Talking to other festival goers and hearing the general ”buzz” among people at this year’s Montreal World Film Festival, you’d think the movie Chagall-Malevich (Russia, Alexandre Mitta) would have swept the fest’s awards. It didn’t take one prize including that by popular vote. The film is about the obvious at times antagonistic relationship between the two great artists at the time of the Russian Revolution. It may have been a crowd pleaser simply because of its subject matter. And while it had some inventive magic realist moments (yes, Chagall and Co. are shown flying in the sky as per the artist’s signature dreamy images) this picture was more soap opera than wide scope, depicting a small group of characters with a Chagall (Leonid Bichevin) who seems squeaky clean and in fact who we see painting only once. There is little insight into highly contrasting Chagall and Malevich’s approaches to art. This is rather superficial TV fare.
Here were some of my festival faves:
The Hotel Room (Germany, Rudi Gaul) (picture above): Famed female author (Mina Tander) sits down to be interviewed with video journalist (Godehard Giese) who has done just a tad too much research in this drama that plays on memory, accountability and what is fiction and reality.
Watchmen in the Wind (China: Liang Bixin): A doc about a special Chinese army detail that services a remote desert railway in northeast China, braving sandstorms, frigid cold and searing heat, and months - sometime years - away from family.
A Golden Boy (Italy, Pupi Avati): The story of a bright young writer (Riccardo Scarmacio) who can’t seem to sell his fiction and descends into a maelstrom of grief only to find fame – fittingly given this movie’s theme – in a very indirect way. Sharon Stone, speaking impeccable Italian, stars as a sympathetic publisher.
Field of Dogs (Poland, Lech Majewski): From the director of The Mill and the Cross (which screened 2012 at the DFT) and co-writer of 1996’s Basquiat (Julian Schnabel) comes this meditation on a crass materialistic and tragic world set against two major 2010 Polish catastrophes - devastating floods and the crash of an airliner carrying the country’s elite. Dante’s Devine Comedy plays centre stage and there are some serious ruminations on the meaning of it all.
The Ambassador to Bern (Hungary, Attila Szász). Based on a true event, the movie depicts the seizure of the Hungarian embassy in Bern in 1958 by a couple of freedom fighters who rued the Soviets crushing of the ‘56 Hungarian uprising. Taut politically-laced drama.
No Man’s Land (China, Ning Hao): This is China’s version of Quentin Tarantino and I didn’t mind. At turns hilarious, macabre, absurd and extraordinarily violent, the back roads of China prove rife for a modern Western – er, make that Eastern.
Schimbare (Spain, Alex Sampayo): A middle class couple travels to eastern Europe to seek a kidney on the black market for their sick daughter. The trip does not go well. I’ll leave it up to you to imagine what happens in this edge-of-seat thriller.
Beltracchi – The Art of Forgery (Germany, Arne Birkenstock): Wolfgang Beltracchi is an artist of supreme confidence and casually says he can paint the work of any great master, no big deal. And does – forging his way through the world’s art markets in this documentary that shows a – slightly – contrite Beltracchi and accomplice wife Helene, as they serve out their sentences on day parole, allowing him to now make legitimate art. But will it sell?
Amanet (Albania-Italy, Namik Ajazi). There were Stalin’s show trials and there’s still North Korean’s Hermit Kingdom. Until the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe there was Albania, one of the most repressive post-war Communist states, where purges of top government and party officials came and went as quickly as someone changes his socks.
Norwegian Wood (Japan, Tran Anh Hung). Based on a novel by Haruki Murakami, himself garnering enormous acclaim these days, this story set in 1967 is an intimate portrait of intimacy amidst the confusion of youth and a backdrop of the emergence of hippiedom.