Blind dates with the
Montreal World Film Fest
42nd edition of the MWFF offers up some surprise gems
By Byron Toben
Back in 1957, Richard Matheson’s classic sci-fi novel, The Incredible Shrinking Man was made into a successful film. Now, in the 21st century, I have often applied this term to newspapers and other industries undone by Internet competition.
And yet… I saw two gems at the recent 2018 incarnation. It was like lucking into two rewarding blind dates.
Turns out one, Curtiz, won the overall Grand Prize of the Americas. The other, Strangers of Patience hosted the best actress award.
Curtiz, a Hungarian film by Tamas Yvan Topolansky, is about the famous Hungarian-American film director, Michael Curtiz, but not a biopic. It revolves mostly on his direction of the classic film Casablanca. Filmed in black and white, it uses a fluid style much as Curtiz himself favoured.
As much as I enjoyed it, I would love to see a full biopic of Curtiz some day. What a rich background! After directing 68 films in Europe, he was enticed by Warner Brothers to move to the USA, where he directed another 102 films of varying styles. These included Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Sea Wolf, White Christmas, war films, pirate pictures, cowboy pictures, crime pictures and even the best of the Elvis pictures, Kid Creole.
As much as I enjoyed it, I would love to see a full biopic of Curtiz some day. What a rich background!
He directed a who’s who of Hollywood royalty such as Errol Flynn, Joan Crawford, Edward G Robinson, Doris Day, John Garfield, and, in Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains.
In this Topolansky film, much is made of Curtiz’s tussle with the US war department which urged a more propagandas style (drop the love story emphasis and the artistic delays).
In Strangers of Patience, a Russian film directed by Vladimir Alenikov, Maya Szopa won the Best Actress award. She played a deaf mute mime actress held hostage by a famous photographer obsessed with capturing her essence on film.
She turns out not to be so helpless in attempting to escape as one might think – the best portrayal of a deaf woman since Sally Hawkins in the Academy Award winner, The Shape of Water. Filmed in vivid colour.
And now for the good, the bad and the ugly (as in Italian Spaghetti Westerns) of the festival’s 42nd incarnation.
Despite cascading problems, the festival was able to amass some 130 films from some 34 countries (not counting numerous student films, some very short).
Most entries were piled into the single screen Imperial theatre, but the festival was also able to secure three screens within the Quartier Latin complex on rue Emery to exhibit 28 films during the last weekend.
‘Despite cascading problems, the festival was able to amass some 130 films from some 34 countries.’
In addition to the many Chinese films in completion, there was also a Chinese Film Festival as a sort of festival within the festival.
The breakdown on various categories was:
World Competition – Feature films – 17
World Competition – Short films – 13
First Films Competition – 18
Canadian Student Competition
International Student Competition
Chinese Film Festival – 11
Chinese Student Film – 15
Out of competition
Documentaries – 25
World Greats – 8
World Cinema – Feature Films – 33
World Cinema – Short Films – 16
The countries involved were heavy on Asia and Eastern Europe, although a number were from Western Europe, often as co-productions. A few rarely present in the past included Armenia, Ghana and Cap Vert.
The idea of this festival is still a wonderful one that hopefully Mr Losique and Mr Peladeau can continue in some form.
Audiences were sparse, especially in the 940-seat Imperial. Night I saw Strangers of Patience, I would guestimate about 60 souls. That perhaps doubled at Curtiz. Then again, the equally sparse staff could not have handled a larger crowd – two ushers, one ticket seller, one announcer.
‘The idea of this festival is still a wonderful one that hopefully Mr Losique and Mr Peladeau can continue in some form.’
Much of the bad can be attributed to lack of detail on the Festival’s own web site, which only had some substance the day before the opening. Also, local news sources were sparse and especially on the English side where only the excellent Sergio Martinez of the free print weekly Montreal Times had any meaningful input.
The 42nd Montreal World Film Festival ran from August 23 to September 3.
Feature image: Strangers of Patience
All images: courtesy Montreal World Film Festival
Read also: Momedy Comedy at the Cummings Centre
Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.