Well there we have it, folks, it’s all over but the crying. Actually, the crying should probably come to an end too, now that we Vancouver International Film Festival attendees won’t be watching multiple heavy dramas each day. My kingdom for a comedy.
Over the past two weeks other film fanatics and I devoured more than our fair share of some amazing films from around the world, including everything from documentaries to short films to micro-budget indies to star-studded dramas. We’ve cried, we’ve laughed, we’ve probably fallen asleep a couple of times (I know I have).
And throughout it all we took in some thought provoking, staggering works. I now humbly submit to you my Top films of VIFF:
5. Brooklyn, directed by John Crowley
The first film of the festival also turned out to be one of my favourites. Not normally my cup of tea, this romantic tale of a young Irish woman leaving home to make a go of it in America won me over with its warmth and its balancing act of reaching great depths of emotion without becoming saccharine. In many ways Brooklyn is a very old fashioned movie, reminding me of John Ford at his most tender, but its honest look at the hardships faced by those who make the journey to a new world allows the film to avoid nostalgia, and Saoirse Ronan’s performance at the centre of it all is the hook on which the rest of the film flourishes.
4. The Sound of Trees, directed by François Péloquin
The Sound of Trees is exactly the type of film I have always felt a deep connection with: quiet, patient and adept a forming a cohesive whole by focusing on individual moments. The most accurate portrait of a small town Canadian upbringing I’ve ever seen, Péloquin’s extraordinarily strong debut film is an eloquent but gritty look at a troubled young man, played by Antoine L’Écuyer, trying to find his own identity in a town where’s there not much to do, while living with a father (Roy Dupuis) who’s at a crossroads of his own.
3. Dheepan, directed by Jacques Audiard
Jacques Audiard’s latest stark, violent drama seemed to divide its VIFF audience with an ending which is a tonal shift from everything leading up to it. For me it worked, as this slow burn of a film about three Sri Lankan refugees settling in a crime ridden neighbourhood in France, leapt into an explosive climax that felt like a breath of fresh air after so many fade away endings from lesser festival entries. Audiard knows his way around directing violence, but even more so he is superb at portraying characters under pressure, and its toll and their reaction.
2. Mustang, directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven
This was one of those delightful moments you occasionally get at film festivals, when you sit down for a movie you know absolutely nothing about and find yourself pleasantly surprised. One of the most heartbreaking movies I saw at VIFF, Mustang also managed to be one of the most inspiring. Following five Turkish sisters as they go from free spirited children playing on a beach to being locked up by their family and married off one by one, the movie can be a hard go, but its human drama is riveting and its political and social stance admirable.
1. Room, directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Everybody thought I was crazy when I picked 2014’s Frank as one of the best movies of that year, and they may be right, but at least now I can claim I have an eye for talented new directors. Lenny Abrahamson’s name will be well known by film fans once Room gets its wide release, because this film is likely going to receive a lot of attention. Adapted from a popular novel, Room is about a young mother raising her son in captivity; they exist solely in a single room, kept there by a man who abducted the mother as a teenage girl. Making a lot from a little, Abrahamson avoids what could have been a limitation, with the confined setting, by focusing on the relationships and featuring honest characters, especially the mother, Ma, played magnificently by Brie Larson. This is a heart-wrenching movie that manages to avoid feeling manipulative or, for that matter, pessimistic, by never shying away from its subject or the hope and humanity that is the story’s core.
Special mention: Green Room, directed by Jeremy Saulnier
This was a film I enjoyed as much for the screening I saw it as I did for the film itself. With beer in hand at The Rio Theatre, I joined an excited and rowdy crowd for this second feature from the director of breakout hit Blue Ruin. I doubt anyone was disappointed by this violent, energetic film about a nobody punk band trying to fight their way out of a gig-gone-bad at a neo-Nazi compound. Patrick Stewart playing a white supremacist leader is reason enough to see this movie, but add to that this film’s frenetic pace and unflinching chaos, and you’re in for a good time at the movies.