It’s eerie in Finsterworld

FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead

Finsterworld movie
The black comedy Finsterworld takes its name from “finster,” which means “dark” in German. The title is a wordplay on the director’s last name.

• The annual Vancouver International Women in Film Festival (www.womeninfilm.ca) takes place at Vancity Theatre from March 6-9. The fest opens with BC director Karen Lam’s supernatural thriller Evangeline, a genre that organisers say is under-represented by women directors. It also includes the intriguing drama Finsterworld, screening on International Women’s Day (March 8, 7PM). The film takes its name from its director Frauke Finsterwalder. A thoroughly idiosyncratic and often plain eerie take on German identity, it manages to knit plotlines about an animal suit-wearing policeman, a class trip to a concentration camp and a lonely pedicurist into its unsettling vision.

Notwithstanding bangs to the head, documentary Last Woman Standing (Sunday 4PM) is a gripping account of the great rivalry between two top Canadian boxers and best friends Ariane Fortin and Mary Spencer as they fight for a single place to compete at the London Olympics in 2012. Directors Lorraine Price and Juliet Lammers focus on the emotional rollercoaster behind the scenes, including the close-knit group of fans and trainers caught up in the Olympian dream and the pressure on the women’s friendship.

VIMFF is also screening Chi, Anne Wheeler’s emotional portrait of west coast actor Babz Chula who died in 2010. The vérité documentary follows the much-loved Chula as she embarks on a trip to Kerala, India, for treatment by a renowned Ayurvedic healer to help her in her six-year battle with cancer.

Francophone cinema is spotlighted at the Cinematheque this month with DiverCiné 2014 (March 28-April 2). The eight features include old-school slapstick-style comedy in The Fairy; Three Kids, a drama set in earthquake-stricken Port-au-Prince; and Oscar-nominated The Missing Picture, which uses clay figurines to document Khmer Rouge atrocities in the seventies.

“Never work with animals or children,” W.C. Fields once famously quipped. Among those who have had great success ignoring that advice is Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda, drawing critically acclaimed performances from his young casts in films such as Nobody Knows and I Wish.

Koreeda’s latest, Like Father, Like Son (Soshite chichi ni naru) is a characteristically heartfelt drama about familial bonds. Regimented Tokyo architect Ryoto discovers that his six-year-old son was switched at birth and is being raised by a working class couple. What follows is a struggle of emotions and ties as the film raises questions about nature versus nurture, fatherhood and the value of intimacy. It won the Audience Award for international films at last year’s Vancouver Film Festival and the Jury Prize at Cannes and the two boy actors Keita Ninomiya and Hwang Shogen have been roundly praised. While the film is clearly relevant to patriarchal Japanese society, DreamWorks saw the story sufficiently universal to recently acquire remake rights. (Opens March 7.)

Finally, I expected more from late-night thriller Cheap Thrills, which takes as its premise that a mild working class man will do anything for hard cash to support his family. There’s no doubt that desperate people will be driven to extremes: the kick-in-the-groin for cash videos in Vancouver that surfaced last month being the latest example. However, after hooking into a good idea, Cheap Thrills gets fixated on the gross and violent with little time for moral subtleties as it tracks towards an all-too-familiar, blood-spattered, Tarantino-esque denouement.

Robert Alstead is making Running on Climate, runningonclimate.com

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