The Milgrom Report

by Al Milgrom

Keeping tabs on film culture is a hard job. As a professional trend-watcher of the international film scene, I returned to the Twin Cities from the recently ended Montreal and Toronto International Film Festivals a nervous wreck, with signs of indigestion and other systemic dislocations. All the result of trying to ingest like fast food the meaning of some 500 films – the culling of which many filmgoers will be able to see at next year’s Mpls./St.Paul International Film Festival, if not earlier at local film emporia in both cities.

Despite the shopping list of works that make up festival slates, it is undeniable that the sweep of world cinema is breath taking. No amount of terrorism and fear can quell the creative spirit from expressing the infinite variety of life, which this most popular art form of the century variously reflects.

These summer and early fall film roundups also usher in what will pass as “art cinema” (a dirty word to some) in fall and winter semesters. It would be nice to announce that “one festival fits all,” but unless you can whistle the Maple Leaf Rag, you would not be in a position to know that just beyond our borders are the two film events that draw almost 3/4 of a million viewers in their respective $5 to $8 million dollar spectaculars.

Montreal, marking its 25th anniversary, presented an estimated 388 titles from 66 countries during l2 celebratory days ending Sept. 3, with 24 films in competition, and reprising the summer “revelations” emerging from the Grand Piazza in Locarno, Switzerland in August and the Croisette in Cannes last May.

Toronto, which has grown to an event of global stature, was about to celebrate a 250-film slate over l0 days ending Sept. l6, with daily rounds of partying as well, when catastrophe struck. Audiences in some theaters stood up for three minutes of silence while the movie kept running on the screen.

Filmgoers, if they haven’t already, will be hearing a lot about a French film called The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain, starring Audrey Tautrou (from Venus Beauty Institute), voted audience favorite at both Toronto and Montreal. A hit at every festival this summer where it was shown, the brilliantly eccentric comedy about a ditzy Parisian waitress, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, (from such offbeat films as Delicatessen and Alien: Resurrection) is destined to become the Run, Lola, Run of the season (it’s due for an Uptown opening next month).

It still boggles the mind why Cannes turned down the film, after which it became the biggest summer hit in Paris. With the clarity of festival hindsight, Amelie (as it will be called in U.S.), the story of an ordinary heroine who wants to save the world in her own quiet way, stands out in memory from dozens of worthy new seasonal titles.

The Iranian cinema also continued to rack up prizes with juries and audiences, Montreal’s Grand Prize went to Majid Majidi (not yet a household name like Kiarostami?) for Baran (Rain), his mystical love story about a young construction laborer and an Afghan refugee. Many filmgoers will remember Majidi’s Oscar-nominated Color of Paradise last year and his earlier Children of Heaven. His prize this year amounted to a Guinness record of sorts – three different Montreal juries in the last three years have voted him top winner among the brisk competition.

Among a half dozen new films from India made their marks in both festivals, including Mira Nair’s sparkling comedy-drama Monsoon Wedding, about long-buried secrets on the eve of a huge Punjabi family commingling, replete with high camp Bollywood musical numbers, is the one to write home about. The director of Mississippi Masala and Kama Sutra, who once showed her Harvard student films at the U for a women’s festival, deservedly won a top Venice Fest prize this fall for the film (due for a March release).

How much the national catastrophe will change what people in the U.S.will want to see on the screen is a debatable issue. But it’s a sign of normalcy to note that the screen provides something for everyone and that there really is a fllck for every taste, to provide solace, comfort, simple amazement, not to mention common boredom, indifference or apathy.


Editor’s Note: The Milgrom Report is a two-part series, with the second whirlwind roundup running Friday, October 26.