World’s Gloominess in Montreal

in 32nd Montreal World Film Festival

by Andrés Nazarala

If we see cinema as the reflection of the spirit of our times, an event of global invocation such as the “Festival des Films du Monde” of Montreal should give us more than a symptom for a diagnosis about the mood of the planet.

It is no coincidence that the great Theo Angelopoulos screened ”The Dust of Time” (Trilogia II: I skoni tou hronou) here, a film that – between New York, Rome and Berlin – analyzes the present through the events of the past. On this journey along different space/time dimensions, the Greek filmmaker contrasts passion and yesterday’s utopias with the emptiness of a teenager of today, who has no direction in life (Willem Dafoe’s daughter in the movie).

“For the first time ever, we are in a period when we do not know how it will be the future”, Angelopoulos told me in a conversation. His concern is mostly political, as we know, but his films are always worried about the impact that the socio-political context has on individuals.

It sounds like an exaggerated statement…or maybe not: we are in an age of doubt. It’s life after collective dreams, apocalyptic prophecies, and big ideas for changing the world. We’re in an era of public disappointment and private isolation; of general disbelief in the institutions or ideas that once made sense. And many of the twenty films that were part of the World Competition showed this sense of despair and gloominess. Pessimism as art.

”Love and Rage” (Vanvittig forelsket), a film from Denmark by Morten Giese, follows a young piano player who loses his professional opportunities in life because of his strong inner angst. Jealousy (activated when he meets a lovely girl) and a rage that he understands as inherited (his father committed suicide) marks his trip into his own personal hell. Existential confusion also rules in ”I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive” (Je suis heureux que ma mère soit vivante) by the well-known French director Claude Miller with his son Nathan Miller. The story focuses on an adopted teenager who finds his birth mother and approaches her with a hidden fury.

The Italian film ”The Physics of Water” (La fisica dell’acqua) by Felice Farina also dissects a family in a rather heavy mood. Here, a child watches the romance between his mother and his uncle, and discovers dark secrets related to his father’s death. Family violence, but in a fantasy-horror code, is also the subject of ”Strayed” (Zabludivshiysya), a film from Kazakhstan by Akan Sataev, which enters the altered mind of a man who confronts the unknown when he gets stuck in the middle of the steppe with his wife and his son. We can see the same amount of obscurity in other films, such as ”I Am Yours” (Jestem twòj) by Mariusz Grzegorzek from Poland, ”Animal Heart” (Coeur animal) by Séverine Cornamusaz from France, and Asiel Norton’s ”Redland” from the United States.

But there was one picture that stood out because of its subtle way of dealing with subjects like suicide, alienation and the always interesting topic of identity: ”9:06” (unjustly, it didn’t received any awards).

Directed by the Slovenian filmmaker Igor Sterk, the film follows a police detective who investigates a strange suicide and becomes obsessed with the victim’s life. Forced by a difficult existence that is marked by traumatic events of the past, the man starts to adopt the deceased’s identity and repeats his tragic end.

The main actor, Igor Samobor, does great work giving credibility to his character’s changes. The entire structure, and the delicate way of dealing with a subject that, in other hands, could have been forced into the land of clichés, recalls Roman Polanski’s ”The Tenant” (Le locataire, 1976).

”9:06” tells a particular story that touches bigger issues. On the one hand, it confronts the fact that Slovenia is among the five countries with the highest suicide rate in the world. On the other hand, it talks about the contemporary existential need of becoming someone else (a common subject nowadays, from the Chilean Pablo Larraín’s ”Tony Manero” to Harmony Korine’s ”Mister Lonely”).

Of the many achievements of the film (good acting, dramatic distance, elegant direction, perfect use of music) there is one that I personally appreciated: its length (only 71 minutes) and the way Igor Sterk tells a story in a limited period of time without falling into insipidity or lack of soundness. There’s no room for pretentious psychological portraits. ”9:06” is an enigmatic journey through isolation, obsession and the absurdity of modern life.

Edited by Birgit Beumers