CINELATION | Movie Reviews by Christopher Beaubien
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Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) 2018 Capsule Reviews

Written by Christopher Beaubien • October 15, 2018 • Start the Discussion!

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ASH IS PUREST WHITE

Zhangke Jia’s Ash is Purest White bares witness as a young couple’s commitment to a criminal code and each other is thoroughly tested by the passage of time. The finest moments are when Tao Zhao’s character improvises her inspired grifts. The latest by Zhangke Jia doesn’t rise to the sublime and astonishing developments of his previous masterwork Mountains May Depart (2015), which will blow your mind by taking its premise farther than most filmmakers dare. The proverbial volcano in ASH trembles, but doesn’t erupt. In a riveting fight sequence, you will also see how motorcycle helmets can be put to brutal use.

AT WAR

Stéphane Brizé’s Measure of a Man (2014) stars Vincent Lindon as an unemployed family man enduring many indignities in a jobless market. The latest At War is a thematic continuation where Lindon leads a workers’ strike against capitalist exploits and gaslighting. Like a fly-on-the-wall Frederick Wiseman doc, At War is full of long-held meetings that gradually deepen with ideological conflict, obstruction and clarity. It is a slow burn where tempers, betrayals and resolve rise to a boil. A demanding and enraging experience.

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COLD WAR

Filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski reunites with cinematographer Lukasz Zal in Cold War. Stark and gorgeously lit black-and-white film is free to move with its enigmatic, yet rebellious lead Zula (Joanna Kulig) as opposed to the resolute static camera reflecting the enigma that is the title character (Agata Trzebuchowska) in the masterpiece Ida (2014). The space and the world surrounds and bewilders Ida who is immobilized by her lost identity. The camera has to keep up with Zula.

I am already looking forward to seeing Cold War again if only to savor the look and the music (My God! The Music!) that transforms from Polish street folk singing to rock ‘n’ roll right along with the lovers Zula and Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) over 15 years in a mere 85 minutes. The love affair between Zula and Wiktor deserves to placed alongside the one in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1989) where national identity and restrictive boarders tightens like a snake’s embrace. The fiery bond between them is like a tongue fused to a frozen pole. The night club sequence that unleashes Bill Haley & His Comets’ Rock Around the Clock is one the great standouts of 2018. That one alone makes it worth the price of admission.

DOGMAN

Oh baby! I had a blast watching Dogman, a surreal, shrewd and gritty black comedy about the perks and dangers of making friends with a pit bull of a man. It is by Matteo Garrone who continues his Grimm fairy tale streak with Reality (2012) and Tale of Tales (2015). Matteo Garrone’s Dogman presents such a dark fantastical world populated by caricatures and grotesqueries. Actors Marcello Fonte and Edoardo Pesce rise to challenge of portraying a memorably twisted pair. This movie is so extreme it could have been animated by Sylvain Chomet.

THE FAVOURITE

Yorgos Lanthimos owns me. The Lobster (2015) and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) are the very best films in recent years. His latest is aptly titled The Favourite, a ravishing, tongue-slicing comedy of domination set in the monarchy of Queen Anne (played for keeps by Olivia Colman). The sumptuous cruelty and haughty wit in this aristocratic English setting is like Lanthimos stepping firmly on the foot of Peter Greenaway. Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are splendidly toxic rivals that play their characters passive aggressively like it was their own goddamn movie. Keep your backs to walls and relish their competition for power.

If ever there was a movie to sit up front under an enormous move screen, it is The Favourite. Lanthimos and DOP Robbie Ryan are in love with bulbous shot-making wide lenses and extremely low angles. The sniff neck goes well with the towering experience. Film composer Yorgos Mavropsaridis has collaborated with Lanthimos since Dogtooth (2009), a valentine to brainwashing loved ones. They release classical music from Pandora’s box to triumph the powers of hell to. The use of the organ in The Favourite sounds like a grunge guitar.

FUGUE

Agnieszka Smoczynska’s Fugue (Fuga) is a film experience that frustrates me. The premise of an amnesiac who reluctantly assumes her role as wife and mother is very appealing to me. Especially since I love films like Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Writer/director Smoczynska is obviously a very talented filmmaker whose debut The Lure (2015) is so wonderfully odd and darkly funny. Her latest Fugue is more serious and exudes a morose atmosphere, yet it held me at a distance. I applaud any filmmaker who takes risks and makes another film unique from her last. I am also open to films that suspend me until the very end to sort out my experience. Those types of challenging films can yield great rewards so long as the viewer puts in the effort. Ultimately the reason why the heroine (Gabriela Muskala) went off the map with another identity left me underwhelmed. I wish the film had taken these characters further into more interesting and unspeakable places since the final scenes possess such an inevitable despair.

HOLIDAY

Isabella Eklöf’s feature debut Holiday presents a formidable, exacting and uncompromising new filmmaker. Fans of Breillat and Haneke should flock to this brutal story of a “princess” selling her body and soul. It’s heartbreak in pop colour.

Plays today at 4:30pm.

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THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT

Some of you may disagree, but I found Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built to be a bold, serene, funny and artful rumination on pure evil. It felt like much of cinema has led up this satirical film – Drano for the soul. Matt Dillon deserves so much adulation for bringing such comic touches and zen-like vibes into the very outlandish creation that is Jack. He may have garnered nominations a few years back when people could more openly appreciate the nerve and skill he displays for this role.

Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Gråbøl and Riley Keough are all game here. Each of them perform with such sly wit, aplomb and strong pathos. They remind me of Jennifer Connelly’s inspired turn in Virginia (2010) where playing dumb well requires high intelligence. Riley Keough strikes me as the next Jennifer Connelly. Just look at her film credits. She just keeps choosing one interesting project after another.

LAST SUMMER

I had the pleasure of watching the world premiere of Jon Jones’ Last Summer, an elegiac drama of lost childhood innocence in the 1970s. It is very perceptive on how a self-centered boy deals with violent trauma and trying to keep his friends together. The movie is good corn laced with disillusioning brutality. My only quibbles are the adults require more dimension, especially the way one pivotal supporting player’s personal crisis comes across as a convenience instead of a graver reckoning for the young hero. One of the things I’ll treasure about Last Summer is the way the audience screamed when a moment of horrifying violence interrupts the idyllic existence of the boys.

It ain’t George Washington (2000), but it’s well worth seeing for yourself.

Plays again this Monday at 4:15pm.

LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT

Bi Gan’s beguiling and lulling film noir dream Long Day’s Journey into Night requires a good night’s rest and patience to waft through its air. The last shot is an hour-long 3D wonder that will daze and amaze. Easily the best use of 3D since Mad Max: Fury Road. However, the most arresting sequence for me takes place outside the 3D part. Lit with neon blues and crimson-pinks in one static shot, a young man stares out with blood-shot, tear-streaming eyes as he consumes a whole apple including its pit.

Eat your heart out, Rooney Mara.

NOME DI DONNA

Marco Tullio Giordana’s admirable Nome Di Donna (Name of a Woman) centres on a woman (Cristiana Capotondi) fighting against a sexually harassing boss and his power-wielding enablers. A relevant, yet timeless character drama loaded with thoughtful touches. Kudos to actor Valerio Binasco for playing an especially loathsome creep who revels in mind games and exploiting his privilege. He disappears so thoroughly in his character that one woman in audience shouted “Asshole!” at the screen. The choice of song that ends NOME DI DONNA may be polarizing in its force, however, it resonated with me. What sent an greater chill down my spine was the last note that writer/director Giordana leaves. It is a truthful one.

NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW

Jesús Torres Torres’ No One Will Ever Know is a lovely, visually enchanting ode to the dreams that movies inspire in kids as well as their mothers fighting for better lives. The sweeping camera moves like the wind. The black-and-white photography for the spaghetti western sequences are very striking. The lush colour photography is well done. It is no wonder that the director Jesús Torres Torres has a background as a cinematographer. For those who are enchanted by the black-and-white sequence where the cowboy settles down with the mother and child for a while, I would highly highly recommend an infectious and sweet fantasy called A Boy and His Samurai (2010). The lead actress Adriana Paz plays the mother in No One Will Ever Know. She was also terrific in Andres Clariond’s Hilda (2014), a cheerfully sadistic and whip-smart thriller that deserves a bigger audience.

Plays again October 3rd at the Rio Theatre.

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PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF DESIRE

One of the scariest and saddest movies of 2018 is Hao Wu’s whiplashing documentary People’s Republic of Desire depicting China’s populace as a cult hypnotized by the worshipping frenzy of a live-streaming pyramid scheme. An obscene amount of wealth, eyeballs and self-esteem are thrown frivolously into the digital fire. The online celebrities competing madly against virtual loserdom are robbed of their bodies and minds. This is a dystopian shocker that is coming right for you.

PETRA

I got chills watching Jaime Rosales’ Petra, a twisted mystery of emotional abuse and family ties. It features one of the best villains played with Machiavellian sadism by Jaime Rosales, his first film credit. That character of is worthy of Niels Arestrup. Rosales displays the most interesting direction by having the camera constantly slither and search around the scene with glacial, yet attentive observation. Every action and deceit feels imminent and tragic.

This wonderful thriller plays again on October 6th – 6:30pm.

RELAXER

Joel Potrykus’ Relaxer is such innovative and shrewd black comedy that I wish it could have gone as long as a Tarkovsky epic if only to see what new circles of Y2K hell its slacker would have his face pressed against. If you are curious what a Beavis and Butthead live-action movie would be like, Relaxer gives you that and much, much more. It takes you into the cherry soda-starved mouth of madness and wants to plays for eons. And its funny as fuck.

There is a cosmic cruelty that befalls its gamer (played – more like programmed – by Joshua Burge) who goes to superhuman lengths not to get off the couch indefinitely. It is a searing story of survival for the mentally stunted and cowed. Who can’t relate to that? In lesser hands, this movie set in entirely in a a grungy living room would have people smugly suggesting it make a good short. Joel Potrykus knows how a prison can become an absorbing experience. His beautifully executed direction and confidence with long-held shots are key.

SHOPLIFTERS

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters is such sad movie because it knows how outcasts are capable of giving tremendous love that they so crave. People have to make their own families. It is a very quiet film that requires more rumination afterward. Shoplifters is closer in spirit to Kore-eda’s own Nobody Knows (2004) about children who must survive in their homestead having been abandoned by their mother. The dread and guilt of being caught by the law is omnipresent. It tightens the heart like a clenched fist. In a skewed way, Shoplifters may be the most tender depiction of belonging to a cult.

An additional screening was recently added on October 10th – 6:30pm.

TRANSIT

I really loved Transit, the latest film by master filmmaker Christian Petzold. It is a richly layered thriller full of nuance on the spiritual weight of dislocation, futility, being hunted and harbouring secrets. Petzold continues to excel in economic storytelling in order to deliver much more cerebral complexity and devious developments. Halfway in the film, I thought Transit would make a great companion piece to Barbara (2012), yet it has much darker areas to explore on its own. The theme of ghosts that occupies Petzold’s Gespenster Trilogy (The State I Am In, 2000; Gespenster, 2005; YELLA, 2007) returns to Transit and left me feeling marked. This is a must-see.

It plays again on October 8th – 3:45pm.

UNDER THE SILVER LAKE

I grinned incessantly throughout Under the Silver Lake, a polarizing cult movie that has the nerve to be goofy, meandering, operatic and high on style. Best of all, it never wants to end. David Robert Mitchell’s auteurism is in full bloom.

Plays again on October 5th.

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