Saturday, November 8, 2014

WIFF capsule reviews - part one

Ironically, despite Windsor International Film Festival’s extended run to nine days this year (ending tomorrow) on its 10th anniversary I only started getting to films Wednesday night. Partly it was a combination of things: work and personal business, having seen some of the films already, and simply not having enough interest in others. But here are my capsule reviews (and star rating) of the first eight films I have seen, in the order I saw them. (My remaining films will be reviewed in the next post.)

Clouds of Sils Maria (France 2014): This work by Olivier Assayas is as ambiguous and dreamy as per the title. It’s like a metaphorical mist envelops the story as aging actress Maria (Juliette Binoche) considers taking on the older lead in a play she made famous years ago playing the younger character who drives her boss to suicide. The metaphor is obvious: suicide equalling artistic death. Kristen Stewart as Maria’s A-personality assistant also embodies the vigour of youth as especially does the young woman in the play, an overly confident yet superficial actress (Chloë Grace Moretz). 3/5

A Wolf at the Door (Brazil 2013) (picture above): I was hooked from the very start of this picture with the camera frozen on a surreal-looking phone booth and the menacing throb of slow bass notes, which punctuates the film throughout. Moving back and forth in time this story of two women, a man, and a kidnapped child is a depiction of madness, a person’s unknown psychological depths, and the ultimate consequences of what we sow. 4/5

Halfway (Belgium 2014): This comedy overstays its welcome a bit too long, just as does the ghost (Jurgen Delnaet as Theo), the previous owner of the house in which Stef (Koen De Graeve) moves in. I suppose the point of the movie, other than providing a few good laughs, is for Theo to be the conscience of the rather nasty Stef, who has a penchant for alienating people. But the plot’s goofiness gets in the way. 2/5

Winter Sleep (Turkey 2014): Hard to believe this won Cannes’s Palm D’Or. Not that it’s not good. But clocking in at 196 minutes this series of tête-à-tête mini dramas among three or four people isn’t particularly ground breaking. Bergman did it years ago. And, as at least a couple of people described it, so did Chekhov. The first 45 minutes is ponderous and a bit confusing as to where the film will lead. But once we get into the first dialogue on topics like the meaning of art, criticism, courage, integrity – and the stripping away of the charactyers' defences – okay, we’re on to something. 3/5

La Sapienza (France & Italy 2014): This film about Italian religious architecture will knock your socks off for the studied stunning images of the interiors of some of that country’s great churches, in particular those designed by the 17th century’s Francesco Borromini. But it’s more than that. It’s about the beauty that was and the crassness that is. It’s about human love and even human contact. Does contemporary society make robots of us? The scenes and acting techniques at times are deliberately humorous if absurd and hark back to filmmakers like Jacques Tati and Luis Buñuel. Director Eugene Green makes a cameo as a kind of all-knowing oracle. 3/5

Force Majeure (Sweden 2014): Ruben Östlund’s eagerly anticipated film about male heroism – or the lack thereof – was different from what I expected and I’m glad it was. Still the director toys with the same subject matter. What does it mean to be a man? Is heroism or indeed chivalry dead? But the director seems to want it both ways. He’s arguing men should be ashamed of abandoning their families in dire crises. But is this only a male issue? The female characters suggest they wouldn’t have acted that way. But in an age of feminism and questioning traditional gender roles, framing the issue from a male-female perspective wasn’t that smart. The question should be: how would any individual respond? Otherwise the film is brilliantly paced and totally unpredictable, a treat from beginning to end. 4/5

Corbo (Quebec 2014): Mathieu Denis’s first film is a great debut on a number of fronts – expert cinematography and creation of mood, evocation of family and group dynamics, and the accurate depiction of what life was like in Quebec in 1966 given the director wasn’t even alive then. This was the heyday of the FLQ, the radical terrorist group that was blowing up symbols of English dominance. A new recruit, Corbo (Anthony Therrien), joins. It will be interesting to see Denis’s future work. 3/5

Beloved Sisters (Germany 2014): Who knew that the great 18th century German poet, playwright and philosopher Friedrich Schiller carried on a ménage à trois with all the drama you might find in a Woody Allen movie, only kept under respectable pretences of the day. Director Dominik Graf’s telling of the story gets a little shopworn as the daily intrigues among the three and their extended families and friends pile up. One wishes there was more emphasis on Schiller’s philosophy although there are notable scenes about his commitment to the technology of book publishing, and his ideals of truth and beauty in contrast to the corruption of the same during that period’s French Revolution. 3/5

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