VIFF capsule reviews: What They Had, Mug

VIFF capsule reviews: What They Had, Mug September 27, 2018

The 37th Vancouver International Film Festival begins tonight and runs for the next two weeks. Here are two more capsule reviews. Click here for the first batch.

What They Had (dir. Elizabeth Chomko; USA)
Oct 8 @ 11am @ SFU Goldcorp / Oct 9 @ 6pm @ The Centre

It’s a little early to announce my favorite films from this year’s festival, but this will certainly rank right up there. What They Had stars Michael Shannon and Hilary Swank as adult siblings who disagree with their stubborn father (Robert Forster) on how to deal with their mother (Blythe Danner), who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. The film plugs into a number of my favorite themes — adult brother-sister relationships, the role that memory plays in forming relationships, etc. — but it’s also just really well-written and well-acted (all of the performances are good, but Shannon in particular does great work here), and it has a very believable mix of humour and pathos. Indeed, there is one line that Shannon’s character delivers in two different scenes, and the emotional impact of those scenes couldn’t be more different, yet the emotions are equally real in both cases. I also appreciated the fact that the family’s Catholic background plays a significant element within the film (Dad is religious in a very pragmatic way, while his daughter isn’t and doesn’t know how to tell him). Amazingly, this is writer-director Elizabeth Chomko’s first film; I look forward to seeing whatever she does next.

Mug (dir. Małgorzata Szumowska; Poland)
Sep 28 @ 9:30pm @ SFU Goldcorp / Sep 30 @ 11am @ International Village 9

There are many movies about Christ-figures, but this may be the first in which the protagonist literally falls into a figure — a statue — of Christ. For almost a decade now, the tallest statue of Jesus in the world has belonged not to Rio de Janeiro but to the town of Świebodzin in Poland, and director Małgorzata Szumowska takes the existence of this statue, or at least a fictionalized version of it, as a jumping-off point for her critique of Polish society. The protagonist is Jacek, a Metallica-loving construction worker who is badly injured on the job and ends up becoming the first Polish recipient of a face transplant. The change to his image causes his friends and family to turn their backs on him, while others try to exploit his celebrity or latch onto his fame for social and financial gain — all of which makes Jacek’s inevitable identity crisis even worse. The film’s opening scene — in which dozens of people remove their clothes and fight over TVs at an “underwear stampede” sale — suggests that this might be a broad satire, but Szumowska keeps things fairly understated, which allows some of the more deadpan moments to sneak up on you. Worth a look, if a bit cynical for my tastes.

— For more information or to purchase tickets, check out the VIFF website.

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