By Indiewire | Indiewire September 5, 2002 at 2:00AM
FESTIVAL: Less Gimmicks, Less Glitz, But Still Fascinating; Montreal Celebrates Its 26th Birthday
by Brandon Judell
(indieWIRE/ 09.05.02) -- When it comes to excitement, Montreal is the Canadian fest playing the tortoise that loses the race to the Toronto hare every time. Yet as it plodded its way for the 26th time with deliberate care from August 22 to September 2, this ungimmicky fest is still a fascinating one to observe.
With more than 400 hundred films from such countries as Cambodia, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Mali, Guinea, Portugal, Myanmar, Hungary, and Turkey, there is hardly a better place to get a bird's-eye view of world cinema.
Surprisingly, or maybe not so, Hollywood studio and American indie offerings make barely a blip here with just 21 features. One gets the feeling their lack of a presence has less to do with Montreal's programmers' tastes than with film producers desiring to make a splash in Toronto, which is now covered by every entertainment tabloid show.
Warner Brothers did, however, opt to submit Michael Caton-Jones' inert "City by the Sea," starring Robert De Niro, Frances McDormand, and James Franco, no doubt because this tedious genre effort was opening wide in Montreal within the week. And apparently to get De Niro to show up, the film was placed into the official competition. At the press conference, the star of now three-bad-movies-in-a-row was asked his feelings on the importance of independent films in America?
"I'm not qualified to answer about American independent films because I don't see many," De Niro responded. "But what's the original question again just to make sure I answer as well as I can."
The question was repeated.
"It's essential to have an independent American cinema, of course," De Niro insisted, parroting the questioner, "but I haven't seen many movies. I know there are many good independent films out there that I just haven't seen that I'd love to see but haven't been able to see." So much for his participation in his own Tribeca Film Festival.
A feature entered into the competition on merit was Manon Briand's "La Turbulence Des Fluides," a Canada-France coproduction. Here Alice, a seismologist working in Japan, returns to her small Canadian town because the tides have ceased rising and falling. Is this odd behavior a precursor to an earthquake or is the real reason that a woman who drowned in these waters a year ago wants her body to be found and buried? A fine opening and strong finale make this one worthy of a gander or two. By the way, Genevieve Bujold shows up as a nun-turned-waitress.
The Russian entry, Alexei Balabanov's searing "Voina" (The War), has militant Chechens capturing and torturing Russian soldiers and an engaged British couple who were touring in "Hamlet." One young soldier and the male actor are eventually released. The Brit has to return with 2 million pounds or his love will be raped and beheaded within two months. You'll be fanatically biting your cuticles as this relentlessly powerful political thriller reaches its climax. (Warning: If you're Chechen, you might have some qualms about this one.)
Italy came up with a lollapalooza that could strike it big in the U.S. art house circuit. Cristina Comencini's "Il Piu Bel Giorno Della Mia Vita" (The Best Day of My Life) stars former sex symbol Virna Lisi as the matriarch of a big dysfunctional family. One day her granddaughter prays to Jesus, asking for all her kin to be truthful with each other. Christ grants her wish, and chaos breaks out immediately as everyone learns about each other's adultery, abortions, and homosexuality. Funny, moving and wise, this has all the makings of a substantial crowd pleaser.
Dani Levy's "Vater" (I'm the Father) from Germany is reminiscent of "Kramer vs. Kramer," except that here Mom comes back and grabs the kid. Stylish and satisfying for general audiences, the film gets a huge boost from the charismatic turn of its male lead, Sebastian Blomberg, who might just become the first Teutonic heartthrob since Horst Buchholz in Billy Wilder's "One, Two, Three."
Also in comp was Karen Moncrieff's "Blue Car," which is turning out to be this year's "In The Bedroom." An unhappy teenager (Agnes Bruckner) discovers poetry and more when she gets too close to her English teacher (David Strathaim). All three attended the fest and received unanimous bravos from audiences.
Actor-turned-director Vincent Perez makes a fine debut with "Peau D'Ange." Here Angele (Morgane More), an impoverished virgin working as a maid, falls in love with Gregoire (Guillaume Depardieu), a young man just in town for his mother's funeral. The two wind up in bed, and the next day Gregoire leaves for a successful life working at a big-city drug company. He even marries the boss' daughter. The unaware Angele pursues him and winds up in prison growing flowers. Sweet with a strain of spirituality and uplifting pathos, this one might also garner some U.S. fans.
Of course, writer-director Burr Steers' "Igby Goes Down" pulverizes its competitors wherever it's screened. This brilliant black comedy with a stellar cast and an ingenious take on upper-class humanity should make nearly everyone's 10 best list at year's end. For trivia fans: Steers is Gore Vidal's nephew. Who says cynicism doesn't have its own gene?
And if cynicism is hereditary, a camp attitude might be, too. Continuing in the style of his "Water Drops on Burning Rocks," Francois Ozon takes an octet of noted French actresses (including Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, and Fanny Ardant), sharpens their nails, and has their singing and dancing while there's a dead body in another room. Imagine a musical version of Neil Simon's "Murder By Death" with a dash of "Dynasty." There's even a torrid catfight that ends with an erotic lesbian smooch.
Overt lesbian carryings-on, however, could not be spotted in the newly enlarged and tranquil Montreal Market. Marla Halperin and Marc Halperin of Magic Lamp Releasing were seen traipsing everywhere, trying to pick up some quality features. Not far behind were a handful of European and Asian buyers.
But you can be in Berlin with the throngs and not make one sale, or be in Montreal. Just ask Andrew Chang at the BV International Pictures booth. He was representing such films as Mika Kaurismaki's "Moro No Brasil" (Sound of Brazil) and Jim Doyle's "Re-Inventing Eddie." "All I need is one sale to make my presence here worthwhile," he smiled. "Let's say it was very worthwhile."
Brigitte Hubman, formerly of Goethe House, stood guard nearby at the Telefilm Canada booth. With its beautiful catalogs and Canadian beer parties, Telefilm's goals were "to promote the Canadian films that are either in the Festival or that are part of the special Canadian market screenings. "The big news was that the Canadian government is putting money where its mouth is and is working to increase the Canadian market presence within its borders. "The Minster of Canadian Heritage through Telefilm Canada has now given us the mandate to set up programs to, in the next few years, up the Canadian box office in English Canada to 5 percent," said Hubman. Yes, that's 5 percent. In Quebec, though, the French-Canadian films already have a healthy share of the market.
And talking of health, packets of facial tissue were being stacked throughout the festival. Not for sneezes however. Teenager Aaron Sharp from Granada Hills, California, was instead promoting his "teary" 9-minute short "That's That," a touching tale of a boy with a dying dog and annoying parents who continue to live. It was a fine debut in a fine festival that continues to enlist the mind, but not the glitz.