Missed VIFF? Nobody needs to know

The festival is wrapping up, but you don't want to be left out of the conversation - even if you didn't actually attend any screenings

Carrie Schmidt

As a busy entrepreneur/business professional, you are strategizing, monetizing, unpacking solutions and otherwise disrupting or leveraging the status quo to get ahead – it’s hard work. You wish you had time to stay on top of cultural events and attend the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF), but the 2017 version has come and gone and you didn’t get a chance to see anything. But BIV has your back: we sent someone to watch movies so you don’t have to.

Here are your talking points for the films you “saw” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) during the festival. You wish you had seen more, but, as a true Vancouverite, you were dealing with a random health issue and had to use walk-in clinics because you don’t have a regular family doctor and your landlord was trying to increase your rent by an illegal 25%. Those are great talking points in themselves, but aren’t we all a little tired of living a fleshed-out stereotype? Talk about these movies instead. Warning - spoiler alerts ahead.

Lucky (USA, 88 min, Dir: John Carroll Lynch)

As a Harry Dean Stanton fan, you’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time, especially after holding your own private Stanton film festival in the summer, that weekend where you re-watched Repo Man and Paris, Texas.

IMDB describes this as “the spiritual journey of a 90-year-old atheist.” You disagree: you don’t recall anyone in the film mentioning Lucky’s age – but your pen crapped out in the dark theatre, because as a film fan, of course you take notes while watching movies. You see it more as a series of vignettes about an old curmudgeon in a small town dealing with his own mortality.

By the end – and what a good ending it was, Stanton breaking the fourth wall for that thrilling moment, looking straight at you with those heart-breaking eyes – you are grateful you remembered to bring the Kleenex you could have used for yesterday’s viewing of Meditation Park. Lucky states at one point, “ownership is a fallacy” … your landlord would probably disagree.

Bonus: you sat three rows behind Tzi Ma, the actor who played the philandering husband in Meditation Park, which you also saw at this year’s festival.

Bunch of Kunst (Germany, 103 min, Dir: Christine Franz)

This documentary introduces you to your new favourite band: Sleaford Mods, a British punk rock laptop duo truly working their working class roots. Iggy Pop calls them “the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band,” and he’s not wrong. Filmmaker and music journalist Christine Franz tells the audience after this North American premiere that she used her life savings to make this movie. You are thrilled that people take risks like that. You are thrilled that Sleaford Mods took their own risks: these men are your age (you’re in your mid-40s) and it is a privilege to watch them working within the machine (capitalism, the music industry in general) that their music and general ethos rails against. This movie makes you want to start a band. But you won’t.

Frank Serpico (USA, 98 min, Dir: Antonino D’Ambrosio)

Another documentary, about former New York police detective Frank Serpico, the man who stood up against police corruption in the 1960s/70s and whose story was brought to life in the 1973 film Serpico, starring Al Pacino. Usually, the lives of whistleblowers don’t go so well after the whistle is blown – and Serpico definitely paid a price for standing up for what he believes in – he was shot in the face and shards from that bullet are embedded in his bones. He was hated by both criminals and his fellow cops. This is one of the most life-affirming docs you’ve ever seen, but without any treacle or feel-good crap. Serpico is a true-life embodiment of integrity, perhaps the closest you’ve seen to a real-life hero.

Bitch (USA, 97 min, Dir: Marianna Palka)

·  Bold choice to start this darkly comic, cacophonic peek into systemic, institutional and ultimately familial misogyny with a suicide attempt, no?

·  The endlessly barking dogs! The jarring jump cuts mixed in with dreamy blurry shots of the sky and the trees!

·  Was that guy at the back of the Rio Theatre drunk, or high? Or both? Or completely sober and openly tickled by this bleakly fantastic comedy? He was laughing so hard and repeating, “This is such a good film! So good!” that it started a mild wave of laughter throughout the theatre. It’s true: it was good.

·  Plot holes: what happened to the pair of cops who showed up to investigate the psychiatric hold? How was Jason Ritter’s character, the epitome of entitled, egomaniacal executive, dealing with the need for money after he lost his job? You saw him moving house, and all these charming scenes of bonding with the kids he has ignored for years, but … money?

Meditation Park (Canada, 94 min, Dir: Mina Shum)

You arrived 65 minutes early to one of three sold-out screenings of this wry, charming, locally filmed movie – Vancouver is unabashedly Vancouver in this one, with the bonus being that a big chunk of it was filmed in your neighbourhood … you live in Hastings-Sunrise, right? There were already about 20 pass holders ahead of you, and the line grew at a steady rate as you made small talk with one of the programmers of the Powell River Film Festival. Bemused, you stepped aside as the guy behind you became extremely interested in discussing films with a film professional – not you, you film amateur. Still, there are worse ways to kill time, standing in line, than listening to people talk film.

Like Bitch, this film has a philandering husband, but the women who have been cheated on and taken for granted deal with their situations in completely different ways. Meditation Park’s main character, Maria, played by the phenomenal Pei-Pei Cheng, deals with that particular devastation with astonishing grace. Her facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission. This one lives up to the hype.

Tragedy Girls (USA/Canada, 96 min, Dir: Tyler MacIntyre)

This dark comedy about a couple of cute, charming high school sociopaths on a crime spree while “innocently” reporting on the crimes via social media – and upping their Instagram and YouTube followers – was a true delight. With nods to similar films featuring teenage mayhem and psychosis (Heavenly Creatures, Scream, Heathers, Psycho Beach Party, Jawbreaker and Carrie), everything about this horror movie satire is perfect. If this doesn’t become a hugely popular film, there is something wrong with the world.  

Caniba (USA/France, 96 min, Dir: Verena Paravel, Lucien Casting-Taylor)

Issei Sagawa, a Japanese man who murdered and cannibalized fellow Sorbonne student Renée Hartevelt in 1981, was found legally insane after his crime and served very little time, checking himself out of a Japanese hospital in 1986 and living a life of bizarre celebrity since then. You didn’t know what you were expecting with a documentary about him and his brother, Jun, but whatever it was, this wasn’t it. This was like watching a bad Warhol film: long, out-of-focus close-ups of Issei staring at the camera, eating a meal, drinking water. He switches between Japanese and French, with some English thrown in, and his dead eyes are hard to look at. He still has cannibalistic desires, and his brother – the sane one – has some severely disturbing desires too. You didn’t think you’d be watching someone stab, torture and chew on his own arm as your last movie at the festival. At least three people walked out during the film; you wish you had, too.

VIFF wraps up October 13.