The Festival des Films du Monde is often criticized for its overwhelming programming, at times susceptible to causing a slight headache while looking at the catalogue. What to choose? But with the 35th edition well underway, many excellent films have come out of the woodwork, making the festival as exciting and cutting edge as ever.
Un Baiser Papillon (Butterfly Kiss)
At the heart of the piece is the exotic-looking Billie (the stunning Valeria Golino), who seems to have it all: two beautiful children and a loving, big shot lawyer husband, Louis (Vincent Perez, the director’s real-life husband). Yet her perfect life will soon fall apart as it is revealed that she has been secretly battling cancer. A cliché perhaps, but first time writer-director Karine Silla-Perez cleverly avoids treating it strictly as a hopeless hardship.
Surrounding Billie are a slew of other characters; friends, family members, who, while dealing with the terrible news, also have to come to terms with their own adversities. From Billie’s friend Mary, who despite her deepest wishes, cannot conceive a child, or her nurse, played by the wonderful Cecile de France, whose five-year-old’s son’s fear of the dark keeps her up every night, Un Baiser Papillon is equally a film about the celebration of life, love, and the tiny miracles present in humanity.
Each character’s story, each one more touching than the next, is flawlessly weaved together to make a surprisingly intimate and refreshing ensemble piece, holding its own ground in a genre that can often seem cheesy and contrived (although one or two storylines could have been cut out). Silla’s bright and dream-like visuals refuse to let you dwell too long on the question of death and instead let you meditate on the beauties of life, while the film’s moving score adds just the right dose of melancholia.
While this French gem only had a short two-time screening over the weekend, it is definitely worth mentioning as one of the festival’s early favourites, and one worthy of checking out when it soon opens in wide-release.
Hasta la Vista (Come as you are)
After the screen went to black, this Belgian-Flemish comedy received a five-minute standing ovation from the audience at the landmark Imperial theatre, and after watching this superb feature by Geoffrey Enthoven, it is easy to understand why.
Three young men are determined to lose their virginity by road tripping to a brothel in Spain. Except they aren’t just awkward or nerdy like many American buddy comedies may depict – each suffers from a physical disability. Phillip is completely paralyzed, Jozef is blind, while Lars’ onset tumor has left him wheelchair bound.
The film makes use of many typical plot elements seen in the teen film: roadtrip mishaps, crude jokes, and obviously, the trio of best friends trying to reach the ultimate destination (wink wink). Yet where many of these films lack any form of meaning, Hasta la Vista bursts at the seams with significance and optimism.
With the knowledge of the limits of each of their disabilities, particularly Lars’ tumor that is growing rapidly and threatens to cut his life short, their journey becomes that much more evocative and touching. The film does not ask you to pity or feel sad about their handicaps; like Un Baiser Papillon, it chooses to celebrate life, and particularly the importance of a few good friends, and a few good laughs. Some of the gags stood out as some of the best seen in a long while, supported by a stellar cast of young actors. Again, this only screened over the weekend, but look out for an additional time-slots added throughout the week, with English subtitles.
Also look out for one of the festival’s only local English Canadian features, Happy Slapping, a film shot entirely on Iphone 4 following a group of young suburban middle-class kids itching to take out some teen-angst by recording their acts of random violence. While some of the film might have an amateur feel (particularly some of the dialogue), it remains a highly innovative (the young cast double as cameramen) and visceral examination in to the destructive relationship between adolescents and new technology.
The Festival des Films du Monde runs until Sunday, August 28. You can catch Happy Slapping on August 24 at 9:30 pm at Cinema Quartier Latin. For more information on upcoming screenings and tickets, visit: http://www.ffm-montreal.org/.