Now that the sun has set on the 38th annual Vancouver International Film Festival (which ran from September 26th to October 11th, 2019), Taste of Cinema offers up our favorites from what was another bustling, exciting, and very impressive festival. As with previous years at VIFF, it was a very crowded field with so many exceptional films vying for our attention (of course we didn’t see them all, and there’s many we’re so very sorry we missed), and charged with the task of picking our favorites was no easy affair.
The films on this list show a wide-ranging assortment including auteur-driven films, populist fare, arthouse gems, jaw-dropping animation, tantalizing genre fare, and many lofty female-led projects, too (a trend that we’re happy to say continues to flourish in a very male dominated industry).
And now the festival roundup and until next year VIFF, we’ll catch you in the queue!
The opening scenes of the new Mikhaël Hers drama Amanda depict a sun-soaked Paris that thrums with vivid life. The characters we meet may be mundane, but that makes them all the more relatable. There’s David (Vincent Lacoste), a flighty twenty-something who gets along well with his older, wiser, more patient sister Sandrine (Ophélia Kolb)––a single mom with a seven-year-old daughter named Amanda (Isaure Multrier).
Amanda is a film that depicts a devastating tragedy in the City of Lights, one all too familiar in this mercilessly sad era of modern terrorism. Sandrine, in a tastefully off-screen, but no less crushing incident, is murdered along with dozens of innocent people in a vicious mass shooting that deliberately echoes the notorious co-ordinated attacks of November 2015.
David, who we first see as Amanda’s silly big brother and fun uncle figure is suddenly, sadly elbowed into adulthood and into becoming the responsible guardian his agonizing niece so sorely needs.
Attentive, and quietly elegant, Amanda is a moving and satisfying experience.
Writer-director Sam Friedlander’s refreshingly upbeat comedy sets its sights on the ambiguity couples often have over whether or not to have kids. Presenting itself as something of a modernized screwball comedy with lots of awkward and uncomfortable gags, as well as shrewdly observed commentary on progressive parenting tactics, Babysplitters is undoubtedly one of the funniest, and most compassionate indie comedies of the year.
Sarah (Emily Chang) and Jeff Penaras (Danny Pudi) are a busy, newly-wedded Los Angelinos couple who, along with their best friends Taylor (Maiara Walsh) and Don Small (Eddie Alfano) have often entertained the idea of becoming parents, but can’t see the good without all the bad that would come with such a life-changing experience.
It gets a little sappy, as the genre often does, but Babysplitters is also sharp, satisfying, and funny as hell.
13. I Lost My Body
French animator Jérémy Clapin one-of-a-kind animated feature I Lost My Body, rightful recipient of the Critics’ Week Grand Prize at Cannes earlier this year, tells the tale of a hand traveling through the tough streets of Paris to be reunited with its body.
There are body horror elements to be sure, but also action and odd romance in this artfully surreal odyssey. You may surprise yourself at how much you’ll fistpump for a severed hand (the film is brilliantly adapted from Amélie scribe Guillame Laurant’s 2006 novel “Happy Hand”) while the stunning 2D drawings blow your mind with their subtle complexity. This is an underdog tale you’ll definitely write home about. Don’t miss it.
12. Greener Grass
A pair of ever-competing soccer moms chitchat on the bleachers as their kids chase and kick balls around the grassy sport’s field when Lisa (Dawn Luebbe) looks closer at her frenemy Jill (Jocelyn DeBoer) and exclaims through thinly veiled contempt: “Oh, my gosh, I didn’t even notice, you have a new baby!”
By the end of their creatively clipped and arish exchange, Jill, almost as if on a whim, has given her baby, Madison, to Lisa, for keeps. This is the strangely surreal suburban hellscape of Greener Grass, a world of pastel-colors, intensely manicured-lawns, accidental spouse-swapping, overly friendly barbecues, pool parties, gross kissing and the odd murder scene.
Written and directed by co-stars DeBoer and Luebbe, Greener Grass is their debut and demands a demented frame of mind to fully appreciate its strange glamor. It plays out like the Stepford Wives as reimagined by John Waters, with the odd episode here and there unraveling like an enjoyably elaborate and overlong Mr. Show sketch.
Is this a film for all tastes? Absolutely not. Is it a messed-up and gooey good time? You bet it is.
Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles (who was Mendonça’s production designer on his two previous films), this genre-bending weird Western has a serious Sergio Leone vibe as it takes on numerous jet-black comic twists, an enormous body count, and a very lackadaisical pace.
Set in the eponymous village of Bacurau, a remote place in Brazil’s north east, where the residents find themselves up against aggressive aliens forces as this truly singular near-future quasi-Western with a surreal slant that the VIFF audience absolutely ate up. Starring Sônia Braga and Udo Kier, hopefully Bacura will enjoy a wider release in the very near future.
Georges has a real killer look in writer/director Quentin Dupieux’s latest film, a batshit-beyond-all-reason black comedy/character piece called Deerskin. Dupieux, the deranged genius behind such wonderfully weird films as the absurdist horror tale Rubber (2010), and the irreverent comic mystery Wrong (2012) is no stranger to bizarre backroads and crackpot detours into the ludicrously far-out and terminally fucked-up. And based on such curious criteria as this it’s possible that Deerskin is some kind of eccentric chef d’oeuvre.
Starring French luminaries Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and Adèle Haenel (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), Deerskin takes what’s essentially one pretty good gag, and milks it for everything it’s worth and with deliriously rolling results.
Sure to annoy as many people as it enamors, Deerskin is a confidently stylish and thoroughly diverting achievement from one of the most curious contemporary filmmakers around.
9. The Painted Bird
It was a decade-long road for writer/director/producer Václav Marhoul to bring Jerzy Kosiński’s nightmarish (not to mention extremely controversial) memoir of a Jewish survivor/witness to the Holocaust to the big screen. The resulting black-and-white odyssey of human atrocities has aptly drawn comparisons to Elem Klimov’s shattering Come and See (1985).
The Painted Bird is an elegantly photographed horror show, and one that The Guardian’s Xanth Brooks enthusiastically recommends but with the caveat; “I can state without hesitation that this is a monumental piece of work and one I’m deeply glad to have seen. I can also say that I hope to never cross its path again.” So be warned, the nerve-jangling violence and mental torture will be too much for sensitive viewers, but it’s an experience well worth taking and being transformed by.