Article and Photographs © Linda Dawn Hammond/ IndyFoto 2003

2003 Montreal World Film Festival
26th Edition (Aug. 27- Sept. 7)

by Linda Dawn Hammond

GAZ BAR BLUES Directed by Louis Bélanger

JOY OF MADNESS Directed by Hana Makhmalbaf


Film Review
by Linda Dawn Hammond

Still from

Opening the 2003 Montreal film festival was a Quebec entry in Official Competition, GAZ BAR Blues. Directed by Quebec's Louis Bélanger, it is a well-paced, poignant film which manages to successfully balance drama and occasional raucous humour- no mean feat.

It draws in part upon the autobiographical recollections of Bélanger's own youth, as the son of a gas station owner in a small Quebeçois town, but from there introduces fictional elements.

GAZ BAR Blues has decided universal appeal, 'though a proportion of its charm lies in its colloquial usage of Quebeçois French. It is unavoidable that a degree of this will be lost to those who rely upon subtitles, but it should nevertheless intrigue and entertain non-French speakers, providing they remain attentive to the nuances of the spoken language. The acting is solid and naturalistic, with a script which only occasionally slips towards treacle.

The story is one of duty, loss and inevitable change. Set in the late 80s, "Le Boss" (Veteran actor Serge Thériault) is owner of an archaic "GAZ BAR" in a small town in Quebec. His clients are all poor, male and somewhat bored- most don't even own cars, but they nevertheless gravitate towards the gas station for some semblance of a social life. "Le Boss" has lost his wife, and his own health is faltering due to Parkinson's. He has become increasingly reliant on his three sons to keep the business, and himself, going. There is a daughter, but she is a minor character- the film evidently intended to explore the relatively uncharted territory of masculine sensibilities combined with sensitivity. Together, the Brochu family face the small but devastating daily tribulations of clients with bad credit, petty thievery and the occasional armed robbery, and survival looks tentative at best.

If family is the glue that binds, duty towards it can appear sticky at times, and two of the sons are looking beyond the station towards their future. "Guy" (Danny Gillmore) wants to become a musician (the "Blues" theme has double-edged significance) and escapes responsibility whenever he can.

The bulk of this inevitably falls upon the eldest son, Réjean (played by Sébastian Delorme), who also has outside aspirations, and frustrations, of his own. He is an amateur photographer, and when the Berlin Wall falls in '89, he seizes the opportunity to escape the prescribed limitations of his existence and bolts to Berlin. Once there, he discovers that freedom is not necessarily created out of the wholesale tearing down of the old. As East meets West in Berlin, for Réjean it takes on the dimensions of the struggle back home in Quebec to maintain an identity in the face of change. After being initially seduced by the "West", literally, in the form of Kreuzberg's alternative scene and a charming girl, he becomes drawn towards the "Ossie's" plight and surprisingly finds himself identifying with them instead. The Berlin segment is the only departure from the gas bar setting, and is depicted through letters and photographs sent home. This evidently contains autobiographical elements, as the Berlin Wall photographs used in the film are credited to the director.

The third and youngest son, "Alain" ( Maxime Dumontier) is only 14 and emulates his dad. His frustration lies in that no-one appears to recognize his readiness to fill his father's shoes. (No pun intended!) In a place where nothing ever happens except life itself, things finally come to a head, and difficult decisions must be made.

I suspect that GAZ BAR Blues will be a strong contender for the People's Choice award, if not the competition prize itself.

NOTE: GAZ BAR Blues deservedly won several awards at the closing of this year's Montreal World Film festival, including the Ecumenical prize, Special Grand Jury Prize and Most Popular Canadian Film!


Photographs of the cast and director of GAZ BAR Blues can be found at:
Red Carpet arrival , Opening ceremony , Opening party , PHOTOS Page 5, and Closing Ceremony 03

Linda Dawn Hammond


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JOY of MADNESS directed by Hana Makhmalbaf
Film Review
Hana and Her Sister
by Linda Dawn Hammond

One is reluctant to criticize the directorial debut of any 13 year old, especially when the director is female and from a country such as Iran- where any attempts to engage in independent filmmaking should be lauded and encouraged. Nevertheless, I found myself immediately disliking this documentary. It follows around Hana's older sister, Samira (age 23), as she goes about casting her next feature film in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Samira's methods of reigning in her reluctant principal actress are in part what render the documentary so dislikable- pushy, arrogant, bullying, cajoling, dismissive and fundamentally dishonest in revealing true intentions. Including perhaps this documentary's very existence. One wonders if the actress being cast for, "Five In the Afternoon", was even aware that she was unwittingly participating in yet another Makhmalbaf production- the little Hana's. Why do I suspect she was introduced as filming a "screen test" rather than a separate documentary?

Part of Samira's "interviewing process" involved asking leading (and potentially dangerous) questions relating to the actress' missing husband, his political alliances and her own views of the Taliban. All on-camera. Her response was to counter them with eloquently expressed and rightly founded suspicions of the filmmaker's motives in asking them. Reflecting a political reality which extends far beyond Afghanistan's own, she made the observation that anyway, when the Taliban are in power, you're Taliban, and when someone else is, then you're that. And asked, just what did these questions about the Taliban have to do with her casting in a feature fiction?

But they did have everything to do with the premise behind this "documentary", which was to show, as the blurb in the catalogue suggests, how the film cleverly, "discovered the chronic state of fear and dread plaguing many Afghan women. The typical Afghan woman was afraid; afraid of being seen, of participating in social affairs, of having an identity card, and of the return of the Taliban." Whoever wrote this was describing a different project than the one I witnessed.

Little respect or sympathy is accorded to the woman's perfectly valid misgivings, which include the fate of her missing husband, the responsibility of her small children, and the curfew placed upon her. I nevertheless find it hard to believe that she represents the "typical Afghan woman" described. To begin with, she is evidently educated, intelligent, astute, opinionated and more importantly, had taken remarkable initiative in responding to a publicly made casting call for an actress. A "typical Afghan woman" living in abject fear and confinement wouldn't and couldn't have done this.

We are only offered one Afghan woman- our potential actress, to base all of these assumptions upon. The "thousands" of others who allegedly auditioned are only alluded to. Their unseen presence, however, forms part of the pressurizing tactics exerted upon the hesitant leading lady, who receives flattery as the chosen one "among thousands" rejected for the role. Or is she? At other times, she is also informed that she is easily replaceable and only up for a minor character- depending upon the psychological tact of the moment. Mind games abound in the quest to make her agree to participate in the feature. To her face, she is offered compliments and wild incentives, which promise an absolute change of circumstances for her and her family. (I only hope the promises were kept.) Behind her back, Samira questions her integrity and preens as she suggests the girl is lying about her age, which cannot possibly be the same as her own. In one particularly invasive moment, Samira thickens the actress' eyebrows with make-up, ostensibly to make her appear "younger", but then squeezes the woman's facial skin between her fingers, to create a bulging "worry line" for the camera... precious.

There is for the actress, of course, the added pressure of negotiating a contract under the scrutiny of a film crew. But when Samira is finally faced with a written refusal to participate from the woman, the heavy artillery is brought out in the form of the father of the clan, Mohsen Makhmalbaf. He evidently wields great power in Iran's film circles and beyond, and his very presence successfully shames and intimidates the "actress" into signing. Financial desperation may have also been a primary motivating factor, and of this the filmmakers take full advantage, as with all the "players" involved.

Which brings us to the casting of the "Sick Baby" character. Forgoing the artifice of make-up, the bizarre decision was made to cast a baby who actually appears to be dying. It belongs to an impoverished homeless man, also reluctant to participate, whose "neighbours" fuel his suspicions that the film crew is up to no good and will kill the child. The film crew does pay to bring a doctor to see the baby, and also emphasizes (and then has to restate, for added effect) that the canned milk the abject father tries to feed his shriveled, bruised and black-lidded infant is tainted. From this we are led to conclude that the father is somehow negligent and unfit, whereas the film crew- isn't? I kept thinking of Nestle's boycotts, missing mothers and that the real moral conclusion would be to place the baby immediately in hospital rather than on a film set. In the end- the father too complies, and his baby goes off with the film people in the mini van, who will feed it unspoiled milk until they return it to the tragic destiny from whence it was temporarily plucked.

And the lesson is, that egotism, money, privilege and power will always win where the adversary is poor, desperate and scared.

That growing up in the "third world" does not necessarily sensitize you to the plight of the underprivileged.

That your advantage may take you to Cannes and Montreal and other far flung places, where you will be feted and receive accolades for your many precocious achievements.

And one day, hopefully, learn to exhibit a little compassion for humanity.

I know what Hana saw but I don't know what she was thinking.

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RETURN TO: Montreal World Film Festival 2003
Opening ceremony Erland Josephson, Masoud Raouf, Louis Bélanger, Martin Scorsese (Sept.6)/ Photographs of Opening Party 2003 Gaz Bar Blues cast / Closing Ceremony 03 / Closing Party 03 /
Reviews 2003 WFF Gaz Bar Blues, Joy of Madness /

PHOTOS Page 1Le Coeur des Hommes, Le Cordon, Zen Turkey, Desnudos, When Ruoma Was Seventeen, Man Watching Video /
PHOTOS Page 2 L'Outremanger, See Grace Fly, X Files (?!), Denys Arcand /
PHOTOS Page 3 Peter Wintonic, Rock Demers, Charles Binamé The Ticking Man, Desnudos /
PHOTOS Page 4 Samira Mahkmalbaf, Long Gone, Un Filme Falado, Terminal, More Vampires in Havana /
PHOTOS Page 5 Dusan Kovacevic, dir., Bora Todorovic, act. The Professional, Gaz Bar Blues, Man Watching Video, When Ruoma Was Seventeen, See Grace Fly, etc...

Montreal World Film Festival 2002 / 2001 / MWFF Photo Gallery of Actors and Directors


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