Saturday, August 28, 2010

Montreal World Film Festival - Day 1

It is the greatest time of year! I’m now at the Montreal World Film Festival which runs until Sept 6....Yesterday – the first scheduled full day - I caught four films – or rather three movies and a collection of short films at one screening....My choices were dictated by the fact I had just arrived in Montreal and didn’t have time to look at the film catalogue. And the Imperial Cinema was right next to where I had to pick up my pass. So I decided to park myself all day in one of the restored vaudeville theatre’s luxurious seats.....The first film was Confucius by Mei Hu with Chow Yun-fat in a convincing title role performance of sagacity and toughness. There are some stunning battle scenes in this epic drama with panoramic shots of vast armies, making the proverbial Ben Hur cast of thousands seem like a town gathering. The problem: sub-titles whizzed by and it was difficult for about the film’s first half to get a bead on this rather complex story....Next, Route 132 (in competition for best festival film). This is the big Quebec film which screened at the opening ceremony Thursday night. It’s a road movie with Francois Papineau as Gilles, the despondent father of a five-year-old who died suddenly from meningitis. Drowning his sorrows in a bar he runs into old buddy Bob (Alexis Martin) whose life might not be sad but is going nowhere fast. They decide to leave Montreal and take a trip along Quebec’s longest highway. The movie is at turns funny and poignantly sad with lots of images of death along with the themes of loss and what-might-have-been. It is a considerably better film than Belanger’s 2003 Gaz Bar Blues.....Next up: In the Electric Mist, directed by France’s Bertrand Tavanier. The movie is set in Louisiana’s bayou country. Tommy Lee Jones, in another great performance (he’s proving an actor who’s always interesting) plays a small town cop trying to chase down the despicable murder of a hooker. Tavanier captures the louche and decadent world of Louisiana reminiscent of Tennessee Williams. The cast includes John Goodman, Peter Sargaard, Mary Steenburgen, Ned Beatty, Levon Helm (my favourite performance as a Civil War general's ghost) and blues artist Buddy Guy. The movie is a bit meandering but performances are strong with a script featuring a voiceover that is a poetic and meditative look at the South and of life generally.....Finally, a series of seven shorts, all in competition. The theatre was only a third full for these screenings. Audiences tend to avoid shorts. They are definitely missing out. Shorts can be some of the best of all films. That’s because directing is tight so a lot gets packed into seven or 15 or 20 minutes, much of it considerably more imaginative than what’s in regular features. My faves were Doll Factory (Spain) about not fitting in when you have to work for someone else, Southbound (United States) a humourous and magical realistic take on foreign workers, and Attention! (Mexico) about the pains that are a soldier’s lot during an official ceremony....You can follow the fest by going to its web site  and click on Program.

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