The following reviews of festival films are by Rick Groen, Liam Lacey, Marsha Lederman, Fiona Morrow, James Adams and Guy Dixon. Films are rated out of four stars.
Rosie Dransfeld (Canada)
"My wife is not happy about the business I'm in," confides David Woolfson early in Broke. Woolfson is a pawnbroker in Edmonton's inner city. His wife, he says, frets that he is making money from the poor. And he is. Not just the poor, but the alcoholic, the mentally ill, the homeless: a collection of the down-and-out who come in at all hours attempting to hock everything from power tools to stolen library books. Woolfson himself is the kind of character a documentary filmmaker dreams of: funny, smart, unapologetically hard-nosed. And there is great potential in his relationship with Chris, a first-nations abuse survivor who shows up daily to help out (but whom Woolfson doesn't pay). Unfortunately, the film does not develop these characters or their relationships satisfactorily. Still the ending is poignant and Broke. offers a window into a grimy world most viewers will be lucky enough to never experience first-hand. M.L.
Pacific Cinémathèque: Today, 1:30 p.m.
Cooking with Stella
Dilip Mehta (India/Canada)
You could call this a contemporary, globalized version of Upstairs, Downstairs crossed with The Sting. Don McKellar and Lisa Ray play husband and wife newly arrived at the Canadian high commission in Delhi. She's a diplomat (gorgeous), he's a chef (handsome, gullible) as well as Mr. Mom to their baby girl (adorable). The superb Seema Biswas is the resourceful, religious Stella who not only runs the household but instructs McKellar in the finer points of Indian cuisine. The direction by Dilip Mehta (brother of Deepa - they share writing credits here) in this his feature-film debut, is at once relaxed and purposeful and never less than assured. J.A.
Ridge: Today, 7 p.m.; Granville 7: Oct. 12, 11:40 a.m.
The Damned United
Tom Hooper (Britain)
To some, a film about the rise of British football manager Brian Clough and his troubled days at Leeds United in 1974 might seem as arcane as championship darts. To others, namely those who spend Saturdays watching Premier League matches, it must sound like pure heaven. In fact, the film is aimed at both and everyone in between. Clough's story is about pure ambition, sport is only its raison d'être. Actor Michael Sheen ( Frost/Nixon, Tony Blair in The Queen) carries the film with bracing bravado, as the hot-shot manager rises through the ranks to eventually manage former arch-rival Leeds. Like the novel by David Peace which dramatized Clough's Leeds days, absolute accuracy isn't the point, and Clough's rare moments of uncertainty and alienation can be a tad heavy-handed. Then again, this is human drama in bunker-like changing rooms and soggy pitches, where viewpoints are as subtle as a knee-crushing tackle. G.D.
Granville 7: Today, 10:45 a.m.; Oct. 13, 9:30 p.m.
Jacque Audiard (France)
This first-rate prison drama follows the criminal career of a young Arab inmate in a French jail. Echoing The Godfather, it's a tale of a man who goes from humiliation to twisted triumph in a prison world where normal co-operative social values are turned upside down. Nineteen-year-old Malik el Djebena (Tahar Rahim) enters jail on a six-year stretch and immediately finds himself forced to kill a fellow Arab by the reigning Corsican crime boss. Soon, Malik becomes the despised servant of the Corsicans, learning their operations from the inside, while forging ties with the Muslim hoods who make up the other major prison group. Stretched over years, the film is sometimes bewildering in outlining the complex alliances and rivalries between the gangs and their bosses, but Audiard's sensationally directed set pieces and the quietly compelling performance by Rahim hold interest throughout. L.L.
Granville 7: Today, 6:45 p.m.; Oct. 11, 12:45 p.m.
Brett Ingram (USA)
It's rare that one walks out of a movie theatre truly astonished by what one's just seen. Prepare to be astonished. Rocaterrania takes the viewer into the world of Renaldo Kuhler - an eccentric museum illustrator, at first glance. Slowly, slowly, director Brett Ingram reveals the dense fantasy world that Kuhler has been creating since he was a boy, initially to help him deal with his loneliness and his mother issues. Rocaterrania, a product of Kuhler's imagination, is a tiny country that lies along the St. Lawrence River between Canada and the U.S., populated primarily with Eastern Europeans. Kuhler's breathtaking drawings, coupled with the intricate details of Rocaterrania's history - from wars to political scandals to a thriving film industry - are remarkable. But it would be a mistake to think this documentary works solely because of its fascinating subject. Ingram skillfully pulls back the covers on Rocaterrania, making a film - and a man - you will never forget. M.L.
Granville 7: Today; Oct. 12, 12 p.m.
Bluebeard Catherine Breillat (France)
The celebrated French director of Romance and Fat Girl takes on the 17th-century fairy tale of the eponymous castle-dwelling ogre who marries incessantly, his wives always vanishing within the year. Enter two impoverished sisters cast out of convent school, the youngest, Marie-Catherine (Lola Créton), agreeing to marry Blackbeard (Dominique Thomas) on the understanding the union will not be consummated until she is of age, naively blind to his more deviant appetites. If seduction and temptation propel Charles Perrault's original text, the same sexual tension pulses here. Breillat even cranks it up a notch with a parallel tale set in the 1950s. Framed with a painterly eye, the images are an atmospheric delight - realism never dares intrude. And Breillat's subversive fingerprints are everywhere, from her thrillingly willful and defiant heroine, to the final breathtaking twist. F.M.
Granville 7: Oct. 11, 9:15 p.m.
I Killed My Mother
(J'ai tué ma mère)
Xavier Dolan (Canada)
A precocious 20-year old tripling as writer, director and star, Dolan earned critical plaudits for his film at Cannes this spring, and it's easy to see why. Set in today's Quebec, this is essentially a love/hate story between a divorced mother and her gay son. Mainly hate at the outset, as the twosome suit up for their daily shouting matches - one a high-school kid suffering from an acute case of teenage angst, the other a suburban philistine hardened to her offspring's tirades. Riveting at first, their fights threaten to dwindle into tedium, but Dolan rescues us in the third act when, without once stooping to sentimentality, he taps into the bedrock of affection beneath the volcanic anger, a love much harder to express but no less deeply felt. The result is a film rather like its young protagonist - erratic yet sensitive. R.G.
Granville 7: Oct. 11, 6:45 p.m.; Oct. 15, 1 p.m.Report Typo/Error