Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic
With SIFF 2007 just starting in earnest today I have already seen twelve films. I have covered several film festivals before this one and I have to say that this is the longest festival on earth. It will run for 25 days (May 24-June 17) and that doesn’t count the press screenings which began nearly three weeks ago. Not that I’m complaining you see, because I’m sure that I’ll break the record I spoke about last week (38 films at the Toronto fest) and while the locals knock back lattes between films I’m fine with a protein bar or two. However, I really need to pace myself because as one of the festivals reps said to a member of the press, “This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
The deal is that whenever I get some time to hit the computer I will recap what I’ve seen as those films premiere at the festival. Six films that I’ve caught will play this weekend at the fest (May 25-28) and I’m happy to say that most have been solid efforts…most.
The Singer dir. Xavier Giannoli (France)
Gerard Depardieu is back and he SINGS! Hey, he’s a lot better than you think in this small gem about an aging lounge singer whose lonely lifestyle intersects with an even lonelier single mom and real estate agent (Cecile de France). You see Gerard may have once made women swoon but now all he’s left with are housewives who want a picture or an autograph to remember him by. Gerard may have had a real shot at de France if it were twenty years ago but can he have her now? Melancholy is the word that comes to mind while watching this one but the two main actors make it all work and Gerard really can sing. I was humming his tunes all the way home… but that’s just me.
This is England dir. Shane Meadows (United Kingdom)
It’s 1983 in a small, blue collar town in Britain and the Falkland Islands War is in full swing. Skinheads (both of the good and bad variety) run wild and for a young boy that lost his father in the war it’s time to make either the right or wrong decision on who to hang with. This is one of those films that can have you laughing at one moment while throwing a wicked punch to the gut in the next. The performances are so vivid, so real and so powerful that we forget that we are watching actors. Director Meadows puts us right there and the parallels to the current Iraq war are inevitable.
Aachi & Ssipak dir. Joe Bum-jin (South Korea)
Ok, so this will probably be the only animated film I see at the festival and I think I picked the wrong one. The plot seemed bizarre and indeed it is as it centers around a future society where human defecation is a valuable commodity and those who defecate are rewarded with addictive juicy pops. Bizarre enough? It gets worse. There are also mutant blue babies that wear diapers, (hence the name “The diaper gang”) as well as a character that looks a lot like the artist “Prince.” Anyway mayhem ensues as there are various chase scenes and shootouts involving the diaper gang, the Prince dude and the two title characters all in the name of defecation and juicy pops. I left with a headache but I may have enjoyed the film more had it been developed as a short subject rather than a 90 minute feature.
Severance dir. Christopher Smith (Germany/United Kingdom)
A unique spin on the slasher genre as a group of workers from a defense company head into the Hungarian woods for a “training” weekend. Soon enough people are having their limbs severed by…. well I won’t give it away but Director Smith knows we’ve seen so many slasher films that he enjoys toying with its clichés while inventing his own. This kind of stuff is ultimately tiresome because we have indeed seen much of it before but the film is just inventive enough to hold our attention and certainly more entertaining than it needed to be.
King of Kong dir. Seth Gordon (United States)
This documentary about the dudes who are competing for the title of “Donkey Kong” champion is very telling about not only the human spirit but also our endless need to compete and to win at all costs. Steve Wiebe (from Redmond, Washington) is just a normal guy with a wife and kids who just knew in his heart that he could beat the world Donkey Kong record held by a smarmy nutcase from Florida so he bought a used Donkey Kong machine and figured it out. The controversy is that he videotaped his record and the dudes in Florida who decide what records are official threw it out for reasons I won’t divulge which means that Steve has to travel across the country to set the record again, this time in person. Will he succeed? Will the smarmy Floridian even show up to defend his record? What starts out as a dorks fantasy becomes an immensely involving film as we root for Steve to kick the other dudes ass. I guess we’re all dorks at heart.
The Life and Times of Yva Las Vegass dir. Wiley Underdown (United States)
Seattle performance artist Yva Las Vegass has had what one might call an up and down career, going from the lead singer in a band called “Sweet 75” to performing on the streets of Seattle. Why has it been so difficult for her to maintain success? Director Underdown interviews her friends to try and figure it all out. The answer seems to be fairly simple in that she has no people skills. Most of the talking heads describe her as sweet one minute and crazy the next and we see a little of both as we watch her perform, argue, scream, and perform some more. Does she have a unique voice? Absolutely. Is she also a crazy bitch? Absolutely. I enjoyed her music and was annoyed with her behavior which is why she’s the subject of this fairly decent documentary instead of making her own art around the world.
So, there you have some of the highlights of the first weekend of the festival. I’m heading out for more so stay tuned because the next gem just might be around the corner… or down the block so to speak.