Saturday, September 29, 2012

viff | soul food options

Lots of nuns and priests and contemptible Evangelicals, but maybe not too much Soul Food among the Religion, Spirituality & Myth selections in this year's VIFF online program guide. I've flagged...

Virgin Tales - "Supplies Evangelical Christians with just enough rope with which to hang themselves..."

Apparition - "About nuns in a cloister convent. We explore this closed world, riven by manias and secrets... Less interested in questions of faith than in the issue of good governance."

Beyond The Hills - "Alina comes apart at the psychological seams, leaving the monastery’s authoritarian priest convinced that she’s possessed..."

Actually, the last of those may go beyond the obligatory Bad Priest angle: "What is remarkable about Beyond the Hills and the unexpected interrogations it awakens is the lingering sense of doubt it leaves you with.  Not merely as to the virtues of organized religion - that would be too simple - but just as much the facile condemnation of it..." (Film Comment)

And while there's not a lot to go on, these two at least catch my curiosity...

Jesus Hospital - "about a woman torn between her comatose mother, her alienated family and her secretive religious beliefs."

Consuming Spirits - "Garrison Keillor-like radio broadcasts in the rundown community of Magguson... While these three central characters may be bound by tragedy, they also possess the capacity to grant one another absolution and release.... A transcendent closing chapter."

So far, though, none of the Soul Food buzz of many previous years - though the Vancouver premiere of Jason Goode's film Late is certainly cause for celebration among Soul Foodies. Other VIFFs have had two or three really exciting SF prospects - Son Of Man and The Mill & The Cross come to mind immediately - but nothing stands out so far in this year's line-up. That said, the most interesting films from a faith perspective often don't show up on the programmers' "Spirituality" list anyhow. A scan of Jewish Interest films may reveal more of interest, for example. But what's really needed is a film-by-film close reading of the full VIFF program. I'll let you know what I find. If you promise to return the favour.

Monday, September 24, 2012

viff | late | jason goode

There's a day this past spring that Jason Goode won't forget. He was at the Cannes Festival showing his latest film when he got word that he'd been nominated for a Jessie Richardson award for his first foray into stage directing, on DANNY & THE DEEP BLUE SEA at Pacific Theatre. The movie was the beautifully filmed, poetic short film LATE, part of Telefilm's "Perspective Canada" program promoting Canadian films at the prestigious international festival. 

Two strangers struggle for an honest connection in a chance, brief, encounter at a café. Screening as part of Heartbreak, a 75 minute program of short films that take a journey into the infinite — and intricate — depths of the human heart. Ben Cotton, Sarah Deakins, Lucia Frangione, Clint Bargen.

Oct 8 9:30pm | Empire Granville 2
Oct 9 4pm | Pacific Cinematheque

DIRECTOR: Jason Goode
EXEC PRODS Rosie Perera, Jeff Benna, Nick Brampton, Chris Hansen
PROD Dylan Jenkinson
SCR Sarah Deakins
CAM Chris Dalton
ED Greg Ng
Hope of Glory Pictures

Thursday, September 20, 2012

books | the ethical vision of clint eastwood

This just in from IMAGE Update 

Though he may be controversial as a political personality, there is no doubt that Clint Eastwood is a film icon: a winner of five Academy Awards, five Golden Globes, and numerous other accolades for his work as an actor, director, producer, and composer. Yet few critics have ventured to consider Eastwood's philosophical, ethical, and artistic agenda the way film scholar Sara Anson Vaux has in The Ethical Vision of Clint Eastwood.

Bridging popular film and theology, Vaux traces Eastwood's career from Spaghetti Westerns and Dirty Harry-style shoot-em-ups to more recent films such as Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino, and Invictus. "Seen along a forty-year continuum," Vaux writes, "Eastwood's movies reveal stages in an unfolding moral ontology—a sense of being in the world. They become more sophisticated and nuanced in tone and narrative exploration even if the basic motifs—justice, confession, war and peace, the gathering, and the search for a perfect world—remain the same throughout his career."

Vaux is also quick to refuse the temptation of Christian scholars (or any scholars of a particular camp) to dig through art for validation—for "endorsements of a particular religious system." The film analysis in her book is far from it. In four sections (Westerns, mysteries, war movies, and healing narratives), Vaux peels back the surface of Eastwood's films so the reader can see all the humming parts within: reccurring themes, camera techniques, Hollywood tricks and archetypes, critical reception, the whole shebang—and adds it all up to tell the story of the moral worldview that Eastwood has brought into the living rooms of millions of moviegoers.

This is a book for film critics and movie lovers, Clint Eastwood buffs and academics alike—a film-writing delight.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

viff | beyond the hills

Could so easily be yet another "Catholic = bad" film. But the Film Comment comment suggests it's maybe more nuanced than that. Here's hoping.

Beyond the Hills
(După dealuri)
(Romania, France, Belgium, 2012, 152 mins, DCP)

Oct 09 10:30 am Granville 2
Oct 11 09:30 pm Granville 7

A nun is torn between her devotion to god and her loyalty to a lifelong companion in Cristian Mungiu’s riveting follow-up to 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days. "The increments with which the screws of tragedy turn are finely calibrated."--Sight & Sound. Winner, Best Actress (shared by leads Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur), Best Screenplay, Cannes 2012.

After his race-against-the-calendar abortion thriller 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, Cristian Mungiu employs a slow-burning brand of suspense in this riveting account of a nun torn between her devotion to god and her loyalty to a lifelong companion. Having found her calling at a remote Romanian monastery, Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) is taken aback by the arrival of Alina (Cristina Flutur), who insists that they flee to Germany together. When the devout nun demurs, Alina comes apart at the psychological seams, leaving the monastery’s authoritarian priest (Valeriu Andriuta) convinced that she’s possessed. As Aline’s rescue attempt cedes to the priest’s relentless efforts to save her soul, Mungiu’s technical brilliance transforms Beyond the Hills into an equally captivating and disconcerting experience. His masterful long takes not only draw us deeper into the women’s trials, they also leave us with no avenue of escape from the mounting tension of his latest provocative tragedy.

"A quintessentially praiseworthy festival film: weighty in intent, unfamiliar enough in setting, rigorously masterful in execution... But what is remarkable about Beyond the Hills and the unexpected interrogations it awakens is the lingering sense of doubt it leaves you with. Not merely as to the virtues of organized religion -- that would be too simple -- but just as much the facile condemnation of it... It is a work that forces you into the not entirely pleasant yet oddly rewarding territory of moral uncertainty."--Joumane Chahine, Film Comment

viff | virgin tales

The "just enough rope to hang themselves" inclines one to think this won't be exactly the "objective and measured examination" of the subject the blurb-writer advertises. But hey...

Virgin Tales
(France, Germany, Switzerland, 2012, 87 mins, HDcam)

Oct 04 06:00 pm Empire Granville 1
Oct 07 12:15 pm Empire Granville 5
Oct 12 03:15 pm Empire Granville 1

What little girl doesn’t grow up dreaming of attending a Purity Ball: a fairy-tale celebration that sees her don an immaculate gown, hang from her father’s arm and vow absolute celibacy until marriage? Created by Randy and Lisa Wilson in 1998, these elaborate (and unnerving) father-daughter formal events are now staged in 48 US states, with one-in-eight American girls taking a purity oath.

Visiting the Wilsons over the course of two years, documentarian Mirjam von Arx reveals them to be devotees of rituals: be it Randy’s verbose blessings, son Logan’s sword-and-scripture "manhood ceremony" or daughter Jordyn’s increasingly despondent video diaries. As her affirmations about "saying no for the greater yes" cede from righteous to rote, Jordyn emerges as a tragic figure. Ultimately, this objective and measured examination of the virtues of abstinence supplies Evangelical Christians with just enough rope with which to hang themselves...

"Von Arx manages to capture moments of pure gold--manufactured "heartfelt" confessions of familial love whose lack of spontaneity is called out by a particularly sassy daughter, or the revelation from the twenty-something daughter (who’s desperately still waiting for her husband to appear) that she didn’t go to college because it would be a "waste of money" since she just wants to be a wife and mother. If it wasn’t so infuriatingly real, the film would make for great comedy."--Basil Tsiokos, Indiewire

viff | apparition

Seems likely not to be Soul Food ("Sandoval is less interested in questions of faith than in the issue of good governance" - ooh, a civics lesson!), but one never knows...

(Philippines, 2012, 87 mins, Betacam SP)

Oct 09 05:00 pm Vancity Theatre
Oct 11 06:45 pm Pacific Cinematheque

A startling left-turn after Senorita (VIFF 11), Vincent Sandoval’s new film is about nuns in a cloister convent, like Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus and Jacques Rivette’s La religieuse. It opens with a quote from Gramsci: “The old is dying and the new cannot be born. In this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appears.” We’re in 1971, and the largest morbid symptom around is Ferdinand Marcos’s play for greater political power, which occurs off-screen. But little of the outside world impinges on Adoration, a convent set in secluded woods outside Manila, which sees itself as a physical and spiritual sanctuary. We explore this closed world, riven by manias and secrets, through the eyes of Sister Lourdes, a newly arrived novice. She has hardly settled in before she learns that her activist brother is missing, presumed arrested... She finds ways to venture out to Manila, where a terrible fate awaits her.

Apparition obviously reflects the fact that the Philippines is a predominantly Catholic nation, thanks to its years as a Spanish colony, but Sandoval is less interested in questions of faith than in the issue of good governance. Adoration’s Mother Superior, Ruth, knows much more about what’s going on in the outside world than she lets on. Is she a kind of Marcos, imposing her own kind of martial law?

— Tony Rayns

viff | jesus hospital

Jesus Hospital
(South Korea, 2012, 91 mins, HDCAM)

Oct 03 09:30 pm Granville 1
Oct 05 03:30 pm Pacific Cinematheque

Remember Whang Jungmin, the doting girlfriend in Save the Green Planet? She’s equally great in this heartbreaker, co-directed by woman-and-man team Shin A-go and Lee Sangcheol, about a woman torn between her comatose mother, her alienated family and her secretive religious beliefs. Whang plays Hyunsoon, a milk-delivery woman who masks her own vulnerability behind bull-in-a-china-shop aggression. Her "issues" come to the surface when her brother and sister decide that they can no longer afford hospital bills--and authorize the doctors to withdraw life-support from their mother. Hyunsoon is outraged, and convinced that their mother can yet revive... The film tangles together familial, religious and moral questions in a satisfyingly complex knot. It’s engrossing, very well acted and as punchy as a heavyweight title bout. — Tony Rayns

viff | consuming spirits

It's not immediately apparent why this film is listed among the festival's Religion, Spirituality & Myth heading, but...  I'm intrigued.

Consuming Spirits
(USA, 2012, 130 mins, HDCAM)

Oct 05 08:30 pm Granville 5
Oct 07 05:00 pm Granville 6
Oct 10 09:15 pm Pacific Cinematheque

In this spiralling animated tale, the seemingly unrelated misadventures of three down-at-heel Rust Belt grotesques gradually entangle in a single affecting narrative. Twisting its way to a transcendent closing chapter, Consuming Spirits immerses viewers in an extraordinary viewing experience. Fifteen years in the making, Chris Sullivan’s bittersweet, handcrafted labour of love is truly something to behold.

During his ubiquitous Garrison Keillor-like radio broadcasts in the rundown community of Magguson, Earl Gray’s folksy musings routinely segue into bizarre digressions, capably setting the film’s unhinged tone. However, heed Gray when he advises, "Though I ramble… All that I say is vital." As we’re introduced to lonely Gentian Violet and emotionally damaged Victor Blue--this drama’s other key players--shards of narrative and slivers of flashbacks are assembled into a cracked-mirror reflection of small-town America. And while these three may be bound by tragedy, they also possess the capacity to grant one another absolution and release.

"The stand-out aspect of Chris Sullivan’s [film] is its insanely meticulous construction... The film seamlessly combines cutout animation, pencil drawing, collage, and stop-motion animation to create the haunting atmosphere of a self-contained world... What starts off as a collage of broken characters in perfect detail evolves into a carefully woven narrative, as delicately assembled as the pinned puppet characters. "--Priscilla Frank, Huffington Post

Monday, September 17, 2012

red hook summer

"Spike Lee’s new Brooklyn-set film, “Red Hook Summer,” which is about a boy from Atlanta who spends the hot months with his grandfather, is a clear failure, yet Lee is getting at things that mystify him. He celebrates the intense joy that religion brings to the community—and seems to be asking at the same time whether repeated, emotionally overwhelming professions of faith don’t reconcile people to stasis and failure. It’s a bitter question, but not many people working in movies would have the courage even to pose it."  new yorker

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

sep 19 | william kurelek | the maze | cinematheque

William Kurelek was a Canadian painter whose Christian faith survived severe childhood trauma and resulting mental illness. His Northern Nativity is a favourite of mine: the images can be seen in this YouTube video (though the music seems ill-suited to the spare images: I'd recommend turning off the volume).

William Kurelek’s The Maze
USA 1969/2011
Directors: Robert M Young, David Grubin [Re-imagined by Nick Young, Zack Young]
Colour, Blu-ray Disc. 60 mins.

Pacific Cinematheque
Wednesday, September 19, 2012 - 7:30pm

Canadian painter William Kurelek (1927-1977) may be best known for his beautiful illustrations of bucolic children’s classics (Who Has Seen the Wind?, A Prairie Boy’s Winter) and his landscapes of Ukrainian-Canadian prairie life, but it is his disturbing early work and difficult upbringing that is the subject of this intriguing documentary.

Born on a hardscrabble Alberta farm, the oldest of seven children of stern immigrant parents, the sensitive, artistic Kurelek was an outsider from an early age. Bullied at school and at home, especially by his fearsome father Dmytro, William left the farm as soon as he could. Settling in London in 1952, he sought help at the Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital, an institution at the forefront of the art therapy movement. Kurelek was provided not only with treatment but space in which to paint. He created terrifying works with nightmarish and surreal imagery reminiscent of Bosch and Bruegel — including, in 1953, “The Maze,” a depiction of his tortured youth.

In 1969, the award-winning American filmmaker Robert M. Young co-directed a short documentary on Kurelek and “psychotic art.” Using original interviews, a new score, and modern digital animation techniques to give Kurelek’s paintings dimension and movement, filmmakers Nick and Zack Young have remastered and expanded their father’s original film into a comprehensive and insightful portrait of the artist as a young man.

PS Van Halen used the painting for the album cover on Fair Warning (1981). There's a good article on that cover here. From that article...

"The vividly brutal imagery contained in “The Maze” is remarkably different from the paintings sequel, entitled “Out Of The Maze”, painted after the artist’s recovery. This second painting reflects a pastoral countryside, as well as an artist no longer as deeply disturbed, with his wife and children enjoying a happy family picnic. However, all is not as idyllic as a first glance might suggest. An empty, open skull in the bottom left hand corner is a reminder of the psychological prison from which the artist has escaped and the impending storm on the far right horizon hints at Kurelek’s premonition that the world was heading for a nuclear holocaust."