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REVIEWS: Victoria Film Fest offers much in the way of variety

Monday’s Kyle Wells presents his first take on a collection of films from VFF 2020
And the Birds Rained Down , director Louise Archambault’s latest film, features a cast of Quebecois cinema royalty, including Andrée Lachapelle in her final role before her death last year. Courtesy Victoria Film Festival

The 2020 Victoria Film Festival is in full swing and audiences are lining up to see a broad cross-section of movies from filmmakers around the world. Today, Monday Magazine reviewer Kyle Wells offers up his take on some of the films showing at the festival.

Desert One – Director Barbara Kopple

What starts out as a bit of a dry history lesson in well-trodden territory finds its footing when it evolves into a personal and moving story of how a historical event, a statistic in a Wikipedia page, can impact so many people and forever change their lives. From one of the greats of American documentary filmmaking, Desert One is told with a fair, clear-eyed vision of history, supported by a deeply humanitarian streak, elevating it above typical ‘talking head’ style features. **1/2 stars (out of four)

Open for Submissions Director Bryan Skinner

Shot in a mere eight days here in Victoria, with a predominantly local cast and crew, Skinner’s film should win a Most Meta award for the festival, centred as it is around the trials and tribulations of organizing a … Victoria film festival. This improvised mockumentary is shot mean and lean, but is delightfully deft on its feet, using the characters and caricatures of the festival world to poke a little fun at art, commerce and the merger of the two. The fake films shown at this fake festival are a highlight, as is Chris Mackie’s hilarious turn as a far-right American conspiracy theorist. This is a great example of doing a lot with a little. ***

La Belle Epoque made for a pleasant and entertaining start to the Victoria Film Festival. It shows again Feb. 13 at the Dave Dunnet Theatre in Oak Bay.

Anne at 13,000 ft. Director Kazik Radwanski

Constant closeups, hand-held camerawork and an extremely challenging main character may make for the uncomfortable viewing experience the director intended, but the approach is not without its limitations. While almost certainly intended to give viewers an intimate sense of what it’s like to live with mental illness, or be in close contact with someone experiencing it, the gimmick reaches its potential early and sitting through the rest of the movie is something of a grind. Your mileage may vary. However, the film has good intentions and Deragh Campbell is excellent as the titular Anne. **

La Belle Époque – Director Nicolas Bedos

As the film festival’s opening gala presentation, this film was a perfect choice: light, funny, and energizing. It also has something to say, with its exploration of the temptations and shortcomings of nostalgia. This French film focuses on a couple who are splitting apart from what they (or mostly she) sees as a stale, loveless life together, far past its prime.

To recapture the thrill of their first meeting, the husband enlists the help of a company that recreates times gone past and allows clients to relive their youth, which in this case means the 1970s. With a cast of celebrated French actors and the nimble direction of Bedos, this romantic and easily enjoyable movie brings the feelings without coming across as sticky sweet, and provides considerable laughs along the way. ***

Portrait of a Lady on FireDirector Céline Sciamma

One of the best films of 2019 has made its local debut at the film festival, and anyone who can see Sciamma’s exquisite film on the big screen should jump at the chance to do so. Lusciously filmed and filled to the brim with lust, sorrow and joy, this tale of forbidden love in 18th-century France uses a deliberate, delicate pace to evoke deep emotions of longing and love. Along with the emotional impact, the movie is also an intellectual treat, exploring the impact of repression, while revealing the power of women finding solace, strength and humanity through friendship, art and solidarity. This is one not to be missed. ****

Portrait of a Lady on Fire, directed by Céline Sciamma and starring Adele Haenel and Noémie Merlant, has an emotional impact but also is an intellectual treat for moviegoers, writes Kyle Wells.

Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce ChatwinDirector Werner Herzog

During the course of this documentary, director Werner Herzog states multiple times he does not wish for the movie to be about him. Of course he doth protest too much, and is as integral a figure in the film as its titular subject, the British travel writer and journalist who was a personal friend of Herzog’s up until he died from AIDS in 1989. Herzog uses perhaps his most casual documentarian touch yet as he leads viewers on various journeys following in the footsteps of Chatwin, whether to the Australian outback, prehistoric Patagonia or the rolling hills of Wiltshire, England. This is a meandering and unfocused film, but the approach works, thanks to the fascinating life and work of Chatwin, Herzog’s own offbeat charm, and the fabulous scenery and people we encounter along the way. ***

And the Birds Rained DownDirector Louise Archambault

With a cast of Quebecois cinema royalty, including Andrée Lachapelle in her final role before her death last year, Archambault’s latest is a touching tale of three elderly people, who have all known the highs and lows of a life well lived, trying to live out the last of their days in the isolation of the Quebec wilderness. For some, the escape from society is the right choice, while others come to discover they have some life yet to live. Also starring Rémy Girard and Gilbert Sicotte, this quiet, contemplative movie explores aging and death with an open heart, grace and kindness, all with a touch of humour and a superb sense of tone. *** 1/2

The Victoria Film Festival continues at various venues around the city. Visit for a list of showtimes and films.

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