The Great Buddha +
Dir. Huang Hsin-yao
With impressive narrative structure, this black and white buddy film carries great emotional resonance as character arcs reach thoughtful conclusions. The protagonists, Pickle and Belly Button, are exceptionally crafted, with multiple layers of their personalities slowly unfurling throughout the film’s duration. What becomes the central conflict of the film is eschewed in order to depict the incident’s resulting effects on the protagonists; the humble story tells their experience rather than the action surrounding them. This is a heart-felt movie which draws on the viewer’s empathy.
In highly self-reflexive manner, the director, Huang Hsin-yao, interpolates himself into the film by first introducing it and later providing commentary, additional information, and even interpretations of the events as he is showing them. His words serve both as voice-over and film commentary. This does not alienate the viewer, however, as one might expect it to, but it does provide the film some pulp.
Though black and white, there are some scenes in colour, specifically the dash-cam footage. In one other scene, though, a pink bike is visible after Belly Button explains “this is a film; how else will they know it”. Colour for the dash-cam footage is a show of the poor protagonists peeking into the life of upper society. It distinguishes Kevin’s baller life from that of the rest of the characters.
A final quality of the film worth noting is how it encourages thoughtful reflection. Two scenes in particular feature indelible music while images pass the screen without any action or voice over to explain them. Both these scenes usher the final day of a man’s life, and with these scenes The Great Buddha elevates into becoming a poignant portrait of the human spirit.
Dir. Cody Bown
In a restrained style not dissimilar to last year’s Hello Destroyer (Kevan Funk), Cody Bown’s Gregoire details the grim life of two brothers living in Fort McMurray—before the fires. Like Hello Destroyer, Gregoire also features Jared Abrahamson, certainly a rising Canadian star, in the primary role of Felix. His capricious nature draws sharp contrast with his brother Louis’ (Jedidiah Goodacre) more level-headed temperament. This disturbs Felix’ composure as his self-security is completely reliant on his brother being at his side.
Shot primarily with a hand-help camera and sporting a gray colour pallete, the film is raw, gritty, and real. It portrays a ‘moment caught in time’ and considers perceptions of masculinity, concealed racism, male-privilege, and class separation. While Felix is happy being a scumbag, Louis realizes he is better than this. If Felix is the dank hole of Fort McMurray; Louis is the guy making painful effort to escape its clutches.
Gregoire illustrates how at this tender age of youth, one can feel like nothing else matters but one’s own problems. A feeling of tunnel vision guides one’s life and robs one of inner balance. For Felix, it’s the desperate need for his brother’s support. In a secondary plot, it’s a young girl’s desperate need to fix a wrong by aborting a pregnancy. In all, Gregoire paints a picture of troubled young adults and gives voice to their struggle to live, to figure themselves out, and to move on with change. The film is admirably scripted and intended, though at times it stumbles in execution and its thematic depths remain unfully realized.
In the Waves
Dir. Jacquelyn Mills
A ‘labor of love’, this poetic documentary deftly balances the quotidian with the ethereal. Within it, there is no evidentiary editing or arguments to make; Mills genuinely uses the film to poetically convey the life of an older woman nearing her final days. Without motive, the film carries weight as an abstract expression of sound, image, and spirit.
Much of In The Waves’ first half is banal reportage of an old woman’s boring life. While viewers may sense the love, it is difficult to feel it or to become hooked as the woman is an unknown figure difficult to care about. The interactions are awkward and not particularly lively.
But as the film moves closer to abstract expressionism, and as it transcends from the woman’s personality to the woman’s spirituality, the film takes on new form. Through voice-over and fluid audio-visual imagery—the kind without motive beyond artistic exploration—Mills channels Terrence Malick, interspersing the human spirit with ephemeral images of nature. To some degree this makes the first half more structurally useful, as it shows how the eternal is always present, if only we allow it to be known.
Mills’ cinematography and editing also convey ephemerality. Winding camera movements, a time lapse shot of a tree at night which sheds its leaves, and a shot of the grandmother which fades to blur as she talks about her final breath each articulate the constant flux of life. Most notable, however, is the ambient, atmospheric soundtrack which Mills created herself from natural sounds edited in pro tools. By the end, the viewer has been shaken into a truly unique aura, a feeling of being engulfed by waves or of facing the flow of nature head on.