Montreal International Film Festival

Swansong: Story of Occi Byrne

The 34th Montreal International Film Festival (26th August-6th September 2010)

Das Lied in Mir (The Day I Was Not Born), a German film, shared the honours as most popular film and won both The International Federation of Film Critics Award and special commendation from The Ecumenical Jury at the recent edition of the Montreal Festival. The FIPRESCI jury commended this film ‘for its economical storytelling, and perfect blending of person and historical matter. The film tells the story of a young German woman who learns that her whole identity is based on a lie. We were particularly impressed with the filmmakers ability to deal with subjects like betrayal, identity and family in an intimate and quiet manner.’

Telling the story of a young woman en-route to Chile, who – on a stopover in Buenos Aires – hears a child sing a nursery rhyme and recalls the lyrics. However, Maria, the heroine doesn’t consciously speak any Spanish. She phones Antoine her father, tells him of this and the fascination this new city has. Two days later her father arrives in Argentina and confesses that Maria spent the first three years of her life in Buenos Aires.

Struck by the similarity in theme to the classic Official Story (1985) the undersigned asked director Florian Cossen of this. ‘We watched that film many times before going to Buenos Aires to shoot,’ said the tall unassuming director. In effect Das Lied in Mir is an update of the earlier film. Maria has been adopted. In order to get her out of Argentina, Anton changed the date of her birth. ‘In most instances we used the first take. We had an excellent casting director in Argentina and so found Beatriz Spelzini (Maria’s Aunt and Godmother). ‘In the pivotal scene between Maria and her godmother a dog began to bark. Then another. Then a third. The soundman was uneasy. We did a second take. It wasn’t as passionate as the first. We went with the first.’ Given the supreme power of the military dictatorship in the 1970s and ’80s and the number of ‘disappeared’ – there must be many Marias. This film deserves wide distribution. No doubt the acclaim and prizes won in Montreal will help.

Adem (Oxygen), a Belgium–Netherlands co-production was the other big winner in Montreal. It won Le Grand Prix of the Americas, Montreal’s top honour, and the Ecumenical Prize. ‘This film is a good dramatization of a strong issue: the need to give sense to one’s life, the hope to live,’ said the Ecumenical Jury. Telling the story of two youths who suffer from cystic fibrosis, Adem is never maudlin. ‘The film distinguishes itself, not only by its artistic merit, but by its exploration of the ethical, social and spiritual values that make life human.’ Popular with the public, the film had extra screenings. In a published interview Adem’s writer/director Hans Van Neuffel revealed that he suffers from cystic fibrosis.

Della Vita in Poi (From the Waist On), the winner of the Special Grand Jury Award, directed by Gianfrancesco Lazotti, is a reworking of the Cyrano de Bergerac story in modern Italy. In contrast to the classic the poetic letter writer Katia is female and handicapped. Danilo her love is serving a life sentence. ‘The movie is one of those unexpected gems that festivals often promise but rarely deliver,’ according to Stephen Farber (Hollywood Reporter)

Shown in competition, Rendez-vous avec un Ange (Meeting with an Angel), directed by Sophie de Daruvar, and Yves Thomas of France is an offbeat look at the difficult subject of assisted suicide. Already legal in Switzerland, it is now part of an official enquiry in French Canada. Judith, a competent beautiful oncology nurse, is asked to resign by the head of the cancer division. She complies.  A part-time arts journalist, her partner Rolland is fixated with an opera diva. An interview with her could change his career path and he’s determined to get it. Judith tries several times to tell Rolland of her dismissal. He’s too self-centered and has always ‘more important’ things to do. Judith keeps up the charade of work but has other duties. Finally Rolland twigs to the fact that she’s unemployed but doesn’t let on. He places a listening device in her handbag and discreetly follows her. He hears the sound of glass ampoules being shattered, tranquil music by Debussy, snatches of conversation about ‘going towards the light’ and finally breathing becoming weak then ceasing. One day he manages to get into one of the high-end apartments she visits and discovers that Judith helps terminally ill patients to die. After losing his salesman position because of too many absences from work, Rolland goes into depression, and begins to drink too much. He and Judith separate. He admires her avocation Then one day calls Judith and asks to meet with her in a five-star hotel. Actors Isabell Carré and Sergi Lopez underplay their roles. This delicate subject matter is handled with tact.

The well-deserved Zenith Golden Award for First Feature Fiction went to Marco Luca Cataneo for Amore Liquido (Liquid Love) a daring film about internet pornography. Based on a study by sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, which maintains that personal relationships often become liquid, unable to solidify and stand the test of time, the film tells the story of Mario, a sanitation worker, in his early forties. Mario cares for his mother a recent stroke victim. He has a female companion that he pays. His graveyard shift schedule makes normal social relationships difficult. In his down time Mario cruises various internet sex sites. Sometimes he masturbates. Usually towards 4am each morning Mario has a coffee or juice in an all night cafe. The waitress, Agatha, a blond in her early thirties likes him.

Mario’s sister takes his mother to the seaside on vacation. Later Mario runs into Agatha at a municipal pool. She has her nine-year-old daughter with her… Mario teaches the child to swim. Some days later Mario asks Agatha and her daughter to come for supper at his sister’s house with a pool. They have supper then the little girl has to go to the toilet. She cries for help. Agatha, in all innocence, asks Mario to aid her. The child has her underwear down and has run out of toilet paper. Mario gets the paper and is about to molest the child when Agatha still unsuspicious come in. One of Mario’s chat room friends sends him a special video link from Thailand. Mario watches the child prostitute. Meanwhile Agatha wants to bring her relationship to a further level. She makes a date to go to the seaside early one morning with her daughter and Mario. Mario does a radical clean up of his apartment and is supposed to meet them late one evening for early morning departure. Made for €15,000, the film was shot in Bologna over three weeks. Actors and crew deferred their salaries. Leading actor Stefano Frengi represented the director. ‘Italian audiences like to laugh when they attend the cinema. Our film is dark.’ He said at a conference following the screening. Overjoyed when the film won first prize, he thanked the Italian Cultural Institute for his expenses. Hopefully Amore Liquido will reach a large audience.

Three documentaries greatly impressed the undersigned: Near Silence, a nine-minute film on the devastating effects of Huntington’s disease on the life of a concert pianist, Roger. Cared for by his wife Fay they struggle to live life with dignity. Directed and written by Victoria, British Columbia resident Ana de Lara the film might be a good programming companion to the fictional Adem.

Directed by Christian Berger The Beethoven Project tells of a marathon series of concerts given by the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. Under the baton of Estonian-American conductor Paavo Jarvi, this thirty-year-old orchestra – which was formed initially by music students – re-imagined the nine symphonies for 21st Century audiences. They then decided to perform the entire canon in four concerts first in Bremen. Berger describes Jarvi as ‘A classical star who is charismatic, eloquent, and candid beyond the boundaries of political correctness. Normally we would have to pay an orchestra to shoot a documentary. But he said, “Shoot anything you want”’. Sony classical is releasing the DVD of The Beethoven Project at year’s end.

Lastly Brigitte Uttar Kornetzky’s documentary God No Say So shows a flourish of humanity in the wake of horrendous evil in Seirra Leone. Ten thousand hands were chopped off during an eleven-year reign of terror. Supposedly they were sent to the president of the state. ‘The hand you voted with for a civilian government, you will never vote with again’, they were told by rebels. Four thousand amputees survive. Deeply religious, they don’t want vengeance. Sierra Leone is shown as a state rich in natural resources but of weak infrastructure. A third-world country in desperate need of aid.

Of the 430 films screened in the festival only two were Irish. Neke Druge Price, listed as an Irish production the film, partly financed by the Irish Film Board, tells the story of five women from the former Yugoslavia who become pregnant and take control of their lives. Beautifully photographed, with interiors shot at Ardmore, the film makes a strong statement on women’s rights in a misogynistic society. Producer Marija Dzideva commented on ‘the wonderful crew and sets in Ardmore.’ A well made film!

Already a hit at Galway’s Film Fleadh, Conor McDermottroe’s first feature, Swansong: Story of Occi Byrne, garnered a rave review from respected Montreal critic John Griffin. Montreal critic John Griffin. Griffin found the feature ‘deeply moving’ and described the casting of newcomer Martin McCann as Occi, Jodi Whittaker (Venus) as Occis mother and Marcella Plunkett as Mary ‘perfect’.

Anthony Kirby


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