The 37th Montreal World Film Festival (22th August – 2nd September 2013)
Anthony Kirby reports from the 37th Montreal World Film Festival, which featured Irish success.
Two Irish co-productions; one Danish, the other Norwegian/Swedish, garnered top honours at the recently concluded Montreal World Film Festival.
For his portrayal of a troubled fundamentalist Lutheran Minister in the Danish/Irish film The Miracle, actor Peter Plaugborg shared best actor awards with veteran Quebecoise actor Marcel Sabourin, who stunned audiences in French-Canadian director Matthew Roy’s L’Autre Maison as a father struggling to keep hold on reality.
Shot in Co. Kerry by Danish director Simon Staho, The Miracle is a dark film strongly influenced by Ingmar Bergman. Johanna (Sonja Richer) a former competitive ballroom dancer is wheelchair-bound, the victim of a car accident. She’s unhappily married to Eric a village minister, who believes in a literal interpretation of the bible. Each Sunday Eric’s parishioners pray for Johanna’s recovery without avail. Johanna and Eric have a relatively well adjusted son, Christian.
Following the death of his mother Johanna’s first love Jackob (Ulrich Thomsen) returns to the village. He threatens to demolish the village dance studio where Johanna teaches children. The studio was owned by his mother.
At Johanna’s entreaty he relents on one condition – that she teach him to dance. Johanna agrees. Love blooms anew.
At a crowded press conference Simon Staho said that the question he wanted to pose was, “what is a miracle? Does a miracle happen because of faith or love? Denmark is a secular country. However, there are pockets of the country where a repressive Lutheran fundamentalism still exists. The film is set in the 1970s when this fundamentalism was more prevalent.”
Mr. Plauborg’s performance is nuanced and deeply felt. His honour is well merited.
Norwegian director Eric Poppe’s A Thousand Times Goodnight, starring Juliette Binoche as a conflict-zone photographer, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) as her marine biologist husband, and Templeogue-native Lauryn Canny as their troubled older daughter, won the special grand prix of the jury plus special mention by the ecumenical jury. A former photo journalist for Reuters, writer director Poppe based the screenplay on his own experiences in Lebanon, Biafra, and the former Belgian Congo.
“Reporters get hooked on the adrenaline,” he told me. “I certainly did! The other thing is to deal with the fact that there is a life back home and the hardest thing is to deal with that, and readjust.”
Rebecca (Juliette Binoche) is one of the top war photographers. On assignment in Afghanistan, she’s embedded with suicide bombers and gets badly injured when the bomb explodes prematurely. Back in her home town another bomb falls. Her husband and two daughters are petrified that she’ll die in a conflict area. They’ve had enough. It’s either her photography or them. Her eldest daughter Stephanie (Lauryn Canny), on the cusp of womanhood, is especially conflicted. Her mother is absent when she needs her most. She begins to act out. Then the teacher in secondary school comes up with an assignment on conflict areas in east Africa. Rebecca’s contacts arrange for mother and daughter to visit a U.N. Refugee Camp in Eriteria. “It’s in a safe area”, says Stig, Rebecca’s colleague. “ I do hope so.” Rebecca replies. Mother and daughter fly to Cairo.
The conflict between Rebecca and Stephanie is at the very centre of the drama. What’s reputed to be a ‘safe’ area is not. Horsemen armed with submachine guns raid the refugee camp. U.N personnel insist that mother and daughter depart immediately. Rebecca insists that Stephanie leave but absolutely hooked on events she stays looking for that perfect picture of the brigands unmasked.
Accepting the Special Jury Prize, Mr. Poppe said, “We just finished editing the film ten days ago. I wish to pay special tribute to Lauryn Canny as Stephanie. She’s just fourteen years old and is a born actress. The film wouldn’t have worked without her or the luminous Juliette Binoche. Sadly Juliette couldn’t come here because of a family celebration. I share this award with my family. Lastly, I wish to share this award with photojournalists everywhere especially Syria.”
The breakout film of the festival was Life Feels Good. Directed by Marciej Pieprzyca, this Polish film won the Grand Prix des Americques (the festival’s top award), the public award for most popular film, and The Ecumenical Prize, a separate juried award based on artistic merit, human dignity and Christian values. Based on the true story of a victim of cerebral palsy born during the communist era and mis-diagnosed as mentally disabled Life Feels Good is a life-affirming film and well deserves all its plaudits. “The story of Przemac [the name of the real person on which the main character is based] is above all a pretext to ask existential questions about life, death, faith, love, normality and understanding,” said Marciej Pieprzyca.
Jan Verhayen of Belgium won best director award for his riveting courtroom drama The Verdict.
A rapist and murderer is released on a legal technicality because of Article 71 in present Belgian Law. He cannot be retried. Unable to deal with his grief the husband of the murdered woman takes the law into his own hands, tracks down the perpetrator, and summarily shoots him. He’s immediately arrested.
During his trial the motivation of the husband and the flaw in the present Belgian legal system is highlighted. As Luc, the grieving husband, actor Koen De Bow gives an excellent performance.
At a press conference earlier in the festival, director Jan Verhayen said, “I’m releasing my film in mid-October to tie in with the re-opening of parliament in Brussels. This fault in Belgian Law is something the public has been aware of for years. Hopefully it will be remedied in the upcoming session.”
Among other awards, Jordis Triebel won the best actress award for her role in Christian Schowchow’s West as a young mother fleeing East Germany in the mid-1970s and starting a new life with her son. West also won the FIPRESCI Award given by the International Federation of Film Critics. The same federation awarded the prize for best first film to The Long Way Home, a Turkish film directed by Alphan Esil. This feature also won the Golden Zenith Award.
Screened in World Competition, Blink, Conor Maloney’s first film, tells a complex story of repressed memory, love and captivity in just fourteen minutes. Audiences were captivated by the film. Question and answer periods following the three screenings were lively. Conor, his writer/producer Gavin O’Connor and team used their time in Montreal to make sales and new contacts. Conor is presently developing a science fiction love story.
Shown out of competition Steph Green’s comedy Run and Jump was well received by audiences. “The subject and the menage a trois is fascinating. We’ll certainly screen it in our upcoming Cine Gael season. Maxine Peak and Edward MacLiam’s performances are fantastic. I look forward to presenting it to our public,” said Lynn Doyle of Cine Gael, Montreal.