Thursday, October 15, 2009

Festival of New Cinema

Just returned from the 38th edition of Montreal's Festival du Nouveau Cinema ( This fest, which has been compared to Sundance and Telluride, is older than the bigger and more well-known Montreal World Film Festival (MWFF), which takes place prior to Labour Day......Nouveau Cinema, long-associated with programming director and co-founder Claude Chamberlain, is an edgier version of the MWFF or for that matter, the roughly comparable (in the mainstream sense) Toronto Intl Film Festival. And unlike MWFF - which draws huge crowds of cinephiles and general public - Nouveau Cinema attracts more hardcore film fans. Edgier, artsier? Yes and yes......And while I'm almost an annual attendee at the MWFF - I was there for the first edition in 1977 and have missed only three or four editions since - conversely I've attended Montreal's "other" fest just six or seven times. Nouveau lasts 12 days. I got to the first five & managed to see 17 films. Highlights:

Antichrist - Lars Von Trier's latest (soon coming to Detroit's Landmark Theatres). It stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Don't let the trailer - which makes the film look a silly horror flic - fool you. Von Trier plays with big themes, nothing less than the age old struggle between man and woman. Dafoe and Gainsbourg are a couple who lose a son, the incident shown in an opening slow-motion prologue to the aria "Lascia ch'io pianga" from Handel's Rinaldo. The death sparks incredible grief on the part of Gainsbourg's "she" that the aloof "he" (Dafoe) - a psychotherapist - cannot assuage. Rather, she descends into a psychotic maelstrom. This flic isn't for the feint of heart. There is violence to turn your head. There are scenes reminiscent of Medievel dystopian paintings. Audience reaction ranged from shouts of "Bravo" to snickering. Best to judge for yourself.

Two Lines - Probably my favourite. This film - part of a Turkish cinema retrospective - by filmmaker Selim Evci - also features a couple but in a somewhat more temperate relationship than the aforementioned Defoe & Gainsbourg. But there is simmering tension under the smooth day-by-day interaction of Mert and Selin, an artsy middle-class couple. Realizing the growing ennui in their relationship they take a short vacation. The film - with little dialogue - is masterful at capturing nuances of face and body expression. Again, the relationship comes down to a power struggle but the false veneer of serenity wins the day.

An Education - Set in London in the early 1960s before it was "swinging" this coming of age tale tells the story of Jenny (up-and-comer Carey Mulligan) who, at 16, becomes infatuated with the sophisticated and "older man" David (Peter Sarsgaard), seemingly independently wealthy who wines and dines her and showers with gifts and trips. Carey has dreams of breaking-out of dreary middle class suburbia and immersing herself in beat culture, smoking French cigarettes and listening to jazz. David shares similar tastes. A somewhat unlikely story (a formidable dad played by Alfred Molina would allow this?) but decently-enough acted and slickly-made by (Danish) director Lone Scherfig (Italian for Beginners) for BBC films. Novelist Nick Hornby (High Fidelity) wrote the script.

The Time That Remains - There are Israeli films, some (or many) sympathetic to the Palestinian/Arab cause. They're made by Israeli Jews. This film is different. It's by an Israeli Arab. Unlike other films which side with the Palestinian cause set in the Occupied Territories like the West Bank, The Time That Remains shows Arab life inside Israel itself. Israel, of course, has a large Arab population. The film is a chronology of the filmmaker, Elia Suleiman's, family from the creation of the state in 1948 - when his father was an activist - to the modern day construction of the security (anti-terrorism) fence. It depicts his (Christian) family's everyday life in context of the wider Arab-Israel dispute. Whether you agree with its anti-Israel perspective as a piece of filmmaking the movie has merits, particularly in its funny and sometimes absurdist scenes of everyday life.

Double Take - A documentary by Johan Grimonprez this slick rapid-cut film juxtaposes Alfred Hitchcock and the Cold War. Hitchcock has long has a double in the personality of Ron Burridge. The film suggests how one image (the real Hitchock) can be mistaken for another. Likewise the key players after WW II - the United States and Soviet Union - might be mistaken for one another in their power, aggression and arrogance. There's lots of 1950s kitsch as the rise of television plays a backdrop, with Folger's coffee brand domestic housewife commercials making hilarious appearances. And does a scene of a man falling in 1945 after a military plane crashes into the Empire State Building portend 9-11? Lots of grist for the political/cultural mill.

Slovenian Girl - directed by Damjan Kozole with newcomer Nina Ivanisin, this story about a prostitute in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana is set against wider culture of modern day Slovenia, still struggling to modernize from its darker Yugoslavian past. Ivanisin's alienation from that society may be reflective of a country going thorough rapid change exemplified by the recurring images of European Union delegations zipping along city boulevards while pedestrians are relegated to unimportant bystanders.

Eamon - First-time feature director Margaret Corkery lays open the raw feelings of the cliched dysfunctional family - in this case an unmarried couple with child - where the child, Eamon, serves as a wedge between parents. The child first aligns himself with mom who anyway has a hate on for dad. When the couple tries to reconcile it's Eamon who is on the outs but becomes aware of just how nasty his parents are. There are, sadly, tens of thousands of stories like this. Corkery has portrayed one with skill, drawing good performances from all concerned.

Goodnight Irene - You've heard the song. And, yes, it's sung in the movie. But this film alone is worth seeing for the performance of Robert Pugh, a disgusted-at-the-world aged Brit ex-pat living in Portugal. As alcoholic Alexander Corless he meets Irene (Rita Loureiro) an artist and neighbour who refuses to be intimidated by his rants. They become friends until one day she disappears. Meanwhile Bruno (Nuno Lopes) enters Corless's life under somewhat shady circumstances. Corless, with good reason, rejects him. But they eventually bond in the search for Irene. A first feature about getting by with a little help from your friends by director Paolo Marinou-Blanco.

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