Unlike its flashier cousin TIFF, the Vancouver International Film Festival revels in the sophomore efforts, the international gems, the homegrown talent, and the Cannes favourites.
Story by Rumnique Nannar
Every year, VIFF has brought movie-lovers the buzzed-about movies that are gearing up for awards season and this year is no different with the critically acclaimed Foxcatcher and Oscar favourite, Mr Turner.
Indulge your inner cinephile and plan those office-skiving days in your calendar to catch these must-see films at VIFF 2014.
Nagesh Kukunoor’s harrowing film about child prostitution and abduction breaks your heart, especially with the stunning performance by singer-Monali Thakur who adeptly transforms into the titular fourteen-year-old at the centre. Based on a true story of the first convicted case of child prostitution, the film follows Lakshmi who is sold into a brothel in the city where she encounters the vile Chinna (Kukunoor), and the torn brothel madame Jyoti (Shefali Shah) and navigates her way around the bureaucratic law system to find justice. It’s a very harsh film that takes an unflinching look at the hardships that child prostitutes endure, but Kukunoor works to create an authentic film that doesn’t feel preachy. The film has been winning rave reviews on the festival circuit, and beat out stiff competition at the Palm Spring’s Film Festival for the Best Narrative Feature.
White Bird In A Blizzard
Shailene Woodley is emerging as one of the best young actresses of her generation, but she’s shedding that teen-image with this mature role in pop auteur Gregg Araki’s White Bird In A Blizzard. Adapting Laura Kasishke’s novel, Araki is bound to skewer suburban ennui, and teenage angst with his characteristic style of high camp, dream-like imagery, and a killer soundtrack of 80s tunes by Depeche Mode, The Cure, and Cocteau Twins. It follows Kat (Woodley) as she investigates her mother’s disappearance, while keeping her family together amidst her growing sexuality. In any case, the film allows us to indulge in our love for Eva Green, who has the perfect platform for another gonzo performance, which is always a highlight.
If you’re a fan of a good old epic romance, then Zhang Yimou’s Coming Home won’t disappoint, as it reunites the director with his former muse Gong Li after a break of 8 years since the historical drama Curse of the Golden Flower. The film returns to Yimou’s themes of identity and repression on families affected by the Cultural Revolution like the conflicted unit at the centre of this romance. Chen Daoming is Yanshi, a controversial professor sent to a labour camp, while his wife Feng Wanyu (Li) fends for herself and daughter while he is away. Upon his return at the end of the Revolution, he’s heartbroken to realize that she suffers from memory loss and doesn’t remember who he is, so he resolves to revive her dormant and traumatic memories. It may read as a typical weepie, but with Yimou’s deft direction he’s able to mine the nation’s collective amnesia for this intimate and humane portrait of love and political upheaval.
Nas: Time is Illmatic
Nas’s seminal EP Illmatic is one of my favourite records ever, so a film devoted to the genesis and impact of the album in redefining hip-hop is one that can’t be missed, especially as it breaks it down track by track. While Nas has talked about the album countless times before, this documentary aims to give the viewer the intimate liner-notes, especially how a sample of the Japanese cast recording of Hair could become such a wicked sample on Halftime to the tough New York projects becoming a separate character in the songs. The documentary calls on Nas enthusiasts like Pharrell Williams, Alicia Keyes, Busta Rhymes, and more to explain the legacy of Illmatic on hip-hop and the sheer artistry of his lyrics and form. If there’s one documentary to see at VIFF, make sure it’s this one!
Triple Xavier Whammy – Mommy, Elephant Song, and Miraculum
We’re going to go out on a limb and declare our allegiance to Quebecois enfant terriblé Xavier Dolan and suggest that you join up too as VIFF is showcasing Dolan as divisive director in Mommy and improving and chilling actor in Elephant Song and Miraculum. Mommy looks to be a shoo-in for Canada’s entry to most Foreign Film award ballots, with its electric performances by Dolan’s actresses Ann Dorval and Suzanne Clément, and bold and provocative stylistic quirks. However, we’re more excited by Dolan’s starring turns in Elephant Song, an intimate psychological thriller and Miraculum, where Dolan dials it down as a nervous Jehovah’s Witness plagued with doubts.
Elephant Song might be sheer fun to witness Dolan terrorize a rather bewildered Bruce Greenwood with his chilling mannerisms and menacing charm. Dolan isn’t slowing down any time soon, as he’s clearly enjoying wearing that triple-threat hat, so do catch at least one of these three films as a refresher course on all things Xavier Dolan.
Yves Saint Laurent
Hooray for last-minute additions! This Cannes favourite was added to the VIFF roster just yesterday so that viewers get a chance to witness this decadently stylish biopic of the meticulous designer from his early apprenticeship at the House of Dior to his flourishing romance with partner Pierre Bergé. Unlike the dour and elegaic documentary L’Amour Fou on YSL, this biopic revels in the depicting how the iconic looks like the Mondrian shift dress came to be, and gives Laurent’s love story that passionate and grand scale that it deserves. Comedian Pierre Niney completes disappears into the role with his impish looks and commitment to Laurent’s darker and uneasy side. If you’re a fashion lover, then this is the perfect treat to see on the big screen.
The Riot Club
If you like your British artistocrats in period costume and stuffy dramas, then Lone Scherfig’s searing adaptation of Laura Wade’s acidly dark play Posh is bound to ruffle a few feathers. The film takes inspiration from the legendary Bullingdon Club at Oxford, which boasts the membership of Prince Edward VII (who had to promise not to indulge in their rituals of drinks and songs in 1913!) UK Prime Minister David Cameron, his Chancellor George Osbourne, and London Mayor Boris Johnson. It’s an dogged indictment of privilege and entitlement as new recruits (Max Irons and Sam Caflin) slowly unleash their terrible views on class, society, and the working class during one long debauched night of their initiation. Scherfig has rounded a fantastic cast of British leading men who admirably let themselves go and look devilishly handsome while spouting some vile things!
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Don’t let the title fool you, this gentle gem by Japan’s other anime maestro Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies) is one of the most beautiful animated films this year. Using watercolours that feature a painterly flourish and swirling colours, the film draws on Takahata’s stylistic quirks and themes for his swansong. It’s a wonderful device for the ancient folk tale of Princess Kaguya whose discovered inside a bamboo stalk by a childless couple who raise her to be a great beauty. If the rumours are true that Studio Ghibli won’t be making more original films for now, then what a finale they’ve gone out with in this gorgeously rendered tale of love, loss, and true beauty. If the rumours are true that both Takahata and Studio Ghibli partner Hayao Miyazaki are hanging up their pencils, then what a way to go out with this gorgeous film that ties all the themes of female empowerment, love, and true inner beauty that made Ghibli so revolutionary.
Vancouver International Film Festival runs from September 25 – October 10, 2014.