Dates: 23 September - 8 October 2004
Venue: Vancouver Theatres

Reviewers: Ed Farolan and Ross Pink





Imelda MarcosImelda ( USA, 2003)

Filipino-American Director Ramona Diaz puts in an objective look of the life and times of former First Lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, known as the "Evita" to many admiring Filipinos. From another angle, she is portrayed as a voracious, egoistic dictator, detested by many other Filipinos.

The 103- minute documentary film shows interviews with a number of people who liked or disliked her. Sergio Osmena III whose father, Sergio Osmena Jr. lost to Marcos in the 1969 elections, comments on how the polls were rigged, and how corrupt the elections were then. Jose Lacaba, a dissident journalist, expressed how he was tortured as a political prisoner because he wrote articles against Marcos. Fr. James Reuter, an American Jesuit living in the Philippines, commented on how Imelda could talk for hours non-stop.

Imelda is best known for her shoes, some say 3,000 pairs which were ransacked when the Marcoses fled in 1986. Whatever remained of her shoes were put in a museum in Marikina, known to Filipinos as the shoe capital of the world.

There were mixed feelings from the Vancouver audience (mostly Filipinos in attendance) about this film. Some laughed at the way she portrayed herself, particularly when she talked about her book on personal cosmology. Others felt sympathy for her.

Imelda herself didn't like the film and won a legal suit in the Philippines banning its showing in Philippine theatres. EF

The Macabre Case of Prompiram (Thailand, 2004)

Director Manop Udomdej's film reconstructs a real-life crime based on police reports from 1977 in the town of Prompiram. Police investigation establishes that the woman was raped and murdered. The police chief and his newly appointed lieutenant piece the facts together, and when the truth emerges, politicians step in and try to bury the case, and relieve the two policemen of their duties in that district.

Thailand is known for its gentle people, and it's interesting to see the dark side of the Thais. But it's not only the Thais but in this film, we as humans all over the world have our dark sides and can commit horrid and macabre acts such as what happened in this country town. It's a truly shocking and disturbing film, but well executed from the directorial and cinematographic perspective. EF

Not on the Lips (France, 2003)

Director Alain Resnais known for his film Hiroshima, Mon Amour takes an about turn and comes up with a frivolous musical film patterned after those Hollywood musicals of the 50s. He sets his film in the Roaring 20s, in Paris, where frivolity is the key word.

The whole mood of nostalgia is invading the 21st century, with films from the 50s and 60s being remade, such as Nicole Kidman's Moulin Rouge. Well, the mood has indeed struck this director who, in his twilight years, is producing escapist films. Perhaps that's what happens when people start getting old: second childhood creeps in, and all is play and games.

If one just likes to see a film and not think or analyze it, this is the kind of entertainment one has to go to. I, for one, would prefer this kind of film better presented on stage rather than on the silver screen. EF

Gacaca, Living Together Again in Rwanda? (France, 2002)

Anne Aghion's documentary film touches upon a powerful human rights tragedy in the 1990s in Africa. To the astonishment of a "civilized" world that vowed not to allow genocide again after the terrible Nazi holocaust, Rwanda became a symbol of mass hatred and extermination.
In 1994, over 800,000 Rwandans were massacred in the genocide perpetrated by the Hutu militia against the Tutsi minority. After the colonial powers left Africa, tribes that had centuries of hatred were often left together. The colonial boundaries were artificially drawn by colonial leaders who had no sensitivity or understanding of tribal history and conflict.

Thus, Rwanda and other tragedies were and are inevitable. This film however lacks the clarity and organization to effectively discuss the subject. There was no exposition of the issue and why it happened, as if the film viewer is expected to know the facts beforehand.Also, a simple map of Rwanda and its place in Africa would have been helpful.

There were also some glaring technical problems with the camera work that left an amateur impression of the film.A more powerful indictment of the genocide, failure of the United Nations and other issues needed to be shown in the film to give it context. Thus, a good opportunity to explore an important issue in a meaningful and detailed manner was unfortunately lost. RP

Oh! Man (Italy, 2004)

We humans never learn about the terrors of war. We continue fighting despite the horrors of the two world wars: Vietnam and Bosnia, and in this new millennium, Iraq, Palestine, Chechnya. We never learn, and this documentary reminds us of the consequences of war: the suffering and mutilation of bodies, children deformed, starving and ridden with diseases; soldiers’ bodies destroyed and artificially reconstructed. Indeed, this film is not for the faint of heart. In fact, I saw several people walk out because of the grotesque images.

Directors Yervant Gianikan and Angela Ricci Lucchi base their documentary on footage shot by medical personnel after World War I, between 1919-21. The film is the last of a trilogy; it was preceded by Prisoners of the War (VIFF 97) and On the Heights All Is Peace. Although I also felt squeamish watching this film, I didn’t walk out and survived all 71 minutes of it. EF

Stage Beauty (UK, 2004)

Finally, I got to see a film with no subtitles. This is an excellent film, not because it’s in English, but because it was educational and informative as well as entertaining. It was didactic in the sense that it informed us of that era in English theatre history where only men played female roles. This was the Puritan era which later on during the Restoration in the 17th century, women were finally allowed to play female roles. It was also entertaining because, whether it was based on a true story or not, Billy Crudup who plays Edward ‘Ned’ Kynaston acted extremely well as both Desdemona and at the end of the show, Othello. He becomes the mentor of Maria (Clare Danes), his stage dresser, who admires him and eventually, through his guidance, coaches her in the role of Desdemona.

A lot of applauses came throughout the film, particularly from the women in the audience, especially in scenes where women were finally liberated from the claws of Puritanism, and were free to act on stage. This film is perhaps one of the best in this year’s festival, and judging from the attendance, it probably was a sold out show. EF




Havana Suite (Cuba, 2003)

This short documentary (80 minutes) portrays the lives of ten ordinary Cubans living in Havana. There are no interviews and hardly any dialogues. It relies on visuals accompanied by sound effects and music to tell its stories. And this is what makes this film unique as a documentary.

Boriana Mateeva quotes director Fernando Perez who comments on his film: "This film is about the value of small things...about people who dream amid hard times and are able to overcome..wishing to to just have a normal life, to love and be loved and be able to accomplish their lives as human beings. For the audience in Cuba, fighting courageously to survive day to day, Havana Suite has rapidly become an event, much greater than a good movie. A cult, a manifesto on human dignity and moral stoicism."

From the sold out Vancouver audience, the film received a warm applause. EF

Woman of the Breakwater, Philippines (2003)

This film, directed by Mario O'Hara, makes its North American Premiere here in Vancouver. O'Hara inherited Lino Brocka's commitment to the lower strata of Philippine society, and this film portrays the poorer than poor living alongside the breakwater of Manila Bay.

This community of beggars, hookers and mentally disabled people are portrayed in an almost Felliniesque, absurd way by O'Hara. He adds a Brechtian quality to this film by having as the narrator Visayan singer-songwriter Yoyoy Villame singing tongue-in-cheek ballads as the film progresses.

We also see traces of the magic realism of Garcia Marquez in this film, as "miracles" or "magic events" happen to give some tinge of hope and happiness to these down-trodden creatures.

An interesting storyline, eclectic in its approach to filmmaking, warm, funny, slightly pornographic, and at times, horrifying. EF

The Last Train (Russia, 2003)

This is perhaps the worst film I've seen so far in a film festival. The film should have been subtitled "Coughing". Or is it perhaps the morbid humor of Director Alexei Gherman Jr., setting the scene in the middle of a blizzard, with everyone coughing their lungs out?

Or perhaps between the lines, the director wanted to show the absurdity of war by showing the absurdity of the film's characters? The main character is a German doctor who doesn't care about the dying or caring for the wounded in the battlefield. He is more concerned about how fat he is.

Then there's a postman who walks with him through this wintry battlefield, and like Samuel Beckett's characters in Waiting for Godot, they don't know where they're going. They're just hoping to survive, which they don't, because they fall asleep from fatigue and freeze to death.

Whether this Russian director was making fun of the Germans in the Second World War who lost their troops in Russia because of the winter, or whether he was just trying to be bleakly artistic with this black and white film, the fact of the matter is this was an extremely boring and annoying film. EF

Up and Down (Czech Republic, 2004)

This is a semi-documentary film reflecting the social conditions of Prague, including racism and problems of globalisation as they now form part of the European Union. Done in humorous fashion, director Jan Hrebejk and screenwriter Petr Jarchovksky follow up on their successful screenings of their films. Last year's Pupendo was a hit at VIFF 2003 as well as in European film festivals.

The problem of thievery is a major problem in Prague, as well as racism. Targets are Gypsies, Asians and Blacks. But Hrebejk tries to look at why there is discrimination, and through his characters, particularly Vera, he shows how reverse discrimination is now happening since the Czechoslovakia broke away from the Iron Curtain. Vera comments how the Gypsies in her neigbourhood of Zizkov keep her awake all night with their noise, and how she's afraid to stay out after nine at night.

Thieves, because of this "new freedom", are also treated well. In one scene, two thieves in a jail cell demand their rights to have tea with lemon, and call policemen pigs to their faces and blame them for police brutality.

But what makes this film interesting is the way Hrebejk portrays these problems - not in a dismal, depressing manner, but rather lighthearted and funny. EF

On the Sunny Side (Slovenia, 2003)

Produced a year before Mirage, this film also reflects how children in this former Communist-controlled country have lost the discipline of their parents. They are ruthless, disrespectful to elders, and behave like the spoiled brats of Western Europe and North America. There is a lot of concern with this issue of children having too much freedom and influenced by the violent culture of the Western world. Even the supporting adult actor in both these films is the same person: Mustafa Nadarevic.

The storyline in this film is this: 11-year old Sani and his teen brother Ado, Bosnian Muslims who lost their parents during the bombing of Mostar, journey to Ljubljana, Slovenia, with the hope of a “sunnier” future. They live with their childless aunt and uncle, and despite their kindness of their aunt and uncle, they are confronted with problems of discrimination, as they are considered the poor dark-skinned southerners. However, this problem is overcome as they are finally accepted, and the story ends, unlike the Macedonian film, on the sunny side.

I found this film to be a breath of fresh air, so to speak, giving us a glimpse into the new Slovenian society as it grapples with problems of transition towards the European Union. Economically, Slovenia has a fairly high standard of living, perhaps because of its proximity to Italy and Austria, if it is compared to its neighbours who have also just recently joined the EU: The Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. EF

Beautiful Boxer (Thailand, 2003)

Nong ToomEvery few years a film connects emotionally with audiences around the world, irrespective of culture. This is such a story. This film is as surprising as it is poignant, thoughtful and delightful.What gives power to the story is that it is inspired by true events.

The protagonist, Nong Toom, is a sensitive young boy who feels different from other boys. He likes flowers, make-up and dressing in female clothing. This interest only gains intensity as he grows into young manhood.

Skilled Thai director Ekachai Uekrongtham uses humor and poignancy to capture the struggle of the young Toom. There are also wonderful pastoral scenes in the village where he grows up. The love of Toom’s parents for him and yet, their frustration at his awakening
sexuality are masterfully captured by the director.

Anyone who has visited Thailand knows this is a country of extraordinary beauty. The cinematography captures the beaches, fields, sunsets, ponds, Buddha art and more with splendid effect.

Eventually Toom, in order to pay for his sex change operation, takes to the violent and ceremonial sport of kick boxing. His skill is impressive and with excellent coaching, becomes a champion.The fighting scenes are not graphic and and are well-choreographed.

Beautiful Boxer is a marvelous,inspiring film about values, self-acceptance and the fulfilment of dreams.

In sum, this is a gem of a film and impressive work for the lead actor (Toom) Asanee Suwan, who is a novice actor and real-life star kick boxer.

© 2004 Ed Farolan and Ross Pink