Once a year, Vancouver hosts a two-week film phenomenon where hundreds of portals open into alternate realities on theatre screens all over the city. Yup, the Vancouver International Film Festival is back from September 26th to October 11th, and ticket sales for the 38th annual event are now open!
This year’s festival includes over 300 films and events. That translates into as many opportunities for escapism and excuses for popcorn as a square meal. But where to start? Out of the overwhelming list of options we’ve narrowed it down to ten flicks that have us excited to get out of our own heads for a couple of hours at a time. We begin with…
Watching teaser clips for Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains is excruciating. This is obviously a film of such magnitude, moodiness and pacing that it requires full entrenchment in order to be fully appreciated. The family saga is equally epic in its cinematography and storyline (not to mention its length — it’s just over three hours long), so it’s no surprise that this dramatic work of art was inspired by a famous scroll painting, created during the Yuan dynasty by Huang Gongwang.
Two formidable French female actors – both of whose careers seem to have taken a pathological turn of late – are the driving forces of two must-see films on my list this year. Isabelle Hupert is the elegant and enigmatic centrepiece of Frankie, her most recent film to have a North American release since the disastrous Greta (which I’d personally like washed from my brain). In this titular role, Huppert plays a famous actress who devises a group getaway with her friends and family in order to facilitate her own mysterious and manipulative underlying intentions.
Also screening as part of VIFF’s Spotlight on France series is Who You Think I Am, starring Juliette Binoche. Here, Binoche dials back the perversity of her deranged High Life character, Dibs, to play Claire, a slightly less creepy but equally vengeful literature professor and divorcee to a cuckold. Claire’s scheme involves creating a younger avatar to reel in her ex’s roommate – an all too real life scenario that yields repeatedly unexpected results.
The latest from Noah Baumbach is a deliciously voyeuristic film bringing together two of the industry’s biggest Millennial movie stars, Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. The two thirty-somethings have both reached a crux in their respective careers, complicated by the fact that a) their job opportunities are a country apart, and b) they are married with a child. The film follows them as they navigate their divorce proceedings which are decidedly messy. For Baumbach Marriage Story is a return to a familiar theme but with a fresh cast of indie famous actors, new nuances to tackle and an entirely different generation to speak to.
Absurdly hilarious horror film master Bong Joon-Ho made history by being the first Korean film to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes with his most recent film, Parasite. It’s a story about the clashing of the classes – a sociological statement centred on a family of poor sociopaths who slyly infiltrate an upperclass household, only to have their plan upended. Joon-Ho is probably one of the most reliably provocative, titillating and amusing directors out there right now.
Documentaries don’t usually get me into a theatre, but this year’s programming includes a few compelling subjects that I think warrant a big screen viewing. If you love art and/or history then you need to see Beyond the Visible – Hilma af Klimt. This documentary about the artist effectively rewrites history through its uncovering of her art – abstract works that pre-date those of Kandinsky, who was previously considered to be the first abstract artist. This is a necessary film that gives long overdue credit to one of the art world’s most important individuals; both an optimistic, feminist triumph and a disconcerting reminder of the subjectiveness of history.
Auteur Agnès Varda’s final movie (she passed away earlier this year) is not only a personal film about the filmmaking process but also the final words and autobiopic of its director. Artists and creatives working in any medium will wallow in the personal insights offered by Varda and film nerds will appreciate it for its craft and essentialness.
Céline Sciamma’s directorial career is not yet prolific, but all five of the French filmmaker’s feature lengths have been met with nominations and awards. Sciamma’s subjects are completely different but the common themes are the delicacies of female identity and relationships, explored during pivotal existential pit stops. Set in 18th century Brittany, Portrait of a Lady delves into the lives of two young women who are deliberately entangled in an especially tense working arrangement – portrait artist and unwilling subject – that develops into a romance. Although set worlds apart, the subject matter is pervading, pertinent and in excellent, expertly graceful and sympathetic hands.
Outside of the horror genre, few Japanese movies have made such an impression on me as Yamashita Nobuhiro’s 2005 film, Linda Linda Linda. It’s a quiet and quirky girl power film about a motley group of schoolgirls who scrabble together a band to perform in their school’s festival. Plot-wise, there are no parallels between the aforementioned film and Hard-Core, a dry-witted and absurd sci-fi flick about two misfit losers whose discovery of an ancient (and ridiculous-looking) robot provides fantastic and awry results. However, despite the gap in time and theme, Nobuhiro’s skillful tenderness towards awkwardness seems to be intact – a promising formula for a feel-good film, albeit in an odd metal package.
A horrific, hip-hop-inspired romp through the Scottish highlands, Boyz in the Wood is the first feature length film from Ninian Doff, a director whose portfolio so far consists of mostly tongue-in-cheek, trippy music videos and ads. This story follows a band of teenagers unleashed onto the hillside to embark on an expedition for their greater goods, but that quickly attracts unwanted attentions and hi-jinks. It all sounds like fantastic material for Doff’s acid trip aesthetic and playfully twisted storytelling style…or at for least some mind-blowing eye candy.
This one is for the music lovers out there – especially the kind who like to nerd out listening to the creative process behind the songs. For one evening only, VIFF is hosting a live podcast episode recording featuring Public Enemy member Chuck D, where he’ll be breaking down the song “Fight the Power” for audience members and future listeners. For those who don’t know the movie connection, “Fight the Power” was the theme song to Spike Lee’s famous film Do the Right Thing, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.