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Nurse Bob's film reviews

PICKS AND PANS FROM THE VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019




Scarborough
(UK): Barnaby Southcombe’s adaptation of Fiona Evans’ stage play opens in a grand old seaside hotel where two separate May-December affairs are taking place under the sardonic eye of the desk clerk. But there are serious problems which go beyond the mere age difference for the two older partners—one male, one female—are high school teachers and their teenaged lovers also happen to be their students. A prickly situation to be sure but one in which Southcombe refuses to cast the first stone, showing us instead how a precarious balance of power can shift over the course of a single weekend fuelled by fear, half-truths, and childish fantasy. True to its theatrical roots the film starts out with a fluid symmetry as both couples read from the exact same script, but it’s when the stories begin to diverge that Southcombe forces his audience to think (and then think again) about what we’re witnessing for he not only pulls the rug out from under us but kicks us down the hotel stairs for good measure. A masterful film which takes a familiar theme and then veers into a wholly unexpected direction.

Escher: Journey Into Infinity
(Netherlands): Famous for his iconic wood prints, Dutchman M.C. Escher always considered himself a mathematician rather than an artist. Certainly his fantastical pieces depicting houses that could only exist in multiple dimensions and overlapping animals that seem to recede towards an endless horizon display something of the mathematical precision he was so fond of. But Robin Lutz’s engaging documentary goes beyond the optical illusions presented by Escher to concentrate on the man himself as well as his obsession with illustrating the higher order he sensed in the world around him. With his works enjoying a renaissance of sorts (they were once the psychedelic poster children of the 60s drug counterculture—an intellectual theft he abhorred) Lutz’s authoritarian opus—scripted from Escher’s own diaries and letters—is a must-see for anyone interested in the subject.

Every Day a Good Day (Japan): Clumsy and awkward, highschool student Noriko finds her centre by studying the highly disciplined Japanese Tea ceremony at the hands of an aging sensei. Over the next twenty-four years her growing mastery of the skill will have an unexpected influence on her life. Tying the ritualized intricacies of a tea ceremony with the vagaries of existence may prove difficult for Western audiences, but director Tatsushi Ohmori’s quintessentially Japanese film demands both patience and a willingness to simply enjoy the scenery whether it be an old woman’s garden marking the passing of the seasons, a delicate glazed bowl, or the sound of Autumn rain on bamboo shingles. Could have been edited by a few minutes and a wholly predictable tragedy arrives like a bullet train, but if you’re looking for a few moments of Zen cinema then take a deep breath and repeat the film’s mantra…

Stuffed
(USA): Aside from a morbid curiousity, I’ve never given much thought to taxidermy let alone taken the time to consider it as an art form. Erin Derham’s decidedly niche documentary certainly casts the practice in a different light with a group of eccentric taxidermists from around the world waxing philosophical on everything from the nature of death to the death of nature as they skin and mount carcasses—some animals posed as if they were caught in flight, others becoming part of exhibits which go beyond the pale. There’s no mistaking the exuberance of Derham’s oddball subjects, and the artistic and educational merits of their creations are self-evident, but besides satisfying my aforementioned curiousity there really wasn’t much else to engaged me.

Castle of Dreams (Iran): After the death of his ex-wife, truculent Jalal is forced to reunite with the two children he hasn’t seen in three years—taciturn Ali and innocent chatterbox Sara (Niousha Alipour giving this year’s standout child performance). But what starts out as an uncomfortable road movie turns into something much heavier as Ali witnesses first hand the lies adults tell others, as well as themselves, in order to make life bearable. Why is dad’s female “business partner” so angry with him? Why do his brothers-in-law want to hurt him? And what really happened during mom’s last few days? Big questions for such a small child, and ones which director Reza Mirkarimi answers using cinematic strokes as heartbreaking as they are beautiful.

No. 7 Cherry Lane (Hong Kong): Unfolding like a series of passionate memories, Yonfan’s animated evocation of a semi-mythical Hong Kong is pure visual poetry in the same vein as Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love. Set during 1967’s political unrest it focuses on the love triangle which slowly develops when university student Ziming is hired by widowed Mrs. Yu to tutor her daughter in English. As mother and daughter vie for the handsome young man’s attention—joined by the fading opera diva upstairs—their heated affections are reflected in the rapidly changing world around them: the local theatre marquee advertises The Graduate, police and protesters clash in the street, and Hong Kong’s once ubiquitous red cottonwood trees fill the air with romantic fluff (much like Yonfan’s corny script). There is no mistaking the film's visual artistry, and those psychosexual impulses—represented by several very Freudian cats—are well played, but without a compelling story the images simply flash by like so many pleasant water colours accompanied by a grab bag of musical styles. Sensuous, painterly, and steeped in kitschy eroticism. And way….way…too long.