Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Vancouver International Film Festival 2015: Part Four

A Flickering Truth

Evidence of the lingering effects of a nation’s massive loss of its own artistic heritage abounds in A Flickering Truth, Pietra Brettkelly’s documentary on efforts to salvage the Afghan film archives from years of abuse and neglect. Hauntingly, a man recalls being ordered by the Taliban to burn reels of film or else face death; he sorrowfully describes the now-lost films “bleeding into the ground,” rendering cultural destruction in terms more fit for a mass killing. Elsewhere, Brettkelly contrasts present-day Afghanistan with the remnants of its once-vibrant film industry. Students dressed in black and covered in head scarves watch old footage of an actress running through a field, her hair flowing freely as the screen bursts with bright colours. Yet as striking as these moments may be, the film often seems overwhelmed with the wealth of material, archival or otherwise, and Brettkelly seems to struggle at times with bringing everything into tight focus. Is the film about efforts to screen long-suppressed films in the rural regions, where the threat of the Taliban still lingers? Is it about how the challenge of restoring the film archives mirrors the nation’s larger struggle to return to normalcy after decades of strife? Or is it a tour through the rich but largely forgotten history of Afghan cinema? There are worse crimes for a documentary than having too much to tell the audience, but one nonetheless yearns for more details that sadly never come.

Right Now, Wrong Then 

An artist of Hong Sang-soo’s caliber might balk at being described as a social scientist, but it’s no diminution of the man’s talents to consider Right Now, Wrong Then as something of a behavioural experiment. Divided into two near-identical scenarios, the film follows the consequences of even minute changes in words or actions in a married filmmaker’s flirtation with a young painter. In the first section, the encounter ends poorly, with the filmmaker showering the woman’s work with phony praise and omitting any mention of his marriage until it comes out awkwardly at a drunken get-together (this being Hong, soju remains the river of life from which all things flow), and a disastrous post-screening Q&A completes his humiliation. Hong tinkers with behaviours in the second half and introduces honesty into the equation: the painting critique is perceptive and sincere, the filmmaker’s revelation of his marriage coupled with a confession of love for the painter. The get-together still ends poorly—the filmmaker drunkenly strips at a party—but the duo part ways with a warmth and friendship far removed from the bad feeling and regret of the first section. The lesson is clear: bare your soul, but perhaps not your ass.


Scruffy, endearingly odd, and running just 70 minutes, Slackjaw knows when to quit before its charms are exhausted. Essentially, director Zach Weintraub has welded a low-key buddy comedy to a paranoid anti-corporate dystopia—even the soundtrack evokes John Carpenter at his most sinisterly synthetic. The film’s hero, an aimless 20-something musician named Rob, is torn between loyalty to his absent best friend and an old high school buddy who now works for the blandly menacing EV Corp. Signs supporting or protesting the company’s presence cover seemingly every lawn in the neighbourhood until the town mirrors Rob’s own internal conflict between conformity and rebellion. Meanwhile, strange happenings—mysterious figures covered in white sheets, cryptic symbols scattered about on posters—only add to the creeping sense of alienation that threatens to overtake him. Amusingly, this is made literal by the titular affliction, which renders Rob voiceless and forces him to converse through the robotic voice of a text-to-speech program, as if his flirtation with the machinery of capitalism might deprive him of all humanity. For all its low-stakes drama, this gentle affirmation of friendship over finance serves as a thoughtful consideration of how corporatization corrodes community.

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