Here’s the problem facing anyone planning to attend a film festival held in a city as beautiful as Vancouver, British Columbia: Should you spend every waking moment seeing movies, or do you take advantage of everything else the city has to offer?
Considering Vancouver’s world-class restaurants, surrounding mountains, beautiful English Bay, art gallery, Stanley Park and the VanDusen Botanical Gardens, what kind of draw do 300 short and feature films from 50 countries hold?
Well, if we’re talking about fans of the 15th Vancouver International Film Festival, the draw is stronger than you might think.
Vancouver is a serious film city, and the 17-day VIFF is a serious festival. So attending some of the showings is one good way to augment a weekend stay.
As we head into the second weekend of this year’s event, two things are clear: One, as always, the films offer an intriguing alternative to standard Hollywood fare; two, based on a sampling of the opening weekend’s offerings, this year’s lineup is good even by the standards of a regular festival-goer.
Here’s are some highlights from the opening weekend:
“Mr. Reliable” - This little Australian comedy-drama is based on a real-life occurrence, a 1968 hostage episode that became the first such incident in Australian history. Colin Friels portrays an ex-con with limited intelligence, and Jacqueline McKenzie is his new housemate. He runs afoul of the law and then captures the imagination of the anti-authority crowd by resisting arrest in every way imaginable. ***
“Kissed” - (Showing up late, I was denied admission to this bizarre Canadian film. But Tim Mulligan, who once reviewed films at Gonzaga University, offered this view:) “Molly Parker is outstanding, near ethereal, as an introverted necrophiliac in this mesmerizingly ‘Lynchian’ tale about a woman obsessed since a young girl with death. Her romance with a med student is very smartly written. Hauntingly filmed, very funny.” ****
“Jude” - Director Michael Winterbottom adapts Thomas Hardy’s 19th-century novel “Jude the Obscure,” but don’t expect to see anything close to last year’s Jane Austen celebrations. Hardy took a grim view of life among the masses, of which the protagonist here is one. A stone mason, Jude (Christopher Eccleston) aspires to be a scholar. But the inflexibility of English society holds him down in career and, what’s worse, in his choice of mates. Eccleston is good, as is Kate Winslet (“Sense and Sensibility”). But Winterbottom does little other than capture Hardy’s dark view. **
“Death By Design: Where Parallel Worlds Meet” - Who would have thought that a movie about the life, and death, of the living cell would prove so entertaining and - don’t fall asleep now - educational? Blending interviews with noted scientists and shots of microscopic cell with stock footage from classic movies, the movie is a study of how closely aligned life is at every level. ****
“A Hot Roof” - This Korean comedy-drama resembles Australia’s “Mr. Reliable” (see above). The story of 10 women who, after accidentally killing a man whom they caught abusing one of their number, take to an apartment rooftop to avoid arrest. All the easy targets take hits - straight men are abusive jerks, gay men are understanding and sensitive, etc. - but the film feels fair. It’s more generally a statement condemning prejudice of all types than merely another example of male-bashing. ***
“Animal Love” - A bizarre and utterly hilarious Austrian documentary about the relationship between several working-class pet owners and their various dogs, rabbits and, in one case, ferret. The film ends up making a statement about the lengths people will go to as a way of making up for their inability to connect with other humans. **1/2
For those of you interested in making the eight-hour (at least) drive to Vancouver, you likely won’t be disappointed. Assuming the rain holds off, which it did the entire opening weekend, the city itself boasts enough beauty to warrant the trek.
And while you’re there, here are some movies you might want to check out:
“Scorpion Spring” - If you watched “A Time to Kill” and wondered what all the fuss was about concerning Matthew McConaughey, this little hardboiled mystery might clue you in. Most of the movie features a diverse cast of characters in search of a stash of loot, and McConaughey comes in only at the end. But he makes an impact.
“Troublesome Creek: A Midwestern” - This documentary about an impending farm sale in the Midwest has received critical acclaim from film festivals all over the world. This is one of those rare documentaries that give you insights about what life really is all about.
General admission tickets are $7 (Canadian), $5 for seniors and at all matinees. MasterCard and Visa phone orders are accepted. For ticket information, call (604) 685-8297. For schedule information, call (604) 685-8352.