Saturday, October 12, 2013

CIFF 2013

Every year I look forward to the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) in order to catch-up with some of the best Canadian & foreign films from around the world. However, this year due to unforeseen events I missed almost half the festival. Thankfully, the damage was not that bad as most films had multiple screenings which allowed me to catch an excellent crop of films.

Here are my top 10:

1. Like Father, Like Son (2013, Japan, Hirokazu Kore-eda)

A beautiful and quietly devastating film that shows the two-way impact parents and children have in evolving each other’s personalities. It is well known that children absorb what they observe from their parents but very few films show how parents are often forced to change, for the better, because of their children. Hirokazu Kore-eda has continued the cinematic tradition of Yasujirô Ozu but has also managed to carve out his own style. One of the year’s best films!

2. Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (2013, Canada, Denis Côté)

Denis Côté toys with the audience by making a specific genre film under the cover of another genre. I am not going to reveal what the specific genre is because it is worth seeing this film cold without any prior knowledge. Côté clearly alerts the audience what to expect but his alarms are mistaken for humor which is why when the film does eventually reveal its true nature, it jolts the senses.

3. The Fifth Season (2012, Belgium/Holland/France, Peter Brosens/Jessica Woodworth) 

The two directors earlier work Khadak was infused with color but all color is mostly drained out of The Fifth Season in order to depict a bleak winter like feeling. Such a depiction works because this transmits the desperation and misery that hangs over the village. At times, the film hinges on dark comedy mostly associated with the cinema of Roy Andersson while some of the bar/tavern scenes and apocalyptic dread evokes Béla Tarr.

4. The Past (2013, France/Italy, Asghar Farhadi)

Examines the complicated and messy aftermath of a separation. As the film shows, a separation does not guarantee a better future but instead can lead one down a never-ending hole of misery.

5. Thou Gild’st the Even (2013, Turkey, Onur Ünlü)

This gorgeous black and white surrealist love story is unlike any film released in the last few years. It is packed with surrealist images that are seamlessly integrated within the ordinary fabric of town life. As a result, the film's blend of humor and shock results in a darker blend of comedy that most palates have not yet encountered.

6. Borgman (2013, Holland, Alex van Warmerdam)

The initial premise appears to be taking a page out of Haneke’s Funny Games but that is a red herring as Borgman takes multiple unexpected turns resulting in a remarkably unpredictable film.

7. Antarctica: A Year on Ice (2013, New Zealand, Anthony Powell)

A stunning and gorgeous film that covers a year long working assignment in Antarctica, capturing the tasks that are required for the workers, including their living quarters and various experiences. The end result is a perfect travelogue for a region which most people will never get a chance to visit. Essential viewing!

The film won both Best Documentary and Discovery Documentary Awards at CIFF 2013, with the two categories voted by the audience.

8. OXV: The Manual (2013, UK/Australia, Darren Paul Fisher)

A mathematical metaphysical coming of age film that incorporates romantic and apocalyptic notes. The underlying layer of science means this films forms a worthy companion piece to Upstream Color. OXV also shows that with some creativity, it is possible to create an engaging sci-fi world without any special effects or a large budget.

9. The Missing Picture (2013, Cambodia/France, Rithy Panh)

Rithy Panh has used a very creative method of mixing archival footage with clay figures to recount a painful and devastating moment in history, not only of his family, but of Cambodia. Such is the smart usage of Panh’s direction that after a while, the clay figures seem to be alive, inviting us to into their lives. Along with The Act of Killing, The Missing Picture shows the power of cinema to preserve history for generations to come.

10. The Tears (2013, Mexico, Pablo Delgado Sanchez)

Pablo Delgado Sanchez’s graduate film shows all the signs of a director whose work belongs to Contemporary Contemplative Cinema (CCC). The initial setting inside a Mexican apartment recalls Nicolás Pereda's Juntos but once the two brothers leave for camping to the countryside, the film recalls the earlier works of Lisandro Alonso. While Alonso’s film are about a solitary figure, the presence of two brothers creates a different dynamic in The Tears.

Strong & worthy viewings

Even though I missed a handful of films, 2013 proved to be an excellent balanced program for CIFF. All the 26 films I saw were worthy of inclusion and enriched the overall festival.

Here are some brief notes on a few of those other films, in no particular order:

The Grand Seduction (2013, Canada, Don McKellar)

A perfect opening gala film which uses a beautiful Canadian setting with an excellent cast to generate plenty of humor. The incorporation of Cricket & Lamb Dhansak enhances the film greatly.

In the Name of (2013, Poland, Malgorzata Szumowska)

At first, the film feels like an examination of a priest's challenge to balance his faith and inner desires. But there are two sequences which transform the film from a singular perspective to a larger examination of the religious establishment. The film starts off by showing that a rotten apple can spoil the barrel while the ending indicates that perhaps the whole barrel is now rotten.

Goltzius and the Pelican Company (2012, UK/Holland/France/Croatia, Peter Greenaway) 

Peter Greenaway's visual tour de force manages to creatively fuse theatre, literature & art thereby creating a feast for the senses.

Pandi (2012, Canada/India, Maria Saroja Ponnambalam)

The film takes us on an emotional ride with the director and her family as they put together the pieces surrounding her uncle Pandi’s death. Even though this is a personal tale, there are some universal themes the film explores, such as the desire to make movies. However, a significant aspect this film depicts is regarding mental health which is not openly discussed in some ethnic communities. The treatment of such a sensitive manner is handled in a dignified manner by the director.

After Tiller (2013, USA, Martha Shane/Lana Wilson)

A gut-wrenching film about people who seek abortion at a late stage (third-trimester) in their pregnancy and the doctors that help carry out such a procedure. The reasons some people go down this path are shown and their opinion is placed against those who call such an act murder. It is not an easy film to watch given the material. However, it is a well made documentary that tries to give multiple points of view, including the moral and ethical issues involved.

The Rocket (2013, Australia, Kim Mordaunt)

Set entirely in the beautiful locales of Laos, The Rocket is a heartwarming film that bursts with life. For people who rarely see foreign films, The Rocket is a perfect way to win them over and show the vibrant cinema that exists in other parts of the world.

The film won the audience narrative award at CIFF 2013 and should be a strong candidate to win the foreign film Academy Award in 2014.

Lily (2013, USA, Matt Creed) 

Takes a page out of the French New Wave as the mostly singular focus on Lily as she wanders the streets of New York evokes Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7. Matt Creed has done a very good job of drawing audience into Lily’s world and the film always maintains a positive hopeful tone throughout.


Sam Juliano said...

Wow, this is quite an exciting round-up here Sachin! Kore-eda is a natural for films about children and he's succeeded to that end more than once! Great to hear his new work impressed you more than any other film in the festival. I have heard about Farhadi's new film and about BORGMAN! The Antartica documentary is most intriguing too! AFTER TILLER just ran at the Film Forum. i couldn't quite manage it, but maybe it will return at the Cinema Village.

You have me all pumped up with this post my friend. As always, fabulous capsule write-ups too!

Sachin said...

Thanks so much for your support Sam.

Yes, this time Kore-eda has really hit it out of the park. Of course, he did that with Still Walking but that had a different feel to it.

I hope you get to see some of these films soon.