COMEDIA 2003

UPDATE!
The festival ended yesterday as the awards were announced. AMERICAN SPLENDOR won the Comedia-Just for Laughs Audience Prize, with LA GRANDE SEDUCTION being named best French feature. 07/21/03

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This will be the 7th year of the film portion of Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival. From July 10th to the 20th, Comedia will screen “wacky adventures, bittersweet romance, mobster capers, wisecracking buddy pictures, feverish farces, black domestic comedies, send-ups, spoofs, satires, documentaries and mockumentaries, as well as a newly minted 35mm print of the greatest silent masterpiece ever made.” (no, not “La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc”, they mean Chaplin’s “Modern Times”).

Plenty of guests from around the world will be in town for the occasion, notably the legendary Carl Reiner (introducing a special screening of “The Man with Two Brains”) and Lloyd Kaufman (hosting a “Make Your Own Damn Movie!” class).

La Grande Séduction (Québec) 73

French Canadian cinema tends to be a hit-and-miss affair, torn between pretentious film school bores and no-one-ever-went-broke-underestimating-audiences hack jobs. Thankfully, the likes of Arcand, Morin and now Pouliot offer a breath of fresh air with films that are well crafted without showing off, entertaining without resorting to cheap tricks, and that have something to say about our way of life but don’t feel the need to shove their thoughts down our throats, auteur-style.

Raymond Bouchard plays the new mayor of Ste-Marie-la-Mauderne, a village on the Quebec east coast that’s dying a slow, pathetic death. Who needs a small community of men who fish every morning in their little boats when you can have a single huge-ass million dollar ship hauling all the fish out of the ocean in half the time? This leaves the people of Ste-Marie reduced to living off government handouts, wasting away in boredom, shame and drunken misery. Ok, I’m making it sound like a Ken Loach picture, but despite its bleakly relevant subject matter, “La Grande Séduction” is actually a joyful and often hilarious film. News come that a company wants to build a factory in Ste-Marie (and create lots of jobs), but only if a long-term contract is signed with a doctor.

Thus begins the Great Seduction, in which the townspeople will do anything to convince David Boutin’s Montreal plastic surgeon character that their little fishing village is heaven on earth. Ken Scott’s witty script is basically a fish-out-of-water story in reverse, where it’s the majority that must adapt to the individual. This is an opportunity for great ensemble work, and Bouchard, Boutin, Clémence Desrochers, Benoit Brière, Rita Lafontaine, Pierre Collin, the bodacious Lucie Laurier and the ever absurd Bruno Blanchet all deliver. The film doesn’t offer much in terms of profound insights and solutions, the resolution in particular feels like a cop-out, but this doesn’t take away how charming and enjoyable it is. This is a crowd-pleaser in the best sense of the word.

Mon Idole (France) 46

The bittersweet story of Bastien (Guillaume Canet, who also directed the film), the ever belittled assistant of asshole TV personality Philippe Letzger (Philippe Lefebvre), host of the hit Jerry Springer-style show “Envoyez les mouchoirs!”. Bastien only keeps working at Broustal Productions because of his admiration for his boss, Jean-Louis Broustal (François Berléand). One day his dream of earning Broustal’s respect comes true as the veteran trash TV producer invites him to his country house to discuss a concept Bastien came up with. Alas, the young man finds out that what Broustal and his sexy young wife Clara (Diane Kruger) are really interested in is a “male companion”…

This is Canet’s first feature and it shows. Not because it’s amateurish, quite the contrary. “Mon Idole” is filled with visual tricks, but that’s what they mostly are, “Look Ma! I’m directing!” tricks. So you get colorful animated sequences bookending the film, Scorseseish Steadycam shots through studios and nightclubs, extreme close-ups in DV (shower-cam, etc.), slowed-down or sped-up shots… It’s all pretty nifty but a bit distracting; I wish Canet had spent more time getting under the characters’ skin. The satire of shock-and-awe TV is superficial and obvious, as are the gay undertones of the central relationship (“Come and piss with me.”). I did laugh at the absurd, deadpan introduction of vultures, a dead deer and a coked-up plush kangaroo into the plot, and gratuitous musical numbers à la François Ozon are always a good thing, but the third-act shift towards black humor doesn’t work. Ultimately, the best thing about the movie is the wonderfully groovy soundtrack by French pop star Sinclair. “Mon Idole” has got some groove too, but it’s inconsistent.

Mortadelo y Filemon (Spain) 51

This is an adaptation of a Spanish comic that has apparently sold 80 million books worldwide – I’d personally never heard of it. Mortadelo (Benito Pocino) and Filemon (Pepe Viyuela) are not-so-special agents for the T.I.A. (Total Intelligence Agency), which is in deep trouble since their most dangerous weapon, the D.D.T (Daunting Demoralizer of Troops) has been stolen and sold to the diminutive but antagonistic dictator of Tirania (Paco Sagarzazu). The Agency assigns cocky detective Fredy Sledgehammer (Dominique Pinon) to save the day but when his loyalties turn, they’re forced to send in dumb Mortadelo and dumber Filemon.

“Mortadelo y Filemon” is the textbook definition of WACKY! Every little corner of the film is colorful and cartoonish, every other beat is silly and irreverent, the actors are chewing scenery like there’s no tomorrow, the story has not purpose except to string together endless gags and bits of slapstick… All of this is often more STUPID than funny, but I found the movie’s relentless goofiness rather endearing, if a bit tiresome.

Separações (Brazil) 68

This is an obvious retread of Woody Allen’s “Husbands and Wives”. You’ve got Domingos de Oliveira not only writing and directing but starring as Cabral, a neurotic and self-centered yet witty and romantic 60 year old intellectual who’s been in a relationship with the much younger Glorinha (Priscilla Rozenbaum) for 12 years. He still loves her dearly, but he also craves liberty, i.e. the opportunity to sleep with other young women. This leads to much arguing and angry sex between the two, they both end up taking lovers and they break up. Sort of.

de Oliveira reveals his game plan early on by linking the different phases of a separation with those of terminal illness: Denial, Negotiation, Revolt, Acceptance and finally Agony/Grace. Cabral and Glorinha go through it all, mostly through heated discussion. This is one chatty movie! Most of the characters work in theater and the film itself often feels like a play. de Olivieira doesn’t do much to make his story more cinematic. Beside a few clumsy montages drowned in voice-over, it’s all long hand-held shots of people talking and talking some more. This could be tiresome, but most of the dialogue is actually interesting, the actors are all very convincing and sympathetic, and Portuguese is such a musical language that you don’t grow tired of hearing it.

“Separações” can be harsh and bitter at times, but ultimately it’s heartfelt and joyful. It might be a shameless Woody Allen knockoff, but it has its own particular flavor that makes it enjoyable anyway.

Rub and Tug (Canada) 52

A “rub and tug” is a term to describe massage parlours where the girls work the fine line between legal (or at least tolerated) titillation and no-no full service. It’s “a lesson in teasing”, and so’s the film. There is some pornoish muric, scantily clad hotties and implied sex acts throughout, but the movie never feels crass or exploitative. This can be explained by the fact that it was written and directed by a woman who researched directly real-life parlours, which makes for an interesting, knowing look at the sex industry as a 9-to-5 job.

We meet Cindy (Kira Clavell), a bubbly Asian who’s supporting her family abroad and looking to get married so she doesn’t get deported, Lea (Lindy Booth), a playful blonde who tells her boyfriend that she does charity work (!), and Betty (Tara Spencer-Nairn), an ambitious brunette looking to open her own business. And then there’s Don McKellar as a nice-guy dork hired to welcome customers, keep the place tidy and the girls in line. His interaction with the girls and the customers is amusing and the film is generally pleasant as well, with nifty little visual tricks and gags, but the character work is inconsistent and the suddenly mean-spirited tone of the third act is uncalled for.

Cinemania (Germany) 66

For some, this “kookumentary” about individuals who love movies so much that they devote their whole lives to them must feel really out there and nutty, pathetic even. But being quite the cinemaniac myself (I saw “Cinemania” in the middle of a four-flick day) and knowing how rich and diversified New York’s repertory cinema circuit, I can’t say I blame them. If I had time and money and if Montreal had rep houses where you can see everything you want for a measly 50$ yearly fee, I know I’d spend even more time going from screening to screening! As one of the subjects points out, film can be a “substitute for life”. Like, I might be a miserable lonely drunk in “real life”, but who cares when you’re experience so much through movies? You laugh, you cry, you fall in love, you ponder things, you meet interesting people, you see new things…

Ok, so Roberta, Jack, Eric, Bill and Harvey’s moviegoing addiction is only one symptom of general obsessive-compulsive behaviour, they are a bit nutty and pathetic, but they have a sense of humor about themselves. The movie is quite funny and interesting, and it’s nice to see that you’re not alone in your desperate love affair with the films of the cinema. One could lament the irony that this was shot in video but hey, I guess cinéma vérité isn’t lucrative enough to afford celluloid. The Stereo Lab music is a nice touch, though.

Modern Times (USA) 70

A clock (time is money!), titles (“A story of industry, of individual enterprise – humanity crusading in the pursuit of happiness”), then a shot of cattle fading into one of workers rushing out of a subway station! Not very subtle, but an effective opening to this whimsical anti-capitalism / pro-proletariat comedy. I’ve never found the Tramp’s pratfalls particularly funny, but I do admire Chaplin’s physical prowess and the heartfelt, unpretentious way he expresses his convictions. And how cool is it that there’s actually a scene here where he’s high on cocaine and beats up escaping convicts?

Steal it if You Can (Korea) 18

A civil servant who gets no respect from his family, his wife who doesn’t have taste buds but who loves cooking, a video game creator who does hi-tech B&E at night as a hobby… The cat burglar targets the civil servant’s house and happens to steal some of the wife’s awful cooking and what do you know, he actually likes it so he breaks into their house night after night to eat it, which forces the husband tries all sorts of WACKY! things to protect his home.

Director Lym Kyung-isu throws in a lot of visual gimmicks and has the whole cast overacting like retarded cartoon characters, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a stupid, unfunny bore that makes “Home Alone” look like “To Catch a Thief”. Worse, it’s also drowned in sappy voice-over but we still couldn’t care less about the one-note characters.

Tales from the Crapper (USA) 54

Ohmygod! What an angry bitter man Lloyd Kaufman is! He was in town to promote his new “Make Your Own Damn Movie!” book and to conduct an “unfocused focus group” for the next Troma release, which he called a “huge mistake” right off the bat. You should have hear him ranting about the idiots he gave 250 grands to direct two DV sex-and-gore exploitation flicks (one with cops facing an alien man-eating stripper, the other with high school kids facing vampire man-eating strippers) that turned out so crappy that he had to fire them and take over. What he did was to edit them down to what was less unwatchable and, since that didn’t leave much, he had the idea to make them part of a “Tales from the Crypt”-type anthology, with himself in a black garbage bag (!) hamming it up as the Crapkeeper!

This is clearly a “troubled project”: it looks like crap, it sounds like crap, and the actors are crap. The low-rent gore effects are cool, but the endless strippers and fake lesbians scenes aren’t sexy in the least. Then again, what could be the worst movie ever made is elevated into the funniest thing by Kaufman. You see, he added tons of dubbing, voice-over and commentary through the film, most of it viciously mocking how incompetent the filmmakers are! No flaw of the original footage isn’t pointed out, no actor isn’t ridiculed, an endless parade of dick and fart jokes has been added and when a scene is still too boring, it’s spiked with “Boner-Vision”, picture-within-picture showing naked Tromettes!

This is still a pretty crappy flick, but the loud masturbating old man (“Bring on the BITCHES!”), the incredibly politically incorrect homosexual character (“Now you got the AIDS, baby!”) and Trey Parker’s cameo (“What do you call yourselves?” “The Aristocrats!”) made me laugh harder than anything else in the festival.

Manitou’s Shoe (Germany) 21

1862, the railroad is attracts new settles to the American West. One of them, known only as Ranger, finds himself bound to Apache chief Abahachi after saving his life. They’ve barely gotten time to adjust to each other that they get framed for murder and theft by an evil real estate agent from Wisconsin, which somehow leads to a madcap treasure hunt also involving Abahachi’s flamboyantly gay brother, a Greek who wants to be an Indian and a saloon femme fatale.

This anachronism-happy Western spoof wants to be a German “Blazing Saddles”, but its childish old-hat humor and lame sex gags are more akin to Mel Brooks’ later, lousier fare. The performances are lively enough and the film, shot on locations once used by Sergio Leone, looks pretty good, but it’s just not funny.

The Kiss of Debt (Canada) 32

Am I the only one who’s growing tired of “Sopranos” knockoffs? Here we have a Irish restaurant owner (Dan Lalande, who also wrote the film) who inherited his father-in-law’s gambling debts, an opera singer who can’t break off his contract and a lady florist who can’t divorce her incarcerated husband joining forces to free themselves from the Ottawa mafia. I did enjoy Lalande’s comedian-next-door performance and Ernest Borgnine makes a great Don, warm and fatherly one minute, blood-chilling and ruthless the next. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough laughs for me to get past the derivative script and mediocre direction.

I’ll Be There (UK) 26

When burnt-out, drunken Scottish rock star Paul Kehr (writer-director Craig Ferguson) rides his motorcycle through a second-story window and is taken to a psychiatric ward, hairdresser and former groupie Rebecca (Jemma Redgrave) decides it’s time to tell him that their one-night-stand 16 years ago birthed a young woman, Olivia (classical singer Charlotte Church, making her film debut). Will the family reunion be rocky at first? Will the Kehr discover that his daughter inherited his musical talent bu