The 15 Best Films at VIFF 2018

8. Virus Tropical

Recipient of South By Southwest’s prestigious Audience Award earlier this year, and adapting Powerpaola’s gripping 2011 memoir graphic novel of the same name, Santiago Caicedo’s black-and-white animated marvel Virus Tropical is warranting all sorts of buzz, and all of it is warranted.

Told in picaresque fashion as it recounts Paola’s formative years in a matriarchal home environment near Ecuador and Colombia, this wryly comic, keenly observational, and excitedly original animated tale is full to bursting with familial dysfunction, coming-of-age tenderness, bold intimations, and universal truths amidst the stirring and strife motherhood, artistic awakening, and so much more.

While comparisons to Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi’s 2007 film Persepolis are not unwarranted (both are monochromatic adaptations of graphic novels with coming-of-age heroines at their center), Virus Tropical blazes its own brilliant trail.

This relatable tale is the sort you don’t want to end, and the 1980s nostalgia (including a singalong to Warrant’s crotch rock anthem “Cherry Pie”, Alf dolls, and Barbie doll makeout sessions being amongst the most memorable) adds extra appeal. Caicedo is definitely a detailed, gifted, and nuanced filmmaker to watch. – SST


7. Shoplifters


“This is a film that steals in and snatches your heart,” writes the Daily Telegraph’s Robbie Collin. Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2018, VIFF favorite Kore-eda Hirokazu (Like Father, Like Son [2013], After the Storm [2016]) returns with this heartbreaking film about crime, love, and family.

Sasaki Miyu plays a little girl found alone in the cold by Osamu (Lily Franky) and Shota (Jyo Kairi), and they take her home for a hot meal. After it becomes clear that the girl is an abuse victim, she is welcomed into the Shibata family. And though they are very poor, they are loving and happy, but can their happiness last? And having to resort regularly to theft to survive, will it all come crashing down?

Always a sensitive and nuanced filmmaker, Kore-eda’s films offers genuflections of love, subtle visual splendors, superb and utterly convincing performances and a rich portraiture of humanity that ranks with the director’s finest works. – SST


6. The House That Jack Built

At this stage in his prolific and subversive filmmaking career, confrontational provocateur Lars von Trier’s brand is essentially one of polarization. The majority of attendees seated around me got up and left in outrage around the time Jack (Matt Dillon, excellent) performed his macabre mastectomy on a fraught and weeping young woman named Simple (Riley Keough) –– itself a sordid leaf torn from Jack the Ripper’s libretto.

Equal parts foolish and fearless, von Trier’s serial killer comic-thriller The House That Jack Built is also undoubtedly one of the most personal films in the director’s oeuvre, and it’s a strange, deeply unsettling rush of viscera, verisimilitude, and dark invention.

As Jack leads the viewer down an ever-swirling quagmire of obscenity and slaughter, he shares a back and forth with an almost unworldly figure named Verge (Bruno Ganz)––a perhaps too obvious sobriquet that bluntly suggests he’s Virgil to Jack’s Dante on a tour through Hell and Purgatory.

The film’s detractors aren’t unjustified in finding this to be a film of violent pornography, and the low culture status regularly dished out to movies of this sort will not escape it, but nonetheless it’s a self-consciously reflexive, self-defeating, convention-crushing, neo-slasher that will reward the right kind of viewer with its masterful mesh of allusions, pitch-dark designs and dismayed poetry. – SST


5. Parallel

As usual with filmmaker Isaac Ezban (The Incident [2014], The Similars [2015]), the firmament is streaming with high concept ideas, adverse emotions, and a stiff shot of the supernatural in the highly satisfying genre mashup, Parallel.

Ostensibly the ill-fated tale of four app developer friends; Devin (Aml Ameen), Josh (Mark O’Brien) Leena (Georgia King), and Noel (Martin Wallström), who are frustrated by setbacks both financial and personal. The group share an old house with a history to it, and one night they stumble upon a secret stairway that leads to a part of the house nobody knew existed.

Amongst the neglected items in the furtive attic space is a mirror that turns out to be a portal to a seemingly endless array of alternate universes.

And so our protagonists are lured into a series of multiverse expeditions, first to overcompensate for a few missed opportunities, and then to acquire continued prosperity and public esteem.

As Parallel breathlessly speeds towards its precarious finish, the audience is easily swept up in the complexities of time, identity, morality and the ethics of technological analysis couched in the form of a chic, ultra-slick and yet shrewdly nuanced weird-science psychodrama.

Capturing the genre jeu d’esprit, Ezban gives us one of the strongest sci-fi offerings of the year, a film that is endlessly inventive, and sheerly enjoyable. – SST


4. The Favourite


Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) does it again, adding yet another absurdist gem to a collection that shows no sign of slowing down in quality and fanfare. In The Favourite, he reimagines the reign of Queen Anne and the periodically playful, somewhat sexy competition between her two ladies-in-waiting, Lady Sarah Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and her cousin Abigail (Emma Stone).

Avoiding the common pitfalls of the set-up, Lanthimos manages to earn sympathy for each of the characters, no matter how low they’re willing to go – if only because they’re doing it to survive. It’s easy to cheer on every player when the game is as cutthroat as the 18th century could be, especially for women.

Lanthimos loosens the corset strings in the most surprising ways, creating room to breathe in a period piece that could have been stuffy and heavy-lidded. Every frame is a treat for the eyes and its razor-sharp comedy and precise editing delivers a near-perfect film that is not soon to be forgotten. – BZ


3. Climax

Argentinian enfant terrible filmmaker Gaspar Noé (Enter the Void [2009]) may now at long last finally have his masterpiece with Climax, an unimaginably beautiful nightmare mixture of ecstatic dance and horror most extreme. An absolutely mindblowing, and occasionally frustrating experience, Climax is as detailed and delirious as an Hieronymus Bosch hellscape.

Part Busby Berkeley’s 42nd Street and part Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, the film hits its dizziest height early, and intentional joke or not, it does seem to prematurely pop. After a hasty, though fairly engaging introduction to our cast of characters, members of a hip-hop dance troupe in 1996, we witness a whirlingly choreographed dance sequence in their rehearsal space, set to pulsating era-appropriate EDM and shot in a single, staggering, trance-inducing take.

To say that it’s riveting feels too basic, it’s an all-consuming feat of strength, and probably the most engrossing dance number you’ve ever borne witness to. So many different dancing styles coalesce; krumpers, voguers, and wackers, and all with an astounding fluidity, energy, and grace, it’s druggy just to take it all in. Wow.

But before long the film moves from Saturday Night Fever-style dance drama to full-on drug horror as the troupe comes to realize someone has spiked their celebratory sangria with some obscenely high-dose LSD.

Yes, there were walkouts at both VIFF screenings I attended, and they weren’t unwarranted given the dark and degenerate eruptions of terror––trigger warnings abound––but for the very brave or perhaps the youthfully naïve, Climax is a shocking and sinister pièce de résistance. – SST


2. Cold War

Gracefully charting the delirious highs and heartbreaking lows of the excited love affair between a composer named Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and a folk singer named Zula (Joanna Kulig) as they conform to the sour vagaries of life in post-war Poland under Communist rule, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War is an achingly lovely achievement.

Like Ida (2013), Pawlikowski’s previous period drama, Cold War shares a similar setting and luminous black and white view, but the two films are vastly different in their emotional approach and expression.

Kulig, as Zula, is absolutely electrifying. As she vibrantly descants Parisian torch songs that sets the enraptured mood of the film it’s easy to see why so many have suggested she may be the new Jeanne Moreau. With a sentimental sigh and a quick wipe away of tears, Cold War is a film of burning seduction and charming, cryptic truth. – SST


1. Capernaüm

The brilliant director Nadine Labaki (Caramel [2007]) takes us to the slums of Beirut where 12-year-old Zain (Zain Al Rafeea, a revelation) lives a neglected life of poverty, planning to sue his parents for “bringing him into the world”, or as he tells the judge straight up: “for giving me life”, and so begins the Cannes Jury Prize-winning social-realist pageant, Capernaüm.

Poignant, powerful, and a raw bundle of exposed nerves, Labaki’s film is a masterpiece, and one that brought me to tears more than once. Buttressed by some of the most amazing child actors you’re likely to ever see on the big screen, Labaki’s spectacular melodrama is both compassionate and tragicomic, and has invited comparisons to neorealist legends like Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini, and it’s fair to say as well that Capernaüm is Labaki’s 400 Blows.

Sure to be a milestone as well as a monument to humanity on the fringes, Capernaüm is observantly drawn with warmth and complexity, showcasing a rare mastery. Luminously simple, and lyrical throughout, don’t miss this miraculous little movie.

Author Bios: 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.

Becky Belzile is a freelance writer living in Vancouver, Canada. She has contributed to film writing for Bright Wall/Dark Room, Bloody Disgusting, and Audiences Everywhere. When she’s not cooking, she’s devouring horror movies or napping competitively.