Film Reviews

VIFF 2019 – Week Two Round-Up

The 2019 Vancouver International Film Festival continues with a collection of intimate, personal, highly emotional pictures from across the globe…

Sorry We Missed You

You have to respect Ken Loach.

In 2014, his 80th birthday in sight and a prolific career behind him, he retired from filmmaking. Less than a year later, the Conservatives won a shock majority in the UK general election. Like many of us, Loach could have moaned from his sofa or on Twitter. Instead, he came out of retirement and won the Palme d’Or with the politically charged I, Daniel Blake. You may disagree with his blatant politics, but you have to respect him for that.

His follow up, Sorry We Missed You, hits home with the same core emotional beats, but is more cohesive thanks to its single family focus. Ricky and Abby struggle to hold things together on gruelling zero-hour contracts, while their teenage children, Seb and Liza Jane, suffer the mental consequences as products of their environment.

Sorry We Missed You is not perfect, but its stark and direct depiction of the very real nightmare many UK families find themselves in – summed up by two polar opposite, but equally impassioned outpours by Abby and a local police officer – has never been more relevant. Brexit does not come up, likely due to the timing of the production, but it doesn’t need to; with the process ongoing and the outcome bleak, it is there, looming silently.

Like I, Daniel Blake, Sorry We Missed You is a tale of unforgivable 21st century desperation. It is also a litmus test. If someone labels it overly self-righteous or socialist without considering the reality, they’re probably a twat.

READ MORE: The Village in the Woods – Review

Roger & Me

In 1989, journalist and aspiring filmmaker Michael Moore finished the first edit of his debut feature – a damning reaction to General Motors CEO Roger Smith’s decision to close multiple plants, eliminate 20,000 jobs, and bring about economic disparity in Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan.

Under the impression that Roger & Me would not get any traction in the US, Moore mailed two shoddy VHS tapes to the Vancouver and Toronto International Film Festivals, hoping Canadian audiences would be more receptive. As usual, he was absolutely right.

30 years later, the world’s most successful documentarian accompanied his breakthrough hit back to Vancouver for a special anniversary screening, the first time he had sat through it for many years. Combining the blunt trauma and satirical wit that would go on to define Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 (Academy Award and Palme d’Or winners respectively), Roger & Me remains as fresh and relevant a rebuttal to blind corporate greed as it did against the backdrop of capitalism’s greatest victory: the end of the Cold War.

When it was over, Moore left the auditorium for a few moments. Upon re-emerging, he admitted he had been so emotionally overwhelmed by the plight of Flint both then and now, that he had gone backstage to cry. Suitably fired up, he became his politically passionate self once again, answering questions until his time ran out. Undeterred, he invited the entire audience across the street to Vancouver’s Library Square pub, where he our shook hands, bought everyone a beer, and carried on talking until his family politely requested he stop.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

French director Céline Sciamma brings her nation’s traditionally fiery cinema to a literal crescendo with Portrait de la jeune fille en feu, the 18th century tale of Marianne (Noémie Merlant), a young painter, and her reluctant subject, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), whose refusal to pose stems from the knowledge that a completed portrait will be used by her mother to entice a suitor.

Utilising minimal cast members, dialogue, and sets, Sciamma fashions an intense, intimate love story that flows and evolves with patient, natural ease, making the payoff between Marianne and Héloïse all the more rewarding. Merlant and Haenel are sensational, commanding the screen with a presence befitting Sciamma’s razor sharp script (already a Best Screenplay winner at Cannes) and leaving you with the realisation that you have just watched one of this century’s most important co-lead performances.

Perhaps the most striking technical aspect of the production is the pointed use of sound, or lack thereof in places. Complementing the up-close-and-personal direction and vivid cinematography, Sciamma shuns an excessive traditional score in favour of crashing waves, crackling fires, and creaking floorboards, allowing the vital musical moments to stem organically.

One of the standout foreign language pictures at this year’s festival (rivalled only by Parasite), Portrait de la jeune fille en feu is a masterpiece set for global acclaim.

READ MORE: Professor Elemental – Professor Elemental and his Amazing Friends: Part 2 – Review

Pain and Glory

Pedro Almodóvar has never been one to hold back. Long famed for the naked intimacy and pointedly human nature of his pictures, the legendary Spanish filmmaker, now 70, finds himself in a self-reflective mood as he takes us up close and personal the only way he knows how: by turning the camera on himself.

The result, Dolor y gloria, starring frequent collaborator Antonio Banderas as the Almodóvar-esque Salvador Mallo, is an achingly poignant exploration of the deeper personal aspects of a life lived as its title suggests, covering Almodóvar’s childhood, sexuality, maternal relationship, and pain management (both mental and physical) through the lens of his prolific career.

More of an anthology woven together through flashbacks and real-time encounters, Dolor y gloria is a broken window into the soul of a creative maestro that does not always flow cleanly, but does sport enticing performances from Banderas (who will certainly be in the Best Actor mix come Oscar season), Asier Etxeandia, Julieta Serrano, and Asier Flores.

Follow our coverage of the Vancouver International Film Festival 2019 here.

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