Crossing the Boundaries

in 35th Montreal World Film Festival

by Tadeusz Szczepanski

This year, the border character of the Montreal World Film Festival, held at the end of summer in the most European North American city, apparently influenced also the selection of films for the main competition. A number of characters of the twenty competition films strangely often want to, or are forced, to go beyond the limits of their endurance, which is an interesting illustration of the dynamics and fluidity of the world we live in. Below are the three most typical examples, although there were many more.                    

In the American Film David by Joel Fendelman, the title character, an eleven-year-old Arab whose real name is Daud, makes friends with his Jewish peer. Driven by childlike curiosity and the desire for freedom, he pretends to be a Jew and enters a completely foreign environment — on both school and family levels — overcoming the strict religious, ethnic and social barriers of his home life which is ruled in an authoritarian way by his father, an imam of the local mosque. This quite unusual story is additionally flavoured by the fact that the clash of the two completely different and hostile orthodox worlds takes place in colourful and ethnically diverse Brooklyn. At the same time, the film gently outlines the tentative hope for possible reconciliation, thanks to the child’s trusting, open view of the world that is seemingly, hopelessly, divided. The film was a perfect candidate for the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, which it naturally won.                      

The German film The Fire (Der Brand) by Brigitte Marie Bertele tells the story of a rape and its impact on the victim’s psyche. The trauma thoroughly changes and ruins the life of a young woman who used to be full of joie de vivre. When the court fails to administer justice to the rapist, Judith decides to take revenge on him herself. Her actions slowly turn into a dark obsession and cross all the boundaries that regulate interpersonal relationships, which seems to be an appropriate response to the rapist’s behaviour, as he also severely violated the norms. The rapist turns out to be another descendant of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde (nota bene: it is no accident that the actor who plays him resembles Hitler), as in his official life, he is an owner of a surgical clinic and a highly regarded surgeon, living in a suburban villa where he leads an idyllic life with his lovely wife and beloved daughter. When we see him at a disco, looking for another victim, we can guess that he also — notoriously and deliberately — crosses the boundary between good and evil. The refuge of his family is deceitfully entered by his victim, who wants to unmask him. This brilliantly directed film with skilfully built-up suspense was a perfect candidate for the Best Director Award and, fortunately, won it.                    

While The Fire is a gloomy film seeking to illuminate the darkness of the human soul, the Belgian film Hasta la Vista!, by Geoffrey Enthoven, is a wonderful comedy, showing in an original and slightly risky way that everyone has a right to sensual happiness and can strive for it, crossing the boundaries of their own, damaged corporeality. The film tells the story of three young Flemish friends who cannot enjoy their lives to the fullest, as two of them are confined to wheelchairs and the third one has lost his sight. Trapped within their painful limits, they decide to escape parental supervision and lose their virginity in a Spanish brothel specialising in such clients. During their eccentric escapade they are taken care of by a specially hired Walloon named Claude, who, to their surprise, turns out to be a portly, vigorous woman (in French, the name is both male and female). Their successful journey through a Europe without borders, shown gracefully and with a great sense of humour, is an opportunity not only to present the human spirit and its victory over the body (according to the rule “where there’s a will, there’s a way”) or to make subtle jokes about the controversies between the Walloon and the Flemish, but most of all to praise deeply humanistic values, such as friendship, freedom and, last but not least, love that also appears at the end of the film.            

Hasta la Vista! won the Grand Prix des Amériques, as well as the People’s Choice Award, overcoming the boundary between the tastes of the jurors and the audience.

Edited by Steven Yates