Utpal Borpujari

October 27, 2010

Cinema’s cathartic role gets ample display in 34th Montreal World Film Fest

Cinema, going beyond its popular image of a vehicle for mass entertainment, also often plays a cathartic role for its makers and viewers like all other art forms. This aspect of the modern world’s most-powerful audio-visual medium was on ample display at the 34th Montreal World Film Festival (August 26-Sept 6, 2010) one of the most-respected cine-festivals in the globe.

The Competition Section of the festival, judged by a jury headed by twice Cannes Palm d’Or and once Oscar winner Bille August of the Pele The Conquerer fame, was, in fact, a testimony to this aspect of cinema as film after film looked into crisis after societal or personal crisis to create some powerful if not always entertaining-in-the-popular-sense drama.

Perhaps one of the most-powerful exhibition of this came in debutant director Hans Van Nuffel’s Belgium-Netherlands co-production Adem (Oxygen), which walked away with the top Grand Prix de Americas prize.

For Nuffel, the film has surely been a way to deal with personal demons, with its protagonist, suffering from the incurable genetic disease cystic fibrosis, moving from hope to despair back to hope in a dramatically-surged atmosphere. – the director too has been a patient of the same disease, though a milder version of it, since his childhood.

In the film, youngster Tom seems to rebel against fate as he befriends a bunch of unruly youths almost as if in a challenge to his predicted short life because of the disease. His problems are compounded by the fact that his elder brother, the calmer Lucas, succumbs to the same disease. But his outlook towards life changes when he meets Xavier, another young man with the same affliction but with an amazing zest for life, and Eline, a quarantined patient suffering from a rare infection.

Nuffel shows rare maturity for a young director in bringing out the angst of the protagonist, whose despair finds its outer form in sometimes stupid and sometimes violent acts. The inner turmoil of Tom finds manifestation in the outer, visible acts, which at the same time hides his mental state in front of his family members.

Another film that left the viewers shaken and walked away with the FIPRESCI prize given by the International Film Critics Federation jury (of which this author was a member) was German film Das Lied in Mir (The Day I was Not Born) by another debutant director, Florian Cossen.

The Israel-born director takes a politically-potent subject of children who had been adopted after their parents had ‘disappeared’ during the military dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s, and many of whom in recent years have sought out their real relatives in emotionally-churning circumstances.

But he successfully gives the subject a touch of sublimity by letting the political aspect be on the background and focusing on a very personal story of a young woman who accidentally finds out that she had been adopted by a German couple after her parents had gone missing. With a powerful performance by Jessica Schwartz in the main role, the film expertly uses the camera to capture the nuances of the characters as well as of Buenos Aires, where the film is set in.

If performances by its actors set this film apart, another film that matched in theme and performances was Spain’s Pajaros de Papel (Paper Birds), by director Emilio Aragon.

It shared the audience award with Cossen’s film, and touched viewers by its emotionally-powerful storytelling style. Again, it is set in the politically-turbulent time – in Spain during the Francoist era after the Civil War. Aragon’s characterizations bear resemblance to that of Spain’s best known living auteur-director Pedro Almodovar in that he too pitches them at varied emotional levels. At the same time, his exploration of the relationship between a man whose world crashes after his wife and young son dies in an explosion, and a kid orphaned in the war, is almost as powerful and heart-touching as that of the father-son relationship in Roberto Benigni’s celebrated Life is Beautiful.

The World Competition and the First Film World Competition – the two most prestigious sections of the festival – in fact, had quite a few films that had powerful subjects, some told on a grand scale and some in an intimate manner. French filmmaker duo Sophie de Daruvar and Yves Thomas, for example, came up with Rendez-Vous Avec Un Ange (Meeting With an Angel), which, through its seemingly lighthearted story on the relationship between two disparate souls, simultaneously puts to the spotlight on the highly-debated subject of euthanasia. Another French director, Pascal Elbe, who is also a popular actor, on the other hand, took a powerful look at the relationship between communities in an increasingly multicultural France in his Tete de Turc (The Turk’s Head).

Japanese Hideyuki Hirayama’s Hisshiken Torisashi (Sword of Desperation) was another film that impressed viewers through its immaculate execution of a story of a noble man who is an expert swordsman too. Though set in times past, the story, even while highlighting the popular sword fighting genre of Japanese movies, has strong resonances for the present times as it puts the spotlight on how political power can get misused if it falls on the hands of the undeserving.

The world looked through the child’s eyes often looks different, and that is what at least two films tried to emulate in the competition section – Wenecja (Venice) from Poland and De La Infancia (From Childhood) from Mexico. The former is a touching film about a kid in a Polish village whose dreams of visiting his dream city of Venice go topsy turvy as the Second World War breaks out, and the latter is a gritty tale of a young boy growing up within a desperately poor family with his father falling prey to criminal ways. The sensitive performances by the child actors in both the films make them memorable viewing experiences.

Disappointingly, there were only two Indian films in what is one of the world’s premiere film festivals. One was Pinaki Chowdhury’s Bengali film Aarohan (Ascension).

Starring thespian Soumitra Chatterjee and award-winning actress Rituparna Sengupta, the film dissects the Indian philosophy of the cycle of life and death and touches upon the caste prejudices that pervade the society. But the film’s technical parameters, seen against the cutting-edge technology of films from other parts of the world, left a sour taste among the viewers. There were, however, more than one documentary with Indian themes, made by production houses from other countries. The other was the Vijay Singh’s India-France co-production India by Song, a documentary that confusingly seeks to see India’s socio-political scenario through a few selected songs from Hindi films over the years without really explaining why those songs were selected or – except for a couple – how they reflect India at that particular juncture of time. However, there were a couple of documentaries produced by foreign production companies but with Indian subjects. They were Italian director Michela Occhipinti’s Lettere Dal Deserto (Letters from the Desert) that presents an intimate portrayal of postmen who deliver letters in villages of Rajasthan’s desert areas, and how their relationship with people has got affected after the mobile phone revolution in India; and French Sophie Azemar’s The Last Among the Men that presents a critical study of the caste system in India through the eyes of Dalits in Tamil Nadu

(Published on e-cineindia, FIPRESCI-India’s quarterly journal on www.filmfocusindia.com, issue 12-10-2010 and http://www.dearcinema.com)

http://filmfocusindia.com/e-cineindia-oct-2010.html#a-report-montreal

http://dearcinema.com/article/festival-report-cinemaa%C2%A2a%E2%80%9A%C2%ACa%E2%80%9E%C2%A2s-cathartic-role-gets-ample-display-in-montreal/0457

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October 11, 2010

Montreal: the young, old city

Filed under: Culture,Deccan Herald,Media,Tourism — Utpal Borpujari @ 7:41 pm
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By Utpal Borpujari

Quartier des Spectacles – French for “entertainment district” – in downtown Montreal, would be quite familiar at this moment for a Delhi resident. It is all dug up! But while Delhi has been fighting, unsuccessfully, with the Commonwealth Games deadline and nobody knows how long will it take, even after the Games are over, for many areas to get the refurbishing work done with, Montrealites know that Quartier des Spectacles it will remain so for a few more years. For, the area, which befitting its name has 130 culture-related organisations within one square kilometre, is undergoing a major facelift to make Montreal even more up to date with its worldwide reputation as a major hub of all kinds of festivals.

July-September is the best time to visit Montreal, the most-famous city in the French language-preferring Quebec region. It is the time when Summer is ending, and the air is pleasant most of the time, neither too warm nor too nippy (cold here means up to -30º  Centigrade), and Montrealites are out in full force to end the last days of the Summer holidays. It is also the time when the city hosts its numerous festivals that make Montreal almost a festival capital of the world – the international fireworks festival, the jazz festival, the ‘just for laughs’ festival that celebrates the funny bone in us, the world film festival, and so on.

But while festivals do make Montreal a jazzy place to be in, it is more than just a festival city. For one, it hosts six universities, including the world famous McGill and Concordia, within its city limits, it has an incredibly vibrant look at any given point of time. For another, it has north America’s only Formula 1 track – the best part of which is that you can actually hire a bike and ride the full stretch of the track, an experience that one can recount to grandchildren later on. And its predominantly Roman Catholic nature is visible in the form of hundreds of magnificent churches, so much so that Mark Twain had once remarked, “This is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window.” In modern times, you can also add restaurants to the same category – it arguably has one of the world’s largest concentration of restaurants, serving food from all across the globe, most of them jampacked most of the time their doors are open.

Montreal has gone through some difficult times, thanks to linguistic and political tensions that in the late 1970s saw a massive flight of business to Toronto. But it held on to its strong cultural moorings, and if it is no more the business capital of Canada (even though it headquarters Bombardier, telecom giant Bell, International Civil Aviation Organisation, National Film Board of Canada and Telefilm Canada), it has more than made it up by becoming the host to its numerous world-class cultural events. But even otherwise, Montreal has quite a lot of touristy attractions, including its own Chinatown, La Petit Italy (The Little Italy) and Quartier Latin (Latin Quarters) – localities that got identified with communities that had originally settled their in larger numbers.

There are quite a few options to travel around Montreal, but the best way is to walk or take the Bixi bicycles on hire. I personally prefer the first option anywhere I go, as that allows one to really soak in the sights, sounds and smells of a place. In Montreal, with its number of magnificent cathedrals, beautiful boulevards, innumerable eating joints and friendly people, that was the option I exercised as much as possible. Montreal also has a great underground network of pathways, connecting the various underground metro stations and lined with small shops, which one can use to move from one place to another in case it is raining and you are not carrying an umbrella, or when you want to move faster. To visit slightly distant locations, such as the West Islands suburbs like Beaconsfield on the banks of the huge Saint-Louis lake, one has to take the metro and then travel also by bus (which incidentally arrive at each stop at the exact time that is mentioned on the timetable pasted on each stoppage).

But whether you like or not, you have to walk, and only walk, if you want to soak in Old Montreal – the location where Montreal city took birth. Still retaining its old world flavour, it is where the Notre Dam cathedral, a magnificent structure that stands tall in stature even if dwarfed a little by modern-day skyscrapers nearby, is located. The souvenir shops and eateries in Old Montreal are places that are to be soaked in at a leisurely pace, with a beer here and with some knick knacks there. Sundays are a busy time in Old Montreal, as the place comes alive with a mock 18th century market place, with French-speaking dames dressing up in old-style dresses and selling vegetables, maple syrup and wines from their kiosks while performers bring alive the world of Inuits – the original inhabitants – and French settlers. There is something for everyone in this market, whether children or adults, and it is time well spent. If you are visiting Montreal, mark your Sunday there for the Old Montreal visit just to be at this “market”.

If this gives you a feel of old-time Montreal, Rue Saint Catherine is where you get the feel of modern Montreal, with its shopping malls, fancy restaurants and night clubs. It is a street that literally bifurcates Montreal into its north and south halves, and runs almost across the whole length of the city, cutting via quite a few important locations.

Montreal is also where you get what are called the world’s best Bagels. The Montreal Bagel even got its clientele in the outer space, with American astronaut Gregory Chamitoff taking three dozen of them while going on a six-month stint at the International Space Station in 2008. A legacy of the large Jewish settlers, the Bagels are almost worshipped here, with tourist booklets calling some of the outlets selling their unique Bagels, such as Fairmount Bagel or St-Viateur Bagel, as “temples” of this delicacy. “If you don’t want to offend Montrealers, never compare Montreal Bagels, which are smallish, chewy and slightly sweet, with the New York variety, which is puffy, moist and salty”, goes the sanguine advice to visitors.

Montreal got its name from what is known as the Mount Royal (Mont Real in French), a biggish hillock actually (don’t call it a ‘hill’ in front of any Montrealer though). A walk on the hill is a calming experience, with its dense foliage and beautifully-maintained pathways. And the mountain is not the only open space in this city of some very-beautifully manicured parks.

And yes, if you are the kind who wants to try out how lucky you are, the Montreal Casino is a must visit for you. Rated one of the world’s best, it has 120 gaming tables and 2,955 slotting machines, apart from a range of restaurants. For those who love visiting museums, some of the places to be in are the Montreal Insectarium, the McCord Museum of Canadian History, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History…indeed, it is a city that is a haven for museum crawlers. Montreal is an experience to soak in, and one visit is not enough to do that fully for sure.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 10-10-2010)

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/103566/maximum-city.html

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