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SIFF 2008, Blog #8

Letting Go of God
Dir. Julia Sweeney
Contemporary World Cinema Series
World Premiere

World Premieres are fairly rare at SIFF. While being among the largest film festivals, screening over 400 films most years, SIFF isn't the kind of festival that filmmakers premiere their films at. The only reason we probably got this one is that Julia Sweeney is local. We've even spotted her shopping at Uwajimaya with her daughter once. Otherwise, Letting Go of God would have probably premiered at one of the real festivals like Sundance or Toronto. But it didn't. It was premiered here and I was there and so was Julia and her family, who were seated directly in front of me. [grin] And Letting Go of God is proof of overwhelming talent as it was simply a recording of Sweeney's 2 1/2 hour monologue about her search for God and it remained engaging for the entire duration.

Letting Go of God is her journey that begins with a couple of mormon boys who knock on her door to ask her if she believes that "God loves her with all of His heart?" Her telling of this exchange is both funny and provocative and acts as a catalyst for a spiritual voyage where she seeks to know God. And I don't think I'm giving anything away by stating that where this journey takes her is toward finding no God at all and her peace of mind in this place.

I guess what makes this film so engaging is Julia Sweeney's remarkable ability to enchant an audience while weaving a tale. She is so natural and fun to listen to that 2 1/2 hours disappeared without the any awareness that time had passed. It also didn't hurt that her journey brought her to many of the same conclusions I have independently arrived at. One just doesn't hear too many stories about the search for the meaning of life that arrive at atheism.

Chrysalis
Dir. Julien Leclercq
Midnight Adrenaline Series

This year, the logic was that if I was going to do SIFF, that I would cut back the number of screenings attended. Last year, we went to 30 screenings. This year, we trimmed it to half of that. I don't always remember exactly why I had selected a film, but the things I focus on are the director, country of origin, the given synopsis and genre. It occurred to me last night why I decided Chrysalis would be a good one to see, it's a science fiction thriller. I typically really dig dark, creepy science fiction. Well, this one looked like it fit the bill and could be along the lines of Blade Runner. Cool.

Well, it could have been really great. The basic plot was reminiscent of Les Yeux sans Visage and the film looked fantastic. Chrysalis was not a grainy, low budget French movie, but a slick modern science fiction movie with an attractive cast, realistic sets, and even nifty futuristic cars. It looked great!

Sadly, it wasn't. Some of the issue was the midnight time slot. Chrysalis was a bit plodding to try to watch in the early morning hours and I am forced to admit that I failed. I found myself dozing through the middle of this movie, about a tortured cop uncovering a plot to use illegal immigrants as spare parts for a truly elaborate form of plastic surgery. Now I didn't miss so much to keep from realizing just how pathetic some of the plot was or to keep from realizing that the action sequences were terrible. But the biggest problem with Crysalis was simply that it was very slow. This was 90 minutes that I didn't think would ever end. It was exhausting.

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