2012 Guide to VIFF

September 10, 2012

PART ONE: FICTION FILMS 

COME AS YOU ARE

(Belgium)

 Three disabled Belgians set out to solve the problem besetting so many young men: their virginity. This unlikely but affable road trip (based on a true story) sets their wheels toward a Spanish brothel and the title's resolution. In Flemish and French with English subtitles.

TWILIGHT PORTRAIT

(Russia)

 Sure to inflame audiences, this fictional portrait of rape and its aftermath focuses on the strange, erotic relationship between a victim and her policeman attacker, all set against empty-eyed Russian squalor. This postfeminist revisiting of rape as a political—not sexual—act will enrage and clarify in equal measure. In Russian with English subtitles.

BREAKFAST WITH CURTIS

(USA)

 Paola (Laura Colella) lives in bohemain bliss on the top floor of a house named "The Purple Citadel" in a Providence, Rhode Island, so mellow, so funky, so in-the-moment that viewers are to be forgiven for assuming we're in Haight-Ashbury. Like the home's other denizens—her boyfriend, the Tantric/svelte Frenchy; downstairs neighbour Sadie; and main floor reprobates Pirate and Syd (Theo Green), the film's centre—Paola is determined to live by her own code and pace…until 14-year-old neighbour Curtis enters. Based on Colella's actual home and family, who all take genial semifictional turns here.

TWO JACKS

(USA)

 Loosely based on the Tolstoy short story "Two Hussars," this fictional account of two generations of Hollywood men (played by Danny Huston and nephew Jack) never quite rouses itself from the same laconic self-satisfaction that bedevils the title's two Jacks. Sienna Miller and Jacqueline Bisset play one of several beautiful women prey to Huston charms at different stages of life.

Starlet

STARLET

(USA)

 Dree Hemingway (neice of Margaux, great-granddaughter of Ernest) plays the title's cinematic hopeful, another starry-eyed dreamer from Nowhere who comes to Los Angeles with a suitcase full of dreams. She trades in the suitcase for (figuratively) ongoing porn work and (literally) a Thermos she picks up at a yard sale held by Sadie (Besedka Johnson), an elderly Angelena unflapped by her new starlet friend's unsavoury friends and work habits. There's a nice meditation on friendship and loneliness, needlessly glammed up by porn scenes, Oxy snorting, and an ill-considered stripper pole. But then, this is Holllywood.

 

AFTER THE BATTLE

(FRANCE / EGYPT)

 A compelling argument can be found in the French/Egyptian co-pro After the Battle, but not easily. The film begins with the revolutionary events of 2011 and Tahrir Square, focusing on two people seemingly at odds: the lower-class horseman Mahmoud (Bassem Samra) and the intellectual advertising divorcee Reem (Menna Chalaby). Mahmoud, who took Mubarak's part in trying to quell the demonstrators, loses everything—his job, community standing—for choosing the wrong side, and the film's best accomplishment is in unpacking the historical forces that strip away from such a powerless striver any semblance of real choice. Samra is the picture's standout: his wounded self-concern is both exasperating and very human. In Arabic with English subtitles.

Continue READING Part Two: Nonfiction Films

PART TWO: NONFICTION FILMS

STEP UP TO THE PLATE

(FRANCE)

Four seasons at Michelin-starred inn Bras in southern France as founder Michel reconciles himself to semi-retirement. As his successor (son Sébastien) shifts the menu, Papa speaks with honesty and pride about fatherhood and cuisine. A lovely doc. In French with English subtitles.

WAGNER'S DREAM

(USA)

To revive its fortunes, the Metropolitan Opera gambled on famed Québécois theatre director Robert Lepage to reinvent The Ring for a modern audience. Five years of behind-the-scenes shows how it won. With some French (English subtitles).

CROCODILE IN THE YANGTZE

(USA / CHINA)

Made by a former employee, this straightforward doc about China's first e-commerce startup relives the dot-bust years, pitting an unlikely foe against unstoppable eBay. (Hint: China wins.) With some Chinese with English subtitles and some English overdubbing.

GARDEN IN THE SEA

(MEXICO)

 To mark the environmental protection of a island in Baja, Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias is commissioned to create a sculpture-fittingly, as this doc details, she chooses an Atlantean labyrinth beneath the waves. In Spanish with English subtitles.

GOTTHARD SCHUH: A SENSUAL VISION OF THE WORLD

(SWITZERLAND)

 With the gathering of Axis clouds over his beloved Europe, photographer Gotthard Schuh, a well-regarded and widely published ethnodocumentarian, leaves the Malcantone region of Swizterland, just off the border with Italy, in search of adventure and bare-breasted girls through the exotic settings of Bali, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Swiss director Villi Hermann, who has over his career documented both the Second World War and its photographers, provides a nonjudgmental (if also nonpassionate) account of Schuh's travels and published reminiscences.

 

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