Different Worlds

in 37th Montreal World Film Festival

by Diego Brodersen

As critics, programmers and film festival habitués know, if you’re an A-list film festival and you’re not called Cannes, Berlin or Venice (maybe also San Sebastian), but you still want to introduce the audience to a selection of world or international premieres… you are usually in hot water. The latest edition of the Montreal World Film Festival (Festival des Films du Monde in its proud Québécois original version) was exactly there with its two main competitive selections: the First Films World Competition and the official World Competition. Forty films, most of them never shown before elsewhere, the rest only seen in their countries of origin. The outcome was, predictably, a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the ugly. The World Competition was composed by twenty films, very different in scope, ambitions and artistic results, helmed by the FIRPRESCI Prize winner West (Westen) by Christian Schwochow, reviewed elsewhere by Pierre-Simon Gutman. This German production about a GDR woman crossing the border with her son in the late seventies was, arguably, the most subtle and thought provoking of the bunch, in a lineup that included many films that showed a characteristic classical approach to narrative and a preference for big or powerful “themes” as their main subject: Love, War, Faith, Hope.

One example of that is Life Feels Good (Chce sie zyc, directed by Maciej Pieprzyca), which premièred in Montreal and took not only the Grand prix des Americas (the most important award, given by a jury presided by Jiri Menzel) but also the Audience Award. The film could be described as a polish My Left Foot, the story of a young boy with cerebral palsy that could only show his inner world after many years of a total lack of communication with other people and misapprehension regarding the true nature of his illness. The powerful and physically demanding performance by its main protagonist, Dawid Ogrodnik, compensates only in part for the film’s tendency to underline with loud music every emotional development of the story, which seems to have a feel-good, life-affirming sentiment as its main driving force. The sports movie Jappeloup, directed by Christian Duguay, also tries to please the crowds with the true story of a horse and its owner, from showjumping at small local events to the golden medal at the 1998 Seoul Olympics. A French blockbuster with a cast that includes Guillaume Canet, Daniel Auteuil and a brief appearance by Donald Sutherland, Jappeloup, with its conventional and clichéd storyline, would had made a good opening film, but lacks the inventive, depth and even rigor that one would expect from a film in a competitive section.

On the other hand, the Montreal World Competition included The Wedlock (Zendegi-e Khosousi-e Agha Va Khanom-e Mim), whose original Persian title should be read as “The Private Life of Mr. & Mrs. M”, a family drama that reflects on marriage, love and social attitudes within the constraints of the strong censorship that prevails in the Iranian cinema industry. Director Rouhollah Hejazi builds the story around three women of different generations, centered mostly on the conflicting views of the different characters, from smoking in public to cohabitation. In the end, The Wedlock is all about freedom, but the film is unavoidably polite and even afraid to investigate these issues in depth, although it does offer an interesting chance to see a young director trying to test the limits of what can and can’t be shown and said on the Iranian movie screen. The Ferry, directed by Shi Wei, was another title that offered the Montreal audience the possibility to discover unknown worlds through cinema. Its story is that of an old man that lives in a tiny riverside town in rural China, and whose life is devoted to taking people over from one bank to the other in his small ferry. The visit of his son, who is now living and working in the big city, triggers many discussions about heritage, family values and social mobility, and the director is really good at directing his non-professional actors and using the exuberant locations as backdrop to the drama. Slowly and intelligently paced, The Ferry is also a bit conservative in its obvious political subtext. Is this social realism reborn, with an artsy twist?

Edited by Christina Stojanova