Saturday, October 06, 2012

CIFF 2012 Wrap-up

The 13th Annual Calgary International Film Festival featured a mouth watering line-up of films from all corners of the world and excelled in both quality and quantity. Continuing the trend from last year, CIFF had encores of most films and added extra screening slots making it more convenient than ever before to catch the films. CIFF scheduled two weekday matinee screenings (2-2:30 pm, 4-5 pm) in addition to the two traditional weekday evening shows and also had a midnight film for all 10 days. These extra time slots opened the door for a dedicated cinephile to take in more than 50 films and at the same time made it a lot easier to see 40 films than previous years. I mention 40 films because this was a goal for a lot of friends in the past but they always fell short, sometimes ending up at either 36 or 39 films. I briefly played with the idea of making it to 40 films this year but I remembered the painful aftermath of seeing 30 films over 10 days a few years ago. So, I instead opted for a comfortable target of 20 films which allowed me to enjoy all the films with enough time for socializing and discussing films with fellow cinephiles.

Here are the 20 films seen in order:

Wrong (2012, USA, Quentin Dupieux)
The Day I Saw Your Heart (2011, France, Jennifer Devoldère)
See Girl Run (2012, USA, Nate Meyer)
Fat Kid Rules The World (2012, USA, Matthew Lillard)
Amour (2012, Austria/France/Germany, Michael Haneke)
Rust and Bone (2012, France/Belgium, Jacques Audiard)
The Misfits (2011, Mexico, Javier Colinas/Marco Polo Constandse/Jorge Ramírez Suárez/Sergio Tovar Velarde)

Reality (2012, Italy/France, Matteo Garrone)
Holy Motors (2012, France/Germany, Leos Carax)
As Luck Would Have It (2011, Spain/France/USA, Álex de la Iglesia)
No (2012, Chile/France/USA, Pablo Larraín)
Rebelle (2012, Canada, Kim Nguyen)
Battle of Warsaw 1920 (2011, Poland, Jerzy Hoffman)
Margarita (2012, Canada, Dominique Cardona/Laurie Colbert)

The World Before Her (2012, Canada, Nisha Pahuja)
Antiviral (2012, Canada/USA, Brandon Cronenberg)
I’m Flash (2012, Japan, Toshiaki Toyoda)
Mars et Avril (2012, Canada, Martin Villeneuve)
All In Good Time (2012, UK, Nigel Cole)
The Ambassador (2012, Denmark, Mads Brügger)

The relaxed schedule allowed me take something memorable from each of the 20 films and I am glad I was able to attend them. I hope to write longer about the films in the future but for now just some quick notes along with my top 5 films.

Top 5 Films in order of preference

1. Holy Motors: An incredibly wild and creative ride that effortlessly glides through all film genres. Leos Carax has managed to capture the essence of cinema from the silent era to contemporary times while playing homage to key genres throughout. This is pure cinema and proof for why films hold such sway over people.

2. The World Before Her: Back in 2001, I was lucky enough to see Nisha Pahuja’s debut documentary feature Bollywood Bound at CIFF. That lovely film proved Nisha to be a born filmmaker. And she has reaffirmed that with The World Before Her, a perfectly balanced and insightful film that examines two very different camps of thought in India. The two camps, beauty pageants & fundamentalism, contain the essence of issues that are both dividing and driving India. On one hand, western capitalist ideas are flowing through India while on the other hand, traditional religious and cultural values are trying to block the western tide. Nisha Pahuja examines these issues with an objective eye and treats her subjects respectfully thereby allowing them space to bare their souls. The end result is one of the best documentary films of the year, cleverly edited and infused with a refreshing soundtrack.

3. No: Pablo Larraín’s gripping account of the 1988 plebiscite that put an end to Pinochet’s dictatorship may be rooted in Chilean history but the political issues at the core of the film are relevant to any nation trying to break free from an oppressive regime. The film also wonderfully recreates the grainy video look of the 1980’s and surprizingly contains one of the most catchy songs of the year.

4. Reality: Matteo Garrone’s film starts with a mesmerizing wide shot of Naples which depicts the vast beauty of the city and proceeds to follow a few different characters and does not settle in on one particular person. This creates the illusion that the film plans to chart the lives of multiple people. However, that illusion is shattered when the camera sets its focus on Luciano (Aniello Arena) and shuts the rest of the world out. This microscopic examination of Luciano results in a devastating case study of a man who is so blinded by his quest for fame that he starts to lose grip on reality.

Luciano bears a close resemblance to a young Robert De Niro which coupled with the film’s topic echoes De Niro’s performance in The King of Comedy. However, Martin Scorsese’s film heads into darker territory while Garrone’s film maintains an air of fantasy about it due to a dreamy musical score combined with a few Felliniesque moments. Reality is not on the same wavelength as Gomorra but it is a remarkable film about society’s obsession with celebrities and how that can cause some individuals to throw their life away.

5. Rust and Bone: Matthias Schoenaerts plays a different shade of his tough character from Bullhead. In Bullhead, Schoenaerts is a physical force of nature but one who has trouble finding love because of a past which has scarred him for life. His character is still physically imposing in Rust and Bone but he has no trouble getting love and can pick up a woman at the drop of a hat. The Dardennes' style used by Jacques Audiard ensures that Schoenaerts and Cotillard’s characters are properly showcased thereby finding beauty in moments of brutality & pain. Also, the visual style is definite proof that Marion Cotillard is gorgeous without any make-up.

A few quick notes on some other films

I unfortunately missed the opening night gala for Midnight’s Children but thankfully I caught the Black Carpet & Closing Night Gala for two other creative Canadian films. The Black Carpet Gala, Antiviral, marked the fascinating debut of Brandon Cronenberg. The film looks at a not too distance future where society’s obsession with celebrity culture results in people lining up to buy meat grown from celebrity cells and happily injecting themselves with the same virus that a celebrity has. Given current addiction to anything celebrity related, such a scenario is not entirely unbelievable so full credit to Cronenberg for extrapolating the present in such a thoughtful film. Martin Villeneuve adapted his own graphic novels for the poetic and meditative Mars et Avril, CIFF's closing night gala film. The visually beautiful Mars et Avril proves that a sci-fi film can be made without any horror or mindless action scenes. Both Brandon and Martin come from famous Canadian cinematic families as Brandon is David Cronenberg’s son while Martin is Denis Villeneuve’s brother. However, both Brandon and Martin have successfully made their own mark with their debut feature films.

Amour: For the most part, a warm film infused with plenty of humour that is hard to recognize as a Michael Haneke feature. Therefore, Haneke has included a scene or two to jolt the audience to let them know that he is still pulling the strings lest someone get too comfortable with the film.

Wrong: Quentin Dupieux’s follow-up to Rubber is a delightful leap forward and is packed with plenty of witty absurd humor.

Rebelle: This powerful film was joint winner of the CIFF narrative audience award along with My Awkward Sexual Adventure. In the hands of another director, Rebelle could have resulted in a violent film but Nguyen has ensured that the camera is not fixated on blood but instead on the characters and their plight.

My earlier preview post mentioned some of the other stellar films at this year's festival including Found Memories, The Bright Day, Unfair World, Teddy Bear, Barbara and King Curling which are some of the best films of the year.

Overall, it was another vintage year even though I missed some worthy features. Still, I preferred to properly enjoy each film as opposed to running from cinema to cinema to see 3-4 films a day, something which I regularly did in past festival editions.