Despite a shrunken schedule, resigned professional staff, last minute changes in programming, the Montreal World Film Festival is functioning pretty much without interruption, all films having been consolidated into one theatre (which the festival owns, so no rent issues), and a schedule that remains pretty much on time from 9 am until late night. I suggested to festival staff they run films round-the-clock and turn a crisis into an event, but was met with a frown. Oh well. Here are my capsule reviews for films I’ve seen so far, in order I saw them.
Camp Holland (Boris Paval Conen). I was expecting this Dutch film, about Holland’s role in the war in Afghanistan, would follow the path of so many recent war films – in other words, blame the West for war crimes, etc. But it refreshingly took on the stultifying Allies’ Rules of Engagement, which are so tightly written Afghan villagers die at the hands of the Taliban while Western troops stand down because commanders won’t issue orders to fire. Would an American have made this film?
Love Maybe (Michael Kreihst, Austria). This is a take on contemporary romance, particularly cheating, and showing the consequent highs and lows of affairs, making those who participate realize that with the excitement of new love comes depression from the debris left behind.
The Seal of the Sun (Taiyo No Futa). This Japanese film goes to great efforts to reconstruct how the Japanese government responded to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. There are extremely detailed scenes of the panic that enveloped top government officials - including a stalwart prime minister – and the authorities’ often maladroit response to an event that could have destroyed an entire country.
The Unexpected (Zhanjun An, Vhina). For some reason – the tight living quarters, the close family connections – this film, which goes back and forth in time - alternating in black and white and colour - reminded me of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. But that’s where similarities end. This is a tale of a woman caught between the desires of two men, consequently exploited, and blames herself. Terrific acting from all and a searing performance from the female lead.
The Last Birds (Son Kuslar, Turkey). It’s hard to know what the plot is about in this film which has a rural village’s native son return after years in the city. He likes to hunt, to the villagers’ disdain, setting up a confrontation. Is the film about urban versus agrarian values, dysfunctional city versus rural life? It's hard to tell.
My Italy (Bruno Colella). This is a modern, whimsical, zany take on the 18th century’s Grand Tour of Italy, where artists, intellectuals and the upper crust would travel to Italy, considered then as today the world’s capital of art. Several accomplished contemporary artists are featured in part-documentary, part-dramatic, roles, and in stories that are at once humorous, insightful, and sometimes plain bizarre.
As Far as The Eye Can See (David Franklin). This American film pits a one-time accomplished classical pianist against his own demons back on his rural farm in Texas. The film explores themes of wasted talent and the pride of “those who made good” in rural communities. The film could have benefitted from more exploration of central character Jack Ridge’s (Jason London) emotional angst, but features a stand out performance from up-and-comer Jasmine Skloss Harrison as Alyssa, an older-than-her-years mentor to him.
Swaying Waterlily (Seren Yuce). My favorite film of the festival so far, this is a pitch perfect take on modern middle class life, Turkish-style, which is exactly the same as anywhere else in the world. Two couples are the closest of friends. Yet their desires – including sexual – career jealousies, and even lifestyle choices, are grist for their sometimes grating psychological mills.
SFashion (Mauro John Capece). In a world riveted by globalization a famous Italian fashion house can no longer sell goods at the prices it always commanded. Efforts to adapt by cutting costs leads to a cash shortfall and a spiral downwards as the firm, with its sprawling manufacturing campus and hundreds of workers, is forced to close. The story centers on the daughter of the original owner and her nightmares, often depicted in magic realism, as she loses control of a company that is obviously her very life.
Comment J'ai Rencontré Mon Père (Maxime Motte, France). This comedy tries to place the world wide immigration and refugee crisis within the context of one family, whose adopted black son one day discovers an African washed up on the beach. He immediately claims him as his dad. The family goes into contortions trying to protect and smuggle the “immigrant” to England. The story’s feel-good nature glosses over obvious unethical efforts by the clan, one of whom is a respected court judge, and typically dismisses the difference between a legal and illegal migrant.
Contribution (Sergey Snezhkin). During the Russian Revolution, after the White Russian Army seizes a former Red Army controlled city in Siberia, the White Army commander demands that local business leaders provide money to replenish the army’s dwindling stocks. An exquisite diamond – which can be cashed - is supplied by one, only to almost immediately disappear. A captured Red Army investigator is told to find it by 9 pm or he will die. This is an interesting take on the parlor whodunit, with some great acting.