VIFF 2021 Review: Bipolar

Written by Patrick Hao

73/100

It’s hard to describe exactly what Queena Li’s debut feature Bipolar is without sounding like an intern at a movie studio writing script coverage. There are bits of Luis Bunuel’ and Maya Deren’s surrealism, bits of Jim Jarmusch’ and David Lynch’s absurdist take on the everyday man, and Ingmar Bergman’s existentialism. But all those combined never feels contrived or derivative of these great filmmakers. Rather, it is the announcement of a filmmaker coming to her own and making a splash.

Li’s film is an absurdist journey of self-actualization steeped in Buddhist philosophy that this reviewer is not familiar enough with to truly comprehend. But that prevents Li from putting her audience in her firm grasp because ultimately the film’s themes of self are universal enough to emotionally attach to.  Film notes have described this as a take on the Orpheus myth. Both are about singer-songwriters who attempt to guide home someone who has descended into hell. In Bipolar’s cases, the singer-songwriter, the Girl, is played by actual Chinese-pop star, Leah Dou, and instead of Eurydice, she is guiding home a mystical colorful lobster who has been placed on display in a restaurant.

The film plays like a road trip movie, bouncing between flashbacks of the Girl’s life and the strange characters that she meets. The film takes tangents into the Girl’s fractured past, exposing the terrain of her mindscape. The people that she meets from Buddhist monk to a wig maker are manifestations of her fractured interiority. All this is told in odd non-sequitur philosophical musings which can sometimes feel too self-conscious for its own good but the style from Queena Li is steady enough to keep hold.

Her vision of the Chinese and Tibetan landscape is shot in beautiful widescreen digital monochrome along with the film’s deliberate pace which allows the viewer to get lost in it and slip into a dreamy state. And when there are the moments of neon colors, it is quite extraordinary. Flourishes like a quick montage from the lobster’s point of view is exhilarating in its style and daring.

The English title Bipolar might be the worst thing about the film. While it certainly makes sense to describe the fractured mindscape of the Girl, the baggage of the word distracts from what the film is really about. The Chinese title 只是一次偶然的旅行 (“Zhishi yici ouran de luxing”) means “Just an Accidental Trip” seems like the more apropos title, even with the awkward direct English translation. The textual purpose of this road trip is just a journey to actual self-actualization. As a performer, Leah Dou is a tantalizing and compassionate screen presence, like a young Maggie Cheung, making any hard to grasp freewheeling meandering moments tolerable.

Li is assured in ambition, vision, and most importantly voice. With Bipolar, Queena Li adds her name, along with Cao Jingling and Bi Gan, to the promising new generation of independent Chinese filmmakers.

Bipolar Trailer

Bipolar was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.

Dune

Written by Taylor Baker

50/100

Unless you’ve been under a rock the last two and a half years you surely know that Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is finally being released to both theatrical and home audiences via HBO Max on October 22nd. Like me you may have had some of your most blissful cinematic moments with Villeneuve. From his enthralling detective drama Prisoners to his otherworldly narrating fish in Maelström Denis has constantly shirked convention and brought to life a visual story that feels fresh or an improvisation on the previous tools of cinema. Which is a long way of saying that walking into a Villeneuve film feels very much like walking into a Spielberg. You have expectations, how could you not. And unfortunately those expectations were unmet.

Anyone familiar with Dune knows the moments that are cinematic and has personal moments that are cinematic to them, the ones that played like a filmbook in their heads, whether it’s the thopter rescue sequence on Arrakis, Paul reaching into the box, the hunter seeker sequence, or the siege by the Harkonnen. You will have personally had these sprawling crystal clear visions of cinematic splendor or stark pieces of affecting drama in your head. And that’s precisely where Dune begins to fall apart; nothing feels personal. Intimacy is missing between the audience and the vistas of Arrakis, the characters of Dune, and it’s storyline. From the lack of world building to the poorly framed miniatures on screen meant to erupt as yawning behemoths, even the worlds of Calladan and Arrakis are small. They lack character, their meaning to the audience is clouded and we’re nearly always briskly trotting somewhere new with Paul which keeps us from ever becoming invested in the characters around him, which are the true magic of the world.

Despite the scaling issues, the drop off from Villeneuve’s recent SciFi film collaborators is noticeable. The step down from Roger Deakins in Blade Runner 2049 with some of the best cinematography in the last decade and Bradford Young in Arrival with a intimacy and love sickness that somehow feels woven into the imagery to recent Adam McKay collaborator Greig Fraser is severe. The layered compositions are absent, instead stark cold images hang like laundry on screen, uninteresting and rigid. Obscured by nothing and harshly naked. The images aren’t zhuzhed up, they don’t seem to have been made with an effort to make them more appealing, or framed in a way to exemplify the scale we should feel we’re witnessing. Not just the cinematography but the whole film seems like more than this team was capable of taking on. But I must commend the splendor and effectiveness of Hans Zimmer’s score. Using an assortment of wind instruments to make the sands and billowing winds of Arrakis come to life aurally. With Bagpipes, wind chimes, and what seems to be the sounds of wind itself used in tandem with other musical components. Zimmer schemed out and achieved something big through small choices to conjure the atmosphere of an otherwise meaningless place.

Huge performers like Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin scarcely have a moment of solitude or development. Everything is reactionary, and what brief exposition is achieved is typically narrowly focused on Paul in ways that don’t inform the feeling of the further picture at large. Stephen McKinley Henderson’s portrayal of the Mentat Thufir Hawat is one particularly effective bit of casting that allows one of our era’s great character actors to use his miniscule moments to humanize and embolden the sentimentality of what we’re witnessing. Chalamet is restrained, perhaps those not looking for a 14 year old boy will be more moved by his performance, but with all the other poorly stacked bricks underneath him Chalamet’s Paul fell apart. Over acting in moments and seeming like stone in others. Charlotte Rampling’s Reverend Mother Mohaim thankfully does lots of heavy lifting unquestionably in mere moments. As does Stellan Skarsgård’s Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Oscar Isaac is sturdy, believable and as you might expect from my previous words underused. In Dune’s case I think it’s safe to say the volume of talent has nothing to do with it’s issues. But rather the strategy at play to employ the available resources.

If I were an audience member inexperienced with the narrative I think I would be lost. Failing to grasp the script or grandeur of the beginning of this otherworldly tale. Unsure of it’s religious names and their meanings, unclear on the topography of Arrakis, the distance of Calladan to Arrakis, where exactly the Empire is located(not to mention what they are), what the guilds are, or how interstellar travel is achieved from the spice. In essence this is nothing more than a proof of concept standard comic book hero origin story. The fact that at the end of the film we’re unclear not only all the things I mentioned but the very reason why Paul appears to be some sort of a religious figure to this planet is presumably an enormous reason why it fails. Frank Herbert’s Dune is a novel built on meaning, stakes, loss, hope, gains, and language itself. The fact that none of those strength are transitory into this representation of the narrative by Villeneuve despite the two additional writers that worked with him raises questions not only about the draft of this film. But the drafts of part 2 and further should they be allowed the chance to make further entries. You can’t remove the heart of Dune and still succeed in telling it’s story.

Perhaps my most biting piece of criticism would be to look at the exposition of Episode 1: The Phantom Menace of Star Wars. How clearly and how effectively it sets up the entire arc of what’s going on with the empire and in comparison how entirely unclear and incidental that understanding is conveyed to the audience, especially those unfamiliar with the sprawling tales of Frank Herbert on which it’s based. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t focus some attention on the bungled enterprise that was bringing Lady Jessica to life on screen. She not only lacks character but seems to be a constantly crying and cold woman. Nearly all we see is her crying, being silent, or harshly instructing Paul. A far cry from the intimacy and confrontations she shares with Duke Leto, Thufir Hawat, and Paul in the first novel. The very moments of the plot where her intimacy and character and complexity come to life have been erased, rushed passed completely without being compensated for. Leaving one to wonder how much is on the cutting room floor and why they would favor a shot of palm trees rather than a sequence under their new citadel on Arrakis that if you’re familiar with you’ll know is one of the most transitory moments of the novel in conveying the character of this mother and son to the reader. Dune isn’t a bad film, but it’s so cold, distant, and unsplendorous that it could be easily mistaken for the next high budget Amazon project that has no staying power. The excruciating wait for Dune did no favors for what was already a middling exercise in adaptation of a storied novel. If anything, maybe now we’ll all have a renewed appreciation for the undertaking of Lynch in his adaptation to tell the whole story (roughly) and establish the Empire and its politics and factions all in one feature. Any way you slice it Dune fails to live up to its expectations, fair or unfair as they may be. We’ll see if Denis gets to make Part Two but for now I’m not counting on it.

Dune Trailer

Dune releases in theaters and on HBO Max on October 22nd.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Old Henry

Written by Patrick Hao

70/100

Tim Blake Nelson’s face was made for a Western. Sure, the famed character actor doesn’t have the swaggering stature of Gary Cooper or John Wayne, nor the everyman star charisma of Henry Fonda or James Stewart. But, with his famous hangdog demeanor and Okie drawl, Nelson feels right at home in the plains of the Old West as one of the many characters that gives a movie color – like an Eli Wallach or Ward Bond.

With that said, it is especially wonderful to see Nelson take lead in the wonderful small western, Old Henry, directed by Potsy Ponciroli, sees Nelson as Henry McCarty, a farmer with a hidden past, who stumbles upon a man near death and a satchel full of money. From experience, McCarty knows this could only mean trouble, but due to a sense of righteousness, decides to nurse the man, Curry (Scott Haze), back to good health at his farm that he shares with his teenage son, Wyatt (Gavin Lewis). Troubles comes a brewing for the McCarty family as a group of bank robbers pretending to be lawmen led by the gleefully sadistic Ketchum (Stephen Dorff).

Ponciroli does not fill his movie with any pretense of importance. Old Henry is not a revisionist Western aiming to reflect on the American mythos nor does it have the grandiosity of the old master. The goal of this movie is to make an economical western akin to the pulp westerns of Joseph H. Lewis and Budd Boetticher of the 1950s. And that is achieved thanks to Ponciroli’s baroque dialogue, steady pace of action, and strong central performances from Nelson and Dorff.

Calling Old Henry, a pulp western is by no means an insult to it. This might be the most fun I have had in a theater all year. Ponciroli clearly has a lot of skills and knows how to make a limited budget go a long way. Like Lewis and Boetticher, he allows the expansive prairie and limited resources to speak to both the peace of isolation and the dangers of the unknown. He uses Nelson’s face to its full extent – Nelson looks like a man who has lived a life. And when the bursts of action do come, it is violent and uncompromising. Old Henry may become lost in the shuffle of releases for 2021, but it already has all the makings of a gem waiting to be discovered on whatever streaming site it is destined to end up on.

Old Henry Trailer

Old Henry is currently available to rent from select VOD platforms.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.

The Last Duel

Written by Taylor Baker

88/100

The Last Duel is a film in three acts, each act by a different writer, with a different lead character perspective revolving around two main events. That of a rape, and that of the titular duel. Matt Damon alone serves as both main character and writer for his segment. He plays Jean de Carrouges, a squire to Ben Affleck’s Count Pierre. Act one begins with a stirring exquisitely shot visceral battle at a river where Jean leads a charge of men into shallow water on horseback to drive back their foes. During this encounter he saves Adam Driver’s Jacques Le Gris from death, one of many matters to be disputed in the subsequent acts. Then time jumps as do locations. Jean recounts hist defeat to his count, and one day Le Gris who happens to be his dead child’s godfather turns up requesting taxes for the count. Jean cannot pay his full debt and he goes to battle in the north where he meets a woman named Marguerite de Carrouges played by acting phenom Jodie Comer. Eventually as expected the two wed, and Jean convinces Marguerite’s father to include a particular parcel of land in his dowry to Jean, a parcel that happens to be Marguerite’s favorite from her childhood. Events come to pass and eventually Jean departs for Paris, while he’s gone we learn that Jacques broke in and raped Marguerite leading to Jean’s demand of a trial by God, another name within the film and ostensibly of the time for a “duel”, to the death.

The second act’s main perspective and thus character is that of Jacques Le Gris played by Adam Driver. A squire who according to his recollection keeps Jean from killing himself at the river battle, that quickly rises up the ranks and gains his master Count Pierre’s ear. The segment itself is written by Affleck, witty and subjectively grotesque as it is convincing. Affleck creates a villainous lead that believes himself not only the center of universe outside of his master’s calls, but also a decider of emotions for those “less” than he. Driver is convicted and convincing as ever, speaking latin, playing court, and shaking down taxpayers. We see his own recollection of events against Jean’s; the locations and people are the same, but events and dialogue shift. Jacques naturally is heroically at the center of how he sees it. One day he meets Marguerite and after Jean insists she kiss Jacques to show there’s no ill will between the two and Jacques becomes enamored. We see the act of how Jacques saw his actions, which are grotesque at minimum, his lack of self awareness, his disregard toward Marguerite even in his presentation of recollection is beyond harrowing. It is in this segment that we see Jacques ask Count Pierre what to do, to which Pierre says, “Deny it. It never happened. Deny.” It’s not quite possible to put in this review how that segment hits, it’s bigger than an explanation can offer, the looks and feelings cast on Driver’s face in the scene breathe toward something that despite his awfulness could lead to something like redeeming, but then all at once, it’s snuffed out. This segment too ends at a trial.

The third act is written by renowned filmmaker and writer Nicole Holofcener. Who deftly, stoically, and openly lays bare not only the weaknesses and insecurities of the men in the first and second act but the pride, the ego, and the hurt that anyone involved in a rape may bear. With her segment the film graduates out of a sanctimonious competition between insecure warriors to a larger gradation of achievement. Heightening rather than underscoring Damon and Affleck’s segments before. She, Damon, and Affleck through the talented cast and crew but especially Scott and his talented DP Dariusz Wolski use the events of the past and how they’re presented to talk about the here and the now. Marguerite’s act is the most beautifully presented, the most emotional, and the most harrowing. It’s also the most impactful, so rather than recount and dig into the nuances of her segment I’ll leave it to you to experience.

There’s been a lot of discussion about when and if the definitive Times Up/Me Too film will turn up since 2018, and while I don’t think we’ll ever really know the definitive film of a large social movement or moment until time passes The Last Duel seems to be the most eloquent, stylized, and cinematic presentation of the difficulties that come from grappling with it in the open. The Last Duel is a film that simply cannot be accurately discussed in any capacity without mentioning rape or more specifically the rape that the whole film hinges around. Which may seem ugly, untoward, or disgusting to some, but by elevating the subject and the word “rape” itself into any conversation about the piece of art itself it’s forcing these hard conversations. The Last Duel itself doesn’t end in a way that asserts that one openly declaring publicly what happened to you is the right thing to do but rather expresses the truth of those emotions one may have. And the various reasons a woman may or may not make that personal choice. Being unable to discuss a film at all without mentioning rape hasn’t been done in this capacity since Irreversible and with Scott’s prolific filmmaking sincerity and Holofcener’s clear hearted voice at the center of the film I think you’ll find you’re better for watching it. I don’t suspect anyone thought that from the director of Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster, etc, we’d be getting a powerful, emotional, and sincere presentation about the subject matter of the Times Up/Me Too movement. But we did, and we’re all the better for it.

The Last Duel Trailer

The Last Duel is currently playing in wide theatrical release.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

South of Heaven

Written by Alexander Reams

79/100

Jason Sudeikis is primarily known for his comedy. From his tenure at SNL and countless comedies including, but not limited to, We’re the Millers, The Change-Up, and Horrible Bosses. However for a time now, Sudeikis has been doing smaller, indie films that show off his dramatic side (Colossal, where he plays a wonderfully dark metaphor on alcoholism’s hold on a person and a toxic, manipulative relationship, and Race). Now mixing the two with his truly breathtaking eponymous role in Ted Lasso. (aka the best thing to hit TV screens since we first heard “Woke Up This Morning” on a certain New Jersey-centered show). Now he culminates this run of indie films with a film with a lot of big names, but still small at heart. 

Following a 12-year prison sentence, Jason Sudeikis’ Jimmy Ray is released from prison and has one goal; spend the next year with his girlfriend/fiancee/sweetheart, Annie, played wonderfully by Evangeline Lily. This plan seemingly goes off without a hitch, sans the gorgeous Shea Wigham as a less-than morally sound parole officer, Schmidt, who hangs over Jimmy like his sins of the past. Eventually convinces the parolee to do a “favor” for Schmidt, which ends up spiraling Jimmy, and ends with him reverting to old habits. These old habits attract the attention from the mysterious and impeccably dressed Whit Price, portrayed serviceably by Mike Colter. 

These preceding actions are impeccably written, clearly understanding their lead actors, supporting, not as much. As much as I love Mike Colter, I’m not sure he was the best choice to play Whit, and Shea Whigham feels like he is playing the same character he has in countless other films. Sudeikis is given so much meat to work with, and he takes advantage of this, chewing up the scenery every chance he gets, with one standout being a scene with a kid over a turkey sandwich. This scene particularly is my personal favorite, giving a break between all the chaos that has been occurring, and allowing the audience to breathe. 

Standing with Sudeikis is a serivacably written Evangeline Lily and Mike Colter. While they do the best they can, the script just doesn’t hold up to muster. Which is unfortunate because the score, David Fleming channeling old school westerns in a modern world and the cinematography by Mike Mitchell, gorgeously captures the small town world that these characters occupy. I could not get past the writing that undercut Whigham, Lily, and Colter, a tragedy really, when you have such quality actors, but give them bare-bones to work with. Thankfully after all of this we are left with a truly world class turn by Sudeikis, who, by the end of this, has to answer the question “How far would you go for love?”

South of Heaven Trailer

South of Heaven is currently playing in limited theatrical release and is available to rent on VOD through limited providers.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Capsule Review: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

Written by Michael Clawson

90/100

A soldier returns from WWI and searches for satisfying work, but being in the wrong place at the wrong time lands him in a chain gang, where he suffers through grueling work and miserable treatment day after day before finally making a daring escape. As a wanted man, he runs, narrowly avoiding the law’s clutches at several turns, and slowly finds himself on his way to the life he dreamed of, but a cruel and unjust system turns out to not be done with him yet.

A suspenseful and involving drama that doubles as an indictment of the inhumanity in the penal system it depicts, it boasts efficient storytelling by Mervyn LeRoy, and a solid, sympathetic performance by Paul Muni. More than a few sequences thrill, especially our protagonist’s nerve-wracking escape from the prison camp, and his nearly being caught on multiple occasions as he tries to skip town. Subtle formal touches stand out too, like a sideways tracking shot that passes over the faces of demoralized inmates as they listen to a man being whipped, or the sounds of hammers endlessly smacking rocks or railroad ties. Not to mention a powerful finish, which shows Muni just briefly emerging from darkness to say goodbye to a lover, before retreating back into it.

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang Trailer

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel and available to rent and purchase digitally.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Written by Alexander Reams

80/100

“Fuck this guy.” 

Venom always knows what to say. No matter the situation he always seems to have a one-liner cocked and ready to go. Following the massive and surprising success despite a universal critical panning of its 2018 predecessor, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, is a sequel that knows exactly what it is. A breath of fresh air in the heavily inundated superhero film culture. Bringing on a director like Andy Serkis, who has possibly the most experience in motion capture performance of any actor, was not only the next logical step but the smartest decision Sony could’ve made. A director like Ruben Fleischer was a decent choice to introduce the character of Venom, but Serkis takes the foundation laid and elevates it to an insane level of zaniness and glee. 

Following the events of the first film, Eddie Brock and Venom are the odd couple with a capital “O”. Their relationship is strenuous at best, and at worst a force that can destroy Eddie’s apartment, including a bit involving Eddie’s relationship with a television. All the while, Cletus Kassidy (Woody Harrelson, going full Woody in all the best ways) is about to be executed for his mile-long list of crimes, events transpire, and he becomes the symbiote known as Carnage. Filling out the rest of the cast is Naomie Harris as Shriek, Michelle Williams and Reid Scott returning as Anne Weying and Dan Lewis respectively. 

Nowadays, superhero films are always so serious, and the tone of this film spits in the face of all of those films. Trading serious for silly on every level and everyone knows it, and the film works even more because of this. The first film wanted to be serious and turned silly, continuing that trajectory helped solidify the future of Eddie Brock

P.S. The post-credit scene truly does change the forefront of Eddie/Venom’s story and the forefront for the Sony Marvel characters.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage Trailer

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is currently playing in wide theatrical release.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

VIFF 2021 Review: Bergman Island

Written by Taylor Baker

88/100

Mia Hansen-Løve’s seventh feature length film entitled Bergman Island is in essence a meta fictional island getaway trip to work on new creative projects for a couple. The titular island is called Fårö, Ingmar Bergman’s palatial getaway where he crafted some of his greatest masterpieces, and some of the world’s greatest moving images. The couple Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth), are each artists if not artisans working at their next projects, battling through writer’s block, and more conventionally navigating their relationship whilst doing it. Occasionally when a film is meta, deferential and/or (in this case both) referential to previous work I find myself making comparisons to other previous works of art in an effort to reach toward understanding their contents, themes, and ideas to myself or to hold the idea(s) of them in my head from another angle, at arm’s reach rather than up close, or from afar rather than in the room with me. An alliterative title that keeps doing laps in my head is that of a rebranding of Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona, instead Mia Chris Fårö. Mia Wasikowska joins us in the last third of the film as Chris begins sharing her incomplete screenplay draft with Tony to try and get advice on whether he thinks there’s anything to it. Wasikowska seems to be Chris’s stand in and thus Mia Hansen-Løve’s stand in (If you’re willing to concede that Chris is Hansen-Løve’s stand in to begin with.) Are you losing track of the metaphor? Me too. That’s part of the game with these films within films about films, especially when those films are self aware of the source material.

It’s not clear to a final delineation of comprehension exactly what Hansen-Løve’s point is at the end of the film as Wasikowska’s Amy fades and Chris returns running through a field to hold her daughter. But the spirit of the idea, the ghost of the understanding is there. We spend time throughout the film learning of Bergman’s successes and failings, at one point in a dinner conversation Chris essentially asks, “Do you think he could have been the artist he was and also been a better father?” This is in reference to him having nine children from six mothers before the age of forty, to which her dinner companion scoffs in a jovial laugh and says something to the effect of “Do you think you can direct 24 films not to mention plays before 40 and spend your time changing diapers?”. There’s the ghost of a sacrifice there that Hansen-Løve herself is tackling, through Chris. What is more meaningful? The “work”? Or the family? And perhaps more deeply why can’t the family be the work? These aren’t revolutionary questions or ideations, they are eternal, Bergman himself explored them, but not in the same ways. In that way Hansen-Løve’s film isn’t just an homage using his name, it’s building on the foundation that predated Bergman but accenting itself on the very body of his labor. Revitalizing it in a way, paying deference in another, and more interestingly acknowledging the intimate relationship between an artist and an observer of the art as a relationship itself. Something that Chris herself seeks from Tony during her recounting of her screenplay whilst he receives phone calls, and treats it less deferentially than we’ve seen Chris treating Bergman’s work up to this point. What’s interesting though is it’s not a pointed finger from Hansen-Løve teaching a lesson about the absent minded husband not paying proper attention to his wife. Half a dozen times before this falling action we’ve seen Chris blow off Tony or not take his pieces of work seriously. It’s not that one is right or wrong, so much as acknowledging the intimacy that comes when someone truly connects with a piece, or pieces in a way that maps not only onto their identity but how they express themselves in the world.

All that serious thematic content may make it sound more dour and more stern or observational than it actually is. There’s a scene where Krieps’ Chris walks into the bathroom she and Tony share, the one from Scenes from a Marriage and she simply brushes her teeth. But as she’s brushing them she begins seemingly unprovoked to chortle with laughter, eventually reaching a near hysterical level. It’s not something everyone in the theater got to share, not most, not half, not even an eighth of an at capacity Vancouver Playhouse Theater understood the inside joke of. But those of us(maybe you, dear reader) who’d borne witness to some of the history of that location had a different elatory experience with Chris. The very idea that she was brushing her teeth in the same bathroom where Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson’s Marianne and Johan shot their masterpiece Scenes from a Marriage is simply hilarious. Fårö itself but especially the room Chris and Tony share, is practically a religious site for cinephiliacs, of which Hansen-Løve is clearly one. There’s shared history and through that shared emotions.

Hansen-Løve through Chris inquires as to the religiosity of Bergman himself, she and seemingly Hansen-Løve herself learned on her own trip or through her own study that he believed in ghosts before he passed. This idea of a ghost isn’t overtly dug into, it’s at the corners, the creases of the film, the backgrounds, a figure passing in front of window, or perhaps a Hansen-Løve surrogate named Chris played by Vicky Krieps having a joyful one might say soulful laugh at the very premise of brushing her teeth in the same bathroom Scenes from a Marriage was shot in.

Bergman Island Trailer

Bergman Island was screened as part of 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

VIFF 2021 Review: Three Sisters

Written by Alexander Reams

55/100

Family ties us all together. Even with a strenuous relationship, family is always going to be a part of your life. Such is the case in Lee Seung-Woo’s Three Sisters. The eponymous three sisters gather on their father’s birthday. All of them carry scars and memories from their upbringing and the different lives they lead now. The only person keeping them from having a “normal” day is their little brother, who always seemed a bit “off” to them. He goes on to unravel their secretive past, which ends up amounting to nothing. 

A common theme in Seung-Woo’s film, grand ideas and a longing to be profound, but juvenility and its flair for the pedantic weigh on this film like an anchor, not letting it move anywhere. The plot is the most intriguing part of the film, and that outstayed its welcome within the opening minutes of the film. Moon So-ri, Kim Sun-young, and Jang Yoon-ju do their best with what little they are given, I would love to see them given something far meatier and see how they elevate it. Their work here should be greatly commended, and at the same time condemn Seung-woo for not given these fantastic actors enough to work with. 

Even the gorgeous cinematography, combined with the fantastic trio of So-ri, Sun-young, and Yoon-ju, and the melancholic score by Park Ki-heon are not enough to make Three Sisters worth a watch. I wish it was, I was very much looking forward to seeing this and it let me down. I wanted to love this film, I wanted to sing its praises, it seemed so interesting and cool. Unfortunately what I was given was a pedantic, childish film that has big aspirations and snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.

Three Sisters Trailer

Three Sisters was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

VIFF 2021 Review: The Girl and the Spider

Written by Michael Clawson

90/100

Apartment complexes are places of relatively constant change. There might be a few tenants in any given building who’ve resided there for what seems like forever, but otherwise, tenants tend to come and then leave, all their belongings, pets, dramas, and peculiarities in tow. The Girl and the Spider, a poetic and precisely assembled German language art film, co-written and directed by the brothers Roman and Silvan Zürcher, is about such moments of flux, and the emotions, dreams, and tensions exposed and discovered in periods of instability.

Lisa (Liliane Amuat) is moving out of one flat and into another, leaving her roommate Mara (Henriette Confurius) behind. A radiantly blue-eyed, cryptically expressive twenty- or thirty-something year-old , Mara is the focal point of The Girl and the Spider, but as the setting alternates between two different apartment buildings, myriad other flat dwellers, cats, dogs, and spiders included, win the Zürcher’s attention. Mara doesn’t help Lisa settle into her new place so much as she idles and observes as handymen, Lisa, Lisa’s mother, and neighbors come in and through Lisa’s new flat, introducing themselves to one another and exchanging glances and remarks that range from benign to hostile and flirtatious. The tone of communication between characters often changes on a dime. For example, one moment, Mara, for no easily discernible reason, is rudely declining to shake the hand of a woman neighbor who stops in to say hello, only to then, shortly thereafter, appear receptive to the woman’s furtively romantic advances. This is to say that the Zürcher’s aren’t operating in the domain of conventional drama or straight-forward storytelling, and they’re all the better for it.

Very much of a piece with The Strange Little Cat (2013), Roman Zürcher’s feature debut, The Girl and the Spider is a film of beguiling ambiguity and delightful idiosyncrasy. Carefully modulated acting is the first mark of the Zürcher’s unique film direction, but what further distinguishes their formal signature is their methodical framing, their lyrical focus on ordinary spaces and objects, and their musical sense of rhythm. At transitional moments in the film, a classical score accompanies montages of the items and household animals strewn about the flats that Lisa is moving in and out of. A yellow box cutter on a bathtub’s side, a blue sponge on hardwood floor, a cigarette sitting on a balcony ledge, a spider crawling up into the corner of room; some, if not most of the things are of minor narrative import in any obvious sense, but the Zurcher’s compositions suggest their worth considering all on their own. The Zürcher’s are formalists of the mundane, and very, very fine ones at that.

The Girl and the Spider Trailer

The Girl and the Spider was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

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