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Beauty Onscreen: 5 Visually Stunning Films

By Mike Archibald

There are many reasons to go the movies: the excitement of immersion in a fictional world, the pleasure of a good story, the strong human presence onscreen. One of the least heralded—and, to my mind, most important—aspects of cinema is visual pleasure. Unlike story or characterization, beauty is hard to describe, in part because it can take so many forms. Directors and their crews can find it in the bombastic or the subtle, the exceptional or the everyday—really, there are as many kinds of beauty as there are good movies. Here are just five examples; in some cases the beauty is obvious (Human), in some cases extremely subtle (Paterson), in most cases somewhere in between. In every case, though, there are great rewards for the viewer.

Paterson (Directed by Jim Jarmusch), 113 min. 

Program Stream: Panorama

Sun Oct 2, 3:45pm, Playhouse | Tue Oct 11, 8:45pm, Centre | Fri Oct 14, 6:00pm, Rio

This film immerses us in the life of a bus driver and amateur poet, and endeavours to show that you can find beauty in the quotidian. To that end, director Jim Jarmusch is assisted by the great cinematographer Frederick Elmes.

A Quiet Passion (Directed by Terence Davies), 125 min. 

Program Stream: Panorama

Mon Oct 3, 6:00pm, Centre | Sun Oct 9, 11:00am, IN09

Director Terence Davies is considered one of the great visual artists of contemporary cinema, and this film about the life of American poet Emily Dickinson shows his skill at rendering subtle detail in lyrical fashion.

Human (Directed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand),143 min. 

Program Stream: Panorama

Mon Oct 10, 6:00pm, Centre | Wed Oct 12, 12:30pm, Playhouse

Now this is beauty with a capital B—visual splendour that is as imposing as it is impressive. This documentary alternates between vivid close-ups of its interview subjects and long-range aerial shots of our world: deserts, packed stadiums, skyscrapers. Powerful stuff.

The Death of Louis XIV (Directed by Albert Serra), 105 min. 

Program Stream: Panorama

Fri Oct 7, 9:45pm, IN10 | Sun Oct 9, 1045am, SFU

Here we have a fanciful document of the last days of a monarch, rendered in delectable detail by VIFF alumni Albert Serra. This is far from a fast-paced film, but that’s all to the good for those who want to savour its images. The play with light and shadow is exquisite.

Crosscurrent (Directed by Yang Chao), 116 min. 

Program Stream: Gateway

Mon Oct 3, 9:30pm, Playhouse | Tue Oct 11, 130pm, Vancity Theatre

One of the key selections from our Dragons & Tigers program, this Chinese film is shot by one of the great cinematographers of our time: Mark Lee Ping-bin. The film is the story of a mystical journey up the Yangtze River, and every frame of it is wonderful to behold.

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