Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Montreal Film Festival Diaries
Montreal Diary - Day 10

by Henri Béhar

Saturday, August 31

Green-Eyes gone. Just in time, for today is a heavy day. A film giant from Russia, actor-writer-director Nikita Mikhalkov is in town, as well as Max von Sydow, Nick Nolte and Nicolas Cage, whom the Festival has chosen for its Tribute Centerpiece and Life Achievement Award (Life Achievement? The guy is not even 40!)

Breaking away from his usual triple duties, Nikita Mikhalkov ("Burning Sun") is here "just as an actor". Based on Nicolas Gogol's "The Revizor", Serguei Gazarov's "The General Governor" is a spoof on corruption among (municipal) politicos and the tribulations of a charming but deadly broke hustler. The entire cast plays it like a burlesque (have the Ritz Brothers finally hit Russia?)

Asked whether he had qualms about directing an actor who is also Russia's foremost director, Gazarov lauded Mikhalkov for "never ever interfering with [his] direction" and being "being just an actor, albeit a most creative one". To which a mischievous Mikhalkov replied: "To think that I had to come all the way to Montreal to hear him say that!"


In Jan Troell's "Hamsun" shown two days ago--but actor Max von Sydow couldn't make it in time--the star of many Ingmar Bergman films plays Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun. Nobel Prize winner and Norway's prime author ("The Hunger"), Hamsun sided with the Germans during the Second World War; he and his wife, a former actress, were ostracized until the old man's death. The film focuses on his latter years. There's a whiff of revisionism here but Von Sydow's rendition of the literary giant (a most cantankerous fellow) -- "a lifelong dream of mine," the actor said -- has Best Actor written all over it.


Unless Nick Nolte snatches the award from him. Based on a Kurt Vonnegut novel, Keith Gordon's "Mother Night" also takes place during and immediately after WWII: Nolte is in jail (next to Adolf Eichmann's cell,mind you) and, in flashbacks, recalls his days as a Nazi propagandist. Per Vonnegut, the character is based on "Lord Ha-Ha", a Brit who lectured and spoke on Nazi radio, "I just wondered what would have happened had he been an American", Vonnegut said, "who'd actually been enrolled by the Allies' Secret Services precisely to infiltrate the Nazi media." Nolte at his strongest and most vulnerable. A pillar of granite with a crack. A superb, and superbly honest, performance.

Back to his slender but solid and muscular days, Nolte is in great shape. He'd better be: in a couple of days, he starts shooting, in Montreal, the new Alan Rudolph movie, co-starring Julie Christie.


Remember his swallowing a cockroach ("Vampire' Kiss"), his squeaky voice ("Peggy Sue Got Married") and his singing "Love Me Tender" (David Lynch's "Wild At Heart")? The tribute to Nicholas Cage didn't reveal much we didn't know--except that the guy had enormous charm (of the dangerous kind), takes huge risks and actually sort of made his professional debut in... "Divorce Court" (or was it "The Dating Game"?)

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