Montreal Film Festival

‘I’d like to dedicate this award to all victims of war,’ said German director Christian Wagner when accepting the award for best screenplay on behalf of his colleague Edin Hadzimahovic. ‘We made Warchild for the victims. Edin comes from Bosnia, an area much affected by war. The victims of terrorism are old people, children, and people that are innocent.’ Shown in official competition, the film graphically recreates the final days of the Bosnian conflict. It then flashes forward to 2004. Senada, thirty years old and estranged from her husband, is still coping with the effects of war. Her daughter Aida has been listed as missing for nine years, but Senada has never given up hope that she’s alive. Hearing that the Red Cross flew children to Germany, she follows the trail to the city of Ulm. Senada learns that Aida is alive; however, fearing that Aida’s parents are dead the Red Cross have given her up for adoption. The now eleven year-old girl known as Kristina Heinle is well adjusted, no longer speaks Bosnian, and loves her ‘parents’. Senada has been warned not to contact her child. She disregards this advice and is discovered by the Heinles, who threaten her with deportation. Senada has a difficult decision to make, should she take her daughter to Bosnia by force or leave Kristina/Aida with her adoptive parents? Because of its theme and a searing performance by Labina Mitevska as Senada, Warchild deserves to be widely seen. ‘My film has been sold here for North American distribution’ said Wagner leaving the stage.

Produced by the Almodóvar brothers, and directed by Isabel Coixet The Secret Life of Words (shown out of competition) was listed as a Spanish film .Yet with financial support from Bord Scannán and the Northern Ireland Film Board and Irish technical support it could be considered an Irish film. Shot in Belfast, Donaghadee, and on an offshore oil rig, the film features Canadian Sarah Polly (The Claim) as Hanna, a deaf girl of Bosnian origin who works in a plastics factory. Ordered on vacation by her kindly boss, Hanna, a nurse by training, overhears of a vacancy for a professional on a distant rig. Josef, a technician (Tim Robbins), has suffered burns and temporary blindness in an attempt to save a co-worker from a gas explosion. Hanna is to wash and feed Josef, change his dressings, ease his pain, and listen to his chatter. When she’s had enough she simply switches off her hearing aid. The viewer is fascinated by Hannah. Why can she not make human contact? Gradually, however, the motley crew on the rig, especially Josef, influence Hannah breaking down her resistance. Hannah has survived unspeakable brutality, perhaps with the wounded Josef there may be hope.

Two independent American films greatly impressed the undersigned: Holly a Cambodian US co-production marks the directorial debut of screenwriter Guy Moshe. Again we witness the after effects of war. Holly, a 12 year-old Vietnamese girl, has been sold into prostitution by her impoverished parents. Spirited to Phnom Penh, Holly, still a virgin and as such prime merchandise, meets Patrick (Ron Livingston ) an aimless wanderer dealing in illegal merchandise. Patrick’s contact at the US Embassy is Chris (Chris Penn in his final role). Though no saint, Chris keeps Patrick out of police hands. Gradually Patrick establishes an avuncular relationship with Holly. When a brothel owner transfers the child to the interior, Patrick follows, tracks her down, and places her in a UNESCO-style safe house. Holly is part of the ‘K-11’ project, dedicated to raising awareness of international sex trafficking.

Directed by child psychologist and documentary filmmaker Joanna Lipper, Little Fugitive is a remake of the classic 1953 Ray Ashley film. Lenny, an eleven year-old, has a lot of responsibility; his father is in prison and his mother works nurse’s hours. Lenny must care for his brother Joey, aged seven. Joey is sometimes disobedient, so Lenny plays a practical joke on him. The joke goes terribly wrong. Joey flees to Coney Island and is befriended by an older runaway. This lyrical comedy-drama, a worthy remake, yet a criticism of US Family Service Law, deserves to be widely seen.

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