Wednesday, November 1, 2017

WIFF 1: the ghosts have it

(A note: some of the films screened at this year's Windsor International Film Festival are ones seen previously and have been reviewed in earlier posts; they won't be reviewed in this week's festival coverage.)

The ghosts have it, appropriately enough, given the time of year, so far, at the Windsor International Film Festival. My favorite film in the first couple of days of the seven-day event – now in its 13th year and which ends Sunday - is City of Ghosts (Matthew Heineman), the portrait by a group of brave Syrian underground journalists – many of whom have been killed - under the name RBSS (Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently) who depicted the atrocities by ISIS in their then captured (now liberated) city…..This was followed by A Ghost Story (David Lowery) (picture above left), not so much a horror flick – though there are a few thrill moments – as a meditation on loss and life. The trailer – showing a “ghost” wearing the tell-tale sheet – looked almost laughable but I’m glad I saw the film because it transcends what, in a less competent director’s hands, could have seemed facile and unintentionally humorous…..Churchill (Jonathan Teplitzky) was a disappointment, not from a production or acting POV (Brian Cox as Winston Churchill is excellent) but from an historical narrative. The film makes Churchill, in the last year of the Second World War, out to be an incompetent boob, indeed a drunkard and a dotty old man. I’ve never heard of this description for someone considered perhaps the greatest figure of the 20th century. Indeed, one historian said the movie “gets everything wrong.” It left a bitter taste in my mouth…..Susanne Bartsch: On Top (Anthony Caronna) takes us behind the scenes with this generation’s Andy Warhol, eccentric model and avant-garde fashionista Susanne Bartsch. Why had I never heard of her before? In any case, Bartsch, in the 1980's, took up from where Warhol left off, throwing outrageous parties, celebrating over the top fashion as a way to transform the self as a creative, poetic act. “Life itself,” she says, “is an art form.” ….Heal the Living (Katell Quillévéré) is a well presented dramatic look at the issue of organ transplants. It just shows that even topics that usually are presented in dry didactic ways, if done right, can transcend rudimentary infomercials…..The Odyssey (Jerome Salle), is a biopic about Jacques Cousteau, the great underwater explorer and his “oceanauts.” We may think of Cousteau as a sterling transformative adventurer who opened the undersea world to the general public. But, like many great men, he had some warts – he was a serial cheater on his long-suffering wife, somewhat vain and overly ambitious, threatening financially his far-flung enterprises. ….Graduation (Cristian Mungiu) continues Mangiu’s depiction of Romanian corruption (pre-and post-war Communism). It’s surprising for Westerners to see the kind of greasing the wheel that goes on in some countries, but it’s shown here, where even doctors are offered cash incentives to expedite surgery. Some good, intense acting if a dismal story….Thelma (Joachim Trier) is a slick Danish film about a young woman who has supernatural powers, diagnosed in the film medically as psychogenic non-epileptic seizures, a real phenomenon. It’s unclear why these events take place but often profound things happen during her seizures: people are displaced, set on fire or disappear. It seems this is because Thelma (Eili Harboe) is rebelling against her strict Christian upbringing, an unfortunate cliché that mars an otherwise superb film. 

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