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2010 Vancouver International Film Festival

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I've been attending the Vancouver International Film Festival this week -- it runs through 15 October -- and it's a wide mix, as always. I usually try to see foreign films that aren't likely to get a theatrical release, but it doesn't always work out schedule-wise, and some, like Breillat films, I don't want to wait for. This is what I've seen so far:

I posted on a film version of Angelin Preljocaj's "Snow White" in the Modern and Other Dance forum.

"Rio Sonata" is a wonderful documentary on the Brazilian singer Nina Caymmi. She's quite a character and easily carries the film, and there's plenty of her splendid singing, from earlier footage and as she records live during the filming. There are some short interviews with her father and brother, song writers Dorival and Dori Caymmi, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Maria Bethânia, Joao Donato, Mart'nalia, Erasmo Carlos, Sueli Costa, and Miùcha. It's a big love-fest, but her singing justifies it. (In Brazilian Portuguese)

"Sleeping Beauty" is Catherine Breillat's latest movie, her take on the fairy tale. Like with most of Breillat's films, it will take me a while before I digest it, and chances are, it will be in tonight's dreams. It's full of ambiguity and an undercurrent of danger, and while there isn't the repetition and regression of dreams, the jolting cuts and instant changes are reminiscent of dreams. The main character, called Anastasia, is under the spell at six, and will sleep 100 years and wake up at 16. She is six for most of the film, and Carla Besnaïnou plays her smart as a whip. (In French)

"Family Tree" is a fascinating story which opens with the aftermath of a funeral for a 50-something son, which his father does not attend. "Why" is answered in a very surprising way. It was beautifully acted, and the score is Wagner -- the patriarch blasts Wagner early each morning -- and a Mozart adagio. (In French)

"Palimpsest" is a documentary that follows the nonagenarian daughter, Marina, of Gustav Spet, a philosopher and professor who once studied in Germany under Husserl and was arrested and sent to Siberia in 1935 and executed in 1937 for allegedly promoting a pro-German fascist organization in the Soviet Union. She and the filmmakers tell the story of both sides of the Spet family, and Marina Spet's journey to help the filmmakers understand her family, what Moscow was like when she was growing up, and her father's importance as a teacher and philosopher. Although his work "disappeared" after his arrest, some of it has been recovered. The film feels a bit unedited, and is at times plodding, because it lets Marina tell the story at her own pace and what's important to her, and after a while, that almost becomes the point. (In Russian)

"Princess of Montpensier" is a big, long (over two-hour) costume drama directed by Bertrand Tavernier, based on a story by Madame de la Fayette. I'm still shaking my head with disappointment that this was a Francophone "BBC Goes Hollywood". The lead could just as easily have been played by Keira Knightley, although Mélanie Thierry has fuller lips and breasts, both well highlighted. Her husband (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) looked and moved like a yuppie lawyer, her charmless true love (of sorts, Gaspard Ulliel) was little more than randy, and the Older-Man-Who-Spends-Most-of-the-Movie-Treating-Her-With-Scornful-Disapproval-While-Pining-Away-for-Her (Lambert Wilson) could not have been more bloodless. (Ben Cross would have smoldered properly.) The only interesting men in the movie -- the women were few -- were, predictably, the rakish Duke d'Anjou (Raphaël Personnaz), and the piece-of-work father of the yuppie Prince, who was, at least, smart. It came complete with a big, blasting Hollywood score, and a number of bloody battle scenes. I do have to give Tavernier credit, though, for keeping up the tension in the last half of the movie. Otherwise it would have felt 10 hours long. (In French)

"Curling" is a quietly wild movie about a man who raises his 12-year-old daughter in close-to-isolation in Quebec, directed by Denis Côté. The way he treats her is brutal, but not in the obvious way, and her ways of coping are surprising. Father and daughter are played by Emmanuel Bilodeau and his real-life daughter, Philomene. In a Q&A an audience member said the movie reminded him of "Fargo", and Côté said he'd heard that a lot. Apart from the landscape, which Côté felt was the obvious parallel, "Curling" does have something in common with "Fargo": its unexpected tone in handling the material. (In French)

"My Joy" is meant to be a parable of modern Russia, which unfolds from one narrative of corruption and abuse of power to the next in an almost fairy tale-like way. Of all of the films I've seen so far, this is by far my favorite. (In Russian)

"The White Meadows" is also meant to be a parable, in this case of modern Iran; it was directed by Mohammed Rasoulof. The main character is a man who gathers people's tears in ceremonies ranging from funerals to sacrifices to confessions and more. Although lighter in tone than "My Joy", the themes are similar to those in "My Joy". (In Farsi)

"Russian Lessons" is a documentary by husband-and-wife filmmakers Olga Konskaya and Andrei Nekrasov about the media coverage of the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia and the earlier conflict in Abkhazia, drawing connections between the two. Konskaya and Nekrasov piece together original photos and film footage -- examples of Georgians killed or wounded identified by the media as South Ossetians -- and timelines and show contradictions to what was reported, from Russian to German to BBC coverage. The eyewitness reports they filmed are stark. (In Russian and Georgian)

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More films from yesterday:

"The Strange Case of Angelica": This film by Manuel de Oliveiras, about a photographer who, because of a chance encounter, is summoned in the middle of the night to photograph Angelica, a bride who died a few days after her wedding, has the feel of a Bunuel film, by the way it treats time and in the trapped quality of repeated social interaction. (In Portuguese)

"Cell 211": This looks like a big-budget movie, but without the booming, silly soundtracks of most of them. In order to make a good impression, a newly hired prison guard tours the prison the day before his start day and is trapped inside during a prison riot. An unknown, he then pretends to be a new prisoner. While it is a stretch of the imagination to think that he can suddenly be inseparable from the bad-ass who runs the prison, it's worth the occasional roll-eyes to see the politics and maneuvering on both sides. (In Spanish and Basque)

"Ugly Duckling": I'm not sure what the technique was for this movie by Gari Bardin: the only animation is the soul/spirit of the Ugly Duckling, while the rest of the characters were three-dimensional but didn't look like claymation to me. Set to music from "Swan Lake" and "The Nutcracker", with lyrics added!, this take on the Hans Christian Andersen tale was a delight. Although not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, it's a great take on social conformity and bullying, and although most of the kids in the audience squealed with delight for the first hour or so, as a warning, it has a scene worse than when Bambi's mother is killed. It's beautifully done in every way, and it's the most astute movie for kids I've ever seen. (In Russian)

"The Arrivals": A documentary about workers at the CAFDA immigration center in Paris and their clients/potential clients who seek asylum in France. It focuses on the work of two social workers and a legal person and three families and one pregnant woman who are their clients. What's striking is the contrast between the behavior of a traumatized clientele and the needs of the CAFDA workers for the clients to behave as, at most, normally stressed people in order to follow to stringent rules of the various bureaucracies and law enforcement agencies. What's clear is that the only thing between them and the millions like them who might qualify is the ability to get to a country where they are then scrutinized by the system. (In French)

Now off to the opera HD!

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