It’s officially festival month and we only have a few streams left to announce for VIFF 2017! The most recent was our Panorama stream– made up of the Contemporary World Cinema, Spotlight on France, and Documentaries series. Since there are 89 films total in these series, we’ve split them up into five subcategories- From France to Finland, From Far and Wide: Features from Eastern Europe, India, the Middle East, and Africa, From Far and Wide: Features from Latin America, UK, and USA, Special Presentations and True Stories: Documentaries.
First up is From France to Finland featuring a Spotlight on France and films from Western Europe and Scandinavia. This stream offers a look at the rich diversity of European culture, past and present, through the lens of cinema.
The Divine Order
Until 1971, women in Switzerland had no voting rights. This startling fact is the basis for Petra Volpe’s small gem, which traces the political awakening of young wife and mother Nora (Marie Leuenberger). As news of the ’60s counterculture finally reaches her quiet hamlet, Nora decides to go against “the divine order” and advocate for enfranchisement in the upcoming referendum. This does not go over well… “Volpe dramatizes her action with a light touch that allows for flashes of pointed comedy…”—Variety
The indigenous Sami of northern Scandinavia have been labelled “inferior” throughout modern history. Half Sami herself, debuting director Amanda Kernell crafts a deeply moving coming-of-age tale, set in 1930s Sweden, about a 14-year-old Sami girl (Lene Cecilia Sparrok, riveting) whose rejection of her heritage has profound consequences. “A stirring debut… Robustly blends adolescent fears that resonate across borders and generations with a fascinatingly specific, rarely depicted cultural context.”—Variety
When both of her parents die of AIDS, six-year-old Frida (an amazing Laia Artigas) is sent to live with her uncle in the Catalan countryside. Unsure about how her parents died—shame keeps the adults mum—and thrown by her new surroundings, she begins to act out… Debuting director Carla Simón draws on her own experience for this deeply affecting drama. “A delicate sleeper of a film that movingly looks at an orphaned six-year-old’s loneliness and confusion without the usual dip into sentimentality.”—Variety
The Queen of Spain
The sly Fernando Trueba (Oscar-winner for Belle Epoque) places Penélope Cruz front and centre in this farcical comedy about a Hollywood movie shoot in 50s Spain, when Franco was at the height of his power. Cruz is beautiful, much-married superstar Macarena Granada, who gets mixed up in a leftist plot while essaying the role of Queen Isabella in a costume epic. Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes co-star. “Cruz carries the film. She has a ridiculous kind of heroism, and her disguises are hilarious…”—Guardian
This Nordic thriller features Eili Harboe in a star-making role. Playing the titular character, she gives a beguiling performance, expressing angst and repression yet still giving off a powerful erotic charge. A small-town girl gone to study in Oslo, Thelma meets her first love—and starts to experience seizures. Things get even more drastic from there, as director Joachim Trier (Louder Than Bombs) combines the religious, the sexual and the supernatural to mesmerizing effect.
The King’s Choice
Chronicling the nerve-racking days before and after the Norwegian monarch King Haakon VII (Jesper Christiansen) made the decision to resist the invading German army during WWII, Eric Poppe’s (Hawaii, Oslo) exceedingly well-acted drama was short-listed for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar earlier this year. Classical filmmaking at its finest, it “benefits from excellent cinematography by John Christian Rosenlund [and] retrieves a part of the past that deserves to be remembered.” —Hollywood Reporter
Hauntingly beautiful, deeply perceptive and emotionally devastating, Boudewijn Koole’s film explores the complex relationship between an adult woman and her emotionally reticent mother. Effortlessly establishing a tangible sense of shared history and complicated emotional bonds between its characters, Disappearance portrays familial love as a fragile tension between profound intimacy and polarizing alienation. Brilliantly acted and finely crafted, this is a strange, honest and bittersweet film.
(Original language trailer)
One of Italy’s finest contemporary filmmakers, Gianni Amelio scores a late-career triumph with this intimate drama. Alienated from his own children, elderly Lorenzo (Renato Carpentieri) finds himself drawn to the neighbours across from his apartment. Fabio (Elio Germano), Michela (Micaela Ramazzotti) and their children are a happy brood on the surface, but, as the old man gets closer to them, tragedy reaches out… Gorgeously shot and populated with memorable characters, this is a quietly devastating film.
(Original language trailer)
It doesn’t seem like too much to accept: to keep their jobs secure, all the female workers at a textile factory have to do is give up seven minutes of their 15-minute daily lunch break… For Bianca (Ottavia Piccolo), convincing her ten fellow workers’ reps that this is the thin edge of the wedge is a battle worth fighting in Michele Placido’s impassioned political drama. “Resonant, compelling, timely filmmaking… It’s gripping, for such an apparently unsexy subject, and surprisingly cinematic.”—Variety
Son of Sofia
After his father dies, 11-year-old Russian Misha (Viktor Khomut) is reunited with his mother in Athens and has to accept a new culture, a new language and a new father while dealing with conflicting adolescent desires… Set during the 2004 Olympics, Elina Psykou’s occasionally disturbing work boasts surreal, deadpan touches and a striking blend of reality and fantasy. “Psykou’s fairy tale-ish coming-of-age drama… takes one surprising left turn after another… [Her] film is never less than unique.”—Variety
The long-awaited follow-up to her wonderful Longing(VIFF 06), Valeska Grisebach’s tense drama chronicles the culture clash when a team of male German workers sets up camp in the Bulgarian countryside to construct a river-fed power plant. The amazing work of the nonprofessional cast and Grisebach’s unstinting realism make for a superb social critique. “There are no stagecoaches or six-shooters in this sharp, simmering drama of German-Bulgarian discord, but the spirit of John Ford graces it.”—Variety
A youthful lust for life and taboo sexual adventure is at the heart of Iran-born, German-based Ali Soozandeh’s brash, animated combination of rotoscoped characters and drawn settings, some in 3D. The sex lives of a prostitute, a male musician, and two young women ingeniously intersect in a version of Tehran never before seen on screen. “This wily account of 20-something Iranians negotiating an assault course of laws and prohibitions to get their kicks fizzes with energy and bad behaviour.”—Screen
In The Fade
Fatih Akin’s (Head On, Soul Kitchen) taut drama could not be more timely, as it deals with the resurgence of fascism plaguing the West in general and his native Germany in particular. When her Kurdish husband and young son are killed in a bomb blast triggered by neo-Nazis, Katja (a magnificent Diane Kruger) will stop at nothing to ensure the perpetrators pay for their senseless slaughter. “Kruger’s beautifully modulated performance as a woman seeking justice… anchors this skilled… drama.”—Variety
Casting(Trailer not available)
As the start date for her remake of Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant looms, director Vera (Judith Engel) has yet to find her lead. Casting assistant Gerwin (Andreas Lust), while testing many female actors for the part, sees his chance for acting glory… Nicolas Wackerbarth’s sly and funny take on power relations would make Fassbinder proud. “Every bit as complex [as Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore] in its mapping of the emotional dynamics between volatile artists and wannabes…”—Fandor
Tom of Finland
LGBTQ icon Tom of Finland—the artist who saw his “pornographic” drawings of well-endowed hunks go from criminal to celebrated—is the fascinating focus of director Dome Karukoski’s biopic, starring an excellent Pekka Strang. Moving from WWII through to Tom’s halcyon days and nights in the California of the 1970s and 80s, the drama “is most effective at showcasing the bountiful beauty of [Tom’s] fleshy, filthy sketches, as well as the empowered pursuit of pleasure for which they continue to stand.”—Variety
The Other Side of Hope
The Finnish master of the droll and the deadpan, Aki Kaurismäki, returns with a second feature (after Le Havre) concerning the European refugee crisis, this one about a Syrian (Sherwan Haji) who washes up on Finland’s glum shores and becomes an unlikely friend to a middle-aged Finnish shirt salesman (Sakari Kuosmanen) in the midst of re-making his life. Compassionate and wryly funny by turns, this is Kaurismäki firing on all cylinders. “A deeply humane film, as well as a quietly hilarious one.”—Time Out
Captivatingly shot in a cool 16mm that complements its snowy environment, Hlynur Pálmason’s film is an immersive look into the world of an Icelandic limestone mine through the eyes of Emil, an awkward, fragile man who can’t quite fit in. An eccentric, dissonant account of outsiderdom, it’s punctuated with bursts of surrealism and bouts of dark humour. “An impressively original, auspiciously idiosyncratic debut, one that scratches away at truths about masculinity, lovelessness and isolation…”—Variety
Farewell(Trailer not available)
Based on Peter Weiss’ 1960 story of the same name, Farewell traces the early years and initial forays into artistic creation of the novelist, playwright, artist and filmmaker who became one of the German language’s most important artistic figures of the 20th century. Framed as a struggle to escape both historical events (he and his half-Jewish kin undertook a cross-Europe odyssey in the 1930s and 40s) and the reins of family, Astrid Johanna Ofner’s debut is a literary adaptation unlike any other.
Spotlight on France
The Young Karl Marx
Fresh off the success of I Am Not Your Negro, Raoul Peck—aided by screenwriter Pascal Bonitzer—tackles the early days of the friendship between Karl Marx (August Diehl) and Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske) as they struggle to establish the Communist Party and complete the Communist Manifesto… “This intense, fervent film about the early development of communism… shouldn’t work, but it does, due to the intelligence of the acting and the stamina and concentration of the writing and directing.”—Guardian
Expanding on ideas that made his The Class (VIFF 08) a Cannes’ Palme d’Or winner, Laurent Cantet’s deft and captivating drama focuses on a literary workshop in depressed La Ciotat (near Marseille) and the push-pull relationship that develops between hot-headed—and possibly violent—student Antoine (Matthieu Lucci, excellent) and workshop head Olivia (Marina Fois). “Cantet makes an enthralling return to form with this topical fusion of political debate session and socially conscious thriller.”—Variety
The Valley of the Wolves
(Original language trailer)
Director Jean-Michel Bertrand (Flirting with Heights, VIFF 11) spent three years deep in the French Alps single-mindedly seeking out wolves in their natural habitat. Gradually, he managed to closely observe one wolf pack—and ended up being accepted by them… Full of sublime images of the titular mountain valley (which Bertrand refuses to reveal the location of), captured in all four seasons, and the spectacular flora and fauna that live there, this is a gorgeous adventure story worthy of Jack London.
A Season in France(Trailer not available)
Having fled the civil war-ravaged Central African Republic for Paris, a respected teacher (Eriq Ebouaney) now barely fends for his family by peddling produce. While he finds a loving companion (Sandrine Bonnaire) who helps him confront his past traumas, French bureaucracy proves a harsher mistress, impeding his bid for asylum and chance at a new life. Mahamat-Saleh Haroun offers a compassionate and visceral account of the unenviable lot of illegal immigrants struggling to maintain a sense of dignity.
Milla(Trailer not available)
Forsaking sentimentality in favour of authenticity, Valérie Massadian employs immaculate mise-en-scène and precise camerawork to craft a portrait of a 17-year-old runaway (Severine Jonkeere, discovered in a teen shelter) who suddenly finds herself with child, abandoned by her boyfriend and forced to embrace adult responsibility. Sometimes to be simple is to be daring, and in creating Milla’s world and simply allowing her to live in it, Massadian has fashioned a moving, memorable and transformative work.
(Original language trailer)
VIFF fave Arnaud Desplechin (My Golden Days, Kings and Queen) returns with his most daring film yet, a tour-de-force of mise-en-scène, shown here in the longer director’s cut not screened at the Cannes festival earlier this year. A dream cast—Mathieu Amalric, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marion Cotillard, Louis Garrel—enacts this fraught drama about a filmmaker (Amalric), haunted by his past mistakes, whose current production is interrupted when his ex-wife (Cotillard) suddenly appears after 21 years away…
The great Agnès Varda, now 89, hits the road with the photographer JR in search of the people and their villages—faces and places—that make rural France what it is. As the two artists work with villagers to affix JR’s monumental portraits of the locals to various buildings, the documentary celebrates the transformative power of art, as embodied in our two witty and wise hosts. “If Faces Places is Agnès Varda’s last film, it’s a profoundly moving and absolutely essential farewell.”—IndieWire
Writer Étienne Comar (Of Gods and Men) makes a daring directorial debut by confining this look at the life of legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (played marvellously by A Prophet’s Reda Kateb) to the soul-forging months during WWII when the musician had to make a choice: collaborate and go on a tour of Germany or face up to the facts and resist… Co-starring the great Cécile de France. “Kateb [gets] the chance to shine in… [this] handsomely made affair with one of the best scores imaginable.”—Variety
Paris-based singer/actress Dalida is given the biopic she deserves in Lisa Azuelos’ chronicle of the woman who galvanized the French music scene between the late 50s and the mid-80s. While selling 170 million records worldwide, she endured unbearable tragedy in her personal life and committed suicide in 1987. Newcomer Sveva Alviti in the lead “is not only a dead ringer for the dead star but also, just like the title character, a charismatic force of nature that’s impossible to ignore.“—Hollywood Reporter
BPM (Beats Per Minute)
A crowd favourite at Cannes this year, Robin Campillo’s fast-paced drama positively vibrates with energy, commitment and joie de vivre. As the AIDS crisis claims more and more lives in early 1990s Paris, the AIDS activist group ACT-UP begins a heated campaign to raise awareness and disrupt the blasé middle class. “Five stars! Compellingly combines elegy, tragedy, urgency and a defiant euphoria… This film has what its title implies: a heartbeat. It is full of cinematic life.—Guardian
(Original language trailer)
Soon to go blind, defiant 13-year-old Ava (Noée Abita) resolves to exploit her summer at the beach to its fullest. In debuting director Léa Mysius’ hands, this resolution takes us to some exciting places as Ava explores her sexuality and falls in with a beach-bum bad boy (Juan Cano)… “[The] startlingly assured, exquisitely shot Ava is a film that doesn’t simply explore the textural possibilities of 35mm film for the hell of it, it makes thematic use of them, to stunning, evocative effect.”—Variety
Tickets for all of these amazing films available here.