CINELATION | Movie Reviews by Christopher Beaubien
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The 28th Annual Vancouver International Film Festival 2009 Opens

Written by Christopher Beaubien • October 01, 2009 • Start the Discussion!


One of the many upsides to living in a beautiful city like Vancouver (besides the freshest tap water this side of the Pacific Ocean) is that it holds one of the five biggest film festivals in North America. The Vancouver International Film Festival opens today. About 640 screenings of the 360 films to come from eighty countries will be shown over the next sixteen days (October 1 – October 16). That means we Vancouverites and visiting film buffs can see movies as far as award-winners at Cannes, Telluride (TIFF), et al. to those that will never get distribution here. Without the interference of a ratings board, anything goes. Along Granville Street, and from Seymore to Howe, the cinemas are our roller coasters, our bumper cars, our Tilt-A-Whirls. It’s a good comparison seeing as how the line-ups won’t be any different.

I am still disheartened that Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime (2009), a semi-sequel to his wonderful Happiness (1998), is not playing in the festival. After it played last month at Telluride to a very warm reception, Life During Wartime didn’t get distribution like so many others. Unless Solondz distributes it himself or keeps selling to those willing to take a risk (Hello Lions Gate Films!), it might be a long while to view. On the bright side, the Coen Brothers’ new film A Serious Man will have a Sunday morning sneak preview at the Park Theatre on October 11 before opening nationwide on October 16. The Coen film, unlike Telluride, will not be part of the VIFF. I am catching the Sunday screening so for me, it is part of the festival.

What I also find interesting is that Peter Greenaway’s lecture piece Rembrandt’s J’accuse (2008) is playing at VIFF, whereas its dramatic companion feature Nightwatching (2007), also by Greenaway, had a limited theatrical run in Vancouver last April. I am confident that Nightwatching will be among the very best films of my 2009 list. I initially thought that this release of Rembrandt’s J’accuse was flawed considering that both Nightwatching and Rembrandt’s J’accuse were available for purchase as a two-disc special edition two weeks prior. It just so happens that I had to send for the DVD set on Amazon because there were no copies available for purchase at HMV or Videomatica despite the original release date. No biggie. I just hope there is a bigger turn out for Rembrandt’s J’accuse than I saw for Nightwatching.

While scanning the film schedules for more screenings I could squeeze in between those I’ve ordered in advance, I noticed a number of film titles that are being recycled from past ones — even classics. Here are some trivial findings:

  • Jean Luc Goddard’s Breathless (2009) | Yang Ik-Joon’s Breathless (2009)
  • Luis César Amadori’s The Headless Woman (1947) | Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman (2008)
  • Anne Fontaine’s How I Killed My Father (2001) | Xavier Dolan’s I Killed My Mother (2009) — Close enough.
  • Albert Brooks’ Mother (1996) | Joon-ho Bong’s Mother (2009)
  • Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog (1955) | Ann Hui’s Night and Fog (2009)
  • Rob Reiner’s North (1994) (Awful movie…) | Rune Denstad Langlo’s North (2009)
  • Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1929) | Yesim Ustaoglu’s Pandora’s Box (2009)

I’m kicking off the VIFF tonight with Lars von Trier’s controversial and ultra-violent new film Antichrist. Hopefully, the intensity of the experience will border on the likes of Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl (2001) and Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007). Not only do I anticipate massive walkouts, but sprints for the exit! I find it somewhat ironic considering that the first film I ever saw at a VIFF was The Five Obstructions (2003), which was directed by both Jørgen Leth and, yes, Lars von Trier. For an hour, I waited in line with my fellow film buffs. Feelings ran high, from eager anticipation to confusion – what would the latest Von Trier film be like?

The light rainfall eventually took mercy on my trusty newsboy hat, which I bought that very night — the rain poured hard an hour ago. I am amused by how easy it is to get into a conversation with a ticket holder either behind or ahead of you. We’re all here for the same reason. Suddenly a cute brunette got in line behind me and before I could get drunk on endorphins, she asked if this was the rush line. It wasn’t. I told her so, then watched her cross the street and that was that. As Pepe Le Pew would say, Le sigh.

The night sky slowly turned from black to a greenish gray and my mind began to play a David Shire score as radio listeners were calling in about the Zodiac killer. Occasionally, a homeless person would offer to sing for loose change. One man played the spoons, slapping them on his knee – now there’s a lost art. The time passed quickly as I read chapters four and five of Our Cancer Year by Harvey “American Splendor” Pekar and his wife Joyce Brabner.

As I sat in one of the stiff yet cushy seats courtesy of Empire Granville 7 Cinemas, I noticed the bumps and winkles of my winter jacket laid inside-out against my back. I had only two consolations. One: I was pushed forward from my seat, sitting at complete attention and my spine was so vertically straight that a Ghostbuster could slide down it. Two: Depending on how good the movie is, I would be oblivious to any discomfort.

Not that I need my jacket to tell me whether a movie is bad or not.

Every year, the VIFF and the agency TBWA\VANCOUVER have prepared a few new shorts to promote their sponsors and open each film. These spots have a weird and comical vibe to get the audience more relaxed for the (presumably radical) feature presentation. Here are 2009 editions:

Vancouver International Film Festival | “Disturbing”

Vancouver International Film Festival | “Subtitles”

My personal favourite.

Vancouver International Film Festival | “Sexuality”

I wished that this video was extended to show the obligatory sponsor logos (Visa, Rogers, etc.) to the sound of bedsprings and *YEE-ONN!*s.

Take a look at the “27th VIFF Openers” from last year.

I wonder out of the selected films I will see which ones will be my favourites from last year’s VIFF: Let the Right One In (2008), Wendy and Lucy (2008), Sita Sings the Blues (2008), and Happy-Go-Lucky (2008). I also shudder at the thought of enduring another Paruthiveeran (2008) — one of these days I’m going to write a review on Ameer Sultan’s mess of a movie and risk boiling my blood pressure. On my agenda, I’m looking forward to Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman, and Lee Daniel’s Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire amongst others.

Viva VIFF!

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