Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Montreal Film Festival Diaries
Montreal Diary - Day 3

by Henri Béhar

Saturday, August 24, 1996

The day starts with a European flavor, basically French with a touch of Italian. Let's dispose of the Italian first: "Biscotti", in competition, is a delightful short, with stars but no dialogue. Stefania Sandrelli, she of Bertolucci flix fame, is a prim and primy mature 'bourgeois' (white gloves and all), who sits at a railway station cafe and, waiting for her train, starts reading her newspapers. A young man with a backpack and a two-day stubble sits at her table. She suddenly hears the sound of biscuits being munched. She peeks and, to her horror, discovers the young man is pilfering the box of cookies she'd bought for the trip. Defiantly, in a "mortal combat", she digs in too, swallowing one, two, three cookies at a time, till he gracefully yields the table and the box which she empties as he leaves. When her train arrives, she folds her papers -- only to discover HER box, unopened, under a magazine... "Biscotti" got a standing ovation, which is rare for a short.


Both French films, Gael Morel's "A Toute Vitesse" and Olivier Schatzky's "L'Eleve" sit on opposite ends of the spectrum. A period piece based on "The Pupil", by American novelist Henry James, it's a moral tale of money, deception, social pretention, and friendship between a sick child and the tutor his parents hire. Slow, lush, and incisive.
Actor Gael Morel was the lead in Andre Techine's "Wild Reeds". At the age of 23, he makes his directorial debut, hiring his "Reeds" co-star Stephane Rideau, a strapping 20-year-old not unlike the early Matt Dillon. Between "Reeds" and last year's "La Haine," "A Toute Vitesse" ("Full Speed"), a *now* movie if there ever was one, tells of friendship, love and sex beyond sexual barriers. It is a refreshingly bold movie, and Morel proves to have a perfect ear for this week's speech pattern among the young.


Laura Dern has come into town, determined to kick ass. She won't have to, her movie, "Citizen Ruth", does it for her. Are you ready for this? It's a satire-cum-black-comedy on abortion. Dern plays a glue (any glue)-sniffing drifter who's had four children but lost custody of two because of her addiction; she's now pregnant with her fifth, the judge suggests she do something about it. Pro-lifers hear about it and give her shelter along with (angelic) food-for-thought, the Your-Body-Is-A-Temple type. (Mine's a playground, but that's beside the point). Needless to say, pro-choicers demonstrate. Tired of being the Message, Dern goes with the pro-choicers, only to find that there too, she's but a message.

What's Dern gonna do? You'd guess if you paused for a minute, but the movie doesn't let you: the pro-lifers vs. pro-choicers battle goes too (hilariously) fast, first locally (Mary Kay Place vs. Swoozie Kurt) then nationally (Burt Reynolds, with teenage masseur, vs. Tippi Hedren, helicopter and all).

As things stand now, Dern is a shoo-in for the Best Actress Award.


What a day! The Festival has chosen a new movie called "Seven Servants" to pay tribute to Anthony Quinn. The 80-year-old star plays an old zillionnaire who hires a young man whose job and mission is to plug the old man's ear with his finger, wherever he goes. Then another young man (the other ear), then a third one (a nostril) and a fourth (the other nostril)... use your imagination. I'm sure there's a metaphor somewhere but since Quinn didn't show up to explain (doctor's orders), I didn't either; went to dinner with Puelo instead.

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