Friday, October 20, 2006

VIFF Update

Attending VIFF even for 3 days was a great treat! I have to honestly admit that VIFF is the best film festival in Canada! Period!! No questions asked. Now I admit I have never been to TIFF or Montreal’s Fantasia and that I have loyally worked for CIFF for the past 3 years, but VIFF beats them all hands down. The simple reason is that VIFF is a festival for film-lovers. Toronto is more of a distribution market which is giving too much coverage to Hollywood and distributors lurking to pick up movie deals. For example, this year only 7 out of the 357 films at TIFF were Hollywood films. But guess which 7 movies grabbed all the headlines? On top of that TIFF charges way too much for each screening -- a single movie, no matter what time of the day it is shown at, can cost upwards of $20 Canadian dollars. Whereas VIFF charges $7.50 for shows before 6 pm and only $9.50 for night shows. On top of that, VIFF does not make it hard for the average fan to buy tickets or get into movies. Even though I had a full media guest pass, never did I feel that I was taking away the place of a regular ticket buying person. Whereas in TIFF, certain film critics and distributors feel it is their right to get in screenings more so than the paying public. On top of that if a screening was sold out, VIFF made sure an extra screening was booked for audiences. For example, all 3 shows of the German film, The Lives of Others was sold out, so the festival added another screening. And when four screenings of the doc, Colour Me Kubrick were sold out, the festival added a fifth screening! There were multiple screenings of almost all the big movies and the repeat screenings were split between matinee and evening shows such that a person had better chance to see the movie and pay a cheaper rate for the film.

Also, VIFF had an excellent selection of East Asian movies, better than TIFF. But when it came to Indian movies, then the best selection this year had to be that of CIFF :) Ofcourse, I take credit for CIFF’s excellent Indian film lineup. TIFF sold out to Bollywood with its Indian line-up and VIFF only had two Indian movies, one of them being a one year old Bollywood film (Paheli).

Next year, I plan to take a longer trip and spend an entire week in Vancouver. But for now, here are the 8 films that I got to sample. Because I was representing the Pan-Asian festival, four movies I saw were East Asian films. The rest were Italian, German, a US-UK-French animated film and a French-Belgian co-production. So overall, a good balance!

Friday, Oct 6: 3 films with the German flick the pick of the lot.

The Wedding Planner (Directed by Marco Bellocchio): Rating 7.5/10

I had such high expectations for this Italian flick. Needless to say it was a huge letdown. The film starts out very interestingly as a famous director (Sergio Castellitto as Franco Elica) is shooting a segment of his daughter’s wedding. Franco is held in such high regard that his every move is copied by other photographers and wedding cameramen. After the ordeal of his daughter’s marriage, Franco’s next hurdle is to tackle yet another remake of the classic Italian work The Betrothed . With such a burden on his shoulders, it is no surprise that he enjoys his freedom in Sicily after the train he was traveling in breaks down. There he seems to stumble onto an interesting subplot involving a prince, a soon-to-be princess, an amateur wedding camera man and other colorful characters. But is all this just a coincidence? Giving us shades of a film within a film, The Wedding Director asks the audience to try to understand the film’s motif. Is it really an open-ended work? Or is it a carefully crafted film? This is a technically well shot film but I really felt it went off the rails half-way through. I do believe an open-ended work still has to have some framework and this one really seemed to indicate that Bellocchio himself lost interest in this movie near the end. So why should we care?

The Lives of Others (Directed by Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck):
Rating 9.5/10

This was never on my list of movies to watch but in the end, I decided to see this hit German film for the simple reason that Werner Herzog thought “it was the best German film he has seen in ages”. I was not the only one to go see the movie for this reason. As it turns out the girl standing in front of me also came to the movie for that very reason. But what a good reason it turned out to be. This is indeed a wonderfully crafted film. The film is set in 1984 in East Berlin (yes, Orwell would have approved) where the Stasi still intrude into people’s lives. A dedicated Stasi officer is assigned to spy into a famous writer’s apartment to find proof of moral corruption. But as it turns out, the officer begins to change and starts to question his own values. A piece of music is all it took! Yes the ending might be a bit too emotional but you know what, I fell for it. I was almost in tears in that final scene which proved that sometimes in life, all it takes is one gesture to uplift us from our mere mundane existence!

Congorama (Directed by Philippe Falardeau): Rating 8.5/10

Yes this is a Canadian film! I have to repeat it again, this is a Canadian film. Why? Because it certainly does not feel like it! Yes certain people in Quebec might not want to be considered Canadian but I consider them to be an integral part of this country’s struggling cinematic output. And this film seriously feels very un-Canadian in all senses yet deep down, it has certain elements which one can only owe to that wicked humour that comes out from that province. A story of two men separated by an ocean yet linked together by a well kept secret! What connects Congo, Belgium, Quebec, Hybrid Cars, Diamonds and an Ostrich? Why, this movie ofcourse! The movie does feel a bit long at 106 minutes but when it all ends, you can understand why the director wanted to have all those extra scenes.

Saturday, Oct 7: 4 films with the East Asian movies winning out

Still Life (Directed by Jia Zhangke): Rating 8.5/10

Much has been written about this award winning film fresh off the Venice film festival. Now, this is a film that will only find audiences at film festivals and won’t really get a theatrical screening outside of the major cities (New York, London). Why? There is not much of plot as the movie focuses on the lives of two people who go to a small Chinese village in the hopes of finding their spouses. The village is about to be fully flooded by the Three Gorges dam and is in a state of transition from alive to being dead. The stillness of the movie is not even altered by two CGI additions, one involving a UFO spaceship. And the film is shot with a digital camera which gives this a documentary feel and adds to the realism.

Betelnet (Directed by Heng Yang): Rating 4.5/10

The write-up in the program schedule warned us that there is no plot in this film and not much happens either. Yup, that was a perfect assessment, so I can’t say I was not warned. But I don’t consider it art when a new director places a camera on the side and watches things unfold at snail’s pace. No, there is no talent in having long takes of nothingness while the camera is left on the tripod. Watching two teenagers being bored out of their mind is not exciting at all!

The King and the Clown (Directed by Lee Jun-Ik): Rating 9.0/10

Yet another surprise! This movie was the biggest box office movie in Korean history earlier this year until The Host came along. And one can see why it took everyone by surprise. A simple story with no big budget based on a stage play beat out all the big named commercial films! The story is set in 16th Century Korea where two street performers undertake a risky game to make some money. They decide to lampoon the king and his mistress. Such a thing was never done before but it pays off, initially atleast among the common folk. But the king is not amused and wants to punish the street troupe. The lead person asks for one chance – if the king laughs, the troupe be spared. Well the king does laugh, a little at first and a lot over time as he makes the troupe perform only privately for the royalty. Such a thing does not go down well with the ministers but the king does not care as he seems to be pre-occupied with a crush on one of the performers. The performers are all excellent with the drama interesting to watch!

Renaissance (Directed by Christian Volckman): Rating 7.5/10

This French-British-Luxembourg animation film gets full marks on the wicked graphic novel type black and white animation. It also gets full mark on the noir structure and depiction of future Parisian streets in 2054. But where it fails is the story. The futuristic story of gene manipulation is not new, quite linear and predictably worn out. No matter how classy and sexy the animation looks, a good story is still needed. This is where Sin City succeeded -- it had a complex story portrayed via the black and white animation style.

Renaissance contains voice-overs from a lot of big names (including the lead voiced by Daniel Craig) but it gets tiring after the first hour. Still it was worth attending this sold out show. And the touch of calling the futuristic Parisian city, Avalon, was brilliant! As it turns out, in Avalon people don’t have to worry about looking old and can live young forever. And if you break Avalon down, you get Avon and Revlon, two cosmetic giants. Hmm….

Sunday, Oct 8: A gem

Film rating: 10/10

I took the day to enjoy Vancouver and visit some friends, so I was only left to see one movie, but what a movie that was. The movie was not planned to be shown on Sunday night but an extra screening was added. Jeffrey Jeturian’s The Bet Collector was the real find of this festival for me!! This Philippine film has won the FIPRESCI Jury award at both the Delhi and Moscow festival this year and contains an amazing performance from veteran actress Gina Pareno. The film contains a simple yet beautiful story which follows Gina’s character as she goes across town trying to collect bets for jeuteng, a popular but illegal numbers game. This film once again highlights the power of digital camera as a medium for new filmmakers armed with a good story.

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