Directed by Vera Brunner-Sung
Official Selection, 2014 International Film Festival Rotterdam
Vera Brunner-Sung’s coolly observational film BELLA VISTA starts with a drifter named Doris, a young white itinerant teacher to international students in Missoula, Montana. It’s an interesting premise, both because Missoula is Missoula, and Doris is the farthest thing from Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds. Doris lives in a dingy motel. She is pretty, but her prettiness only helps her blend into malls where she eats alone.
Movies about drifters are usually movies about home in disguise, and BELLA VISTA lives in the cagey space where transience complicates definitions of home. Inspired by Brunner-Sung’s own relocation to Missoula, Doris is someone for whom arriving doesn’t mean staying. Missoula, the film’s other subject, happens to be full of such characters – from her international students to a field trip docent who blandly describes Missoula’s internment camp where Japanese and Italians were imprisoned with vastly different trajectories.
Brunner-Sung asks what it feels like for Doris to make sense of a specific place in time. It’s a difficult question partly because a place is not really a finite knowable object and because we are always in the midst of the making-sense process. As such, Brunner-Sung’s posture is that of a wallflower, aloof but wide-eyed, scanning for connection, ready to leave.
Shot on a shoestring budget over 12 days, BELLA VISTA could seem at first glance like a despairing film, except for its many lilting turns, both narrative and aerobic. With a beautifully photographic eye, provocative shifts in perspective, and a sensory approach to questions of location, history, and language, BELLA VISTA is a remarkable debut that puts Brunner-Sung on the feature-film map, no doubt ready to drift onto another. –Christina Ree
Vera Brunner-Sung is this year’ recipient of SDAFF’s George C. Lin Emerging Filmmaker Award. Proceeds of this screening will be donated to the George C. Lin memorial fund.
Cast: Kathleen Wise, Hiroka Matsushima
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