Thursday, October 15, 2015

Vancouver International Film Festival 2015: Part Two

 Arabian Nights, Volume Two (The Desolate One) 

Arguably the strongest film in the trilogy, the second volume of Arabian Nights is a multi-faceted portrait of community told through tales that bounce from pastoral calm to manic absurdity. The quietest episode in The Desolate One depicts the vagabond ways of Simao Without Bowels, an aging outlaw whose contemptuous loner lifestyle turns him into a mascot for the public’s contempt for the government. This is followed by one of the comedic centrepieces of the series, in which a dispute between a landlord and tenant opens up into a ceaseless string of injustices that seemingly implicate an entire town. The chain of troubles grows to encompass a genie, a talking cow (played by two people in costume), a band of masked marauders, a Chinese millionaire with 13 mistresses, and more. In keeping with the wild swings between fantasy and reality established in the first volume, Miguel Gomes moves from the strange comedy of the court to a delicate profile of the residents of a lower-class tenement block, structured around the fluctuating ownership of a dog named Dixie. Shifting between vignettes both funny and tragic, the film depicts the building as a crumbling world that holds even the dead captive until they are evicted. Even the pets, as the eloquent final image suggests, never really leave.

A Matter of Interpretation 

Lee Kwang-kuk is often pigeonholed as one of Hong Sang-soo’s disciples, but it’s hard to imagine the master making a film quite as whimsical and matter-of-factly surreal as A Matter of Interpretation. Hong’s films often play out like a series of alternate realities placed side by side, with minute variations suggesting the seemingly infinite ways people can utterly fuck up their lives. Lee’s second feature eschews that multiverse comedy of manners, but by telling his story of two actors dealing with the aftermath of their breakup through a maze of interconnected dreams, the director creates a haunting sense of unrealized and impossible fates. Still, for all its sense of loss, this is a work of exceptional lightness, where detectives prefer the imaginative play of dream interpretation to dull forensic science and a person locked in the trunk of a car can be transformed into a mass of balloons. Attuned to the struggles of the artistic life, the film evolves from a relationship comedy into something more idiosyncratic and poignant—a celebration of the shared imaginative space that unites people, whether audience and performer or two lovers that have been separated by a mixture of circumstance and choice, huddling around a dream of fire.

The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes are Not Brothers 

The title of The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes are Not Brothers promises a film far more apocalyptic than the one we get. Still, it suggests something of the disquiet and disorientation that powers this hallucinatory double vision of cultural collision by Ben Rivers. A blast of heavy metal splits the film in two, with the first section following a French film director (Oliver Laxe) working in Morocco. But Laxe soon abandons his shoot and unwittingly stumbles into a Paul Bowles story. Following a beating—in which his tongue is cut out and fed to a dog—the director is dressed in a suit of tin-can lids by four men. His voice reduced to nothing but pained, subhuman sounds, the newly christened King of Tin Cans is forced to dance for the men during a brutal trek through the Moroccan countryside. This section, often shot in claustrophobic close-ups that contrast with the cool distance of the earlier filmmaking scenes, becomes a perverse mirror of the director’s earlier creative endeavours. Whereas Laxe’s film flirted uncomfortably with questions of cultural appropriation and otherness, his transformation into a dancer forces him to become a tool for someone else’s vision and approach this foreign place from a position of submission rather than authority. Beneath the gritty beauty of Rivers’ 16 mm cinematography lurks a classic tale of comeuppance rendered with the frank brutality of a horror film.

The Club 

Having concluded his Pinochet trilogy, Pablo Larrain appears to be casting about for a fresh subject in The Club. What a pity that he’s settled on one of the slowest, fattest fish in the barrel—the Catholic church’s cover-up of pedophilia and other abuses. Inexplicably, he also maintains the grubby video look of No, which was at least justifiable in the context of that film’s mid-1980s setting. Here, it simply cakes an already grey environment in an extra layer of dinge and murk (apparently moral ugliness demands an equivalent visual response). In fairness, there’s certainly some amusement to be found in this story of a group home for excommunicated priests, and Larrain regular Alfredo Castro provides a soulful performance in a role that could have easily collapsed into caricature. Unfortunately, the director seems uncertain in his depiction of the priests, and he succumbs to an easy cynicism that finally renders the film incoherent. He wants to offer a damning reproach to the church’s refusal to acknowledge its hidden crimes, but he also can’t resist meting out some poetic justice. For what purports to be a bleak satire, the film finally strains to comfort rather than disturb.

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