Wednesday, September 19, 2012

CIFF 2012

The Calgary International Film Festival kicks off today, Sept 20, with the much anticipated opening gala of Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children and runs until Sunday, September 30. As usual, the line-up is stellar and contains a healthy dose of worthy International, Canadian & American films. Also, new this year is a spotlight on 3D which contains a dazzling list of titles. I am looking forward to discovering some new gems and will put up a final report at the end of the festival but for now, here are ten favourite films that I have already seen.

Found Memories (Argentina/Brazil/France, Júlia Murat) 

A mesmerizing film that deceptively appears as a contemplative piece but contains another layer beneath the surface. The film starts off by capturing daily rituals in a sleepy Brazilian town, routines which are slightly disrupted by the arrival of young Rita. Rita does not attempt to alter the lives of the residents too much and keeps to herself while photographing sites and the town folk. However, she does not realize that her presence is critical to the residents, something which is only apparent by the film’s end. The ending, which puts a completely different spin on the overall film perception, haunts long in the memory because it forces one to rethink the lives of the residents and why they have continued to stay in a place cut-off from the rest of the world.


The Bright Day (India, Mohit Takalkar)

Mohit Takalkar, an experienced theatrical director, makes his cinematic debut with a beautiful, poetic and hypnotic film. The story revolves around Shiv who leaves his home to travel across India in search of his identity. There have been many films made about characters who undergo a self-discovery journey in India but those films were from the perspective of a foreigner arriving in India. On the other hand, The Bright Day shows a born and bred Indian who leaves to travel within his country. This makes a world of difference as the film does not focus on a checklist of items that must be shown in a film about India but instead dives deeply to uncover the torment that the main protagonist experiences. The visuals are striking as is the use of background music to enhance the film’s mythical tale. Plus, there are some smart touches such as using the same actor Mohan Agashe to play different characters that highlights how Shiv perceives people around him.


Unfair World (Greece/Germany, Filippos Tsitos)

This smart Greek film shows how two cops efforts to save an innocent person leads to murder thereby forcing them to cover their tracks. Each frame is packed with absurd comedic moments which are slowly revealed as the camera movements act like a drawn out punch line. The film’s comedic style is reminiscent of Aki Kaurismäki, Corneliu Porumboiu (Police, Adjective) and the recent wave of Greek films directed by Giorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, Alps) & Athina Rachel Tsangari’s (Attenberg). Appropriately, Unfair World stars Christos Stergioglou who played the father in Dogtooth. The film swept the top Greek Academy awards this year and is Greece’s foreign film submission to next year’s Academy Awards.


Teddy Bear (Denmark, Mads Matthiesen)

A charming and delightful film that depicts an award winning bodybuilder who not only lives with his mother but is afraid of her. Despite his hulk like appearance, he has no luck with love. So he decides to fly to Thailand to find a bride. This setup brings plenty of humor and credit to the director to allow events to follow naturally without any extra drama.


Mallamall (Canada/India, Lalita Krishna)

An excellent and timely Canadian documentary that looks at India's economic rise via the countless malls being constructed there. The film also highlights a Canadian connection crucial in developing these mega stores, something that is hardly ever seen in any newspaper headlines.


King Curling (Norway, Ole Endresen)

Finally, a well made curling film! This Norwegian film incorporates some of the competitive in your face humor from Dodgeball within a deadpan framework similar to that of fellow Scandinavians Bent Hamer (O’ Horten and Kitchen Stories) and Roy Anderson (Songs from the Second Floor, You, The Living).


Generation P (Russia/USA, Victor Ginzburg) 

This Russian film combines the fierce energy found in Night Watch, the Russian film based on Sergey Lukyanenko’s novel, with some of Mad Men’s creative advertising ideas and tops things off with a layer of religion, nationalism, philosophy and mythology. There are plenty of conspiracy ideas presented and even though not all those ideas are tied up at the end, there is plenty to chew on.


Barbara (Germany, Christian Petzold)

Christian Petzold’s pitch perfect film features an incredible performance from Nina Hoss in depicting life in East Germany. Hoss plays the titular character, a doctor, who is sent away from Berlin to the countryside as a punishment for seeking to leave for the West German side. The forced exile does not dampen her plans as she tries to still seek an escape to the West with her lover. However, her presence is closely monitored forcing her not to trust anyone and maintaining a distance from the hospital staff. But with time, she slowly starts to warm up to her job and starts to develop relationships which force her to rethink her situation. Petzold’s cool looking film is completely different to The Lives of Others because of its singular focus on Barbara and using her as a lens to examine others. The film is Germany’s submission to next year’s Academy Awards.


I Wish (Japan, Hirokazu Koreeda)

Hirokazu Koreeda has come up with another masterful work that looks at two young siblings who are forced to live across Japan due to their parent’s separation. It is always amazing to see how Koreeda manages to bring out such rich performances from his child actors. His style ensures that the acting is natural and the film maintains a perfect emotional tone without resorting to melodrama.


The Dynamiter (USA, Matthew Gordon) 

The film follows a young teenager Robbie who is forced to fend for himself and his younger brother in a harsh and unforgiving environment after the mother leaves the family. It is a steep learning curve for 14 year old Robbie as he finds himself as man of the house and at first, his actions and behavior land him in some trouble. But his teacher gives Robbie a chance to atone for his stealing and poor grades by asking Robbie to write an essay that will allow him to graduate. Robbie tries his best but his task is made harder by the arrival of an elder brother who is not the role mode that Robbie once thought. Full credit to director Matthew Gordon for maintaining a sense of hope in depicting the kids which makes for a fascinating character study. The Dynamiter is a visually stunning award winning film that belongs to the same category of New Realist American cinema such as Ballast and Wendy and Lucy, films that show a true slice of American life by focusing on characters completely absent from the big Hollywood productions.



Sam Juliano said...

Fantastic round-up here Sachin! I have only seen Kore-eda's film (I liked it to some degree) but am intrigued here by several others. Great work seeing all these and offering up such excellently-written pieces!

Sachin said...

Thanks for the kind words Sam. If possible, I urge you to see all these films as a lot of them will feature prominently in my best of the year film list.