VIFF Capsule Reviews #2

In David Acacia’s wonderful piece on Stephen Dunn’s Closet Monster, which bowed at TIFF, he begins by mentioning how exciting it is to discover a new major cinematic talent. On the other shore at VIFF, I agree, it IS fun, and so let me add another name to the list – Andrew Cividino, director of Sleeping Giant.

Sleeping Giant is the story of three teenage boys moving through a lazy summer in what we adults would see as a mountains-and-lakes utopia. Two of the boys, Nate and Riley, are longtime locals and know the surroundings well, from the resident pot dealer to how to steal beer from the gas station. The newcomer Adam has just arrived with his well-off family and from the opening scene is trying to bond with the other two boys… only bonding for them involves fighting in the sand. Much of the film is built on scenes of drift. The three stars meander around, light fireworks, talk about the local girls, and get under each other’s skin constantly, and this is the very powerful beating heart of the film. There is incredible authenticity to these scenes, brought on partly from improvised dialogue and spontaneity in front of the camera. Which is good, because the drawback here is that the actual plotline that pushes the film along is quite limp and much of it is projected from a mile away.

I believe there is a strong future for Cividino, though. The way he pulls such powerful stuff out of his leads is one thing, but he also shows restraint here. There is a hesitancy, for instance, in how Adam deals with a local girl, and a general clinginess in his reactions to Nate that suggests that his sexuality may not be what his friends realize, but Cividino leaves it there, an enigmatic quality to Adam that in another’s hands would have been too played out. Give him the right guiding hand and Cividino could be something truly special.

Time for a “Welcome back!” to another Canadian filmmaker – Patricia Rozema. A bit of a critical darling in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Rozema has been absent from the big screen for awhile, but is back with Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood in an adaptation of Into the Forest, Jean Hegland’s novel about two sisters trying to survive at the family cottage when all of North America loses power indefinitely. The isolated setting spares us much of the chaos and violence other films have offered as the world panics and sinks into pillage and plunder. Instead, all of that happens in the distance, with only an occasional sign of it passing through. Instead, we get something more uplifting and invigorating: a story about two young women figuring things out for themselves when faced with months-long turmoil. Page and Wood are perfectly fine in their roles, as is Callum Keith Rennie as their father in the early scenes. The screenplay hits a few rough patches – a reduction of the abortion-when-raped debate to a thirty-second argument is a bit awkward, for instance. And the general gist of the story, that women can accomplish whatever they want, should not by rights be enough to carry a film. And yet, the whole thing kind of worked for me.

Nice people accomplishing nice things is also the backbone of Corneliu Porumboiu’s lighthearted The Treasure. An absurd story about a man named Adrian who thinks his great-grandfather buried treasure in the old family home, and the acquaintance named Costi who decides to help him out, this is a film that should be horrible. There is no reason given for why Costi would put himself into serious debt in order to hire a man with a metal detector to help Adrian. None of his decisions seem to make any sense, and indeed, as the two men, along with detector Cornel, walk the yard into the dark of night, the whole thing seems ridiculous. Yet Porumboiu cranks the absurdity higher and higher, culminating in what has to be a ten-minute-long section of the film almost entirely based on Cornel walking around while his detector whoops and beeps. It’s an audio-visual sight gag extraordinaire, with each whoop earning ever louder titters from the audience. And when the film ended, as with Into the Forest, I unexpectedly felt… joyous. A story about people doing nice things for others… how outrageous and subversive. As the nutty end credits song repeats ad nauseam in one final gag… “LIFE! IS! LIFE!” and that can make a great time at the cinema.