Familiar stories can still be emotionally effective and entertaining, as we see in new work from both Alexander Payne and Hayao Miyazaki. THE HOLDOVERS feels like a simple dramedy that we don’t often see, but is charming and touching in equal measure. In Miyazaki’s latest fantastical adventure, a boy travels to a magical world and copes with the loss of his mother, and the director infuses the work with themes of legacy and memory that feel extremely personal.
Dever excels in this mostly solo acted and dialogueless film about a loner in a small town who fights against her own anxiety while trying to fend off an alien invasion and protect her home. Strong creepy effects and superb sound design make for taut experience.
Feelin’ Film is thrilled to be covering the Vancouver International Film Festival for the first time! This page will serve as a running journal, where you can read my thoughts on the films I see as the festival progresses. These early reactions will later be accompanied by more robust podcast reviews. For now, enjoy following along with my journey, see if anything sparks your interest, and be sure to let me know if it does. Thanks for reading. – Aaron White
Note: Reviews published in order of most recently seen on top.
GREEN BORDER (dir. Agnieszka Holland)
Director Agnieszka Holland bravely defies the current political powers in her home country by dramatically showcasing the migrant crisis that exists among the forested border area between Poland and Belarus. The sprawling film follows a refugee group from Syria as they attempt to seek asylum in Poland, having been promised easy passage into the EU and used as geopolitical pawns like so many others by Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Along the way their story intertwines with that of an activist who is doing her best to bring attention to the inhumane treatment of the refugees at the risk of her own life and a border guard who questions and is disturbed by the unethical practices of his brainwashed colleagues. Their storylines are easy to latch onto because we want to believe that people like them exist and could eventually turn the tide. This is not an easy watch, but it is an essential one. Holland unflinchingly shows the ping pong border game in its full brutal nature. Human rights atrocities abound on both sides of the razor wire including beatings, starvation, torture, sexual assault, and a general refusal to help which leads to death. Though it does feature fantastic performances and the stark black and white photography looks incredible while accentuating the dour situation, the crisis as we’re shown feels grim and there seems to be no real hope in sight, and that is why this is critical filmmaking that goes beyond entertainment.
This episode’s theme is films about women written and directed by women. HOW TO HAVE SEX follows a trio of teenage girls on a vacation partying in Greece, and one of their goals is to get laid. It’s a high energy coming-of-age story that oozes authenticity and ends up being powerfully challenging. DADDIO is a two-hander about the conversations a woman and her New York cab driver have on her way home from the airport, leading to personal reflection and an unexpected meaningful new relationship.
The Netflix episode! These weren’t the only films at TIFF that will be released on the streaming giant’s platform, but they are two of the highest profile ones. WOMAN OF THE HOUR is beloved actress Anna Kendrick’s directorial debut and she shows incredible command behind the camera in adapting this true crime serial killer story. PAIN HUSTLERS is David Yates (of Wizarding World fame) tackling the opioid crisis in America by way of energetically examining the unethical practices of a pharmaceutical company that contributed to it becoming a thing.
Two surefire contenders for the 2024 Best International Feature Film Oscar, ANATOMY OF A FALL is a high-quality courtroom drama featuring an emotionally complex leading performance and some impressive shifting perspective camerawork during its trial scenes, while THE ZONE OF INTEREST provides a glimpse into the Holocaust from the viewpoint of a German military family living an idyllic lifestyle next door to the horrific Auschwitz concentration camp.
COPA 71 is a documentary that covers the rocky origin of women’s soccer and history of an incredible international tournament buried by those who discriminated against women in the sport, as told by players who participated in the event themselves. And DUMB MONEY dramatizes the internet-driven GameStop short squeeze event of 2021 where a YouTuber called Roaring Kitty and Reddit investment group collectively took down numerous hedge funds who had bet that the company would fail. Two different styles of film but both informational and highly entertaining ones to kick off my TIFF ’23 podcast/video coverage.
Celine Song’s directorial debut is a beautiful story of friendship and contemplation about the choices we make in life. It is powerfully relatable, thoughtful, and mature in handling a unique relationship dynamic, and the film shows us that it’s okay to be sad about the road not taken without having regrets.
* Note – full spoilers in effect for entire episode *
A journalist mother still grieving over the loss of her husband endures the death of a drug-addicted son and embarks on an investigation alongside his pregnant girlfriend to find the truth behind his murder. Stuck somewhere in-between its taut, dark and gritty thriller framework and its more compelling but infrequent character-driven moments, the parts of this predictable murder mystery are greater than their sum.