Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Lives of Others at the Vancouver International Film Festival

The whole point of the film festival appears to see so many films that you really don't mind waiting a year to do it all again... It was a great couple of weeks; thank you to the VIFF and Vancity Theatre people for their work. (Now we can start looking forward to the Canadian horror series; make sure you attend Rituals, it's a must see for horror buffs -- written about here). Hell, I'm not even sure what's coming up at the Cinematheque... I'm kind of exhausted.

The People's Choice Award winner for best international film, The Lives of Others (the link is to an informative online press kit PDF on the film; the festival listing is here) proved to be a very interesting, but questionable, film -- I'm not sure I want to applaud and promote it or write it off (some have done so, for presuming to make an ultimately sympathetic character out of a member of East Germany's secret police, the Stasi -- a conceit that could be seen as dangerously dishonest, whatever its purposes; as with Schindler's List, there is something suspicious about celebrating too enthusiastically the exceptions to a horrible rule). Certainly during my first viewing of the film, I was willing to suspend my disbelief -- if cinema can have elephants that fly, why not? -- and I found the film very moving; it worked. In retrospect, I'm not so sure about it. The director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, has said "More than anything else, The Lives of Others is a human drama about the ability of human beings to do the right thing, no matter how far they have gone down the wrong path." The generally unsympathetic and frightening portrayal of the Stasi, the director's stated moral purpose, and the apparent further intent of the film to heal some of the wounds that exist in Germany, might override these objections. Whereupon, alas, we encounter a whole 'nother set of objections, that the film, gripping tho' it may be, is just a little too pat, a little too manipulative, a little too much like a television drama (I felt that way about The Yacoubian Building, too, but ultimately it didn't bother me that much in that case). The film is scheduled to open in late February; it's certainly worth a look -- would be curious to see how others react. It says something -- not sure what -- that it was voted the most popular film.

The disappointment of the festival -- at least relative to my very high expectations -- proved to be Into Great Silence. An extremely ambitious film -- 2 hours 40 minutes with almost no dialogue, showing us the rituals of monks in a Carthusian monestary -- the film simply didn't have the craft to pull it off. It was intermittently very beautiful -- a few images reminded me of Vermeer, which is no small praise -- but I found it awkwardly edited, with repetitive cutaways to lines of prayer and portraits of the monks which didn't really work. I could never quite adjust to the film's rhythms, and time and again I found the director would cut away from something I really wanted to see and contemplate after only a few minutes. Rather than functioning as a filmed prayer, in the manner, if you will, of James Benning's 13 Lakes last year -- the film mostly just shows people praying. It's not the same thing, and it lost me after about an hour and a half, tho' I kept watching and waiting and hoping it would bring me back in.

Anyhow, I'm looking forward to seeing how my interview with Reg Harkema, about his film Monkey Warfare, looks in print. Really liked his movie (it ties in to stuff I'm thinking about lately; see the previous post) -- the article will be in next month's Discorder. Hi to Reg, and thank you's to Mark, Ellie, and Diane of the festival for keeping me in the loop and for putting up with my sometimes boneheaded questions. Thanks too to Mickey Brazeau, for helpin' make sure I was in the right lineup. I'm gonna cut the list short there, but, uh, thanks to everyone else, too. See you next year.


Mathew Englander said...

Interesting analysis; it hadn’t occurred to me to look at the film that way. On reflection, I don’t find it at all dishonest or even problematic that the Stasi character turns out sympathetic. My real problem with the film was that parts of it were incredibly dull (mostly when the playwright, Georg, was onscreen). I have an additional post about the film here.

About the audience choice awards: do you have any idea how they are tabulated? The ballots were often advertised as “vote for your favourite films” but it’s really a rating (from one to five stars), not a vote. You can’t say that The Lives of Others got the most votes; it’s just unclear whether they decided to take an average of the ratings for each film, or what? Did they just count ratings of five stars and ignore the rest? I’d really like to know.

I’m working on a post about my favourites of what I saw at VIFF; it turns out that they are all English-language films. A little sad.

Did you see The Line of Beauty? I never got a chance but I was interested in it because I’ve read a different novel by Hollinghurst which was good. It’s getting an encore tonight at VIFC. On Monday, Uganda Rising, which I heard was good, is getting an encore at the Ridge at 7pm. It’s some kind of fundraiser.

ammacinn said...

I am told by One Who Knows that the ballots "are decided by a combination of number of votes and average. As it happens, Lives of Others was number one in both, so there wasn't much mathematical calculations necessary." Now we both know.

I'll add your blog to the links on the right presently -- I gotta go catch the repeat screening of Manufactured Landscapes.

Didn't catch In the Line of Beauty. -


ammacinn said...

Hm? Testing, testing -- my last comment isn't showing up on my blog. Do I need to add another? Hmmm...