VIFF 2019

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Bait – VIFF 2019 Review

Cornish writer-director Mark Jenkin has, with his debut feature film Bait, created a daringly original and unique film that feels like a found artifact from an antiquated era. Shot on 16mm black-and-white Kodak film stock with a 43-year-old wind-up Bolex camera, there’s an unmistakable Dogme vibe to Jenkin’s class clash picture (Jenkin’s authored a very similar “Silent Landscape Dancing Grain 13 Film Manifesto” which is all about embracing handmade celluloid film work).

Set in a touristy Cornish village where boorish long-time denizen and fisherman Martin (Edward Rowe) feels infringed upon by vacationers who scoff at his long held traditions and leave him near destitute. With his boat no longer seaworthy and his family home now the property of some stuffy Londoners, Martin is fuming and at his wit’s end. As it unfolds in a truly and admirably antiquated fashion––critics and cineastes have justifiably drawn comparisons to Soviet silent film-era pioneer Segei Eisenstein, for instance––Bait also seems to reimagine Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971) only here we’re cheering for the local residents.

Martin feels abandoned by his brother Steven (Giles King), particularly after he restored and re-purposed his boat, turning it into, of all things, a tourist tripper.

Playing favorites for a staccato style as well as abrupt and often deliberately disorienting visual compositions and cuts, as in a tense pub scene anticipating one of Martin’s outbursts, Jenkin’s creates an idiosyncratic yet altogether awesome and unconventional showdown. Not content with just being Bait’s writer-director, he is also the film’s cinematographer, editor, and composer.

The narrative that Jenkin’s presents us in Bait, essentially framed around a longish flashback becomes something surprisingly mosaic-like, makes it a difficult film to ascribe a genre to. One part class polemic, it also has the nerve of a Western, the anxiety-building heft of a thriller, and even the sighing yen of a melodrama while also being a very British tone poem.

A parable that unfolds along the sea, Bait moves at times towards almost objective realism and subjective fantasy while packing an emotional punch. With weighty themes of gentrification and societal struggle as tourism wracks up against the old ways of a fishing village, Jenkin’s justifies his stylish and witty tale with a marvellous expertise. It’s not just one of the best films to show at VIFF 2019, it’s one of the year’s finest as well.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.

Amanda – VIFF 2019 Review

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 and prosaic, but that makes them all the more relatable. There’s David (Vincent Lacoste), a flighty twenty-something and sometimes arborist, who gets along well with his older, wiser, more patient sister Sandrine (Ophélia Kolb)––a single mom with a seven-year-old niece named Amanda (a scene-stealing Isaure Multrier).

Hers, along with his distinguished cinematographer Sébastien Buchmann unobtrusively yet elegantly capture so many warm moments as Sandrine and Amanda boogie to Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel”, the agrarian delights of Sandrine and David racing their bicycles through the park; both of them so very in the moment, laughing enjoying each other’s company, before it all comes crashing down.

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. Suddenly Sandrine’s little girl is without a guardian, and David, shattered, comforts her and himself in the process, bravely trying to measure what steps to take in the fallout of such horror.

Hers and co-writer Maud Ameline address, on the periphery, Paris’s collective mourning and recovery, and do it in an unhurried and eloquent fashion, but it’s David and Amanda that softly shatter and slowly reassemble our hearts. Yes, it’s a tale of resilience and observance, and the affable approach it takes in doing so shows a very effectively subdued restrain, making for a subtle but profound tear-jerker.

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. And all the while, his own grief journey must move forward. Lacoste is wondrous as David, and he runs a wide gamut of emotions; from falling hard and wooing Lena (Stacy Martin)––who herself was physically and mentally traumatized in the attacks––to being the brave father-figure for Amanda; to finding an overwhelming and very public moment of unanticipated grief that has him bursting with tears on a packed train platform and then somehow pulling himself back together.

Attentive, and quietly elegant, Amanda is a moving and satisfying experience. Recommended.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.

Babysplitters – VIFF 2019 Review

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––and I’ll define that for people unfamiliar with the sometimes misused term; it’s a rom-com subgenre from the Golden Age of Hollywood that juxtaposes opposites while presenting broad, sophisticated and slapstick humor––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’s Jeff who comes up with an idea that at first, no one else can really entertain beyond being some lively pre-dinner banter. His plan, in a nutshell, is that both couples could share one baby, without impacting too greatly all the freedoms of being childless represents. It sounds like the perfect compromise, which of course it isn’t at all once this plan is enacted.

To say too much about the delightfully zigzagging trajectory that Babysplitters takes us down would ruin a lot of the ensuing absurdity and diversion, which is ample and often at a feverishly fast-clip––the perhaps daunting two hour run time just flies by––suffice it to say their plan gets very messy, devolving into what Don describes as “the worst of both worlds.”

There’s no shortage of big laughs in the film; from Sarah and Jeff enduring a painfully on point dinner party with their friends with horribly misbehaving children, Don’s penchant for pillow talk involving a “dirty dinosaur”, the couple’s hilariously misguided GP (Brian Thomas Smith), to Jeff’s overly affable boss (Lucas Malacrino), who comes off like an overstimulated Jason Schwartzman. Nor is the cast ever less than excellent, making the most of Friedlander’s antic and engrossing script.

If there’s any real shortcomings with Babysplitters at all it might be that it’s full to the brim with almost too much to say (one or two subplots could be dropped, but they all get a laugh so why bother?), like a fantastic and satisfying meal that has maybe one too many courses. That’s not a bad thing if you’re really hungry or just want to roar with laughter for a couple of hours. It gets a little sappy, as the genre often does, but Babysplitters is also sharp, satisfying, and funny as hell. Recommended.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.

Deerskin – VIFF 2019 Review

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.

Georges (Dujarin) is a graying middle-aged man who has recently walked away from a ruined marriage and, in a disordered emotional state, acquired a tasseled deerskin jacket for a bargain 8,000 euros (give or take a few hundred euros). From that point on Georges obsession with the buckskin jacket grows darker and more dangerous as does his alienation from a society clothed in inadequacy, or so Georges discussions with his new coat theorizes. For his jacket wants to be the only one in the world, and Georges the only one fit to wear it.

Bent on realizing this dream, to rid the world of all jackets but his, Georges dupes an affable bartender named Denise (Haenel) into joining his cause, under the auspices that it’s for a film he’s making. Denise, who has her own aspirations as an editor, is happy to get into cahoots with Georges, even if his only worldly possessions appear to be his venerated jacket, his tin lizzie, and an old digital video camera.

Surprisingly, when things take a nasty and blood-flecked corner, Denise is oddly even more compelled to their strange ill-starred destiny.

At a nimble and skilled 77 minute runtime Deerskin doesn’t waste a second. Consistently strange and delightfully droll, there’s something utterly admirable about Georges self-possession given his, let’s say anvil chorus. And Dujarin deserves plaudits for his self-effacing and gelastic performance. He’s something like a French Travis Bickle and Barton Fink with a stitch of Norman Bates and though his inevitable slide into the abyss is a pitiable one, it’s a knee-slapping one.

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. To miss it might be a fatal mistake.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.