Calgary International Film Festival 2022 round-up

Eight films in 10 days isn’t much of a marathon, but it’s more in-cinema movie-watching than I’ve done in probably the last year combined. Via Letterboxd, here are some quick, capsule-style reviews of seven of them. The eighth was a screening of Murnau’s Nosferatu with a live score by Calgary’s Chad VanGaalen — a great experience but not one I was compelled to write about.

Presented in the order I saw them:


A very enjoyable watch, warm, funny, and maintaining Kore-ada’s knack for staying just on the right side of sentimentality. Writing this a week after watching it, though, not much of it has stuck with me. One thing that has is the shot of the police officer idly playing with a flower that’s stuck to her car window — such a lovely, spontaneous image.

Geographies of Solitude

In a way, it felt like there were three or four different films here, all of them interrelated and complementary. There’s the immersive nature documentary, shot with an eye for the transcendent; a character study revealed through action rather than interview; an experimental mixed media film, with cameraless animation and found sound compositions; and an environmental documentary illustrating our cultural wastefulness.

That last part was my least favourite, but it’s understandable and probably unavoidable that it would be included. The other three were all superb, though, and they combine into something much more experiential than your average doc.

A few stray thoughts:
• I love how much the film focuses on Lucas’ hands so much more often than her face. She seems to be a person defined by *doing* so it felt appropriate
• I’m glad they included the Cousteau footage with its sweeping helicopter shots of the island, but mostly because it highlights how different that approach to nature docs is from what Mills is doing here. Seeing things from a human vantage, with slow, deliberate movement and lingering on small details; it’s more about capturing the feeling of being there
• There’s an odd contrast between Lucas’ meticulous dissection and indexing of everything that happens on Sable Island, and her openness to Mills’ artistic impulses. Impressive that she seems comfortable in both of those worlds, but it really seems she’s held onto a sense of wonder
• The sound design is brilliant
• I appreciated how Mills and Lucas both found beauty in the whole of life, from birth to death. The film captured that well, even without the monologue at the end


If I’d seen Rehearsal I might call this the low-budget Franco-Canadian sci-fi version, but in all honesty I have no idea how accurate that is.

The tricky thing about a movie like this is that it needs to take its premise seriously to have any emotional depth, but the more seriously it takes it, the more obviously ridiculous the premise becomes. I won’t criticize a comedy for proposing an unrealistic means for managing group psychology on a mission to Mars, but the more the film wants to plumb drama from its setup, the harder it gets to ignore those issues.

Still, it’s a charmingly dry comedy with real nuance to its characterizations, sort of the definition of enjoyable mid-tier Canadian film fest fare. And Nana Mouskouri’s cover of “Feeling Groovy” on the end credits is delightful.

Decision to Leave

This might be the stifling heat in the theatre talking, but the final act felt unnecessary, or at least underdeveloped compared to the rest of the film. I appreciate the transition from surprisingly funny procedural to outright melodrama — an enticing mix of Hitchcock and Sirk — but after the methodical pacing of the rest of the film, the last act feels rushed, introducing a torrent of new elements that muddy an otherwise engaging story.

Smoking Causes Coughing

Of the three Dupieux movies I’ve seen (this plus Wrong and Rubber), this is easily the most consistently fun, even if it’s also the most straightforward. I wasn’t expecting it to essentially be an anthology film, but that structure suits Dupieux’s sensibility—and takes the pressure off any one story to stay engaging for more than a few minutes at a time.
It’s not very ambitious, but the brisk mix of gross-out gags, non-sequiturs and gentle nihilism (with a soundtrack dominated by Mort Garson’s chintzy synth daydreams) makes for pretty ideal late-night fare.

Something in the Dirt

A semi-satirical spin on paranormal investigation/conspiracy culture acts as a backdrop for an exploration of collaborative creation and the hollow desperation of Hollywood dreams. A difficult film to talk about, both in that it’s hard not to give things away, but also that it’s hard to be certain how to read any given scene, what with the metastructure introducing layers of unreliability into every part of the storytelling. But the half-baked research and pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo were (I think intentionally) laugh-out-loud funny at times, and the aura of unease makes it hard to look away.
Not what I was expecting it to be, that’s for sure, but it’s lingering with me.

Triangle of Sadness

In the first act, one of the main characters complains about how difficult it is to talk openly about money with people you care about. It’s such a loaded topic, with so much baggage around social status, gender norms, self-esteem, and on and on. That could’ve been a mission statement, but the film takes the easy way out instead—it gestures at ideas around money and class, but avoids any open, honest conversation.
Instead, it picks the easiest targets it can find, and does absolutely nothing to challenge your initial assumptions about any of the characters (or the segments of society they are meant to represent). Rich people are dumb, thoughtless, and useless. Working class people can catch fish with their bare hands and start a fire from scratch. Everyone is exactly what you expect, nothing more or less.
If I hadn’t gone into this with the baggage of knowing it was a Palm D’or winner, I might’ve enjoyed it more for what it is—a prestige gross-out comedy with some broad social commentary to add a patina of intellectualism to the poop and puke jokes. It’s beautifully made, and the theatre I saw it in reacted exactly the way the director intended, so it’s clearly effective in that regard. It just doesn’t have much to say. The characters may quote Marx and Chomsky, but the film’s critique doesn’t go much beyond “rich people are bad” and “power corrupts.”