It’s almost here. The 38th annual Vancouver International Film Festival, make that VIFF from here on, starts Thursday and until Oct 11 shows more films than anyone can possibly take in. About 150 features, and that many again shorts and documentaries. Film buffs are busy planning out how to squeeze all they want to see into their schedule. (Not possible, by the way). Or just trying to decide on a few to catch.
There are two main approaches. You could go for the big buzz titles, most of which will be back soon, but you can see them early. Films like Marriage Story, said to be an Oscar contender, The Laundromat, Just Mercy,The Lighthouse, Jojo Rabbit, the most celebrated film at the Toronto fest. Most play only once here and many only late in the day. Do you really want to start Terrence Malick’s new one, A Hidden Life, at 8:45 in the evening? It’s almost three hours long.
The other way is to look for gems that may take a long time to come back, maybe never. It takes real research to find these, studying the word from other festivals or even better, from people standing in line with you.
I use a combination of both tactics in these recommendations today, and in future columns. And I only review films I’ve already seen. Like these ….
Guest of Honour
PARASITE: Of all the VIFF films I’ve watched so far, this is my favorite because it includes so much. It’s a comedy (initially), a social commentary about class differences (all throughout), a delightful story about a clever deception and finally, after a sudden twist, a ghost and a horror story with some bloody action. Surprisingly it all fits together and doesn’t feel contrived. But as a caustic view of modern society anywhere, not only in South Korea where it’s from, it provokes and entertains. The Cannes film festival gave it the top award this year and Korea is sending it to the Academy Awards.
Basically, we’ve got two families to watch, one poor, the other nouveau riche. A son from the first gets a job tutoring a daughter of the second and sets in motion a scheme to get a job there for every member of his family. Some of that is easy while the machinations to replace the housekeeper and the driver are more complex and very funny. The rich family is clueless and self-absorbed; the poor ones are feeling so pleased with themselves that they imagine they can take over the whole house. Then the housekeeper shows up. She says she forgot something and the film finds an underside to the story. Deft directing and co-screenwriting by Bong Joon Ho makes it all work tremendously well. You’ll remember him from his other hits, The Host, Snowpiercer and Mother. (Plays Fri late, Sun afternoon and late Sun Oct 6).
ADAM: A first feature and it’s one of the most emotionally heartfelt films at the festival. The predicament is familiar. An unmarried woman who becomes pregnant is an outcast in Muslim society, in Morocco in this case. What writer-director Maryam Touzani does with that situation is remarkable and very moving. The film is now her country’s official submission to the Academy Awards.
Country girl Samia (Nisrin Erradi) wanders Casablanca visibly pregnant looking for work and is eventually invited in, just for one night, by a woman who had been just as curt with her as the others. She’s a home-business baker named Abla, played by Lubna Azabal who you think you’ve seen somewhere before. You have, in the great Quebec film, Incendies (2010) and even a Ridley Scott film in Hollywood. Here she’s dignified, gruff and judgemental but gradually warms to the poor girl who it turns out can make a great pastry that the locals clamor to buy. The film is wonderful in showing the friendship that grows between the women and then the dilemma they have to face. The baby will be a bastard, a horrendous stigma. But what to do? There’s compassion and poignancy in this superior film. (Fri afternoon and Wed Oct 2 evening)
GUEST OF HONOUR: Atom Egoyan bounces back from a few weak years, draws us in once again with his typically tangled storytelling and then leaves us more than a little confused about what was going on. It starts breezy and turns dour and as the festival’s opening gala film doesn’t feel like a set-up for a fun party. It’s a psychological drama about guilt and looking for redemption that would work better if we had a better idea of what these people feel so guilty about.