VIFF 2017: The Florida Project (2017, Sean Baker)

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It seems fair to say that one of the biggest breakouts in the film world during these past few years was 2015’s Tangerine, co-written and directed by Sean Baker. Garnering almost as much attention for its empathetic, energetic focus on trans female sex workers in Los Angeles as it did for its ultra-low-budget shooting style on three iPhone 5Ss, one could easily assume that the movie was Baker’s directorial debut. But in point of fact, the movie was his fifth feature, and with his sixth and latest film, The Florida Project, Baker returns to his favored shooting format of 35mm, this time in the at once fantastical and sober environs of Orlando, Florida.

Whereas Tangerine aimed for an almost abrasive, unapologetic energy, with its narrative confined to the drama of a web of relationships on Christmas Eve, The Florida Project‘s goal is something more sprawling and languorous. The film takes place over a summer at the Magic Castle, a motel-cum-extended-stay complex in the shadow of Disney World, focusing on Moonee (Brooklynn Prince, remarkable), a wild six-year-old, and Halley (Bria Vinaite), her equally uncontrolled mother. What framework of a narrative unspools at a leisurely pace, mostly content to observe as Moonee plays with a set of friends around the alternately pastoral and urban area surrounding the motel.

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The Frances Farmer Show #15: VIFF 2017 Recap

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We talk about many of the movies we saw at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Films discussed include: Maison du bonheur, Milla, Caniba, 24 Frames, Claire’s Camera, The Square, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the Future//Present program (Fail to Appear, Mass for Shut-Ins, Still Night Still Light, Prototype, Black Cop, Scaffold, Forest Movie), Faces Places, Top of the Lake: China Girl, 120 Beats per Minute, Bad Genius, Wonderstruck, The Florida Project, and SPL: Paradox.

You can listen to the show by downloading it directly, or by subscribing on iTunes or the podcast player of your choice.

Friday October 13 – Thursday October 19

Featured Film:

The Princess Bride in Wide Release

Our VIFF coverage is on-going though the festival has come to an end, and there’s good stuff to be seen on the art house circuit (the TWIST film festival, Ex Libris at the Grand, Days of Heaven at SAM), and I wouldn’t normally feature one of these TCM/Fathom Events repertory showings, but it’s my wife’s birthday week and this is her favorite movie, an adaptation of the book by her favorite author. If you haven’t seen it, don’t miss it this Sunday and Wednesday at any of several multiplexes around the region. If you have seen it, you might as well watch it again. It never, ever gets old.

Playing This Week:

Admiral Theatre:

Rooted in Peace (Greg Reitman) Mon Only

AMC Alderwood:

Brave (Brenda Chapman & Mark Andrews, 2012) Fri-Thurs
The Outlaws (Kang Yoonsung) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

Dial M for Murder (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954) Fri-Tues
Hausu (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977) Fri-Tues
Get Out (Jordan Peele) Thurs Only

SIFF Egyptian:

TWIST Seattle Queer Film Festival Fri-Thurs Full Program

Century Federal Way:

Bailaras (Ksshitij Chaudhary) Fri-Thurs
The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

Lucky (John Carroll Lynch) Fri-Thurs
Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968) Sat Only
Ex Libris: New York Public Library (Frederick Wiseman) Tues Only Our Review
The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock, 1938) Weds Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

M.F.A. (Natalia Leite) Fri-Thurs
Finding Joseph I: The HR from Bad Brains Documentary (James Lathos) Sat Only
Danger Diva (Robert McGinley) Sat & Weds Only
EXcinema Group Show Tues Only

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Judwaa 2 (David Dhawan) Fri-Thurs
Raju Gari Gadhi 2 (Omkar) Fri-Thurs
Mahanubhavudu (Maruthi) Fri-Thurs
Kaafi Thota (T. N. Seetharam) Sat & Sun Only
The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987) Sun & Weds Only

Regal Meridian:

Chasing the Dragon (Wong Jing & Jason Kwan) Fri-Thurs
Wind River (Taylor Sheridan) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Mother! (Darren Aronofsky) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Northwest Film Forum:

Tasveer South Asian Film Festival Fri-Sun Full Program
TWIST Seattle Queer Film Festival Fri-Thurs Full Program

AMC Pacific Place:

Brave (Brenda Chapman & Mark Andrews, 2012) Fri-Thurs
City of Rock (Dong Chengpeng) Fri-Thurs
Never Say Die (Yang Song & Chiyu Zhang) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Judwaa 2 (David Dhawan) Fri-Thurs
Last Night (Bb Joyce Bernal) Fri-Thurs
Til Death Do Us Part (Chris Stokes) Fri-Thurs
Wind River (Taylor Sheridan) Fri-Thurs Our Review

AMC Seattle:

The Big Sick (Michael Showalter) Fri-Thurs Our Review
So B. It (Stephen Gyllenhaal) Fri-Thurs
The Secret Scripture (Jim Sheridan) Fri-Thurs

Seattle Art Museum:

Leon Morin, Priest (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1961) Weds Only
Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978) Thurs Only

SIFF Film Center:

Wasted! The Story of Food Waste (Anna Chai & Nari Kye) Fri-Sun
Crash Kids Sat Only
The Painting (Jean-François Laguionie, 2011) Weds Only

AMC Southcenter:

Brave (Brenda Chapman & Mark Andrews, 2012) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Uptown:

Dolores (Peter Bratt) Fri-Thurs
Lucky (John Carroll Lynch) Fri-Thurs
International Ocean Film Tour Thurs Only

Varsity Theatre:

Columbus (Kogonada) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
Walking Out (Andrew J. Smith & Alex Smith) Fri-Thurs
The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987) Weds Only

In Wide Release:

Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve) Our Review

VIFF 2017: Faces Places (2017, Agnès Varda & JR)

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At this point, it seems moot to emphasize the collaborative nature of film. With almost no exceptions, every single movie requires the work of many talented, gifted artisans and craftspeople who provide incalculable contributions. Yet, with the very valid tenets of the auteur theory in mind, films co-directed by two distinct voices are special cases, especially in the case of the magnificent documentary Faces Places. The first credited director, Agnès Varda, the octogenarian filmmaker of Cléo from 5 to 7, Le bonheur, The Gleaners and I, and other such acclaimed works, almost needs no introduction to cinephiles. On the other hand, her creative partner JR is quite literally an unknown quantity: the visual artist and street photographer’s identity is uncertain, and while he has directed a handful of films, including a short starring Robert De Niro, to my knowledge he has made no significant splash in the world of cinema until now.

Varda herself is coming off of a partially self-imposed hiatus from feature filmmaking, having made her previous and ostensibly last documentary The Beaches of Agnès in 2008. But the fusion of their two diametrically opposed figures – she an elderly, world famous director with two-tone hair, he a 34-year-old visual artist with perpetually perched dark glasses à la Godard (according to Varda) – only enhances both directors’ innate sense of exuberance and sensitivity. Faces Places‘ ostensibly modest aims of photographing and plastering large photographs of average people onto structures across France provides a surprisingly humanist and playful backdrop, against which two remarkable artists create something both profoundly personal and entirely universal.

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Perhaps what strikes most is how Faces Places‘s sense of collaboration arises. The film begins with a playful series of scenes imagining how the duo could have met (on a road, in a bakery, and most amusingly on the dancefloor), and while the actual point of first contact is much more mundane, it arises without ambiguity from a place of strong appreciation for each other’s work. Flashes of film clips from Varda (including Cléo) and some of JR’s large posted photographs appear at the very beginning, but on the whole the film relies solely upon the interplay between the two artists and their many camera subjects.

Whether it be the last woman living in a row of miners’ houses, a photograph of an old acquaintance pasted onto the side of a toppled bunker at Normandy, or the wives of shipyard workers, Varda and JR continually manage to tease out the fascinating and even fantastical via their particular mode of documentation. This isn’t the realm of, say, Humans of New York; the filmmakers do happen across incredible stories, but they are augmented and enhanced by the act of photographing, both in still and moving form. And, at least for Varda, this process is soon coming to a close: throughout the documentary her eyesight is failing, and there is a scene of an ocular injection quickly likened to “Un chien andalou.” Yet Faces Places feels no burden to be a capstone or a simple elegy, even if Godard almost makes an appearance. It is buoyed by sheer humanity in many forms, almost always managing to hit the perfect balance between the sentimental and the clear-eyed, prone to flights of fancy but persistently aware of when to come back to earth.

VIFF 2017: Close-Knit (Naoko Ogigami, 2017)

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While watching Naoko Ogigami’s Close-Knit, I often remarked to myself, “The camera is always at the right distance! Every Time!” like an idiot. But it is this observation that best captures the appeal of Ogigami’s cinema. She is not fashionable or current or modern in ways that are obvious. Indeed, her concepts and sensibility are probably downright corny. But she has judgment, and her gaze is always a respectful one. Thus her camera is always at a careful distance, marveling at the nature of her characters and accepting them for who they are. Hers is a welcoming vision, perhaps most ably realized in her masterpiece Kamome Diner (2006), where all sorts of people are brought into the fold of the narrative, their tastes, mannerisms and behavior given their place. The same applies for her latest feature, Close-Knit.

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VIFF 2017: A Skin So Soft (2017, Denis Côté)

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As a general stereotype, body types tend to fall within a particular range in most films, whether they be studio-crafted or independently made. Save for films dealing with a particular subject and milieu, it is rare to see on-screen characters with a significantly larger or significantly smaller physique than what is considered attractive at the time. Even so, the professional bodybuilders that make up the principal subjects of A Skin So Soft possess truly startling builds, their muscles not so much rippling as erupting from their bodies. Yet while the camera lingers over these almost alien protrusions, the documentary is less about the figures than the people beneath them; the ways they interact and present themselves in various states of training, parading, and existing.

The film – billed as a docufiction, though I didn’t spot any sections that seemed particularly staged – is structured around six Québécois bodybuilders of varying backgrounds, each training for a pageant competition in various methods. Much of the runtime is built on these training sections, on patiently observing these large men on their own personal missions to mold their bodies into desired outcomes. Director Denis Côté ensures that the pace never flags by jumping around between the men, but the most notable aspect of A Skin So Soft is its sense of humanity and compassion; though the bodybuilders are plainly unique and unusual, it is emphasized how ordinary and quotidian their existence is. One has a family to take care of, one juggles his bodybuilding with his wrestling career, the youngest of the athletes seems obsessed with VR – none of them are depicted with any hint of either deification or condescension. The documentary ends on an odd note, after the first time all six men have met on screen, but it scarcely seems to matter; it remains intently observant, almost loving, to the end.

SPL: Paradox (Wilson Yip, 2017)

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It’s unclear if this film is actually a continuation of the SPL series or if it just started as one and then mutated into its own thing. I thought I saw the characters for “Sha Po Lang” on the title card of the movie though, so I’m just gonna go with it. Regardless, like the second film in the series, SPL 2: A Time for ConsequencesParadox has only a tenuous thematic relation to its forbearers: all of the characters are new. Louis Koo plays a Hong Kong cop who travels to Pattaya, in Thailand, in search of his daughter, who has gone missing. He hooks up with a Thai cop (Wu Yue) as the two uncover an organ trafficking ring with connections all the way to the top of city government. Helping out in the investigation is another cop, a superstitious (possibly psychic) Tony Jaa, star of the last SPL and arguably the best martial arts star in the world today, in what amounts to little more than a guest-starring role. The final villain is played by Lam Ka-tung (Sparrow, Trivisa), which means that the two most important Thai characters in the film are played by Chinese actors. Such are the vagaries of international cinema.

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VIFF 2017 Index

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This is an index to our coverage of the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival, categorized by writer:

All of Us:
The Frances Farmer Show #15: VIFF 2017 Recap

Sean Gilman:
24 Frames (Abbas Kiarostami, 2017)
Claire’s Camera (Hong Sangsoo, 2017)
120 Beats per Minute (Robin Campillo, 2017)
Bad Genius (Nattawut Poonpiriya, 2017)
Future//Present (Maison du bonheur, Fail to Appear, Black Cop, Still Night Still Light, PROTOTYPE, & Forest Movie)
SPL: Paradox (Wilson Yip, 2017)
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017)

Evan Morgan:
Forest Movie (Matthew Taylor Blais, 2017) & Prototype (Blake Williams, 2017)
Maison du bonheur (Sofia Bohdanowicz, 2017)
Western (Valeska Grisebach, 2017)
Paradox (Wilson Yip, 2017)

Ryan Swen:
“Scaffold” (2017, Kazik Radwanski) & “Let Your Heart Be Light” (2016, Deragh Campbell & Sophy Romvari)
A Skin So Soft (Denis Côté,2017)
Faces Places (Agnès Varda & JR, 2017)
The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017)

Jhon Hernandez:
Close-Knit (Naoko Ogigami, 2017)

Nathan Douglas:
Milla (Valérie Massadian,2017)
BC Spotlight (Luk’Luk’I, Never Steady, Never Still, Entanglement, Once There Was A Winter, Gregoire)

Melissa Tamminga:
24 Frames (Abbas Kiarostami, 2017)
Sami Blood (Amanda Kernell, 2016)
Top of the Lake: China Girl (Jane Campion, 2017)

VIFF 2017: Future//Present

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The Future//Present program at VIFF has quickly become one of the most dynamic and interesting streams the festival has to offer, adding to the festival’s longtime commitment to the cutting edge in Asian cinema an exploration of the burgeoning Canadian independent film scene, offering showcase opportunities to young filmmakers from Nova Scotia to Vancouver. This year’s program was even better than last year’s inaugural offering, and provided some of the festival’s most interesting, engaging and challenging films.

Last year’s program was lead by a feature and a trilogy of shorts from director Sofia Bohdanowicz, who returns this year with her documentary Maison du bonheur. Filmed on a Bolex over 30 days during a stay with a friend’s mother in Paris, the film is both the story of a woman and the way she does things (makes bread, gets her hair styled) and the story of a woman making a film about a woman she finds fascinating. While not as explicitly meta-cinematic as Never Eat Alone, Bohdanowicz continually leaves in her own attempts to erase herself from her movie (telling her subject how to answer questions when the questioner won’t be heard, or telling people not to look directly at the camera or acknowledge her presence), and at times simply can’t help but take it over, including snippets of her nightly audio journal entries, or taking a side trip to Deauville, the site of some unexplained unhappiness in her past, for which this trip, this film project, seems in some way designed to, if not exactly erase, then somehow compensate for: she wants new memories. It’s a warm, fascinating film from one of the best young filmmakers in the world today.

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Bad Genius (Nattawut Poonpiriya, 2017)

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Fresh off of wide acclaim both at film festivals across North America (the New York Asian Film Festival, Fantastic Fest in Austin and the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal as well as here at VIFF) and at home, where it was just edged out as Thailand’s submission to the Academy Awards (in favor of SIFF favorite (and veteran of last year’s VIFF) By the Time It Gets Dark, Nattawut Poonpiriya’s cheating scandal/heist film is one of the most enjoyable, smartest genre films of the year. Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying plays Lynn, the eponymous Bad Genius, who allows her pretty, but dumb, friend Grace and Grace’s pretty, but dumb and super-rich, boyfriend Pat to convince her to help them cheat on tests at their high school, an exclusive (ie expensive) private school. Lynn lives modestly with her father, a divorced teacher, and only attends the school on what she believes is a full-ride scholarship. When she learns the school is still charging her father money he really can’t afford, she decides to stick it to the system by snagging as much money from her wealthy classmates as she can. Eventually she ropes in the school’s other star scholarship student, Bank, who’s as smart as Lynn but even poorer. Years of cheating eventually lead them to try to cheat the STIC, the standardized test given to students all around the world who hope to study abroad.

The whole film, and especially the cheating sequences, are hyper-kinetic, with camera movement and on-screen graphics bringing life to what is essentially a group of kids filling in bubbles with a #2 pencil (there’s even a killer chase sequence, in a film about test-taking!). But Nattawut also deftly delineates the economic landscape of the school, with the rich kids pressured by their families to succeed at all costs: their exploitation of the poor, smart kids is merely following the logic of their parents’ ideology. And the poor kids, recognizing how the system is rigged against them, are motivated to sell their labor to the highest bidder, regardless of the ethical consequences. The ultimate moral crisis in the film is not so much the cheating, everyone knows that’s “wrong” and everyone does it anyway. Rather it’s in the differing ways Lynn and Bank chose to act within a society in which everyone cheats. Bank, fully internalizing the demon logic of capitalism, is never content, he’s constantly out to squeeze another million baht out of his marks, always in need of a new grift. For Lynn though, ultimately, enough is enough. She alone has the imagination both to create the scheme to cheat the system, and to see a way out of it.