Anthony Kirby reports from this year’s Montreal World Film Festival.
Director Luis Urquiza Mondragon, won the prize for Best Latin American Film and La Grand Prix des Ameriques (the festival’s largest monetary award) at the recently concluded Montreal World Film Festival for his film Obediencia Perfecta.
Told in flashback format the film begins with the resignation of an elderly bishop. The viewer questions whether this resignation is under duress or simply a normal episcopal resignation, as required by Canon Law. The film then reverts to the early 1960s, Sacramento Santos (one of six children in an affluent family) and an immature youth of just thirteen, leaves his family to join a new order, Los Crusados de Christo. On his very first day Sacramento is encouraged to consider his religious superiors as his parents and his seminarian confreres as his real brothers. Los Crusados de Christo has a respected and inspiring leader Angel de la Cruz.
Early in the film it’s made abundantly clear that Father de la Cruz has a fatal flaw. He seems to get pleasure in policing the showers as his young charges wash following sports. Then Sacramento observes that in the dead of night several of his colleagues are roused individually from their sleep and brought to an adjoining room. Weeks later Sacramento overhears an older seminarian plead with his parents first by phone and later in person to take him from the seminary. Religious Authorities intervene saying that the boy is overwrought. Such is the respect that practicing Catholics had for the priesthood at that time that the parents do not believe their son. Then Father de la Cruz asks Sacramento to live with him at his relatively opulent residence. They have separate bedrooms but gradually over the course of many months through gifts and special attention the older man seduces the boy.
At one point Sacramento sees the older man, extremely drunk, dancing to Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones. Later he witnesses the priest in flagrante delicto with a prostitute. When the older man realizes he’s been discovered he beats Sacramento mercilessly cloaking this punishment in religious overtones.
Some months later at Easter ceremonies Sacramento realizes that a new younger postulant has caught his superior’s eye and that he’s about to be replaced. “Certain stories must be told” said Paulist Father Elwood (Bud) Kieser when introducing the feature film Romero at the Montreal World Film Festival in 1989. Obviously Mr. Urquisa Mondragon felt compelled to write this compelling disturbing film. However, the final credits read “based on real events”. It’s probable that Mr. Urquisa Mondragon knows the identity of the real Father de la Cruz.
Perhaps even at this late date there may be court proceedings against this priest and a commission ensure that pedophilea never occurs again in seminaries or boarding schools in Mexico. This unflinching film might well be compared to The Magdalene Sisters – hopefully it will have the same beneficial effect.
Travelator, a Serbian/United States co-production, deservedly won the Prize for Innovative Cinema. Directed by Dusan Milic and set in present-day Serbia and Las Vegas the film was lensed for a little over one million Euros. Slav, a youth of 19, is an addict of violent video games. He usually beats the computer and wins. Like many teenagers he has trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality. Who’s to blame him? He lives with his widowed mother in a squalid muddy camp for displaced persons.
Returning home one day he discovers that his mother is very ill and in need of cancer treatments. There simply isn’t any money! Slav is approached by members of the Serbian underworld. Knowing of his prowess in violent games and that he’s a refugee from Slovenia and, as such, can enter the U.S. without a visa, the mob offer him a vast amount of money to eliminate a Serbian State witness hiding out in Las Vegas. Arriving in Sin City, Slav is initially distracted by the glamour of Las Vegas. He’s partly seduced by drink and drugs and meets a lap dancer (Kentaana Henderson), who has a career agenda and some moral values. Slav quickly tracks down his Serbian target noting his daily habits and his two bodyguards. He keeps in touch with his mother who’s getting weaker. His relationship with the dancer becomes a genuine affair. However, he has a mission to fulfil. He purchases a complete arsenal of both hand guns and automatic rifles at a local gun store. Almost as if he were still playing a video game Slav again becomes a dedicated shooter wreaking vengeance on his designated target and his minders. However, this is real life not a video game.
Mr. Milic rightly contrasts the grinding poverty of present day Serbia and the plight of those displaced by the brutal civil war with the glitz and glamour of an amoral Las Vegas. As a product of this war Slav has no moral compass except his love for his mother. The juxtaposition of images is so strong that the viewer at times questions whether he/she’s watching a video game or real life. This reviewer mourns the fact that the producers did not record an alternative English dialogue tract at the same time they recorded the original. The film is headed for great financial success, especially with viewers under thirty.
Melody, directed by Bernard Bellefroid of Belgium, earned a special commendation from the Ecumenical Jury “for its direction, dialogue and acting.” Lensed in Liege and in rural Devon, the film “explores the different aspects of motherhood and affirms strongly the importance of bonding and maternal commitment.” Melody, a hairdresser aged 28, has a driving ambition to own and operate her own beauty salon.
She finds a location in a somewhat rundown area of her home town, finds out ownership costs and even meets with an interior designer. She’s in desperate need of over forty thousand euros to realize her dream. Then she sees an online advertisement from a British lady named Emily desperate to become a mother but unable to have a natural child. Melody and Emily meet. The younger woman is impressed by Emily’s poise, kindness and business acumen. After some haggling over money Melody agrees to teh insemination of Emily’s fertilized ovaries and signs papers relinquishing maternal rights. A month later when Melody realizes that the procedure has worked she contacts Emily who insists that the younger woman stay at her large country home for the duration of the pregnancy. In the course of the pregnancy Melody has emotional swings, wants to renege on the promises she’s made, and to return to Belgium.
Infuriated, Emily barricades the surrogate mother in a bedroom in her house. Later Emely relents but, feeling unwell, makes an urgent visit to her doctor. At loose ends, Melody searches a closet in the house and discovers that Emily had been pregnant some years earlier and that because of uterine cancer this pregnancy was terminated. Melody’s anger towards Emily melts. She decides to continue the pregnancy. Emily’s medical news isn’t good, her cancer has returned. She sees a lawyer and takes steps to adopt Melody. Festival Jury President Sergio Castellitto said “ It’s the unanimous decision of the Jury to award the Best Actor Award (Female) to Rachael Blake and Lucie Debay of the film Melody. They’re two extraordinary actress. Both contributed moving nuanced performances.”
Factory Boss, directed and scripted by Zhang Wei of Hunan, China, highlights the effect the economic downturn of recent years is having on factories and medium-sized cities in China. Lin Dalin (Yao Anlian) is the on-hands manager of a small factory. The factory makes small plastic (Barbie) dolls for the American Market. Profit margins are very tight and, since Lin’s labour force is about to organize and his costs will further escalate, he’ll do anything to stay in business and meet his deadline. A young investigative reporter is part of Lin’s workforce. She carries a hidden camera and palm-size computer. She notes that an air extractor vent which should be completely insulated is rusted in sections and has a vent which can’t be closed. Staff are supposed to wear masks but in part because of heat and humidity many don’t.
The population of an entire village has been uprooted to staff this factory. They live in ‘sweat shop conditions’, sleep in bunk beds, and work long hours. The majority are loyal to Lin Dalin. He himself left a small village at the age of fourteen, worked on the factory floor for many years, eventually getting into management. He sees his workers as part of his extended family. Despite having to extend working hours because of approaching deadlines, he takes pains to make sure that the staff are properly fed. He’s a single father who adores his young daughter. Because of his workload he has little time with her. He lives in a relatively comfortable apartment with a panoramic view. Lin pleads with the commercial representative of the U.S. companies who buy his product. He needs more time, one extra week to fulfill the large order. This black diplomat is on Lin’s side but holds out little hope. A long term employee of Lin’s becomes ill at work and is rushed to hospital. She has leukemia. Lin visits her in hospital and gives he husband a vast sum of money ‘for medical expenses.’ He swears the husband to secrecy. Meanwhile, delegates from the large company (Wall Marts) who’ve been buying Lin’s inventory make a three-day visit. They’re not impressed and cancel the contract.
Lin’s workers strike. He goes to the highest point of his factory and is about to commit suicide. The husband of his hospitalized employee talks him down. A government public hearing is attended by American (Wall Mart) Executives. The investigative journalist confronts them saying that after shipping and other costs they make over 300% profit whereas local factories have profit margins of less than 10% and are forced to abandon business. This remarkable film “will be screened in Beijing and throughout China”, said writer/director Zhang Wei.
“For his humanistic nuanced performance” the Jury of the Montreal Film Festival unanimously awarded Yao Anlin the Best Actor Award (Male).
I’ve Been a Sweeper
I’ve Been a Sweeper, directed and written by Ciaran Dooley of the Dublin Institute of Technology, was the sole Irish film presented at the festival . Narrated and acted by national treasure Eamonn Morressy, the film emphasises the dignity of work and of a life well lived. “It’s a beautiful, very well made film” said Mexican filmmaker/critic Leopoldo Soto, one of the judges in the International Student Film Category.
The Montreal International World Film Festival took place 21st August – 1st September 2014