Interestingly, quite a number of film titles at this year's Vancouver International Film Festival involve the relationships between domestic help or caregivers and their clients.
In Latin and South American titles, such as Mexico's Hilda (about an affluent housewife who becomes obsessed with her maid) and Brazil's The Second Mother (about a housemaid whose life is transformed by the arrival of her estranged daughter), these relationships are often commentaries on or analyses of class issues.
European titles such as Netherland's Alice Cares (about robot companionship for the elderly) and Denmark's In Your Arms (about a patient seeking assisted suicide) address topical issues about how our relationships are changing in our modern world.
Both the France-Netherlands coproduction Chronic and the Czech Republic-Slovak Republic coproduction Home Care address terminally ill patients.
In USA's James White, a son must pull himself together in the face of his mother's cancer diagnosis (starring Sex and the City's Cynthia Nixon).
Other male leads are featured in France's Disorder, about a male bodyguard for a wealthy wife, and in USA's Nasty Baby, in which a gay male couple enlist the help of a crazy female neighbour (played by Kristen Wiig) in their attempt to have a baby.
In a local production, No Men Beyond This Point, is an alternate-reality mockumentary set in West Vancouver in which women no longer need men to procreate. The housekeeper in this case is male and gender roles get flipped.
Meanwhile, some hired domestic help in a different vein is depicted in South Korea's visually sumptious The Royal Tailor. Two talented male dressmakers duke it out to be the official head designer for the royal family.
Japan's Our Little Sister doesn't involve hired help but when three sisters invite their half-sister to live with them, she helps them provide some of the missing elements of their family life after their estranged father dies.
Here's a list of films at this year's VIFF that are related to this theme, with brief descriptions. Full descriptions and details can be found at the VIFF website.
Alice Cares (Netherlands)
Science and sentiment power Sander Burger’s documentary about how technology is preparing for the western world’s demographic sea change. With the number of seniors spiking and traditional ideas of family fracturing, who will be there to lend the aged an ear and lift their spirits? One possible solution is Alice, who’s friendly, attentive and patient as she provides companionship and conversation for three elderly, isolated women. It just so happens that she’s also a robot. “As unassumingly delightful as its eponymous, diminutive ‘care-robot.’”—Hollywood Reporter
Tim Roth delivers an understated performance as a hospice nurse whose selfless devotion to the terminally ill sometimes distorts into more inscrutable behaviour in Michel Franco’s deft character study. Recalling Michael Haneke’s Amour in its unsentimental depiction of life’s closing chapters, this mesmerizing psychological drama also examines the heavy toll exacted on this caregiver who’s at ease with impending death but at a loss with life. “A captivating work.”—Screen
In Alice Winocour’s taut, beautifully controlled drama, an Afghanistan veteran prone to panic attacks (Rust and Bone’s Matthias Schoenaerts, indelible) is hired to protect a wealthy businessman’s wife (Diane Kruger) and child at their luxurious coastal estate. Are the dangers he detects real or are they just PTSD symptoms caused by his war-time experiences? "A pulsing, sexy thriller… Schoenaerts at this point should be certified as a genuine movie star."—Vanity Fair
A bored housewife becomes a desperate one in Andrés Clariond Rangel’s sly slow-burn thriller. Dead of spirit after decades of upper-class leisure, Susana (Verónica Langer) finds her long-dormant passion rekindled by the arrival of a young new maid, Hilda (Adriana Paz). As her interest in the girl turns to obsession, an identity crisis gives way to more volatile behaviour. Rangel ensures that Susana’s shift from generosity to tyranny is chilling—and thrilling—to watch.
Home Care (Czech Republic/Slovak Republic)
Appealing and affecting, Home Care is a humanist tale that puts a poignant spin on that perennial staple of Czech cinema, the village dramedy. When a selfless home-care nurse (Alena Mihulová) suddenly requires care herself, she, her family and patients must redefine their roles and relationships. Written and performed to perfection, Slávek Horák’s tragicomic film captures the details of small-town life through piquant observation
In Your Arms (Denmark)
Afflicted by an aggressive motor neuron disease, Niels opts to die with dignity and asks his nurse, Maria, to escort him to a Swiss clinic. As they make the trek, Samanou Acheche Sahlstrøm crafts a bold drama that’s profoundly moving without ever feeling manipulative. There’s emotional ugliness lying in wait but it’s ultimately rendered beautiful by its honest insights. An undeniably important film, this is a “provocative query into what makes life worth living.”—Variety
James White (USA)
When his widowed mother (Cynthia Nixon) is diagnosed with cancer, James (Girls’ Christopher Abbott) is forced to pull himself out of a self-destructive nosedive. His newfound equilibrium is fragile at best, leaving both his resolve and their relationship teetering at a precipice. Alternating between cacophonous scenes of New York and exquisitely quiet domestic drama, Josh Mond crafts “a story that showcases subtlety and technique on both sides of the camera.”—Guardian
Nasty Baby (USA)
Having cajoled a friend (Kristen Wiig) into carrying their baby, a Brooklyn artist (director Sebastián Silva) discovers that his sperm count isn’t up to snuff and taps in his unenthused partner (Tunde Adebimpe). His disastrous video installation and increasingly unstable neighbour ensure that chaos reigns in Silva’s incisive, merciless satire. "A startling drama of extreme moral ambiguity… [and] a vibrant, thoughtful piece about modern life…"—Hollywood Reporter
No Men Beyond This Point (Canada)
In a world where women procreate asexually, male babies have become passé and an entire gender faces extinction… What’s a guy to do? Well, the youngest man alive (Patrick Gilmore), who toils as a housekeeper for a West Vancouver all-female family, is unaware that he’s about to become a key player in a battle for survival. Camera Shy’s Mark Sawers is at the height of his satirical powers with this wry speculative mockumentary.
Our Little Sister (Japan)
When their long-estranged father dies, three grown-up sisters impulsively invite the half-sister they’ve never known (she’s the daughter of the father’s second wife) to move into their large house in Kamakura. Kore-eda Hirokazu’s most female-centric film, adapted from a famous manga by Yoshida Akimi, is less about sisterly bonds than about familial tensions, rivalries and what it takes to overcome them. Sensitive, emotionally acute and, of course, beautiful.
The Royal Tailor (South Korea)
The term “costume drama” takes on a whole new meaning in Lee Wonsuk’s sumptuous period melodrama, which centres on the rivalry between the official tailor to the king’s court and a handsome young upstart with new ideas and techniques. Their conflict plays out amid a welter of fabrics, passions and protocols, with several top stars adding dramatic weight. The attention to the details of tailoring is awesome.
The Second Mother (Brazil)
Anna Muylart has crafted one of the year’s biggest crowd pleasers! A cheerful São Paulo housekeeper (the wonderful Regina Case) finds her life—and the lives of the high class family she cares for—comically turned upside down when her estranged daughter (Camila Mardila) shows up and unleashes a welter of issues relating to class difference, infatuation, motherhood and privilege. "Beautifully written and acted with precision, this film’s a winner."—Hollywood Reporter