The Frances Farmer Show #19: VIFF 2018

GrandBizarre

Sean and Evan discuss some of the films they saw at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival, including Christian Petzold’s Transit, a variety of Moody Asian Noirs (Manta Ray, Lush Reeds, A Land Imagined), Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Ulrich Köhler’s In My Room, Derek Chiu’s No. 1 Chung Ying Street and Jodie Mack’s The Grand Bizarre.

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

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VIFF 2018 Index

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This is an index of our coverage of the 2018 Vancouver Film Festival. To be updated as new reviews and such are posted.

Sean:

Preview: Grass, People’s Republic of Desire, Girls Always Happy, Microhabitat, Matangi/Maya/MIA – Sept 29, 2018
Spice It Up (Lev Lewis, Yonah Lewis, & Calvin Thomas, 2018) – Oct 1, 2018
Diamantino (Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt, 2018) – Oct 3, 2018
Asako I & II (Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, 2018) – Oct 3, 2018
Mirai (Mamoru Hosada, 2018) – Oct 4, 2018
Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Bi Gan, 2018) – November 10, 2018

Evan:

Fausto (Andrea Bussmann, 2018) Sept 29, 2018
Sofia Bohdanowicz’s Shorts – Oct 2, 2018
The Load (Ognjen Glavonić, 2018) – Oct 6, 2018
Non-Fiction (Olivier Assayas, 2018) – Oct 8, 2018
Asako I & II (Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, 2018) – Oct 9, 2018

Lawrence:

La Flor (Mariano Llinás) – Oct 14, 2018

Podcast (Sean and Evan):

The Frances Farmer Show #19: VIFF 2018 – Oct 18, 2018

VIFF 2018: Mirai (Mamoru Hosada, 2018)

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In 2012 Mamoru Hosada released Wolf Children, one of the finest animated films of the decade. It followed a young mother’s struggle to let her children go as they age, to become their own people, separate from her (that one of them chooses a human life while the other heeds the call of the wild and runs off to live as a wolf like his father is only tangentially relevant). With Mirai, Hosada addresses much the same issue from the opposite perspective, this time we see the child’s point of view as he grows form a wholly ego-driven individual into a member of a family, a continuum of people that extends not just horizontally to his sister and parents, but also backwards and forwards in time, to the people his ancestors were and the people he and his sister will become.

He’s not a werewolf this time (though he does have a talent for canine imitation) rather he is subject to a series of fantasies that grow out of the trauma of the arrival of his younger sibling, and the shattering of the idyllic existence he’d led as the center of the universe. He sees the family dog anthropomorphized into a fallen prince (an initial act of empathy that mirrors his own loss of place). He meets an older version of his baby sister, and he has an adventure with his great-grandfather. In interacting with these people (which may be mere figments of his young imagination or could be the manifestation of some supernatural power, it amounts to much the same thing) he learns perspective: that other beings are just as conscious as he is, that the world and the people in it are both distinct from him while also forming an essential part of him, a vast web of humanity with a center that might belong to him, but then again, it might not.

Mirai is as fanciful as anything Hosada has made, with a trip to the geometric horror of a train station a particular highlight. But like Wolf Children, as well as his version of The Girl Who Leapt through Time, it is fundamentally grounded in the every day, which in this case means a whole lot of parent humor, for which I am, no doubt, a sucker (I happen to have a self-centered, train-obsessed boy in my home as well). Hosada expertly fuses fantasy and slice-of-life anime, following in the tradition of the best of Studio Ghibli (Kiki’s Delivery Service, Only Yesterday and Whisper of the Heart), as well as any director of his generation.

VIFF 2018: Asako I & II (Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, 2018)

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In keeping the same minute attention to the smallest details of human routine and interaction that so distinguished his intimate 2015 epic Happy Hour, but trapping them within the familiar confines of a romantic comedy, Ryūsuke Hamaguchi has created something remarkable, a genre film as alive to the possibilities and contradictions of the human psyche and its dealing with other souls as we’ve seen in some time. It’s certainly the best romantic film since Hong Sangsoo’s Yourself and Yours, with which it shares a certain surface similarity. But in every important respect it is sui generis, very much its own thing.

Asako and Baku meet-cute at an art gallery. It’s love at first sight, the two are wordlessly drawn together and stay that way for some time, in the pure romance of youth, impervious to the outside world and not only unafraid of death but turned on by its impossibility. Until, one day Baku disappears. Five years later, Asako meets cute again, this time with a young businessman named Ryôhei, who looks exactly like Baku and is played by the same actor (Masahiro Higashide, from Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Before We Vanish). The bulk of the film tracks their relationship, growing from awkward avoidance to friendship to love with the rhythms of the everyday and in parallel to the romance between their respective best friends. The friends’ antagonistic first meeting over a performance of Chekov, is the best of the films several digressions, with an unexpected natural disaster and an idyllic montage in a fishing weekend providing other highlights.

The inevitable conflict comes in the final third, as Baku returns. If Hamaguchi doesn’t resolve The Case of the Two Bakus (or rather, the Two Asakos, the first crazed with the freedom of youth, the second safe in the benign contentment of maturity) with as much bald-faced ingenuity as Hong did, he can be forgiven. The solution he does find is as emotionally confused and true as real-life. We are unlikely to see a more open and all-embracing film this year.

VIFF 2018: Diamantino (Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt, 2018)

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A soccer player strides across the field. Beautiful, dumb and happy, he tells us his story in a wide-eyed narration. A Candide lost in a world far too corrupt for his dim intelligence and brilliant soul. In the opening moment we get to see the world, the game, through his eyes. Not one of screaming lunatic fans or hulking, hostile opponents, but of giant fluffy puppies cavorting in slo-mo through cotton candy pink billows of cloud.

Circumstances, as they do, intrude on this perfect, pre-verbal vision of the world as it might be, and our hero, Diamantino, is sent into a tailspin of awareness, first by an encounter with refugees lost at sea, then by the death of his beloved father. Rather than center their film on their naive hero’s growing consciousness, as in, say, Daisy von Scherler-Meyer’s Party Girl, in which club kid Parker Posey grows into an existentialist librarian, directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt instead put poor Diamantino at the center of a complex and farcical conspiracy involving his evil twin sisters, a pair of undercover cops, a Brexit-like campaign (but for Portugal) and a scientist who walks in water and tries to clone our hero (to make the perfect soccer team) but with gender-confounding consequences. His only ally is one of the cops, whom he adopts thinking she is an orphan refugee boy.

The conspiracy plotting is ridiculous, reminding me of the half-assed terrorism sub-plot in the film within the film of Spice It Up at best and the grotesque anti-comedy of Edgar Pêra’s Cinesapiens short at worst. A few of the jokes land, especially when the directors find new uses for familiar musical cues like the “Vorspiel” from Das Rheingold or Henry Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament”. But the film rarely again reaches the heights of its first few magical moments, yet every time they bring us back to Diamantino and his pure, foolish soul I’m won over again. He’s truly the hero we need in our dumb, degraded, beautiful world.

VIFF 2018: Spice It Up (Lev Lewis, Yonah Lewis, & Calvin Thomas, 2018)

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One of the highlights of this year’s Future//Present program, and almost certainly the funniest movie to ever play in the now three-year-old series highlighting the cutting edge in Canadian independent cinema, is Spice It Up, from the directorial troika of Lev and Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas. Beginning life five years ago as a shambolic portrait of seven young women who, failing at high school, join the Canadian Army and spend one crazy summer together hanging out, dancing and somehow becoming involved in a terrorist plot involving French Canadian separatists. Charming and goofy, the original film seems like exactly the kind of thing people who teach in film schools rail against: it’s formless and fails to follow the rules of screenwriting as set done by hacks in how-to books. The current version of the film embraces that criticism, inventing a frame story in which the film student who ostensibly directed the movie (played by Jennifer Hardy), is tasked by her teacher (a very funny Adam Nayman) with restoring some classical virtues to her slice-of-life hangout movie. And he isn’t the only one with criticisms: seemingly everyone Hardy meets tells her what is wrong with her film and makes suggestions that simply don’t make sense to her. Still, she works at it, but, as she says, every change she makes away from her original vision simply makes her like the movie less.

Of course all the people who criticize Hardy’s work are men: her instructor, her editor, a guy who suggests she turn her characters into manifestations of virtues set down by moral philosophers, a guy who lives next door who walks out of her movie halfway through a screening. The only woman she actually talks to about it is her sister, played by Sophy Romvari, who hasn’t even bothered to watch the movie yet. It’s a pointed criticism of the film school system, and the wider world of film criticism, dominated by the point of view of men, both under- and over-educated, with directors like Hardy flustered when their personal style of cinema doesn’t line up with established norms. It’s hardly a polemic, though, and the film is just as hilarious in its parody of film culture as the film within a film is of a group of underprepared women sticking together (where Hardy in her story is pointedly alone) despite a significant dearth of common sense. It’s maybe the funniest movie about independent filmmaking since La última película, or maybe even Tom DiCillo’s classic Living in Oblivion. It’s also, with its memorable supporting cast, a compelling portrait of the Toronto film scene as it stands right now in the 2010s, resolutely opposed to commercial norms and dedicated to making the personal cinematic and the cinematic personal.

VIFF 2018 Preview: Grass, People’s Republic of Desire, Girls Always Happy, Microhabitat, Matangi/Maya/MIA

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I’m actually already here in Vancouver, three excellent movies into my time at this year’s Film Festival. But as a kind of a preview, I want to highlight some of our previously published coverage of films that will be playing here over the next couple of weeks.

Hong Sangsoo is of course the headliner. His Grass, which premiered earlier this year, will be playing in the second week of the festival, after I leave town. Fortunately, Evan and I had a chance to see and talk about it earlier this year. Like The Day After and Hotel by the River (which isn’t playing VIFF but will be at the New York Film Festival this week), it’s a black and white film starring Kim Minhee. All three films are melancholy,  meditations on death and suicide informed by a Christian spirituality. I think Grass, the Purgatorio of Hong’s Divine Comedy, is the best of them.

Evan and I were split on the documentary People’s Republic of Desire when it played SIFF earlier this year. He found it too formally boring to really get anything out of its subject, the online celebrity culture of contemporary China, while I thought that was kind of the point, that despite the apparent newness of the world, all the old evils will reassert themselves.

Yang Mingming was the most adventurous of the several solid titles in SIFF’s Chinese film program this year, and I’m glad to see it pop up again here at VIFF. The director herself stars as a young woman with a hot and cold relationship with her mother (played by Nai An, who also stars here at VIFF in Ying Liang’s A Family Tour).  Yang “mixes tones cavalierly, one minute wrenching personal drama told in close-ups of anguished, sweaty, tear-stained faces, the next a jaunty scooter trip through Beijing’s warren of hutong alleys, the next those same alleys turned to the scene of unnamable, invisible dread. The result is a highly unstable film, lurching from lyricism to (self-)excoriation, coming dangerously close to resembling life itself.”

Also in VIFF’s Gateway stream is Jeon Go-woon’s Microhabitat, which I wrote about this summer when it played the New York Asian Film Festival. It’s a polished, warm film about a young woman who “chooses homelessness when price increases make sustaining her budget of cigarettes, whiskey and rent unsustainable. She couches surfs from one former college bandmate to another, all miserable in their own way while she remains pure, the only one of her peers not to compromise her independence and joy in life’s most basic consumptive pleasures.”

Finally, I was mixed on the documentary Matangi/Maya/MIA when it played at SIFF. Made up almost entirely of footage the star shot herself, long before she became famous or even., apparently had any idea of becoming a musician, it’s a fascinating look inside the mind of a creative person who hasn’t quite figured out what she wants to create. It kind of falls apart once she becomes famous, skipping from controversy to controversy, but I imagine that happens to all of us when we get old.