Best/Worst of VIFF 2014
The Vancouver International Film Festival is over and it’s time to showcase the very best and very worst of the 16 days. For VIFF’s own picks and awards click here . Note: these movies are not ranked in order. Rather, these are just the ones I wanted to bring to attention. ALSO, this is IN MY OPINION. You will probably have a different one – and I encourage you to leave a comment if you do! Let’s start with the worst, so we save the best for last, and end the festival on a good note!
I get it, I’m not supposed to judge a director just from seeing one film by him. While I’m going to try out other films by Cronenberg before I pass judgment on the man’s work at large. However, this is not a strong film when looking at it as a stand alone film. The contrivance is ripe in the air, the acting is either invisible or annoying, and the satire has no real bite. It’s less of an attack on Hollywood, then just a re-creation of what it represents.
What could have been an engaging post apocalyptic tale of survival turns itself down generic-ville. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, right down to the plucky kid who’s survived alone in the barren wasteland despite the fact he’s 10. The villains are so knee deep in caricature; you might find them in a cheesy superhero flick. The heroes are just so one note – you’ll fall asleep watching them. You can only watch people monotonously droning “please give me some water” so many times before you want to just walk out of the theatre.
Que Caramba Es La Vida
The worst thing a documentary can do is render its subject utterly boring. This doc about female mariachis in Mexico City forgets about it’s own subjects. We learn next to nothing about these people. On top of that, there’s so much filler in here it could make it’s own documentary. The capper is the last 30 mins that play like travel footage of The Day of The Dead. Completely without any comment from the mariachas may I add.
Sitting On The Edge Of Marlene
Even though this list isn’t ranked, I do believe that this is the film I can easily say is the worst of the festival. It wastes Suzanne Clement’s acting talents in a predictable and melodramatic role that is entirely unrealistic. The rest of the plot is so “look at me, I’m indie,” in an obvious ploy to rise above mediocrity. There’s even the wacky Jesus cult, and the neighbor that tries to sexually assault our teenage main character (rolls eyes). The ending is trying to be shocking, but instead it just comes off as stupid. In this one instance, it might have actually been better to go with the expected conclusion. With this turn, it just elicits a “fucking really?”
I watched this one twice over the course of the festival it was that good. It also screened 4 times over the festival (with 2 added screenings) – that’s how popular it was. Exploring expertly the question of who is to blame for a suicide at a prominent Slovenian high school, the film deals with the notions of scapegoats, guilt and herd mentality. No one is a hero here, as is no one a villain. Igor Samobor puts in an amazing performance as the withdrawn and stern Robert Zupan, who becomes an easy target for blame. There’s not just one viewpoint on suicide present here – every character has their own take. It’s not a clumsy message film about the pressures of the school system, because there’s no overbearing preaching. There’s certainly some points made about the system, but it’s not smacking you in the face with it over and over. The haunting question that sticks with you long after you see it – how much of blaming someone for a tragedy is for our own agenda?
This doc is on my list for how personal and unmanipulated it was. If there was any direction or set-ups from director Teodora Ana Mihai they aren’t apparent in this documentary about a 15 year old forced into being a mother to her six siblings. Mihai takes us into their lives without ever seeming like an intruder. An excellent entry into the fly on the wall genre.
I wish I could have seen this one twice. Xavier Dolan is one of my favorite filmmakers and he does not disappoint with Mommy. It’s a heartbreaking and harrowing tale of a mother trying to cope with her psychotic son. She knows there’s some good under there, but she is running out of time to bring it out. The acting is magnificent all around, and Suzanne Clement more than makes up for her turn in Sitting on the Edge of Marlene. The experimentation with the aspect ratio really ups the tension, choking both the characters and the audience. A must see from a talent that I hope continues to keep on trucking.
Slowly the world is becoming less and less multicultural as Western society envelops everything more and more. This doc about a tribe in Borneo that uses fishing to survive was pretty eye opening. The very fact that the central subject is only 10 years old but has to deal with things most adults think about in our culture resonates tragically. It also has breath taking underwater photography, and the showcase of a disappearing art – compression diving. These are things that might disappear in the future. Is it fair? No, but life isn’t.
A mind-bending collection of short stories – all within one building in Hungary! The director of Taxidermia brings us a film that is disturbing and bizarre, but that’s why you’ll love it. Dive deep into the madness the film contains because it isn’t going to let you go so easily. You probably won’t look at plastic wrap, dinner parties and childbirth in the same way. It’s a great manifestation of the constant societal fears we hold – motherhood, family life, the dangers of sex and more. Imaginative, funny and memorable, all the while making you shiver.
Force Majeure (Turist)
Ruben Ostlund has become one my directors to watch. Considerably more relaxed here than in 2011’s Play, Force Majeure is the tale of a marriage that is barely keeping together. One seemingly insignificant event during a ski vacation in the Alps sets the tear in the relationship off. What’s great is that we know this tear would occur even without the scare of the avalanche – but it’s made so much sharper because of it. Even with the taut drama between the family, there’s plenty of room for laughs as people hilarious fail to help bridge the gap. You only need to look at Kristofer Hivju’s character to start laughing. The best thing is that Ostlund doesn’t choreograph the fates of the characters, even up to the rolls of the credits. There’s even moments that put their mortality in question. It’s commendable that he’s able to do that in what is mostly a family drama.
The Incident (El Incidente)
This was another film that I saw twice at the festival. In fact, it was the film I closed the festival with! It’s an amazing first feature from Isaac Ezban that you will love if you dig sci-fi fantasy. The film firmly believes in it’s own mythology, and it stands out from the crowd because of that. Two different groups of people are suddenly locked in looping time traps, two criminals and a cop in a neverending stairwell, and a family on a road that seems to lead to the same landmarks over and over. Just how are these two “incidents” linked? It’s a huge thrill ride that acts like an intoxicant. I had a big dumb grin plastered on my face the whole time I was watching it – and well after I had left the theatre. This is what Inception should have been; fun and exhilarating yet smart. If you like Phillip K Dick or Alejandro Jodorowsky then this is up your alley. I’m eager to see what Ezban comes up with next.
So there you have it. If you thought any different about the films I’ve highlighted here, leave a comment below! Here’s to next years VIFF!