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Over 200 features—both fiction and nonfiction—run over 16 days (September 29 to October 14, 2011) on 10 screens at four theatres. Here, a first look at some of the promising films screening at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival
At the heart of this grim, compelling allegory about Spain after its civil war is 11-year-old Andreu, played hauntingly by Francesc Colomer. Motivations are at times as murky as the penumbral woods and hovels he wanders, searching for love and family, but the main story line—the fragile safety of his family as Republicans and fascists continue the fight in rural Catalonia—stays strong. —J.B.
Cairo-born sophomore director Hesham Issawi plunges into the mean streets and cramped tenements of his hometown with this rough story of ill-fated young lovers Amal and Tarek. She’s Christian, he’s Muslim, they’re both dirt-poor and short on options—and that’s before she announces she’s pregnant. Beautiful location shooting and brooding performances lend the shaky dialogue (or shoddy subtitles) a measure of gravitas, but the third-reel climax and unlikely ending suggest that this hardscrabble quarter of Cairo really offers few exits of any real security. —J.B.
Flirting is a pretentious and overwrought French nature documentary, whose only human presence, Jean-Michel Bertrand, is saddled with an obsessive interest in the Golden Eagle that fails to excite. The audience is taken through more than an hour of Blair Witch Project-style camera work, in which Bertrand whispers about what he’s eating in his tent and muses about the metaphorical meaning of the creatures around him and nature at large. Notwithstanding a few excellent shots of the eagles in flight, the doc suffers from a low production value, which makes Bertrand’s quasi-mystical experiment in film-making all the more tedious.—M.H.
Ali Samadi Ahadi’s striking doc calls attention to Iran’s 2009 green revolution. The narrative weaves archival footage, photo-animations (from blogs, with terrific voice work by actors Pegah Ferydoni and Navid Akhavan), and commentary from those at the heart of the conflict. The film—more lament than uplift—is an important reflection of the oppression felt in the streets of Tehran. —A.K.
Director Reinhard Wulf shadows Ontario-born Lewis, a film artist who transforms simple urban and rural settings into slow-motion paintings, during the creation of the 2010 work Mid Day Mid Summer, Corner of Yonge and Dundas, filmed in the intersection outside the Toronto Eaton Centre. The film moves between Lewis speaking about his inspiration and excerpts from his piece—helpful in explaining that there is, in fact, a reason to watch people walk backwards across the street. —L.D.
At a private girls’ school in suburban Sydney, Karen Carey stops at nothing to expose her students to the power of orchestral music. Her ferocious drive—closely and neutrally documented here—culminates in biennial concerts at the Sydney Opera House. In rehearsal and performance footage, director Bob Connolly (First Contact ) jumps between broad canvases and the intimate emotional breakdowns typical of reality TV as he drops deep into the passion (or mania?) that drives the perfectionist teacher and her tight-wound young charges. —J.B.
France (yes, France) is a single mother with three hungry kids and no job. Steve is a 35-year-old financier with nothing to warm his life except piles of cash. As luck has it, France winds up in Paris as Steve’s housekeeper and (naturally) bed mate. Writer-director Cédric Klapisch does a decent job with our sympathetic hard-working mom, and an even better job with the heartless womanizer. When the arrival of Steve’s son makes a nanny of France, we think we know where this is going, but at the three-quarter mark Klapisch switches from rom-com to social commentary. Which would be fine, except nobody actually learns anything, and I wound up rooting for the villain. —B.H.
Lucky follows weary circus-performer Flora (a 15-year-old, 5,000-pound African) as owner-trainer David Balding tries, over nine years, to find her a suitable retirement home. At times poignant, at times plodding, the documentary explores the complicated relationship between man and beast, and asks whether Flora is simply a restless, damaged, ill-tempered orphan or the victim of a man who struggles, like any parent, to let his child go. —R.P.
A furniture restoration business tumbles into obscurity and disrepair when the better-loved of two business partners dies. Director Yossi Madmoni walks us through a quiet and sullen film about the struggling men left in the wake of that everyday disaster, especially the remaining partner (Sasson Gabai), whose hopes rest with a broken-down—and potentially valuable—Steinway piano. There’s a soft beauty in all this, even if Madmoni can’t always keep us rapt. —M.H.
“Here we go…” breathes director Linda Goldstein Knowlton at the start of this sturdy, often moving doc about the adoption of Chinese babies. She’s on the cusp of meeting her own daughter Ruby, but all the families here share her fear and exhilaration. Four teenage girls from across the States lay open their lives for the sympathetic camera as they struggle to understand identity, racism, self-doubt, and, for some, reunion in China. Hankies required. —J.B.