From world cinema to edgy documentaries, the Edmonton International Film Festival is your locale for motion picture pleasure each fall. To help you deduce which of the event’s films are duds and which are deserving of your time, nine brave Gateway writers sat down to appraise and offer accolades to some of the films running Sept. 26 to Oct. 5 at Empire Theatre City Centre. Read Part Two here.
Written by Alain Mercieca and Eric Amber
Directed by Patrick Downey
Starring Alan Mercieca, Sandi Armstrong and Caroline Braun
Thursday, Oct. 3 at 6:30 p.m.
With the claustrophobic charm of a quaint Montreal café setting the stage, this comedy follows coffee shop regular and would-be writer Vlad (Alan Mercieca) as he haplessly pursues the shop’s new waitress, Vanessa. The heart of this comedy lies in the café itself and its eccentric regulars, though the ensuing romance stumbles awkwardly onto the wrong side of charming.
Caroline Braun, in particular, revels in the role of acerbic francophone waitress Ginette, who joyously harasses the English speaking customers with a delightfully overplayed malevolence that’s reminiscent of Rhea Perlman’s iconic turn as Carla in Cheers. Unfortunately, as the formulaic love story trundles on, the humour suffers, and moments such as Ginette’s memorable upstaging of some self-proclaimed beat poets with a spontaneous rant become lamentably scarce.
Despite the maudlin plot detracting from its comedic intentions, Café Café retains its substance with a genuine tenderness shown for the homegrown coffee shop and the surprisingly emotive warning that such places are a dying breed.
Written by Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais and Marc Tulin
Directed by Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais
Starring Thomas Hayden Church and Marc Labrèche
Sunday, Sept. 29 at 9:30 p.m.
“You know what they say, ‘Every guilty person is his own hangman.’ ” Heightened by the snow-plagued Quebec forest, this haunting phrase escapes the protagonist’s mouth in director Emmanuel Hoss-Desmarais’ Whitewash. Summarizing the core of this film’s eerie narrative, it proves self-blame is both debilitating and life-threatening.
Ultimately a story about the impacts of guilt and tragedy, Whitewash follows Bruce (Thomas Hayden Church) as he struggles to face the consequences of his alcohol-induced actions. Widowed, unemployed and suffocated by shame, he becomes a captive of his own mind. His environment represents both his home and a prison, as the film frames him against Quebec’s isolated and unforgiving forest terrain.
Immediately injecting viewers into a multi-layered plot, the film’s back-story constitutes as much running time as the events occurring in the present, removing temporal constituency and showcasing the director’s experimental tendencies. Though if questioning your cinematic expectations isn’t your thing, see it for Hayden Church’s phenomenal acting alone.
Filmage: The Story of The Descendents/All
Directed by Deedle Lacour and Matt Riggle
Starring Bill Stevenson, Milo Auckerman and Karl Alvarez
Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m.
Though the angsty lyrics and crashing cymbals of punk-rock bands may seem inescapable today, it wasn’t so long ago that these musical acts had no home. In Filmage: The Story of the Descendants/All, the mysterious origins of punk rock’s existence is revealed: shredded on guitars, blasted through amps and screamed into the mics of California band The Descendents.
The 90-minute documentary film follows the so-called founding fathers of the genre, taking viewers on a journey from the band’s humble beginnings to the peak of their fame and ending with their eventual descent into the abyss of forgotten music. Dave Grohl, Fat Mike and Joey Cape are only a handful of the dozens of notable musicians interviewed in the film, and like Mark Hoppus of Blink-182, who asserts that The Descendents were “only entirely influential on (his) playing,” these cameos clarify the band’s lasting influence.
While Filmage’s storyline might not interest those outside of the punk rock persuasion, the documentary explores an intriguing era of musical history.
Lawrence & Holloman
Written by Daniel Arnold, Matthew Kowalchuk and Morris Panych
Directed by Matthew Kowalchuk
Starring Ben Cotton and Daniel Arnold
Friday, Oct. 4 at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 5 at 12 p.m.
A sharply written and lightning quick satire based on the play by two-time Governor General Award-winning writer Morris Panych, Lawrence & Holloman is a story about two businessmen: Lawrence (Ben Cotton), a happy-go-lucky narcissist for whom life couldn’t be better, and Holloman (Daniel Arnold), a bitterly depressed and potentially homicidal cynic desperate to break free of his unhappiness. Though the two are instinctively drawn to one another, their friendship inevitably leads to disaster in a complex and fast-paced domino-style plot with a satisfying predictability.
Persistently humorous, the titular characters exchange punchlines and slapstick gags like clockwork for the duration of the film, from the bleak beginning to the bittersweet end. But if you’re looking for something more than a cornucopia of existential jokes, Lawrence & Holloman doesn’t have very much substance to it and those searching for something meatier should shop around.
Written and directed by Michael Polish
Starring Kate Bosworth, Radha Mitchell, Josh Lucas, Anthony Edwards and Jean-Marc Barr
Wednesday, Oct. 2 at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 5 at 5 p.m.
Based on Jack Kerouac’s autobiographical book of the same name, Big Sur depicts the real events of the American novelist and poet’s life as one of the pioneers of the 1950s literary beat movement.
When we first meet the infamous author, he’s well into his 40s, struggling with an existential crisis, questioning his ability as an author and rejecting the fame brought on by his novel, On the Road. The narration of the film quickly takes centre stage, though the film finds most of its strength within the cinematography, intermittently focusing on the natural beauty of Big Sur, California and coupled with an artful use of lighting.
Much of the film explores Kerouac’s relationships, including friends and one complicated tie to a woman and her son. But overall, it suffers from forcing too many minor characters into a short time span. Though the film is well acted, and the story of the great American author is intriguing, it has little appeal to audiences who aren’t already familiar with him.