Montreal Film Festival 2012

This year’s 36th Montreal Film Festival (FFM – Festival des Films du Monde) seemed to have smaller audiences. But there were plenty of sell-outs, and  the quality of films seemed to be higher. In all there were 432 films, 18 in world competition–founder-director Serge Losique likes to boast is is the only official prize-giving film festival in the Americas. There’s a diversity of films here, from distant places.

Montreal attracts few stars-Liv Ullman appeared to accompany her intense film on her life with Ingmar Bergman.: she recalls her years with Inmar with photos and clips from his films Conflict is drama–and vice versa.   So one theme of recurring intensity was war–films about war, about lives touched by war are popular on the festival circuit.

Karen Shakhnazarov, director of White Tiger  called World War Two “the most important period in the history of mankind…as time passes, the immensity of what happened becomes more evident and a new perception of this period emerges.”   In his film, based on the novel “Tankman” by Ilya Boyashov, a Russian tank-driver, miraculously recovered from burns to 90% of his body and with a new ability to ‘hear’ the tanks, takes on the task of destroying the “White Tiger”, the mysterious  German tank which appears on battlefields, causes great damage to the Russian tanks, then withdraws.  After the final battle (“victory” to the Russians) the phantom  tank withdraws, damaged but waiting to fight again some day in the future.  Hitler’s speech, which closes the film, and which is based on recorded fragments of the Fuhrer, shows that he believed in the inevitability of war, what Germany did, and World War Two.  Elements of mysticism,  in the story, showing war from an unusual perspective, help to enrich our understanding.   This film examines the  incarnation of the  German spiriit, the Nazi conviction of the legitimacy of their actions.

Aother major Russian film Expiation, director Alexander Proskin, winner of the award for Best Artistic Contribution and based on a novel by Friederich Gogenstein,shows people in the southern USSR trying to resume their lives in 1946.  The war has ended but conditions  are appalling: lack of food, shared miserable acommodations, frequent arrests.   Human morals and values are hard to find in this terrible existence.  Proskin looks at the terrifying and tragic hardships Russia experienced in the twentieth century.  For him, “the only way of survival…is love.”  And he illustrated this by  the characters in his film.  In yet another was film,  Oblawa, by director Marcin Krzszalowicz, is impressively savage as it shows underground resistance against the occupying Germans.

“Wonderful”  that’s what the great German director Margarita von Trotta told Film Festival Today about the film Calm at Sea.  (Admittedly she used to be married to the director, fellow German, Volker Schlondorff.) It, like so many of the films in this category, is  a true-life story.  In the French city  of Nantes in 1942 a German soldier was killed.  The commander of the German occupying forces threw 150 Communistsi in jail, and then put them front of a firing squad: the leader of the Frenchmen, nicknamed TinTin, yelled just as the bullet killed him, “Long live the German Communist Party.”  A strong film.

Another real-life story, set in Seville,but shot in Cadiz “because the light is better”, takes place in 1946, 7 years after the end of the Spanish Civil War.  But political tensions are still there, in Orange Honey.  Family tensions too. This is a tense,dramatic film. World War Two is over, but Franco is still very much in control.  A difficult life for those who want to change things.  This is the story of some who do.  This film won the Special Jury Grand Prize, along with the puzzling, gothic German film with Invasion With Invasion.

Best Director Prize went to Jan Troell, for the Last Sentence.  It’s about Torgny Segerstedt, a famous Swedish journalist, active against Hitler and the Nazi regime. Yet another confllct-ridden story takes place in Calabria, Southern Italy, as developers fire-bomb a reluctant–to-move tailor, in the Tailor’s Wife directed by Massimo Scaglione.

Among the interesting German films, such as The Puzzling Invasion, Closed Season, like so many others, is based on a true story.  Directed by Franziska Schlottrer, the film won the Ecumenical Prize, and Brigitte Hobmeier won best actress award. This is a small story, about guilt on a personal level.  Can be related to World War II Germany, or to the universal level.

The Freedom of Speech Award went to the Croatian film Flower Square.  This shows corruption throughout society: from police to mafia to members of government at highest level.  The director, Kristo Papic, has created a thriller which gripped the audience–with suspense, plot twists, humour.  The Grand Prix des Ameriques and the FIPRESCI (Critics ) Prize went to Where the Fire Burns.  Directed by ismail Gunes, It’s about intolerance and attitudes to women in  some parts of Turkey (where this is obviously not the accepted behaviour–it’s not legal).  The father learns his daughter is pregnant, kills her, sets out to bury her.  Once more, the complexities, and the frightening simplicities, of honour killings.

Moving to the US, and slightly less conflict, Electoral Dysfunction, a film set largely in Wayne County, Indiana looks at the US’s considerable failings in electoral registration.  This is an amusing–after a fashion–and  instructive film–”There’s something funny about voting in America…”  Another tragi -comic film, about the US and Canada, is Change you Name Ousama, How Canadian Muslims were Marginalized by 9/11)

Not all films were gripping and serious–e..g.Je me fait tout petit (Low Profile)–charming, stylish, clever dialogue, and repartee, around relationships and family.  As usual, plenty of good shorts, student and otherwise.

The New Great Game, by Sasha Trudeau (you guessed right, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s son): this is a good documentary for TV and educational purposes, about the explosive Middle East, especially the Straits of Hormuz, Yemen, Somalia and ship piracy  In the q and a session Trudeau showed himself well-versed in the intense, complex politics of the area.

There were various  first-class contenders in Documentaries of the World: Beauty and the Breast, by Liiana Komorowska, looks at nine women suffering breast cancer.  Sister, by Brenda Davis, looks at the problems facing health workers in  Haiti, Cambodia and Ethiopia.  A Girl Like Her examines the situation faced by the more than a million unmarried women in the US who had to give up their babies in the 1950′s and 1960′s.

Lots of good films here, but some challenges ahead. Founder/director Serge Losique, a sprightly 82, clearly wants to to go on forever, but even he can’t, surely?  And the FFM occupies a tricky date, between Venice and Toronto.

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