VIFF Capsule Reviews #5

Hotell (Lisa Langseth)

Both filmmaker Lisa Langseth and actress Alicia Vikander landed on the cinematic world’s radar with 2010’s Pure.  Now they reunite for Hotell, the story of Erika, an expectant mother two weeks from her scheduled C-section when her pregnancy goes to hell and she ends up with a severely brain-damaged baby. Unwilling to touch the child, Erika ends up in therapy where we meet a group of likeable misfits each with problems of their own.

The tone of Hotell shifts repeatedly, and occasionally in shocking ways. The beginning is completely suffocating, and the film lightens (mostly) from there, veering into laughs, discomfort and some violence. Put simply, the story matter Langseth has tackled is a minefield, and any misstep dooms it. Most of the film succeeds, especially with Vikander in her best performance to date, but a few sections just don’t fit. And while the supporting cast are all solid, some of their characters feel incomplete. So Langseth continues her evolution as a filmmaker, and we get a film that, while imperfect, takes on an awful reality and tries to shed some humanity on it.

Like Father, Like Son (Koreeda Hirokazu)likefatherlikeson

Koreeda Hirokazu is at the top of his game with Like Father, Like Son. The entire film can be summed up in a single sentence: two very different families have their babies switched at birth and find out 6 years later. That’s it. Koreeda’s strengths aren’t in plot or propulsion but in basic humanity. He creates two remarkably real, remarkably loveable families and captures the emotional roller coaster they are set upon perfectly. Koreeda has come close to this level before, like in 2010’s I Wish, but Like Father, Like Son is perhaps the most balanced he’s ever been between cold and saccharine. It is impossible to hate this film.

Blind Detective (Johnnie To)blinddetective

I closed out my wonderful time here in Vancouver with what promised to be some goofy, lightweight fun, Johnnie To’s Blind Detective. Starring the always-charismatic Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng, this is the tale of a blind detective (Lau) and a police officer (Cheng) who solve cold cases while searching for her friend who disappeared years earlier, and naturally, they just may fall in love. To has always been a manically violent filmmaker, Asia’s answer to Tarantino (or maybe it’s the other way around?), and Blind Detective is one of his better efforts.

Lau and Cheng throw themselves, literally, into their roles, chewing scenery and intestines with equal panache. Their chemistry is magic, and the story, though it sags in parts, is zany brilliance. This is a serious amount of fun.

Thanks to VIFF for the privilege of covering such a smooth festival! Friends have been made, some soon-to-be-classic films were seen (do NOT miss Ozon’s Young & Beautiful) and a great time was had.