CIFF 2019

Another fantastic festival of international films this September. I was pleased to have walked to and from every screening at The Globe and Eau Claire making me fall in love with my city some more. Happy to have shared the experience with Amber at 4 films, my neighbour Jae at 5, and another neighbour Marilyn at 1.

Three top Documentaries:
Honeyland (Macedonia) ★★★★★, Other Music (N.Y.C.) ★★★★, 17 Blocks (D.C.) ★★★★

Easily some of the top films of my festival experience were these three documentaries. The audience was constantly gasping at Honeyland‘s exotic cinematography and dynamic characters and surprising and heartbreaking turns. Other Music just strums your heartstrings with nostalgia and makes you want to go back to the pre-internet days. 17 Blocks intimates the difficulties of manoeuvring life within a couple miles of the U.S. Capitol. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the first or third of these winning an Oscar.

Three Unique Canadian Productions:
The Twentieth Century ★★★★, Blood Quantum ★, Come to Daddy ★★★★

I took a risk this year and ventured into three Canadian produced films. I wasn’t sorry this time for a couple of them. The Twentieth Century is a very independent, absurdist look at a young bushy-tailed W.L. Mackenzie King in 1899. It’s based on his diary and a cheeky view of the Canadian politic – some big laughs and interesting visual sets.

Blood Quantum is a zombie movie set in Québec. An bite-transmitted infection is spreading through town, but the Micmac nation is immune. This one tried hard, but the writing and story just didn’t land and ultimately it finished at the bottom of my list this year.

Come to Daddy probably had the best writing and acting of the three. Casting Elijah Wood helped – he convincingly portrays a try hard son finding his way back to his estranged father who doesn’t receive him too warmly. Set in California, but filmed in Tofino and Parksville on Vancouver Island.

Four Foreign Language Flicks:
The Whistlers (Romania) ★★, Abou Leila (Algeria) ★★★
Parasite (South Korea) ★★★★, Les Misérables (France) ★★★★★

From least inspired to the best: The Whistlers (La Gomera) is a crime thriller set in Romania and Canary Islands – dirty cop gets tangled up in a drug cartel. The characters aren’t good or believable and this just flattens the story to caricature underworld.

Abou Leila required the most work to watch. We follow a couple men fleeing Algiers into the desert on the hunt for a terrorist. It’s well shot and the story is worth telling, but the sickness and responses of the characters to some of the quite shocking episodes may have been overly dramatic just to imply that a whole country is sick beyond redemption.

This afternoon I watched the Palm d’Or winner Parasite from South Korea. It could have moved a bit more quickly in the beginning, but the humour carried the dark film throughout. It provoked a few good questions about class divisions and I found the chauffeur/father character to be quite compelling. I really wanted to love this film, but I only liked it.

Les Misérables, on the other hand, knocks your socks off then makes you stand in the sweltering Paris heat as you watch a neighbourhood disintegrate. It’s a tense perspective that was done with enormous care.

Three Don’t Give Up Dramas:
Sorry We Missed You (England) ★★★★★, Denmark (Wales) ★★★★,
Bellbird (New Zealand) ★★★★

I finished off the festival with some heavier (though a couple were lighthearted enough) dramas.

Sorry We Missed You is a British and more mature take on a requiem of a dream in a post-industrial, capitalist world and it will break your heart.

I finished the festival with Denmark, which according to the attending screenwriter’s introduction, is a fable of what it takes to breath again when hope has been choked out. Plenty of laughs and a bit of a reflection on a dysfunctional society.

A lighter, breezier and rural take on a similar theme of being unable to move past hopelessness, Bellbird follows a recently widowed farmer whose community supports him. Some excellent dialogues in this. Recent NZ films have really struck a chord with me.

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