Highlights of the Edmonton International Film Festival

Some great films coming your way

I had the privilege of spending the first 10 days of October watching 20 films at the Edmonton International Film Festival (EIFF). The EIFF is quickly becoming one of the continent’s better festivals, with a top-notch selection of foreign and independent films scheduled for release over the next few months. Below you will find capsule reviews of eight of the most important films I watched (in alphabetical order):

My favorite film at the Edmonton International Film Festival is an extraordinary filmmaking achievement. Made by German director Sebastian Schipper, Victoria was filmed in one shot lasting 140 minutes.

Bikes vs Cars

Made by Fredrik Gertten, this Swedish documentary creatively identifies the world’s desperate need to stop relying on cars and make the switch to bikes (or public transportation if necessary), especially in cities. Filmed in Sao Paulo, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Copenhagen, Bikes vs Cars shows the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to cities and cars/bikes. It’s brilliance shines most brightly when it shows people (like Toronto’s Rob Ford) decrying the use of bikes in cities and actually trying to make a case for making cities less friendly for bikes (cities were built for cars!). What hit home to me, as a hybrid car owner, was how the sale of hybrids and electric cars are still part of the paradigm of car ownership that has ruled the world for the past century, thanks to the oil and auto industries. Powerful stuff! A must-see documentary for everyone. (PG)


Directed by John Crowley and written by novelist Nick Hornby, Brooklyn is a gorgeously filmed, beautifully acted, old-fashioned romance about Eilis (played by Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish woman who moves to Brooklyn in the early 1950s and falls in love with Tony (Emory Cohen), an Italian plumber, before tragedy strikes back home in Ireland. Domhnall Gleeson has a major role as another love interest and Jim Broadbent is wonderful as the Brooklyn priest who supports Eilis. If you enjoy old-fashioned romances, you will not want to miss this. (PG)


One of the more disappointing films at the festival is still worthy of a look because of the important story it tells. Freeheld tells the true story of Laurel Hester (played by Julianne Moore), a lesbian police officer in New Jersey who is diagnosed with cancer in 2005 and fights to get the county’s freeholders to allow her pension to go to her partner, Stacie (Ellen Page), if she dies. Job partner Dane Wells (Michael Shannon) is one of Hester’s few colleagues offering support. A story like this with actors like these could have been a classic. Instead, filmmaker Peter Sollettt takes the route of appealing to the widest possible audience, creating a formulaic biography that lacks style, intensity, and real emotion (but is nevertheless worth watching). (PG-13 for thematic elements)

The Lady in the Van

A delightful British comedy drama everyone will enjoy is Nicholas Hytner’s The Lady in the Van. Maggie Smith is extraordinary as “Miss Shepherd,” an old transient woman living in her van who decides to park her home on the driveway of writer Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings). Bennett is understandably nonplussed by this development but eventually discovers there is much more to Miss Shepherd than he first thought. The story lacks depth and should have been told in a tighter, more compelling way, but this film is funny, creative, and intelligent. And it features Smith at her irascible best (which alone is worth the price of admission). (PG)

The Lobster

The Lobster is a dystopian darkly-funny satire from Ireland made by Yorgos Lanthimos and starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz as two people caught in a world where single people have no place. Farrell’s performance is one of his best ever and Weisz almost keeps up. Intelligent, thought-provoking dystopian films represent a favorite genre of mine, so even though the story fades somewhat in the second half, this was one of my favorite films at the festival. (R for intense scenes and subject matter)


Based on the bestselling book by Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the screenplay), the plot of Room will be known to many. But I knew nothing (despite sitting through the trailer at least a dozen times), and that gave me a special start to the film that few viewers will experience. So I will not reveal anything about the plot here other than to say that Room, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, features a terrific performance by Brie Larson as a young mother of a five-year-old boy under unique and difficult conditions. A dark film, Room is nevertheless suitable for a wider audience. (R for language)

Son of Saul

Much darker yet, this Hungarian film by Laszlo Nemes is an extraordinary filmmaking achievement that is an early favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The camera relentlessly follows a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz in 1944, placing the viewer in the heart of a chaotic and horrific few hours during which Jews are slaughtered in the background (out of focus) by panicking German soldiers. The prisoner in question is Saul (played perfectly by Geza Rohrig), forced to work as a “Sonderkommando,” cleaning up and getting rid of the bodies of his own people. He sees one death too many and falls off the rails, endangering the lives of many as he tries to bury a boy properly. While the film is riveting and incredibly intense, there is a lack of emotional engagement caused by experiencing the events from the point of view of someone who is no longer thinking or behaving rationally. I would have wished the camera to give us at least one additional perspective. Still, Son of Saul is a must-see for those who can handle it. (R for violence and subject matter)


My favorite film at the EIFF is an even more extraordinary filmmaking achievement. Made by German director Sebastian Schipper, Victoria was filmed in one shot lasting 140 minutes, including numerous action sequences. It’s almost impossible to believe that such a feat could be accomplished. Filmed in Berlin in the early hours of the morning, Victoria begins with a young Spanish woman (brilliantly played by Laia Costa) leaving a club and being immediately accosted by a group of four young men, most of whom have had too much to drink. It would be criminal to reveal more than that, because the joy is watching this incredibly intense story unfold in real time as if you are viewing a documentary. The central conceit of the film necessitates some contrivance and limits character development, but I still enjoyed this dark story very much and Victoria is guaranteed to be in my top 10 films of 2015. (R for language and violence)