Victoria International Film Festival
Days One through Three
Friday, Jan. 30
Inside Hana's Suitcase (Canada, 2008, Larry Weinstein)
This entrant in the Holocaust documentary comes at the subject matter from a distinctive perspective, as this study of the experiences of a pair of young Czechoslovakian children in WWII Nazi death camps is driven by the Japanese director of the Tokyo Holocaust Museum, Fumiko Ishioka. As she investigates the origin of the suitcase of the film’s title, Fumiko discovers that the young woman’s brother is still alive and residing in Canada. When she invites him to speak with students in her classroom, the film begins its exploration of the emotional devastation of genocide from an intensely personal perspective.
This tale of Aushwitz-bound siblings is in deft hands (Weinstein is an accomplished Academy Award-nominated documentarian) and is elevated by the touching presence of the surviving sibling, the unlikely monickered George Brady, who infuses every frame of his appearance with tangible pathos. While the scenes staged (re-staged?) in the Japanese classrooms seem a little stilted and unconvincing, the re-enactments of the Auschwitz-bound Brady children are unfailingly poignant. Weinstein displays considerable flair, both with image and sound, producing a document to the Brady family that has true universality.
Saturday Jan. 31
Tuya’s Marriage (China, 2007, Quanan Wang)
Tuya, toiling away as a lonely shepherd with a 300 head flock in the daunting Mongolian desert, must make a difficult decision. Injuries leave her in danger of permanent disability, yet she has a crippled husband and two small children to tend to. In order to support her family, she decides that she must divorce her husband so she can marry a wealthy benefactor who can take care of them all. And yet, she is drawn to a neighbour of poor means and dubious qualities. How Tuya will struggle to reconcile these conflicting desires is this film’s central concern.
As veteran of very few Mongolian films, Tuya’s Marriage comes as something of a revelation, both culturally and cinematically. Director Wang’s matter-of-fact presentation of the dire life of the protagonist—as the only able bodied worker (her husband has been crippled, and her children too small to be much help), Tuya is essentially trapped in a tedious shephard’s life in the inhospitable Mongolian landscape—displays surprising audio-visual flair. Nan Yu’s work as the titular character and Sen’ge’s performance as her nemesis/partner carry the film through some of the narrative rough patches (though only 86m long, the slack stretches make it feel significantly longer) and draw the audience into a story that has few surprises, but remains captivating throughout.
50 Dead Men Walking (UK/Canada, 2008, Kari Skogland)
Familiar in both content and style, this study of a snitch in the midst of the worst violence in Northern Ireland in the 80s and 90s is nonetheless increasingly compelling viewing. While it never quite deals with the issues it raises w/r/t the moral ambiguity of Martin’s position (sure, he saves a lot of lives, but they are the lives of the oppressors), at least Skogland’s film asks the pertinent questions. Kingsley is predictably solid as Martin’s handler, and Sturges gives a capable performance as the alternatively cocky and tortured snitch, but one cannot help but feel a little under- whelmed, however, as we are asked to identify with Martin’s dilemma, but he is never really forced to confront the consequences of his choices (how many of his mates lost their lives because of those lives he saved, for example?)
Sunday, Feb. 1
Fire Under the Snow (Japan, 2008, Sato)
A surprisingly pedestrian effort. Perhaps the film’s inability to engage is representative of the overall Buddhist desire to transcend earthly desires, but the result at a purely human level is the sort of disengagement that is lethal for this reviewer.
Maybe the fact that the filmmaker is Japanese has something to do with the emotional reserve, and maybe the point of the film is not to tap into such things, but rather to provoke thought and discussion about the plight of the Tibetan’s, but it is pretty damned important to engage your viewers at both the emotional and intellectual, the sensual and theoretical level if you want to leave a lasting impact on your audience, and Fire Under the Snow fails on at least half of that quest.