Attempting to describe Mangoshake would be mostly futile, so let’s put it this way: out of the dozens of films I’ve encountered this year at VIFF, it’s the one I enjoyed the most.
The tale, loosely defined, of two rival food stands in the bleakest parts of suburban Montreal—one is called “Mangoshake”, the other “Chow Mein Asia China”—Terry Chiu’s debut sticks to an intensely lo-fi aesthetic, but persistently zings the viewer with its high definition comic vision.
“When it feels chaotic, that’s probably how it felt while it was being made,” says Chiu, of a project shot on relatively low tech gear over one summer with a ton of friends, many of whom wander in and out of the story with confounding narrative purpose but lots to say, much of it extremely silly (and some of it occasionally quite affecting.)
One of the most striking things about Mangoshake is how confidently an epic cast of non-actors adapts to the film’s surpassingly weird tone.
“Looking back, it’s like, ‘How did I get them to buy into this insanity?’” says the 25-year-old filmmaker with a laugh, during a Skype chat with the Straight from Montreal.
“It’s like a blackout! Not to give too much credit to myself: I articulated quite well what I was going for, and for some reason they were game. And I put a lot of trust in the bonds that I have with each of these people. I didn’t go for professionals who know the craft. It was about making it from a place of honesty and connection, and being with people who get it. This isn’t something that gets made with people who don’t get it.”
An aspiring actor at one time in his young life, Chiu describes himself as “a dude from the ghetto who said ‘I wanna do this,’” and he talks about the “delirious commitment” it took to get the film made. The delirium is both visible and contagious, although the film’s anarchic zeal does have an actual point, made clear from the beginning with a title card that reads: “For every person who watches a coming-of-age movie and feels way worse after it.”
“This is about making a movie that punishes and destroys those archetypes, the western tropes of youth and longing,” explains Chiu. “Take all those movies that betray you; Mangoshake is an attempt to reverse them.”
Let’s add here that for his first interview (won’t be his last), Chiu prepared a written manifesto, largely about the suspect nature of the popular culture his generation has been saddled with. Long may he fuck with it.
While Mangoshake brilliantly messes with viewer expectation at every turn, a handful of comedies arrive at VIFF with equivalently subversive intent, all busy short-circuiting reality like a good Groucho Marx line. Each is highly recommended.
Screening at the Rio next Saturday (October 6), the awesomely deadpan Relaxer concerns couchbound Abbie’s attempt to best an impossible level of Pac-Man while Y2K looms outside his tenement window. Like Mangoshake, there’s a punk background to Joel Potrykus’s film (note the Fear t-shirt worn by bullying brother Cam), but here the actual decline of western civilization has a Python-gone-sour feel.
From Quebec, Waiting for April (Cinematheque [October 3]) pits its handsome formal rigour against a plot involving a “mystical singing bone”, an actor with a gorilla arm, and the buttoned-up woman cop generally trying to make sense, perhaps on our behalf, of director Olivier Godin’s unblinking surrealism.
And France’s Keep an Eye Out (International Village [October 6]) is just a glorious pile-up of absurdities in which a police interrogation turns in on itself, so that flashbacks are insistently invaded by characters from the present, and a perfectly innocent suspect manages to implicate himself in the violent death of a cycloptic desk sargeant by geometry triangle. Wonderful stuff.
For lovers of Luis Bunuel, Lewis Carroll, W.C Fields, or potent smart-arsery in general, here’s your fest within the fest.