Tony rewards

After a week of stealth watching at the Vancouver International Film Festival, you wonder about odd things. Such as: what’s with the trend of naming movies after post-punk touchstones? Jia Zhangke probably started it with 2002’s Unknown Pleasures. In its wake came All Tomorrow’s Parties by Jia’s cinematographer Yu Lik-wai and the Smiths-inflected twist of Lee Yoon-Ki’s terrific This Charming Girl. The 25th annual VIFF brought So Yong-Kim’s In Between Days (title swiped from Cure single) and one of this year’s best movies, Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth (English title courtesy of classic Young Marble Giants album).

As Costa explained during a candid Q&A that included a pointed Hou Hsiao-hsien dismissal, his film’s extraordinary look and atmosphere derive from the fact that mirrors are its chief nonnatural light source.
A more perplexing minitrend might be the sudden return of ’80s MTV vixen Kim Wilde via art films — not as an actress but as set decoration or spectral presence. Wilde posters dominate the walls of the title character’s apartment in last year’s Cannes un Certain Regard winner The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, and this year a 45 by the “Kids in America” songstress becomes one of manic-depressive Romain Duris’s last lifelines in Dans Paris, Christophe Honoré’s vastly improved and new wave–inflected follow-up to his debut, the Georges Bataille adaptation Ma Mere. Though Duris’s walk on the Wilde side might not be the most convincing evidence, Dans Paris makes wonderfully inventive use of music.

I love Paris in the springtime, I love it in the fall, and for the most part I love ’Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris, Raymond de Felitta’s video mash note to the late, underknown jazz singer — a work of fan devotion that ultimately uncovers uncomfortable facts about its subject. Most of all, I love Vancouver when ’tis autumn, because it’s home to the most impassioned and inventive strains of commercial cinema, partly due to VIFF programming associate Mark Peranson, who edits the excellent journal Cinema Scope.

This year’s VIFF showcased the Slavoj Zizek–guided The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, which places the psych theorist in lecture settings such as Melanie Daniels’s Bodega Bay Birds motorboat. Rarer treats included the North American premiere of Jacques Rivette’s 743(!)-minute new wave touchstone from 1973, Out 1: Noli Me Tangere. I caught most of it but missed a six-hour excerpt of Stan Douglas’s endlessly variable new installation, Klatsassin — to my regret, since one of Douglas’s previous projects warps Dario Argento’s Suspiria and this latest connects North American Indian history to a score by the excellent Berlin electronic dubster duo Rhythm and Sound.

If such disparate ingredients can have a bond, then so can Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Tsai Ming-liang, to name just one of the better-known directors, commissioned to make movies for the “New Crowned Hope” film series in honor of the composer’s 250th birthday. Tsai’s I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone is his first feature set in his birth country of Malaysia, but its near-silent strains of lovelorn pathos and comedy fit alongside past works. The movies made thus far for “New Crowned Hope” are uniformly and individually superb. A case could be made that Garin Nugroho’s Opera Jawa — in which powerful waves of sound might even be overshadowed by gorgeous costume and set design — is the best.

That is, if one discounts Syndromes and a Century, the latest miracle by Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul — an improvement on Tropical Malady that condenses all the director’s unique gifts into a fine mist.
Apichatpong was on the jury for this year’s Dragons and Tigers Award for Young Cinema, a prize that thanks to programmer Tony Rayns has helped make the name of directors such as Jia — primarily because Rayns’s trailblazing broader Dragons and Tigers selections have introduced Miike Takashi, Bong Joon-ho, and others to North American audiences. This was Rayns’s last year in his current capacity at VIFF, where he’s offered a peerless example of what a festival programmer can do for filmmakers and filmmaking. Through happenstance on my last night at the fest, I wound up at a spontaneous Rayns-thrown dinner that included documentarian Amir Muhammad (who has a way with a wickedly funny Keyser S?ze punch line) and the respective directors of what would soon be the Dragons and Tigers winner, Todo Todo Teros, and honorable mention Faceless Things. That the meal took place immediately after the genuinely scatological latter film — a provocation that moves postteen Kim Kyong-Mook beyond the Sadie Benning–of–South Korea realm of his earlier short Me and Doll Playing — was just one of the reasons it was memorable.

I wound up seated next to Todo Todo Teros director John Torres and his friend — as well as one of the first faces glimpsed in his movie — Alexis Tioseco, who oversees the outstanding Web site Tioseco’s site currently features a poignant Paris diary by the talented young filmmaker Raya Martin, whose A Short Film about the Indio-Nacional (or the Prolonged Sorrow of Filipinos) hints at Apichatpong-level brilliance and is at the vanguard of a new Filipino cinema powered by friendship and inspiration rather than the country’s film industry or government funds. It was a pleasure and in some ways a revelation to talk movies with the Andrei Tarkovsky–loving Tioseco, who likes to kid Torres, though he’s perceptively respectful of his friend’s filmmaking efforts in a current Criticine interview. The reward of such a meeting wouldn’t be possible without Rayns — here’s hoping whoever takes the VIFF reins will follow his example.