The Vancouver International Film Festival is back in full swing

Here are five must-sees from the Vancouver International Film Festival

Decision to leave, promo photo via the VIFF website. (viff.org)

For the first time since fall 2019, the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) opened its doors to the public with open arms.

While VIFF relied on online curation at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, only a few dozen of the festival’s more than 250 films were offered online this year through their streaming service: VIFF Connect.

Between a comfortable combination of in-person screenings and online streaming, I was able to experience several standout films at VIFF 2022. Here are five that I think are well worth the price of admission.

Make sure you don’t miss their upcoming releases at local theaters near you.

Tori and Lokita

Director/Screenwriter: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

Crime/slice of life

88 minutes

Belgium

Dardenne’s latest neo-realist masterpiece is visual sobriety for all the privileged.

The brothers presented what may be their most personal work depicting the daily life of two West African refugee siblings trying to find refuge in Belgium. Lokita, a teenager and de facto guardian of her eleven-year-old brother Tori, must remain the primary breadwinner for Tori and her extended family overseas. The growing uncertainty and time pressure of their asylum claim is reflected in the toxic stress of Lokita’s daily life.

Tori and Lokita is a drama produced by and on an unshakable fraternal dynamic. The Dardennes do not hesitate to highlight the intelligence, ingenuity and resilience of the young protagonists. The film dissects Western society’s terrifying tendency to punish the vulnerable rather than help them, and examines how victims are socially disabled while those in power remain quiet and, in many cases, emboldened by the lack of consequences. . This equation states disastrous results, generating a conclusion as brutal as it is relevant.

No screen time is wasted in Tori and Lokita’s 88-minute runtime, making it one of the biggest standouts at VIFF 2022.

Promotional photo of Humani Corporis Fabrica via VIFF website (viff.org).

De Humani Corporis Fabrica promotional photo via the VIFF website (viff.org).

De Humani Corporis Fabrica

Director/Screenwriter: Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Véréna Paravel

Documentary/Hospital Drama

118 minutes

France/United States/Switzerland

Harvard anthropologists, documentarians and educators, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel deliver a surgical analysis of the human body as never before seen in cinema.

Filmed in several different hospitals across Paris, some of modern medicine’s most advanced technologies and operating procedures are kept uncensored. Castaing-Taylor and Paravel are quick to deceive their audience; each of the film’s vignettes usually doesn’t reveal its true and often gruesome forms until a few minutes after each operation.

Viewers will likely find out if the film is to their liking within minutes of being immersed in the film’s literal viscera. However, those who remain in the audience will likely be swayed by the fascinating intricacies of the procedures in addition to the flippant and deeply humorous demeanors of the doctors who conduct them. Horror turns to wonder as viewers realize the exposed gore is the brickwork of life. The lives saved on screen almost give the clinical violence an air of beauty by the end of the film.

Biblical nods are constant throughout the film. Reconstructing a spine from an “S” shape to a straight line doesn’t seem too far from a miracle. And, for patients and their families, the life-saving abilities of surgeons place them squarely in the role of God.

While filming miracles of skill and outcome, the directors are careful not to overlook some of the most unethical behavior of hospital staff. At one point, an employee is heard over the radio encouraging his staff to throw an unconscious man into the street.

The film includes laparoscopic, scialytic and miniature cinematography with body camera. The result is a hybrid of observational documentaries and detailed educational medical procedures. De Humani Corporis Fabrica does much to identify the ubiquitous use of motion picture technology in modern medical science and, by extension, the role of the medium in saving lives.

Decision to leave

Director/Writer: Park Chan-wook

Crime/Mystery/Romantic Comedy

138 minutes

South Korea

South Korean new wave royalty Park Chan-wook builds a devastating love story through neo-noir in his new film Decision to leave.

We follow insomniac Gumshoe Hae-jun as he jumps from murder to murder while dodging his own loveless marriage. His frantic pace only stops when he is summoned to Busan to investigate the mysterious death of a mountain climber and tasked with determining the innocence or guilt of his widow, Seo-rae, a Chinese refugee in South Korea. South. What follows is a highly charged romance between detective and suspect. The two characters oscillate undecided between their personal prerogatives and the emotional gravity that attracts them to each other.

The power disparity between policeman and would-be murderer is continually reversed, destroyed, and rebuilt throughout the film, making it unclear who holds the power in Hae-jun and Seo-rae’s relationship.

Surprisingly, Chan-wook, who is known for his sexual and graphic cinema, opts for asexual romance. Erotic agitation is delivered via the pattern of eye contact and the voyeurism of smart devices. Neither character is shown engaging in more than an embrace.

Decision to leave regards boredom as a cardinal sin. The film’s diegetic and temporal realities are continually demonstrated with fluid editing, carefully shot compositions, dramatic locations, and a multilingual script. The film’s soundtrack is as neurotic as its characters. Hypochondria, dizziness and addiction are among the disorders depicted, and these complicate the narrative as two damaged lives coalesce into a turbulent sensory mystery.

At the time of the credits, we are left to weigh the positives and negatives that the main characters had on each other. Whatever conclusion we draw, the viewer has experienced a technically masterful cinematic romance that is both tragic and comedic.

Always Deadly

Director/Writer: Chelsea McMullan and Tanya Tagaq

Documentary/Music

90 minutes

Canada

Fast-emerging documentary filmmaker Chelsea McMullan and Inuk multimodal artist Tanya Tagaq are collaborating to bring Inuit throat singing to the film festival circuit.

The film’s seven-and-a-half-minute opening sequence shows Tagaq and his unnamed singing partner collaborating in such harmony that their voices can barely be distinguished. Always Deadly is almost equally divided into live concert performances and contemporary interviews with Tagaq herself. Her efforts to revitalize throat singing traditions take the form of contemporary interpretation as she infuses psychedelic, folk and heavy metal stylization with traditional Inuit vocal techniques.

Tagaq’s performance is multifaceted and appeals to many personalities. While the traditional throat the song is conducted between the shared breathing of two singers, Tagaq’s microphone is his only partner on stage for the vast majority of Always Deadly. With its alternating choir and orchestra, its music has a ritual effect. Epiphany, euphoria, seance, birth, sexual abuse and other intimate experiences are all brought to life via Tagaq’s performance and narrated poetry. Her voice channels hypnosis with a skill that words cannot do justice.

The director duo take care to immerse their film in the wildlife and geography of Tagaq regions of origin. Debunking the stereotype of Nunavut as an arctic wasteland, it turns out to be an edge of the world with plenty of abundance. Between breathtaking nature and the warmth of his family, we can see where much of Tagaq’s inspiration lies.

Always Deadly is a deeply personal documentation of Tagaq art and philosophy. By examining a single character within a national identity, McMullan and Tagaq have crafted perhaps the best Canadian film featured in VIFF’s 2022 list.

NMR

Director/Writer: Cristian Mungiu

Family Drama/Mystery

125 minutes

Romania/France

Cristian Mungiu’s alternative Christmas tale is a microcosm of our developed world in the midst of a displacement crisis.

NMR, the Romanian acronym for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, examines the actions of a remote village in Transylvania when foreign employees are hired into the community’s local bakery factory. Matthias, our stoic anti-hero, returns from a failed employment venture in Germany. Her young son Rudi remains silent since witnessing an unknown traumatic event in the forest behind the family property. And Matthias’ failed marriage and failed partnership with Csilla, the factory manager, leaves him idle in the midst of a world that rejects him at every turn.

The arrival of foreign workers provokes an explosive xenophobic reaction from most actors. The dormant nationalism and white supremacy that underlies the village grows ever more festered as workers refuse to leave, reaching almost far-fetched proportions. As in his earlier work, Mungiu is keen to find the surreal in the hyperreal. Romanian holiday traditions nod to man’s bond (or regression) with beasts.

The title of the film suggests an irregularity in the political composition of the community. As an audience, we need to determine if there is room for improvement or if the community will get even smarter. NMR is a drama of character, family and community, both allegorical and domestic. Mungiu’s multi-layered narrative is another highlight of VIFF’s programming that asks us to reflect on the changes needed as our future looks more ominous every day.

Darcy J. Skinner