Monday, September 09, 2013

sep 26 - oct 11 | viff

One of the great pleasures of September - compensating in part for summer's end and the return to work - is the Vancouver International Film Festival. Combing through the titles, making lists, adjusting schedules. I'm always watching for possible Soul Food movies - films with a spiritual flavour. If they were plays, we might stage them at Pacific Theatre. That sort of thing. Here are a couple I (and friends) have spotted so far.

There Will Come a Day ("Un giorno devi andare" Italy/France, 2012, 110 min)
Sep 27 12:00 pm | Centre for Performing Arts
Oct 07 06:15 pm | Centre for Performing Arts

The Amazon is a major character in Giorgio Diritti’s heartfelt, piercingly beautiful There Will Come a Day, a superbly made and very affecting film about a young woman searching for herself while working as a missionary in Brazil. Her spiritual and physical journey leaves her—and the audience—profoundly changed.

 “Giorgio Diritti has no fear of the astounding image; the opening shot is of a night sky with a half-moon, against which is superimposed the sonogram of a fetus. The baby will not survive. A woman is heard crying. Augusta, a thoughtful, intense young woman [with a face worthy of Botticelli], is traveling by boat along the Amazon in Brazil, ministering to the “Indios” along with Sister Franca, an Italian nun of the old-line Catholic stamp. Why does Franca care, Augusta asks, whether or not the Indios perform the sacraments of the Church, when they don’t understand what they’re doing? It is a bond with God, Franca says; understanding is irrelevant. They are an odd couple, not destined to last. But what is, Augusta wonders. She has been abandoned by her husband because she cannot have children, and has left Italy for missionary work in search of answers… Diritti addresses a number of topical issues, including the rise of Third World evangelism, the displacement of poor Brazilians (in preparation for the World Cup and Olympics), the ecological disasters brewing in the Amazon and the widening disparity between rich and poor. Technical credits are first-rate, especially the work of d.p. Roberto Cimatti, who captures in his camera a suggestion of divinity.”—John Anderson, Variety

A Place in Heaven ("Makom be-Gan Eden" Israel, 2013, 117 min)
Sep 27 04:30 pm | Vancity Theatre
Oct 03 01:40 pm | International Village #10
Oct 06 06:45 pm | International Village #10

When a retired general lies on his deathbed, bitter and alone, his estranged son, an ultra-orthodox Jew, tries to save his soul from hell. This quasi-Biblical, epic drama spans the history of Israel through 40 years and three wars, yet, like director Yossi Madmony’s previous film Restoration, it is, at its heart, about father-son relationships.

The meaning of the title emerges as a tale within a tale that begins shortly after the founding of modern Israel. When a brave, much admired officer, dubbed Bambi (Alon Aboutboul), returns to base after a daring mission, the cook’s assistant, a young rabbi, tells him enviously that he has earned a place in heaven for endangering his life on behalf of his Jewish brethren. As a secular Zionist, Bambi scoffs at this notion and notes that he would gladly give up that place in exchange for his favorite spicy omelet. Since religious law permits the trade of such an abstract concept, the cook draws up a contract. Such impulsive behavior, typical of the arrogant, young Bambi, proves to have long-term consequences…

Like the flawed heroes of the Old Testament, Bambi registers as achingly human, no more so than in his relationship with son Nimrod, who rejects his expectations and turns to other father figures in order to forge a life of his own as a religious Jew. In the end, this probing fictional biography provides an intimate portrait of an obstinate man whose principles come before everything else. And just the right hint of Madmony’s characteristic mystical overtones adds to its allusive weight.


The Dostoevsky source for With You, Without You may signal Soul Food content: who knows.  The Priest's Children looks like a Soul Food long-shot, but hey....

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The Missing Picture

Other films have caught my eye, if not necessarily on the Soul Food portion of the menu. Last year some cinema pals and I watched Mark Cousins' 17-hour The Story Of Film: An Odyssey in a two-day marathon: this year we'll reconvene at his latest, A Story Of Children And Film, which surveys everything from The 400 Blows, Kes, ET and Fanny and Alexander to selections from Finland, Iran, Japan and elsewhere. The aesthetic strategy of The Missing Picture reminds me of Kamp, a memorable Holocaust theatre piece I saw in the PuSh Festival a couple years ago, and The Act Of Killing which screens at the VanCity prior to the film festival, on Sep 16, 18 and 19. Also at the fest, the deadpan quirk of Matterhorn appeals, as does Finding Vivian Maier, a portrait of the celebrated street photographer whose work was unknown in her lifetime. And Time Goes By Like A Roaring Lion clicks with certain of my own fascinations (should that be "chronophobia" or "chronophilia"?). 

Most Telling Blurb: "With its culture of intimidation, the playground has always resembled a prison yard." German film? Yup.

Friday, September 06, 2013

son of the return of soul food movies

Okay. A couple posts ago I mentioned The Movie Discovery Of The Summer.  But I didn't mention what that discovery might be.

Public libraries.

A year ago, after a long DVD drought coinciding with a protracted period of mourning for Videomatica, I started weekly visits to Black Dog and Limelight - the two surviving great Vancouver video stores - availing myself of their 2-for-one Tuesdays and five-for-$10 Wednesdays, revelling in the experience of standing among shelves of movies and chatting Whit Stillman with the guy behind the counter.  In January I stopped decided to move on from the memory of Videomatica's DVD-by-mail service, and signed up for - which has a lot of gaps, and about a zero percent chance of being sent anything within the first six months of its release, but still, if you dig deep enough and make a long enough ZipList.  And I started watching DVDs again.

But this summer I discovered the Vancouver Public Library.  You go to the website, you search for any given movie, 80 or 90% of the time they've got it - I'm not kidding, their collection is vast - you put a hold on it (free, for your first fifty holds, then 50 cents each after that - and they deliver it to your local branch and email you that it's arrived.  That simple.  Wow.  (Okay, same problem with new releases, but if you can't wait, there's always iTunes or Black Dog.) (I've also gotten a ton of movies from the Richmond library, but it's only fair to say that their selection is a lot more limited. Very interesting, but much, much smaller.) (And you should never put two bracketed sentences back to back.)

So. There. You want to watch movies again, and not just settle for what flows through the interweb conduit...  Get a library card.

Also a couple posts ago, I mentioned The Soul Food Good News of the Month.  Two Good Newses, actually.

The first comes up next week at Pacific Cinematheque - Krysztof Kieslowski's Three Colours trilogy, Blue, White and Red.

Sep 9 - 6:30 Blue | 8:30 White
Sep 11 - 6:30 White | 8:30 Red
Sep 12 - 6:30 Red | 8:25 Blue

Equally highly regarded as high water marks in spiritual cinema as Kieslowski's  Decalogue project (ten 1-hour films, each dealing - however obliquely - with one of the Ten Commandments), these three films are far more visually appealing, replacing the aptly dour look of the Eastern European TV project with a richer, more vivid cinematography.  (The trilogy was shot, and set, in France). The opportunity to see these on a big screen is particularly appealing. And like Eric Rohmer or Woody Allen, the director has a fascination with beautiful women, and these three films centre around Juliette Binoche, Julie Delpy and Irene Jacob. So there's that.

Like The Decalogue (or Dekalog, if you aspire to the highest echelons of cinephilia), these three films have placed in all five iterations of the Arts & Faith 100.

The second Soul Food Good News of the Month item, advertised on the back of the Cinematheque schedule for Sep/Oct, comes along September 22, when the three great Rossellini Soul Food films finally become available.  It's always been nearly impossible to see any of the great Italian auteur's collaborations with Ingrid Bergman - Stromboli, Europe '51, Journey To Italy - films which are also among the film maker's most explicitly Christian. Not only have they been unavailable except on bootleg DVDs (hard to get, low quality), but they have rarely been screened even at cinematheques and art houses.

I've only seen portions of the three films, in the Martin Scorsese documentary My Voyage To Italy.  I couldn't make it to Ontario Cinematheque in 2006 when they screened there as part of a complete retrospective of Rossellini's work, and though I saw the MOMA exhibit of Rossellini-Bergman posters and documents (including the letter of introduction she wrote him, asking to be in one of his films, and his reply), my New York visit wasn't timed right to catch any of the screenings.  I even requested a screening of at least these three films at our local Cinematheque, but was told that they were unavailable to be programmed.

So this is a bit of a Big Deal.  Rossellini's spiritual themes come through in some of the short segments of Paisan, and in the landmark neo-realist picture Rome, Open City (both available in the Criterion boxed set of the War Trilogy) and certainly in the eccentric-but-wonderful The Flowers Of St Francis (also titled Francesco, giullare di Dio - Francis, God's Juggler), but are apparently most evident in the three Bergman films.

I can't wait.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

the return of soul food movies

I've always loved film. For about a decade - let's say 1997 to 2007 - it was my Big Non-Theatre Obsession. (I cycle through those.  Six months to three to ten years each on, say, The Beatles, baseball, hard-boiled detectives, the life of Christ, the history of jazz, New York city, etc, etc.)  For that stretch - a particularly fertile one for movies in general, and for spiritually-themed movies in particular - I worked away on a book, and a blog, called Soul Food Movies.  Made thousands of posts to the Arts & Faith conversation board.  Saw everything that came out that was good, or had some sort of spiritual angle. And wrote about them.

Then I had to set the book aside - at that point it was PT or the book, and I know the difference between a marriage and a fling.  And around the same time, a certain cultural moment passed.  The internet - which had super-charged the whole cultural conversation about the movies - started to kill the print media, and career film critics fell like Aussie soldiers at Gallipoli. Around the same time, TV series started to be the big rental item at video stores, and people started watching thirteen or fifty hours of Seinfeld re-runs rather than a couple dozen real movies.  (I will restrain myself from making gratuitous comments about the Anti-Christ.)  And then the internet got the whole streaming and down-loading thing figured out, and between illegal tormenting and legal netflicking and iTuning, the video stores died, and the cinemas finished dying, and...  And now it's now.

The other day I had a chat with a friend who'd been a movie nut last time I saw him.  I didn't even ask him what movies he'd seen lately: I asked him if he was still watching movies.  And the answer was, pretty well, no.  So we chatted about cultural forces, and the death of Roger Ebert, and Hollywood economic forces, and the stuff I already mentioned in that last paragraph, and...  That was that.

But afterward I thought about this summer's discovery that's got me mainlining DVDs again. And about the fact that there are still films worth seeing in the theatres - I saw several this summer that I really liked. And that even Netflix has the occasional film that people ought to know about.

And then at the coffee shop I picked up the latest copy of the Cinematheque schedule. And realized there's still Soul Food Movie news that's fit to print.  Most definitely.

So neither the cinema, nor God at the cinema, nor either on one's home video screen, are in fact dead. Movies, and movies dealing with matters of faith, may not be at the centre of the cultural conversation the way they were maybe a decade ago.  But hey, I'm used to that - I work in live theatre, after all.  Who needs to be at the centre of the party?  I'm quite content to chat off in a corner, thank you very much. That's where the best conversations happen, anyhow.

There won't be any full-fledged revival of the Soul Food Movies project.  But from time to time...