Vancouver International Film Festival

Dates and Venues September 28 - October 11, 2019 | The Centre In Vancouver For The Performing Arts, The Cinémathèque, Cineplex Odeon International Village, Vancouver Playhouse, Rio Theatre, SFU's Goldcorp Centre for The Arts & Vancity Theatre

Reviewer John Jane

The following awards were presented to films featured during the 2019 festival:

Super Channel People’s Choice Award
Winner: Parasite by Bong Joon Ho

VIFF Most Popular International Documentary Award
Winner: Coup 53 by Taghi Amirani

VIFF Most Popular Canadian Feature Award
Winner: Red Snow by Marie Clements

VIFF Most Popular Canadian Documentary Award
Winner: Haida Modern by Charles Wilkinson

Impact Award presented by the Lochmaddy Foundation.

Winner: Resistance Fighters by Michael Wech

Rob Stewart Eco Warrior Award presented by RBC and Cineplex.
Winner: Peter Nelson, director of The Pollinators

Women in Film and Television Vancouver - Artistic Merit Award
Winner: The Whale and the Raven by Mirjam Leuze (Germany/Canada)

The Cave

Thailand, 2019, Dir. Tom Waller, 104 mins

Dates and Venue October 8, 9:15pm & October 9, 3:30pm at Vancouver Playhouse

In English and in Thai with English subtitles

The Cave is Thai-born, British-raised filmmaker Tom Waller’s epic feature about the rescue of the Wild Boars soccer team - 12 young players and their adult coach from the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai. Most of us who followed the dramatic rescue from a safe distance will be aware of the happy conclusion, but only a few will know anything about the odyssey. Waller’s film takes on a journalistic style that blends with a linear narrative. Filmgoers might be forgiven for thinking that they are watching a documentary, especially as some rescue personnel, like Irish electrician Jim Warny, play themselves. In fact, the film was shot over a three month period earlier this year, six months after the event itself. People may have pondered the question at the time, why would an adult lead a group of boys, ill-equipped for the venture into a complex cave system in the middle of Thailand’s rainy season? Tom Waller doesn’t dwell on the whys and wherefores. He focuses his film on the seventeen days that it took to get the last person (the coach) out of the cave and the multi-national rescue team that made it happen.

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom

Bhutan, 2019, Dir. Pawa Choyning Dorji, 109 mins

Dates and Venues October 10, 1.45pm at Vancouver Playhouse & October 11, 6:15pm at Vancity Theatre

In Dzongkha (Bhutanese) with English subtitles

Many primary grade classrooms harbour a small pet like a gerbil or tortoise – but a 500 lb domestic yak? Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is a heart-warming comedy by Bhutanese filmmaker Pawa Choyning Dorji. Set in the harsh beauty of the remote Bhutan highlands, it chronicles the physical journey and personal growth of Ugyen (Sherab Dorji), a young government teacher from Thimphu (Bhutan’s capital) who is more interested in a career as a pop star than teaching. He is rewarded – or perhaps punished –for his apathy by being assigned to teach in Lunana, at the most remote school in Bhutan and by definition, the world. After a long bus ride and a seven-day trek, escorted by a couple of yak herders he reaches his destination to a spirited welcome by the fifty-six villagers who live there. As a city dweller, Ugyen is overwhelmed by the meagre accommodation and lack of resources. He confesses to the village elder that he doesn’t believe he is up to the task and wants to return to Thimphu. While waiting for a guide to take him back, he has an epiphany. In experiencing the affection of his students and the kindness of the villagers he comes to understand their happiness and how he is able to “touch their future.”
While the story is fictional, many of the people are real. The students aren’t actors; they even retain their real names for the film. Bhutan, despite being situated between the two most populous countries on earth has only a population of less than one million people. When you get an opportunity to see a film from Bhutan – you take it.

The Two Popes

USA/UK/Italy/Argentina, 2019, Dir. Fernando Meirelles, 125 mins

Dates and Venue October 6, 2.30pm at Vancouver Playhouse & October 7, 6pm at the Centre for the Performing Arts

In mostly English, Also in Spanish, Italian and Latin with English subtitles

The Two Popes is a fascinating docudrama that speculates on the relationship between Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and his successor Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis. Ironically, it’s two Welsh actors, Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, that take on the roles of the German Pope Benedict and the Argentine Pope Francis. The film’s title is forgivably incorrect. The conversations and theological debates between the two men, which are the film’s primary focus, take place in Rome while Bergoglio is still a Cardinal and Benedict is his superior. The only deviation from this dynamic comes at the end of the film when we see them both enjoying the televised 2014 World Cup final between Argentina and Germany. The film begins in 2005 at the funeral of Pope John Paul II. We then get a fly-on-the-wall viewpoint of the papal conclave at work when convened to elect a new Bishop of Rome. Hopkins and Pryce are brilliant together. Hopkins plays Benedict with a wry dyspeptic trait, while Pryce plays Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio with a certain whimsy. They fortuitously abandon speaking in Latin early in their discourse in favour of English, which they apparently both speak well. Fernando Meirelles artfully uses black & white flashback to illustrate Bergoglio’s alleged involvement in Argentina’s military junta when he was head of the Jesuit order in the seventies.

Assholes: A Theory

Canada, 2019, Dir. John Walker, 82 mins

Dates and Venues October 2, 9pm at the International Village09 & October 4, 4pm at SFU Goldcorp

In English and Italian with English subtitles

Assholes: A Theory is a nonchalant documentary that ruefully examines what we regard as the ‘asshole culture.’ Are assholes taking over the world? Both Montreal filmmaker John Walker and American writer Aaron James are inclined to think it’s a possibility. Aaron James’ book (a New York Times bestseller) came first as the author gradually became aware of a self-entitlement that was pervading the surfing community in California. Walker’s film expands the notion that “assholes” exist in just about every walk of life, but particularly in the finance sector. It would seem that Jordan Belfort (The Wolf of Wall St.) was pretty typical. Walker includes footage from popular to reinforce his point, but also, perhaps more convincing he shows interviews with such divergent individuals as British comedian John Cleese, Italian transgender politician Vladimir Luxuria and former RCMP officer Sherry Lee Benson-Podolchuk who stood up to those in the force when being bullied into giving false testimony, which she refused to do. Of course, no one likes people who deport “asshole behaviour” – not even other assholes – so Walker ends his film talking to those who have pushed back on those who conduct themselves with unjustified privilege.
John Walker generously made himself available for a post-screening Q & A. He explained that his film went much further in exposing the arrogance of giant tech companies like GoogleTM and FacebookTM. Walker mentioned that his film's first screening was in Halifax and that he had personally invited hockey player Brad Marchand to attend. Marchand had no problem attending even though he actually appears in the film as a prime example of the film's target.
He admits that we will likely ever be completely rid of “assholes,” but we shouldn’t give up trying.

Sorry We Missed You

UK/France/Belgium, 2019, Dir. Ken Loach, 100 mins

Dates and Venue October 1 & 5, 2019 at 6pm at Centre for the Performing Arts

In English (Northern England dialect) with English subtitles

Ken Loach’s new film is a low budget, domestic drama. Set in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, U.K. in present time, it follows a similar pattern to some of his previous work in terms of social economic commentary. At its centre, the film is based around the theme of zero-hour contracts. It’s a system of employment – if one can call it that – that benefits the “employer” but provides no security for the worker, who is considered to be self-employed. Against this backdrop the two main characters: Ricky (Kris Hitchen), an unemployed construction worker, and his wife Abby (Debbie Honeywood), a contract nurse who must travel to her client’s home, seem to have little choice but to accept this kind of vassalage. None of the actors will likely be known to Canadian audiences. Debbie Honeywood isn’t even well known to British audiences; it’s her first film. She does, however, seem a natural as a wife and mother struggling against the odds to keep her family together. Filmmaker Ken Loach shows in his film that the globalization tenet of racing to the bottom is disenfranchising many honest, hard-working people. Not just in Britain where the film is set, but everywhere. It’s often distracting English subtitles in an English language film, but some of the actors spoke with what might be described as a “Geordie” dialect, so the use of subtitles for North American audiences is okay.

Motherless Brooklyn

USA, 2019, Dir. Edward Norton, 144 mins

Dates and Venue September 30, 2019 at 8:45pm at Centre for the Performing Arts

Motherless Brooklyn is Edward Norton’s loose film adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s novel of the same name. Norton is responsible for co-producing, co-writing the screenplay, directing and giving himself the lead role – so if you don’t like the film, blame him. As the title would suggest, it is set in Brooklyn, New York, but differs from the novel by being set in the fifties. Norton plays Lionel Essrog, an unlikely hero who is a private detective afflicted with Tourette syndrome. The essential premise of the film is that New York City is being run by corrupt city officials who are forcing evictions on marginal communities to make way for infrastructure projects and over-the top real estate developments – and of course, lining their own pockets. The film begins strangely, with a cameo by Bruce Willis. Those who like Willis (who doesn’t) will be disappointed that his character is killed off in the first five minutes. His murder does set the tone for the rest of the film, that of a character-driven noir style action drama. Norton has drawn a stellar ensemble cast around him. It includes Willem Dafoe in a complex role as a city engineer who seems to know everything about everybody, Alec Baldwin as a caricature villain whose character is based on the late Robert Moses, New York City’s urban planner during the decades following WWII. Of course, any decent film-noir has to include a beautiful femme fatale. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Leslie Mann are both more than adequate in that role.


South Korea, 2019, Dir. Bong Joon Ho, 131 mins

Dates and Venus September 27, 9pm, September 29, 3pm & October 6, 9pm at the Centre for the Performing Arts

In Korean with English subtitles

Bong Joon Ho’s well-crafted film has already won the Palme d'Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. No small feat for a Korean black comedy. It begins as a social satire and ends as a chaotic gore-fest. In between there are moments of comedy, tension and poignancy. The film hinges on the disparity between the upwardly mobile Park family and the streetwise and poverty-stricken Kim Family. With a total lack of ethics and some good luck the Kims manage to ingratiate themselves into the Park household. Ki-woo (Choi Woo Shik) lucks out when he gets a job tutoring the daughter of a wealthy couple. Not content to ride his luck for as long as it lasts, he takes advantage of an unsuspecting homemaker and connives to bring in his sister Jessica (Park So-dam) as a faux art teacher for the couple’s son. However, in order for Kevin and Jessica (names adopted for the benefit of their new employers) to bring in Mom and Dad they must displace the family’s currently employed domestic staff. Performances are generally strong, particularly the younger cast. Jung Jaei-il’s choice of classical music offers a contra-distinction to the plot. Bong Joon Ho’s film demonstrates to western audiences that social inequality is a global malady.

Who You Think I Am (Celle que vous croyez)

France, 2019, Dir. Safy Nebbou, 101 mins

Dates and Venue September 27, 3:45pm at Vancouver Playhouse & October 3, 6pm at the Centre for the Performing Arts

In French with English subtitles

Who You Think I Am is Safy Nebbou’s film adaptation of Camille Laurens' novel Celle que vous croyez. It reaches the screen essentially as a melodrama, but with obvious elements of a ‘psychothriller.’ Juliette Binoche delivers a tour de force performance as Claire Millaud, a middle-age, educated, though extremely vulnerable divorcee. On screen for almost the entire hundred minutes, she will have movie-going audiences on the edge of their seats wondering what her character will do next. Abandoned by her husband for a younger woman and rejected by her arrogant younger lover, she discovers a way of recovering her youth – at least in virtual reality. Without introducing “spoilers,” Claire creates an avatar of a twenty-four year old beautiful brunette and goes about drawing in Alex Chelly (François Civil) to a sexual liaiso, carried out only by texting and telephone. Such deceit must surely end badly, but for who? Safy Nebbou employs an interesting narrative device, permitting the story to be told through sessions with Claire’s psychiatrist, played with clinical nuance by Nicole Garcia.


Canada, 2019, Dir. Anthony Shim, 101 mins

Dates and Venue October 5, 7pm at Vancouver Playhouse & October 8, 6:15pm at Rio Theatre

First time Canadian director Anthony Shim’s feature film is a rather heavy-handed family drama. Despite its title, the protagonist is actually a father. Despite a successful career in commercial real estate, Jim (John Cassini), is a lost soul. He wanders the after-hours streets of Vancouver bar-hopping and occasionally putting up at ritzy hotels. When he runs out of people to invite, he’ll call an escort. Intermittent flashbacks show a once happy family man, but also one that hasn’t had the chance to recover from a personal tragedy. When he meets Nikki (Teagan Vincze), a young escort, he looks for something more than a carnal relationship. The interaction between Jim and Nikki is probably over-extended and under played with much of the action (or really non-action) taking place in a hotel suite. Shim leaves some peripheral characters under developed. The audience is never informed as to whether Marc, played by Ryan Robbins, is a relative, friend, neighbour or Jim’ ex-wife’s new lover. Vancouver theatre-goers will enjoy seeing well known Vancouver stage actress Gabrielle Rose as Jim’s mother.

Guest of Honour

Canada, 2019, Dir. Atom Egoyan, 105 mins

Dates and Venue 26 September 7pm & 30 September at 6pm at the Centre for the Performing Arts

Guest of Honour is a Canadian drama written, produced and directed by Atom Egoyan. It’s a compelling film, whose story centres around widower Jim Davis (David Thewlis), a health and food inspector with the City of Hamilton and his daughter Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira), a beautiful and talented high school music teacher. “Jim is someone you hear about, but rarely see.” His primary purpose is to inspect restaurants with regard to city code compliance. From ‘greasy spoons’ on the edge of industrial sites to posh restaurants in the city, Jim has the power to close a business down or allow it to stay open. He takes his work seriously, but doesn’t necessarily enjoy it. The film starts as it ends with Veronica making funeral arrangements with a priest whose parish her father never belonged to. At its core, Egoyan’s film ponders the amorphous father-daughter relationship. There does seem to be genuine mutual affection, even if Veronica blames her dad for the woebegone situation she finds herself in. Solid performances from lead actors Oliveira and Thewlis keep the audience unhinged, despite rarely on screen together. Watch out for Luke Wilson as an earnest priest.

No. 7 Cherry Lane

Hong Kong/China, 2019, Dir. Yonfan, 125 mins

Dates and Venues 8 October 6pm at The Centre for the Performing Arts & 10 October 3pm at Vancouver Playhouse

In Cantonese with English subtitles

Master filmmaker Yonfan circumvents his live action style seen in previous projects and embarks upon animation to tell a quirky, spell-binding story of a young university student and his interactions with the inhabitants of the titular address. Yonfan goes back to his adopted country (now a Special Administrative Region of China) Hong Kong and set it in the rather more romantically rural late sixties. There is both a homoerotic and nostalgic theme that prevails throughout. Yonfan’s protagonist is Fan Ziming a sensitive, if rather vain hero, who accepts an appointment to tutor Meiling, a confident and fashionable teenager. But it’s Meiling’s mother, the mysterious Mrs. Yu (voiced-over by Taiwanese actress Chang Ai-chia) that Ziming is immediately attracted to. He obviously sees something of an enigmatic quality in her that he finds reminiscent of French actress Simone Signoret, and thus invites her to attend local screening of her films. Fans of Japanese anime will see textural similarities in this film styling. The faces of the characters offer little expression and their movements are anapestically slow and deliberate. The film was obviously put in production prior to the current demonstrations in Hong Kong, but perhaps Yonfan missed an opportunity to include the irony by underscoring the pro-communist protesting against British colonial rule taking place at the time of the film’s setting. The film does include crowd scenes with people carrying anti-government placards and posters of Mao, but the event is diminished by his choice of pop music in the score.

The Lighthouse

USA, 2019, Dir. Robert Eggers, 110 mins

Date and Venue 28 September at 6pm at The Centre for the Performing Arts

A lighthouse keeper has, without doubt, the loneliest job in the world. Robert Eggers takes this conjecture and wraps it around a tale of two men who loathe each other as much as they loathe themselves and places them on a desolate island lighthouse. A hairy Willem Dafoe, the senior of the two, is a veteran seafarer with the look and the pirate style of speech to match. Robert Pattinson is a sulky drifter with an uncertain past. You know that they’re just not going to get along. The only question is: will they survive each other for the duration of their four week stint operating the lighthouse. Eggers’ film shows that Isolation can make enemies of friends and friends of enemies, so when their relief doesn’t turn up and they find themselves short of provisions the human dynamic between the two is stretched to breaking point. But who breaks first? The bleakness of Nova Scotia’s east coast is amplified by the director’s choice of black & white film. This is not a place where film-goers are going to curious enough to look for.

© 2019 John Jane