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SBIFF FLUFF

Fluffy Stuff:
By its very nature, as a festival promoting the art of film-and not necessarily the popcorn factor-much of the best material at SBIFF leans towards things dark and arty. Slow and/or stylistically challenging (i.e. creative) films like Tulpan, the brilliant Thee Monkeys, Gomorrah, and Vacation, demand a willing and art-seeking eye, one not brainwashed by Hollywood's formulaic tyranny. More stylistically straight ahead but beautiful and solid films such as Jan Troell's Everlasting Moments and the Oscar-nominated Baader Meinhof Complex also vie for any discerning fest-goer's top ten list.

But fluff-seekers can also take heart: this year's SBIFF also includes several films aiming shamelessly at the heart as much as, or more than, the head. Tiramisu, from Dutch director Paula Van Der Oest, had its U.S. debut here, and it could make the evermore challenging distribution grade. An aging, angst-y actress, a mild-mannered accountant, and a houseboat in arrears conspire in a story and a production with a nice, fizzy quality, Euro-style. Tandoori Love, from Swiss director, is a frothy little culture-clash and culture-embrace tale about a Bollywood shoot in the Swiss Alps and the unlikely love between a Swiss woman and a Bollywood chef, with plenty of close-ups of mouth-watering food prep, and normal folks busting out in song-and-dance. Call it a guilty pleasure.

We can usually expect a dose of French froth from the festival, and we get it with Cliente, starring mid-career actress Nathalie Baye as a divorcee seeking love by the hour, in the form of a gigolo who perhaps inevitably upgrades from professional lust to love. While it's nothing much to write home about, from a filmic perspective, director Josiane Balasko manages to whip up a nice French dish of a comic-drama, with a dose of moral naughtiness and irreverence, which we know will resolve into sentimental smugness. Sure enough, it does. C'est la vie.

As for the fest's best film from a child's eye view (apart from the charming kids in Tulpan), the award must go to the South Korean film Treeless Mountain (directed by Yung Kim), in which a mother's recent breakup with her husband leaves a pair of small girls to fend for themselves. It's a lovely, bittersweet film, about the simple truths of child-like innocence in the grim urban thicket, and about the beauties of cricket-hunting (at one point, the kids see crickets getting carnal in a jar, and the older sister reasons "they're just trying to have some fun before they die." Out of the mouths of babes:).

Innocence cast adrift and the resiliency of children are also themes in a fairly stunning, hypnotic film from Costa Rica, El Camino). In director Ishtar Yasin Gutierrez 's deceptively simple, neo-neo-realist turned magic realist film, a young girl, fleeing an abusive grandfather with her younger, mute brother, proceeds from Nicaragua to Costa Rica in search of their lost mother. Lovely, rustic and sometimes foreboding landscapes pass by, along with the tales of oppression and clutching poverty, and a darkly comic, sinister puppeteer.

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