Tuesday 10 October 2017

VIFF 2017 Mini-reviews #2

Alexander, Chris and William are at the 36th Vancouver International Film Festival, running September 28 to October 13. Here are more mini-reviews: Meditation Park, Keep Talking, Louise Lecavalier in Motion, Shut Up and Say Something and Tattoos. We'll have our post-festival podcast episode for you later.

Meditation Park

Mina Shum’s fifth feature-length movie opened this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival. While this may be seen as a spiritual sequel to the director’s last collaboration with Sandra Oh, 1994’s Double Happiness, it is more a mirror image of that film. Double Happiness focussed on Oh’s character Jade and her struggle to define herself as an independent woman split between traditional Chinese customs and an interracial relationship. Meditation Park reverses that perspective and focusses on the aging mother in this similarly turbulent family relationship.

There are similar dynamics at play in both films. Children are excommunicated, parents want to hold on to the culture they left behind, and the white men are generally oblivious to these complicated familial issues. The family in Meditation Park has progressed beyond the one portrayed in Double Happiness, but not by much. Instead of Oh’s character being shunned, it is her brother, who failed to attend a business event for his father, who has been outcast ever since. But by focussing on the immigrant parents, Shum reveals an aspect of aged relationships that is not often portrayed on film, regardless of the ethnic community on display: spousal infidelity. With both films, Shum establishes that, regardless of age, the women are the ones who need to assert themselves in order to make positive change. The men are content to continue acting aloof and ignore the deep-seeded problems underneath the surface.

While some of the comedic elements of the film were not to my taste, the dramatic moments landed with elegance and grace. Pei-Pei Ching’s performance as Maria is deceptively strong, as the smile she puts on through most of the film may trick some viewers into thinking she has no other notes to play. Instead, she reveals the smiles are only in place to keep out the pain. Rather than simply checking boxes that need to be checked to exist as a local Vancouver production worthy of faint praise, Meditation Park delves deep into the secrets and lies most families try to hide. [AC]

Keep Talking

Keep Talking is the first feature documentary from Karen Lynn Weinberg. Filmed in Kodiak, Alaska, Weinberg follows four young women who, with the help of the Alutiiq elders, spearhead a language revitalization project. The aftermath of 250 years of colonization, residential schools and the influence of the majority culture, only a small number of Alutiiq  language speakers remain. The revitalization project takes the viewer to Afognak, a summer camp which focuses on language and dance, the elementary school, where they eventually hope to have an immersion program, and into the middle school and high school Alutiiq clubs. Each of the women we follow explain how learning and speaking their native language has allowed them find a more comfortable and respectful way to be in the world. And they want to pass that gift on to the next generation. This is a story filled with hope and heart. [CS]

Louise Lecavalier in Motion

Raymond St-Jean’s film celebrates the legendary Canadian dancer in a portrait that shows her always in motion and of the moment. Viewers unfamiliar with Lecavalier’s career in contemporary dance may feel frustrated that this isn’t so much a documentary as it is a dance film. Hardly any time is spent recounting her past glories and personal history so this is not a great introduction to her work. It’s a full hour into the film before the subject recalls her defining years as a member of Montreal’s famous dance company La La La Human Steps.

Dance and dance film fans are treated to an up close look at this 58-year-old dynamo still working at astonishingly full speed. Six extended dance sequences, shot specifically for the film, showcase Lecavalier to great effect and allow St-Jean to demonstrate his command of the dance film genre. The interviews with the subject and a selection of her collaborators do not penetrate too deeply but they are enough to paint this picture of the vibrant artist today. [WL]

Shut Up and Say Something

Shut Up and Say Something, directed by Melanie Wood, is a documentary that follows spoken word artist Shane Koyczan's journey to reunite with his estranged father in Yellowknife. Koyczan's powerful live performances transmit pain, hurt, resentment and anger: all emotions generated from being abandoned by his biological parents when he was three years old. Unable to ask his late mother about his origins (Koyczan says "every super hero wants to know his origin story" ), Shane needs Len Koyczan to fill in the other half of the story. On stage, Koyczan is electric: confident, powerful, raw, and truthful. Off stage, he is funny, charming, afraid, achingly vulnerable and nervous about opening his heart and mind to the stranger that is his father.  This film is an incredibly moving portrait of love, reconciliation, forgiveness and the universal desire to belong, to be wanted and to feel like you are a part of something. [CS]


Mag calls Theo out on his fake tattoo while in line at a diner after a punk show in Montreal. Theo tries to play it cool but Mag’s candour and curiosity begin to crack his “sullen punk” fa├žade. Thus begins a punk rock love story about two off-beat 18-year-olds who have only three weeks to be together before Theo moves to a small town in Quebec. The two leads (Rose-Marie Perreault and Anthony Terrien) are spectacular: their performances feel less like active acting and more like we are eavesdropping on two teens in the midst of an authentic courtship. Hollywood made YA romance movies seem chaste and antiseptic next to Tattoos. The movie shows tender intimacy between the two young punks without ever seeming exploitive or salacious. Their love story follows all the beats, both high and low, of falling in love for the first time without ever seeming predictable. [CS]

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