The following short reviews of films screening at the 2010 Vancouver International Film Festival are by Marsha Lederman, Fiona Morrow, James Adams, James Bradshaw, Guy Dixon, Rick Groen, Liam Lacey, Gayle MacDonald, J. Kelly Nestruck, Johanna Schneller. The star ratings are on a scale of four.
Screening Wednesday October 13
When the Devil Knocks
Helen Slinger (Canada)
If Sybil was Hollywood's terrifying glimpse into Multiple Personality Disorder, When the Devil Knocks is its Canadian counterpoint: an intimate, unblinking examination of one woman's experience with what is now called Dissociative Identity Disorder. Hilary Stanton's alternate personalities, or "alters," developed during a childhood wracked by a neighbour's sexual abuse. The alters took over in times of crisis, essentially protecting young Hilary, but leaving large gaps of memory in her life. She grew up, married, had children, but the alters remained. In middle age, Stanton began seeing a psychologist, who videotaped sessions where the alters emerged. These remarkable tapes, along with interviews and dramatizations of Stanton's alters, make for a fascinating account - without the Hollywood sensation. This understated documentary, clearly bound for television, offers two heroes worthy of the big screen: Stanton - with her calm courage - and Cheryl Malmo, the therapist who guides Stanton back to a manageable, rewarding life.
Oct. 13 6:00 p.m., Granville 5
Oct. 14 1:00 a.m. Vancity
Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux)
Xavier Beauvois (France)
This moving, elegantly made spiritual docudrama, which won the runner-up Grand Prize at Cannes, follows the last weeks in the lives of a handful of Trappist monks living in a remote Algerian mountain community in 1996. Facing increasing threats from armed Islamic militants, the monks defy orders to return home, as they maintain their daily routine: eating, singing, praying and providing medical aid and educational help to the local Muslim villagers. The source of their spiritual strength and eventual demise is the belief of abbot Christian de Chergé (The Matrix's Lambert Wilson). Though dismissed by some critics as hagiography, this timely film does not settle for easy answers about the limits of empathy and the clash of faiths. L.L.
Oct. 13 3:30 p.m., Granville 6
Mike Leigh (U.K.)
As the seasons spin through another British year, a married couple (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) are an island of mature wisdom in a sea of emotional shipwrecks. Around them, as friends and relatives plunge ever more deeply into the slough of despond, they do what good people can and wise people must - that is, help as much as possible without dragging themselves down into the same mire. From a superb cast, there's much talk here but, typically of a Mike Leigh film, the wordiness always feels cinematic. Better still, as in Happy-Go-Lucky, Leigh achieves something remarkable: Without once stooping to sentimentality, he manages to make goodness both ethically convincing and dramatically compelling. Even Milton couldn't pull that off. R.G.
Oct. 13 3:45 Vancity
Heartbeats (Les amours imaginaires)
Xavier Dolan (Canada)
Xavier Dolan's follow-up to his precocious Cannes sensation, I Killed My Mother, is a stylish tale of unrequited romance and beautiful cheekbones. Dolan plays the role of Francis, a sweet young gay man whose best friend is the bookish, acerbic Marie (Monia Chokri), who devotes herself to dressing like Audrey Hepburn. They both meet the Adonis-like Nicholas (Niels Schneider) at a party and share a crush on the young man. Nicholas, charismatic and gracious, keeps them both in a tizzy, though his own motivations remain obscure. Faux-documentary interviews with various young folk reveal other romantic miscues. Filled with slo-mo, fantasy scenes and lushly saturated images reminiscent of Pedro Almodovar and Wong Kar-wai, Heartbeats is a prettily wrapped if modest cadeau from a 22-year-old writer-director who continues to expand his palette as a filmmaker. L.L.
Oct.13 1:15 p.m., Visa Screening Room
R U There
Director: David Verbeek (Netherlands)
A track suit-wearing competitive video gamer gets shocked out of the self-indulgent pointlessness of his life when he witnesses a terrible accident on the streets of Taipei, where he has travelled for a tournament. A coincidental (or is it?) shoulder injury conspires to keep him out of play, and gives him the opportunity to explore his surroundings - and himself. But when he meets a local woman who intrigues him, he finds once again that the virtual world may be more satisfying than the real world. This time, though, it's her choice, not his. She's happy to connect with him in Second Life, but not in real life. The slow, plodding pace of the film is the antithesis of the action-packed on-screen gaming world. Surely this is deliberate, but it's a juxtaposition that might not work for some audience members who have grown accustomed to the virtues of the fast-paced online world. M.L.Report Typo/Error