VIFF 2015: The Piper (Kim Gwangtae, 2015)

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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)

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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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VIFF 2015: Victoria (Sebastian Schipper, 2015)

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Part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Gimmicks have long been used to get butts in theatre seats. From the blatantly crass attempts of William Castle, who deployed live effects in the theatres during his B-movie screenings, to the formal constraints of Alfred Hitchcock, who dared himself to film entirely in a boat or an apartment, or in reel-length unbroken takes. Gimmicks are exciting, they pique an audience’s curiosity. But transcending them and delivering a worthwhile work of art at the end is one of the most difficult tasks a filmmaker has. Gimmicks are both blessing and curse.

The aforementioned unbroken take has been tried many times before, including a faux example in last year’s Best Picture winner, Birdman. Now comes the German film Victoria, which manages an honest-to-goodness, no-strings-attached single take as the titular woman, a Spanish transplant, joins a group of guys on a drunken night in Berlin. What begins with the bravado of belligerent boys and the tentative mating dance of the deeply intoxicated, eventually turns sour as Victoria gets enlisted in a foolish and irrevocable act.

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VIFF 2015: The Thoughts That Once We Had (Thom Andersen, 2015)

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Part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Thom Andersen’s new essay film, The Thoughts That Once We Had is a proudly idiosyncratic interpretation of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s thoughts on cinema. Deleuze’s two volume set, The Movement Image and The Time Image, are the springboard for Andersen’s patented excursions into cinema’s past, built on a foundation of film clips both obscure and ingrained. Andersen’s film flits around Deleuze’s dense concepts, often teasing the first portion of a line with a resulting set-up clip, before transcribing the larger idea and presenting a montage representing it. I wouldn’t claim to understand what the hell Deleuze (and by extension, Andersen) is going on about half the time–it’s all very abstract and anyway, the quotations are onscreen for the briefest of seconds–but by gum, the thing works wonders despite the less learned background of the viewer. (In fact, the film’s biggest drawback will be the inevitable embrace by the high-falutin’ intellectual cognoscenti.)

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A VIFF-ing We Will Go!

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Our coverage begins today of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival. Over the next week and a half, Sean, Melissa, and I will be posting reviews, recording podcasts, and getting lost in the wilds of British Columbia. We’ll be catching some of the most anticipated films of the year, including new works from Hong Sangsoo, Guy Maddin, and Hou Hsiao-hsien.

For the most up-to-date information, keep your eyeballs affixed to the Seattle Screen Scene Twitter. Elsewhere in the 140charactersorless-verse, Sean can be found at theendofcinema, Melissa at oneaprilday, and Sean agreed to do my laundry if I finally post stuff at geosandersshow. Don’t worry, I plan on getting my clothes really dirty.

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O Canada!