Friday, April 15, 2016

On the Road: Montpelier 2016

Attending the Green Mountain Film Festival in Vermont has become an annual tradition in our family.  This year, we managed to take in ten movies over four days.  Everything we saw was good.  Either we're getting better at picking films or the festival is.  Without further ado, here's the rundown:

Title: Harry & Snowman
Director: Ron Davis
Original Release: 2015
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Harry & Snowman
Our first festival film of the year tells the tale of Harry deLeyer and the horse he bought for $80 off a truck bound for the glue factory.  The horse, Snowman, became a legend on the show jumping circuit.  Definitely an inspiring tear-jerker of a story.


Title: Boy and the World
Director:  Alê Abreu
Original Release: 2013
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5

One of this year's Oscar nominees for Best Animated Film, Boy and the World exhibits the perils of modernization and urbanization through the eyes of a child.  Artistic styles range from the simplest crayon drawings to live film footage.  A Brazilian work, Boy and the World is yet another sign that the South American film industry is on the rise.


Title: Lutah - A Passion for Architecture, A Life in Design
Director: Kum-Kum Bhavani
Original Release: 2014
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Lutah Maria Riggs was a prolific architect who left her creative stamp on an industry long dominated by men.  The footage was beautiful, though the story offered few details beyond her professional life.  I often compile mini-festivals of my own as I watch movies and this one would pair nicely with Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision.  While Lutah was my least favorite of our festival choices, it was an awfully strong weak link - certainly a high 3-rating.


Title: East Side Sushi
Director: Anthony Lucero
Original Release: 2014
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Juana is a gifted Latina cook who finds work in a Japanese restaurant kitchen.  She teaches herself to prepare sushi, though prejudice prevents her employer from posting her at the bar.  While the culinary tale falls short of authenticity, the cultural clash between Hispanics and Asians in California rings true.  Between this movie and Fruitvale Station (review here), I am increasingly curious about indie films coming out of Oakland.


Title: Bounce: How the Ball Taught the World to Play
Director:  Jerome Thalia
Original Release: 2015
My Overall Rating: 5 stars out of 5

My favorite of the festival and also my Mock Squid Soup film for the month.  See my full review here.


Title: The Lady Vanishes
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Original Release: 1938
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Hitchcock was a major presence in this year's festival.  The Lady Vanishes was one of two of his classics to be screened.  (The other was The Birds.  We missed that one.)  None of us had seen it before.  An Englishwoman, on holiday in the Alps for her last pre-marriage adventure, meets a charming older woman who mysteriously disappears on the train ride home.  Only one person believes her and unfortunately, she can't stand him.  The plot twists and turns as one expects from the master storyteller.


Title: Hitchcock/Truffaut
Director: Kent Jones
Original Release: 2015
My Overall Rating: 5 stars out of 5

In 1962, the young French director François Truffaut interviewed his idol, Alfred Hitchcock.  The resulting book is a seminal text in the study of cinema.  For Jones, the relationship between the two was a launch point for a broader exploration of Hitch's genius, also incorporating interviews from other master directors such as Martin Scorcese, Peter Bogdanovich and Wes Anderson.  While the documentary takes in the full scope of Hitchcock's opus, particular attention is devoted to Vertigo and Psycho.  I love an exploration of creative process and Hitchcock/Truffaut was a close second to Bounce as my favorite for the festival.


Title: The Man Who Knew Infinity
Director: Matthew Brown
Original Release: 2015
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Dev Patel is Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar, a self-taught Indian theoretical mathematician whose work in number theory, infinite series and continued fractions revolutionized the field.  Jeremy Irons is G.H. Hardy, the Cambridge professor who brought Ramanujan to England and promoted his work at the outbreak of the First World War.  My Wife reasonably describes the movie as obvious Oscar bait, though certainly enjoyable.  The Man Who Knew Infinity is set for general theatrical release on April 29th - highly recommended.


Title: Only Yesterday
Director: Isao Takahata
Original Release: 1991
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
My wife and daughter tend to agree on their favorite film of the festival.  This was their choice for 2016.  Third place for me - a 5-star rating was tempting.  This 25-year-old movie was, until recently, the only Studio Ghibli film never to be released in the United States.  Daisy Ridley, who voices the lead role in the English version, wasn't even born yet when it originally hit theaters in Japan.  Dev Patel, who voices the male lead, was a year old.

Only Yesterday is the story of Taeko, actually parallel tales from two separate parts of her life: one as a ten-year-old school girl in Tokyo, the other as a 27-year-old woman on a work vacation in the countryside.  All of the Ghibli staples are here: a strong female protagonist, breathtaking animation - especially the landscapes - and sophisticated storytelling.  While there were plenty of young Totoro fans in the theater, I wouldn't say the film was intended for a child audience.  I sensed lots of squirming, especially at the end.  The intended audience is adult women and if my housemates are anything to go by, it hits the mark soundly. 

The movie was a box office smash in Japan, the #1 film in the year it was released.  Perhaps the slightly more mature material is what kept it from crossing the Pacific for so long.  Without a doubt, it was worth the wait.


Title: Francofonia
Director: Alexander Sokurov
Original Release: 2015
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
The premise of this Russian-made film is an ambitious one: a history of the Nazi occupation of Paris from the perspective of the effort to protect the works of the Louvre.  Because of a mislabeling in the program, we were expecting a three-hour film that was only half that length.  Three hours might have been too much but 90 minutes was digestible.

Full disclosure: I fell asleep several times during the movie.  It was our last film of the festival and the multimedia, trippy atmosphere of the presentation practically encourages a dreamlike state of mind.  I am not above falling asleep during movies but it's certainly rare for me to come away from the experience with a favorable impression.  But what I saw sparked my curiosity.  I'd watch again, first thing in the morning with a strong cup of coffee in hand.


Another great festival - I can hardly wait for next year.  Maybe we'll go for eleven next time?

12 comments:

  1. Film festivals can be interesting--Francofonia is interesting being that it's a Russian made film. Debra Dean (an American novelist) wrote a wonderful novel, "The Madonnas of Leningrad" that looks at attempts to save the art in the Hermitage during WW 2. it would make an interesting movie. I reviewed the book here: http://sagecoveredhills.blogspot.com/2012/05/madonnas-of-leningrad.html

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    1. In fact, Sokurov made a film about the Hermitage, too. It's called Russian Ark, released in 2002.

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  2. So many interesting/intriguing films from all over the World! What else have we been missing?

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    1. The world of cinema is so much richer and more varied than the multiplexes would have us believe. Festivals are a great way to explore.

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  3. So envious. Most of the movie sound very interesting for me.
    I remember reviewing Only Yesterday for someone but I guess it wasn't your Movie Posts. It is a very specific movie but quite enjoyable. I have only seen it in Japanese with subtitles.
    I also know the movie "Boy and the World and off course "The Lady Vanishes" .
    Lovely post today.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. Only Yesterday was lovely. I hope it will find a place in our family movie night rotation.

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  4. You are lucky to be able to go and see so many films. I love The Lady Vanishes which showcases a brunette! I would love to see that documentary with Tuffault and Hitchcock.

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    1. I expect you would enjoy it very much. I'm curious about the book, too.

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  5. This sounds like an amazing event! So much fun to see all of these films! I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts. I am especially intrigued by Francofonia because the time period interests me and the fact that you fell asleep and still came away with a favorable impression says a lot. Thanks for sharing!
    ~Jess

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    1. Vermont is not the sort of place one expects to see lots of art cinema. It's exciting to get a whole bunch all at once.

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  6. How fantastic that a family of movie lovers gets to attend this festival. And I don't blame you for nodding off during the last showing.

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    1. It was a great time. Can't wait until next year!

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