FFM round-up: The best of the fest

The best of the fest

A desert home in The Sweetest Embrace

The FFM shows why it's still a crowd-pleaser

Though the World Film Festival showcases international filmmaking, it’s also a rare opportunity to see Canadian films that might otherwise go unnoticed.

This year, as usual, Canada has a strong selection of documentary submissions that are highly recommended. From the NFB comes the emotionally charged The Sweetest Embrace: Return to Afghanistan, about Soorgul and Amir, two young Afghans who haven’t seen their parents in over 15 years, since they were sent to Tajikistan as boys during the Soviet occupation. Soorgul eventually settled in Canada, and he and Amir decide to travel back to Afghanistan to search for the parents. Shot in traditional NFB verité style, this extraordinary film gives insight into an Afghanistan outside the 11 o’clock news.

Another film that takes us into unknown worlds is Leaving the Fold by Montrealer Eric Scott. This movie follows five young Jews who have made the brave decision to leave the ultra-orthodox Hasidic communities they were raised in. From Montreal to Brooklyn to Jerusalem, Scott brings us stories of incredible human turmoil, where families have been ruptured by children who decide to rebel against the rules of their religion, but don’t want to turn their backs on the families that love them.

Also from Quebec, and the NFB, comes Folle de Dieu, an artistically experimental film about Marie de l’Incarnation, born Marie Guyart in France in 1599, who founded the Ursuline Convent in Quebec City in 1639. This unusual character, who abandoned a 12-year-old son to devote herself to God, is brought to life by actress Marie Tifo. She visits historians, dramatists and writers in her attempt to transform herself into the nun who was also known as the Madwoman of God. Shot on location in the Ursuline Convent itself, this film is a poetic exploration of one of the province’s early religious founders.

In the documentary category, another NFB contribution is Griefwalker by Tim Wilson. This film follows "Angel of Death" Stephen Jenkinson, a Harvard-schooled theologian who has turned his back on Western religions to foster his own philosophy of death. Jenkinson teaches that there is an art to dying well, and the great fear of death in this culture is robbing people of this important life transition. Anyone who is facing the death of a loved one, or their own fear of dying, should take great comfort in Jenkinson’s message – a welcome departure from the Western philosophy of prolonging life at any cost, out of fear, and not respect, for death.

Finally, I want to draw your attention, dear readers, to a special narrative film, with only a tenuous Canadian connection, but I say it counts! The film is Rumba, conceived by Bruno Romy, Fiona Gordon (born in Australia, but raised in Edmonton) and Dominique Abel, the latter two also starring in the film. The three creative collaborators come from the world of theatre and clowning, and this film pays homage to the great silent comics of the early days of the silver screen. Using physical comedy and little dialogue to tell a story about a couple who love to dance until they become crippled, the film is reminiscent, both stylistically and thematically, of Aki Kaurismäki’s brilliant The Man Without a Past, which was one of the best films of 2002.

World Film Festival
At various venues, Aug. 21 to Sept. 1
For more info: www.ffm-montreal.org/en_index.html

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NOTHING REALLY MATTERS

With its eponymous focus on world cinema, the World Film Festival supposedly showcases the best in international filmmaking. This year, Canada has a number of entries in the Focus on the World competition, but hopefully there will be a few that won’t embarrass the nation as badly as Nothing Really Matters.

Directed by Jean-Marc Piché, a veteran award-winning advertisement director, this film is doubly disappointing, seeing as Quebec is known in the rest of the country, if not the world, as the region which produces the strongest Canadian films. The visual style of the movie owes a lot to commercial aesthetics – which is not a bad thing. The cinematography is easily the film’s best quality. Unfortunately it is the cringe-inducing scriptwriting that mars this film from beginning to end.

Nothing Really Matters is the story of Leo (Yannick Bisson, the Montreal ex-pat best known for his role on CTV’s Sue Thomas: FBEye), who hasn’t left his house in three years, thanks to a traumatic event he witnessed, involving the then-stranger, now-his-girlfriend Carly (Pascale Bussières in one of her weakest roles to date). At the beginning of the film, we meet Leo in the bathtub, contemplating suicide. His story is told through a series of flashbacks, some relevant to the narrative, and others (like the sequence with the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie as an unsuspecting burglar) that are completely irrelevant and laughably bad.

This film is billed as a "poetic black comedy," and black it is! Luckily, there are about 40 other Canadian entries in this year’s competition, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that this is not the only hope for Canada’s ambassador to international film audiences.

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