VIFF's absolute beginners: Our top picks for debut features at this year's fest

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      We recommend five amazing debut features to catch at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

      Hello Destroyer

      Hello Destroyer


      Writer-director Kevan Funk quips that his drama is “a hockey film, but not a hockey film”; whatever it is, a powerful sense of location and sensitivity to the subject matter are what make this near-flawless movie so impressive. That and Fear the Walking Dead star Jared Abrahamson’s monumental turn as Prince George Warriors grinder Ty Burr, a rookie who loses everything when he sends an opponent to hospital with life-threatening injuries. Funk’s shrewd framing of the hit is almost incidental; Burr’s subsequent railroading by the club, the community, and even his own family is tragically on point. As a frightened boy too emotionally constipated to help himself, Abrahamson tears your heart to shreds.

      Rio, October 1 (6 p.m.); International Village, October 6 (3:45 p.m.)

      Never Eat Alone

      Never Eat Alone


      Sofia Bohdanowicz is the “future of Canadian cinema”, according to Future//Present programmer Adam Cook. “She’s our Chantal Akerman. Her cinema is already complete and extraordinary, and I imagine that her name is one we will study.” Yowza! A widow in her 80s wonders about the fate of an almost-flame she met on the set of a live TV musical in the ’50s. Her granddaughter tracks down the tape, and more. On this slim premise, presented with docu-like realism, Bohdanowicz builds an acutely observed poem to ordinary life that somehow also contains an outlandish gimmick (though that’s hardly the right word) best saved for discovery inside the theatre.

      Cinematheque, October 2 (9:30 p.m.) and October 4 (3:45 p.m.)

      The Suffering of Ninko

      Suffering of Ninko


      The plight of irresistibly sexy Buddhist priests in ancient Japan—a subject too often avoided in contemporary cinema, and anywhere else—is finally given the attention it deserves in this wild Gateway Dragons & Tigers series entry. Ninko’s suffering in this case comes in the form of village women in heat, horny brothers in the monastery, and a nude, life-force-sucking succubus or two. Hardly surprising, since Ninko is a ringer for super-hot Japanese actor Tsujioka Masato. Director Niwatsukino Norhiro’s lively and very pretty film mixes animation with medieval raunch and a lot of nipples, not to mention a very agreeable visualization of the deep meditative state.

      Cinematheque, October 1 (6:30 p.m.); International Village, October 2 (12:45 p.m.)

      She's Allergic to Cats

      She’s Allergic to Cats


      The Altered States program (now part of the larger series Alt) goes to the wall with this inspired anticomedy about a video artist stuck in a dog-grooming job (Mickey Rourke’s daughter is a client) and saddled with a rat infestation, a mentally challenged landlord called Honey, and a super-macho German producer who despises weakness. And then Cora turns up, played by Sonja Kinski, who’s definitely a Kinski. The film’s glitchy analogue style is a blast, and director Michael Reich is happy to construct a little musical montage out of the detailed cleaning of a dog’s anal glands, but something endearing (star Mike Pinkney, mostly) rises out of all the elevated amateurishness.

      Rio, October 8 (11 p.m.); Cinematheque, October 12 (8:45 p.m.)

      The Giant

      The Giant


      Astonishing, unforgettable, and perhaps no less than we should have expected from Johannes Nyholm, the mad genius behind that “baby trashes bar in Los Palmas” video you watched on YouTube a thousand times. Christian Andrén disappears inside his role (and behind a lot of superb makeup) as Rikard, a deformed and severely autistic man whose life commitment to the game of pétanque (like boules, but apparently way more aggressive) is a form of devotion to his institutionalized mother. Aided by an ecstatically original score and luminous fantasy sequences, this entry in the Panorama Contemporary World Cinema stream is both hilarious and heartbreaking, skirting bad taste and moments of too-broad humour, but in the end emerging clean—and deeply moving.

      International Village, September 30 (6 p.m.); Vancity, October 10 (10:30 a.m.)