Well folks, I have some bad news, so prepare yourselves: the Victoria Film Festival is over for another year. I know, I know, I’m as broken up about it as you are.
But we can take solace in the fact we just had 11 days of some of the best movies the world has to offer. Not too shabby.
I wrote a mid-festival article to talk about some of the films I had seen up to that point, and now I am here to talk about some of the films that closed the festival, and offer up my Top 5 Films of VFF2015.
I still can’t decide if I appreciate the confrontational qualities of The Tribe, or if it is a very sick and twisted film. I’m not against its main trajectory, as a movie that starts off as a potentially sweet story of a young deaf man who goes to a special school and slowly reveals itself to be one of the most depraved, unrelentingly violent movies you can imagine. I enjoy shattered expectations.
But where the line should be drawn will be something each viewer has to reckon with. For some it will be as soon as things start to turn down a dark alley. For me, I think it came with a rape scene that the movie doesn’t totally justify including, to my mind. I can handle violence for its own sake, to a point, but sexual violence is a harder pill to swallow for me, when its only role is to shock.
Most people will never get to decide because they will avoid the film altogether, probably after finding out it is all in sign language, with no subtitles, no voiceovers, not even a musical score. That this in no way slows the film down or takes away from its impact, is a strength of the movie. It’s not a gimmick. If anything, it adds to the intensity of what we are watching. There is no buffer.
Wild Tales, the Oscar nominated Argentinian film from director Damián Szifron, is in some ways as dark and malicious as The Tribe, but it has the advantage of being wildly hilarious. A collection of short films thematically linked, Wild Tales is a gleefully over-the-top look at revenge, full of rabidly angry people doing things the rest of us only daydream about.
To call this movie cathartic says something pretty dark about our impulses, but I think it is completely accurate. It’s invigorating to see a film like this use violence and vigilantism in such ridiculously enjoyable ways. Call me sick and twisted but I was in a cinema full of people laughing like mad, so I don’t think I’m alone.
It’s beginning to become clear there’s some sort of a revolution brewing in the independent film scene in the Prairie Provinces. There have been inklings of this here and there. The documentary My Prairie Home, about musician Rae Spoon, came to the Victoria Film Festival a couple of years ago. Last year’s Big Muddy, from Saskatchewan, had a good run on the festival circuit and even got a limited release in the U.S.
And now we have The Valley Below, a shockingly strong first outing from Calgary-based director Kyle Thomas. Thomas, as he explained in a Q&A I was lucky enough to host, comes from making short films, and used that training well here, with a movie that in many ways is a collection of short films, although they all ultimately connect.
What’s impressive is how clear a vision Thomas has in the film, despite all the parts at play. There are different main characters in each section, in different times and places in their lives, facing different challenges. The sections of the film are even scored by different musicians. There’s a lot going on. And yet the movie feels like a whole, both thematically and tonally, and a rather satisfying yet challenging whole at that.
What holds it all together is the films' sense of place and its primary location of Drumheller. This is a film about people, but it’s also a film about a people, who come from a specific place and a specific way of life, familiar to most of us with any connections to small towns, and the challenges they carry with them.
Quebecois film Henri Henri was too sticky sweet for my taste, even though I recognize that was the entire point. Some of it was quite charming, especially Sophie Desmarais, who we saw at last year’s festival in the excellent Sarah Prefers to Run. It also gave me one hell of a hankering for a good pickle. But its charms are slight and in the end are piled on so thick they smother the film. Again, I get that this is intentional; French whimsy and all. But I find little value in it.
A surprisingly rewarding film at the festival was Love at First Fight, or Les Combattants, a French movie from Thomas Cailley, about a young woman determined to join the military to learn survival skills, and the young man who finds her oddly fascinating. This film has all the elements to make me enjoy its simple pleasures. Young love? Check. An odd sense of humour? Yup. A plot revolving around escaping to the woods? Oh my yes. It has it all.
It’s a simple girl-meets-boy plot, but with enough wit and toughness to avoid any and all sentimentality, and is all the more sweet for it.
In total I saw 21 movies during the festival, and about another dozen before the festival via pre-screeners, a perk of the job. It was a rich collection of films, and proper kudos goes out to the film festival team for the great job that they do.
For what it’s worth, here is my Top 5 Films of the festival:
1. The Look of Silence
2. Wild Tales
4. Not My Type
5. The Valley Below
See you next year.