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Photo of a scene from Titane // courtesy CIFF

Calgary International Film Festival: Editors’ Picks

By Ava Zardynezhad, Rachneet Randhawa and Ramiro Bustamante Torres, October 21 2021—

The Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) has come and gone for yet another year bringing with it perhaps its most diverse showcase of films featured to date. Despite ongoing provincial restrictions they opted to put on both dazzling virtual and in-person displays and special events at three venues including Eau Claire Cineplex, the Globe Cinema and lastly a brand new location at Contemporary Calgary. It’s obvious now that we’ve become certified and official movie buffs after critiquing from a collection of 175 multi-genre and short films from Canada and around the world — alongside attending the innovative Industry Week and fabulous red carpet events galore. So be on the lookout for these upcoming hot releases and grab a bag of buttery popcorn and a stash full of candy for a fun movie night in or out. 

Ava’s Pick: Sanremo

Now, I only got to watch a few films at CIFF, and I loved all of them. They included major award winners, Canadian features and international hits. But, although I thoroughly enjoyed and was equally intrigued by all of them, none quite touched my heart like Sanremo. This quaint, little Slovanian film was a cathartic experience. It wasn’t necessarily a plot- or character-driven story. Rather, it was a collection of feelings. Written and directed by Miroslav Mandic, the film follows Bruno, an elderly man with dementia who lives in a long-term care facility, as he develops a relationship with another resident, Duša. The film is told in fragments that seem somewhat unrelated and at times achronological. In this film, Mandic experiments with the concepts of memory and time through various themes and visuals.

Scene from Sanremo // courtesy CIFF

Through visual manipulations, he tries to parallel our experience to Bruno’s — our vision is foggy when he’s confused, our view is dimmed when he’s lost. But nothing beats Sandi Pavlin’s portrayal of Bruno. He takes us through the span of emotions that his character experiences from joy to loneliness to panic to confusion to excitement. Even if you don’t understand what’s going on at times or what you’re supposed to be taking away from the actions or dialogue of a scene, one thing is for certain — you’re experiencing a whole spectrum of emotions that you can’t describe, only feel. The film is also composed of a lot of silence. But what’s wonderful about it is that you get to experience existence through the noise that exists within the silence. Cinematographically, the film is super well-composed. The locations are beautiful and nostalgically-charged. The film just sucks you in and makes you want to stay a while. Sanremo is the kind of film that lives with you for weeks, even months, after watching it. Overall, this film was an overwhelming emotional experience and is one that I will go back to time after time. 

Rachneet’s Pick: Titane 

After reviewing a total of 28 films both in person and virtually at this year’s CIFF,  it was nearly impossible to choose my absolute favourite selection. 

It was incredibly difficult to choose just one after conquering oh-so-many. I decided to opt for a selection that was unique to me and provided the most artistic and cultural value. As a reminder, it’s not always so much about the critics choices, awards, accolades and prizes. For some of these films, I know they’ll be quickly picked up by Netflix and Amazon Prime after their premiere regardless of how they were ranked and rated by the audience. My top pick was Titane, winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival 2021 and also the 2021 Telus Audience Choice Award for the Late Shift category. This makes sense considering this was one of the couple of shows that were sold out at CIFF. 

The overall plot focuses on Alexia, a young girl that gets into a car accident with her family who, upon a post-surgical procedure, has a titanium plate fitted in her head and begins to develop a strong admiration for all things automobile as a child. Flash forward to her being older in which she’s now a hypersexed showgirl at a motor show, still displaying her head scar from that traumatic car crash many moons ago.

Scene from Titane // courtesy CIFF

And now comes the convoluted part. It’s almost difficult to explain but she not only has a selective affinity for cars or vehicles, but is sexually attracted and active with them and in fact becomes knocked up by one with its hybrid child. It’s like a reverse Transformers — like if there was ever a prequel to the series of the origins of Optimus Prime and its back story of becoming a robotic life form that has both biological evolution and technological engineering. Anyways I’m getting sidetracked — pun intended — but you get the gist. I have to admit I’ve never been a fan of horror but what I appreciate about the film is that it’s a thriller with a sprinkle of scary and definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat. I don’t think I’ve squirmed so much while at the movies. Not to give too much away for spoilers but I think it’s due to the plot transitioning from being all about violent serial killings to a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family and their everyday blunders. This was totally unexpected and an intentional choice by the director who explores themes of sexuality, gender identity and parenthood in a horrific way — just in time for the spooky season of Halloween. 

Ramiro’s Pick: Drive My Car

I was lucky to watch seven films and one shorts package from this year’s selection, but the film that caught my attention the most was Drive My Car. It was one of the films only offered in-person at the Eau Claire Market Cineplex. The film directed and co-screen written by Ryusuke Hamaguchi was a wonderful work that brought two characters together as they learn to process their grief and guilt. Primarily in Japanese, with other languages spoken like Korean, Cantonese and Mandarin, the theme of communication is essential to the plot as it surrounds actors working on the play Uncle Vanya by Chekov and a short story by one of the characters. 

Scene from Drive My Car // courtesy CIFF

The continuous reflection of the characters between themselves and the characters in the play really deepens the interactions on screen. Yusuku Kafuku is the main character of the film and he has been praised for his rendition of uncle Vanya due to his experience and ability to give himself into the character. After heartbreaking betrayal and tragedy hit his life, he steps down from his role and decides to join a festival where he helps cast and direct Uncle Vanya. This decision brings back the past he thought he had dealt with, especially when he meets a young chauffeur that is assigned to him for the duration of the festival. A whirlwind of accusations, confessions and an arrest ensues for the rest of the film. The use of Uncle Vanya to represent and reflect the characters’ personalities and issues was what really made the film amazing for me. I would highly recommend this film to anyone who gets the chance to see it. It has won a few awards and has screened in Cannes 2021 and Toronto International Film Festival 2021. 

This years’ CIFF was a great in-person comeback and we hope to see more of it in the coming years. While there were more films that we would’ve liked to include, we feel these three really captured the experience for us.

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