Montreal Film Journal

FFM 2004

by Alexandre Caron, Neil Manning and Kevin Laforest

The 2004 edition of the Montreal Festival des Films du Monde, its 28th, will take place August 26 to September 6. The programming includes the following sections: World Competition, Cinema of the Americas (Panorama Canada, United States, Latin America), Cinema of Europe, Cinema of Africa, Cinema of Asia, Cinema of Oceania, World Documentaries, Out of Competition, Tributes, the Student Film Festival, and Outdoor Screenings. This year, the festival is also presenting two new sections, "Variety Critics' Choice: Americas Now", a selection by Variety critics of films from the United States, Canada and Latin America and Cinema and Sports, a special section to commemorate the 2004 Olympics.

It is this eclectic aspect of the program that has been a hallmark of the FFM and has made the Festival so interesting to both filmgoers and professionals from around the world. Each year, films from some 70 countries are shown; ranging from works by well-known directors to the first films of a new generation of filmmakers. The FFM has long since lost count of the number of its "discoveries".

As in the past, an international jury will see the films entered in the World Competition and they will attribute the following prizes:

Grand Prix des Amériques:
THE SYRIAN BRIDE (HACALA HASURIT) by Eran Riklis (Israel/France/Germany)

Jury Award :
Ex-aequo :
AROUND THE BEND by Jordan Roberts (United States)

Best Director :
THE 7th DAY (EL 7° DIA) by Carlos Saura (Spain/France)

Best Artistic Contribution :
ELLES ÉTAIENT CINQ by Ghyslaine Côté (Canada)

Best Actress :
KARIN VIARD for the film LE RÔLE DE SA VIE by François Favrat (France)

Best Actor :
Ex-aequo :
CHRISTOPHER WALKEN for the film AROUND THE BEND by Jordan Roberts (United States)

Best Screenplay :

Innovation Award :
THE CRYING WIND (FUON) by Yoichi Higashi (Japan), for its poetic quality.

For more info, you can log on to the festival's website.


Elles étaient cinq (Canada, Ghyslaine Côté) 27
[ review ] (KL)

Gente di Roma (Italy, Ettore Scola) 50
[ The 39th film by Ettore Scola, a docudrama about the people living in Rome, is unexceptional but there are some very nice moments, like the 10 minute bus ride in which two persons are talking about racism by the Italian community. The direction is sometimes off, but the images of Rome are beautiful as usual. It doesn't have scenes you will remember all your life like "Fellini Roma", but it's still a nice little film. (AC) ]

Marmoulak (Iran, Kamal Tabrizi) 85
[ This was my first Iranian film and a comedy at that. "The Lizard" is a thief (played by Parvis Parastui, who kind of resembles Bob Hoskins) doing a life term alongside murderers, including one who mused that his wife would still be alive had she been a better cook. After a prison fight, Marmoulak befriends the prison mullah in the hospital, who sees something in him, so that after discussing things spiritual, he leaves his religious garb so that Marmoulak will use it to escape. He then spends the rest of the film trying his best to return to his life of crime, only to have his disguise force him into committing acts of goodness, which start to snowball on him, so that he can't get away from the community that has adopted him for their mosque. He uses the advice given to him by the prison mullah to inspire his new followers, all the while trying to get his hands on the forged passport that will get him out of the country. This is a true feel-good film, full of great supporting charachters, even though we are forced to suspend belief with a sudden change of heart, based on a good deed performed by the title charachter while trying to cover himself. It's recurrent theme of "There are as many paths to God as there are people" will find resonance with people of all faiths, and provides a hopeful, but un-Hollywood ending. Apparently, the film has now been banned in Iran. (NM) ]

La Vida que te espera (Spain, Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón) 42
[ "Cows always know what they want." But we don't, right? Set against the hills and valleys of northern Spain, the film depicts how the life of farmer Gildo and his beautiful daughters Val and Genia is disrupted after their neighbor gets killed. Things become even more complicated when Val starts dating Rai, the victim's son, whom Gildo worries is only trying to learn the truth about his father's death. There's material for a dark and complex drama here, but this is actually a rather uneventful tale. There's an interesting undercurrent about how the younger generation doesn't want to end up like their parents, working to death to make a miserable living, but the movie's recurring message ("What goes unsaid gets undone.") is questionable. One also tends to grow impatient when every other scene shows a character milking a cow – there's even a cow-milking contest! (KL) ]

La Rivincita di Natala (Italy, Pupi Avati) 60
[ Avati's latest is a sequel to his "Regalo di Natale". 17 yeas ago, Franco (Diego Abatantunono) lost all his money in a game of poker against l'Avrocatio (Carlo Delle Piane), and now Franco is getting a rematch. He will reunite the same five players who played in the disastrous Christmas poker game, but can they trust each other? The story is very simple, but it's a fun film to watch. The characters are really likable and the actors are great. (AC) ]

Hacala Hasurit (Israel, Eran Riklis) 85
[ This film probably challenged me the most, as it was an Israeli co-production that dealt with the family of a bride-to-be from the Golan Heights who was about to marry a Syrian TV star, which means she'll have to leave her home in the Golan and will never be allowed to return. There were many other familial sub-plots involving the relationship between the bride's father and her two estranged brothers, but the film mainly focused on the bride's sister, played by Hiam Abbass, who gave one of the most moving and intimate portrayals I've seen this year, of a woman facing emotional turmoil, even as her own marraige is falling apart. I had to give Tonya a quick history lesson about the reason why this piece of land is occupied, and I was forced to confront my own personal feelings about the occupation, feelings once held very strongly, when I could see the human toll that it exacts. A very fine film, that also contains the most frustrating border exchange as a UN worker attempts to negotiate the proper paperwork that will allow both countries to accept the bride's emigration to Syria. (NM) ]

Je t'aime... Moi non plus (France, Maria de Medeiros) 63
[ After last year's "Cinemania" and its depiction of obsessive film buffs, this new documentary takes a look at those who actually get paid to watch movies all the time, critics. Most interesting is how director Maria de Medeiros (Fabieeeenne!) not only interviews critics but also filmmakers, who are doomed to live together. Whereas some compare this relationship to the one between a lamppost and a dog, others see it as a necessary rapport. Directors and critics both do what they do out of love for cinema, and in the best cases it is a wonderful experience for all. But when the artist and the reviewer don't see eye to eye, they become like frustrated lovers, with all the bitterness and antagonism this implies. After all, "a stab leaves a deeper mark than a caress". With interventions from filmmakers (Wim Wenders, David Cronenberg, Pedro Almodovar...) and critics (Gérard Lefort, Elvis Mitchell, Alexander Walker...) from all around the world, "Je t'aime... moi non plus" allows many different viewpoints, always thoughtful and often passionate. Particularly amusing anecdotes involve an English critic being bitch-slapped by Ken Russell on live TV and James Cameron writing a long missive to the L.A. Times asking for Kenneth Duran's head after he panned "Titanic"! (KL) ]

Trilogia – To livadi pou dakrizi (Greece, Theo Angelopoulos) 55
[ This is the first film of a projected trilogy by Angelopoulos that would be "a poetic summing up of the century that just ended and a visionary relationship with the century we are now traversing through a love affair that challenges time." The story begins in 1919 as a group of Greeks forced into exile by the Red Army come to establish themselves by a river in the Thessaloniki valley. One of these men is Spyros, who carries with him his son Alexis and Eleni, a three year old orphan. The two youngsters grow up to fall in love with one another but Spyros wants to marry the girl himself so, again, they have to go into exile. It's not so bad at first, as they hook up with musicians who admire Alexis' skill with the accordion, but before long death, a flood and war combine to make their lives as tragic as those of their ancient Greece ancestors.

This is definitely not an easy picture. On the one hand, it is remarkably directed and photographed. There is a true majesty to the recurring long wide shots of vast white skies and small black boats drifting on the river, and throughout the film Angelopoulos' shot composition is constantly amazing. On the other hand, I found it difficult to grasp what exactly the film is about. Historical context is either spouted off in thick blocks of expository dialogue or sketched so vaguely that if you're not already familiar with the era depicted, you'll have a hard time following the narrative and its seemingly random jumps in time. Even on a more superficial level, it's hard to feel involved with the characters and their tragic destiny because, despite the 3 hour running time, we don't actually get to know them. There are lots of crying fits on Eleni's part and some whimsical musical bits, but to me at least this didn't add up to much. "Trilogy – The Weeping Meadow" would have all the makings of a masterpiece, if only it wasn't so impenetrable. (KL) ]

O Melissokomos (Greece, Theo Angelopoulos) 20
[ In this film from the acclaimed Greek director, we follow Spyros (Marcello Mastroiani), travelling in his truck from the north to the south of Greece with his bees. You think the story is boring? Well, IT SUCKS!!! The only good thing in the film is Marcello. (AC) ]

Topio Stin Omichli (Greece, Theo Angelopoulos) 35
[ After my bad experience with The Beekeeper (O Melissokomos), I decided to watch a second Angelopoulos. Well, again, I was disappointed. I heard so many good things about this filmmaker... Ok, it's well done but, again, the story SUCKS!!! It's a road movie about two children (Voula and Alexandros) searching for their father who is supposed to live in Germany. The film is too long, too slow, and I'm tired of movies with children. (AC) ]

Edelweisspiraten (Germany, Niko von Glasow) 90
[ "Edelweiss Pirates" is a film that can best be described as harrowing. This is the true story of a group of little known young Germans during WW2 who did not conform to the Nazi rule. Karl, played by Ivan Stebunov, and his band of disaffected friends roam the streets of bombed out Cologne, painting anti-Nazi grafitti and fighting with gangs of Hitler youth, of which his younger brother, Peter, is a member. But all Karl would like is to be near Cilly, a young widowed mother of two, until one day they stumble upon Hans, a German prisoner who was being used to defuse bombs in the city and was able to evade his captors.

What follows is a bleak picture of a city in ruins, bombs raining down day and night; Hans insinuates himself into Cilly's life and home and also joins Karl's band of troublemakers. Relationships become more complicated as Karl becomes jealous, Peter quits the Hitler youth and begins to worship Hans. Karl is later forced into a difficult decision in order to try to save himself and his brother by turning himself in and ratting out Hans. The film is brutal in the portrayal of the Gestapo tactics with the Pirates who are eventually rounded up to face execution. This film is not to be missed as it compares to Polanski's "The Pianist" in its harsh portrait of a city reduced to rubble and the people who are forced to endure it. I wouldn't be surprised if Hollywood picked this to remake and sentamentalize...don't buy it, check out this original, shot on digital video, I think.

We were lucky to be able to listen to Director Niko von Glasow and survivor Jean Julich after the film answer questions from the audience; Glasow talked about the German collective amnesia regarding small stories such as this and Julich talked about the pain and difficulty of being locked up in underground cells while bombs continue to rain down on the city. (NM) ]

Otra Vuelta (Argentina, Santiago Palavecino) 15
[ I'd like to point out the importance of sticking with your game plan...I had originally planned on seeing "Rangeh Eshgh (The Colour of Love)", an Iranian documentary. However, Tonya was determined to assert herself by choosing our last film of the day, settling on Argentina's "Otra Vuelta (Another Turn)". Big mistake. From what I could gather from this slow moving "art-house" film, in grainy black and white, was that a filmmaker returns to his town after the suicide of a former friend. He engages in long, pointless dialogue with a female friend and there are ponderous shots of buildings where people occasionaly walk past. At one point I just gave up and took a rest; then, after waking up Tonya for the second time, we finally walked out of the theater to stumble back to our hotel. We were not the first. On the way out, we encountered a small group of people listening to what appeared to be the Iranian-American director of "Rangeh Eshgh" speaking about her views of the current culture in Iran. Oh well. (AC) ]

Predstava Hamleta u selu Mrdusi Donjoj (Yugoslavia, Krsto Papic) 62
[ Along with Isabelle Adjani and Theo Angelopoulos, Krsto Papic is one of three personalities from the world of cinema who are getting tributes at this year's festival. I don't actually know anything about the Yugoslavian filmmaking and randomly stumbled into this screening with Mixed Reviews' Ned Depew and his wife after the movie we planned on seeing turned out to be sold-out. This turned out to be a nice surprise, in spite (or because?) of the production values straight out of ‘70s porno and the uneasy mix of melodrama and farce. It tells the story of how the commissar of a small communist village forces the local teacher to direct a dumbed-down version of "Hamlet". The film interestingly has Shakespeare's classic drama translate into real life, as the young man playing the tortured Danish king struggles to prove that his father was framed for theft by the commissar, who happens to play the usurping king on stage. You can guess that this will end tragically, but what's unpredictable is how this is followed by the villagers feasting on roasted lamb and dancing for something like 15 minutes. Oddly compelling. (KL) ]

Zelary (Czech Republic, Ondrej Trojan) 80
[ Before seeing the film, I did not know that this film was nominated for best foreign film at this years' Academy Awards, or that Anna Gieslerova won the Czech Lion award as best actress. I only knew that it was a two and a half hour WW2 drama which seemed to be a nice counterpoint to "Edelweiss Pirates" as it takes place during the same time period and claims to be based on actual events. It begins with our heroine working as a nurse in Prague, seemingly also working for the underground with her lover, a doctor at the same clinic. That is until the Gestapo start closing in, her lover has already been spirited away to places unknown, and she is forced to flee under cover of taking care of a wounded farmer by escorting him back to his village. We are then taken through a small Czech town and eventually find ourselves looking at thrilling scenes of the countryside as she makes her way to the remote village of Zelary, under the assumed name of Hana.

It is at this point the film takes a shift as Hana must come to terms with her new life in a backwards community, as the farmer drops her off and leaves for supplies, telling her "...there is no electricity, but you'll get used to it." Hana must now assimilate with the village-folk, eventually marrying the farmer, dealing with the rivalries of a close-knit community, where everyone uses grain alcohol in order to get them through the harsh realities of their lives. Eventually, Hana does fall in love with the farmer, the Germans make an appearance and they are liberated by the Red Army, who turn out to be as bad as the Germans at first. Situations become desperate as the villagers try to hide, including a little girl whose cuteness reminded me of Dakota Fanning. The film then turns rather predictable as her farmer-husband is killed while helping to save the villagers. The final scene has Hana, reunited with her lover, return to the remote village and meeting with the old woman she had befriended. (NM) ]


Les choristes (France, Christophe Barratier) 56
[ review ] (KL)