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The plot thickens at Vancouver International Film Festival

Brooklyn, Victoria, Cop Car, The Club, Beeba Boys, Marshland, Louder than Bombs, Dheepan

Sitting in a movie theatre every day for days on end watching movie after movie after movie isn’t everybody’s idea of a good time, but for the true cinephile it’s something like heaven. And heaven on earth right now is the Vancouver International Film Festival, where I have been camped out for the last five days, seeing typically four movies a day (taking it easy this year) and generally having a blast.

But it’s time to take a break and check in with you readers to let you know about some of the movies I’ve managed to catch up with.

Brooklyn, a film which is sure to get a wide release and plenty of acclaim, opened the film festival as a whole and opened my film festival with a Saturday afternoon screening and me fresh off the boat. Normally a film as easily described as “old fashioned” as Brooklyn is isn’t my cup of tea, but with the level of talent on display here and the film’s beautifully told story of love, family and new beginnings, I was completely absorbed by the whole thing. It is a sweet movie, as likely to inspire laughter as it is tears, but it completely avoids being maudlin by giving us real characters, especially the lead role of Eillis played by Saoirse Ronan, an young Irish girl moving to America in the 1950s.

There’s a John Ford-ian warmth to the whole thing, partly because of the Irish connection (The Quiet Man is even referenced in the movie), but also because it doesn’t shy away from honest emotion as it tackles themes of family, loneliness and love.

There was much hype about Birdman being presented as a single-take, but I find the gimmick perhaps worked better in Victoria, a German film from director Sebastian Schipper about a young Spanish girl living in Berlin whose night is changed dramatically when she meets four local men at a nightclub.

There is a sense of dread throughout the film, and it’s not without reason, because where this movie starts and where it ends up are two very different places. I have no idea how they managed the one-take aspect, and I don’t really care, but it works well in investing you in the escalating chaos the protagonist is thrown into. Not everything in the film rings true, and the single take style is occasionally at fault, but overall the film works as a tense, grim thriller.

Cop Car is just the sort of oddball genre picture I’m glad still has a home at film festivals. This story of two brats who stumble upon and end up stealing a cop car from a bad bit of business corrupt sheriff, played by Kevin Bacon, contains enough shootouts, swearing and bad moustaches for this film fan. In the midst of all the heart wrenching family dramas, watching Kevin Bacon do a bunch of cocaine and run around with an Uzi was just what was needed. That’s all you need to say about that.

The movie I’ve seen easily the most walkouts at so far is The Club, the latest from Chilean director Pablo Larrain, a pitch black comedy about a group of disgraced priests and one nun serving a church sentence of isolation in a house in a small seaside community. I get why people walked out, it’s a hard film to watch, and certainly pushes the boundaries of good taste. Comedies about child molesters aren’t for everybody. I’m not sure they’re for me either, but I found the film’s unapologetically off putting tone at least interesting and its commitment to thoroughly skewering the church and its historic tendency to sweep scandal under the rug admirable.

I really wanted to like Beeba Boys and I almost feel guilty that I really, really didn’t. The movie is from the incredibly talented Deepa Mehta, a true treasure of Canadian cinema, and is about Sikh organized crime in Vancouver. So we have an Indo-Canadian director tackling a very relevant Indo-Canadian story, but unfortunately the result is nothing more than a poor cover version of an American gangster movie.

The title means Good Boys, and Mehta’s insistence on channeling Martin Scorsese is the downfall of this movie, not only because she does a poor job of it, but because it completely ruins any chance of her own voice coming through in the film. We know Mehta is a talented, thoughtful storyteller, but there’s no sign of that here as any sort of insight into the characters or situation the film might have is choked out by an aggressively loud soundtrack, swirling camera movements and forced gangster clichés we’ve seen a hundred times before. The entire film is a false note, and its hurried pacing, second-rate acting and over-lit appearance makes the whole thing play like a failed CBC pilot. I went in excited to see a Deepa Mehta film on crime and violence, but unfortunately that’s not what this is.

My third day at the festival, Monday, was a long haul. Don’t get me wrong, I saw some excellent movies, but they amounted to a series of pretty heavy films in a row. Marshland, a police procedural from Spain, owes a lot to True Detective in its dark, murky tone, but finds its own legs when tying in the investigation of a series of murders in a small town to the overall political climate of Spain and the legacy of fascism. The photography is stunning in this film, especially the bird’s eye views of the titular marshlands, and there are tough, tense performances throughout. Nothing outrageously original going on here, but it’s an excellent rendition.

Up next was Louder than Bombs, the first English-language film from Norwegian director Joachim Trier, who blew me away in 2011 with Oslo, August 31st. This was one of my more anticipated films of the festival, based on the strength of the director, and the film mostly lived up to expectation. There’s a lot going on in the film, but it’s essentially about how the death of a mother affects a family. Trier is truly an up-and-coming talent, and his eye for creative visuals (I found myself wanting to frame at least a dozen shots in the film) makes for inspiring cinema. The storytelling unfortunately begins to lose steam in the last act and the whole never really lives up to the potential on display in individual moments. Regardless, Louder than Bombs is mostly a powerful, absorbing experience.

Probably the most buzzed about film at the festival, and as it turns out, one of the best, is Room, from director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank). This is another heavy film about family, but in this case the family is a mother and her five-year-old son, who are locked in a garden shed by a man known only as Old Nick. The mother, brilliantly played by Brie Larson, was snatched away as a teenager and has been in the room ever since.

With such heavy limitations in terms of set and potential plot developments, at least in the first portion of the film, I did wonder what Abrahamson could possibly do with these characters. But worries were quickly laid to rest as it became clear the relationship between the mother and her son, and her struggle to raise him in isolation, are drama enough for a fantastic movie. The film is an emotional trial, but it approaches its characters honestly and never sugar-coats the complexity of the situation and the resulting toll on its victims. There are no easy triumphs in the film and we are asked to follow these characters through the entire process, even after the media’s flashes have gone away and all that is left is nightmares and trauma. Larson is a powerhouse and I hesitate to consider the places she likely had to go in her own emotions to bring such truth to her character.

Probably my other favourite film of the festival so far (ask me again in an hour and I might say different) is Dheepan, the latest from French director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, Rust and Bone). The film tells the story of three Sri Lankans who come together to pretend to be a family in order to immigrate to Europe. The trio, a Tamil Tiger soldier, a young woman and a nine-year-old girl move to France but end up in living amongst violence yet again, while the shadows of past traumas continue to colour the present.

The film has a shocking and brutal final act that some I talked to found off-putting but for me worked, especially after watching film after film that just seem to fade away rather than reach any sort of climax or conclusion. It does involve an abrupt tonal shift that I’m still trying to wrap my head around, but as a visceral experience, it’s an astounding sequence.

The Vancouver International Film Festival keeps plugging along until Oct. 9, with plenty of highly anticipated films to come including Green Room, High-Rise and I Saw the Light. Stay tuned to for more updates and follow me on Twitter @CineFileBlog for ongoing reviews and musings.