Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Vancouver International Film Festival: Quickie Reviews (I)

I have seen six films at the festival so far and have enjoyed all of them. Here are some mini-reviews:

This is a documentary about the well-known Spanish flamenco singer Enrique Morente. I most particularly enjoyed the music in this film (for some reason, I slept through a good part of the biographical scenes); Morente’s brand of flamenco is moving and hypnotic.

The Front Line
This is a Korean film about a group of soldiers who spend most of the Korean War taking and retaking a single hill from the enemy. The film’s anti-war message is not very subtle and the life of the ordinary soldier is in some ways over-romanticized, so in spite of some excellent battle scenes, this was the least satisfying movie so far.

The Mill and the Cross
An imaginative and moving dramatization of the 1564 painting The Way of the Cross by Pieter Bruegel, this film is a gem. The cinematography is gorgeous and the story, like the painting, is fascinating and thought-provoking. If this film, which features Rutger Hauer, Michael York, and Charlotte Rampling, comes in to general release I recommend that you see it.

I found this film interesting because it gave me an insight into a side of Iranian culture that I did not know existed. The story involves two young women from well-to-do families who are brought up in a world that seems to have escaped the severe restrictions and punishments of Islamic law; the young women are in love with each other. Their cozy world begins to collapse, however, when the brother of one of the women returns to the family after undergoing drug rehab, which has clearly included some Islamic indoctrination. Thanks to the brother’s growing fundamentalism and his pathological need for control, the freedoms enjoyed by the family are going to be curtailed by a creeping and insidious orthodoxy. The only flaw I found here was what I consider to be the miscasting of the two young women.

Corpo Celeste
In Corpo Celeste a quirky and independent-minded 13-year-old girl has emigrated to Italy from Switzerland and is immediately thrust into the conservative, and clearly corrupt, Catholic world of her new home. In the process of taking preparatory classes for her confirmation, she discovers the nature of the Church, the confusing and disappointing world of adults, and most of all, herself. At the same time, her determination to see and express truth provide some lessons to those around her. Excellent film and wonderful acting from the girl, who is in practically every scene of the movie.

A Simple Life
This Ann Hui masterpiece is by far my favourite of the films I have seen. It is the story of Ah Tao, a maid who has served a Hong Kong family for sixty years. Most of the family has emigrated to the U.S. but as the film opens she is still looking after one of the grandsons, Roger, a movie producer. When she suffers a stroke she decides it is time to retire and to move into a long-term care facility. The rest of the film is a character study of this remarkable woman and of the love she has given to the family which is now returned by Roger. As her health gradually deteriorates, the movie reveals, through little incidents, more facets of her character—selflessness, independence, wisdom, dignity, humour.

I love this kind of film, where nothing really happens, where there is no major conflict, and no great revelation or surprise at the end, but in which so much is revealed. I am certain that a film like A Simple Life is far more difficult to make than big, expensive blockbusters like Titanic and Avatar, and Transformers. I am also sure that the making of A Simple Life is an act of love by an artist of great depth and exquisite taste.

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