Thursday, September 30, 2010

CIFF 2010, Days 1-7

Oh the sunlight. Beautiful sunlight. All summer long instead of a clear blue sky & sunshine, my lovely city got nothing but dark gloomy rain packed cloudy skies. So finally after a 3 month delay, summer has arrived. And she has decided to oust the traditional chilly winds that greet CIFF every year. As a result, the good weather has certainly made it fun to watch films and made for a pleasant stroll in between the different venues.

The films at the 11th Calgary International Film Festival have been very very good. 7 days and 16 films later, I have only seen one misfire. That's a pretty good rate.

Filmi list so far

Score: A Hockey Musical (2010, Canada, Michael McGowan)
The Illusionist (2010, UK/France, Sylvain Chomet)
Freetime Machos (2009, Finland/Germany, Mika Ronkainen)
Armadillo (2010, Denmark, Janus Metz Pedersen)
Secret Reunion (2010, South Korea, Jang Hun)
Heartbeats (2010, Canada, Xavier Dolan)
The Happy Poet (2010, USA, Paul Gordon)
A Screaming Man (2010, Chad/Belgium/France, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun)
Nora's Will (2008, Mexico, Mariana Chenillo)
The Sentimental Engine Slayer (2010, Mexico/USA, Omar Rodriguez Lopez)
Small Town Murder Songs (2010, Canada, Ed Gass-Donnelly)
Certified Copy (2010, France/Iran/Italy, Abbas Kiarostami)
Curling (2010, Canada, Denis Côté)
Incendies (2010, Canada, Denis Villeneuve)
A Simple Rhythm (2010, Canada, Tess Girard)
Rec 2 (2009, Spain, Jaume Balagueró/Paco Plaza)

Oh Canada!

Denis Villeneuve's Incendies is a beautifully crafted film that packs a mighty emotional punch. The film unfolds in multiple chapters, with each chapter profiling the principle characters and uncovering a smaller piece of the puzzle. As a result, the viewer arrives at the final destination more or less the same time as the two main characters in the film. The film starts and ends in Canada but the rest of the film dives deep into the Middle East and is the kind of cinema that Canada needs more of, films that use second generation Canadian characters as a launching pad to explore their complex cultural background.

Xavier Dolan's second feature Heartbeats is playful, funny and manages to neatly tuck in cute cinematic homages especially to the French New Wave. It is remarkable that someone so young can make such good films but Dolan is a national treasure.

Denis Côté has gone with the bold choice to give Curling a cold chilly look. As a result, it takes a while to warm up to the material but once one gets past the cold exterior, then one can admire the film's tale of a father's resolve to raise his daugther away from society. In a way, Curling is a cousin of the Greek film Dogtooth in showing how incorrect parental decisions can alter a child’s life. The father in Curling makes the decision to not send his daughter to school because he fears that she would be corrupted by other kids. As a result, his 12 year old girl is out of touch with everyday reality and a bit weak in basic math. The girl’s need for human contact is highlighted in one key sequence where she comes across a pair of frozen dead bodies in the wilderness. The daughter does not tell her father about the bodies but goes to visit the corpses day after day as it is the only contact she has with someone other than her father. Like his daughter, the father himself is lonely and needs human contact. Eventually the father realizes his mistake of isolating both himself and his child but he goes about making changes in small fragments. The snowy visuals are a constant in the film but as the movie progresses, rays of sunshine start to filter in, highlighting that even in an isolated Canadian town, winter will eventually come to an end.

Small Town Murder Songs uses the power of music to elevate a simple story into a grander tale about redemption and rebirth. The opening gala film Score: A Hockey Music is pure fun, packed with a few surprizing but welcome Canadian cameos.

There are still a few other worthy Canadian titles that I have yet to see and I have already praised the wonderful Taylor's Way which has 2 upcoming shows in the festival.

Overall, the Canadian film category has been very strong this year.

Best films

Picking one best film is a tough choice from the plenty of great titles seen but so far, Kiarostami's Certified Copy and Chomet's The Illusionist are front runners with Incendies not too far behind.

Kiarostami is on top of his game in the witty dialogue driven Certified Copy. Aptly descibed as "a Tuscan Before Sunset" in the film's write-up, the movie is also a beautiful variation on Guerín's In the City of Sylvia. In Guerín's film, there is no dialogue between the male and female leads and a distance is maintained between the two as the male follows the female. There are some scenes in Certified Copy where the two characters maintain their distance but most of the film is about the two walking side by side engaged in passionate discussion about relationships and marriage. One can imagine the dialogue in Kiarostami's film would be exactly what would have taken place had the characters in In the City of Sylvia talked to each other. Certified Copy is brilliantly acted and the direction is perfect in showing us either the Tuscan beauty or Juliette Binoche's charming face at the right moments.

A Screaming Man is a quiet powerful film that highlights the tough emotional decisions that occur in a state of constant war. Nora's Will is a wonderful film that manages to generate plenty of laughs despite starting with an act of suicide. Armadillo is a no holds barred film that literally gets in the line of fire to bring us an unfiltered look at the day to day dangers that greet Danish soldiers on their Afghan mission.

Worst film

No contest for this category. The worst film so far, clearly by 100 miles, is Rec 2. This horrible sequel undoes all the good work that went into the first film Rec which was a smart and edgy film. Rec 2 is covered from the perspective of three cameras. The first camera heads into the apartment building moments after the first film ends. Yet this first camera provides nothing but video game like shots of bullets and possessed demons running around trying to bite anyone in site. Yawn. The second camera tries to provide footage from a different angle but is clearly present to extend the wafer thin story. After the second camera's battery dies, we get the crucial third camera, which requires the necessary night vision feature to generate some final moments of tension. When all is said and done, this mess of a story is still not concluded which leaves the door open (ha ha) for a possible third film.

More films...

The last few days have some great films on tap. Of course, top of my list is Uncle Boonmee. The big question will be how many more films I can eat up. Thanks to a few additional screenings, there is the possibility of watching 7 movies again on the final Saturday. But this time around, I am not keen to take up the challenge. After watching 7 films in 2009, I decided that experiment was just a once in a lifetime attempt. Although this time around, the running time of the 7 films is shorter than the 2009 bunch, meaning, a person would end up spending 10.5 hours watching 7 films, and not the 12+ hours I spent last year.

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