The Perennial Feel-Good Factor

in 35th Montreal World Film Festival

by Juan M. Dominguez

There is such a thing as a little feel-good sensation that tends to get overrated during film festivals. You know the drill: an all-you-can-see daily marathon that, sadly and more often, gives us more “I’m talking about something” features than anyone could stand (“something” being a pompous and perhaps simultaneous use of genre, social issues, Wagner — ah, Mr. Lars Von Trier —, clichés, non clichés, exoticism, film history, and the list goes on, and on, and on… and on.) But sometimes, there are movies that exist on a lower, even clumsier vibe. Sometimes a little feel-good movie appears. This is one such strong-hearted film with a tiny premise (yet in a rough, maladroit form) that captures a little piece of our world with a little feel-good vibe. A piece of our world the movie believes in. It’s hard, extremely hard, to find movies that believe first of all in the world, and then — and only then — in cinema. Movies that, even if they stumble in their cinematographic ways, can still leave some energy, a charge needed to keep believing in the fact that cinema can — and always will — be stronger when it believes in a little piece of the world and has the power to show its soul.            

Of course, this is not always a perfect equation (the rough cinema/heartfelt subject pair may lead to some contraindications) but at the latest World Film Festival, We Ain’t Rich or Famous But We Are The Happy Pals sure felt really good. We Ain’t Rich… might be referred to as a music documentary (and, you know, if there’s something music documentaries crave for its epic– or madness, or both flavors) since it shows how, for almost 40 years now, a band of men and women called The Happy Pals recreate a New Orleans jazz party in Toronto’s own Grossman’s Tavern, every Saturday at 4:30. Grossman’s Tavern is a small joint, and The Happy Pals, at least in recent years, still play to a full house — which consists of no more than 40 or 50 people of all ages sitting and dancing —, and they keep doing so after the recent death of Kid Bastien, founder and vital member of the Pals.          

Director and writer Jay Baja alternates interviews with the actual band members and live footage of a recent show (only a few times does he use old shows in which Bastien is still the frontman). The simplicity in We Ain’t Rich… is one that tends to fly under the film festival radar: sure, it gets a little redundant, and, sure, it lacks in ideas what it compensates in soul. These kinds of movies are usually a happy and sometimes undetected Blip in festival radars. But We Ain’t Rich… is a perfect example: festivals usually leave this type of picture to one side and, although this shows a lack of diversity, it also demonstrates a certain homogenization in the types of festival movies. We Ain’t Rich… is that perfectly imperfect little film that can light up a film festival in a small and yet vital way.

Edited by Steven Yates