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2011 Vancouver International Film Festival

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The Vancouver International Film Festival, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, opened last week. I've seen a handful of movies, all worth seeing:

Morente: A documentary about the late, great Flamenco singer, Enrique Morente -- controversial among Flamenco purists (see link below) -- who died very soon after they completed filming of post-surgical complications. It consists of interviews with him and his family, performance footage -- from the Liceu in Barcelona to a gallery in the Reina Sofia Museum -- rehearsal footage, and performances by his three children, alone and with him. His political awakening is brought up early in the film -- one of his pieces is called "

" -- but it's the moving interview late in the film, where he speaks of seeing Guernica for the first time on tour to New York at MOMA, and he's lying on his side in front of the painting, that is one of the highlights.

The extended performance footage centers around music set to poetry by Pablo Picasso. The film seems to go in many directions, but I think it pulls together beautifully. A must see for anyone who's interested in Flamenco.

Eighty Letters: A film from the Czech Republic about a woman whose husband was able to get to England, who tries to get permission for her and her son to leave Czechoslovakia to re-unite the family. The first of two films about frightening bureaucracy.

Best Intentions: A film from Romania about a guy in his early 30's from Bucharest who gets a phone call that his mother has suffered from a stroke. He calls everyone he knows in the medical profession for advice and interpretation, and heads to their small city hospital where she is being treated, with the intention of moving her to a "better" hospital. Throughout the film he gets massive amounts of unsolicited advice and medical horror stories, most of them irrelevant. It's the definition of "better" around which the film is concerned, and I think, about how hard it is to separate cause, since it's not clear how much of his interference/actions/neurosis influences her care (in both directions). Meeting with his old friends in a bar, one of them, a bald guy named Curly, cuts to the chase, asking whether it is about his anxiety or his mother's.

I think most New Yorkers will identify, especially as more and more people are worried about their parents' future as elderly people.

Goodbye: From Iran, a human rights lawyer finds current-day Iran unbearable and tries to leave. More bureaucracy ensues. A sister film to "Eighty Letters", but set over two decades later. The more things change...

The Jewel: A biting Italian film about corruption in Italy. Set in the 90's until the early 2000's, the main characters are the President of a large food company that he built from his father's meat business, who tries to get into the newly opened Eastern European and Russian markets, but faces constant liquidity issues; his main financial guy, a few of his executives, and his degreed niece, his sister's daughter, who had worked for Morgan Stanley and is hired by the President as a condition of his buying out the sister's shares in the family-owned company.

It went down a full star in my book for two unnecessarily heavy handed parts: The first making the financial guy, who's no dummy, need to have the concept of "good cop/bad cop" explained to him by the niece after a successful negotiation, and the second, a scene that I think was meant to be sardonic, but came across to me as treacle. Mostly, though, it stabs and turns the knife. Its best parts reminded me of the series "House of Cards", which I think it might have been trying to emulate, although not using the first person point of view of the Ian Richardson character. Still worth seeing, but I wished they'd edit those scenes out.

More to follow in the days ahead. The festival ends at the end of next week, and because this is Canadian Thanksgiving weekend coming up, there are lots of before noon performances.

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No, I didn't. I had conflicts with the two performances last weekend (1 Oct 9:30pm and 2 Oct 11am), and have one for the 10:45am showing this Friday. I suspect it won't be one of the films that gets an extra scheduling, but you never know.

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No, I didn't. I had conflicts with the two performances last weekend (1 Oct 9:30pm and 2 Oct 11am), and have one for the 10:45am showing this Friday. I suspect it won't be one of the films that gets an extra scheduling, but you never know.

It's probably one of the most powerful and well executed camera reworks I've seen (disclaimer: we're going to be releasing it on iTunes), but it's not something I can see going over well in a morning screening. It's very intense.

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Last night I saw "Restoration", an Israeli film that won the scriptwriter award at Sundance this year. It's about a retirement-age man who has a furniture refinishing business, and whose partner of 40 years, who took care of the business aspects, dies. Not surprisingly, he finds that the business is in trouble. Not surprisingly, family mishegas ensues.

The acting in it is superb. There isn't a miss among the cast.

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Today's event was "Dreileben", a series of three 1.5 hour films originally shown on German television. "Dreileben" is a project among three directors, Christian Petzold ("Beats Being Dead"), Dominik Graf ("Don't Follow Me Around", and Christoph Hochhäusler ("One Minute of Darkness") in which each director made a film in which an escaped convicted murderer is a key element. There is overlap among some of the characters in all three movies, and overlapping action whose importance isn't clear until the later films, very much like in Lucas Belvaux's "Trilogie". Like "Trilogie", the middle film is about domestic relationships, and the tone is lightest. The last, which is about the escapee himself, uses very little overlap after the beginning, but mentally, I kept waiting for it.

When I came home I read a few reviews which thought the last one was the weakest, but I didn't see this. I thought all three films were fascinating, and the landscape and forest of Thuringia are gorgeous. Even with two ten-minute breaks, this was a long sit. Depending on the comfort of the art theaters near you, it might be a good choice for DVDs.

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I saw Ruben Ostlund's "Play", which is about a group of five Afro-Swedish pre-teens and young teenagers who target well-off, usually white pre-teens, and play an elaborate set of minds games and intimidation to convince them to turn over their belongings. It's a 118-minute depiction of how they choose their targets in a shopping mall and entrap them, and then get them to go along and turn on each other, often in public places, preventing them from escaping and for the most part, breaking their will to escape, even amidst active interference and passive witnessing from intermittent groups of adults. One of the aggressors says to one of the victims something to the affect that, "You showed five black kids your cell phones. What did you expect? Are you infants?"

The adults are portrayed as passive and impotent, violent-tempered, or knee-jerk liberal, aside from the robotic bureaucrats.

It's more than a heavy-handed canon aimed at political correctness: it attempts to describe a society paralyzed by a combination of good intentions and selective blindness.

The film itself was tedious and powerful at the same time. There was no getting away.

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Last film of the festival for me was the documentary "Sushi: The Global Catch".

Bad, but unsurprising, news about the sustainability of, mainly, the blue fin tuna. Little did Japan know that 70+ years later that China would exact its reparations.

It's official: I can't eat anything without ruining the planet. I think from now on I'm just going to save all of my environmental devastation credits to drink.

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