25 Films You Won’t Want to Miss at VIFF 2016

8. Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari, UK/Jordan/Qatar)

The early buzz around Iranian director Babak Anvari’s unnerving genre film debut is that Under the Shadow may well be this year’s The Babadook. Set in a war torn Tehran with the upsetting Iran-Iraq conflict of the 1980s raging in the periphery, a mother and daughter are haunted by a relentless djinn––a supernatural monstrosity of Islamic mythology.

Fright fans were blown away by Under the Shadow at the Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival in Switzerland where it won the coveted H.R. Giger Narcise prize for the Best Movie and with this one slated for a late night screening at the Rio, we’ll be there shaking behind our popcorn.


7. Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain)

Julieta (Emma Suárez), the titular protagonist in Pedro Almodóvar’s twentieth feature, is a middle-aged matron about to relocate to Portugal with her boyfriend, having spent years grieving her daughter’s disappearance in Madrid.

The film that follows will detail great narrative complexity, as we’ve come to expect from Almodóvar, and entwine memories, guilt, betrayals, dark secrets, necessary lies, and mature retrospection, all stemming from a trio of tales by famed Canadian short story scribe Alice Munro.


6. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook, South Korea)

A distinct visual formalist, Park Chan-wook, the mad genius behind Old Boy (2003), and Stoker (2013), who’s idiosyncratic yet technically complex style is sure to be at the fore of this ambitious and sweeping noir based off of Sarah Waters 2002 historical crime novel, Fingersmith.

Set in 1930s Korea, The Handmaiden follows Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), who has been targeted by a slippery con man named Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) and a provocative pickpocket named Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri).

Already gaining notoriety for its artful yet explicit lesbian love scenes, lurid twists, and shocking set pieces, it may just be that The Handmaiden is Chan-wook’s most entertaining and potentially most over-the-top work yet. Really? We can’t wait to see.


5. Elle (Paul Verhoeven, France/Germany)

Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, whose diverse delectus includes Turkish Delight (1973), RoboCop (1987), Starship Troopers (1997), and Black Book (2006), has never been a light hand and this psychological thriller––a sordid rape/revenge saga––could go into murky exploitation cinema were it not for the fearless performance from Isabelle Huppert as injured party Michéle who still has a deadly hand to play.

Based on Philipe Djian’s 2012 novel “Oh…”, Elle has already garnered a reputation on the festival circuit as an alternately audacious, gripping, disturbing, darkly humorous, and fist-pumpingly satisfying, and transgressive tour de force. Well, we’re sold.


4. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, France)

Sure audiences at Cannes booed Olivier Assayas’ latest film, Personal Shopper, earlier this year. But Cannes, let’s remember, has a long history of discernibly divided receptions; David Lynch’s Wild at Heart was booed by the rabble in 1990, and it went on to win the Palme d’Or, and Kevin Smith’s Clerks II got a standing ovation back in 2006, and it went on to suck absolutely every place else. My point being that the Cannes congregation can be a fickle and misled lot.

Assayas, after all, is the genius who gave us Irma Vep (1996) and Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), and his latest, reuniting him once more with Kristen Stewart, and a plot that involves a ghost story and the illusory obstacles of grief, fame, and alienation all add up, in our estimation, to potential brilliance and chicanery. Toss in a five star review from The Guardian suggesting that Personal Shopper is “uncategorizable yet undeniably terrifying” and we’re first in line for this one.


3. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, USA)

Anytime that Jim Jarmusch (Mystery Train, Only Lovers Left Alive) has a new film I’m there without a moment’s hesitation. Paterson, Jarmusch’s latest, looks to be the small scale character study miracles he’s been known to manufacture now and then––think Stranger Than Paradise (1984) or Broken Flowers (2005). Starring the near ubiquitous Adam Driver as the titular protagonist, a bus driving poet from the similarly named New Jersey city of Paterson.

Always absorbing, always atmospheric, and effortlessly cool, Jarmusch has, with Paterson, it’s been said, crafted his most personal film to date in what Geoff Andrew at Time Out joyously describes as “a lovely, characteristically episodic fable about the fragile, fruitful and just occasionally fraught relationship between creativity and everyday life.”


2. The Love Witch (Anna Biller, USA)

This richly textured and colorful excursion from Anna Biller––whose previous film, 2007’s Viva, was a glorious pastiche of giallo cinema and sexploitation narratives––was shot like a 1960s Technicolor fantasia on 35mm. The Love Witch is a horror-thriller about a modern-day witch and stars a highly stylized Samantha Robinson as Elaine, the eponymous occultist.

Early notices have been glowing and the candy-colored trailer calls to mind the camp horror of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte only through a playfully neoteric lens. This merging of melodrama, feminist film theory, sexploitation, and old Hollywood euphemism looks like nasty, nostalgic lovemaking from a transgressive parallel dimension. I can’t wait to watch this movie ten or eleven times.


1. American Honey (Andrea Arnold, UK/USA)

English filmmaker Andrea Arnold debut as director was 2006’s riveting Red Road. It deservedly won the Jury Prize at Cannes that year and Arnold’s follow-up won the same prize again in 2009 with Fish Tank (seriously one of my all time favorite films, it’s astonishing on every narrative level imaginable).

In 2011 she adapted Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, which continued her winning streak, and this brings us to her latest enterprise, another Cannes laudation––it won the Prix du Jury earlier this year––with American Honey.

Ostensibly a road movie, Arnold’s latest looks to be a cyclical meditation on meaning, élan vital, and the hopes and dreams of adolescence. Sasha Lane is Star, a woebegone teenager who finds young love via Shia LeBeouf as she zigzags across the US Midwest with a cadre of hard partying dissidents in what’s sure to be the ultimate in societal delineation from one of the world’s greatest auteur directors.

American Honey looks to be the ultimate sweetmeat for rattleboned cineastes, and Variety says it’s “constantly, engrossingly active, spinning and sparking and exploding in cycles like a Fourth of July catherine wheel.”

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.