Global Array of Films Screened at Montreal One of the World's Largest Festivals Shows Verve in Choices

By David Sterritt, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 1, 1992 | Go to article overview

Global Array of Films Screened at Montreal One of the World's Largest Festivals Shows Verve in Choices


David Sterritt, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


FILM festivals come in many shapes, sizes, and intensity levels. Some are huge, catch-all events like the extravaganza held in Cannes each spring. Others are smaller, highly selective affairs like the New York Film Festival.

By any measure, the recently concluded Montreal World Film Festival is one of the biggest. Ranked as North America's only "A level" film event, it stands alongside Cannes, Berlin, and Venice for the number of movies scrambling to attract attention during its 12-day run. Participants want praise not only from local audiences, but also from an international batch of distributors, exhibitors, and journalists on the lookout for noteworthy new pictures.

This year marked the festival's 16th anniversary. A number of entries competed for awards or appeared in a special "out of competition" series. The rest were shown in sideline events featuring Canadian, Spanish, and Latin American films, movies made for television, and a program called Cinema of Today and Tomorrow that proved as amorphous as its name.

Items on the menu with clear commercial potential - those with readily marketable stars, directors, and subjects - ranged from silly epics like the Hollywood adventure "Wind" to intelligent works like "Glengarry Glen Ross," a comedy-drama by David Mamet, and "Force of Duty," an Irish thriller about a police officer plagued by political terrorism.

Many entries, however, came from new filmmakers without established track records or high-profile collaborators.

This meant busy journalists couldn't scan the daily screening list and fill their schedules with pictures by tried-and-true talents. Instead, critics found themselves venturing into unfamiliar territory more often than usual - always a healthy exercise for professional filmgoers, and one I never fail to enjoy.

One way of sampling the overall flavor of a crowded festival is to check the opening and closing selections, since those slots are always programmed with special care.

Montreal showed superb taste in its closing-night choice, "Strictly Ballroom," an Australian production that's so original I hardly know how to describe it. Hovering somewhere between "Saturday Night Fever" and "Rocky," it's about a ballroom-dancing contest, a bunch of crusty old judges who wouldn't know a good time if it bit them on the toe, and a young couple who want to ignore the traditional rules and dance the way their hearts tell them to.

Every scene in this movie is like the grand climax of an ordinary film, with some huge crisis to be resolved or overwhelming question to be answered - whereupon the picture leaps to the next crisis or question, more quickly than its dancers can change their wildly flamboyant costumes. Directed by newcomer Baz Luhrmann, it's a triumph of art over glitz, of glitz over art, and of energy over everything. It deserves to be a walloping hit when it opens in US theaters this fall.

Montreal was less fortunate in its opening selection, "The Dark Side of the Heart," a Canada-Argentina coproduction directed by Eliseo Subiela, an Argentine filmmaker. It's about a freewheeling poet whose quest for a perfect lover grows into obsession with a Montevideo prostitute who refuses to return his affection.

The film mingles outrageous humor and movie-style romance with the "magic realism" that has become a major strain in Latin American art. The mixture is neither smooth nor convincing, though, and often borders on mere pretension.

Among the many Spanish-language pictures that showed up at the festival, I prefer Julio Medem's imaginative "Cows," a blend of Spanish politics, peasant lore, and surrealism; and some aspects of Dana Rotberg's unflinching "Angel of Fire," a searing Mexican tale about incest and revenge.

Social, cultural, and political changes lend special interest to films from Eastern Europe nowadays, and Montreal had several worthwhile examples. …

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