Le Festival Du Nouveau Cinema has been over the past decade, the best film fest in Montreal. Year after year, the organizers have practically outdone themselves in concocting a program that would satisfy the most fervent of cinema fans. Over the next 14 days, I will be cramming into my schedule close to 40 movies from more than 20 countries. You can call it a film geek’s wet dream or you can call it overload. I’m looking forward to having a chance to visit the new world’s of such masters as Britain’s Mike Leigh, Mexico’s Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Romania’s Cristi Puiu, Denmark’s Thomas Vinterberg & French auteurs such as Jean Luc Godard, Clair Denis and Catherine Breillat. Serge Losique’s Montreal World Film Festival has long been overshadowed by a film fest that has decided to overtake it in terms of creativity and substantial programming. If you are a fan of cinema and always think outside the box, Le Festival Du Nouveau Cinema is for you with its eclectic selection and all around satisfying vibe.
Portugal’s Manoel De Oliveira is 102 years old, yet age has not been a factor for him to direct films in an almost yearly basis. The Strange Case Of Angelica -his 51st movie- has themes of love and death and an almost comatose structure. De Oliveira’s movies have either been hit or miss the past 2 decades and there’s no doubt in my book this one is a miss. The film talks about a strange young photographer that is given the task of photographing a dead girl, he grows a strange admiration for her as the days go by, an admiration that ultimately turns futile and scary as our photographer friend starts hallucinating and coming to terms with a breakdown. The film is beautifully shot and has an original way of telling things but it is also uninvolving to its viewer and not all that satisfying an experience. Oliviera has nothing to prove and thus has made a movie that is mostly for himself and nobody else- that’s problematic and at the end quite disappointing.
Talking about strange. In a film fest that takes pride in its weirdness and originality, Bruce LaBruce’s L.A Zombie might just take the prize for weirdest film. Clocking in at a mere 63 minutes, LaBruce’s film is a strange gay porn gorefest that will likely puzzle and frustrate many at the fest. LaBruce wouldn’t want it any other way. His film casts porn star Francois Sagat as a Zombie -or is he just a schizophrenic?- that goes around Los Angeles looking for dead male bodies to have sex with and literally bring back to life. Yikes. Talk about infuriating the masses. LaBruce doesn’t care. His film has been categorized as a Queer Cinema Zombie Film, but it is more than just that. I saw a parallel and hidden metaphor to the AIDS epidemic. You don’t necessarily have to think that much when watching LaBruce’s film. It has practically no dialogue and lets the images speak for themselves. You will likely come out puzzled. I know I did.
French actor turned director Mathieu Almaric won the Directing Prize earlier this year at Cannes for his tour de force directorial debut, Tournee (On Tour). His film has an incredible atmosphere as it follows American Burlesque performers and their idiosyncratic French manager (also played by Almaric). Almaric’s film and direction owes a big debt to the sprawling character driven epics of such American masters as Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese. There are well over a dozen characters to pay attention to here but Almaric’s hand makes the surroundings incredibly vibrant and entertaining to watch. Miranda Colclosure gives an astonishing performance as one of the Burlesque ladies that has a peculiar friendship with Almaric’s manager. In making the film, Almaric hired some of the best, most talented Burlesque performers in the States to portray his ladies. It worked, these non-professional actresses feel genuine and natural on camera. The film isn’t perfect but the overall vibe Almaric creates is incredible and -like all great road trips- feels like an experience. Tournee confirms Almaric as a true talent of cinema, both in acting and directing.
Days 2 & 3
Not that I should complain much but Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s latest film is a real downer I tell you. Oh is it ever. Then again, his first 3 films (Amorres Perros, 21 Grams & Babel) wouldn’t qualify either as feel good cinema. His latest is called Biutiful and it has an incredible lead performance from Javier Bardem. In fact, I’d shocked, just shocked I tell ya if he didn’t get a Best Actor nomination. He plays Uxball, a man that has to take care of his two children because his ex-wife has lost custody since well, she’s an alcoholic. To make matters worst, Uxball is dying of cancer and there are quite a few scenes in the film that umm show his symptoms in quite a direct, in your face manner (blood with urine). The man also makes a living with numerous jobs, most of them illegal such as helping out illegal Chinese and Senegali immigrants. Oh and he can see things too, by seeing things I mean he can actually SEE things, dead people and such- he gets payed by desperate families at funeral homes to try to relay messages from their loved lost ones.
All in all, it’s an exhausting experience that definitely is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. What makes it worth seeing is Bardem, who’s Uxball is slowly but surely losing his mind and disintegrating on screen, his weight lowering, his eyes getting sleepier and his lip moving less and less. Bardem never loses sight of his characters’ fight to leave his children with a better life once the cancer has taken him down. The film’s flaws are marked and noticed but Bardem fights them all at once with his knockout performance. Now I just wish Inarritu, a talented filmmaker, can make a fresher movie next time around, one that does not involve the predictable disintegration of a lead character ala 21 Grams or Babel. His pleasure in making films about suffering and death is starting to get to me. Then again it might just be like telling Peckinpah to stop making violent movies or Lynch to stop dreaming about dreams.
Another film that came into the fest with some heavy buzz is Claire Denis’ White Material which recently screened at the New York Film Festival. Denis comes back to Africa with this one and casts Isabelle Huppert as a woman that resides in Africa with a Coffee Bean business at her disposal. Of course, Coffee has nothing to do with the picture. In fact, African Civil War is the layout of this excitingly tense and violent picture. Huppert’s family is dysfunctional to say the least, her husband (played by Christopher Lambert) tries to negotiate a deal with the mayor, her father in law just wanders around the house like a lazy bum and her son, well let’s just say her son goes crazy and wanders off in thin air, disappearing into the African night.
Compared to Denis’ other films, this is conventional stuff. Then again, it is nevertheless an interesting piece of cinema done by one of the great filmmakers around. The violence that Denis shows us is brutal, as child soldiers roam on the streets, not scared to attack or kill a civilian. The setting is pitch perfect and brings back Denis to a childhood she clearly remembers in colonial Africa. There are scenes that are unforgettable here, yet the mystery that lingers in almost all her other films is missing. Instead she decides to tell her story in a conventionally paced manner and doesn’t feel the need to bring a little more of her trademark nasty darkened mystery. This is a well recommended picture but clearly not one of her best.
Another picture I saw was Carl Bessai’s Fathers And Sons and it is one of those movies that you see every once in a while at a film fest. I’m talking about the kind of movie that makes you wonder why it was picked to be in the damn program. Its interwoven story lines all have to do with, well wouldn’t yu know it, fathers and sons. There’s an Indian family, a Jewish family, an Irish family and a black family. All this and maybe I should have just chugged that glass of wine to make the pain go away a bit. uggh next time.
More from AD’s Montreal correspondent Jordan Ruimy at Mind of a Suspicious Kind.