Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Montreal Film Festival Diaries
Montreal Diary - Day 7

by Henri Béhar

Montreal, Wednesday, August 28, 1996

A poetic reverie about a man in a coma, a woman and the moon, "Sleeping Man", from Japan, features Indonesian torch singer and superstar Christine Hakim. A stunning-looking lady, Hakim is as effusive in real life as she is hieratic in the film.

The talk of the town today is... sponsoring. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of cinema in Canada, the General Post Office has come up with ten new stamps to the effigy of a film. One French that premiered in Canada in 1896 (the Lumiere Brothers' "The Arrival of a Train"), nine Canadian. Whoever selected the films to be so honored is one hell of a diplomat. The selection combines the very old [Ernest Shipman's "Back to God's Country" (1919), based on James Oliver Curwood's "Wapi, the Walrus"] and the fairly new [Philip Borsos' "The Grey Fox", 1982], the live-action (most) and the animation [Norman McLaren's "Hen Hop!"], the anglophone (Ted Kotcheff's "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz", 1974) and the francophone (Claude Jutra's "Mon Oncle Antoine", 1971).

The "winner", so to speak, is writer-director-cinematographer Michel Brault: he is present in no less than three of the selected ten.


Just for the record, here are the ten films honored by the Canadian Post Office in celebration of the 100th anniversary of cinema in Canada:

- L'ARRIVEE D'UN TRAIN EN GARE ("The Arrival of a Train"), and several minute-long films by the Lumiere Brothers, north-American premiered in 1896 at 78, Rue Saint-Laurent in Montreal.

- BACK TO GOD'S COUNTRY, 1919, by Ernest Shipman, based on James Oliver Curwood's short story, "Wapi, The Walrus".

- HEN HOP!, 1942, animation, by Norman McLaren.

- POUR LA SUITE DU MONDE ("The Moontrap"), 1963, on the trapping of Beluga whales by Quebecois inhabitants of Ile-aux-Coudres, an island on the St. Lawrence River. Co-directed by Pierre Perrault and Michel Brault.

- MON ONCLE ANTOINE, 1971, by Claude Jutra, photography by Michel Brault.

- GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD ("Le Voyage Chimerique"), 1970, by Don Shebib.

- THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ, 1974, by Ted Kotcheff, based on the novel by Mordecai Richler, and starring (a very young) Richard Dreyfuss.

- LES ORDRES, 1974, on the 1970 War Measures Act. Written and directed by Michel Brault.

- LES BONS DEBARRAS, 1980, by Francis Mankiewicz.

- THE GREY FOX, 1982, by Philip Borsos, starring Richard Farnsworth.

All told, the General Post Office of Canada -- sorry: the Canada Post Corporation -- did a great job.


The launching by Air Canada of its "A Star Trip" sort of lottery was another kettle de *poissons*. Every single screening in every single theatre is preceded by a short commercial. It is sliced in sequences, each "paying tribute" to a film genre and featuring the same actress (who shall remain nameless, for her sake).

In black-and-white, the Actress in a bar, blonde like a gangster's moll, tries to seduce you in "Participez au Concours 'Voyage de Star' d'Air Canada."

Next scene, while a faux Maria Callas warbles an aria from Bizet's "Carmen", we're in a castle in Transsylvania. Same actress, wearing a red dress, with blood dripping from her mouth, delivering the same line with a Balkan accent.

Cut to the candle-lit steps of a chateau for a Marivaux slash Congreve social and moral Restoration comedy, complete with cleavage and cascading laughter.

Cut to Lagerfeld meets Caligari: a gigantic expressionistic decor with a model on a runway uttering the same line with a squeaky voice.

Cut to a "Blade Runner" homage, with the Actress, platinum-wigged and punk-madeup, pastiche-ing Darryl Hannah. "Participate in the Air Canada 'Star Trip'..."

Then the screen goes black and a man's voice completes the pitch: "...and you will see Hollywood... pause, pause... with Air Canada."

But the voice is so funereal, and the tone so sepulchral, that you'd rather *walk* all the way to Yukon. Instead of being "silly" (a great cinematic genre), it succeeds only in being dumb. The audience cringed, sank in their chairs, plugged their ears, or simply pretended it didn't exist.

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