VIFF Review Roundoup #2
In this second instalment, we have reviews of:
Click on the film’s title to jump directly to the review.
I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on vampire films, there are a whole lot of films before the 1980’s which feature vampires that I’ve yet to, and will likely never, see, but I have the back catalogue filled in nicely. From Nosferatu to Bella Lugosi and the modern classics of Interview With a Vampire, Shadow of the Vampire and even Coppola’s Dracula. Add in the action vamps like Blade and Selene and it’s pretty safe to say that if a vampire is involved, I’ll be watching it; even if it isn’t very good.
One of the film’s I was most looking forward to this year (we’ll leave Twilight out of the equation – for today) was the Norwegian tween vampire romance Let the Right One In. Kurt had said good things and he wasn’t kidding. I’m not sure he used the words but I will: brilliant.
In a day where loud, violent and bloody is the key to vampire movies, Tomas Alfredson’s film, adapted from the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Quiet, deliberately paced and demure, this is a film that revels in mood. But don’t let that turn you away: the film is just as bloody and gruesome as we expect from a tale about a creature that feeds on human blood to survive, it simply manages to use the violence much more effectively than most. Against the beauty and serenity of winter, the blood that flows seems that much more effective in its creep factor.
Sometimes, adding a vampire to the mix simply makes a film sexier but in some other cases, it adds an entire new layer of meaning, as is the case here. Not only do you have an individual who can live forever, the creature happens to be a little girl named Eli. A child who is dependent on killing to survive yet, she manages to keep herself in check around her new friend, Oskar. Then there’s the relationship between the two children which is as pure and innocent as one would expect from 12 year olds yet it’s tinged with something else, a mothering instinct brought in by Eli who suddenly becomes protector as well as friend.
I expected good things from Let the Right One In and from the moment, I walked away, I was not disappointed but over the past few days, I’ve returned to the film with a new thought, gathering some new meaning from some small action. Though on the surface this is pure, gleefully gorgeous genre filmmaking, there’s a whole lot more at play. I’m eagerly awaiting the opportunity to see it again: sooner rather than later.
More reviews tucked under the seat!
It has been years since my last trip to the theatre led to uncontrollable sobbing. Yes, there’s the occasional tear at seeing something sweet but for the most part, I haven’t lost my cool since Amistad. Until now. When the final images of Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir turned from animation to footage of the massacre, the dam opened. I’d been holding on the brink for 20 minutes but those images where the breaking point. Ten minutes of uncontrollable crying followed by another ten minutes to gather myself enough to get up.
The film is a documentary about Folman’s search for information on his mission to the first Lebanese War – a period of his life that he’s wiped from memory. He sets out to fill in the blanks and does so by speaking with comrades and friends who were with him at the time and as he digs deeper and uncovers more information, he begins to remember images, particularly a haunting beach image which is so magnificently captured in the film’s trailer.
Folman has said the film was always meant to be an animated documentary, mostly because talking to a bunch of old guys would have been boring, but I’m not sure that the film would have the same impact had it been live action. The animation keeps the viewer at bay and even when violence is taking place, there’s a disconnect; it doesn’t feel real even if you know it’s a documentary. There’s only so much violence a mind can handle, as is proven by Folman’s mental wipe of the hardships he saw while in Lebanon, but the animation here serves to keep the viewer engaged and taking it all in, slapping the “this really happened” sticker at the end of it with the actual footage. But Folman’s choice to close the film as he does doesn’t cheapen what came before it instead, one can’t help but marvel at the fact that through the entire film you knew exactly what was coming yet managed to keep it out of mind.
Though I feel the need to watch it again, I’m not sure my psyche can handle the powerful emotions that Waltz with Bashir dredged up but regardless of whether I can convince myself to go through the emotions again, this is a beautiful, engaging and haunting film and one that screams to be seen.
Starting off in the bloodiest period of Mexico’s past, The Desert Within begins with Elias in search of a priest (all of whom have been removed from towns and are locked away in monasteries for fear of their lives) to perform the last rights on his unborn son. The army attacks, the family escapes and along the way, Elias’ wife dies while giving birth to Aureliano. At this point, Elias finds himself cursed and he has a vision that outlines how he can save himself and his bretherin.
From here, we jump a few years ahead to the family living in seclusion in the middle of desert. They’re building a church which Elias thinks will rescue his family from damnation while little Aureliano is locked inside, apparently allergic to the dust of the desert, the rest of the children slave away at piling rock in what slowly takes shape as a hall of worship. From this point on, Rodrigo Plá’s film is a series of events showing Elias’ religious beliefs as they turn from reverence to homicidal. The religious aspects of the film expand well beyond simple belief to take over Elias’ entire life and also that of his children. The result is a group of damaged individuals that, in their private moments and through observation, come to develop their own views of religion which in turn, changes who they are as people and how they interact with each other.
Aside from the depth and emotion explored by the story itself, Plá’s film has something else which makes it well worth seeking out: it’s gorgeous. Though most of the film takes place in the desert, Plá captures the beautiful desolation of their lives while wonderfully visualizing Elias’ internal struggle. Alongside the fact that this is beautifully shot, the film also makes use of animation and art in unique ways and the two are incorporated into the story beautifully rather than just being gimmicks.
It’s no surprise that The Desert Within swept the Guadalajara Mexican Film Festival for it’s a beautiful and powerful film. That said, it will likely never see the light of day North of Mexico. Not only is the content disturbing and emotional but the message of the film is likely to scare more than a handful of religious groups into action.
France’s box office juggernaut, Welcome to the Sticks is a fun little film about life in small town. Actually, it’s more about preconceptions about places and the people that inhabit them; it’s even vaguely reminiscent of Hot Fuzz – without the action.
Phillipe is a post office administrator who tries to get relocated to the Riviera except that he lies to get the job and gets banished to the North, the far North, to the town of Bergues, a place considered by many to be hell on earth. Phillipe takes off for his new job, leaving his wife and child behind in the much more comfortable city, only to find himself arriving at a beautiful and friendly town. Phillipe continues to lie to his wife, mostly because he likes her pity, but things go wrong when she decides to move to Bergues with him.
If Welcome to the Sticks was an American film, it would be a Hollywood blockbuster that “film” fans would turn their nose at but as it happens, it’s French and seems to get a free pass. It’s not particularly well acted, or that pretty but it’s a fun, run-of-the-mill comedy that, when mixed in among three hundred or so dire, heavy films, makes for a nice break.
That said, it does have some funny moments, and a great deal of charm. Particularly funny is a stretch in which Phillipe accompanies one of the letter carriers in an effort to teach him to say “no” to the drinks offered by some of the townsfolk (since drinking on the job is, you know, bad) but aside from that, it’s mediocre at best.