Montreal World Film Fest: A complicated plot
By: Sergio Martinez – mtltimes.ca
This year’s edition of the Montreal World Film Festival (WFF) seems to have stories both, on the screen as well as on the hallways of the Hyatt Hotel where its headquarters are located during the ten days of the events. Leaving aside what is normal gossiping among journalists and other attendees during the happy hour on the hotel terrace, rumours about the financial problems of the festival have run wild. A report in The Gazette about some of the WFF employees not being paid on time contributed this week to an atmosphere of uncertainty. As it is well known, the main government agencies, Telefilm Canada (federal) and Sodec (provincial), have withdrawn their respective support for this event for some time now. The City of Montreal, although Mayor Denis Coderre attended the opening ceremony, hasn’t committed to help either. Nevertheless, at the same time there are more positive rumours pointing to a change of attitude on the part of these agencies for next year’s 40th edition. Would that change of attitude on the part of the federal and provincial cultural bureaucrats come on the condition that Serge Losique, the founder and president of the WFF, leave his post? Nobody knows for sure. Seen from the perspective of someone who just wants to enjoy good films and who doesn’t really care about the criticisms aimed at Losique, I think it is time for all parties concerned to find an acceptable solution to the problem. The WFF is an important institution for Montreal and it should not be lost just because of irreconcilable positions.
Going to the important thing now, the stories on the screen: at the time of my deadline (Tuesday) I have seen just a few movies that in my view would be close to win a prize. The Russian-made film “On The Road to Berlin” by Sergei Popov has some of that nostalgic touch of the war movies of the 1950s and 1960s made by famous Soviet directors of that time, but without the emotion that those movies conveyed to the audience (I’m referring of course to those classic films “The Ballade of a Soldier” by GrigoryChukhrai made in 1959, “The Cranes are Flying” by Mikhail Kalatozov made in 1957). “On the Road to Berlin” is good in portraying the building of the relationship between an officer who has been degraded and sentenced to death and the soldier who must take him to his destination where the execution must take place, however it doesn’t have all the display of emotion one can expect. Still, in my opinion it is the best movie so far.
“Fou d’amour” (“Mad Love”) by French director Philippe Ramos is loosely based on the real story of a priest who in 1959 was sentenced to death because of a murder he committed. What is original is that the story is narrated by the priest after his death, more specifically, by his now detached head (death sentences in France were carried out by guillotine). Moreover, the priest throughout all the narration defiantly defend his actions, from having sex with a number of the ladies in the little town where he was sent, to the last action that would actually cost his own life. He even says that he was the victim (in his understanding, the victim of love).
In the World Greats (Out of Competition) section, the Spanish movie (spoken in Catalan) “El virus de la por” (“Virus of Fear”) by Ventura Pons who is also a member of the jury, presents an interesting issue with the case of a swimming instructor at a local sports centre who is the focus of wild accusations because at one point he had kissed a little boy who was afraid of the water. The incident touches sensitive aspects in today’s society: child sexual abuse, political correctness, and the role of those adults in a (perceived) position of power with respect to minors.
The issue of fear is also present in another Spanish film, “El país del miedo” (“The Country of Fear”) by Francisco Espada focused on violence and crime in some cities. In this case, the violence by a girl against a boy in a school and how that violence escalates to the point that the boy’s father is simply incapable to deal with the problem and lets his policeman brother-in-law to take over which in turn brings unexpected consequences. It is an interesting look into a contemporary problem, although the last scene seems to appear out of the blue.
Documentaries are also an important part of the festival, Canadian-made “The Poet of Havana” by Ron Chapman brings a portrait of Cuban song-writer Carlos Varela, which at the same time opens some interesting questions about what kind of changes may be coming to Cuban society at this very moment when relations are being normalized with the United States. The movie also shows how the poetic songs by Varela manage to appeal to the young audiences in Cuba and abroad.
And for the big disappointment, in this case the film by British director Peter Greenaway “Eisenstein in Guanajuato” which is his very personal view of Sergei Eisenstein stay in Mexico to make a movie that would be called “Qué Viva Mexico” a project that eventually never saw the light despite the long footage of film shot. Greenaway attributed the failure of the Mexican project to the distractions in which Eisenstein incurred during his time in Guanajuato, mostly involved in sexual encounters with his Mexican guide and translator Palomino Cañedo. If one can summarize this movie one can say that it is full of excesses that ultimately obscure whatever story the filmmaker wanted to say.
The Montreal World Film Festival continues until Monday, September 7, the closing movie will be “Belgian Rhapsody” by Vincent Bal.
For detailed information on tickets, full schedule and venues, go to www.ffm-montreal.org