08 September, 2010
by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
OXYGEN, a Belgium/Netherlands co-production by debut director Hans Van Nuffel, won the Grand Prix des Ameriques at the Montreal World Film Festival last evening. The award is the highest honor given at the Festival, which concluded a 10-day homage to world cinema that includes nearly 450 feature and short films from 80 countries.
OXYGEN tells the poignant tale of two young men who suffer from cystic fybrosis, a genetic disease that slowly destroys their lungs. Although they share the same illness and the same limited life expectancy, the two could not be more different. Tom is a bitter person who expresses his frustration via violent behavior with his hoodlum mates. Xavier is a confirmed optimist who is a superb athlete who continues to push himself to embrace life. His energy and joy of life eventually bring Tom out of his doldrums and appreciate the possibilities that he still has in life. Van Nuffel, who won a short film prize at the Festival a few years ago, and co-scriptwriter Jean-Claude van Rijckegham, avoid all the usual disease-of-the-moment clichés and tells a life-affirming story of courage and determination that bare repeated telling.
European films dominated most of the awards of the evening. The Italian drama FROM THE WAIST ON (Dalla Vita In Poi) by director Gianfresco Lazotti won the Special Grand Prix Jury Prize. The film, which was also scripted by Lazotti, offers an arresting mix of prison drama and Cyrano de Bergerac. A young woman writes to her fiancé who is sentenced to a long prison sentence, and eventually turns to her best friend, a handicapped woman stuck in a wheelchair to find the right words to express her love.
Two European directors shared the award for Best Director. Norwegian director Maria Sødahl was recognized for her insightful work on the film LIMBO, a cautionary tale of bored wives who turns to one another for friendship and reinforcement while their husbands work in the tropical paradise of Trinidad and Tobago. Sharing the award was French director Pascal Elbé for his dynamic immigrant drama TÊTE DE TURC.
Continuing the European sweep were awards for VENICE, a historical film set in the early days of World War II by Polish director Jan Jakub Kolski, which won the Best Artistic Contribution prize; the German existential drama THE DAY I WAS NOT BORN (DAS LIED IN MIR) by director Florian Cossen, which won both the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize and the Ecumenical Jury Prize; and the four winners in the First Works World Competition which included AMORE LIQUIDO by Italian director Mario Luca Cattaneo (Golden Zenith), REVERSE MOTION by Russian director Audrey Stempkovsky (Silver Zenith), LE SENTIMENT DE LA CHAIR by French director Roberto Garzelli (Bronze Zenith), and EUROPOLIS by Romanian director Cornel Gheorghita (Special Mention).
Despite the strong showing of European films, accomplishments from other parts of the globe also were recognized. Winning the Best Screenplay prize were scenarists Silvia Pasternac, Fernando Leon and director Carlos Carrera for the powerful Mexican family drama DE LA INFANCIA (FROM CHILDHOOD). The film, told from the point of view of two brothers, tells a harrowing tale of the hardships endured by the family of a drug-addicted hood who shifts from violence to affection and back again at a moment’s notice. The film also won the Glauber Rocha Award for the Best Latin American Film.
The Innovation Award was given to local favorite, Quebec director Julie Hivon, for the psychological love story TROMPER LE SILENCE (SILENCE LIES). The film also received the Cinemathèque Québécoise Public Award for the most popular Canadian Feature Film in the Festival. Canada was also represented by Quebec actor Francois Papineau who won the Best Actor prize for his role as a troubled father who has lost his son and goes on the road to find himself in the Festival’s opener ROUTE 132 by Montreal-based director Louis Bélanger. Winning the award for Best Canadian Short Film was THE CIRCUS by local animator Nicolas Brault.
The remaining awards of the gala ceremony included Best Actress honors for Eri Fukatsu in the stylish Japanese thriller AKUNIN (VILLAIN) by director Lee Sang-Il; the Best Documentary prize to CHE, UN HOMBRE NUEVO (CHE. A NEW MAN), a portrait of revolutionary Che Guevara by Argentine director Tristan Bauer; and the shared Audience Awards for the most popular film in the Festival, given to Spanish director Emilo Aragon for his nostalgic PARAJOS DE PAPEL (PAPER BIRDS) and German director Florian Cossen for the existential drama THE DAY I WAS NOT BORN (DAS LIED IN MIR).
At the end of the ceremony at the Theatre Maisonneuve, perennial Festival Director Serge Losique invited the audience to return to next year’s Montreal World Film Festival, which will be celebrating its 35th anniversary, with many special events already in the works. For more information on the above films and others shown at this year’s Festival, visit the website: www.ffm-montreal.org