We round off the 2022 Vancouver International Film Festival with a look at some of the biggest movies from this year’s programme…
Bones of Crows
Dene/Métis director Marie Clements‘ Bones of Crows is one of the most important films of the year. Tracking one Indigenous woman’s 20th century struggle through family separation, harrowing residential school abuse, and post-war life in Canada, Bones of Crows forces its audience to confront the grim truth by shining a bright, unavoidable light on the darkest era of Canada’s past.
Shot on the grounds of a former residential school, the depiction of life for Indigenous children (a strong collective performance by the young cast) is blunt and brutal, but effective. Leading a large Indigenous cast is Grace Dove, whose strong performance as Aline Spears in matched by Summer Testawich as childhood Aline. The trauma inflicted on such a young child is tough to watch, yet it is wholly necessary in the big picture of the remembrance and reconciliation.
Where Bones of Crows stumbles is its story arc. The decision to use frequent time jumps cedes coherent narrative structure to several powerful cinematic moments or transitions. One of the most potent scenes feels like a natural ending, but instead comes at the two thirds mark, and though these scenes stand alone, they can feel misplaced in the overarching narrative.
A bright spark for Indigenous-centric projects, Bones of Crows is an educational asset that can start hundreds of much needed conversations.
The Banshees of Inisherin
Few directors have perfected the art of dark humour quite like Martin McDonagh, who returns to the big screen with his funniest effort since In Bruges. Two of the reasons that film was so successful – Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson – accompany McDonagh to their native land to tell the tale of the unexpected breakup of two lifelong friends in 1920s Inisherin.
One friend, you see, now finds the other boring. That’s it, that’s the plot. Yet McDonagh earns his pound of flesh with the hilarious unravelling of Pádraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson), with one threatening to shear off his own fingers if the other does not leave him alone, despite the fact that his former friend simply cannot understand why he has suddenly been given the cold shoulder.
Set against the stunning backdrop of County Galaway, and featuring a stellar cast, The Banshees of Inisherin is a beautifully crafted downward spiral through the bitter whispers of small town gossip, society’s desperate, unrelenting resistance to change, and the depths of grappling with one’s own mortality.
READ MORE: Grimmfest Halloween 2022 – Highlights Reel
Brendan Fraser is back. Of course, to millennials still in love with The Mummy, he never left, but for most the former leading man has been off the radar for some time. Teaming up with Darren Aronofsky to star in a one-set screen adaptation of a play about a morbidly obese man slowly eating himself to death is a move few saw coming, but already looks like a stroke of genius. Fraser turns in one of the best performances of his career as English teacher Charlie, who, knowing death is near, attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink).
Aronofsky is not one to give a fuck about cinematic convention, and for that he is to be commended. The Whale is the latest in a long line of tense, unnerving dramas that find their way under your skin, and it will no doubt pierce the wider movie-going conscious despite its extreme arthouse style. Sticking close to Samuel D. Hunter’s source material, Aronofsky stages The Whale as an on-screen play, with one location, silhouettes and knocks to signal comings and goings, and the decision to never show his supporting characters outside Charlie’s space.
With the script and direction tied so close to the stage, The Whale is melodramatic, even jarring in its presentation. The core themes of confronting prejudice and death are front and centre, promoted constantly by the characters as they would be in a classic theatre production. The characters themselves are blunted as a result, though this does not detract from the actors’ capacity to engage their audience. It is simply a different kind of theatrical experience and another chapter in Aronofsky’s polarising filmmaking philosophy.
READ MORE: Take Back The Night – Blu-ray Review
The challenge for any dialogue-heavy one-room ensemble is effective characterisation. This is where Sarah Polley delivers in her gripping adaptation of Miriam Toews’ novel about a group of women’s decision to confront systemic sexual abuse in their contained Mennonite community, located somewhere in North America. Spending most of their time in a sprawling hayloft, writer-director Polley’s characters are impeccably moulded and defined as they debate whether to stay and fight their attackers (the mostly unseen men of the colony) or leave for good.
The outstanding cast lends itself to Polley’s process. Headlined by Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, and Jessie Buckley, with strong support from veterans Judith Ivey and Sheila McCarthy, the performances are stark and painfully enduring. These women are haunted, trapped at all turns by every facet of their society, a fact made all the more brutal by the hints that the unknown time period may be more modern than you first realise.
While the themes and emotional cues are telegraphed without a great deal of nuance, they are done so potently, and with a tension that grows thick as the clock ticks down to the women’s impending decision. A critical comment on the #MeToo era.
Check out our full VIFF 2022 coverage here.