Montreal is a city of festivals. A marathon and an openly promoted fetish festival competed with the international cinema of the Montreal World Film Festival in its final weekend. The site of a jazz festival earlier this summer was transformed into a screening space for outdoor movies, including Pelle the Conqueror, the 1987 feature by Danish director Billie August, this year’s MWFF jury head. Adem (Oxygen), directed by Hans Van Nuffel, received the grand jury prize at the festival’s closing ceremony Monday night; French actress Natalie Baye and Italy’s Stefania Sandrelli received honorary awards; and a tribute was given to Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who was not in attendance, but who participated last year as jury president. Earlier in the day, the formidable acting icon Gérard Depardieu gave a highly anticipated master class.
My top films from Montreal:
Box: The Hakamada Case by Japanese director Banmei Takahashi stood out among the titles in world competition. Like many Japanese filmmakers, he began his career directing softcore “pink films” before turning to theatrical features. Based on a true story, Box recounts the plight of Iwao Hakamada (Hirofumi Arai), a miso factory worker who in 1966 was accused of killing his employer. According to the detectives eager to make an arrest, Hakamada’s strength as a former boxer could match his boss’ strength as a martial artist; and one judge assigned to the case, Norimichi Kumamoto (Masato Hagiwara), was convinced of the man’s innocence, but was obligated to issue the death sentence. The film follows Kumamoto’s anguished journey to clear the man’s name and appease his own tortured conscience. The action proceeds at a quiet, deliberate pace but builds to a devastating climax, and the elegant filmmaking conveys the power of an individual who fights an unjust system. Today, Hakamada is still in prison pending an appeal. Could this film have the impact of The Thin Blue Line, Errol Morris’s 1988 documentary of a man sentenced to death for a murder he didn’t commit, who was freed a year after the release of the film?
Apnea, the debut feature for Greek filmmaker Ari Bafalouka, follows Dimitris (Sotiris Pastras), a swimming champion whose activist girlfriend gets caught up in a mission to save the dolphins. Bafalouka, a swimming record holder like his protagonist, is so visceral in his depiction of water that the smell of chlorine practically wafted through the screening room. In the film, Dimitris competes to support his working-class family and is at odds with his girlfriend’s dangerous endeavors. When she goes missing, he regrets the choice he made, to continue his training instead of accompanying her. The atmospheric film was inspired by the “apnea” technique used by swimmers and divers to stay under water for several minutes. Misuse can cause hallucination or drowning, and for Dimitris, apnea brings on nightmares of the tragic disappearance of his girlfriend.
Bollywood meets the MGM musical in Philippine-born Chito S. Rono’s Emir, the story of a Filipino nanny (Francheska Farr) in a fictional Arab country. Amelia’s employers, an emir and his wife, are benevolent and respectful, as is their son—making this immigrant worker tale out of the ordinary, as it doesn’t involve exploitation. The household’s teams of servants have various colorful experiences, played out in song and dance on spectacular Middle Eastern sets. When a warring faction attempts to kill the emir’s family, Amelia saves the son’s life by escaping into the desert, and the uplifting mood of the film turns foreboding. The introductory scenes, where Amelia works on a farm in the lush verdant countryside of the Philippines, contrast with the gritty urban settings of Rono’s fellow directors, Auraeus Solito and Brillante Mendoza.
French horse trainer Clément Marty, best known by his stage name Bartabas, directed a magical collage-like tribute to his Zingaro equestrian theater in Galop Arrière (Backwards Gallop). The title refers to a reverse saddle technique and also implies a rearview look at the impresario’s career. Skilled bareback riders race around a circus ring. The dancers, acrobats, performing horses, and international musicians are dazzling to watch and fantastic to hear as they travel the world. Even the sound effects that mimic clopping horses are breathtaking. Inserted black-and-white scenes with lines of poetry in voiceover, lovingly depicting horses being trained or groomed, call to mind the work by Jean Cocteau. So cherished are the dozens of horses who perform in the film, they are individually named in the closing credits.
The Montreal World Film Festival runs from August 26 to September 6.
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay
This season, Hollywood is invested in celebrating the films they love while dodging the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.
You know, if it weren’t for the show’s producers effectively and repeatedly saying everything about the Academy Awards is terrible and needs to be changed, and the year’s top-tier contenders inadvertently confirming their claims, this would’ve been a comparatively fun and suspenseful Oscar season. None of us who follow the Academy Awards expect great films to win; we just hope the marathon of precursors don’t turn into a Groundhog Day-style rinse and repeat for the same film, ad nauseam.
On that score, mission accomplished. The guilds have been handing their awards out this season as though they met beforehand and assigned each voting body a different title from Oscar’s best picture list so as not to tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film. SAG? Black Panther. PGA? Green Book. DGA? Roma. ASC? Cold War. ACE? Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Even awards-season kryptonite A Star Is Born got an award for contemporary makeup from the MUAHS. (That’s the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, not the sound Lady Gaga fans have been making ever since A Star Is Born’s teaser trailer dropped last year.)
Not to be outdone, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners last weekend, and not only did presumed adapted screenplay frontrunner BlacKkKlansman wind up stymied by Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but the original screenplay prize went to Eighth Grade, which wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Bo Burnham twisted the knife into AMPAS during his acceptance speech: “To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” In both his sarcasm and his surprise, it’s safe to say he speaks on behalf of us all.
As is always the case, WGA’s narrow eligibility rules kept a presumed favorite, The Favourite, out of this crucial trial heat. But as the balloting period comes to a close, the question remains just how much enthusiasm or affection voters have for either of the two films with the most nominations (Roma being the other). As a recent “can’t we all just get along” appeal by Time’s Stephanie Zacharek illustrates, the thing Hollywood is most invested in this season involves bending over backward, Matrix-style, to celebrate the films they love and still dodge the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.
Maybe it’s just tunnel vision from the cultural vacuum Oscar voters all-too-understandably would prefer to live in this year, but doesn’t it seem like The Favourite’s tastefully ribald peppering of posh-accented C-words would be no match for the steady litany of neo-Archie Bunkerisms spewing from Viggo Mortensen’s crooked mouth? Especially with First Reformed’s Paul Schrader siphoning votes from among the academy’s presumably more vanguard new recruits? We’ll fold our words in half and eat them whole if we’re wrong, but Oscar’s old guard, unlike John Wayne, is still alive and, well, pissed.
Will Win: Green Book
Could Win: The Favourite
Should Win: First Reformed
Watch: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton, Gets First Trailer
Joanna Hogg has been flying under the radar for some time, but that’s poised to change in a big way.
British film director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg, whose impeccably crafted 2013 film Exhibition we praised on these pages for its “disarming mixture of the remarkable and the banal,” has been flying under the radar for the better part of her career. But that’s poised to change in a big way with the release of her latest film, The Souvenir, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Prior to the film’s world premiere at the festival, A24 and Curzon Artificial Eye acquired its U.S. and U.K. distribution rights, respectively. Below is the official description of the film:
A shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.
And below is the film’s first trailer:
A24 will release The Souvenir on May 17.
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing
For appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore, one film has the upper hand here.
Given what Eric wrote about the sound editing category yesterday, it now behooves me to not beat around the bush here. Also, it’s my birthday, and there are better things for me to do today than count all the ways that Eric and I talk ourselves out of correct guesses in the two sound categories, as well as step on each other’s toes throughout the entirety of our Oscar-prediction cycle. In short, it’s very noisy. Which is how Oscar likes it when it comes to sound, though maybe not as much the case with sound mixing, where the spoils quite often go to best picture nominees that also happen to be musicals (Les Misérables) or musical-adjacent (Whiplash). Only two films fit that bill this year, and since 2019 is already making a concerted effort to top 2018 as the worst year ever, there’s no reason to believe that the scarcely fat-bottomed mixing of Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody will take this in a walk, for appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore.
Will Win: Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: A Star Is Born
Should Win: First Man