Shut Up and Say Something
Dir. Melanie Wood
What begins as a relatively generic documentary about a humble man, spoken word poet Shane Koyczan, who made his voice his means of living, builds towards an emphatic and emotionally resonant climax wherein Shane’s estranged father listens to him use his gift to shed all his feelings about the man who was never there.
For a while, the reuniting narrative feels forced as a measure of giving the documentary an added layer, padding which is not only unnecessary but exploitative. But in looking for an angle, the doc takes on a performative role and joins Shane’s journey, becoming integral to his process of eventually meeting his father. Such a move could easily have backfired and forced the documentary to embellish its activities, but in this particular case, a genuine story comes together in the background of what is simultaneously a passionate biopic.
The film uses performance, animation of poems comes to life, and interview footage to capture Shane’s heart and spirit. A genius wordsmith and troubled soul, the film’s greatest value by far is its ability to present the man to the world, the real story of a man who suffered at the helm of words then flipped the script by making words his savior.
Viewing Shut Up and Say Something at VIFF 2017 with the guests in attendance was an honour, and sits amongst the grandest experiences I have had at a film festival before. The film closed to deafening applause and awe. Receiving a standing ovation and a big hug, Shane stood on the platform in tears, vulnerable and willing to express his truest emotions as he always does on stage. It was a beautiful thing.
Dir. Abbas Kiarostami
By far the biggest disappointment of the festival is Abbas Kiarostami’s posthumous film 24 Frames which frankly does not feel anything like a Kiarostami feature. Besides its conceptual genesis, and some selection of images, it is difficult to imagine Kiarostami involved in the making or approving of the final product of 24 Frames. The film frankly feels inauthentic; unlike a Kiarostami film, its elements feel scrambled together without a sensible rhythm or tone.
After Kiarostami’s genuine words about the project, outlining the use of still frames before reimagining the past, present, and future of their subjects, the film begins with a Bruegel. It follows by dramatically shifting concept to using video in each subsequent film—an immediately tangible usurp of Kiarostami’s ideals. While it’s established that Kiarostami wished to transform the concept he began in order to fit within budgetary constraints, it seems that his son and the Kiarostami Foundation have simply spliced together his thoughts without first reflecting on them.
While some of the images are visually striking, little of the film is actually aesthetically pleasing due to the use of composite imaging and CGI. Surrounding objects make obvious which elements within a frame are being controlled and distorted. While this is obviously deliberate, it makes for ugly compositions with varying tonal qualities. The film becomes a strange offspring of animation and cinema, something which delights with interest to start but quickly becomes kitschy and tired.
What is perhaps most out of tune with Kiarostami’s signature style are the music choices which never seem to fit the images on display. The soundtrack clumsily overlays the film as if putting two beautiful things together will automatically resonate, even without substance. This is however not the case. It is yet another example of how 24 Frames lacks balance, flow, and all the soulful charm of Abbas Kiarostami, whose feature Like Someone In Love remains his true swan song.
A Fantastic Woman
Dir. Sebastián Lelio
Certainly an overall impressive film, A Fantastic Woman straddles between the maturely realized and the melodramatic. While at times the film uses restraint to present an exceptionally sincere character study of a person whose experience, being transgender, is not often shared, it too borders on the exploitative with its schmaltzy script and contrived supporting characters who are all far too conveniently prejudice.
What the film does best is portray the eponymous character well, and most of this credit is due to the fantastic performance by Daniella Vega. While the film is already receiving Oscar buzz, this honour should really be considered for her lead performance than for the film itself.
Throughout A Fantastic Woman the cinematography is confidently handled and stylistically consistent. The best scene of the film, by far, involves a tracking long take from a horizontal viewpoint as Marina walks screen left. As the wind picks up and debris begins hitting her, pushing her back, she fiercely pushes forward, leaning through the debris that is trying to knock her down. It moves into slow motion and holds on her expression of persistence, visually illustrating the theme of fighting against those who hold you back.
That said, the film carries several cringe worthy moments as well, where themes are too blatantly conveyed, forcing the drama rather than allowing it to be realized organically. In result, though her performance and character are remarkably genuine, the same cannot be said of the actual film.