VIFF Capsule Reviews #3

Today featured some unexpected surprises and the first true letdown of the festival.

First up, Eliza Kubarska shot an absolutely gorgeous documentary film about the Badjao, a group of deep sea divers, in Walking Under Water. The Badjao live near Borneo and use air compressors to dive and catch fish to make a living. We follow a boy named Sari and his uncle Alexan as the elder teaches the younger the tricks of the trade. Kubarska uses an invisible approach to film her subjects, and does wonders with the underwater sections.

Up next, and at first a seeming disaster, was Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s The Owners, about a homeowners’ battle between the siblings who inherited a house when their mother died and the local who has squatted in it for ten years. Yerzhanov begins with an awkward blend of violence, corruption and absurdist humor, as locals dance goofy dances in the background of many scenes, even the violent ones. It seems that Yerzhanov is just messing with his audience, but as we enter the film’s second half, the absurdity takes on a very humanistic tone. These aren’t the dances of men mocking, but of men who understand that everyone in Russia is in the same boat. They ask… why are we even fighting? It makes for a warm finish.

The next film had no such warmth. The Safdie brothers discovered Arielle Holmes, 19, homeless, addicted to heroin, and got her to write about her life. Their adaptation turned into Heaven Knows What, a blistering, honest look at the life of a young junkie in New York. Holmes essentially plays herself, moving from place to place, always calculating the next hit, hurting herself, and all of it is stunning. Not only is she a find as an actress but her honesty in showing the ugly side of an already ugly business is to be applauded. Caleb Landry Jones and Yuri Pleskun are great as her two main sources of attention, but this is all Arielle’s show. Great music, as well.

I was very nervous about the 4th film of the day, Preggoland. When a film’s synopsis says that it is about a woman who fakes being pregnant to fit in with her friends, I cringe. That just sounds like it can’t be funny. Imagine my surprise when this turned into a seriously crowd-pleasing smash! Starring and written by Sonja Bennett, the film is exactly what its synopsis said it was, all to solid comedic effect. The cast, a mix of game local actors and bigger names like James Caan and Danny Trejo (who, in a hilarious turn as the janitor of a local grocery store, plays against type and nails it), all fill their roles nicely, giving Vancouver a wonderful homegrown success story!

And finally, at the end of a long day, came Paolo Virzi’s disappointing Human Capital. The film follows various members of two families whose lives intersect through a hit-and-run accident involving a cyclist. Though one story, the film is cut into four sections, each telling the tale from the point of view of a different person. Nothing really works. The first section is played for laughs as a sycophantic real estate man tries to baldly insinuate himself into the good graces of the rich family whose youngest member is dating his daughter. Fabrizio Bentivoglio does such a good job of turning the real estate man into a disgusting slimeball that I actually hated him, right down to the way he smacked the gum in his mouth. Other sections of the film are played for high drama, a tonal shift that is jarring, though Valeria Bruni Tedeschi is wonderful in her role as the rich wife.

But ultimately, there is little reason to care about most of these people, as they barely care about themselves and just try to use each other for their own needs. And so much time is spent creating multiple versions of scenes that there is little real story.