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MWFF Day 2 & 3

Only a very few Belgian films make it to Montreal each year. Outside a few festival screenings here and there, the distribution of Belgian films in Quebec is practically inexistent. It’s always refreshing to see a new Belgian film. Miss Montigny, starts as a quirky comedy about a young woman who decides to enter a beauty pageant in her small town in order to get money to open a beauty salon with her best friend. She naively thinks that if she wins the contest, her life will be changed and all her problems will be magically solved. Very quickly, the dramatic aspect overtake the comedy and the girl’s problems grow out of proportion. Very soon after entering the beauty pageant she realizes that she has no future in this town.

(L) Director: Miel van Hoogenbemt, (R) Producer: Sébastien Delloye

The film successfully contrasts her desire for a better life versus the bleak and dark future that awaits her if she stays in the small town where she has no future. Yet, throughout the film when she’s offered to leave the town she refuses and prefer to stay. The dim cinematography isn’t very flattering for small town of Charleroi where the film was shot, however, as the director pointed out, it’s even worse in real life; “the city in the film looks much better in the film than in real life. In that region, 80% of the people don’t have a job. The remaining 20% care for the other 80%”. Miel van Hoogenbemt whose films are always centered on small things and common people in larger contexts has done two documentaries on the small town, including one on their beauty pageant. “When I met a scriptwriter by chance, she told me that she had seen my films and that she was originally from the region. She told me ‘this is my youth you’re talking about. I know the problems those people deal with’. So, she started to read the pages and pages of interview I did for those documentaries. She based the script of Miss Montigny on that—many of the situations of the film are directly based on interviews”.

Miss Montigny is charming and very heavy at the same time. The problems of the people of that region are very realistically rendered on the screen, yet they’re rendered in such a way that everybody in his small little town in some remote part of the world will recognize himself.

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Family’s expectations are at the center of another film at the MWFF, Truth or Dare (Wahrheit oder Pflicht). The main character fails a year in college. Her dream of a scholastic career are over as she won’t be able to graduate nor to return to school. In addition to that, her parents are very demanding and she feels they wouldn’t be able to bear the news, especially considering the fact her father didn’t graduate himself and wanted his daughter to avoid to live that at all cost. At the end of the year she shows them a fake report card. The stratagem works rather easily but very soon the next school year is starting. She has no choice but to be pretending to be going to school every morning. She keeps up the pretense of going to school every morning so as not to disappoint her parents and she ends up spending most of her days cooped up in the wreck of an old bus in a field on the outskirts of town. And the longer she waits to tell the truth, the harder it becomes—think about the film Goodbye Lenin.

One of the sentences in the film summarizes very well the situation; “I didn’t want to tell you and you didn’t want to hear”. The film has a lot to teach about relationships, especially familial relationships. The film also has several similarities to Miss Montigny in that both films depict young woman without any future. They are both faced with very demanding parents as well as many other problems. The two films successfully outlines various problems of the disillusioned European youth.

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There is no place like home (that is Canada—for me at least), but it’s far from perfect too. Similar problems affect the Canadian youth in rural communities. This is what The Paper Moon Affair—one of my favorite film at the festival so far—has set to explore. The film is set in a small fishing village in a remote corner of the Pacific Northwest that is stunned by the arrival of Keiko, a mysterious and radiantly beautiful Japanese woman. Abruptly abandoned by her husband in an isolated beach house, the fragile and seemingly inept young woman proves to be a disrupting and exciting influence for the inhabitants of the small community. The Japanese woman then starts up a platonic friendship with 19-year-old Hart. Innocent and earnest by nature, Hart chafes under the burden of caring for an alcoholic father amid the pettiness of small town gossip. Problems are different in European villages than in small Canadian rural communities but the outcome is the same; Hart has no choice but to leave the small village if he wants a future.

The film uses a totally different approach. Directed by a Japanese director who spent most of his life in Canada, the film seems to be inspired by the Japanese theme of the outsider. In the previous two films I mentioned a situation that happens within the community is the central pivot for the story; namely the beauty pageant and the girl’s failure at school. In many Japanese film however, the pivot is based upon an outsider as it can be seen in Gohatto (2001) and Mansion of the Black Rose (1969). In both of these film, a very beautiful and lusty person—a man in Gohatto and a woman in Mansion of the Black Rose —arrive in a community and he/she turns everything upside down. The Japanese woman is the pivot here; Hart’s dreams of life beyond the depressed island community intensify in the company of this exotic outsider. She will also cause several tension within the community as she also forms an intense bond with the local ranger, Vern, who is trapped in an unhappy marriage.

The film’s bleak and very obscure cinematography successfully reflects his desperation of the young boy and his community. As Hart is reflecting on his life has has a flashback about his happier childhood. “When we’re young we just eat our cereal in the morning and we don’t have to care about anything else. When does that stop and we become angry?”. The complex influence the Japanese woman has on Hart and hart’s intricate influence on the Japanese woman are both very well rendered on the screen. Perhaps the village won’t be changed after her quick visit, but Hart profoundly will. Just like the exotic Japanese woman in the film who’s exotic enough to be different yet familiar enough to be fallen in love with, The Paper Moon Affair has a twist of exoticism while being very Canadian and being very reminiscent of recent dramas such as The Hanging Garden . The young Japanese woman proves to be a disrupting and yet fascinating influence to the local inhabitants who’ve never seen a person of color before her arrival. Neither hart nor the Japanese woman will remain unchanged after this unlikely meeting. The Paper Moon Affair marks Tamagi’s debut feature in film and is in the “first film competition”.

Pictures courtesy of Pierre-Alexandre Despatis. (c) 2005.

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