inReview: Vancouver International Film Festival
September 27th – October 12th, 2012
by Barbara Stowe
Director: Lou Ye China/France, 2012 (98 minutes)
Lou Ye—banned from filmmaking for the past five years by the Chinese government for his uncompromising portrayals of sex and politics—makes a triumphant return with this dark psychological thriller. A twisted love triangle, a suspicious death, and the corruption that underscores the whole tapestry are seamlessly interwoven in this suspenseful, noirish tale that raises questions about wealth, power and ethics in new-millenium China. The heartstopping opening sequence alone is almost worth the price of admission for film buffs or viewers who enjoy an edge-of-the-seat adrenaline rush. An assured offering from a master helmer.
Director: Deepa Mehta, Canada/USA, 2012 (148 minutes)
Deepa Mehta and Salman Rushdie braved death threats and fatwas to collaborate on this sumptuous epic that brings Rushdie’s sprawling 1980 Booker-winning novel to the screen. You can practically smell the pungent scents of cardamom and cumin wafting out of the cinema, so lovingly does Mehta detail the sights and sounds of Mother India. Rushdie’s screenplay, which took him two years to write (he also did the voiceover and executive produced, ensuring considerable control of the material) contrasts a wealthy household with cardboard shanty towns and outcasts who literally must sing for their supper. A deft literary magician, Rushdie conjures a multitude of characters, but with so many personalities appearing and disappearing, it is impossible to retain any depth of sympathy for the dilemna of the protagonist. Ultimately, Rushdie might have served the film better served by surrendering more control to Mehta, but perhaps Rushdie and Mehta together accomplished what they set out to do: make us fall in love with India.
Director: Arnon Goldfinger, Israel, 2011 (97 minutes)
This award-winning doc, which took Best Editing in a Documentary at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, as well as the Ophir Award, Krakow’s FIPRESCI, and numerous other honours, was inspired by the director’s discovery of Nazi propaganda in his deceased Jewish grandmother’s files. Shadowing the question Goldfinger poses as he peels the cinematic onion—what is a Jew doing with a Nazi newspaper?—lies a subtextual mystery. Is the director conscious that his camera reveals as much about his own character as the character of those he questions? Must his mother feel the same emotions as himself? Or could her “disinterest” actually be, as one interviewee points out, her generation’s manner of coping with a truth too appalling to face? The question remains unanswered by the time the final credits roll, but what does become clear is that Goldfinger has taken the pulse of three generations of Germans, and in contrasting their reactions to familial history steeped in the horrors of the Shoah (Holocaust), has rendered a vital addition to Holocaust documentation. A gripping, deeply thought-provoking film.
Director: Darezhan Omirbayev, Kazakhstan, 2012 (92 minutes)
This one-note take on Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment must have Fyodor Mikhailovich rolling in his grave. While the director’s skill at spare non-verbal scenes must be credited, his reach exceeds his grasp. Deft camera work is no substitute for the rich interior monologues so integral to Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece, and a sullen protagonist with little emotional spark or variation left a VIFF audience trudging silently out of the Pacific Cinemateque with nary a handclap. While making movies in modern-day Kazakhstan must be a challenging prospect, an international festival of the caliber of VIFF deserves more nuanced programming.
The Charm of Others
Director: Ryutaro Ninomiya, Japan, 2012 (89 minutes)
This Dragon & Tigers nominee, helmed with an astonishingly sure hand by first-time feature director Ninomiya, took second prize at PIA, Japan’s largest film festival, in September. A cadre of slackers at a vending machine repair shop, beset by boredom and hopelessness, take out their aggression on each other. Despite the Lord of the Flies atmosphere, some very funny scenes ensue, leavening the dark story. Bully Takahashi refuses to stop talking about shrimp, and in trying to describe the beauty of his latest crush, draws dubious comparisons to the Buddha. It is unclear at times whose story we’re meant to be following—Takahashi’s (he is supposedly “cool”, but is to all appearances depressed), Yoda’s or impish womanizer Sakata’s—but somehow it doesn’t matter much. The focused, high-voltage energy of the performances, and Ninomiya’s visuals provide satisfying enough entertainment value. Days are painted in the traditional colours of the male business costume—drab greys, blues, browns, black and white—while nights pulsate with golden light, neon and women’s brightly coloured clothing. A director (also, in this case, screenwriter and actor) to be watched.
The Kumamoto Dormitory (with All Day)
Director: Mine Goichi, Japan, 2012 (71 + 25 minutes)
Considering that nine people involved in the production of this film—including the director, cast, crew, and three members of the band “Spangle”—flew here for the VIFF screenings, this movie boasts the largest number of attendees attached to an indie film ever to grace this festival. The main offering continues the life of fictional character Daikichi (played by the director himself), which Goichi began in the short All Day. Something of a sad sack, Daikichi determines to become a “famous stuntman”, and after fleeing home, he teams up with filmmaker friend Tenshi who wants to become a director. Their lives take the usual road of dreamers hoping to magically make it in the big city—too much drinking, trying to pick up girls, and big talk with little action—until Daikichi tries more daring stunts like bungee jumping off buildings. Goichi offers tantalizing glimpses of male dorm life, panning casually past a room where a student is sighting down a gun for instance, or—in the film’s greatest sequence—students oil their semi-naked bodies and slide down corridors on their bellies, partying wildly to pounding music. Although the pace lags at time, largely because character arcs lack focus, Goichi and his team hold promise for the future, as a PIA Special Jury Prize illustrates.
Like Someone in Love
Director: Abbas Kiarostami, France/Japan/Iran (109 minutes)
A young female student, working as a prostitute on the side, is sent by her pimp to an esteemed elderly professor. From there, the action takes an unexpected turn and then another one and suddenly we don’t know where we are or what’s going to happen next. Although sometimes the drama lags, especially when cars enter the scene and main characters become either drivers or passengers in sequences that drag, the mystery here is more engaging than in Kiarostami’s previous film, Certified Copy, which was set in the Tuscan countryside. A slice-of-life film that enters and leaves the action in mid-stream, it is an interesting offering from a master Iranian director unafraid to work in languages and cultures far removed from his homeland.
The Holy Quarternity
Director: Svata Czvenice, Czech Republic (78 minutes)
Suppose you like your neighbour just a little too much? Why should that pose a problem, given that your spouse harbours similar feelings for the neighbour’s spouse? And, if that isn’t enough, your teenage progeny have heartfelt crushes on the teens next door? With the witty intelligence Czech directors are prized for, Czvenice leads us on a merry romp rooted in deeper musings about love, lust and the bumps in the road that befall long term monogamous relationships. A funny and gentle film, but stay for the credits…one more surprise may be in store, providing just the right hint of tartness.
Director: Christian Petzold, Germany, 2012 (105 minutes)
This masterful East German Cold War drama—the fifth film collaboration for director/screenwriter Christian Petzold and lead actor Nina Hoss—earned Petzold a Silver Bear at this year’s Berlin film festival. Hoss plays a paediatrician banished to a Baltic town after she applies for a visa to emigrate to the west. Under constant surveillance by the East German secret police, who subject her to strip searches among other humiliations, Barbara struggles with burgeoning feelings for a fellow physician—he admits to spying for the Stasi, only is his excuse genuine?—while plotting to flee to Denmark with her West German lover. If there is one false note in the film it would be the lack of character flaws in main characters who seem just a little too good to be true. But this can be forgiven, given Petzold’s superbly nuanced direction. In particular, the contrast of beauty and ugliness, both physical and psychic, is pitch perfect and Hoss’ performance is eloquently restrained. Germany’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film in the 2013 Academy Awards.
VIFF 2012 INTERVIEWS
The Bulletin interviewed several Japanese indie filmmakers in a hospitality suite at the Sutton Place Hotel during the 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival. Kimiyo Kamamura kindly provided interpretation.
The Impish Charm of Ryutaro Ninomiya
(The Charm of Others)
Director Ryutaro Ninomiya—wearing multiple hats as screenwriter, editor, actor and producer, in addition to helmsman—has just finished three back-to-back interviews, but his energy shows no sign of lagging. Hands on knees, he leans forward eagerly in a black tee and grey hoodie that sit easily on his compact, muscular frame.
Congratulations on your Dragon & Tigers nomination, and PIA prize.
(The director grins widely and bows.) Thank you.
Is the English title of your film a direct translation?
The original English title was “Attractive People”. (VIFF programmer) Tony Rayns thought that was not quite right for the film, so we thought of a number of other possible titles, and “The Charm of Others” seemed to capture it best.
Who are the “others” in the title?
“Others” doesn’t mean any people in particular, not even the characters in the film. It just means others, other than you yourself (the audience member).
It’s partly an ensemble film, but several characters take focus. Did you have one protagonist in mind, or dual protagonists?
The protagonist is Yoda, the youngest one.
The comedy was very effective, particularly in your performance, and that of the actor who plays Takahashi. Do you two have a background in comedy?
None at all.
Usually when dialogue is improvised – and I understand about half the dialogue in your film was improvised – the scenes lose their dramatic rhythm. But in your film, this didn’t happen. How were you able to maintain the dramatic rhythm?
Thank you. I was just going on instinct, that’s all.
Robert Altman could learn something from you.
(Ninomiya laughs uproariously). Thank you.
In one scene, guys set up a member of their group to pick up chicks, and they use an expression, “fading into twilight”. What does this mean?
The subtitle was originally translated “dusk”, and when they use it, they mean…well, if you recall that pose the guy struck (the director leans back, hands behind his head), he was trying to look cool.
Sakata calls Yoda “cool”, but he seems passive and depressed. Does Sakata really think he’s cool?
Because Yoda is very different from myself or Sakata…normally what happens when you see a person who is passive, depressed, isolated from the main group, the tendency is to not quite bully them, but try to get any kind of reaction from them.
Sakata is a very interesting character, almost Shakespearian, impish, puckish…were you referencing any Shakespearean figures, mythological figures, a particular acting style? I’m thinking in particular of his great attack, energy, and the way he refused to stop smiling, even when he’s being beaten up.
Actually there’s no reference or model. Totally none. I don’t even know very much about Shakespeare.
What other projects do you have on the go, or planned?
That’s in my head everyday, thinking about it.
So, none right now?
There are tons of ideas but I’ve thrown them all away so far.
Why was one character wearing a (hygenic) mask?
He came to the set wearing a mask, and we decided to keep it in.
Was it because he had a cold?
Engaging Honesty from Mine Goichi
(The Kumamoto Dormitory/All Day)
Director Mine Goichi, who also plays the lead in his feature film, The Kumamoto Dormitory, looks comfortable in his skin and clothes, including a deeply wrinkled cotton beige shirt. Beside him, actor Momoka Okabe—more put together in a chic grey sweater-coat, although her jeans are worn at the knees—sits calm and composed, her pale skin shining softly, luminescent.
Congratulations on your PIA prize.
(The director bows.)
How did nine cast and crew members manage to get here for the VIFF?
(Both director and actor laugh.) We’ve always travelled (to screenings) together. Although, the furthest we’ve gone before is Korea…
You played (the protagonist) Daikichi, who is a stuntman. Were those stunts as dangerous as they looked?
The bungee jumps, were they done in one take?
For the river scene, where my feet are tied, we used two cameras, and it was done in one take. But when I say “Cut!” my crew sometimes don’t believe me, and they keep going. For the last scene, that was computer generated, I had to jump probably ten times onto a green sheet from a platform two meters high. Sometimes I landed outside the green sheet…
In the opening your camera pans down a corridor in the dorm and we see students in their rooms, and one student is sighting down a gun. Did anyone have a gun while you were living in the dorm?
Actually, that was an air gun. Actually the student I based that character on was into a survival game, which is why he had an air gun. I wanted to show the different people living in the dorm, about fifty students, with their very different lives.
Daikichi, he’s a bit of a sad sack, but he does attract girls. How?
Hmmn…Daikichi, who is me, really…he may not be brilliant or handsome, but he does attract girls.
Because he’s daring?
Ummm…you probably wouldn’t call him a girl magnet…he just happens to attract those two girls in the film.
Is it luck?
The high energy montage at the end of the three day graduation festival, it was really quite brilliant. How long did it take to shoot that?
Actually, the graduation party was happening just five days before we were supposed to begin shooting the film. So I took my cameraman and we filmed it. They start with a soccer game, or some kind of sports game, and the party starts after that, They drink all night. We probably shot for 24 hours, and towards the end I got too drunk and fell asleep, but the cameraman kept on shooting.
How much did the film cost to make?
Two to three thousand dollars.
(To Momoka Akabe): How did you feel about doing that stabbing scene, on the roof?
I thought it would be interesting…fun.
Have you done much film acting before?
This is my third film.
Are there dormitories like this for women?
(Actor and director consult each other, and the director answers).
We think so, but we can’t answer that for sure because we don’t know. Almost all the prefectures in Japan have that kind of dormitory in Tokyo.
I take it there’s supposed to be some supervision in these dormitories, someone to enforce the rules. But there didn’t seem to be any effective supervision. Is that typical?
There’s always a manager/dorm mother, and yes there are rules, and some follow them. But it’s typical that, like Daikichi, students disregard them.
Where does the name of the band “Spangle” come from?
Have you ever heard of “Candy Spangle”? I think it’s a band, maybe? Tony Rayns was talking about it last night.
Well, maybe it had something to do with that…I’m not sure.
How long have you had an association with Spangle?
Two, three years?
The rhythm at the end of both films was similar, I was curious about that. Do you want to speak about it? There was a change…
I didn’t really realize…I mean, I didn’t do that on purpose. By the way, the Spangle song at the end of the feature film, I had another song I wanted to use, by a known singer, but I didn’t want to pay the licensing fee, so when I was out drinking one night with Spangle I told them about it and they said, we’ll write a song for you. I thought their song suited the scene quite well.
In “All Day,” at the end, the characters’ heads appear up in the sky in a playful, cartoonish sequence. Is this a tradition in this type of film or soap opera that you were parodying?
The ending, where those faces come up and turn into the letters “All Day”…well first of all, about the ending, I came up with the plane flying off into the future as a metaphor, “sky’s the limit”, that kind of thing, and I just wanted to make sure that the story was very simple…I really didn’t have any notion of soap opera…
So the idea that you were parodying a soap opera, was that just Tony Rayns’ interpretation?
I tried to tell the story in a very simple way. But when I watch soap operas in the middle of the day in Japan, the topics are very serious, and yet the way it’s done they become almost comic…so it’s not quite a parody, but that indication was there.