Montreal Film Journal


by Alex Caron and Kevin Laforest

The 33rd edition of the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma takes place October 14 to 24 at Ex-Centris, Cinéma du Parc and, for special-event screenings, at Cinéma l'Amour. The complete program is available online.

The selection includes films from all around the world, from breakthrough filmmakers or seasoned pros, as well as plenty of documentaries, shorts, "evolving cinema" and special events such as Peter Greenaway's return to the festival to present his completed TULSE LUPER trilogy. Good times!


Ryan (Canada, Chris Landreth) 84
[ This brilliantly conceived short film is an impressionistic portrait of Ryan Larkin, an ONF animator who made a few influential films in the ‘60s then burnt out and has now ended up as one of the countless bums that roam the Montreal streets. Part documentary (we hear interviews with Ryan and some of the people who knew him), part animation (surreal 3D CGI characters fill the screen), this is unlike anything I've ever seen. (KL) ]

clean (France/UK/Canada, Olivier Assayas) 46
[ Emily lives the rock star lifestyle, not that she's much talented herself, but she's hooked up with an alt-rock cult figure, and both of them got hooked on heroin, until her husband got dead and everyone got talking about how she was responsible... Why, this is the Courtney Love story! This is an intriguing subject, at least for the first act. We follow Emily and her hubby at the end of their self-destructive downward spiral (in Hamilton of all places) and we gather much about the characters and their background in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, this economy of storytelling doesn't last. There's a six-months-later flash-forward and the action moves to Paris, as Emily tries to clean up her act in order to retrieve her kid, who's been living with his grandparents. I don't mind the melodramatic premise, but Emily's emotional arc is predictable and not particularly involving. Maggie Cheung is an extraordinary actress and she's great in the English parts of the film, not so much in the French ones. In supporting roles, I liked Don McKellar and Nick Nolte, but the child actor is atrocious and having musicians (Metric, Tricky...) play themselves is more distracting than anything. I also found the narrative jittery, clumsily introducing superfluous back-story (Emily once had a music video TV show! She used to be into lesbianism!) and ending every other scene with an inconclusive fade-to-black. The "stylized realism" conveyed by the cinematography is interesting and Brian Eno's music is hauntingly used through the movie, but ultimately "clean" is too uneven to be more than superficially moving. (KL) ]

[ Clean (55), the last film of french director Olivier Assayas, relates the story of Emily (Maggie Cheung), a rock star living in the shadow of her famous husband Lee. Their lifestyle is Rock'n'Roll and drugs, and that's what the film is about at first. Later on, it's the opposite, as we follow Emily's battle over drugs because she wants to be able to see her son, who's living with his grandparents in Vancouver. The first part of the movie is amazing. We begin our trip in Hamilton, Ontario. What a great party town!!!The cinematography, the direction and the acting are very powerful. So in the beginning we are saying to ourself that "Clean" will be a great film. That is until Assayas takes his story in Paris, six month after the events in Hamilton. The second part of the movie is not as good as the first in Canada. I don't know why Assaysa did this. The major problem is that Maggie Cheung, who won Best Actress award at the Cannes film festival, is very good except when she speaks french. And the French actor are very bad when you compare them to the American ones, notably Nick Nolte. Except for the part in Paris, Assayas' film is very good and the music by Brian Eno is great. (AC) ]


Demi-Tarif (France, Isild Le Besco) 37
[ Chris Marker wrote in Libération that a new Nouvelle Vague was emerging and that "Demi-Tarif" was its "À Bout de Souffle". Quality concerns aside, one can see what he meant. The same way Godard and his contemporaries reinvented the rules of cinema, the new generation is creating a new kind of film without film, where anyone can take a little DV camera and go make a movie on a whim. This has been going on for years, though, at least since Lars von Trier iniated the Dogme 95 manifesto. So "Demi-Tarif" doesn't actually reinvent anything, but it's still a notable example of the new cinéma direct. It follows two little girls and a boy as they wander through the city, dress up, shoplift, quarrel, watch "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", prance around in the nude... It's kind of an asexual, apolitical "The Dreamers". The preteen actors are very natural and first time writer-director Isild Le Besco's depiction of childhood adrift is occasionally fascinating, but her film seems adrift itself and feels long at only 63 minutes. (KL) ]

The Fuccons (Japan, Ishibashi Yoshimasa) ???
[ You gotta love the Japanese. Who else could think up such nonsense? "The Fuccons" is a series of three-minute shorts that follows a family of American mannequins living in Japan. There's James and Barbara, a hypocritically happy married couple, Mikey, their nearly-retarded son, Emily, his sorta-girlfriend, Charles and Tony, the rude English twins who always pop in uninvited, Teacher Bob, the schoolmaster who's so shy that he takes his mother everywhere with him so she can talk for him, and my favorite, Laura, Mikey's bitchy but sentimental cousin. It's peculiar to be watching a sitcom starring inanimate mannequins with petrified smiles and a tendency to laugh loud and often for no particular reason, and a lot of people walked out not even halfway through the screening, but I stuck around and was oddly entertained. (KL) ]


Childstar (Canada, Don McKellar) 26
[ Taylor Brandon Burns (Mark Rendall) is a 12 year old sitcom actor who's about to star in his first movie, "The First Son", an idiotic Hollywood flick that could be described as a cross between "Home Alone" and "Air Force One" ("Are they funny terrorists?"). While they're shooting in Canada, Taylor is driven around by Rick Schiller (Don McKellar), who thinks he's only doing this until his own filmmaking career takes off but is conned by the boy's mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) into becoming his full-time handler. This is a juicy premise with which you could go many different ways: play off how this wholesome kid on TV is a spoiled brat off screen or make him into a tragic figure that's being exploited out of his childhood, or focus on the failed Canadian director confronted to the excesses of big Hollywood productions, or on the odd triangle between the kid, his mom and the driver... Unfortunately, instead of picking one plot and developing it properly, the movie takes all these stories and throws them together into a free-for-all of half-baked ideas and unearned tone shifts. The characters are all underwritten, their motivations constantly changing at the whim of the plot(s). The satire of Hollywood is pretty toothless and, while the supporting cast offers amusing turns by the likes of Dave Foley and Eric Stoltz, they don't get that much to do. There are a few good laughs, but they're few and far between and then not there at all when the movie takes a dramatic turn. McKellar does have a point to make about children being used by the film industry, but it takes him forever to get to it and by then we're past caring. "Childstar" isn't as worthless as "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star", but it's a disappointment all the same. (KL) ]

[ What more can I say than Kevin about Childstar (26)? The latest film of Don McKellar is useless. I was so bored watching that film and it's only 1 hour ½, there's a problem here. The beginning was ok, but after 25 minutes, the story is going nowhere. After 25 minutes, we don't care anymore of the destiny of Rick Schiller (Don McKellar), and we don't care if he found the childstar (Mark Rendall). We just don't care about the story, as is often the case with Canadian films. Ok, there's some good bits in the film, like the photo shoot with Natalie (Kristin Adams), but that's just because she's cute!!! (AC) ]

Vera Drake (UK, Mike Leigh) 70
[ "She's got a heart of gold, that woman." That's Vera Drake for you, loving wife, caring mother, hard-working cleaning lady for rich folks... and criminal. You see, Vera's always putting the kettle on, usually for tea, but occasionally to boil water in which she mixes disinfectant and pink soap, all of which is then pumped up the kooch of unhappily pregnant women. Leigh does a good job of establishing Drake as a nice person living with a nice family, ordinary working class people. All she wants is to "help young girls out" but abortion, especially in 1950, is heavily frowned upon and illegal, too. Thus we feel this dark cloud looming over Vera's happy home life, where no one's aware of the service she provides to desperate gals... This kind of dry British drama can become depressing, but Leigh, frequent collaborators Dick Pope (on cinematography) and Andrew Dickson (on music) and the ensemble cast find some lighter notes in the midst of dreary circumstances. Imelda Staunton gives a heartbreaking performance in the title role and makes it very hard for us to condemn her. Leigh himself doesn't pass judgment, whether her actions are reprehensible is up to the viewer. (KL) ]

[ Wife, Mother, Criminal. Those are the words on the poster of Vera Drake (75) the latest film of Mike Leigh. We will follow, during 2 hours, parts of the life of Vera Drake, played by Imelda Staunton. I have to say that the performance of Staunton was the best female performance that I saw this year. Vera is a great character, she's always smiling, not complaining (she's a cleaning lady for the rich) and always ready to help people. That's the criminal part! She's helping young lady to have a abortion. And of course that's ilegal in Great Britan. For me, this is the best film of the festival (after 6 days) because Mike Leigh did a great job. First of all, the sreenplay is great, very well written and he finishes his film witch such intelligence. Leigh could have gone on with his story for another half hour, but he has the good sense of ending it at the right moment on a couple of very powerful images. Also, Leigh does a great job with the direction of the film. The art design department does a great job with some beautiful set, further enhanced by the cinematography of Dick Pope, which also conveys the sadness of the film. Finally, this film is beautiful and story will move you. (AC) ]


Life is a Miracle (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Emir Kusturica) 65
[ This new film by Emir Kusturica is very joyful and funny, but in some way we are saying to ourselves that we've already seen that movie. The story is simple. Kusturica sets the action during the war in Bosnia, his main character being a Serb engineer (Slavko Stimac) who has to keep an eye on a beautiful Muslim hostage (Natasa Solak). Of course the story will be around them and the impossible love that comes out from this relationship. Kusturica has a special touch and always lightens up the movie with beautiful ideas, transforming drama into comedy. Like in "Black cat, white cat", the spectator will see animals doing strange things (a donkey so desperately in love that he wants to commit suicide), old cars, cheerful music, etc. But that's the problem of the film, we already saw all those things in "Black cat, white cat". So no surprises, but you will spend a very good moment with those strange animals and those great characters. (AC) ]

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (USA, Asia Argento) 30
[ I didn't know what to think after I saw the latest film of Asia Argento. The question that I ask myself was: did she make that film seriously or with a smile on her face? Argento, who wrote, directed and acted in her own film, tells the story of a junkie (herself) travelling with her son around the United States. She's travelling because she needs money to pay for her drugs and to fuck a lot a different people. It was very quiet in the cinema and I don't know why, because I laughed so hard during that film. I have to say that I don't think much of miss Argento. She is a bad actress, a bad screenwriter and a very bad director. Then again, she wrote so many good one-liners ("You want to check my cunt also.") that I finally enjoyed the screening. And also, I couldn't understand how she convinced all the different actors to play in her movie (Peter Fonda, Winona Ryder, Ornella Muti, Marilyn Manson, Jeremy Sisto, Michael Pitt, etc). So the success of Asia Argento is a mystery to me, but again, if you don't have a heart like me, you will laugh a lot in that movie. (AC) ]

[ Like Alex, I was more amused than moved by The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (62), but I don't agree that Asia Argento is untalented. Sure, her screenplay is all over the place, uneasily mixing religion and blasphemy, but this story of a young boy's fucked up childhood with the worst mama ever and an endless string of no-good "new dads" is certainly not boring. It's like "Wild at Heart" meets "La petite Aurore l'enfant martyre"! Argento is not a great actress, but what a screen presence! I loved her ultra white trash bleached blonde junkie whore, this is a great (scarlet) diva performance. And call me crazy, but I find her to truly have a filmmaker's eye. Her movie is a bit of a mess, but it's visually alive in a way few movies are. Screw Sofia Coppola, Asia Argento is the second-generation director worth buzzing about. (KL) ]


Land of Plenty (USA, Win Wenders) 40
[ After 8 days of festival, I'm kind of disappointed of the movies that I saw. I tought I made safe choice by choosing big names like Assayas, Kusturica, Varda and Wenders. Well the last film of the German director is good, but not that good. I was hoping for a good Wenders, because when he make a good movie, it's very good. We just have to think of the beautiful "Paris, Texas", "The American Friend" or the documentary about his friend Nicholas Ray, "Lightning Over Water", to understand that he is a great storyteller. I remember the first time that I saw "Paris, Texas", it was such a powerful movie that I just had to watch his other films. But his latest film "Land of Plenty" is not one of his best. I was sad, because the subject is very actual and relevant. The action is set in Los Angeles after September 11, but Wenders won't show us the glamorous part of L.A., only the poor section of the city. So there's Lana (beautiful Michelle Williams), just arrived from Tel Aviv to work in a mission. She's looking for her uncle Paul (John Diehl), whom is a veteran from Vietnam. He's a freak, driving around in his van looking everywhere to find terrorists. He's got surveillance cameras, recorders, tape, etc. We follow him in is adventures and by a strange coincidence he meets his niece. The subject of freaks looking everywhere to find criminals in the USA is very interesting. So is the political part, becasce we know that Bush always talks about the security of the nation, but at some point we get the message. Wenders makes good use of digital video, getting some very cool shots with it and the coloration, which adds a lot to the film yet doesn't really make it better. So the latest film of Wenders is worth seing if you're a fan, if you're not, go rent "Paris, Texas" or "The American Friend". So please mister Wenders, go make a good film like you used to. (AC) ]

Palindromes (USA, Todd Solondz) 50
[ Palindrome means that you can say a word forward or backward and it will be the same word. So the main character's name is AvivA, so it's a palindrome. The story of the last film of the sick director Todd Solondz is about family, babies, abortion, and of course strange sex behaviour. Aviva is thirteen, and the only thing she wants is to have a baby. And she will! Until her mom talks to her about having that child. ("It would ruin your life!") But she will try hard, and that's the main story of the film. I like Solondz for his great dialogue, saying awful things (but sometimes real) in a way that if you don't listen carefully you will miss all the meaning of the sentence. On the poster of "Happiness" it said "Best Comedy of the Year!" Yes you laugh, but it's not a good laugh because of the dramatic subject of his movies. I like that a lot but in "Palindromes" he doesn't go far enough. Of course there's some funny parts, but it's not as good as "Happiness" or "Welcome to the dollhouse". The film's too long, too. Solondz could have made a great 45 minutes film with this story, unfortunately he pointlessly stretches some sequences (the Sunshine family). But still it's a Todd Solondz flick, so you will laugh at situations that shouldn't be funny, but with the great dialogue they are funny. (AC) ]

[ Palindromes (48) opens by stating that it was made "In Loving Memory of Dawn Wiener", the miserable central character of "Welcome to the Dollhouse", Solondz' breakthrough film. We learn that after getting pregnant from a date rape, Wiener killed herself. This prompts her little cousin Aviva to swear she would never do that, because that would kill the baby and she looooves babies. She might be only 13, but she really wants a baby, a cute little baby she can love and cherish... Her parents are against the idea, of course, so Aviva ends up running away from home. It's quite a disturbing sight to see this naïve little girl in a midriff-baring shirt running around asking men to knock her up. It's sad, but in usual Solondz fashion, he finds laughs in the most inappropriate places, defusing the pathetic of the story with funny asides (Aviva joining a Christian teeny-bop band) and throwaway lines ("Want some Nerds?"). On the filmmaking side, Solondz doesn't reinvent anything. His movies tend to look indie-cheap, with not much in terms of visual style. Solondz shakes things up a little here by having a different actress playing Aviva in every scene, so she goes from small to fat, plain to pretty, young to old, African-American to lily-white and red-haired... I'm not sure what this means, but it's an interesting gimmick. "Palindromes" kinda loses its way halfway through, needlessly revisiting situations and characters, and Solondz sometimes goes too far, overstepping the line between irreverence and cruelty, but his cynical worldview does balance out Hollywood's excessive idealism. (KL) ]

5 x 2 (France, François Ozon) 75
[ Finally the festival is over and I was hoping to finish it with a good film, at least a better one. I was hoping that the latest of French director François Ozon would be good. I like that director a lot, having enjoyed all the movies from him that I've seen. He's got the ability to do anything from murder-mystery ("Swimming pool") to drama ("Sous le sable") to theater put on a screen ("Gouttes d'eau sur pierres brûlantes"). So each time it's different and that's what I like about Ozon. This time we are following a couple, Marion (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and Gilles (Stéphane Freiss), during five important parts of their life together. So it's kind of a chronicle film, because we will enter the life of Marion and Gilles but just at strategic moments. It's not the first time that we've seen that kind of subject, but Ozon's screenplay is well written and his characters are great, they play very well together. The other particularity of the film is that we are going backward in time. So we begin with the couple at the end of their relationship, with a judge reading the divorce papers. It's kind of strange to meet the characters when they are vulnerable, sad and when they hate each other. But the thing that I like is that the further we get into the film, the more awkward the characters are with each other, because Ozon is going back until the first time they met. "5 x 2" is a good flick, smart but unpretentious. Ozon's a good storyteller and he keeps it simple, short and sweet (the film is one and a half hour long, that I like!), noting fancy. I also love that he uses great Italian music between the chronicles. What more can I ask for? (AC) ]

Tarnation (USA, Jonathan Caouette) 90
[ review ] (KL)



mémoires affectives (Canada, Francis Leclerc) 63
[ Is a man the sum of his memories? If so, what happens when one loses all of them? This is the ordeal that Alexandre Tourneur (Roy Dupuis) faces after he wakes up from a long coma during which he was declared clinically dead. Hit with a wicked bad case of amnesia, Tourneur can't remember a thing: not his failing marriage, not his unhappy daughter, not his job as a veterinarian, not his associate and best friend, not his love of Jim Corcoran's songs (!), not even his drinking problem. With the help of a friendly policewoman, Tourneur tries to reconstruct his memories, but even his short-term memory plays tricks on him...

"mémoires affectives" is a gripping human drama about a man who feels like he was born yesterday into an already old body. There's a superficial mystery surrounding the circumstances of the hit and run that put Tourneur into his coma, but his efforts to recover what he lost go much further, all the way into traumatic childhood events. The film was written by Marcel Beaulieu and directed by Francis Leclerc, who previously collaborated on "Une jeune fille à la fenêtre". They've created a complex central character, one who remains enigmatic even after the movie's over. The people around him are intriguing as well, especially since we're never quite sure what the nature of their relations with Tourneur truly is.

The film is exceptionally well shot by cinematographer Steve Asselin, who uses high contrast and cold, blueish tones to give the picture an unusual visual feel, which also translates to the effectively atmospheric score music by Pierre Duchesne. The story might be a little too deliberately paced then too abruptly resolved, but this is undeniably a well crafted piece. (KL) ]