VIFF Notes: Days 1 & 2

This is part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Some brief thoughts on the films I saw over the first 48 hours in Vancouver.


Paradise (Sina Ataeian Dena, 2015): Iranian film about a young teacher in mourning over the death of her parents. The film follows her through daily life as she attempts to put in a work transfer at the school. Meanwhile two of the students have gone missing. The film was shot illegally with some of the participants not even aware that they were being filmed. While it pulls back a little more of the curtain on women’s lives in modern Iran, it never really finds an engaging entry point. Part of this is due to star Dorna Dibaj, whose depiction of depression comes off frequently as simple disaffection.

thoughts once we had

The Thoughts That Once We Had (Thom Andersen, 2015): Full review.

pearl button

The Pearl Button (Patricio Guzman, 2015): Eye-opening documentary that deftly weaves in the fading history of Chile’s indigenous culture with an examination of more recent genocidal atrocities and a rumination on the vitality of water. The coalescence of these elements is deeply satisfying. The Pearl Button is a beautifully shot documentary that at times plays like The Act of Killing mixed with Herzog’s oddity The Wild Blue Yonder.


Erbarme dich – Matthaus Passion Stories (Ramon Gieling, 2015): An artfully staged exploration into the power of Johan Sebastian Bach’s “St. Matthew’s Passion”. Musicians, conductors, artists, and writers recount their personal relationship with the work. The film does this while charting rehearsals for a performance featuring a choir of homeless people. (Jesus is played by a shaggy, overweight tenor with Led Zeppelin shirt.)  The best parts of the documentary are the bits that stray from the conventions of the medium, in particular a series of bold intertitles of philosophical musical musings.


Victoria (Sebastian Schipper, 2015): Full review.


Alice in Earnestland (Ahn Gooc Jin, 2015): A woman works tirelessly to care for her deaf, fingerless husband in a coma when she finds out that redeveloping the neighborhood could be her ticket to financial stability. So she does what any normal person would do and ties a therapist to a chair and feeds her poisoned blowfish. It’s a self-consciously quirky mix of the macabre and the mundane that falls squarely in the latter category, despite the blood and explosions.

VIFF 2015: The Piper (Kim Gwangtae, 2015)

piper performance
This is part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.

First-time director Kim Gwangtae delivers a fresh take on the “Pied Piper of Hamelin” with his visceral film The Piper. Set in the hinterlands of Korea in the war-torn 1950s, the film begins with a devoted father and son traversing the country in hopes of finding a cure for the boy’s tuberculosis. The pair (played wonderfully by Ryu Seungryong and the absolutely adorable Goo Seunghyeon) stumble upon a hidden village that knows no news of the outside world and eyes their new arrivals with unease. In an effort to ingratiate themselves with the locals, the father offers to rid the town of their rampant rat infestation.

In the early going, The Piper plays it light with goofy antics and the building of a budding romance. But like the smoke used to run out the rats, darkness creeps through the narrative’s cracks long before the fatal finale. And by its conclusion, The Piper has become a gruesome tale of vengeance that would make Park Chanwook or Quentin Tarantino proud. There will be blood. And there will be rats feasting on it.

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VIFF 2015: James White (Josh Mond, 2015)

Part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival. This review is by Vancouver-based critic Neil Bahadur.

Beautifully unpretentious. The debut feature of indie producer Josh Mond, James White, is surprising in its coming from the New York independent scene because of its tender sincerity. Dishonesty is alien to this director; perhaps the film is more moving than it is interesting, but what of it? Clearly a very personal work, this is an attempt at self-catharsis, a successful attempt to try to express (and really document) emotions that one has difficulty understanding. Shot in a mere 18 days, the movie’s tight and controlled structure almost seems to betray its modesty. This isn’t a criticism: the movie never overreaches its fiscal limitations and is rather designed around it. And perhaps because of its remarkable self-control, the film seems far more ambitious than it actually is. The movie is so fixed in its purpose and it never misses a beat. It’s like James Gray distilled.

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