Strong fare still awaits at VIFF's final week

45 RPM (Canada)
You have to like the premise of this amiable Canuck period piece: it's 1960, and two teens in rural Saskatchewan are riveted to a contest offering passage to New York City for a winner who identifies 30 top rock 'n' roll songs in less than a minute. Unfortunately, the young actors in Dave Schultz's comic drama swallow most of their lines (which contain too many modernisms anyway), and there's zero payoff for the contest angle. Pacific Cinémathéque, October 8 (7 p.m.) and 10 (1:30 p.m.)
> Ken Eisner

The atom Smashers (USA)
Been trying for years to understand how a nuclear accelerator actually works? The Atom Smashers comes close to providing a clear explanation. It also contrasts America's former push for science primacy (via campy '50s footage, natch) with the present government's concerted effort to cede all nonmilitary progress to the rest of the world-and Switzerland, in particular. In this, at least, the Bushies have been almost entirely successful. Granville 7, October 4 (6 p.m.); Pacific Cinémathéque, October 5 (10:45 a.m.) and 8 (1:30 p.m.)
> KE

Blind Loves (Slovakia)
Love might be blind, but bigotry isn't. The sightless couples in this unusual study must deal with everything from racial prejudice (skin colour still matters, it seems, even when it's invisible) to hovering social workers ready to seize sighted babies at a moment's notice. To be sure, most of the scenes in this leisurely documentary (it was shot over a five-year period) are quieter than this, but it is the unfamiliar perils that will remain in the (non–visually impaired) viewer's mind. Granville 7, October 4 (1:30 p.m.)
> Mark Harris

El Camino (Costa Rica)
Thanks to fever-dream settings and a surreal edge as dark as anything by David Lynch, El Camino will eat away at you for days. With her mute little brother in tow, a 12-year-old Nicaraguan girl flees her abusive grandfather's shack on the outskirts of an apocalyptic garbage dump. They set off in search of their mother, who left years ago to find work in Costa Rica. The journey takes them into the heart of darkness, from mangrove-swamp boat rides to creepy puppet shows. Along the way, El Camino also manages to paint a deeply pessimistic picture of poverty and migration in Central America. Granville 7, October 3 (6:40 p.m.); Pacific Cinémathéque, October 5 (4:30 p.m.)
> Janet Smith

Chelsea on the Rocks (USA)
Until it was recently gentrified, New York City's Chelsea Hotel was the ultimate mecca for New World hipsters (from Mark Twain to Dee Dee Ramone). This elegy to a rather sleazy paradise lost was directed by the most independent of the Big Apple's independent filmmakers, Abel Ferrara (who is to Martin Scorsese what Alejandro Jodorowsky is to Luis Buñuel). Deliberately “unprofessional” interview footage is crosscut with archival material and restaged “passion plays” (starring Janis Joplin and Nancy Spungen). Eccentric as all hell, and therefore a perfect tribute. Ridge Theatre, October 3 (9:45 p.m.); Granville 7, October 5 (2:30 p.m.)
> MH

Cherry Blossoms-Hanami (Germany)
German veteran Doris Dí¶ rrie returns with a lyrical and satisfyingly mature study of an elderly couple (Elmar Wepper and Hannelore Elsner) whose Bavarian rut gets unstuck when the woman learns of her husband's grave medical condition. Her lifelong desire to visit Japan is realized through a plot twist so surprising, you should be sure to avoid reading any other reviews of this delicate flower of a movie. Granville 7, October 3 (6:30 p.m.); Ridge Theatre, October 5 (4 p.m.) and 8 (6:30 p.m.)
> KE

A portrait of Diego: The Revolutionary gaze (Mexico)
Some fairly arcane art history meets startling footage: recently discovered archival film of renowned Mexican painter and muralist Diego Rivera at work. The documentary uses those 1957 reels-complete with real, live calla-lily vendors-as a starting point to explore the collaboration between Rivera, photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo, and cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa Flores. Granville 7, October 5 (2 p.m.); Ridge Theatre, October 9 (9:30 p.m.)
> JS

Il Divo (Italy)
You don't have to be familiar with postwar Italian politics to get a kick out of Paolo Sorrentino's sulphurous biopic. Giulio Andreotti was prime minister of Italy seven times over the course of his career, as well as a suspected Mafioso and accessory to murder. Toni Servillo plays this Teflon Christian Democrat as if Henry Kissinger and Ed Sullivan were the same person. As for the frequent mob hits, they're chopped and choreographed well enough to make even Francis Ford Coppola jealous. Granville 7, October 3 (10 a.m.)
> MH

The girl by the lake (Italy)
A taut thriller with a literary feel, this nifty procedural stars Toni Servillo-a rumpled, Armin Mueller-Stahl type-as a cynical police inspector called in to unravel dire goings-on by a dank northern lake. Everyone has problems there, including the cop, and learning how they all cope gives great satisfaction, even if the final reveal is a bit of a throwaway. Ridge Theatre, October 4 (4 p.m.); Granville 7, October 6 (6:40 p.m.) and 8 (11 a.m.)
> KE

The grocer's son (France)
A sweet, pastoral respite from the conflicts abounding at your average film festival, this slice of rural life stars handsome Nicolas Cazalé as a Parisian layabout called to action when his shopkeeper dad has a heart attack in remote Provence, forcing the immature fellow to take over the business. Even with the help of his savvy, might-be girlfriend (Love Songs' Clotilde Hesme), it's a stretch. But his gradual awakening is the point. Ridge Theatre, October 4 (1 p.m.); Granville 7, October 5 (6:20 p.m.) and 10 (10:30 a.m.)
> KE

In your absence (Spain)
The aesthetic value is high in this feature debut by Spanish filmmaker Iván Noel, who also composed the flamenco-flavoured music for this love letter to his adopted Andalusian home country, with its gorgeously shot sunflowers and rolling hills. The story, however, is so freighted with violent melodrama and portentous symbols that you almost expect the mostly nonprofessional actors to turn to the camera and wink. Sadly, they don't. Granville 7, October 7 (7 p.m.) and 9 (1:30 p.m.)
> KE

Let the right one in (Sweden)
The best vampire movie of the past 30 years? Whatever it is, this Swedish study of a lonely boy befriended by the cute bloodsucker next door is wholly original-a masterful blend of macabre storytelling, coming-of-age frankness, shocking gore, and gender-line exploration. Not sure about the ending, but the rest is so assured, it's scary. Granville 7, October 5 (9:30 p.m.), 6 (9:30 p.m.), and 8 (1 p.m.)
> KE

Pachamama (Bolivia/Japan/USA)
For most of us, this will be the closest we'll ever come to Bolivia's moonlike inland salt sea. Instead of simply shooting a travelogue about the area, Japanese director Toshifumi Matsushita has crafted an unaffected fable with the innocent beauty of Gabbeh or Latcho Drom. Set to the ethereal sounds of local music and using the unearthly landscape as a backdrop, Pachamama lets locals tell the story of an indigenous Quechua boy who joins his father, and a herd of llamas, on a journey along the endless salt trail. Granville 7, October 5 (7 p.m.) and 6 (3 p.m.).
> JS

The Secret of the Grain (France)
It's hard to think of any other film this good that starts off so unpromisingly. For the longest time, this tale of an unemployed ironworker (Habib Boufares) who wants to open a floating couscous restaurant in a rundown Mediterranean port seems to consist of nothing but interminable family arguments. Annoyance gradually turns to anxiety, however, as the suspense mounts. Then the suspense gives way to excitement and the excitement becomes an inexpressible mélange of triumph and despair. Abdellatif Kechiche's film deserved every one of the four Césars it received—and then some. Granville 7, October 4 (2:30 p.m.)
> MH

Sita sings the blues (USA)
This animated take on the Ramayana (or the juicy bits, anyway) would be utterly amazing even if you didn't know that Nina Paley created the delightful artifact alone, on her computer. The hypercoloured telling of this essential Hindu epic is further illuminated by a parallel modern love story, a shadow-puppet version of the kibitzers on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and songs by Jazz Age singer Annette Hanshaw. She ends her songs with the words “That's all.” Hopefully, it won't be. Granville 7, October 5 (12 p.m.), 8 (6:20 p.m.), and 9 (2:30 p.m.)
> KE

Tokyo! (France/South Korea)
With the 63-year-old exception of Dead of Night, all the best fantasy-horror omnibus films have come from Asia. Tokyo! is no exception to this rule, even if the three contributors are French (Michel Gondry and Leos Carax) and South Korean (Bong Joon-Ho). Because the three stories are so different from each other—a film editor pushes flunkiedom to the ultimate degree; a troll tosses hand grenades while eating flowers; an agoraphobic falls in love with a pizza-delivery woman who might be a robot-it's hard to pick a favourite. But they're all terrific. Granville 7, October 8 (2 p.m.) and 9 (7 p.m.)
> MH

Wendy and Lucy (USA)
Kelly Reichardt's follow-up to the sublime Old Joy offers small rewards but doesn't quite deliver on its promise. Brokeback Mountain's Michelle Williams dulls down as an inarticulate and almost-broke young woman who is driving through Oregon when her car conks out and her dog (the Lucy part of the title) disappears. The rest of the short tale is Wendy's resolute attempt to get back on track. It's minimal to a fault, but still provocative. Granville 7, October 4 (1 p.m.) and 7 (9 p.m.)
> KE