17. Faces Places (Agnès Varda, JR, France)
Now 89 but showing no signs of slowing down, prolific cinematic legend Agnès Varda, in cahoots with esteemed French photographer/street artist JR, present a wealth of portraiture in their bucolic homeland in this delightful new documentary, Faces Places. Having met one another in 2015, both Varda and JR struck up a seemingly strange friendship, immediately wanting to work on a project together with the desire to “shoot a film in France, far from the cities.”
As the title suggests, what follows is a stunning study of both faces and places, as well as their budding friendship. “Watching great artists at work is always a treat,” raves The Guardian’s Josh Hoffman in a five-star review of the film, adding that “[Faces Places] is a self-referential marvel.”
16. Animals (Greg Zglinski, Switzerland/Austria/Poland)
Now here’s a genre mashup that promises creeping doom, ample what-the-fuckery, and pitch black comedy, too. Polish-born, Swiss-based director Greg Zglinski (One Long Winter Without Fire) channels the Twilight Zone with a Hitchcockian vibe in Animals, where a Swiss mountain holiday becomes a surreal nightmare for a spatting Austrian couple. Nick (Philipp Hochmair) is a celebrity chef, Anna (Birgit Minichmayr) is a children’s author and the remote chalet they go to is ominous AF.
Animals did well at Berlinale 2017 where audiences and critics alike drew comparisons to David Lynch and Roman Polanski. Sold!
15. The Party (Sally Potter, UK)
This bouncy black-and-white British tragicomedy from writer-director Sally Potter (Orlando) features one of VIFF’s most impressive casts, for starters, including Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Patricia Clarkson and Bruno Ganz, all attending a party in London that unfolds in real time.
Gimmick aside, this zinger-packed “political comedy” has oodles of potential, and with eight impressive features already to her name, Potter throws a shindig you’d be silly not to R.S.V.P.
14. The Nile Hilton Incident (Tarik Saleh, Egypt/Sweden)
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2017, the new film from Egyptian/Swedish director Tarik Saleh (Tommy) is a harrowing political thriller based on a true story.
Unravelling in Cairo during the weeks before the 2011 Egyptian revolution, this neo-noir finds cynical policeman Noredin (Fares Fares) journeying through the city’s seedy underworld on the case of a murdered club singer from the eponymous Nile Hilton Hotel. Atmospheric and artful, and ripe with unrest, this is guaranteed to be a paranoiac crime investigation procedural, and one clouded by corruption and intrigue all at once.
13. Good Manners (Juliana Rojas, Marco Dutra, Brazil/France)
Brazilian filmmakers Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra’s latest feature is a dark fairy tale that unfolds in contemporary, though slightly surreal, São Paulo. Reworking severally familiar tropes connected to werewolf mythology, with added ingredients of economic disparity, and lesbian themes, too, this prize winning genre film (it took home Locarno’s Special Jury award earlier this year) has more on its mind then scaring audiences.
Described as “a political fairy tale, creating a warped Disney film” it would be the height of rudeness to bypass Good Manners, no?
12. Borg vs. McEnroe (Janus Metz, Sweden/Denmark/Finland)
The legendary rivalry between world famous tennis pros Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) and John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) during the the 1980 Wimbledon Championships is the focus of Danish director Janus Metz Pedersen’s latest film. Pedersen, who is perhaps best known in North America for the second season of True Detective, brings a similar anxiousness and intensity here, with the ‘Fire and Ice’ antagonism amidst the three day lead up to the Men’s singles final match.
The early word on this sports biopic is that it’s largely LaBeouf’s show, and anyone who’s seen his startling turns in recent arthouse fare like Nymphomaniac (2013) and American Honey (2016) know that he’s got some astonishing A-game.
11. Loving Vincent (Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Poland/UK)
What’s destined to be one of the most visually dazzling and delightful films in VIFF’s history, this astonishing animated work, utilizing rotoscoping techniques (think Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly), aims to bring the paintings of the legendary Dutch master Vincent van Gogh to startling life in what’s been described as “the world’s first fully painted feature.”
Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman somehow miraculously utilized a team of 115 professional oil-painters over the course of seven labor-intensive years, hand-painting a staggering 65,000 frames. The hyper-sensual, psychedelic, tactile, and no doubt mind-blowing parade of images is sure to impress even the most jaded of cinephiles––you know, the type who look down on mere “cartoons”. Pfft!
10. In the Fade (Fatih Akin, Germany/France)
Hamborg-born writer-director Fatih Akin (Head-On, The Edge of Heaven) returns to VIFF with the taut and timely In the Fade. Dealing with many of Akin’s favorite themes of cultural differences, poetic self-harm, and women seeking justice, Diane Kruger stars as Katja, a woman recovering from the tragic loss of her husband and son after a neo-Nazi act of terror claimed their lives. Will she seek retribution?
Akin, an arthouse favorite, always finds inventive ways to subvert expectations while keeping audiences rapt and enraptured, and In the Fade looks to be no exception. The film also scores bonus points for having a soundtrack courtesy of Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age rocker Josh Homme.
9. Meditation Park (Mina Shum, Canada)
Vancouver-based filmmaker Mina Shum made a big impression with her last film to play VIFF, her stirring documentary Ninth Floor (2015), and now she’s back with the narrative feature Meditation Park, which also opens the festival. Re-teaming with her Double Happiness (1994) muse, Sandra Oh co-stars as Ava, the conflicted daughter of Maria (Cheng Pei Pei) and Bing (Tzi Ma), who, after years of devoted marriage, have hit a snag neither may be able to overcome.
Bing’s infidelities have caught up with him and Maria’s self-discovery might not allow any room for his abusive, chauvinistic shortcomings. What looks to be a bittersweet, emotionally rich, and whip-smart study of contemporary urban life, familial themes, and character-driven dramatics is also enlivened by a first-rate cast that includes Liane Balaban, Don McKellar, and Zak Santiago.