Thursday, October 26, 2006

Pacing Asia -- Bicycles, Trains and Gangsters

Beijing Bicycle (2001 film directed by Xiaoshuai Wang): Rating 10/10

Emotional and beautiful cinema at its best! This is a movie which grabs you emotionally, forces you to root for the underdog, but then forces you to shift your viewpoint as it gives you a different perspective and then finally reaches a just rewarding end. A stubborn quiet villager comes to Beijing to earn a living. He finds his calling acting as a bicycle courier – it is a job which gives him happiness. One day, his bike is stolen. That shatters him as he had worked day and night to earn the bike and was only a day away from owning it outright (the bikes are owned by the courier company until an employee works enough hours to own the bike). The next segment introduces us to a young college kid with the same stolen bike. He is genuinely happy with this bike and it is form of his freedom. The villager finally finds his bike and takes it back. But the college kid’s friends beat the villager up and take the bike back. As it turns out, the school boy had paid for the stolen bike from the black market and feels he owns the bike. Finally after some more fighting, a compromise is reached between the two and they agree to share the bike every other day. The bike represents freedom to both males and how they go about their lives with a bike acting as a focal point is fascinating to watch.

We don’t need much dialogue in this film as the story moves along briskly. And the carefully timed expressions give us an insight into the characters motives and hence it is no surprize when the college kid’s jealousy and vengefulness ensures a final fight is in store. I was very impressed with this film and I am glad I got to watch it. No doubt the bike’s theft will point to another famous bicycle movie but this one is unique to the Chinese landscape.

The World (directed by Jia Zhang Ke): Rating 8/10

In some movies, a set can really steal the show. And that is just the case in this film as the location is just precious. The film is set in Beijing’s World Theme park where replicas of all the world’s monuments are on display – Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower, Pyramids, London Bridge. One can see the entire world without ever leaving China!! And as one park worker observes, the park still has its twin towers in tact while the real ones no longer exist. That is an important element as it alludes to the film’s core – sometimes a fake replica can be more real than the real thing. The film follows some of the park workers and when the camera leaves the park, it gives us a peak into their lives. The setting leaves room for a rich story and for the first hour, it is completely engrossing. However, once the camera left the park, the film lost some its energy. I like Jia Zhang Ke’s recent Still Life a lot more but The World is still an important film. And as China’s economy continues to exert a bigger presence in the global market, this movie can be taken as a case study in how on one hand, globalization can shrink the world and on the other hand, trivialize cultures. Can one symbol really capture a nation? Not really but that how is what is used by all countries to define a nation.

I need to get more of Zhang Ke’s older films as his work gives a unique & refreshing look into China.

My Wife is a gangster (2001 film directed by Jin-gyu Cho): Rating 7.5/10

Will Hollywood finally go ahead and re-make this Korean movie? Apparently, this was supposed to be the first Korean movie to be remade by Hollywood but the project has not yet taken off. The story is easily adaptable for the commercial tastes catered to by both Hollywood and Bollywood.

The title really gives the plot away (innocent man does not know his wife is a gangster) and also points towards the film's genre -- comedy!! A tough woman gangster finally finds her long lost sister. Her sister is dying and one her final wishes is to see her tough sister married. This may be the gangster's toughest job but through a bizarre series of incidents she lands a husband. The humour in this film is run on familiar jokes such as the woman trying on heels for the first time. Despite being the run of the mill stuff, it ends up being funny. The best aspect of the story is the role reversal shown -- the gangster woman acts like a macho man, and the humble husband is left to cook, clean and cater to his wife's moods. For some reason, the side characters are given some subplots which really add nothing to the story but seem more like material to extend the film. Nonetheless, it was a fun watch. And the ending really left the door open for future sequels and sure enough, two more sequels have been made.

Café Lumiere (2003 film directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien): Rating 6/10

What is this movie? Is this what we are left to call art? The movie is HHH’s tribute to Ozu’s Tokyo. I am sure it is in some ways but since I am not too familiar with all of Ozu’s techniques, I wasn’t too thrilled. A café, a young girl and a man obsessed with recording sounds of Tokyo’s unconnected train stations! That is about it. Yes at times, the long takes are beautiful but not much happens. Maybe not much is supposed to happen but I rather go sit at a café or a train station on my own time!

Kilimanjaro (2000 film directed by Seung-ook Oh): Rating 4.5/10

Run of the mill film. Two twin brothers, one a cop, the other a gangster. The gangster dies and the cop goes to his brother’s hometown to find things out. He is mistaken for his twin brother and mayhem results. Fight. Blood. Guns. Yawn…

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dictators, Cruel Parents, French girls, Bourgeoisie games & Half Nelson

A blistering mad dash through a diverse assortment of films within a week proved that despite the festival season being over, I still can’t get the festival out of me yet! Here’s a quick blurb of the various movies I managed to see:

Molokh (1999 film directed by Aleksandr Sokurov): Rating 7.5/10

Russian director, Sokurov’s first installment in his planned trilogy of movies about three leaders is an interesting effort. If I had seen this a few years ago, I might have appreciated it more. But after having seen the recent Downfall and 2002’s Max (to a lesser extent), I got my fill of watching Hitler portrayed as an average human. So I found nothing new in Molokh although Sokurov does a good job of focusing on Hitler’s moments with Eva Braun. And Sokurov goes further in showing Hitler’s mental deterioration in his final days. Overall, this is a poetic film but I could not stop comparing it to Downfall which was far more engaging.

À nos amours (1983 film directed by Maurice Pialat): Rating 8.5/10

The DVD of this film featured an interview with Catherine Breillat and I can see why. Breillat’s 2001 Fat Girl has shades Pialat’s 1983 film. In fact, the 15 year old main character in A nos amours might have had a lot of advice (about boys and sex) to give to Breillat’s 15 year old character, Elena, in Fat Girl. The difference is that in Pialat’s feature, Suzanne is busy exploring her sexuality by having many boy friends (much to her father’s dismay). Whereas in Fat Girl, Elena starts out with her first lover in the film. Given time, I am sure she would develop into Suzanne. So both films compliment each other. However, Pialat’s movie shows the turbulent relationship between Suzanne and her family (especially her brother who makes himself the head of the family after the father leaves) whereas Fat Girl focuses more on the relationship between two siblings who are opposites and compete with each other.

Tanguy (2001 film directed by Étienne Chatiliez): Rating 8.5/10

A very funny French film about a 28 year old man who won’t move out of parent’s home! In fact, Tanguy keeps finding excuses to extend his stay longer. Eventually, both parents are driven crazy and hatch plans to force him to move out. Temporarily they succeed but with horrific consequences as it turns out that Tanguy gets a panic attack when he moves out. The parents are forced to take him back, but Tanguy quickly gets on their nerves again. In the end, Tanguy finally finds his perfect family and not surprisingly it is in a culture where joint families are a norm. In that regard, the movie is a perfect portrayal of the differences between Eastern and Western parenting techniques -- while the West focuses more on kids moving out as soon as they go to college, in the East joint families is a normal concept. Ofcourse, joint families are disappearing in the East as more and more Western ideas are thrust onto people there. In the meantime, this movie serves as a reminder about certain cultural attitudes that exist.

The Rules of the Game (1939 film directed by Jean Renoir film): Rating 8/10

This film was lost to the world until it was restored in 1959. However, that restoration was longer than the original 1939 version. So in reality, we may never see the original theatrical cut of this movie which was loathed by French public when it was first released. As to why this film was deemed ‘controversial’, Renior answers that on the DVD interview -- apparently at the original screening, an audience member tried to light his newspaper on film with the intent of burning the theatre down. That act gave the general public the impression that this was a terrible film which must be avoided. And the ‘controversial’ tag stuck to the film from there on-in. Watching it today, nothing seems nasty in the movie. A bunch of spoiled greedy self-indulgent rich people go about their lives with plenty of drinking, partying, hunting and gossiping while the servants are left to pick up the pieces. Normal stuff really. But such a film back in 1939 would indeed have upset some people as it must be those rich people who watched such movies in the theatre back then. And one can clearly see the seeds of Gosford Park in Renoir’s film. There is a murder committed in The Rules… but it marks the ending of the film. Whereas in Gosford Park the murder serves as the launching pad for the rest of the story! Overall, The Rules of the Game is an interesting film about class differences, love, friendship and relationships with some wicked camera techniques surely ahead of its time back in the late 30’s.

Half Nelson (Directed by Ryan Fleck): Rating 7.5/10
This is a subjective rating for this movie. I am sure if I was completely objective, I might have rated this film higher. But how can I be objective towards such a clichéd concept? white male teacher is disillusioned with life; needs drugs to get him through the day; believes as a teacher he must make a difference and takes it upon himself to save his young black female student (Shareeka Epps putting in a perfect performance as 13 year old Drey) from the bad influences around her. Drey finds her teacher Dan (played superbly by Ryan Gosling) stoned in the female locker room and helps him to his feet. Dan’s guilt kicks in and he feels he needs to make a difference, he has to; he believes that is expected of him as a teacher. But he stumbles again. The ending does give us hope that Dan might have succeeded. The digital camera provides the perfect grainy look for this movie as it gives the story a realistic tone. But this topic has been shown so many times that I frankly am tired of seeing this. Why on earth do some young American filmmakers focus on only drug addicts or quirky characters as a means to portray their story? Is that the story they really want to tell or is this their ticket to fame as such movies do well at film festivals? Now, I must admit there is a fresh and interesting aspect to this film as well. Dan is not afraid of forcing the kids to think on their own; he teaches them topics outside the school books and wants them to question the nonsense that they are fed via the media and people around them. And Dan’s take on his country’s politics is smoothly integrated into the story as well. The scenes where Dan goes off on a tangent about life and ‘opposing forces’ while his students are either confused or bored are just precious but the other run of the mill stuff turned me off.

Fear and Death in Eastern Europe

The Fifth Horseman is Fear: (1964 film directed by Zbynek Brynych)

A different side of the Jewish persecution in Eastern Europe is shown here. There have been many movies made about the killings but this shows the mental humiliation induced by fear. A Jewish doctor in Prague can no longer practice his profession. But one day, he is asked to get morphine to save someone’s life. He tries his best to procure the medicine albeit living with the fear of what will happen when his identity is discovered. The film’s opening and closing shots are done quite well – they show a city living under watch. A street looks deserted but if you look closely, someone is keeping watch. No one can escape persecution and the only way to gain one’s dignity back might be in death….which leads us to the next film.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Directed by Cristi Puiu): Rating 10/10

This is vintage cinema! Filmmaking of the highest order. The best compliment a movie can get is that it does not feel like a film at all. Which is the case here. The thoughtful cinematography gives us a ring side to the events that unfold. We are in the room with Dante when he is having his headaches and pains. We see him throw up blood. We observe his neighbours only thinking selfishly about themselves. The nurse finally arrives and takes Dante away. But the drama does not end there. In fact, it is only starting. We observe the chaos and endless cycle of stupidity and inefficiency that exists in hospitals, continuously over-worked and under staffed. We truly believe that there is no hope for Dante. All the people around him keep telling him that. The film’s title is a reminder that Dante Lazarescu will die. But the truth is he died a long time ago. Dante himself stopped caring for his health and in return, society left him out in the cold. In reality, he is merely going through the motions of a formal medical death.

This movie has been called a dark comedy but I never looked at it that way. Yes, some of the things we observe in this movie are so absurd that you can’t shake your head in disbelief. But the truth is, these things are not isolated to Romania only. Such hospitals exist in all countries around the world, including Canada and North America. Yes even in Canada, people are left to rot in the emergency ward for hours. Public health care system, after all. We live in a world where spending billions in weapons is standard practice but spending money on health care is not important enough. We live in a world where the drug companies keep reaping profits at the expense of others. If someone has a pain, they are injected with drugs. The pain will eventually go away, but the body starts to rot, slowly, one organ at a time. This is Dante’s hell, his inferno. And we are there to watch. Should we call this movie a comedy or a tragedy? In the West, we can call this tragedy a comedy because maybe some critics feel that since we are isolated from the events on the celluloid that we can freely enjoy the hell ride. Heck, even I am rating this movie. But I don’t feel right in calling this even a dark comedy and I certainly don’t feel the trailers used in North America give a correct portrayal of the movie. Ofcourse, how else can this movie be marketed?
The truth is that every minute of this slow movie is absorbing and engaging because it drips with realism. We can understand the people around Dante, we see their selfishness. The argument I often hear in defense about Doctors indifferent behavior is that doctors often have to be cold, otherwise they won’t be able to do their jobs; if the doctors get emotionally attached to a patient, they might not be able to operate on the person. That is a valid point. A human body is just a lump of tissue. One smelly body is just like another. No emotion, no compassion. But then are the physical dead being operated on by the emotionally dead? Yes, in a cruel twisted logic. Hospitals are a messy place. Why? Our society has let them become so.

In the final scene, Dante finally finds peace. He is lying waiting for his operation. It is all silent around him as he lays on the cold table, in his hospital clothes. Will he survive? Or is he nodding off to his death? It does not matter. We have seen enough at this point. Fade to Black.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Art and Analyze

What is art for one is junk for another and what is junk for one is sublime art for another! Movies keep affirming the fact that there are indeed cultural differences in this world and that different cultures will always intrepret movies in their own way. Take for example, the recent piece done on Ram Gopal Varma in Film Comment . Now, in recent months, American critics have been paying attention to Ram Gopal Varma and swallowing his movies up as an art form. There was a time (it seems ages ago) that I paid attention to Bollywood via a North American angle. I managed to get some articles published as well, but eventually I tired of it. No matter what spin one put on it, at the end of the day Bollywood is still an industry. It won't ever change. It can't because where there is money and profit involved, there will always be the invisible hand of the producer involved. No Bollywood movie is (and will be for that matter) free from outside forces and completely a director/writer's vision!

While Ram Gopal Varma seriously strives to make different movies, at the end of the day, his movies are mere factory productions. His gang movies are not original. In fact, he has taken real life gangsters in Mumbai and morphed their story as a Bollywood film. But you won't find him admiting that, even though it is common knowledge who his movies are based on. Why this double edged secrecy? On one end, he makes sure the movie does not poke fun of the real characters lest the gangsters get upset. It appears that he pays homage to the gangsters and gets their approval. And on the other hand, his movies get praise for being original & gritty. The end result is that he manages to appease everyone, especially a growing legion of fans outside of India. Playing all sides? All about perception!

Getting back to that Film Comment article. This one line bothered me:
"And his musical version of Ayn Rand’s The FountainheadI[sic], Naach (04), with dance standing in for architecture, is all snarling attitude and empty platitudes." I admired Naach to some extent and it does feature some wicked performances. Yes it was refreshing to see a director make a movie that he knows will not be a commerical hit. But it disturbs me that such a work can be compared to The Fountain head . If that is the case, then every single Indian parent depicted in Bollywood movies can be compared to Howard Roark. I know I am getting carried away. The rest of the article does indeed contain some correct comparisons and shows understanding of other RGV movies. This is why movie reviews can't ever be objective, there will always be subjective elements that will creep in. I have been guilty of this in the past as well.

I have been told I am biased when it comes to Bollywood. I don't believe biased is the word. I have gone through all the stages when it comes to Bollywood films:
Stage One: I grew up in admiration of the industry.
Stage Two: I feel in love with the stars and was star-struck in my teens.
Stage Three: I eventually grew up and discovered real cinema outside of the narrow confines of Bollywood.
Stage Four: I managed to find my way back to true Indian cinema that lay in the four corners of the country and was in some cases found buried deep within the ashes of Bollywood (Guru Dutt, what a genius!).
Stage Five: And at the end of it, I believe I can balance my love of Indian movies, be it Bollywood or a Bengali movie, along with my love for International cinema.
But I can't be expected to go ga-ga over anything Bollywood. Sometimes, I can be tempted by it. I admit it. But given a choice between an independent Indian movie and a big factory production, I will first give the independent Indian movie a look. Because if the independent movie does become a hit, then it will be inevitable that director will ever make a good movie again. He will be easily seduced by the lure of the flashy industry. Cue dance. Kareena impersonating Helen, standing in the doorway. The newly acclaimed director walks toward her and closes the door. Fade to Black.

Thursday, October 19, 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.

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!!!