THE GYPSY IN MY SOUL
MONTREAL FILM FESTIVAL WRAP UP 2009
by Stephen Holt
The lovely, enchanting tr√®s fran√ßais city of Montreal always brings out the gypsy in my soul.
And this year’s Montreal Film Festival was bringing out the Gypsy in everyone’s soul with its top awards-getter “Korkoro” by director Tony Gatliff, whose own Gypsy heritage affirms the film’s authenticity.
The horrifying, heretofore untold story of the systematic annihilation of the Gypsy population by the Nazis in occupied WWII was powerful, poignant and shocking. “Genocide,” Gatliff accurately called it in his acceptance speech, as he was handed his award for the Grand Prix Des Ameriques by Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi.
“The cinema,” he declared in French “is sometimes the advocate for the oppressed.” He said he hoped this award for his heart-rending film “would shine a light on this previous black hole of history.”
“Korkoro” which is the Romani word for “Freedom” also swept the People’s Choice Award and received a special mention in the Palmares by the Ecumenical Jury of the Festival des Films du Monde.
“Korkoro” starred Marie-Josee Croze of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” as the local French school teacher, Miss Lundi, who first tries unsuccessfully to teach the recalcitrant Gypsy tribe members to read.
The joyous, careful, illiterate, nomadic Roma tribal life is chronicled by Gatliff in minute, loving detail. Piece by piece, pot by pan, fiddle by basket, Gatliff who previously directed “Latcho Drum” and “Gadjo Dilo,” builds “Korkoro” to its’ horrifying and all-too-familar climax as the Nazis close in on the Gypsy family and they, as well as Miss Lundi, are put in a concentration camp.
Filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who was the President of this year’s jury, almost didn’t make it to the Festival this year because of his imprisonment for political reasons in Iran. However he was released just in time to preside over the 2009 World Competition, which included Iranian film “Atashhkar”(“Firekeepers”) by Mohsen Amiryoussefi and which received the Prix de L’innovation (Innovation Prize).
Iranian protesters clad in green T-shirts proclaiming “Where is my vote?” and carrying green balloons jolted the usually glamorous Promenade up the red carpet to the Place des Artes’ Theatre Maissonneuve for the final, closing awards ceremonies. The chanting throng of protesters released their green ballons into the sky as if to re-iterate their T-Shirt slogan, which referred to the recent controversial elections in Iran.
A protester also appeared onstage during Amrioyoussefi’s awards acceptance speech, carrying what looked like a long, green canoe, also saying again “Where is my vote?” Amiryoussefi ignored or didn’t see the man, who was behind him. In true Montreal democratic fashion, both the filmmaker and the protester received separate rounds of applause.
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A Slovenian thriller “9:06” by Igor Sterk was the other Festival stand-out. A police detective in Lubljana investigates a suicide (or is it murder?) of a young man who jumps off Slovenia’s highest bridge at exactly 9:06. No one comes forward to claim the deceased ashes’ or property as Igor Samoba, in a marvelously creepy Jeremy Iron-esque turn as the investigator, becomes increasingly obsessed the this case. He even moves in to the dead man’s apartment and assumes his bisexual identity.
On a lighter note the marvelously catchy titled “Oy Vey, My Son is Gay!” provided a welcome comic counterbalance at the FFM, as it’s abbreviated.
Sold-out screenings with turn-away audiences “Oy Vey” lined up the straight and gay, Jew and goy audiences, and enveloped them in a big, warm, gay embrace.
Hopelessly, unabashedly retro, how can you not love a film that gives both Bruce Vilanch, Carmen Electra and Laine Kazan the roles of their careers?
Kazan has been waiting all her life, since going on as Barbra Streisand’s understudy for “Funny Girl” on Broadway, for this great character. As Shirley Hirsch, she chews up all the scenery in Hollywood as a ferocious Vot Else? Jewish Mama Rose who can NOT Believe her adorable boy-chik son Nelson (John Lloyd Young) is gay. Once you get over that very ’70s premise, Eygeny Afineevsky’s “Oy Vey” could actually garner the long overdue veteran Kazan a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. She’s THAT good! And Bruce Vilanch plays the straight uncle. Yes, he does. And yes, he can. Carmen Electra plays the “beard” who Shirley & family mistakenly THINKS Nelson is going to marry. Oy Vey, indeed!
I hope all these wonderful, diverse films are soon seen in the US.