October 15, 2006

Das Leben

The VIFF wrapped on Friday, and as I sat in the theatre for one of the final screenings -- the crowd shouting out word-for-word the farcical festival promotional spots which appeared before each screening (but, hey, no candy commercials!) -- I couldn't help but think about how wonderful it had been. Two weeks of world cinema right on our doorstep. Two weeks of ditching work early to duck into a darkened theatre in the middle of the afternoon with a few hundred other aficionados. I was struck by how easy it had been to see a number of fabulous films, films you'd never usually get a chance to see, films you'd never heard about, knew nothing about, and hadn't been preconditioned to like or avoid. There is a certain thrill of discovery inherent in attending a film festival. You know that there are going to be some truly tedious and perhaps even a few awful films, but there are also treasures to be uncovered.

I kept getting lucky throughout the festival, scoring tickets to sold out shows that I had only chosen because they happened to suit my schedule. Which is how I came to see one of the best films I've ever seen in my life, a German film called The Lives of Others or Das Leben der Anderen. A week or so later it was given The People's Choice Award for Most Popular International Film.

The Lives of Others is set in East Berlin during the years preceding the fall of the Iron Curtain, and is about the master interrogator for the secret police who believes that if someone's hiding something he can find out what it is, and everyone's hiding something. He is at once fearsome and relatable because he's a believer, proud to be the "...shield and sword of the Party." When he's charged with finding something to indict the state's leading playwright and his beautiful actress wife his faith begins to slowly unravel as the corruption inherent in his superiors is revealed to him through the round-the-clock surveillance of the couple he gradually comes to respect and, eventually, actively protect.

The film is exquisitely written, beautifully produced and emotionally devastating. It is a rare film that feels this true. It is founded in some very fascinating facts. For instance, the German Democratic Republic is credited with the being the most effective intelligence agency in the world effecting the most comprehensive infiltration of a civilian population in history. One in three-hundred East Germans was employed by the state and one in fifty citizens were informants for the secret police, or Stasi. After the wall came down, citizens could access all of the surveillance that had been gathered on them, or at least that which was not destroyed by terrified officials in the republic's last days. Which is the stage upon which one of the most powerful scenes in Lives of Others plays out.

By contrast, last night Esther and I went to see The Departed, and while it is Scorsese, I was struck by how loud and sensational it was; all bombast with no discernible emotional resonance.

Made me look forward to next year.

October 04, 2006


Okay, perhaps 'snubbed' is overstating it, but Douglas Coupland and jPod failed to make the Giller Prize short list. Being named to the long list (I've never heard of a long list before, but there you have it) is prestigious enough. And it's not like he needs the Giller Prize-winner accolade in the same way a lesser-known, less-established writer does. And it's good to see lesser-known, less-established writers get their due. So I guess all is well.

But it is interesting to note that Coupland has always been a bit of an outsider on the CanLit scene. In his own words:

"CanLit is when (sic) the Canadian government pays you money to write about life in small towns and/or the immigrant experience..."

The Globe and Mail earlier this week suggested that Coupland may have finally "cracked the inner sanctum of Canadian Literature". Which I'm not sure is something he's ever aspired to accomplish. He's probably better off right where he is.