Saturday, Sept. 6, brings to the Island a dazzling array of five first-rate movies from the six-day Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival.
The action starts at 10 am with the French film “Belle and Sebastian.” After this compelling boy and dog story comes a bad-boy and maid story from Singapore called “Ilo Ilo” at 1 pm. The always popular George Plympton’s “Animation Showcase” screens at 4 pm, and the French comedy “Attila Marcel” follows at 7 pm. The evening winds down with a music documentary, “Austin to Boston,” at 9:15 pm.
The show time for “Belle and Sebastian” suggests it’s a film aimed at children, but it deserves a much wider audience. It’s not really appropriate for children under 10, since it opens with a particularly dramatic and harrowing rescue sequence. Sebastian is a six-year-old who lives with his adopted grandfather César in the remote French alpine region of Saint Martin. Based on a popular novel by Cecile Aubry that was made into a TV series in 1965, the story takes place during WWII after the Germans have occupied France.
Director Nicolas Vanier takes full advantage of the breathtaking snow-covered Pyrenees with beautiful cinematography. The film opens with Sebastian and César hiking through the mountains. They hear a shot fired and the camera watches as a mortally wounded deer tumbles down one of the precipitous cliffs. It’s a doe whose fawn is left bleating on a ledge. César quickly ties a rope around Sebastian and lowers him down the dizzyingly sheer cliff to rescue the fawn.
After this opening sequence, the film turns toward the search for what César grumblingly calls “the beast,” because he believes it has been attacking his sheep flock. It is a feral mountain dog that Sebastian, convinced that the animal is not responsible for killing sheep, befriends and names Belle. German soldiers who have entered the area seem more of a threat than the dog as they search for local Resistance fighters who have been helping Jews escape through the mountain passes to Switzerland. That is what Sebastian thinks is America, where he’s been told his mother has gone.
These multiple narrative threads, in combination with the glorious scenery, will keep the viewer interested and satisfied. The only false note in the film is the magical way Belle changes color from dirty gray to pure white after a quick bath in a stream.
“Ilo Ilo,” a film from Singapore by Anthony Chen that won the 2013 Cannes Golden Camera award, is far more somber. Jiale is the classic bad boy, acting out in response to the tensions between his parents, who both hold down busy jobs. Added to the mix are the deteriorating economic conditions in Singapore. Jiale’s mother, Leng, who is pregnant with the family’s second child, has decided to hire a Filipino maid, Teresa, to help run the house and take care of Jiale. Jiale, of course, quickly challenges Teresa’s authority, but as the story unfolds, the audience will see how Teresa balances a firm hand with sympathy for her alienated charge.
The pleasures of “Ilo Ilo” come through its illustration of family life in Singapore, an affluent city-state that mixes democracy with rigid rules. Both Jiale and his father respond to Teresa’s kindness and contrast in personality to Leng, who rules the family with an iron hand. The film works best through its unspoken and understated story telling, most evident in the way it shows how Teresa establishes her position in the family.
“Belle and Sebastian” and “Ilo Ilo” represent just two of the many weekend offerings of the M.V. International Film Festival, which is screening all of its films at the M.V. Film Center in Vineyard Haven for the first time this year.
“Belle and Sebastian,” M.V. International Film Festival, Saturday, Sept. 6, 10 am.
“Ilo Ilo,” M.V. International Film Festival, Saturday, Sept. 6, 1 pm. All films at M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven. For a complete listing of Festival films and screening times, visit mvfilmsociety.com.