers who are completely different go their own voyage of self-discovery! Technically, there is nothing wrong with the movie. But there is nothing that great shown in the movie.

Day Ten: Sunday, Oct 1

The 4th Dimension (Directors Tom Mattera, Dave Mazzoni)

Despite the slick Black and White shots, the film ends up being disappointing. Especially since many aspects appear to be borrowed from Pi, such as the quick cut repeated scenes which show the main character washing his hands a few times. In Pi the quick cut repeated scenes had the main character opening a cupboard, taking his pills, etc.


Overall there were some very interesting movies that were shown in this year's festival. And for the first time, I crossed over 20 movies watched over the 10 day festival. The two masterpieces in the title refer to two black and white movies, Dosar from India and El Violín from Mexico. Vintage Cinema really!!!

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