Thursday, October 1, 2009

Opera Goes To VIFF

Vancouver International Film Festival is back!

The annual film fest, now in its 27th year, runs from October 1-16. The uber-popular film festival attracts thousands upon thousands of film enthusiasts who thirst for something different from the standard box office fare.

With a multitude of films available, what should I see? Well, being that I work in OPERA, you would suppose that my preferences would skew to all things operatic. (not that I'm all about work 24/7; I also have on my list of must-see a couple of wicked ninja movies and possibly throw in a little Heath Ledger and Willem DaFoe too)

Here is a list of "operatic" movies that are being shown at the festival; many of which are having its North American premiere.

Argippo Resurrected
In Czech with English subtitles
International Premiere

Directed By: Dan Krames
Antonio Vivaldi's lost opera Argippo was originally composed for a Prague debut in 1730. Lost for centuries, the opera's score was discovered by young Czech conductor Ondrej Macek. Almost as remarkable as the discovery of this lost masterpiece was the process of remounting the work. Dan Krames' film observes, gloriously, the gradual birth of the contemporary "world premiere" of Argippo and confirms the opera's status as the most significant piece of music "written for Prague" before Mozart's Don Giovanni.

Fri, Oct 9th 2:45pm Empire Granville 7 ($8.00)
Sun, Oct 11th 8:45pm Empire Granville 7 ($11.00)

In French, Taiwanese with English subtitles
Cast: Lee Kang-sheng, Laetitia Casta, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Fanny Ardant, Lu Yi-ching

Taiwanese master Tsai Ming-liang’s dazzling new film is a masterpiece. And an awful lot of fun. Take one French supermodel (Laetitia Casta), three French divas (Fanny Ardant, Jeanne Moreau and Nathalie Baye), New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud, and combine them with Tsai’s entire repertoire company, lead by the irreplacable Lee Kang-shang, and you’ve already got quite a picture. Throw in three musical numbers, Salome’s veil dance, naked wood nymphs, a giant stag, the Louvre, a ghost and a giant fish, and the result just might be the most gorgeously playful narrative art film around.

A Taiwanese film crew, led by director Kang, is in Paris to film, in and around the Louvre, what looks to be a musical version of the Salome story. Kang has troubles, though. His Herod, Léaud, just might be losing his mind, and prefers to chatter with forest birds. Léaud may also be dangerously attached to harried producer Ardant, who frets on the phone tracking down a lost stag and disappearing cast members. When Kang’s mother dies in Taipei, the production halts while Kang mourns and sleeps, accompanied by his mother’s rather hungry ghost. Model Casta, meanwhile, when not struggling with Christian Lacroix’s outrageous costumes, is falling in love with her very own John the Baptist... Tsai draws together elements from all his previous films in this flamboyant and touching tribute to closeups, to Truffaut and to the power of images to arouse desire.

Fri, Oct 2nd 3:00pm Empire Granville 7 ($8.00)
Sun, Oct 4th 9:15pm Empire Granville ($11.00)

In Search of Beethoven
(UK, 2009, 138 mins, DigiBeta)
North American Premiere
Directed By: Phil Grabsky

Like his earlier In Search of Mozart, Phil Grabsky's In Search of Beethoven is an unusually intelligent and thorough introduction to a great composer. A movie might seem like insufficient space for more than a superficial take on such a momentous life and career, but at the conclusion of this film's brisk but never hectic 140 minutes one feels as close as one is likely to get to understanding the enigmatic, exasperating Beethoven, a man for whom beauty and misery were never far apart. Much of this is down to Grabsky's insightful understanding of documentary form: the mix of narration, performance, interview and illustration is seamless; often several performances of the same work are juxtaposed with interviews (with such attractive and articulate luminaries as Ronald Brautingam, Emanuel Ax, Roger Norrington and Helene Grimaud) in a counterpoint that honours the composer's complexity while remaining a model of exposition. Instead of awkward recreations we are given footage of the historical locations today, and though heard mostly in fragments, the film keeps bringing us back to the music with new ears. It is inevitably a more sombre film than its predecessor, more the record of constant struggle--whatever Mozart's troubles he possessed an almost complacent inner serenity, reflected in music that scales heights of genius but never really rocks the boat. As one speaker here says, "Mozart wrote for Saturday night... Beethoven wrote for eternity..."

Mon, Oct 5th 6:15pm Empire Granville 7 ($11.00)
Tue, Oct 6th 3:00pm Empire Granville 7 ($8.00)
Wed, Oct 14th 11:00am Empire Granville 7 ($8.00)

Pelléas and Mélisande: The Song of the Blind
(France, 2008, 110 mins, 35mm)
North American Premiere

Since 1902, Claude Debussy's setting of Maurice Maeterlinck's symbolist drama Pelléas and Mélisande has divided critics and audiences, but if its enigmatic drama and the hypnotic sound of its world have never really entered the mainstream, its influence on later music has been incalculable and its fans quasi-religious in their devotion. More than simply record (however beautifully) the first Russian production of this notoriously demanding opera, Philippe Béziat's remarkable film really tries to come to terms with a work in which "ordinary life fades--and you plunge into a dream."

Interviews are blended with rehearsal footage in unexpected ways; Maeterlinck's words graphically punctuate the action. People from all aspects of the production testify to the work's strange, occult power; "we're in a dark universe--where nothing is going right" one speaker says. Part of the appeal of this engaging film is watching the Russian singers and musicians trying to come to terms with a work so intrinsically French. Whether new to Pelleas or a seasoned traveller in its scented realms, this film is essential viewing.

Mon, Oct 5th 1:00pm Empire Granville 7 ($8.00)
Fri, Oct 9th 6:20pm Empire Granville 7 ($11.00)

Porgy and Me: In the World of Porgy and Bess
(Germany, 2009, 86 mins, HDCAM)
North American Premiere

In the (white) world of opera, Gershwin's alternately celebrated and controversial opera Porgy and Bess is one of the very few works that takes people of colour as its subject. Susanna Boehm's stirring documentary follows the cast of the New York Harlem Theatre Company on their European tour of Gershwin's work. As the troupe travels from city to city, attracting stares from startled Austrians, the parallels between the opera and the real life experiences of individual singers are revealed in a series of deeply personal conversations. Growing up poor, with drugs and violence a common experience, the ambition to become an opera singer seemed an impossible dream for many cast members. A sentiment voiced by many is that black singers have to be twice as good as white singers. Terry Lee Cook who plays Porgy, has aspirations towards the great Wagnerian roles, but has been performing Porgy for ten years. Alteouise Devaughn, who was once touted as the next great mezzo-soprano, credits Porgy with giving her the passion and the opportunity to perform again after losing her voice. But in the black community, the common perception is that Porgy and Bess is a graveyard for singers of colour.

Sun, Oct 4th 11:00am Vancity Theatre ($9.00)
Sun, Oct 11th 7:00pm Vancity Theatre ($11.00)
Mon, Oct 12th 2:50pm Empire Granville 7 ($8.00)

Puccini and the Girl
(Italy, 2008, 84 mins, 35mm)
In Italian with English subtitles
North American Premiere
Cast: Tania Squillario, Ricardo J. Moretti, Giovanna Daddi, Debora Mattielo, Federica Chezzi

The composer Giacomo Puccini's operas are some of the most famous and oft-performed works in the entire operatic canon. Much less known is his piano and chamber music, the former of which is featured here. Like his characters, the composer's privileged life could get quite complicated! Paolo Benvenuti's tableaux-like drama belies the palpable tranquility of its bucolic Tuscan setting. When a young woman named Doria Manfredi, who worked for the composer and was widely considered to be his lover, drowned herself in a lake, an autopsy revealed that she had died a virgin. Puccini's long-term mistress was arrested and charged with inciting a suicide. But Minnie, the heroine of Puccini's wild west opera, La fanciulla del West, bore an uncanny resemblance to another woman, Giulia Manfredi.

"Puccini and the Girl is a dashing if delicately stylised piece of Belle Epoque beauty with a gloriously self-conscious pictorial grandeur that is almost unthinkable in contemporary cinema. To further accentuate the work's artificiality, Benvenuti did away with dialogue. All we hear are voices reading letters that certain parties involved in the drama wrote each other, with any remaining speech existing somewhere between ambient sound and 'musique concrète'. With that, Benvenuti leaves the last traces of common contemporary notions of realism behind, pushing his praxis-aesthetic of adapting historical documents another step further--toward a cinema of sensual didactics and dialectic enchantment."--Olaf Möller, filmkrant

Fri, Oct 9th 10:45am Pacific Cinémathèque ($8.00)
Wed, Oct 14th 8:45pm Vancity Theatre ($11.00)

Please note all information was pulled from the VIFF website. Check the website for any changes or availability of tickets.

See you at the cinema! You'll find me sitting in the middle row with my bucket of popcorn.

~ Ling Chan

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