Candy (2006, Australia, Neil Armfield)
Lowlife drug addicts whose sordid and sadly downward-spiraling lives include prostitution and theft, this is not the description that rom-coms are made of. Indeed, I’d wager that any film told in three parts titled Heaven, Earth and Hell is not aiming to end well. And yet, Candy is not a complete immersion in misery. To borrow from Miracle Max, it’s only MOSTLY miserable. The rest of the time, it’s wallowing in self-pity.
I kid, because I care. Candy actually has a tender heart, and director Neil Armfield a gentle manner about his film. While a fellow traveler like Requiem for a Dream is a vicious kick in the cajones that dares you not to puke, Candy is more like a sharp shot to the solar plexus that challenges you to feel these people’s pain.
The film is not a sociology class; we see the poverty, and understand that it plays a role in their difficulties, but there’s no attempt to understand or explain this couple’s addiction within the film’s social context. Their miserable conditions are a result of their addiction, not a specific cause. Neither is the film a psychology lesson. There is little attempt to justify the addiction due to emotional deprivation or chemical imbalance. Rather than explaining the origins, or passing judgment upon its victims, the film focuses on the consequences of addiction. In this case, it is the near complete destruction of two lives, lives that appeared brimming with, if not promise, hope at the very least.
The film is held together by some interesting metaphorical imagery and two very strong lead performances. Both Heath Ledger and Alice Cornish are undeniably beautiful (they're perhaps even just a tad too hale and hearty, considering the misery that is their lives in this film) and otherwise convincing as the doomed lovers. I’ve never seen Ms. Cornish before, but as the titular character she’s certainly got screen presence to burn and the acting chops to back that up, while Ledger is particularly excellent as Dan, the failed poet and unfortunately much too successful heroine addict, buidling on his rep (realized most convincingly in Brokeback Mountain) as one of our best young talents.
It’s not a great film by any means, as it battles issues of tone and pacing, but it is memorable, and Armfield’s naturalistic approach contrasts starkly with Aronofsky’s more stylish interpretation of a similar tale. I have more to say about the film, but it will have to wait, time, tide and film festival screenings wait for no man.
Caution: We are entering FUBAR country here. Those who take themselves too seriously may be harmed in the viewing of this film.
Joyful and irreverent are two adjectives that pop out from the press material on the film, and for once the ad men aren’t just blowing smoke up the old wazoo. Air Guitar Nation is the sorta film that just begs a satirist’s cutting edge, but I am (mostly) quite thankful that director Lipsitz plays it straight here, allowing this motley crue of air guitar fanatics to prance their enthusiasm across the stage 60 seconds at a time, without caving into the temptation to mock or humiliate the participants.
And the temptation must have been strong, particularly when you have contest organizers and contestants alike avowing that (a) air guitar is the last pure art form because it cannot be commercialized, since the guitars are invisible (tell that to the guitarists, who are quickly packaged up and sold as commodities on b-rate talk shows like Jimmy Kimmel and Carson Daly) (b) to celebrate air guitar is the champion peace, because those holding an invisible guitar cannot be holding a real gun (tell that to the marines who listen to Death Metal while razing villages). Still, it’s hard not to dig the spirit of guys like Bjorn Turoque (Dan Crane) whose riff on Pope “to air is human, to air guitar, divine” pretty much serves as this film’s tagline. And while the jingoism of the project is annoying at times, as the film is only made becuase this is the first year that American’s have participated in the global contest, and the film is rather shamelessly manipulative about highlighting American participation at the expense of other, more interesting stories around it, but the overall sense of camaraderie overcoming competition, fraternity trumping rivalry, and graciousness in victory and defeat, makes the participants’ claims that there can be World Peace Through Air Guitar less ridiculous than one might otherwise have believed.
Short film: Danish Poet (2006, Canada, Torill Love)
Yet another delightful animation short out of Canada (we do seem to be good at this sorta thing, don’t we?) is a serio-comic (with emphasis much more on comic than serio-) study of the roles that fate and coincidence, chance and free will have on our very existence. A film set in Denmark and Norway, with funny (yet deadly) cows, hungry mail-eating goats and ingratiating boot-licking dogs, the whimsical tale is built around a series of “what if’s” that lead to a predictably yet simultaneously surprising happy ending. Narrated by the great Liv Ullman.
Acts of Imagination (2006, Canada, Carolyn Combs)
Ambitious but muddled attempt to explore the role that imagination and fantasy can play in an exile’s attempts to reconstruct a personal history that is satisfying enough to act as a foundation for a new life in a new world. Set in Vancouver B.C., the film focuses on a pair of damaged and impoverished Ukrainian immigrant siblings as they try to make a place for themselves in an alien setting. The brother (Yuroslaw) and sister (Katya) lost both of their parents to mobsters or government agents (is there a difference anymore?) in post-Iron Curtain Ukraine, and the pain appears to be more than Katya can bear. She is constantly slipping off into fantasies where she becomes her mother and converses with the man who appears to have organized her parent’s disappearance. Katya refers to herself as a mutant, and complains that “it wasn’t just Chernobyl, the poison was everywhere”
While Katya tries to sort out her past, brother Yuroslav is slowly plotting out his future. Losing his job, and in a burgeoning relationship with a single mother, Slavka indulges in alcoholic binges and vicious outbursts that threaten to derail his attempts to integrate (and disappear?) into this new world. With such a character-driven tale, casting is crucial, and with the unheralded Stephanie Hayes, the filmmakers strike pay dirt. Hayes is excellent, capturing Katya’s confusion and torment well. Billy Marchenski, on the other hand, is less convincing as the volatile Slavka, never really allowing us into his character, hiding instead behind a persistent sneering smile. And while writer Michael Springate’s script is certainly ambitious, it is also a little unfocused, particularly when it comes time to flesh out the role of supporting characters like Slavka’s girlfriend and Katya’s friendship with a middle aged Pakistani socialist; as a result, the attempts to parallel the subordinate and dominant plots never really pays off.
Short film Guide Dog (2006, USA, Bill Pympton)
Follow up to his Oscar-nominated film Guard Dog, Guide Dog follows the exploits of said canine as he (?) attempts to carve a career in the service of the visually challenged, with predictably tragic results. If you are a firm believer that no good deed goes unpunished, these six minutes of deliciously vicious fun are just what the doctor ordered.
Fido (2006, Canada, Andrew Currie).
Writer/director Andrew Currie is a Victoria native, so I have to imagine that this screening was of some personal interest (as he did the last time one of his films—he produced The Delicate Art of Parking, which appeared at the VIFVF in 2004--Currie addressed the audience before the film began and spoke of how excited he was to have the film showing here) and the crowd was certainly enthusiastic, laughing raucously at all the appropriate moments. However, I have to confess that I did not share the audience's pleasure in Fido, as this attempt at parodying the zombie genre via 50s pop culture never really finds its feet . It’s a shame, really, given the quality of people involved (a fine cast, headed by the great Dylan Baker, the reliable Henry Czerny, as well as the very funny Tim Blake Nelson and Billy Connelly, and the ever-lovely Carrie-Anne Moss) , as well as the level of overall competence in the design and creation of this Pleasantville-meets-Far From Heaven alt-universe.
While we seem to have moved backwards temporally, the film’s premise appears to pick up where the much funnier Shaun of the Dead left off. After some space dust turned the dead into zombies, and we entered a period of man vs. the undead conflict that came to be known as the Zombie Wars. Eventually, through scientific ingenuity we managed to harness the dead among us and make them our servants (slaves) and companions (pets). However, where Shaun used the genre to make some amusing observations about mock the zombie-like aspects of modern life in London, Fido seems content to spoof a world that never really existed, except in idyllic 50s tv shows and movies. Indeed, many of the funniest bits in the film, at least those that don’t involve Tim Blake Nelson admonishing his statuesque sex zombie Tammy “No teeth, Tammy” are the occasional references to the Lassie series, while attempts to make us see the film’s contemporary relevance don’t quite cut it. Is ZomCom supposed to remind us of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act? If so, what we have here is a failure to communicate that clearly to the audience. A wasted opportunity.