A fine lineup of foreign films continues at VIFF 

Czech Cinema has always been considered one of the world’s finest.

Since the demise of the Soviet Block, the industrious Czech Republic has become a popular destination for many visiting independent filmmakers as well as big budget Hollywood blockbusters. XXX is just one recent example, although various filmmakers have cherished using the experienced crews and majestic backdrops ranging from medieval Prague to a diversified and colorful countryside. Several Vancouver production companies have done a great deal of work in the Czech Republic. and now Prague is competing with Vancouver and Australia for Hollywood dollars.

Homegrown moviemaking in the Czech Republic is thriving and this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival presented a variety of Czech films. Intricate psychological family dramas backed up by great acting really stand out.

Although Some Secrets, directed by Alice Nellis may not have been the thrilling comedy I anticipated, its richness of characters and strong performing cast made the viewing a pleasure. It is a road movie and a black comedy of sorts, beautifully shot and superbly acted.

The story takes place during a two-car family voyage initiated by a grandmother wishing to return the ashes of her late husband to the place of his birth. Family politics begin to shine through the voyage as affairs are uncovered and marital love suffers as a result. It is a very pictorial journey, which also shows us through the melodrama a beautifully photographed Czech, and Slovak countryside.

August Spring, is my favorite feature from the Czecz lineup by director , Vladimir Michalek. Here a gingerly retired gentleman of about 75 years old gives the audience a marvelous performance as someone that has refused to let go of his good humour as well as his youth.

Vlastimil Brodsky plays the lead character and he takes us on a roller coaster of emotions as we try to imagine the world of the elderly, which we must all inevitably face one day. Although portrayed as a nut of sorts, Fanda, Brodsky’s character, is constantly playing jokes with his wild imagination, until his wife is driven to file for divorce. But as the plot unfolds, the scenes and the Joi de Vivre exhibited by this fine actor makes us all realize that life is short and we sometimes may not realize that until it’s too late. August Spring thus becomes an important lesson, not only in its great value as a film, but also as a lesson of humanity. To complement all of the above, the cinematography is especially superb.

The Burning Wall, written, directed and produced in the USA by Hava Kohav Bellers is a very interesting documentary spanning 40 years of the existence of the German Democratic Republic, better known as East Germany. The documentary is informative as well as entertaining.

Various contradictions and paradoxes are unveiled in the existence of one of the Earth’s strictest regimes. If there was a big brother, he had his best practice session on East German citizens. Here even scents of millions of individuals were kept in intricate police jar files by the dreaded Stasi police force which terrorized its citizens for so long.

The film shows how the Communist movement was idealistic at first, with many of its leaders having emerged from imprisonment under the Nazis. The black humour comes out in the film as these same individuals who worshipped Karl Marx, Lenin and then Stalin were all betrayed by the GDR’s ruling Communist party and eventually imprisoned. Many actually ended up in the same prisons the Nazis put them in.

The film gives us an incredible portrait of East Germany and what it was for so many years, until brick by brick the wall was finally dismantled.

It was a real pleasure to watch 100 Days, a docu-drama about Rwanda directed by Nick Hughes of Great Britain. The film plays out the struggles between the Tutsi and Hutu clans. The subject matter is very timely following the recent Earth Summit in Johannesburg.

Put to blame for its negligence is the United Nations, whose abandonment of Rwanda led to genocide.

The Catholic Church was also complicit in the genocide that occurred. This is powerfully exposed by scenes of a priest is raping young Rwandan women and taking advantage of the conflict going on around them.

Although the acting could be better, the natural beauty captured by Hughes’ own phenomenal cinematography makes us overlook some of the casting. The plot follows a simple love story, intertwined with ghastly conflict.

The feature is so beautifully framed in Rwanda’s glorious landscapes that it becomes a visual art film. Over all it is a disturbing film but one that is bound to get a great deal of attention.

The film was done very smartly with obvious use of large extras scenes, so readily available in poor nations such as Rwanda.

Should these titles not be seen at VIFF, keep an eye out for them at the Ridge and other independent venues, as well as specialty foreign video rental stores. See www.VIFF.org

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