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VIFF: Canadian must watch list

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Previously I gave my international choices for films to see at the Vancouver International Film Festival in VIFF: the must watch list. As good as those films could end up being I’d be hard pressed to ignore the great home grown Canadian talent at this years festival. Thus I am proud to give you version 2.0 of the VIFF must watch list, Canadian films edition.

Control ALT Delete – It’s 1999 and loveable computer geek Lewis Henderson is dumped by his longtime girlfriend Sarah. So he does what any young urban slacker would: work less and beat off more to internet porn. But with the added pressures of his buggy Y2K software and repeated romantic rejection, Lewis discovers that the website images no longer turn him on… and thus begins his strangely satisfying sexual relationship with the machine itself.

But all honeymoons must end and Lewis’ eye starts to wander from his dependable home desktop. His desire for newer, sexier models grows until he finds himself copulating with co-workers’ CPUs. When his boss, Angela, vows to identify the “computer rapist”, Lewis tries to throw off suspicion by dating the company’s mousey receptionist, Jane. But there’s more to Jane than meets the eye — with the new millennium fast approaching and a massive motherboard calling, it seems he has to choose between his freaky fetish and the challenge of real love. Or does he?

Crime – Tom Scholte’s gripping and powerful directorial debut is the story of four people trying to make some sense of their lives. Rick (Evan Frayne) is a university hockey player and dorm advisor. He’s doing his best to be a good guy, but he has some pretty serious blind spots. He befriends Crystal (Andrea Whitburn), an emotionally fragile young art student who is coping with the suicide of her older brother. Not far away, Tula (Frida Betrani) works at a deli to support her boyfriend, while she struggles to keep sober. The boyfriend, Brent (Tom Scholte) spends his days holed up in their apartment, smoking pot and playing his electric guitar. The two stories eventually intersect, setting off a chain of events that affects everyone in unexpected ways.

Compliant with the Dogme 95 manifesto and shot locally with a hand-held camera, Crime is an intimate look at flawed people trying to do what they believe is the right thing. More often than not, their actions result in further damage to themselves and to their loved ones. This is a heartbreakingly honest film about failed attempts at connection and healing, but there is also a sense of tenderness and hope at the heart of the film: a yearning for something better. Crime is gritty and intense, and hopefully the first of many in Scholte’s directorial career.

When Life Was Good – A sly comedic drama about quasi-bohemians struggling (emotionally, romantically and professionally) to find their way in the world, When Life Was Good is driven by a clear-eyed affection for its characters that is rare for any filmmaker, never mind one as young as Terry Miles. The film has a hazy, slightly stoned look, and is edited elliptically, as if the director, though obviously charmed by his principals’ numerous foibles, is aware that his characters talk a lot of crap, and thought eavesdropping a more appropriate, kinder introduction. It feels like a Cassavetes movie minus the rancour.

The film centres on Brooklyn (Kristine Cofsky), a would-be actress who has returned from studying abroad to celebrate her boyfriend Ben’s birthday; her long-time friend Faith (Keri Horton), an aspiring dancer who has put her career on hold to save her relationship; and budding screenwriter Casey (Casey Manderson), Faith’s boyfriend. Right from the start there are signs that something is amiss. Casey and Faith are goofy in love. Theirs is the kind of claustrophobic, exclusive relationship that is usually doomed when the outside world impinges. But it is Brooklyn who is the most divided and confused of the group. She slips into Ben’s apartment in an attempt to surprise him but, for reasons unknown even to her, becomes unhappy with what she sees and quickly slinks out, covering her tracks. She moves in with Faith and Casey, just as Faith’s mother, a truly determined stage mom, re-enters the picture.

As the characters struggle with conflicting emotions, unexpected intimacy and the demands of the real world, what emerges feels like an updated J.D. Salinger text. Miles adores his characters because of their naïveté, their confusion and their refusal to put on a front merely to make their way in the world. And by the end, we feel the same way about them. Though the film is constantly, surprisingly funny, there is a forlorn, elegiac feel to the proceedings. When Life Was Good is a paean to inevitably lost innocence – and signals the arrival of a distinctive new voice in Canadian cinema.

For the sake of full disclosure Super U is a sponsoring When Life Was Good at the Vancouver International Film Festival