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Female talent stands out at Victoria Film Festival

Victoria Film Festival continues through Feb. 15
Porch Stories by Sarah Goodman is just one film featuring strong female roles at this year's Victoria Film Festival.

Here we are folks, Day 6 of the Victoria Film Festival. If you’ve been hitting it as hard as I have, it’s all a bit of a blur already, but a wonderful, stimulating blur. A dizzying blur. A good blur.

I have thoughts, many of them, on a lot of the films I have seen so far. I thought I might share a few. Please, join me.

One of my favourite films of the festival so far has to be Porch Stories, from director Sarah Goodman, a beautifully filmed black-and-white movie about a relationship and the man from the past who comes back to stir up feelings and shake up the status quo. Musician Laura Barrett stars as the central figure of this awkward triangle, and is quietly compelling as she stares out from behind thick glasses, a subdued creative force struggling with domesticity.

The real main character of the film is the neighbourhood in which its set, including awkward teenage neighbours, walking tour groups loudly lamenting the loss of character in the area and the delightfully cranky elderly Portuguese couple across the street. There’s a lot of love in Goodman’s depiction of these streets I would venture she knows all too well, and it shines through.

If I have any complaint with the film, it’s that it suffers from something I’m coining Ambiguous Ending Syndrome (AES). An ambiguous ending can work, but for a film such as this, where we’ve come to know the main character so well, I truly felt we were owed some sort of conclusion, a decision that would allow us to complete our journey with these people. I’m sure the filmmakers have their reasons, but it felt disappointingly unresolved to me.

Still, the experience of the film to that point is rich and rewarding.

Last year when The Wolf of Wall Street came out, it caused an uproar. Part of that uproar was folks talking about how they’re tired of movies about wealthy white guys doing debaucherous things. Well, I think it had far more going on in it than that, but I’m not sure I can say the same about The Riot Club, Lone Scherfig’s new film about naughty, spoilt upper-class English students and their hobbies of drinking, drugs and general mayhem.

I’m not usually the first to base my judgement of a movie on another movie, and I think The Riot Club’s failings are mostly its own, but the comparison seems obvious here. While Wolf of Wall Street did something interesting in setting up a “we’re all responsible for this” dynamic which included the audience, The Riot Club creates an us-versus-them response that is much less rich, and far too simplistic to make for truly daring cinema.

In one the debauchery is subversive, in the other repulsive, which cinematically is far less interesting. Some will prefer The Riot Club, because that’s what they wanted out of The Wolf of Wall Street. Not I.

If there’s been a trend in this year’s Victoria Film Festival, I would say it’s movies made by and starring tremendously talented women. Clouds of Sils Maria, which played to a sold out screening Sunday night, is perhaps the best example of this I’ve seen so far. Juliette Binoche stars in the film as an actress approaching middle age who has been asked to take a role in a play which made her a star 20 years earlier. But this time she’s being asked to play the role of “the older woman,” while her earlier role is to be taken by a young Hollywood starlet.

This is a juicy setup, but the film is not so much driven by plot as it is by conversation and relationships, primarily between Binoche’s character and her assistant, played by a truly impressive Kristin Stewart. The two hide themselves away in the country to rehearse, relax, debate and discuss. The chemistry between the two as professionals, as friends, as women, is, sadly, refreshing to see on screen, especially with the talent on display by these two very different actors.

This is a rich film, with lots of questions about aging, friendship, art and culture. I’m still trying to figure out whether it offers any answers, but I vastly enjoyed the conversation.

Denis Cote is my kind of weird, so while I can’t say I fully understood Joy of Man’s Desiring, I did enjoy its minimalist journey. This pseudo-documentary meditation on workplaces and the repetition of industrial manufacturing is a slow but hypnotic collection of clanking machinery and surreal employee banter, punctuated by moments of hilarity and truly head-scratching oddities.

If Cote wasn’t so confident in his approach, and didn’t manage to find a compelling groove for the whole thing, the film would easily be baffling and full of itself. Instead, I found it somehow fascinating.

The Boy and the World is an animated film many will love but which lost me with its, to my mind, supremely reductive view of the ways of the world. The counterargument will be to call me a brainwashed line-tower, but truly beautiful art is found in nuance, the grey of the world, and the good-vs-bad dichotomy The Boy and the World hammers home with something short of grace simply turned me off.

Much of the animation in unique and beautiful; the film’s approach to politics and life, however, is not, even if I agree with much of it. Urban vs. rural. Industrial vs. craft manufacturing. Centralized government vs. socialist utopia. It’s one or the other in this film, with nothing to suggest the ties which bind them all. Grade 12 me might have been into it. Now me can’t but believe it isn’t all so simple.

Not My Type, a French film from Lucas Belvaux, is a romantic movie, but one which intentionally plays with the conventions of the genre, and in doing so brings to screen of the more interesting female characters I’ve seen in a while.

Parisian intellectual Clement is sent out of town to teach in Arras, an idea he loathes. Things look up, however, when he meets the attractive but simple Jennifer, a local hairdresser. Romance blossoms.

Emilie Dequenne as Jennifer makes the film, bringing real humanity and nuance to a character more often played as a caricature. Instead, Jennifer is the heart of the film, and proves to be far more intelligent, complex and confident than expected, becoming a female lead who is simply allowed to be who she is, and isn’t forced into being a ‘type,’ despite the title.

Unfortunately the film is another sufferer of AES, with an ending that simply makes no sense considering everything we have learnt about the main character up until that point. I would go so far as to call the ending a cop out for actually concluding this relationship in any meaningful way. It leaves a bad aftertaste for a film that is otherwise both sweet and savoury.

At the heart of Autrui, a wonderfully honest film from Quebecois filmmaker Micheline Lanctot, is a character you may not understand, but who is played fearlessly by Brigitte Pogonat. Her decision to take in and stick to helping a homeless man is hard to compute, given the violence she receives in return, but we’re not asked to agree with her, only to consider the circumstances which led to the decision.

We are asked to consider the emptiness of her awkward stage of becoming a grown up, of the isolation of modern society, and if our own fears and prejudices would stop us from doing the same, even if rightfully so.

These are just a few of the thoughts I have about a handful of the films I have seen so far. There is so much more to come, dear readers, as the Victoria Film Festival continues until Feb. 15. If you’re trying to decide what to see, some quick recommendations are (keeping in mind I haven’t seen any of these): Look of Silence, Wild Tales, The Valley Below, Phoenix, Love at First Fight, It Follows, Henri Henri, and so much more.  Visit for a full schedule.