These movies have snarl, bite and a female protagonist (or multiple).
Today, we highlight six excellent features at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF). The fact that they are all centred on women is just a bonus.
(Wash Westmoreland, UK) A biopic of French writer and feminist icon, Colette (Keira Knightley), that’s as timely as it is entertaining. A country girl, apparently plucked from a life of obscurity by the toast of Paris, Willy (Dominic West), Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette is set up to be just another muse, exploited and neglected. But it soon becomes obvious that for all Willy’s bombast and terminal infidelity, what attracts him to his young wife is not just her intelligence and wit, but the innate non-conformism that will eventually leave him far behind. Knightley is terrific, playing each stage of Colette’s intellectual and sexual evolution with vigour. He may leave out a great deal — the author lived into old age with a lust for life that could populate many movies — but, by concentrating on his subject’s path to liberation, Westmoreland provides an effervescent snapshot of a young woman driven to be entirely herself.
(Gabriela Pichler, Sweden) Aida (Zahraa Aldoujaili) and Dana (Yara Aliadotter) live in a small Swedish town suffering the economic realities of global Capitalism. A bid to bring a budget German supermarket—and lots of needed jobs—inspires the local council to ask the girls’ high school class to make iPhone promo movies about the town. Much to Aida and Dana’s ire, their efforts are deemed unsuitable and a professional is hired. Undeterred, the two girls—both immigrants—continue to shoot, on a mission to show their adopted hometown as it really is. This brilliant idea for a movie is not wasted by Pichler. Funny, insightful and happy to revel in the energy of its central characters and their refusal to shut up, it’ll leave you moved and thoroughly uplifted. A real treat.
(Marcelo Martinessi, Paraguay/Germany/Brazil/Uruguay/Norway/France) As her family heirlooms are sold off to bail out her partner (imprisoned for fraud), Chela (Ana Braun) is forced to face the fear and fragility her rarified life has allowed. First out of necessity, and then out of a growing independence, Chela begins to build a life beyond the house she has lived in all her life. No longer able to rely on the more brash, confident (and controlling) Chiquita (Margarita Irun), Chela’s newly found sense of self becomes focused on a growing infatuation with the younger Angy (Ana Ivanova). An exquisite pearl of a movie, finely crafted, and with a bravura central performance from Braun. It’s also refreshing to see the sexuality of middle-aged women explored with a degree of nuance all-too rarely seen.
(Wolfgang Fischer, Germany/Austria) ER doctor Rieke (Susanne Wolff) plans to spend her vacation sailing alone from her home in Gibraltar to visit Darwin’s ecological experiment on Ascension Island. She is organized, capable, prepared—it seems—for anything, including a nasty storm that tosses her small yacht around alarmingly. Until, that is, she spots a boat overloaded with refugees desperately calling for her help, many of them jumping into the ocean to drown. The Coast Guard’s response is to tell her to keep moving and leave it to them; a nearby ship’s captain says his company policy prohibits him from getting involved. She stays, rescuing a swimming boy covered in chemical burns who pleads for her to do more. As it becomes clear help is not coming, Rieke must grapple with her own conscience: can she really turn away? Profound and deeply unsettling, this is a film where we, the audience, are forced to face our own complicity, our willingness to look away. Urgent, impressive filmmaking.
(Moon Sori, South Korea) A directorial first from Moon, an actor known for her stellar work with Hong Sangsoo and Lee Changdong, and recently seen in Park Chanwook’s The Handmaiden. Taking a leaf out of Hong’s penchant for naturalistic, unassuming drama, Moon crafts a light-hearted, often laugh-out-loud funny, yet still searing critique of the affects of ageing on a female actor’s career. In a modest film (71 minutes) structured in three acts, we see Moon struggling to cope with a lack of work, a lack of finances, and a growing lack of confidence. Autobiographical in part (she plays a fictional version of herself), this delightful debut announces Moon as a talent to watch both sides of the lens.
(Stephen Loveridge, USA/Sri Lanka/UK) Age 10, M.I.A. was a refugee living with her mother and siblings, crammed into a London housing estate with other Tamils fleeing persecution—her father was the founder and leader of the Tamil resistance back home. This documentary—made by her longtime friend Loveridge—benefits from a swath of archive footage shot by M.I.A. (before she turned to music, she planned to be a filmmaker) both in London and from a trip in her twenties to rediscover her homeland. We see her emerge as a musician and become a star, a strong woman unafraid to voice her opinions. Then we see the backlash when she tries to use her fame as a platform to bring the plight of Tamils to wider attention. In essence her right-to-reply, this is not a portrait concerned with objectivity. It remains fascinating regardless, with one caveat: there is a horribly jarring clip of her being interviewed on Q by Jian Ghomeshi that would have been better left on the cutting room floor.