The world of international film festivals is one of stature, as organizers and curators from Cannes to Toronto to Melbourne to beyond jockey and jostle for position, hoping to snag the big premieres that will add star power and prestige to their city and event. The way it generally falls is that Cannes, Venice and Toronto are at the top of the heap with everyone else picking up the remainders. In that vein, the Montreal World Film Festival has struggled for years. Certainly, the city is not wanting in film festivals with FIFA, Fantasia, Festival du Nouveau Cinema and Cinemania crowding up the calendar throughout the year and frankly, MWFF has been somewhat left behind in recent iterations. Certainly not as glamorous as TIFF and mostly centered around also-rans from other festivals, it has struggled to be relevant, but this year could see a big change in momentum.
Michel Hazanavicius‘ silent movie and Cannes sensation “The Artist” may already be on the schedule for TIFF, but the Montreal World Film Festival announced this morning they will get the honor of hosting its North American Premiere. Initially the move might seem a little odd on behalf of The Weinstein Company, but it does make a lot of sense. Firstly, while Hazanavicius is pretty much unknown in the English speaking world, French film fans know him as the man behind the camera for the popular ‘OSS 117‘ spy parody films, so it’s a smart play to bring the film to the one place in North America where the director’s name already carries some major weight. Additionally, the Weinsteins are already carrying a heavy awards season load and getting “The Artist” out of the gate a bit earlier in Montreal allows them to spread their energies and resources a bit better, particularly since in Toronto they will also have Madonna‘s “W.E.” and Ralph Fiennes “Coriolanus” to handle.
So why is the film the focus of so much buzz? “The Artist” centers on a fictional silent movie star George Valentin (played to perfection by Jean Dujardin) who finds his career fading with the advent of the talkies, while an actress he mentors, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) begins a rise to stardom. The twist? Hazanavicius shot the movie in black-and-white as a silent film, but he remarkably finds a wealth of life and energy in the old school format. Believe us, this is one of the most entertaining (and beautifully shot) movies you’ll see all year, and while the performance by the dog in “Beginners” is great, he’s got nothing on the mutt in “The Artist.”
Our Cannes review called it “a joyous, big hearted tribute to old school moviemaking” and pretty much perfectly sums it up. If you can’t make it to Montreal or Toronto, the film will roll out into cinemas starting on November 23rd. The Montreal World Film Festival runs from August 18-28.