A dinged-up Grand Marquis rockets through Mexico City traffic, straddling the white line; two young guys inside, very hyper, have a dog gushing blood in the back seat, and, a couple of car lengths behind, some character in a van sticking a pistol out the window and trying to punch a bullet at them. Amores Perros, the most exciting rival of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the recent foreign-film Oscar race, begins at a screaming dead run and maintains one kind of intensity or another over the next two and a half hours.
I still marvel at how the Vancouver International Film Festival seems to be one of the best-kept secrets on the West Coast. Opening a few weeks after Toronto, it is almost concurrent with the New York Film Festival, which makes headlines with the official American premieres of some of the season’s most anticipated films. Many of those very same films are screening across the country in Vancouver, often a day or two before NYFF, and it is a mere 2 ½ hours away from my Seattle domicile. It’s one of the quirks of the festival circuit: the films that made their respective North American premieres in Toronto (after a possible “unofficial” screening at Telluride) vie for a spot at NYFF, where it gets the media spotlight, while Vancouver quietly slips somewhere around half of those into their line-up.
Here are a few titles snagged by VIFF this year: Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta, Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s The Unknown Girl, Hong Sang-soo’s Yourself and Yours, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, Pablo Larraín’s Neruda, Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation, Cristi Puiu’s Sieranevada, Albert Serra’s The Death of Louis XIV, Paul Verhoeven’s Elle…. There are other films playing both fests, and plenty of films screening at Vancouver that are nowhere to be seen on the NYFF schedule, but that should give you a taste of a few of the delights that Vancouver offers over 16 days and eight venues (seven of them within walking distance of one another). It’s why I go every year that I am able.
It pays homage to classic filmmaking, it’s got two fine-looking international stars, and it calls attention to the environmental crisis in the rainforest. It’s still a dumb movie. Ardordresses up a basic revenge plot with arty style and mystical mumbo-jumbo, all played out in a South American jungle where people have apparently watched a lot of spaghetti Westerns. In their quest to exploit the land, mercenaries set fire to swaths of the forest, trying to drive out yet another local farmer. Time for a mysterious outsider to emerge, barefoot and shirtless, from the jungle. The credits name him as Kai, although I don’t remember him being referred to that way—he’s really another Man With No Name, roaming the landscape and showing up to set things right. Kai is played by Gael García Bernal, the Mexican star of Rosewater, who smolders impressively and deserves enormous credit for keeping a straight face through all this.
Is irony a saving grace? Jon Stewart surely thinks so. He uses irony to channel his clear-eyed political fury on The Daily Show, and he’s directed a feature film that suggests irony is the only thing standing between us and madness. Rosewater is the reason Stewart disappeared from his late-night gig in the summer of 2013: He was in Jordan, directing a true story that has a stranger-than-fiction connection to TheDaily Show. The movie is about the Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, played by Mexican star Gael García Bernal. In 2009 Bahari was arrested by Iranian authorities while covering the disputed elections in Tehran; included in the “evidence” against him was a Daily Show segment in which he joked with comedian Jason Jones about being a spy. Obviously, this was proof of espionage.