The Vancouver International Film Festival
September 28 – October 8, 2023
Vancouver, British Columbia
By Tim Basaraba and Matt Ashworth
We’ve completed four days of films at the 2023 Vancouver International Film Festival. What have we learned so far?
Well, we’ve learned that grandma might be a beach ball. We’ve learned that getting hit by a train isn’t always that bad, that paying your employees on time is important and that chopping wood is harder than it looks. We’ve learned that there’s a refugee crisis in Poland, that North Macedonia is a country and that Greece likes to party. And we’ve learned that what’s said in the teacher’s lounge stays in the teachers lounge; that traveling through the desert on a three wheeler while pregnant is rough going; and that the devastation from Super Typhoon Haiyan still deeply affects Filipinos a decade after it hit.
Seagrass, the maiden film by Canadian auteur Meredith Hama-Brown, seamlessly weaves family drama with ethereal undertones. Evoking the finesse of Terrence Malick, its transitions spotlight the Pacific Northwest’s raw splendor. Remy Marthaller, as Emmy, captivates and anchors us in this poignant tale of grief and transformation. I’m excited to follow Hama-Brown’s future cinematic endeavors. – TB
Fallen Leaves, the newest offering from acclaimed Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, isn’t merely a Finnish echo of When Harry Met Sally. Instead, it carves out its own niche in romantic cinema when alcoholic manual laborer Holappa meets struggling supermarket clerk Ansa. Beyond its wry humor and moments of genuine hilarity lies a profound love story best savored in a theater brimming with fellow film fans. – TB
Australian director Kitty Green brings us The Royal Hotel, a tale of two young women in a secluded town starring Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick. Fans might know Garner from her role as Ruth Langmore on the Netflix Series Ozark or recognize Henwick as martial arts expert Colleen Wing in Marvel’s Iron Fist series, also on Netflix. But here, they switch it up: Garner plays a shy character, while Henwick is bold and rash. Add Hugo Weaving’s standout role as a down-on-his-luck bar owner, and you’ve got a powerful trio delivering top-notch performances. Get ready for some high anxiety if you attend the second showing at the Rio Theater at 5 p.m. on Thursday, October 5. – TB
Evil Does Not Exist is the latest from Ryusuke Hamaguchi, the director who brought us the thoughtful academy-award winner Drive My Car (2021). Read my full, spoiler-review here. Or, if you want to see it with your Optimum Immersion intact then wait to read the full review until after you catch the last VIFF2023 screening at 9:15 p.m. on Tuesday, October 3 the Park Theatre. – TB
Animal Is a musical that isn’t a musical. No complex Bob Fosse choreography, no Busby Berkeley overhead shots, just fluid, in-the moment handheld shots chronicling the chaos surrounding a troupe of “Animatuers” performing at a Greek tourist hotel. Not sure what “Animatuers” means? Find out when you catch the second screening at 6 p.m. on Friday, October 6 at the Van City Theater. – TB
The third film from Goran Stolevski is nothing like his previous two efforts (You Will Not Be Alone, Of An Age). Housekeeping for Beginners takes place in Northern Macedonia. If you’re not sure where Northern Macedonia is, don’t feel bad. I didn’t know either. Learning these things is one reason I love attending international film festivals. It turns out that North Macedonia is a landlocked country that borders Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania and Greece and that Housekeeping for Beginners is yet another excellent film from Stolevski, a story that truly embodies the idea of “modern family.” See this “must see cinema” in the heart of downtown Vancouver at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 4 at the Cineplex Odeon International. – TB
The Teacher’s Lounge creates mysterious tension around an ethical conundrum at a high school in Germany. Centered by an excellent performance from Leonie Benesch as an idealistic young teacher, this excellent film from director İlker Çatak recalls the meticulous examinations of human behavior we’ve come to expect from European contemporary Ruben Östlund (Triangle of Sadness, Force Majure.) VIFF-ers can check out the second screening at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 5 at Simon Fraser University. – MA
After watching Asog, two truths resonate strongly with me: First, even a decade on, the shadows of Super Typhoon Haiyan and the subsequent corporate exploitation continue to loom large over the Philippines. Second, the indomitable spirit of the survivors is nurtured by an intrinsic sense of community. On the cinematic front, my feelings are more ambivalent. “Asog” wavers in its identity. Director Sean Devlin’s choice to represent this real story with local residents playing themselves, punctuated by sporadic animated sequences, results in a film experience that oscillates between heartwarming and disorienting. This cinematic journey perhaps mirrors the tumultuous yet supportive life in the Philippines as residents rally together to safeguard and reconstruct their homes. – MA
Animalia provides a visually stunning look at the lives of the “haves” and “have nots” of Morocco. This unique road-trip story is told from the point of view of Itto, a woman late into a pregnancy played by Oumaima Barid in her first feature film. I highly recommend that you see it again October 7 at Cineplex Odeon International at 8:20 p.m. – TB