Magazine article The Christian Century

Foreign Features

Magazine article The Christian Century

Foreign Features

Article excerpt

MOVIES SHAPE perceptions. We can read about bombings in London, hostage taking in Amsterdam or moral crises facing a community, but the film artist can create a work that changes how we think about the events that the mass media have presented.

There were many such films at Montreal's 29th World Film Festival in August. I had feared that the quality of this year's offerings would be diminished because of a struggle between two rival festivals in the city. Sponsorship had been split between the festivals by the two major financial supporters, and some established film directors chose to stay away because of the conflict.

But those who avoided this year's festival made way for films that might otherwise have missed file cut. There were 180 features from 70 countries, including 80 international premiers. Veteran festival president Serge Losique remains as daring and creative as ever. I may be biased: Losique is the only North American festival director to have recognized and supported an ecumenical jury (since 1980). This year's jury of religious critics awarded its top prize to Kamataki, a Canada-Japan production about a young Japanese Canadian who is sent to Japan to live with relatives after a suicide attempt.

For the relevance and flavor of Losique's choices, consider Off Screen, a film from 37-year-old Netherlands director Pieter Kuijpers that is based on a hostage crisis in Amsterdam in March 2002. The film opens when 59-year-old bus driver John R. walks into the lobby of the Rembrandt Towers and pulls a pistol from his bag. He demands to see the building's owner; otherwise, he says, he will set off a bomb. The police, aware of 9/11--which occurred only six months earlier--treat the threat as the arrival of terrorism in Amsterdam.

But John R. is no terrorist. He has become convinced that his television set is sending out coded messages. He has written to the company president and was, of course, ignored. He continues to drive his city bus. His colleagues and superiors, not realizing the degree of John's paranoia, tolerate his complaints about his television set. His wife, however, knows something is wrong, and refuses to allow him to visit the family. John R. is a troubled soul headed for disaster.

No one acts to deter John's journey into darkness, and director Kuijpers suggests that there is plenty of blame to go around: John's wife, colleagues, bosses and even the communications company bear some responsibility for letting this otherwise mild-mannered man take matters into his own hands. Kuijpers made the film on a limited budget, persuading some of the top stars in Netherlands cinema to participate. John R. is played by Jan Decleir, best remembered as Farmer Bas, the longtime lover of Antonia in the 1995 Academy Award winner Antonia's Line.

Off Screen had no American distributor when it came to Montreal, but with well-known performers Decleir and Jeroen Krabbe (often seen in U.S. films as a European villain), it will probably find one, especially since it was named best film of the festival by the secular jury and Decleir was chosen as the festival's most outstanding actor for his role as John R.

Red Mercury, a British picture directed by Roy Battersby, stands a better chance of making it to American screens, especially since it features Stockard Channing (the president's wife on The West Wing) in a delightful portrait of a Greek restaurant owner, complete with accent. …

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