Film Scouts Diaries

1995 Montreal Film Festival Diaries
Montreal Diary #4

by Henri Béhar

Finally, Liv Ullmann came. Actually, it was in the elevator that we first bumped into the actress who played in more than ten films of legendary Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman, and had come to Montreal to present her second directorial effort, "Kristin Lavransdatter"(in competition). The actress-director-novelist was softly telling a friend and co-writer that her next book would be about "mouvement, emptiness, and time." "Oooh, a musical!", someone couldn't refrain from saying. The line was... what it was, but the delivery and the timing were such that the actress cracked up. Mercifully, for all parties, the elevator doors opened on the ground floor (talk about timing).

Based on a classic novel by Sigrid Unset, "Kristin Lavransdatter" is a three-hour-long epic story set in medieval Norway. The daughter of a prominent landowner, Kristin, grows up "in harmony with the ideals of the time: strong family ties, social pride and devout Christianity", to quote from the Festival catalogue. She accepts the fact that her father has arranged for her to marry the son of another landowner, but "darker forces intrude into Kristin's idyllic life", the catalogue continues, as, among other things, Kristin falls madly in love with a handsome, seductive knight who lives with a married woman that bore him two children. "For me, it is a story of passion," Ullman said: "Passion between man and woman, passion between child and parent, passion between man and God." And the young woman's determination will force her mother and father to reassess their own marriage...

"I was fourteen when I discovered the book," Liv Ullmann said at her well-attended press conference. At 18, she played Kristin on stage. Film projects ensued: she would have played Kristin and Ingrid Bergman the mother. Then she was to play the mother to an unknown young actress as Kristin. "I'm glad I waited so I could direct it," Ullman added with a smile, indicating that she had no plans--nor the intention--to return to just acting. She also confirmed that, in protest against the resuming of nuclear tests in Polynesia, she had returned to French president Jacques Chirac the medal of Arts and Letters that had been given her by then-President Francois Mitterand.

Waiting for Antonioni. Everyone was eagerly looking forward to "Beyond the Clouds" which was to mark the return to cinema, after fourteen years of silence (and a stroke) of Michelangelo Antonioni (co-direcing with Wim Wenders), the Italian master who had given us "L'Avventura", "Blow Up" and "La Notte" among others. This was not to be. Perhaps the film was "still in progress" (read: unfinished); perhaps behind-the-scenes there was a diplomatic tug-of-war (read: fierce battle) between the Montreal, Toronto and New York film festivals (which wanted to present the film) and Venice Mostra (that did present it as a work-in-progress). When the dust settled, Montreal was finally allowed to show one segment of the four-partner, a documentary on the making of "Beyond the Clouds" directed by Antonioni's wife, and a live (albeit by satellite) press conference.

Beautifully shot in the magnificent little town of Ferrara, Italy, the episode, which stars John Malkovich and French-born but international rising star Sophie Marceau ("Braveheart") gave us all the impression it was a bit unfair to show just one segment of a work that, much like Tom Tryon's "Crowned Heads", was made of four stories apparently separate, in fact subtly related. The documentary, called "For Me, Making a Movie Is Life" was more illustrative than incisive. But the sight of an imperial silent Michaelangelo Antonioni sitting, for his press conference, between his wife and an overly talkative Tonino Guerra (screenwriter), was impressive, and a tad sad.

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