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Montreal unveils World Competition


A new film by the team that brought us the stunning French documentary Microcosmos, Carlos Saura 's return to socially conscious cinema, and the latest from Aussie underrated actor Hugo Weaving are among the premieres that will highlight the competition of the Montreal World Film Festival.

Away from the hype to which film festivals are increasingly succumbing, Montreal has developed a reputation for offering a platform to filmmakers whose work has not been rewarded with international commercial distribution, particularly in the ever-tempting American market. This includes seasoned auteurs such as Saura. A regular at the Montreal fest, Saura returns to his engagé roots with The Seventh Day, a drama on a real life massacre in the Spanish hinterland.

Three other vets of the art film circuit will be featured in what the festival now calls its "world competition": Raul Ruiz with Days in the Countryside, Paul Cox with Human Touch, and Karen Shakhnazarov with The Rider Named Death. A prolific French-based Chilian director, Ruiz won the FIPRESCI prize when he last competed at Montreal in 2002 (Chilean Rhapsody). Cox, a nearly equally prolific Dutch expat down under won the Montreal competition's first prize in 2000 for Innocence (which did land him a quiet US distrib deal). Shakhnazarov, who nows heads Moscow's legendary Mosfilm studio and hails from a political family (his father was Gorbachev's top adviser), plunged head on into a film on czarist era terrorism, with Chechnya very much on his mind.

These seasoned helmers will rub shoulders with emerging talent of the likes of Yesym Ustaoglu (Turkey), Craig Monahan (Australia), and Yoichi Higashi (Japan). Ustaoglu created a stir five years ago with the Berlin competition entry Journey to the Sun, the first Turkish drama filmed in Turkish Kurdistan. Her new film, Waiting for the Clouds, is on similarly sensitive terrain: descendants of the Turkish Greek minority who had to hide their identity. Monahan competed in Montreal in 1998 with The Interview, a gripping interrogation drama that yielded Hugo Weaving the Best Actor Prize. Weaving, known to global audiences as the one-dimensional villain in the Matrix saga, is in fact a character actor of surprising depth and is again the star of Monahan's new Montreal entry Peaches. Higashi's previous film My Grandpa won the Golden Zenith for Best Asian Film at last year's Montreal fest, an audience award. His new film, The Crying Wind, is set in Okinawa.

A few films with a recognizable cast sprinkle the competition lineup. Wicker Park, an American remake of the French 1996 flick L'Appartement that was mostly shot in Montreal by MGM studio, features Josh Harnett (Black Hawk Down) and local pride Jessica Paré (Stardom). Around the Bend, a product of Warner Independent Pictures, the new mini-major on the block, stars Michael Caine and Christopher Walken, who need little introduction. Le rôle de sa vie, a French spin on All About Eve, toplines the hot actress/director Agnès Jaoui. (Jaoui's latest directorial offering, Comme une image, was set to have its North American preem at Montreal, but will instead open the New York Film Festival in late September. Incidentally, the New York festival director Richard Pená will be on the First Feature Jury in Montreal).

Yet the two films that could generate the most buzz in competition are Genesis, the new documentary by the Microcosmos duo of Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou, and Luna de Avellaneda, from Argentinian director Juan José Campanella. Genesis is the first ever documentary to be featured in the Montreal competish, following the trend initiated by Cannes with Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine (a trend still resisted by the other European A-list festivals). As ambitious as their 1996 world-famous look at insects, the film narrates the creation of the world through the life of animals. Campanella broke out with The Son of the Bride, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Montreal 2001, and a huge hit in Hispanic-speaking countries.

Three films competing in Montreal will play simultaneously at the Venice Film Festival: Delivery, from Nikos Panayotopoulos (Greece); Suburbs, from Vinko Möderndorfer (Slovenia); and The Art of Losing, from Sergio Cabrera (Colombia-Spain). (A fourth Venice pic, Criminal [US], will play in an off competition sidebar in Montreal). Hector (Gracia Querejeta, Spain), The Parking Attendant in July (An Zhanjun, China), Edelweiss Pirates (Niko von Glasgow, Germany), Elles étaient cinq (Ghyslaine Côté, Canada), The Syrian Bride (Eran Riklis, Israel-France-Germany), and the last-minute addition The Life I Wish For (Giuseppe Piccioni, Italy) complete the distribution. Piccioni won the Special Grand Prix of the Jury in 1999 for Not of This World. Elles étaient cinq will open the festival, continuing a four-year tradition of showcasing a local production.

Outside of the competition, the World Film Festival will screen nearly 230 feature films spread over a dozen sections, mostly arranged geographically. This avalanche of films, half of which will screen for the first time outside of their country of origin, includes the world premiere of John Duigan's Head in the Clouds, starring Charlize Théron and Penelope Cruz, and the North American debut of France's runaway hit Les Choristes, which will close the festival. (Cruz will also appear in the critically acclaimed Italian film Don't Move, which preemed at Cannes). Other notables are the Berlin winner Head On (Germany), the Karlovy Vary winner Leon and Olvido (Spain), the world premiere of Canada's The Good Shepherd, starring Christian Slater and Stephen Rea, and The Lizard, an Iranian irreverent comedy on mullahs that was removed from circulation back home. The latest by Ingmar Bergman, Theo Angelopoulos, Eric Rohmer, Ermanno Olmi, Youssef Chahine, Pupi Avati, Ettore Scola, Maria de Medeiros, Philippe de Broca, Cédric Kahn, Fernando Solanas, Rithy Panh, Sabu, Chantal Akerman, Richard Hobert, Stijn Coninx, and Valeri Todorovsky will also be on the program.

The documentaries receiving their world premieres include The Fight (US), on the historic 1938 world championship bout between Joe Louis and Max Schmelling; Citizen Black (Canada), on the rise and fall of the Canadian press magnate; Stalin's Wife (US-Russia), on Nadezha Alliluyeva, who committed suicide in 1932; and Les petits soldats (France), from François Margolin whose striking 2001 docu L'opium des talibans was a rare film shot under the Taliban. A new sidebar, Variety Critics Choice-America's Now, will be unveiled at the festival, but the lineup has yet to be finalized. The festival will render homage to Isabelle Adjani, Theo Angelopoulos, and the Croat filmmaker Krsto Papic and, in this Olympic summer, carved up a thematic section on "Cinema and Sport," featuring The Fight and five other docus.

Permanently at odds with local critics, the festival now finds itself under heat from the two government film bodies that cover half of its budget. A report commissioned by these film agencies, released in late July, lambasted the festival for its lack of transparency and other (rather questionable) sins. Festival president Serge Losique, who founded the event 28 years ago, responded by communiqué that there would be no official reaction on his part until after the festival. At the press conference unveiling the program on August 10, journalists insisted on a reply and were repeatedly told the same thing. They all led their story, afterwards, on Losique's stonewalling, even though it had been fairly clear for two weeks that the festival would have no comment until September. Call it a case study in declaring "news" something that everybody knew was not new. Montreal's bickering pales in comparison with the Venice Film Festival, whose directors have been fired four times in the last six years by the Italian government.

Dominique Arel reporter


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