Friday, 9 October 2015

Four More Film Festival Mini-Reviews: Bikes vs Cars, Son of Saul, Mustang, Dheepan

The Edmonton International Film Festival has done a tremendous job in getting top-quality indie films for the 2015 festival. This is becoming a festival to take seriously. Of the eighteen films I have watched here so far, only two have received less than ***+ from me (four have received ****). Here are four more excellent films:

Bikes vs Cars

Made by Fredrik Gertten, this Swedish documentary creatively identifies the world’s desperate need to stop relying on cars and make the switch to bikes (or public transportation if necessary), especially in cities. Filmed in Sao Paulo, Los Angeles, Toronto and Copenhagen, Bikes vs Cars shows the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to cities and cars/bikes. It’s brilliance shines most brightly when it shows people (like Toronto’s Rob Ford) decrying the use of bikes in cities and actually trying to make a case for making cities less friendly for bikes (cities were built for cars!). What hit home to me, as a hybrid car owner, was how the sale of hybrids and electric cars are still part of the same crazy paradigm of car ownership and just another scheme of the auto industry. Powerful stuff! A must-see documentary for everyone. ****. My mug is up for one of the most important films of the year.

Son of Saul

Like Victoria, the Hungarian film Son of Saul is an extraordinary filmmaking achievement (it’s made by Laszlo Nemes). The camera relentlessly follows a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz in 1944, placing the viewer in the heart of a chaotic and horrific few hours, as Jews are slaughtered in the background (out of focus) by the panicking German soldiers. The prisoner in question is Saul (played perfectly by Geza Rohrig), forced to work as a “Sonderkommando”, cleaning up and getting rid of the bodies of his people. He sees one death too many and falls off the rails, endangering the lives of many as he tries to bury a boy properly. A likely winner of the 2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, I would also have given Son of Saul **** if the camera had given us at least one other perspective (e.g. the Jewish doctor who has been forced to work for the Nazis). While the film is riveting and incredibly intense, there is a lack of emotional engagement caused by experiencing the events from the point of view of someone who is no longer thinking or behaving rationally. Still, Son of Saul is a must-see for those who can handle it. ***+. My mug is up. 


This Turkish film from Deniz Gamze Erguven tells the story of Lale and her four older sisters (or perhaps sisters and cousins), who are being brought up by their grandmother and uncle in a Turkish village. When the teenage girls behave a little too wildly one day, the grandmother and uncle turn their house into a fortress and begin arranging marriages for the girls, with tragic consequences (though the film has many light moments). A wonderful humanizing and inspiring film, Mustang gets a solid ***+. My mug is up.


Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, Dheepan tells the story of three refugees from Sri Lanka who make their way (illegally) to France only to discover that the violence they were escaping has followed them. Made by Jacques Audiard, Dheepan features marvellous performances from Jesuthasan Antonythasan and Kalieaswari Srinivasan as Dheepan and Yalini, the fake couple trying to make a new life in France. While this dark film is good, it is not, for me, up to the standards that I would have expected for a Palme d’Or winner, primarily because the story it tells is not believable (to me). I appreciated that the violence was not graphic, but this is still a violent film. ***+. My mug is up.

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