Coming from India, Pihu is a fairly simple film that will become a nightmare horror movie to any parent. The story follows a toddler waking up after her birthday party. The two level apartment is a disastrous mess and her mother is sleeping next to her but Pihu becomes impatient. After waiting a bit for her mother to wake up, Pihu decides to go exploring throughout the house, encountering all the exposed dangers along the way, like a running tap in the soon to be overflowing kitchen, the iron that her father forgot to turn off before leaving for his business trip and the open door to the balcony, which is twelves stories or more above the ground. Soon, it becomes apparent that something awful happened over the night that Pihu doesn’t know or understand and it may just put her life in jeopardy.
First off, if you are a parent like I am, this movie is going to shake you to your very core. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, yelling and pleading at my computer monitor begging for some of these events in the film not to happen. The film is pretty captivating in the simplicity of presenting this story from the point of view of this little girl and as the tragedy of this story unfolds you hold the knowledge at the back of your mind that this is based on a real event. Pihu is a movie that will be very hard to shake for me, in a way like Son Of Saul was last year. I would recommend it but I fear the cinematic trauma may be too much for some viewers. 4/5
Tickling Giants (USA/Egypt)
Another fascinating and thought-provoking documentary, the new American and Egyptian co-production Tickling Giant tells the story of Bassem Youssef, a surgeon and comedian living in Egypt who decides to leave the medical field to make a satire talk show, like the Daily Show. This is at the time when Mubarak was on his way out and a revolution was taking control of the country. Yousef starts gaining a large fan and viewer base but also starts facing heat from both an angry government and the citizens loyal to those officials.
Again, the programmers at the festival knock it out of the park with this selection, as the film is absolutely engrossing and will evoke a myriad of emotions throughout. Yousef is immediately likable and you really want to see him succeed in the face of all this strife and censorship. To see him become a voice of the people is incredibly inspiring and, although the story has sort of a sour note on it, the path he has taken surely will open many eyes to the progress he made for free speech and hopefully this movie will give that much more exposure to Bassem Youssef. 5/5
The Unseen (Canada)
Making my second Canadian selection of the festival, I checked out The Unseen, a slightly Cronenbergian mystery thriller from first-time director Geoff Redknap. The film is about Bob, a former hockey player that left it all behind to live in a trailer in seclusion, working his days at a local saw mill. He keeps to himself, seemingly suicidal, but Bob has a more unheard of problem. He’s rapidly and grotesquely disappearing.His life is further complicated when his ex-wife phones because she’s at her wits end with their teenage daughter, who he hasn’t seen in eight years. Bob then has to travel to Vancouver in order to reconnect with his daughter, as well as keep his condition secret.
This film’s premise had me intrigued right away, even with some very false feeling beats in the script. Redknap drops little twists here and there that keep you wonder exactly how this will all wrap up before giving a large reveal to start the last third of the film that changes everything. Aden Young gives a good broody performance that fits well with the grey atmosphere or the film but the real star of the film is the special effects which had me absolutely mystified. Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out what the blend of makeup and CG was but what I do know is I couldn’t wait to see what kind of shot they would do next. 3/5
Mean Dreams (Canada)
Hitting my second Canadian film in a row, Mean Dreams feels a little less cliché. The film centers around Jonas, a teen who lives and works on his parent’s farm. His father works hard to keep the farm afloat and pushes him just as much, while his mother is a recluse, sitting inside watching television all day. When Casey and her police officer father move in next door, Jonas makes an immediate connection and the two become fast friends with the promise of more. Jonas is also quick to discover Casey’s father’s drunken temper and abusiveness towards Casey but he may be into something much more dark and dangerous than that. Jonas then makes it his mission to protect and save the new girlfriend that he’s become infatuated with.
A sleepy little farmland thriller, Mean Dreams is a very simple film in its story. Josh Wiggins, the young actor who plays Jonas, channels a little bit of Matt Damon in his lead role and Bill Paxton dons his villainous side to play the adversary, Casey’s father. The film doesn’t play too deeply on its theme and relies, rather, on just getting the story to the audience without a lot of surprises. There are some logic gaffes that bring the film down a bit but, otherwise, this is a passable, middling feature that fits into some of the better genre films that Canada has been producing. 3/5
The Keepers Of The Magic (Canada)
Another viewing of another documentary, this playing, again, right into my wheelhouse and a subject matter that fits in very well here at the festival. Director and cinematographer Vic Sarin takes the love for his own profession and bottles it for the masses in The Keepers Of The Magic, an engrossing look at the art of cinematography. Gathering iconic people in his field, like Roger Deakins, Gordon Willis, John Seale and more, each man describes what his method is, where he developed his style and what he’s trying to evoke from the audience, all across the backdrop of the most iconic films ever made.
It’s probably obvious but I adored this film on every level. Not only did it give my cinematic side a loving and warm embrace but it also gave me new things to look for when I watched Willis’s work in The Godfather again or the immediate need to go and rewatch Jarhead for Roger Deakins impeccable eye in an otherwise forgotten movie. I often state in my reviews how much cinematography can make or break a movie for me and this is a whole film about its importance. I also must state again how much the documentary part of the festival is knocking it out of the park. 5/5