I've seen nine of the films announced so far - and all of them have at least something positive to recommend them - a really good sign. I strongly recommend seeing Cold Weather, Garbo the Spy, The Reverse, and A Somewhat Gentle Man. Some quick notes on each thing I've seen below. One thing I realized while looking through older notes is that this year I've definitely missed writing up full reviews (or anything at all in many cases) for some films I've seen. That includes several of the films coming up at VIFF. With the festival almost right around the corner I'm going to try to use that as driver to get more complete thoughts out on the films I've skipped.
- Cold Weather (USA) - this is a film that defies easy characterization. Except that it's really, really good. It's a unique (far as I can tell) mash-up of a slow moving relationship slice of life drama around twenty something characters shot in a natural style (yes, you can read as mumblecore) and a whodunit mystery. Yet it's not really fully either, and the sum is greater than the individual parts. Sort of a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys adventure for the mumblecore crowd. Especially worth a theater viewing as on top of everything else the cinematography deserves to be seen on a large screen - particularly one breathtaking shot at an Oregon waterfall (you can see this shot briefly in the trailer below in my full review). Just go - really...
- Down Terrace (UK) - I liked this film about a family enmeshed deeply in the world of organized crime, though perhaps at a middle management level. I might have absolutely loved it if I could understand more than 20% of what they were saying. I saw this at the Egyptian theater where the sound system made it a bit hard to make out the dialog - I've been assured from other folks who've seen it this is not the film's defect. Regardless, this had serious charms and the body count escalates nicely until a fitting conclusion.
- Garbo the Spy (Spain) - One of the great films of SIFF 2010 that apparently was slighted by me with respect to a review. It's a stranger than fiction documentary about a Spanish self appointed double agent who was awarded both the Allied and Axis powers highest accolades during WW-II. His lies so completely believed by the Nazis that the D-Day invasion's success can be in large measure credited to him. Even days into the attack the Germans still expected the real offensive would be coming elsewhere and therefore refused to deploy all their forces to Normandy (thankfully).
- Me Too (Spain) - Expectation defying love story involving man with Down Syndrome and a woman without in the Spanish workplace. Sounds like it has a high likelihood of being horrible - I know. But surprisingly good and doesn't take you into unrealistic feeling directions - somewhat shockingly. I did like it.
- Protector (Czech Republic) - Listed as Protektor at SIFF, this Czech film is set during the years of Nazi occupation. Some things not new - ie. having a Jewish wife caused career trouble for people during this period. Being the wife considerably worse. Even if you were previously a beautiful Czech film star. But the visual style of the film put it into the positive category even if I didn't find it groundbreaking in terms of subject matter.
- Reverse (Poland) - Truly a dark/black comedy. I didn't know that going in, which introduced a strange queasiness as I laughed at horrible events and began to question my moral compass (at least more than usual). Set in post WW-II Poland a woman, her mother and her grandmother do what they need to survive under tough but arbitrary Communist rule. I didn't completely love it, but I was interested in the characters AND laughed. The music over the end is just a brilliant touch. Be warned, if you cannot picture any circumstance in which a bathtub filled with sulfuric acid (or equally caustic agent) can be a source of humor, stay away
- The Robber (Austria/Germany) - Based on a true story of a bank robber who was also a world class marathoner it was effectively done if perhaps more boring than I would have guessed. The description in the guide had me thinking I was going to see something along the lines of Run Lola Run. If you go with that expectation you're bound to be disappointed. Given the material it's well made, just not a standout for me.
- A Somewhat Gentle Man (Norway) - I think this is one where the VIFF description is just worth repeating - "Newly released from prison, Ulrik is beset by sexually under-serviced women, plagued by his former partners in crime, and about to become a grandfather. Stellan Skarsgård’s lovely, rumpled per- formance as an ex-con trying to rebuild his life and re- lationships beautifully anchors Hans Petter Moland’s good-natured comedy." - yep that's mostly accurate indeed. I don't really know that I would call it a "good-natured comedy" as from what I can recall it does bend towards the black end of the spectrum. But it's definitely worth seeing if the description sounds like the sort of thing you enjoy.
- Waste Land (UK/Brazil) - Documentary about an artist engaging with the works in the largest landfill in the world to create art. It's an interesting and well shot film. Folks tell me it's not entirely fair to compare it with Garbage Dreams but I do feel that there is some overlap in terms of background material. I personally wouldn't say this is a must see film - but it's definitely not a bad choice either.
Update: Forgot to mention earlier - VIFF has also been announcing some of the sub-program content they've defined within the overall fest. Below are links to the announcement of each. I'm assuming all the films listed also made it into the "sneak-preview" guide but some of the groupings are interesting - particularly the Best of Cannes program which I'm very excited about.