Not sure when/if I'll get back to doing "full" write ups on everything I saw at VIFF last weekend. But I wanted to at least write some mini-reviews for everything I saw.
Will Not Stop There (Croatia) was definitely my favorite film of Sunday. It's not entirely easy to explain without giving away some of the best parts. It opens with the Djuro, the narrator (pictured to the left) setting up the story. As he plays his nose (yes - as an instrument) the voice over introduces us to the world he lives in. Through that - and the subsequent proceedings we learn that he's a man in love with his wife and needing to put bread on the table for his family he's been forced to use his "anomaly" for financial benefit. As a star of the local adult film industry I'll let you guess at exactly what that means. Though I will say that as opposed to a recent Lars von Trier film you only have to imagine that body part (excepting artistic representations late in the film) vs. having it greet you onscreen for shock value. Anyway... early on a man shows up looking for one of Djuro's co-stars, a Serbian woman. What the Croatian man wants with her is slowly revealed over the coarse of the film. It's both sad and sweet and often funny. All the parts together worked for me. I know some folks didn't think it ended super well - but I enjoyed the ride and how the pieces fit together. Don't think it'd be entirely fair to say much more about where the story goes, except that afterwards there's a similarity between other VIFF films Gigante and Castaway on the Moon that makes me wonder where this connecting theme is coming from.
Like You Know It All (S. Korea) is about a film director who has a preternatural ability to upset those around him without intending to. Self absorbed, he's a hard guy to like as he wanders from situation to situation. Whether it's upsetting the director of a film festival he's attending by promising to drink with some volunteers without any real intent, sleeping with his friends wife when they briefly think he's dead (I'm not joking), or sleeping with a faculty member's wife when he knows the guy is very much alive - problems seem to follow him around. As in some other recent films from Korea there's a lot of scenes of folks drinking too much while sitting around and talking. None as interesting as those from the recent film entirely about that aptly named Daytime Drinking that screened at SIFF this past year. The entire time I was watching this film I kept thinking it seemed very familiar. Afterwards I realized it's from the same director as Woman on the Beach. There are some structural similarities (both follow jerky directors who stir up problems without fully intending) and definite similar style and pacing. Though I believe I liked the earlier film better. This one felt a bit long, and while funny at parts didn't leave a very strong positive impression.
Air Doll (Japan) breaks what appears to be a basic rule of films about life sized sex dolls. Whether the dolls in question come to life or not, I thought these works were supposed to be light romantic romps. Not existential treatments of what it means to be alive and the loneliness of humanity. But I suppose I shouldn't have expected Lars and The Real Girl go to Tokyo from the director of Still Walking one of my favorite films from 2008 (which screened at VIFF 2008). When we first meet Nozomi (the air doll of the title) she's a companion for a middle aged salaryman who lives alone and comes home to dress her up, share his day with her, and yes use her for her intended purpose. After we have some time to understand the rythyms of the household Nozomi magically comes to life. This is handled pretty well visually - and the doll starting to take in her surroundings with a degree of control/ability to move, etc. is convincingly acted by the film's lead Du-na Bae. When her owner is away, Nozomi begins to get out on her own, exploring the neighborhood, getting a job at the local video store, etc. The film is clearly allegorical. Though about what I haven't quite settled on. There seems to be bit of an argument on IMDB about whether it is presenting Nozomi as a prostitute escaping sexual slavery or is instead about urban alienation and loneliness. Personally, I'm leaning more towards the latter. Nozomi has a series of encounters (some deeper than others) with fellow urban residents dealing with personal issues as she learns what being alive can entail. Though I can understand where one could see something of men using women as sexual objects/prostitution out of all this. Of all the films on Sunday this is the one most likely to lead to after film conversation among your friends. It is not a fun, light film but is well acted and at least visually interesting. Didn't love it - sort of felt neutral while watching. Though now that I'm sitting here trying to figure out what it was all about I'm starting to feel somewhat more positive. It's possible the urban loneliness and the destiny Nozomi seems to fight of being created for a specific purpose may have resonance with modern Japanese city dwellers that I don't fully have the background to understand.
Shameless (Czech Republic) follows the lives of a husband and wife as their marriage unravels. Pretty directly due to the husband's shameless chasing of their au pair due to a serious case of seven year itch (and perhaps an unmet need for engaging in an act with a woman that he tells his friend about with perhaps more relish than seems believable). Plus as he suddenly realizes his wife does have a prominent nose - seems as good a reason as any. Directed by the filmmaker who helmed Divided We Fall and Beauty in Trouble I went in with high expectations. It's a pleasant enough film (with at least one or two serious laughs) - though not as good as the latter (which I believe I saw on my first trip to VIFF several years back). Enjoyable while I watched it, but probably not going to stick with me that seriously. Still, nice to see not only Hollywood can make ephemeral films.
Bare Essence of Life (Japan) - An unusual film. I suspect it'll work for some, but for me it wasn't a great experience. The main character is a young man in rural Japan who seems to have some sort of developmental disability. He's easily excited and is behaves in a way I'd have to call disruptive in most social settings. Perhaps not super disruptive in America but clearly he's standout in that regard in the community he lives in. His only visible family member is a grandmother who runs a local organic farm and is concerned with his ability to cope without her. He's working on a vegetable patch of his own when we meet him, but even with tapes on how to farm from his grandfather and a system to keep him on a rigorous schedule he's having trouble getting things to work out. Enter a new kindergarten teacher who's moved to the area from Tokyo (to escape a bad relationship). In between causing trouble for her and the various community members he comes across the teacher and the man develop a sort of friendship. She even seems to like him a bit when he's able to stay calm. Unfortunately he comes to the belief that calming down so she'll like him is best achieved by being covered in pesticide (which he's not supposed to have in the first place). The disastrous result of this plan is occasionally almost as hard to watch as him trying to court her in the first place. For whatever reason I never fully was interested in the characters and the sort of wacky turns the film takes into the absurd towards the end didn't make up for the beginning. So cannot really recommend.