Thursday, September 19, 2019

a feast of soul food movies at VIFF

I don't think I've ever seen such a line-up of Soul Food Movies at the Vancouver International Film Festival! Terrence Malick can be extraordinary or extraordinarily bad, but his new film looks to me like it might well land solidly in the first of those two categories - which can even mean "masterpiece."  There's a Joan of Arc film, an exciting companion piece to Mother of the Maid onstage now at Pacific Theatre; a non-doc about one of my living Christian heroes, Bryan Stevenson, and another about his spiritual ancestor, Harriet Tubman; and a fictionalized portrait of Pope Benedict and almost-Pope Francis, played by Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, directed by Fernando Meirelles, whose City of God I consider the first truly great film of the 21st century.  A true cinematic feast for the soul!

sun sep 29 @ 8:45 | the centre

"Described by critics as a return to the narratively driven style of cinematic milestones like The Thin Red Line and Days of Heaven, the new masterpiece by visionary filmmaker Terrence Malick tells the powerful and transcendent true story of Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), an Austrian farmer, devout Catholic, and conscripted soldier who, famously, refused to fight for the Nazis during WWII and bore the terrifying consequences of this moral fortitude. It is his unwavering faith and his love for his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner) and children that keep his spiritual beliefs intact.

"In the remote village of Radegund, Franz leads an Edenic existence with Fani and their three children, seemingly unaware of the fact that the Nazis are on the rise. When Franz refuses to fight for the Third Reich, his tight-knit community turns against him and his family. But he remains resolute in his convictions: he will not fight, and will certainly not pledge allegiance to Hitler. Hailed as Malick’s best film since 2011’s The Tree of Life, this will not only rank among the director’s most poetic works but also, perhaps unsurprisingly, be considered one of his most politically prescient as well.

"The Tree of Life spanned eons to capture the entirety of existence, and while the filmmaker works on a tighter four-year canvas this time around, the feeling that the stakes are nothing less than the soul of all humanity has persisted. This is art of salvation." - Charles Bramesco, The Playlist

Ecumenical Jury Prize, Cannes 19

sat sep 28 @ 9pm | cinematheque
wed oct 2 @ 1pm | vancity

"How, in the early 1400s, did a teenage peasant girl amaze, frighten, and galvanize the Christian world? This is the central mystery of Bruno Dumont’s depiction of the titular saint, stridently un-Hollywood-ized – different from any other depiction of Joan of Arc, in fact – but very sharply and purposefully focused. What does he focus on? Northern France’s windswept coastal landscapes. Towering Christian cathedrals (here Amiens, immense and luminous). The faces, odd mannerisms, and period logic of the villagers, soldiers, and religious patriarchy. The indelible, shining performance of Lise Leplat Prudhomme as a girl who had a vision.

"Just as Joan of Arc claimed to be guided by divine voices… Dumont has always followed promptings entirely alien to the usual logic of European art cinema… Dumont evokes the war sparely with an extraordinary equestrian ballet, as the French cavalry go through their pre-battle paces - sometimes shot directly from above as the horses form elaborate patterns, it’s a mesmerising sequence, giving the film a flavour that’s equal parts Brecht, Bresson and Busby Berkeley… The cathedral scenes also feature a genuine coup de cinéma in the form of a featured appearance by Christophe, the revered, weird, veteran of French chanson, who at 73, combines the voice of a choirboy with the weathered face of an ancient druid. He also provides the film’s lushly heroic score… Dumont’s boldest move, and the one that provides the film’s emotive drive, is the casting of 10-year-old Lise Leplat Prudhomme as Joan… It’s her presence as an embodiment of innocent, unbending will that gives the film its most persuasive meaning." - Jonathan Romney, Screen

Jury’s Special Mention, Un Certain Regard, Cannes 19

sun sep 28 @ 9pm

"A powerful and thought-provoking true story, Just Mercy follows young lawyer Bryan Stevenson  and his history-making battle for justice. After graduating from Harvard, Bryan had his pick of lucrative jobs. Instead, he headed to Alabama to defend those either wrongly condemned or too poor to afford proper representation, with the support of local advocate Eva Ansley. One of his first, and most incendiary, cases is that of Walter McMillian, who, in 1987, was sentenced to die for the notorious murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite a preponderance of evidence proving his innocence and the fact that the only testimony against him came from a criminal with a motive to lie. In the years that follow, Bryan becomes embroiled in a labyrinth of legal and political maneuverings and overt and unabashed racism as he fights for Walter, and others like him, with the odds - and the system - stacked against them."

sat oct 5 @ 3:00 | the centre

"I have heard their groans and sighs, and seen their tears, and I would give every drop of blood in my veins to free them." - Harriet Tubman

In the first major motion picture about one of the greatest American heroes, director Kasi Lemmons  and co-writer Gregory Allen Howard  present Tubman’s larger-than-life story as a triumphant, stirring ode to the abolitionist icon. Surviving under slavery in 1840s Maryland, Minty Ross escapes and finds her way across 100 miles to freedom in Philadelphia, and takes up her free name: Harriet Tubman.

Not content to enjoy her own newfound freedom, Harriet confronts the horrors of slavery with a relentless determination, and, armed with visions from God, returns time and time again to her enslaved brothers and sisters, freeing more than 70 people through the Underground Railroad. Operating under the moniker "Moses," she leads an exodus that does not go unnoticed by the slaveowners, who are hellbent on stopping her at any cost. Ultimately, this is a powerful film built upon Harriet’s courage, ingenuity, and tenacity, which led to freedom for hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history.

"[Harriet] leans into the excitement of Tubman’s mission so energetically it almost morphs into a heist picture, dredging up odd romantic and religious energies along the way." - K. Austin Collins, Vanity Fair

sun oct 6 @ 2:30 | vancouver playhouse
mon oct 7 @ 6:00 | the centre

It’s 2013 and the winds of change are blowing through the Vatican. Having lived his life to the letter of the gospel, conservative Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) prepares to cede the papacy to Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), who aims to take a more progressive approach in leading the Catholic Church and its flock of over a billion faithful. These two men of the cloth are, well, hardly cut from the same cloth, ensuring that this transfer of power will be a bumpy ride as they weigh in on - and butt heads about - their respective stands on what their fellowship requires in an era of epochal change.

Demonstrating both a keen understanding of, and deep respect for, the responsibilities that accompany such a hallowed station, director Fernando Meirelles (City of God) and screenwriter Anthony McCarten (Darkest Hour) succeed in humanizing the film’s central figures, reminding us at every turn that these are fallible men trying to balance doctrine with their own world views. Unsurprisingly, much of the credit for the film’s success rests with the titanic talents occupying the headlining roles. As Hopkins and Pryce spar over the respective merits of integrity and adaptability, divinely comic sparks fly, lending the film’s insights an incandescent glow.

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