As the US convulses in the uncivil war over health care reform, up north across the border people just shake their heads in disbelief. The Montreal member of the Festival jury, Pierre Pageau, has assured me that the GOP's portrayal of their health care system is a tissue of distortions, hysteria and lies. I assured him that that's just the way we discuss issues here these days in our country. So then we, the five jurors, turned to more pressing matters, voting on the best film of the 20 in the competition to present them with the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics, an obvious Marxist/socialist/elitist front organization) prize.
There were a few contenders, the strongest being Asriel Norton's wild-eyed "Redland," mentioned below. Also Tony Gatlif's "Korkoro," a stirring, wrenching and deftly realized tale of a Roma clan fleeing the Nazis in occupied France in World War II (it would end up winning the main festival prize, "The Grand prix des Americas.") And one outstanding debut from Slovenia that I thought was a minimalist combination of Roman Polanski's "The Tenant" and Otto Preminger's "Laura," Igor Sterk's "9:06."
But the winner was Wang Quan'an's "Weaving Girl" from China, a film about a woman whose factory is shutting down, along with other aspects of her life, and who takes a trip to return once more to the illusions of her youth.
And so, off to the press conference to announce the winner and present the award. As the jury president, I thought I should dress up a bit (see photo at left by YH) and prepare a lengthy speech.
But I was convinced the occasion would be informal. (See photo at bottom: from left to right are the jurors Andrés Nazarala from Chile, Michael Ranze from Germany, Daniel Schenker from Brazil, Pierre from Montreal and me, then the prizewinner Wang, and then some other people).
As I presented Wang with the award, an unframed diploma (it's the thought that counts) I declared that it was a film "which elegantly combined the conventions of melodrama with the style of neorealism, which presented compelling characters brought to life by meticulous performances, and which evokes the universal feeling of nostalgia -- for a lost world, lost illusions and a lost love." Or words to that effect.
However, if given an opportunity, I would have considered giving out some other awards too. For example, earlier this year I saw a film in the Palm Springs Festival about a starving North Korean family. Their little boy has a beloved dog named Whitey. One day the kid comes home and is pleasantly surprised that his mother has managed to cook up a big, delicious stew. Too overwhelmed to ask how she managed it, he eats his full. Only then does he look around and ask, "Where's Whitey?"
And so the "Where's Whitey Award" was born -- a prize for the best or most poignant animal performance.
In Montreal there was a lot of competition. The loyal dog in Séverine Cornamusaz's "Animal Heart," whom the brutish dairy farmer treats better than his wife. The monkey named "Trotsky" in French-Canadian director Roger Cantin's "Cargo for Africa," a worthy successor to Krapotkin the Horse in Jan Troell's "Everlasting Moments" from the Palm Springs Festival. And let's not forget the diabolical dog in Kazakhstan director Akhan Satayev's "Strayed."
Another category is Best Worst Sex Scene, which I'm thinking of calling the "Pink Flamingo." The competition is intense; there are almost too many to count in "Forever Waiting" alone -- Francisco Avizanda's film about sexual and political treachery in 50's Spain. Just the Buñuelesque bit with the foot fetishist bishop -- sheesh! It makes you wonder how the Franco regime survived so long when everybody had such miserable sex lives. Likewise, Mariusz Grzegorzek's "I Am Yours," to which I can only reply, no you're not. And though in general Micha Lewinsky's "Will You Marry Us?" has charm, its coitus interruptus sequence suggests that the title question should be answered in the negative. Another frontrunner was Japanese director Kichitaro Negishi's (winner of the main juriy's Best Director Prize) "Villon's Wife," the true story of a dissolute Japanese writer in post-War Japan, in which a woman mutters while making love, "Sometimes in the ruins of the Ginza I imagine myself vomiting blood everywhere and then getting run over by an American jeep." What a turn-on!
But, in all honesty, only one film deserves both prizes. The "Where's Whitey?" Award AND the "Pink Flamingo" go to the abused chicken in "Redland."