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MWFF: Film Previews

So, you’ve seen the list of the films shown at the Montreal World Film Festival this year and you weren’t particularly impressed with them? It’s true that most of the films, except a very few, were made by directors virtually unknown in Montreal cinephiles, but who knows, maybe we’ll have some pleasant surprises! In this piece I’ll go over some key attractions of the 2005 selection.

First, despite what people will tell you, the line-up does include works by established directors, among them Marta Meszaros with The Unburied Man (Hungary), Roots by Pavel Lounguine (Russia), Harry’s Daughters by Richard Hobert (Sweden), La última luna by Miguel Littin (Chile) and many more. Amongst those other films, I’ll highlight a few here.

Canadian writer/director Larry Kent will present his latest film at the festival. The Hamster Cage relates the story Lucy and Paul who return to their childhood home for a family dinner to honor their father’s upcoming Nobel Prize in physics. Quickly, as in most Canadian films dealing with interpersonal relationships, everything turns into havoc. Claude Gagnon, another well known Canadian director will also present a film at the festival (
). Claude Gagnon whose most famous film is probably
The Kid Brother
(aka Kenny, 1986) is probably not the first name that comes to your mind when you think about contemporary Quebec cinema. Don’t let that fool you. During his 10 year stay in Japan, he became the first and only foreigner to receive the Japanese Film Directors’ Association best film award for his film Keiko (1978). Since then, he won several prestigious awards including an award from the FIPRESCI. In
, Ken Antoine, 23, has lost his father and his desire to live. To save him his mother arranges a meeting with his late father’s brother. Will Akuma’s shock treatment of sake, mystery, sexual tension succeed at making him strive for life again ?

Three of the most expected international films are Kim Ki-Duk’s The Bow (a.k.a. Hawl), Raoul Ruiz’s The Lost Domain and Makhmalbaf’s Sex and Philosophy. The three films showcase very intricate and complex relationships.

The Bow is about an old man’s love for the adolescent girl he has been protecting on his fishing boat for more than a decade. As the girl reaches puberty and is old enough to get carnal desires, the old man’s love for the girl is deeply challenged when his little protégée gets to meet a charming young boy of her own age. Will her love for the old man resist or will this boy change everything? The relationship in The Lost Domain is a friendly relationship between two men of different backgrounds, one French, the other Chilean, who share the same passion for flying and whose lives are linked by chance, fate and war. Sex and Philosophy, Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s latest film is about adultery relationships and it’s a nice complement to this series of films on relationships. In Sex and Philosophy, a man decides to come clean on his fortieth birthday: he reveals to the four women he loves that he has been conducting affairs with them simultaneously.

* * *

If you’re more interested in big names and acclaimed directors than first time filmmakers and unknown and obscure films, which account for 95% of the schedule really, the festival still has a lot to offer to you. Other than the films in the regular selection, which I give a glimpse of below, the festival has free exterior screenings as well as a couple retrospectives.

Classics as well as contemporary films have been selected to be shown outside every evening at Place des Arts. There will be two films shown every night for the duration of the festival. Among those films are the two latest Zimou’s films (Hero, House of the Flying Daggers). On Saturday, The excellent The Story of the Weeping Camel will be shown. While it’s lesser know outside the mainstream film festival markets, it is a pure masterpiece. Other recent films to be shown under the stars include the oneric Luna Papa, Mar Adentro and Les Choristes for those who missed it. As far as classic films go (modern and old), Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Hallstrom’s My Life as a Dog and the very idiosyncratic The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert have also been programmed on the exterior screen. Polanski’s The Pianist will close the exterior screenings on September 5th.

Two Chinese tributes have been included in the festival this year. They will allow you to discover or rediscover the films of Chen Kaige and of the ever-so-charming Maggie Cheung. Chen Kaige, one of the most notable figures in modern Chinese cinema will be in town to be part of the jury and introduce four of his films to festival goers. The films are Farewell My Concubine, King of the Children, Together and Yellow Earth. Maggie Cheung will be honored by the festival. For the occasion, several of her films have been included in the festival. Those films include Assayas’ Irma Vep, Stanly Kwan’s Center Stage as well as two films by Wong Kar Wai; In the Mood for Love and the lesser known Days of Being Wild.

* * *

I can’t mention all the 100+ films selected in the various regular categories in this piece. Many of these films are worth watching though. In this piece I included 5 films that you had no clue you wanted to see, but believe me, you do! They’re must sees. In each of the future entries I’ll always try to highlight a few films that you should look for and that are shown the next day or so, especially films I won’t be able to review. After all, there is a limit on how many films one can see in a day without losing his sanity!

Moj Nikifor is yet another film about an unlikely relationship. Directed by Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Krauze, Moj Nikifor is a compelling portrait of Polish naive artist Nikifor Krynicki who was discovered by another artist, Marian Wlosinski, who became his protector and promoter, even to the detriment of his own art, family life and health. Based on a true story, Moj Nikifor is truly a compelling film.

Also based on a true story, For Bread Alone (El Khoubz El Hafi) is the poignant story of Mohammed, a young Moroccan born in poverty to an abusive and alcoholic father in the early 1950s. Uneducated, unable to write and to read, Mohammed is sent to a Tangiers jail for theft suspicion. Luckily, in the jail he’ll meet an Arab teacher who will give a new meaning to his life.

In Himiko’s House, Saori never liked her gay father, even to the extent of denying his existence. But when a young man comes to tell her that Himiko is dying and that his nursing home for gay men is in danger of closing, she will be confronted to his dying father, extravagant gay men and, most importantly, her fear of an imperfect past.

Yazi Tura, Ugur Yücel’s first feature film relates the complex story of two young Turkish men, who return disillusioned from military service. Turkish military (and Middle Eastern military in general) is the backdrop of many thought provoking films like Namehay bad (Iran, 2002) and Yossi & Jagger (Israel, 2002). These films, despite their minimal means of production, had relatively big releases in foreign countries and touched upon universal themes. It will be interesting to see how a Turkish film made a few years later will approach the same themes.

Way before the modern Middle Eastern conflicts we know today, China was torn by several wars in its history. Kehong Zheng’s Encounter in the Jungle is set in war-torn China in the 1930s. In this context, five young men will each experience the war in their own way. As ordinary soldiers, they will have to endure the trials and tribulations of their era, love and sorrow, life and death. Eschewing traditional narrative styles, the film follows these young men who cling to human values in a rather inhuman time.

* * *

By opening its doors to young creators (the program includes 50 first works among its features), the Festival gives many young filmmakers the chance to be seen and discovered. 15 of those films have been selected for the “First Films World Competition”.

Kusskuss by Sören Senn (Germany / Switzerland)
My Brother’s Summer by Pietro Reggiani (Italy)
Frozen by Juliet McKoen (UK / Denmark)
Bride of Silence by Doan Minh Phuong & Doan Than Nghia (Vietnam)
Over and Under the Bridge by Alberto Bassetti (Italy)
Camping Sauvage by Christophe Ali & Nicolas Bonilauri (France)
Animal by Roselyne Bosch (France)
London by Hunter Richards (USA)
Paper Moon Affair by David Tamagi (Canada)
Sweet Memory by Kyriakos Katzourakis (Greece)
The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros by Aureaus Solito (Philippines)
Under the Ceiling by Nidal Al-Dibs (Syria)
Ryna by Ruxandra Zenide (Switzerland / Romania)
Fragile by Laurent Nègre (Switzerland)
El buen destino by Leonor Benedetto (Argentina)

Finally, as the number of documentaries being made in the world keeps rising and the commercial success of many documentaries has meant a new acceptance of the genre in the commercial distribution network, 42 documentaries (28 features, 14 medium-length) have been chosen this year.

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