Editor’s Notes: The following capsule reviews are part of our coverage of the 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit viff.org and follow VIFF on Twitter at @viffest.
Dir. Dominik Graf
Boasting high production values and a gorgeously set stage, Germany’s nominee for the Academy, Beloved Sisters (2014), transports the viewer into a mythical-historical space of romance and intrigue. Well-paced and tightly structured, the 170+ min runtime does not hold the film back in any way. Each separate chapter is aptly indexed by condensed storytelling in short form dissolve montage. Providing narration, an omniscient raconteur provides information as the story passes before our eyes. At times, a set of campy, hyper-colourful intertitles display the year and location of the happenings.
In the film, two young sisters make a pact to share everything. Their love for one another is so deep and equal that this seems ordinary to them. For years, they share a mutual lover, but when their platonic love falls way to each individual romp, jealousy and individuality pry the sisters apart. Not even the deeper sentiments of their tripartite love are enough to save their mutual closeness.
Despite the 3 hour runtime, the third act of the film appears rushed, especially so when compared to the detail of intricacies in the first two. Since Graf spends hours detailing the sister’s unparalleled bond of love and kinship, it comes as a slight when, in only thirty minutes, he details their falling apart. In spite of this, Graf does an admirable job illustrating kinship in the face of romance. For Schiller, both the victim and the hero of the story, this love was most real. In a meaningful denouement, Graf depicts the sisters as silhouettes, surrounding Schiller to form a triangle. At one time, this love was a possibility; at one time, it was real.
The Vancouver Asahi
Dir. Yûya Ishii
Winner of the Roger’s Top Audience Award, The Vancouver Asahi (2014), which had its premiere and opening gala at the festival, generated a great deal of buzz. The film is set in Vancouver, depicts a particular history of Vancouver, and was featured as an International Premiere at the 33rd annual Vancouver International Film Festival. As one might expect, crowds lit up the streets and Vancouverites were struck with Asahi fever.
What people overlooked, however, is the quality of the film itself: mediocre. Though it may attract audiences with its approachable plot and conventional storytelling, The Vancouver Asahi is a heavily clichéd melodrama that basically follows the sports underdog story to a tee. Not even set in Vancouver, but on a stage in Japan, Asahi attempts to recreate the history of early Japanese Canadians who used baseball as a “bridge between communities”. In an inspiring tale of perseverance and solidarity, The Vancouver Asahi depicts Japanese immigrants rising to dignity and respect while using baseball as an instrument for this transformation.
In the film, baseball ostensibly functions as a symbol of hope, perseverance, and solidarity. It brings the Japanese together and provides a means by which the men overcome, through non-violent means, their feelings of inferiority. What is questionable, however, is the film’s tenuous connection between baseball and the overcoming of racial segregation. It appears neither sincere nor complete. As a result, while the film works as a fun, albeit superfluous, sports underdog story, it lacks substance as a true tale of revolution.
Dir. Lisandro Alonso
Jauja (2014) brings to the screen the existence of a space which exists outside of time and place. Jauja, a supposed place of heavenly features, shares qualities with the mystical, the mythical, and the magical. Functioning as a rouse towards a search for heaven, Jauja is intimately linked with a historical and spiritual consciousness. As humans, we are deeply invested, consciously or unconsciously, in discovery of the unknown. In Jauja, though this search is alluded to in the opening titles, no search is to be seen besides the search of a daughter by her father. There is no search, because, in Jauja, we are already at the destination.
Unknowingly, the characters of the film exist in world abstracted from real life. Perhaps the mere dream of a young girl or perhaps the source of all life, Jauja illustrates a land and way of life disconnected from reality. To render an atmosphere to complement this philosophical tone, Alonso uses a great deal of off-screen action and long takes. A poetic and enigmatic feature, the film at times shows a disintegration of temporality. In this slow moving epic, time stands still, and, in an instant, new forms and new ways can come into existence.
The Infinite Man
Dir. Hugh Sullivan
Sullivan’s The Infinite Man (2014) deals with time travel in a very candid and interesting way.
Though the film puts comedy before science-fiction, the time travel concept is surprisingly well handled and logically bounded—besides the obvious paradoxes. Time travel is instrumental in the romance plot. In effect, the romantic issues related to time travel in the film are no different from the issues involved in a failing relationship. Both deal with people, insecurities, and ambitions. Dean’s attempts to fix the relationship simply take more creative measures.
With a hilarious lead, Josh McConville, The Infinite Man is sure to receive laughs. This obsessive, uncontrollable man who fights for the control of his life sets himself through a dark journey in time. By traveling, multiple versions of him come into existence, each with their own set of experiences. He ostensibly spends a year at the hotel by himself, a year at the hotel with his lady, and a year at the beach with her.
The film uniquely follows each version of him rather than focusing on just one. It shows how a person develops over time, with “younger” Dean becoming jealous of “older” Dean who pities his former self. Through this, the film becomes a caricature of a man, a hilarious portrait of one man’s quest to be adequate.