While it may not carry the prestige or the name recognition of some of the other festivals in Montreal such as Fantasia or the Festival Du Nouveau Cinema for this writer, "Cinemania" may be our favorite. Now in its 16th year, this festival focuses solely on francophone cinema, and while it does round up selections from the usual Berlin/Cannes/Venice/TIFF circuit it also offers up many French language films that don't end up on those runs either, allowing for plenty of surprises over the course of the festival's ten day run. The festival kicked off on November 4th and we'll be giving you periodic updates over the next week or so with what we've seen. Some of these will end up at your local arthouse, but a lot of them won't. We'll separate the good from the bad and highlight which ones are worth tracking down.
"Around A Small Mountain" ("36 vues du Pic St-Loup")
Reportedly the final film from French icon Jacques Rivette, "Around A Small Mountain" is a slight whisper of a picture, running a very brief 84 minutes from a director who is usually know for his expansive, lengthy films such as the three hour "Celine And Julie Go Boating" and the thirteen hour "Out 1."
Somewhat structurally similar to Abbas Kiarostami's "Certfied Copy," Rivette's enigmatic film follows Kate (Jane Birkin) as she rejoins the traveling family circus for the first time in fifteen years after abandoning it due to an incident she can't talk about. However, it's Vittorio (Sergio Castellito) who will draw her out of her shell and her seeming self-imposed punishment, as he stumbles across the circus, becomes entranced by it and decides to travel with them for the next few days.
Rivette's picture patiently and slowly unravels, and though it doesn't quite pack the emotional wallop it wants when the pieces of the puzzle are finally revealed, the film is not without its charms. Of particular note is a sequence when the characters emerge from a tent flap, speaking directly to the camera and another where Rivette seemingly turns on and off the foreground light of an outdoor scene as if it were actually taking place in a theater. The supporting cast is wonderful as well with particular standouts being Julie-Marie Parmentier as the young Clémence and André Marcon as Alex, an old school clown.
Small, tender and suffused with a dry wit, "Around A Small Mountain" is pleasant diversion, a love letter to entertainments past their due date and a tale of overdue redemption that is unhurried and occasionally dazzling. [B]
"Lily Sometimes" ("Pieds nus sur les limaces")
Poor Ludivine Sagnier. She arrived at Cinemania to present two films that are, unfortunately, dreadful. Okay, perhaps we shouldn't be too quick to judge "Love Crimes" but from the half hour or so we saw at TIFF before we walked out, things did not look good for that sexual melodrama. But we can weigh in fully on "Lily Sometimes," and it's no surprise that, as Sagnier mentioned when introducing the film, it's without distribution.
Based on the novel by director Fabienne Berthaud, this story follows two sisters, Lily (Sagnier) and Clara (Diane Kruger) in the weeks following the death of their mother. Lily is mentally disabled, but only in a way that seems to exist in the movies. Though she apparently has difficultly functioning in public, she thrives on the expansive country estate where she lived her mother, with the space allowing her to indulge in various eccentricities which include keeping dead animals in the freezer (which she fashions into clothing and jewelery); keeping a turkey as a pet and generally acting like a whimsical free spirit. Clara initially arrives to keep an eye on Lily but eventually is moved by her sister's blunt assessment on her marriage (yes, despite her mental disability, she has a remarkable insight into relationships) and joins her sister in her unconventional ways.
The film by Berthaud intends for us to sympathize with Lily and to see her simple(r) mind and attitudes as more valuable that the supposed drudgery of everyday life of us normal folks. But it's an astonishingly simplistic and manipulative message that is never, for one moment, convincing. In fact, when Clara's put upon husband Pierre (Denis Menochet) desperately exclaims that perhaps if Lily were given rules and discipline a lot of problems would've been avoided we couldn't help but agree. But unfortunately, his level headed thinking is cast aside since he's positioned as the film's opposing force to the devil-may-care Lily.
We won't spoil what Clara ends up doing in the last twenty or so minutes of the film but it is unbelievably ridiculous but we'll understand if you burst out laughing (like we nearly did) when you witness the closing shot of the two sisters lying in a field on flattened grass in the shape of a heart. [F]