Five Images By Rainer Gansera

in 28th Montreal World Film Festival

by Rainer Gansera

Five images that remain (from the films screened in the World Competition at the 29th World Film Festival of Montréal): an ice cube that flies like a comet through the air; the portrait of a soft and cuddly tapas bar in Barcelona; the mysterious fire of a Japanese kiln; the great, wondering, troubled eyes of a 18-year-old girl; a corpse that will not die.

The ice cube, which lands in a glass of whiskey, was part of the opening film, Xiaogang Feng’s A World Without Thieves, and demonstrates something like the rhetoric of modernization in today’s popular Chinese cinema. It seemed to be taken out of a Western commercial. Director Feng mixes impressive music-video-aesthetics and traditional ways of story-telling. He looks at the nouveau riche with a satirical eye, but celebrates Western lifestyle-products — luxurious cars, the newest cellphones — and gives way to open product-placement. There is a brave peasant representing traditional morals, a young couple of thieves for romance, a fast running train with a gang of gangsters for lots of action. A strange film-cocktail, trashy and spectacular, that turned out to become a crowd-pleaser in Montréal.

Just like the Spanish comedy Tapas by Jose Corbacho and Juan Cruz, in which a young Chinese man represents the businesslike optimism of modern life, in contrast to the troubled Spanish characters. He works as a cook in a Barcelona tapas bar, a place where several lonely and isolated destinies intersect. The image of this tapas bar lingers, because it shows the longing for a warm-up-place in a world that is getting colder and colder. The film has the feeling of a sitcom, with funny dialogue, but gives its figures only a superficial touch.

Claude Gagnon’s moving Kamataki tells the story of a young Canadian, Ken, who tries to commit suicide, then visits his Japanese uncle (played by the great Tatsuja Fuji) and regains his lust for life. The uncle is a famous pottery-maker and kind of a Zen master. It’s wonderful, how the fire of the kiln is shown as a living organism that must be fed and guarded with great care. Ken learns to do this — and by this he discovers all the colors of life in a new way: commitment, sex, love, responsibility.

Annika, 18, cannot even guard a little barbecue-fire. Soon it will get out of her control – like all of her life. With great troubled eyes she looks at the growing flames and at her confused life. She has been thrown out of school, but kept it a secret from her parents. So her life has become a shaky lie, a course of embarrassing situations and half-hearted attemts to escape. Jan Martin Scharf and Arne Nolting accompany Annika in Truth or Dare (Wahrheit oder Pflicht) with French elegance and easiness. They catch the feeling of a life that is composed of boredom and a vague longing for adventure. Katharina Schüttler creates an astonishing image of Annika: her face reflects all the nuances of her mingling feelings: coolness and angst, strength and cowardice, loneliness and an ardent search for closeness.

The greatest discovery beyond the competition: Larry Kent’s bizarre family-portrait The Hamster Cage. Kent, known from his beginnings (first film, 1963: Bitter Ash) as “the father of Canadian independent cinema,” has created over the last 40 years a very small but remarkable oeuvre of about 10 feature films. For many years he remained unnoticed, but now he is back again with his familiar provocatory brilliance. The Hamster Cage reveals a British-Canadian middle-class-family as a hell of Oedipal scenarios. This stormy revelation takes place at a family celebration, and the abysses that open on this occasion are darker and deeper than in Vinterberg’s The Celebration — but Kent stylizes his de-masquerade as a hilarious farce, in which a dead body will never be dead enough. A funny horror film and a spooky comedy, The Hamster Cage looks like a Woody Allen film that has all the anarchistic eccentricities Woody Allen never dares to show.