Report: The 39th Montreal International Film Festival


Anthony Kirby reports from the 39th Montreal International Film Festival, which took place from 27th August to 7th September 1915.


“I’m so honoured to receive this prize and thankful to Michel Mark Bouchard for his wonderful screenplay and to Mirka Kurismaki for his sensitive direction,” said thirty-year-old actress Milan Buska on receiving Le Grand Prix d’ Americque for her performance of Queen Kristina of Sweden in The Girl King, a film in epic mode. The joint Finnish/Canadian/German/Swedish co-production, lensed in Finland and Germany with financing from Sweden and Canada, was shot in thirty five days just weeks before the festival and screened in Official Competition.

On the death of her father in battle in 1632 Kristina Vasa became the first native, female sovereign of Sweden. Raised as a boy, she learned horsemanship, hunting, and war strategy from childhood. She also had a thorough grounding in the humanities and spoke fluent German and French, in addition to Swedish. Formally crowned in 1644 at age eighteen, she announced that she wished to end the Thirty Years’ War between Catholics and Protestants. She also announced that she wished to help her subjects and make Stockholm “the Athens of the North”. To this end, she imported thousands of books on all subjects, including sorcery, and started a personal correspondence with Rene Descartes (played by French actor Patrick Bauchau), the foremost Christian Philosopher of the age. Through the French Ambassador at court Pierre Chanot she persuaded Descartes to travel to Stockholm.

Disenchanted with certain aspects of the Lutheran Religion, especially the doctrine of God’s Will, she became more and more convinced that Roman Catholicism with its long history, doctrine of grace and free will was the religion of Jesus Christ. As monarch, Kristina was expected to marry and carry on the bloodline. Chancellor von Oxenstierna (Michael Nyqvist, star of Mission Impossible 4) was hopeful Kristina might choose Johan his son as consort. Kristina resisted this, as she did many other suitors. Having been raised as a boy, she was sexually confused and frequently quizzed Descartes on sexual passion and the different kinds of love. Then Kristina confounded all her advisors by having a lady-in-waiting, the beautiful Countess Ebba Sparre (Canadian Sara Gadon star of A Dangerous Method), anointed as the Queen’s Bed Companion, a position held by those designated to warm the sheets of their ruler. Kristina and Ebba became extremely close, both emotionally and physically. The love scenes between them are lensed discreetly. “I trusted Mika completely, and lived in the moment,” said Malin Buska at a crowded press conference.

Kristina is forced to choose between the heritage of her father, her country, her people and her religion or living as “who she wants to be.” She chooses the latter.

Because of the screenplay,the brilliant cinematography and a strong cast at the top of their game and our tolerant age, this epic film should reach a large audience. It was released in New York in late October and in Scandinavia and other markets in November.

Irish character actor Liam Cunningham and veteran British actor Malcolm McDowell bring their unique talents to Dusha Shipona – The Soul of a Spy. A John le Carré-like drama set in modern-day Moscow, London, Cairo, and Switzerland. Based on a roman a clef by retired KGB colonel Michael Lyubimov, the film, directed by Russian Vladimir Bortko, is a gripping suspenseful rollercoaster. “What do we have to protect us as spies?” asks a minor character early in the narrative, “only our wits, our cool heads, our training ,and at times our arms.” How true of all undercover agents!

A Russian intelligence operative, Alexander Federov (Danil Spivakovsky), known in the U.K. as Alex Wilkie, asks for political asylum. He’s interviewed by a British agent with a drinking problem (Malcolm Mc Dowell) who passes him on to the London Head of the C.I.A. (Liam Cunningham).

The two western agencies think they’ve found a double agent. Have they really? Federov has a wife in Cairo, and is about to marry a beautiful upper-class English girl considerably his junior. He confesses his love for this ingénue but can’t be completely honest with her. Gradually, this double life begins to take a toll both emotionally and physically. Federov wants to be repatriated and live a normal life.

At a press conference, director Vladimir Bortk said, “It was a pleasure to work with a group of talented actors. Sandrine Bonnair, Malcolm McDowell and Liam Cunningham were professionals of the highest quality. An actor is like a musical instrument: his voice and technique are his instruments. When you buy a Stradivarius violin you know it’s a Strad. My actors were of that classic mode.” Shown in Official Competition, the film sadly won no prize. It was appreciated by the general public and has been picked up for distribution in Europe and North America.

Fou d’Amour (Mad Love), directed/written and shot by Philippe Ramos of France, is based on cause célèbre in the France of 1959. A man is accused of two murders, found guilty he’s condemned and guillotined. A former priest, he loved life, women, and God. He preached every Sunday. He was, however, a priest with a fatal flaw. Beautifully lensed and acted, with a luminous performance by young Diane Rouxel as a blind girl, Fou d’amour garnered The Grand Prix D’ Ameriques, the festival’s highest award.

The festival awarded a Special Grand Jury Award to Misafir (The Visitor). Directed by Mehmet Eryilmaz of Turkey, this drama was also given special mention by the FIPRESCI JURY (The International Federation of Film Critics). Accompanied by her six-year-old daughter, Nur,a woman in early middle age, returns to her family home because of her ailing mother. Her retired father is cold to her. Her younger brother is welcoming but has been out of work for almost a year. Everyone is besotted by Nur’s daughter. A middle-aged lady cares for Nur’s mother without any payment. Before the tragic illness she was Nur’s mother’s closest friend. Nur’s father doesn’t handle money well and is deeply in debt. A bailiff seizes most of his furniture. Then the inevitable happens –  Nur’s mother dies. Nur sobs because of events in the past.

“I wanted to focus on women’s issues,” said Mr. Eryilmaz at a general press conference. There are grave women’s problems in Turkey. As a director I don’t discriminate between women. The problems of women are a good way to talk about human nature. I didn’t want to tell a story that was one-dimensional, I wanted to tell a story that was multi-dimensional. Hopefully, I’ll reach a relatively large audience.” He can be assured of this as the film has garnered two awards. “This is both a happy and sad occasion for me,” said Mr. Eryilmaz as he accepted his awards. “Happy because of the recognition of my work. Sad because of the black clouds passing over my country in recent months.”

“The only things we have in life are the moments we share together,” said actor/writer/director Guillermo Ivan as he accepted the Best Innovation Award for Un Instante en la Habana (A Havana Moment). A Cuban/Mexican/U.S./Columbian co-production, the film also won a special mention from the Ecumenical Jury. Two brothers separated for twenty three years are reunited in Havana because of the degenerative illness of the older sibling. Rather like events in the Eastern Mediterranean today, their mother has fled Cuba with the younger brother. On a rickety boat she’s caught by a rogue wave and drowns. Orphaned, her younger son Carlos has to adapt very quickly, attends U.S. schools and universities and looses his identity. Phone connections to Cuba are poor and fax and internet virtually non-existent. Meanwhile, his older brother Marcello is burdened with the duty of caring for their grandfather who’s in poor health. The one bright spot in Marcello’s life is his relationship with Lina, a Columbian lady doctor specializing in brain illnesses. She met Marcello through her work. Marcello is in the early stages of A.L.S. If he’s to continue to live independently he’ll need constant care. For this reason Lina has contacted Carlos. Initially, Marcello is extremely hostile to Carlos He’s also a tad jealous, as Carlos, based in New York is living the American Dream. Gradually, however, Carlos overcomes this hostility, assumes some of Marcello’s duties and re-establishes their bond. A moving film made on a very small budget.

In 2012, Austrian filmmakers Sabine Hiebler and Gerhard Ertl garnered several honours for their production Anfang 80, a haunting film about love in old age. This year, their new production, Chucks, won Le Prix du Public for most popular film. Based on a novel by Cornelia Travniek and starring Anna Posch, Markus Subrananiam and Thomas Schubert, Chucks shows the underside of life in present-day Vienna. Mae a punk rocker, roams the streets of the capital. She wears shoes left her by her recently deceased brother, lives in a condemned building, and spray paints protest logos late at night. Arrested for petty crime, she’s given a last chance: she must work as a nurse’s aid in a clinic for people infected with the AIDS virus. There she meets Peter, who’s a volunteer. Over several months they become closer. Peter is very honest and confesses that he’s more than a volunteer he has the virus. Mae lives in the now. Through her relationship with Peter she resolves several past issues in her life, re-establishes her relationship with her mother and finds her life’s work. The acting of Anna Posch as Mae and of Markus Subrananiam as Peter is superb. The film’s message of love and tolerance compliments that of Hiebler and Ertl’s earlier film.

Two films tied for best direction honours at the festival: Two Nights till Morning. A Finnish/Lithuania co-production directed by Mikko Kuparinen, and The Petrov File. A Bulgaria/German co-production directed by Georgi Balabanov. Caroline (Marie-Jose Croze), a French architect, is delayed by a volcanic sandstorm and has to spend an extra night in Vilnius, Lithuania. There she meets a Jaakko (Mikko Nousiainen), a pop musician in Vilnius for an engagement. Caroline speaks little or no English and Jaakko doesn’t speak French. An enjoyable evening ends in mutual pleasure. In the morning, everything changes when Jaakko realizes that Caroline speaks fluent English. Jaakko, somewhat confused, remains calm. Caroline in turn is embarrassed and relieved that she’s travelling to Paris that day. However, the volcanic cloud hasn’t dispersed, her plans are again thwarted. She finds space in the same hotel reconnects with Jaakko who suggests they get to know each other. Even though Caroline is in a same-sex relationship in France she’s taken by Jaakko and decides to give love a chance.

A very well-made film with sensitive nuanced performances by Croze and Nousiainen, The Petrov File is the story of an actor who, during the communist era in Bulgaria, is banned from working. On the change of regime, he discovers that he was denounced by a person he really admired. Then, Markov a well connected acquaintance, offers to help. Markov, former director of the secret service is now a businessman. The virtually free country is wrecked by speculative capitalism, violence, and gang wars. Markov wants Petrov to head a new political party pledging honesty and good government. Can this work or is the price Petrov must pay too high? Is Markov an honest man or a charlatan? Petrov must decide if he’ll take the role of his life. A high-stakes political thriller raising moral questions.

In contrast to last year the festival featured two Irish films and a German Irish co-production. Sadly none were in official competition. “What a lovely film with realistic performances,” said Montreal Gazette journalist Liz Smith of You’re Ugly Too. Directed and written by Mark Noonan with magical performances by child actress Lauren Kinsell and veteran Aidan Gillen, this dark comedy struck a cord with Montreal audiences. Will, a handyman is given compassionate release from prison because of the sudden death of his sister. Stacy, his precocious niece has been briefly with a foster family. Now Will, her only blood relative, has been given full care. A bachelor with a prison record, he’s never had family responsibilities before. As a parolee he must check in with the  prison office by five each day and find gainful employment as quickly as possible. He also has some personal problems. Can he surmount these and do right by Stacy? A very well made first feature.

“Magical,” said C.B.C. Morning Host and Montreal Gazette journalist Brendan Kelly of An Ode to Love, an eight-minute cartoon by New Zealand-born Irish animator Matthew Darragh. A lonely man on a desert island explores the highs and lows of romantic love when a mysterious companion is washed ashore.

Happy Hour, directed and written by Franz Muller. Starring Simon Licht, Medi Nebbu, Alexnder Horbe and Susan Swanton was lensed in Germany, Co.Kerry, and Skibbereen, in the autumn of 2013 and is essentially a film about male bonding made for a German audience. Hans C.’s wife has left him. He’s in depression. His friends of twenty years Wolfgang and Nic decide that he must develop some back bone and that he needs a break. Wolfgang has a cottage in West Cork. Some time there may provide an answer. Ireland will allow them to recapture their youth. Who knows, they may even have some romantic interludes. Made with the help of the local authority the film has a deeply felt performance by actor Susan Swanton as Kat, a divorced woman in search of love. The final scene where Wolfgang decides to delay his departure and the use of Brian Wilson’s ‘“God Only Knows’ is hopeful. The feature will do well in Germany and may help Irish tourism.

Anthony Kirby, September 2015




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


33rd Montreal International Film Festival

‘Doctors and medical personnel are the real heroes of the war in Iraq,’ said a surprised Lancelot von Naso as he accepted the Ecumenical Prize for his riveting first feature Ceasefire. Set during a twenty-four-hour truce, the drama recounts the journey of medical professionals and two journalists from Baghdad to Fallujah with blood plasma. Encountering fire from both the Mujahideen and US forces, they risk their lives in this humanitarian act.

‘The story is not based on a single event but on interviews with Médecins Sans Frontières and doctors working in the area’, says Von Naso. ‘We had a lot of trouble raising money from banks, and eventually raised capital from friends and family.’ Budgeted at €2.5 million, the film has the look of a more expensive production.

Presented jointly by the Protestant and Catholic Organizations, Interfilm and SIGNIS, the Ecumenical Prize salutes films ‘that explore the ethical, social and spiritual values that make life human. Director von Naso skilfully places the viewer into the situation of the protagonists through the cinematography. The film ‘challenges the audience to examine their perspective and responsibility in the face of human suffering’ said the jury. Though a final distribution deal has yet to be signed, Mr von Naso said there was ‘much interest’ from both European and North American companies. No doubt the Ecumenical Prize and the acclaim of the festival public will help.

Set in present day Afghanistan, Flugten (The Escape) compliments Ceasefire. Rikke Lyngvig, a Danish journalist, is captured by terrorists. After several days of captivity, Rikke befriends a guard named Nazir. The nineteen-year-old hates violence. He helps Rikke escape but says that if she does not assault and overpower him he’ll be executed by his comrades. On her return to Copenhagen the freed journalist becomes a celebrity. She even pens a book on her ordeal and following Nazir’s advice she fictionalizes certain aspects. A hostile colleague at her newspaper suspects a cover-up and begins an investigation. Meanwhile Nazir flees Afghanistan and arrives in Denmark. He contacts Rikke, who feels honour-bound to help him. Will she betray her captor/liberator or will she somehow help him find sanctuary? A suspenseful thriller plucked from today’s headlines.

Two Spanish films greatly impressed: Hoy no se fía, mañana sí (Forever Waiting) and Ramírez. Already winner of the Discovery Prize at Sitges Film Festival and Best Director at Malaga Film Festival, Ramírez, directed, written, and filmed by Albert Arizza, is the biography of an amoral sociopath. Sebastian Ramírez is an independent photographer who specializes in violent images with sadomasochistic undertones. He finds his subjects in Madrid’s nightclubs and quickly undresses and seduces them. Later, he murders and photographs them. Police are at first baffled by the number and severity of these crimes. Sebastian then makes an error and flees to Belgium with Interpol in hot pursuit. Director/writer Albert Arizza is a new star of Spanish cinema.

Set in 1953, the height of General Franco’s repressive regime Hoy no se fía, mañana sí (Forever Waiting) tells the story of naive Gilda Novas, an innocuous typist in an ultra-Catholic radio station. Gilda has one modest ambition – to read news copy on air. A devout Catholic, the orphaned Gilda is a member of a sodality (a form of the church expressed in specialized, task-oriented mode) called ‘The Nazareth Family’. Her guardians, a High Court Judge and Catholic Monsignor, are also leaders of this sodality. Gilda visits depressed areas of Madrid bringing food and religious consul. On one visit she’s challenged by an ill-clad man, who says that Christ’s ministry was especially to the poor and destitute. At a loss and confused, she reports this ‘socialist’ to her guardians. Later, on a visit to an imprisoned communist aunt, Gilda discovers that this social activist, a worker priest, has been captured, tortured, and emasculated by the authorities. Overwhelmed by revulsion at these events, the now socially aware Gilda plots her revenge.

First time writer/ director Francisco Avizanda brilliantly evokes the repression of the Franco era and how the regime contrived to use Catholicism to its authoritarian ends. He’s well served by his cast, especially the luminous Carolina Bona as Gilda. A timely film that should resonate with Irish audiences!

Acclaimed Greek director Theodoros Angelopoulos (Ulysses’ Gaze) presented his latest work I skoni tou hronou (The Dust of Time) at the festival. A sequel to his monumental The Weeping Meadow (2004), the latest feature continues the saga of Spyros and Eleni, separated from each other at the end of World War 2. Spyros (Michel Piccoli) participates in the Greek Civil War and eventually emigrates to the US.

A Greek-German-Russian co-production, The Dust of Time has the epic feel of a David Lean film, however, several critics found the continuity weak. The story and the premise of how war makes havoc of human lives is engaging despite this and all the cast, especially Bruno Ganz (Downfall) as Jacob and Michel Piccoli are excellent. Cinematographer Andreas Sinanos is another Sven Nykvist. This beautiful film deserves a wide audience.

The Diaspora of Irish culture was celebrated in three fine productions: Van Diemen’s Land, Love and Savagery, and Child of the Dead End. Set in Tasmania in 1822, Van Diemen’s Land, a disturbing yet beautiful film, directed by Australian Jonathan Auf Der Heide, tells of the escape of Alexander Pearce and seven other mostly Irish prisoners from a penal settlement. Poet/linguist Éamon Ó’Neachtain contributed the Gaelic dialogue and narration. The escape took place while the prisoners were on a logging detail. They had axes but no real tools, guns, picks, fishing rods, or even rabbit snares. After many days, hunger got the better of them with disastrous results. Though beautifully shot and with poetic dialogue, the film is at times difficult to watch.

Directed by John N. Smith (Dangerous Minds) and set in the Burren and Newfoundland, Love and Savagery tells of an impossible passion. In 1969, Newfoundland geologist Michael McCarthy travels to the Burren to study the unique rocks and flora. The most beautiful thing Michael encounters is Kathleen O’ Connell. Though about to enter religion, Kathleen is drawn to Michael. Local people learn of their growing affection and begin to take sides. ‘Michael is a foreigner. What right has he to divert a young girl from her calling?’ Ironically, the most understanding character in the drama is the mother superior of the convent Kathleen is about to enter. Michael is a persistent suitor and Kathleen has a decision to make. True to time and place and with panoramic views of North Clare and Eastern Newfoundland, Love and Savagery is a joy to the eye. Performances by newcomer Sarah Greene as Kathleen and Alan Hawco as Michael are understated and true. Veteran Macdara Ó Fatharta, as an elderly fisherman, steals many scenes.

Film archivist and documentary filmmaker Desmond Bell’s Child of the Dead End tells of poet Patrick MacGill. Born into grinding poverty in the Glenties in 1889, MacGill became an indentured farm worker at age twelve. Later he found his way to Scotland, where he worked as farm labourer, dock and construction worker. Interested in social conditions, he wrote ballads and then articles. His novel Children of the Dead End struck a chord with the public. A member of the London Irish Regiment, MacGill was gassed and wounded at the Battle of Loos. In all, he wrote five works based on his war experiences, his 1927 novel Fear being the greatest.

With a total budget of €250,000 gleaned from TG4, BBC Scotland and private sources, Desmond Bell has crafted an eloquent tribute to a gifted poet/novelist. Combining footage from Knocknagow, the Lumière Brothers, early Chaplin shorts, and battle sequences from the Imperial War Museum, plus dramatic recreations set in Donegal, Glasgow, and Windsor Castle, the archivist/director has crafted an engrossing film. Stephen Rea narrates and plays the older MacGill, while the director’s son Cian incarnates the author as a young man. The film will be screened at the upcoming Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2010

Anthony Kirby.


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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