The Montreal World Film Festival, which is now in its final weekend, has always been a bridge for Asian films coming to North America. Films from this part of the world resonate with Montreal audiences and juries. In the past ten years, the number of Asian films winning the Festival’s top prize is more consistent than at any other major film event. This year, this trans-ocean love affair continues.
Japan is the country with the strongest Asian presence. A record 15 films will be showcased over the Festival’s 12-day stretch. In BOX – THE HAKAMADA CASE by Banmei Takahashi, a famed case of wrongful accusation and imprisonment from the 1960s shatters the dictates of the Japanese legal system when a young boxer is falsely accused and sentenced for a crime he did not commit. In CATERPILLAR, set during Japan’s war with China in the months before Pearl Harbor, director Kaji Wakamatsu offers an impassioned indictment of right-wing nationalism in the tale of the wife of an injured soldier who openly speaks out about the absurdities and the costs of war. The Japanese penchant for samurai dramas and historical epics is represented by such titles as ABACUS AND SWORD by Yoshimitsu Morita and SWORD OF DESPERATION by Hirakyuki Hayarama. In TOROCCO, a culture clash drama by writer/director Hirofumi Kawaguchi, a mother and her two sons who travel from their home in Tokyo to deliver the ashes of her dead husband to a remote mountain village in Taiwan. Contemporary subjects are also on tap, including the sexually provocative LOST LOVE MURDER by Shoji Kubota; the recession-era thriller THE INCITE MILL by Hideo Nakata; and relationship drama SWEET LITTLE LIES by Hitoshi Yazaki.
Five films from China and Hong Kong are being presented. Competing for a prize in the First Films Competition, director Gao Feng evokes the austerity of the rural Kazakh region in a story of family loyalties and community dissension in the film AN ETERNAL LAMB. In the equally rural BLUE KNIGHT, love and family ties are put to the test in an exotic Mongolia, as written and directed by Zhuo Gehe. A glossy biopic of poet/philosopher CONFUCIUS by directorMei Hu provides a powerful vehicle for actor Chow Yun-fat who illuminates the influence and the humanity of the religious leader. In EAST WIND RAIN, director Liu Yunglong spins a noirish tale of state secrets and double crosses set in 1941 Shanghai. One of China’s best known directors, Zhang Yimoubrings a saucy energy to this reimagining of the Coen Brothers’ BLOOD SIMPLE, with ritual swords replacing handguns and the violence of choice.
India is represented by two films. In ASCENSION by writer/director Pinaki Chaudhuri, a traditional patriarch is in conflict with his only son, who has married outside his caste and settled abroad. Bollywood movie clips and songs create a kaleidoscopic appreciation of India’s unique cinematic achievement in the entertaining documentary INDIA BY SONG by Vijay Singh.
Other Asian films include DOOMAN RIVER, South Korean writer/director Zhang Lu’s dramatic evocation of the desperation and the courage of the hundreds of thousands of North Koreans who have crossed the treacherous ice flows of the Dooman River to escape into China; YOU ARE SERVED, a compelling Indonesian documentary by Jorge Leon about young women who leave their homeland to find economic opportunity in the Middle East as maids, but are kept as virtual slaves subject to harsh punishment and economic fines if they try to leave; and NARGIS: WHEN TIME STOPPED BREATHING, a Myanmar-German co-production about the devastating effects of a 2008 cyclone on the people of Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Delta (with over 140,000 killed) and the repressive military government’s stubbornness in letting in international aid.
Asian cinema is one of Montreal’s specialties and the audiences among the most enthusiastic on the film festival circuit. In other words, there are many discoveries, both dramas and documentaries, to be found this year. For more information on these and other titles, visit: www.ffm-montreal.org