The entirety of my VIFF 2010 coverage can be found at all times by following this link.
Of Love and Other Demons (Costa Rica) - A beautifully shot film following a very gorgeous girl in a story that gives you new and exciting reasons to be pissed off at the Catholic church. I'd say that had I been more fully dosed with caffeine, sugar and perhaps some crystal meth for good measure I probably would have enjoyed the film considerably more. As it stands I loved the look of it - but the pacing left me literally fighting the urge to nod off. Towards the start of the picture the young beautiful daughter of a local Marquis in Cartagena is bit by a rabid dog. The church (whom her father appears to be appropriately suspicious of) takes an interest (in part it seems due to political reasons) and decides that they need to "treat" this odd dreamlike girl not medically for the rabies (this is the 18th century after all) but for the Devil's attack on her body and soul (believing that's what caused rabies). Even after she's clearly recovered they keep her under lock and key in a convent subject to conditions no better than that of a prison (which is seems to double as). The young priest who is remarkably driven by something approximating scientific reason is assigned to drive the devil from her. The fact that the girl is overly friendly/familiar with the customs of her family's slaves isn't helping her case. The inevitable tragic outcome is dictated by the times and the timeless results to be expected of locking a young, healthy heterosexual in a room over and over again with this willing young woman. Even the nuns seem to have a hard time keeping their hands to themselves. Beautifully shot as a piece of visual art - but the story didn't really break any new or particularly interesting ground for me. Not as erotic as I probably made it seem either. I think the visuals made it worth seeing for me, but remember I see a lot of films so if you're only going to see a few at VIFF (or elsewhere) might not want to put this towards the top of your list.
Curling (Canada) - First off, not really about curling. A bleak story involving sad people shot in a hyper-real sort of style. Not for those who need to have everything (or anything) wrapped up in a neatly bow. I cringed while watching it at times, but overall I thought it was a very well done film that made my mind work as I watched it. I have some extensive video of the post film Q&A with the director which was pretty interesting and that I'll post later. Worth seeing alone perhaps for a scene shot in the midst of a blinding snowstorm as the main character and his daughter have a conversation with a passing police officer. Shot from a fairly long distance back we can see (no, practically feel) the swirling snow around them matching up with the sense of menace in the air. The film centers around Emmanuel Bilodeau and his daughter (played by his actual daughter) who he's raising in near isolation without the benefit of formal schooling. He's fairly strict and not a particularly good educator at home. Though they seem to have a reasonable relationship beyond that - though occasionally there is a hint that something darker may be going on. We're just dropped into that situation as Bilodeau goes to work in a bowling alley and a hotel, until the latter shuts down for lack of customers. I don't want to say anything more about the film as if you're going to see it then without preconceptions is the way to go. It's not about nice people - and if there's a happy ending it's not the sort with butterflies and a musical number. A quiet movie that uses music sparingly - only when it does it's part of the natural scene. So when they used the incomparable I Think We're Alone Now - I really noticed.
Writer/director Denis Côté has made something rather unique and interesting - though not comfortable to watch.
Single Man (China) - Set in very rural present day China where men buy and sell wives with barely a comment. A group of old timer bachelors live the good life, reminiscing about their youth, trying to scratch out a living selling their watermelon crop, cracking wise and passing around the mayor's wife for some sexual relief. The casual acceptance of the frequent wife sharing is not something I would have expected. As a side note given their age and frequency of performance the apparent value of watermelon as a virility enhancer might be something that the makers of Viagra would want to look into.
Shot on what appears to be digital the film has a sharp, cold look that's less than compelling in it's own right. What it does appear to give though is a window (with a documentary feel) into a part of the world and lifestyles that I expect I'd never otherwise see. At the same time, the concerns of the men and the question of whether being single or married is better is somewhat universal (apparently a single man can "smoke all he wants" which is seemingly a big deal). We also get insight into the unusually straightforward haggling practices of rural China - the same process appears to work for watermelon and prostitutes. Not to mention the alarmingly quick escalation to "hey this deal doesn't work for me - beat this guy..." which I don't think was covered in Getting to Yes. I wasn't entirely sold at the start, but by the end I found myself interested enough and entertained enough that I would at least mildly recommend it. I have no idea how accurate a portrayal of village life it is - though I wish there was a Q&A so the opportunity to ask would have presented itself. Most memorably I learned one of the less commonly used Chinese proverbs which goes roughly like (apologies Mom/Dad) - "a man who likes to walk east will never walk west. A man who likes asshole will never like pussy." Good to know.
Youssouf Djaoro) a former swimming champion now in his 60's who works as a pool attendant in an upper class hotel in Chad. Around him swirls civil war which he tries to avoid, paying off people to keep his son who also works at the pool safe from the draft. When the hotel is privatized things begin to change and the small, but calm world he inhabits begins to unravel. Humiliated by having to change jobs and makes a series of decisions in response that he may live to regret. The film won a jury prize in Cannes this year and is definitely a well made film that boasts a fair degree of subtlety combined with starkly contrasting environments between inside and outside the hotel world. I was hooked effectively early, but I felt as things spiraled further it pushed a bit too far into the melodrama camp for me to truly love. Great though to see something from a part of the world that in my experience is under-represented at times on the festival circuit.