With two extra days added at the end of this year’s edition, Cinemania finished its first online version. This festival, devoted to showcasing French-language movies with English subtitles, presented its awards this past Sunday. Of course, during an online event too.
The Visages de la francophonie Award went to the Canadian documentary “Je m’appelle humain” (“My Name is Human”) directed by Kim O’Bomsawin. A Special Mention was given to the film “Si le vent tombe” (“If the Wind Falls”) a French-Armenian co-production by Nora Martirosyan. The prize to the best Quebec-made film went to “La nuit des rois” (“The Night of the Kings”) by Philippe Lacôte. An award for short films was also given, and the winner was “Landgraves” directed by Jean-François Leblanc.
OUR OWN PICKS
Like most festivals, the selection at Cinemania aimed at a variety of genres and preferences. And yet, there was also a variety of quality.
I should start for what in my view was the best feature film: “Home Front” (“Des hommes” is its French title), a French-Belgian co-production directed by Lucas Belvaux. This film had also been selected at this year’s Cannes Festival. While in North America we are familiar with American movies focused on the theme of the Vietnam War, the French also had its own dirty war: its last colonial war in the late 50s and early 60s in Algeria. The last attempt to hold on to its crumbling colonial empire. This film—based on a novel by Laurent Mauvignier—captures the dramatic consequences of the war on some of the young soldiers. The scars of those events, however, are still lingering forty years later when Bernard (Gérard Depardieu) suddenly appears at his sister’s birthday party. His presence revives old conflicts in the little town where he and other veterans of the war now live.
The topic of war and its effects are present in another beautiful movie. Although the animation genre is rarely used to narrate a mostly dramatic plot, “Josep” directed by Aurel, manages to convey this powerful story in a very compelling way. The events are related by an old retired French gendarme to his grandson. It was February 1939, the end of the Spanish Civil War, and the defeated defenders of the Republic are crossing into France. The reception by the French authorities, however, is not very welcoming: the men and women escaping from fascism at home, are confined in concentration camps in inhuman conditions. Serge is one of the gendarmes in charge of keeping an eye on the refugees. Unlike his colleagues, Serge is the only one who tries to help the unfortunate Spaniards, and he becomes friend with Josep. The latter spends his time doing drawings while in the camp. This film is based on the real story of illustrator Josep Bartoli (Barcelona 1910-NYC 1955).
In a much lighter tone, we find “La face cachée du baklava” (“The Hidden Face of Baklava”). This is a Canadian movie directed by Maryanne Zéhil and focused on two sisters of Lebanese ancestry. One is married to a Québécois university professor and is herself a scholar. The other, without much education, is more traditional in her keeping of Lebanese customs. It is an interesting, at times funny at others more tense, approach at the often-debated theme of integration of ethnic communities into the mainstream of society.
The only disappointing film of all that I had the chance to watch online was the French-Spanish co-production “Madre” (“Mother”) directed by Rodrigo Sorogoyen. The plot at first seems enticing: Ivan, a Spanish 6-year-old boy, vacationing with his father in France, is dramatically being kidnapped by a stranger. Back in Spain, Elena, his mother, has followed the dramatic development on her phone. The child was able to call and tell her what was going on until the strange took him. He also said to her that his father was not around. Ten years later, we see the mother now working as a bartender in the same location where her son might have disappeared. Then she befriends, Jean, a boy the same age as her missing child. From then on, the story takes a turn between the implausible and the reiterative, without a convincing ending.
A good number of the movies shown at this festival may become available online. These are films recommended for those searching beyond Hollywood products.