The Montreal World Film Festival 2003

By: S.B. Berger


North America’s only competitive film festival, The Montreal World Film Festival, ranks as the largest publicly attended film festival in the western world, boasting 700,000 in attendance, as well as an impressive array of 400 films from 70 countries, with a world premiere count of 115 films. To reflect the international flavour of this 27th edition, the selections were divided accordingly: Official Competition status (features and shorts); Hors Concours (Out of Competition) section; World Documentaries; Cinema of the Americas (Canada, U.S., Latin America); The Cinemas of Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania; and the Student Film and Video section. This year’s honorary tributes went to American auteur Martin Scorsese, Swedish actor Erland Josephson and Canadian producer Denise Robert.


Kordon (The Cordon) - (Serbia & Montenegro)–From the “Czech School” of noted Yugoslavian directors, Goran Marković’s docu-style fiction of the harrowing 1997 Serbian demonstrations to overthrow dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

Planta 4a (4th Floor) - Spain—The insular and universal world of adolescence from the perspective of an orthopedic cancer ward, where four boys must not only deal with emotional growing pains, but the gut-wrenching challenges of a terminal disease.

The Soul’s Haven (Il Posto Dell’Anima)--Italy—As an American multinational tire plant plans to close down in Italy, 500 of its workers in the tiny hamlet of Campolaro unite in protest to try and save their livelihood. A nationwide brouhaha ensues, amidst the personal tales of the blue-collar insurgents.
Montreal World Film Festival: Best Actor, Silvio Orlando

This Very Moment (Milchwald)--Germany—A bizarre fruit from Germany/Poland—in part The Vanishing meets Tales from The Crypt (sans humour). It involves a stepmother’s delirious dilemma after losing her stepchildren along a highway on a shopping trip to Poland-- and unable to tell her husband the truth for fear of reprisal. By film’s end, you wonder why she never attempted to off the evil little stepdaughter herself

Les Triplettes de Belleville--Canada/France/Belgium--An utterly imaginative and visually witty animated feature about three former vaudeville stars intent on rescuing a Tour de France cyclist, an eccentric mama, and a faithful pooch named Bruno. Director Sylvain Chomet 's impressive background in art, hardcover comics, and animation shines in every frame.

21 Grams --USA--The Mexican dream team of director Alejandro González Iñárritu and scripter Guillermo Arriaga produce another successful collaboration after the critically hailed Amores Perros. In this, the unsettling themes of the value of life, death and redemption are tackled. The non-linear narrative and gritty realism (via hand-held camera shots and diluted color tones) allow the viewer to question their own conclusions on fate and human interconnections. 21 grams refers to the weight one loses at death; but the film is cogitation on the philosophical measure of life itself.

The Station Agent--USA--An abandoned train station in Newfoundland, New Jersey is the setting for this debut feature by Tom McCarthy about the price of solitude and human redemption through the links of camaraderie. Peter Dinklage finally gets cast for more than his height in this sentimental winner of the Audience and Best Screenplay Awards at Sundance.

Elephant--USA--Gus Van Sant's dreamlike meditation on 'a day in the life' of a typical high school doesn't endeavor to answer queries about Columbine, but rather sets a tonal mood on the quotidian nature of America's adolescence in a stylistically innovative docudrama, shot in standard TV aspect ratio.  Aesthetically, Elephant’s mellifluous yet controlled pace juxtaposing an unconventionally sparse narrative, steers one through an odyssey on the nature of violence without any clear-cut causal path. Van Sant makes the Columbine massacre strikingly real to us, not through the minutiae of data, but through the beatification of one autumn day gone unfathomably awry.
 Cannes: Golden Palm, Best Director

Edi—Poland--Sadly overlooked by mainstream critics (not enough hype), this feature debut by Polish director Piotr Trzaskalski is nonetheless worth tracking down. It recounts the atypical saga of a destitute scrap metal collector in post-Solidarity Poland (living with his equally down and out alcoholic buddy) who attains spiritual redemption in spite of the sadistic misdeeds of two local hoods who mercilessly and mistakenly exact revenge on the hapless Edi. The amalgamation of expert cinematography (digi video supreme) by Krzystof Ptak, compelling storyline (co-scripter Wojciech Lepianka), and emotive musical score (Wojciech Lemanski) set in the dog-eat-dog world of Poland's economic doldrums provide this socially-conscious melodrama with yet another dimension, credibility. In spite of Edi's sometimes implausible plot twists, it is the expressive articulation of Henryk Golebiewski's Oscar-worthy performance that leaves a lingeringly poignant imprint on the viewer.

Song for a Raggy Boy--Ireland-- Based on Patrick Galvin's autobiographical testimony of his reform school experiences in Ireland, 1939, one could submit Aisling Walsh's Song For A Raggy Boy as the male version of The Magdalene Sisters: a further plunge into the dark recesses of Ireland's past; specifically the shameful abuse of power by the Catholic Church, especially on children. Here we have the ultimate struggle--morally decent teacher versus dissolute priest for the impressionable hearts and minds of the ill-fated young offenders unaccountably placed there by the courts. The fact that their punishments in no way fits their crimes, is yet another indication of contemporary Church versus State issues, and another reason for the justified continuation of modern class-action suits against the almighty and historically untouchable Irish Catholic clergy.
Amiens International Film Festival: Best Feature Film: Audience Award, Golden Unicorn,
Copenhagen International Film Festival: Golden Swan
Woodstock Film Festival: Haskell Wexler Award



Vladimir Alenikov: The Gun

Vladimir Alenikov has been involved in the international film scene for 25 years: teaching at Los Angeles'  UCLA, as cultural advisor at the Mikhail Gorbachev Foundation, and as an indie filmmaker. His latest feature, The Gun (from 6 to 7:30 PM) is a bit of a departure. In this, he recounts the passing of a gun from person to person (and what happens in between), in a period of 90 minutes, in real time. In film lingo, real time is just that: no quick edits, just the way life happens. 90 minutes is also the prescribed length of most feature film. In technical terms, Alenikov and his resolute cinematographer Kirill Davidoff managed the entire feat in 15 long takes, which is an altogether mind-boggling achievement.

What Alenikov was after was "to make people feel that it was absolutely real…. I wanted to break the rhythm of the modern image, putting the audience into real time and real life. Here the camera travels outdoors, crosses streets, alleyways, goes in and out of houses. It's an extremely complicated choreography of actor and camera."

Following the journey of the principal character (the gun), the story weaves the intermingling of diverse people with very different lifestyles, who only common link is that particular gun. Director Alenikov furthered his discourse by stating, "I feel that this [real time/long takes] is the perfect format for the story to unfold. The level of detail here…. very little is extraneous…. The urban danger of Los Angeles is very different from Montreal." As an independent urban thriller from the city that spawns that genre like fish, this can be added to that long list of L.A.-based crime dramas. A novel concept in film editing rhythms, The Gun should be viewed on its own merits; as Alenikov added,  "I feel that people will be divided--either they'll be real big fans, or they don't get it."


Steven Lewis Simpson: The Ticking Man

On first meeting Steven Lewis Simpson, it's hard to imagine him as a stockbroker, wheeling and dealing commodities in a British 'boiler room'. It's even odder to discover that, at 18, he was the youngest fully qualified stockbroker and trader in Britain. Then, at the tender age of 22, he traded in commodities for film, went to Los Angeles to work for legendary B-Mogul Roger Corman, and the rest, as they say, is movie history…Flash-forward one decade, and seven films to his credit, we arrive at his latest, The Ticking Man. If The Gun was meant to break the modern image, The Ticking Man is the diametric opposite.  

This fast-paced "rural-action thriller" concerns a double-crossing drug-dealer who kills a drug trafficker, then gets arrested only to find out he has two unknown witnesses to the murder. He hires a hit man to kill all the potential eyewitnesses in the coastal Scottish hamlet; catch is, the hit man has 10 targets to kill in 28 minutes, 36 seconds. The countdown begins…and so does the adrenaline rush.

In the press notes, Director/Producer/Writer/Musical Composer Simpson unabashedly reveals that where the average feature film (of 90 minutes) has approximately 650 edits, The Ticking Man contains 2,300 edits in its 85-minute format. After all, according to Simpson, "it's all about the feeling and the rhythm." He fully comprehends the fabric of cinema. "For the concept and narrative structure to work…the style has to work…you want to go beyond having a few cinematic tricks." And that he does, incorporating lightning fast edits (think The Wild Bunch), split screen techniques, and a host of other resourceful cinematic techniques that add up to a suspenseful indie gem that rivals much of the humongously-budgeted studio thrillers. All on a low budget (Scottish film finance agencies), along with a 3-week shooting schedule and a lot of post-production work. Except the look and feel of the film are anything but meager. Says Simpson" I don't like doing things small, even with a small budget. I don't want to compromise."

When asked how he would encapsulate The Ticking Man, director Simpson offered the following: "It's an anti-Dogma movie, because it celebrates the full canvas of cinema that the director has to play with, as opposed to being a stifling, restrictive, but effective marketing gimmick."

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