The Montreal World Film Festival officially opens this year with a “Feast” and closes in song with “Flamenco.”

From the U.S., Touchstone Pictures’ “Feast of July,” which will screen Aug. 24 at Place des Arts in Montreal, is a Merchant Ivory production, directed by Christopher Menaul and toplining Embeth Davidtz (“Schindler’s List”). Pic is a tragic love story based on the H.E. Bates novel.

Spanish helmer Carlos Saura’s “Flamenco,” a musical documentary on different styles of the rapid-fire guitar music, closes the festival. Pic features performances by flamenco artists Paco de Lucia and Joaquin Cortes.

The official competition at this year’s Montreal fest, which runs Aug. 24-Sept. 4, has fewer English-lingo pics than usual; just two American and a single English film are in the running for the festival jury’s top prize, the Grand Prix des Ameriques.

Besides “Feast,” the other U.S. entry is the France-U.S. co-production “Georgia,” directed by Belgian helmer Ulu Grosbard and starring Jennifer Jason Leigh. “Georgia” screened as part of Un Certain Regard at this year’s Cannes film fest.

Competition ‘Cold’

Competition hosts one other English-language film, the British made-for-TV pic “Cold Comfort Farm,” a BBC TV/Thames production directed by veteran helmer John Schlesinger, which won a prize at the Banff Television Festival and was screened at the recent Seattle Film Festival.

Montreal festival topper Serge Losique announced the lineup for the 19th edition of the event at a press conference in Montreal Aug 8.

Other contenders in the competition include medieval epic “Kristin Lavransdatter,” the second feature directed by actress Liv Ullmann; Georges Bardawil’s “Secrets Shared With a Stranger,” a France-Italy co-production starring William Hurt and Sandrine Bonnaire; and “Don’t Die Without Telling Me Where You’re Going,” the latest offering from Argentine helmer Eliseo Subiela, who won Montreal’s Grand Prix des Ameriques in 1992 for “El Lado Oscuro del Corazon.”

Germany is repped in the competition by “Roula,” Martin Enlen’s first feature; Italy weighs in with “Ordinary Hero,” directed by and starring Michele Placido; and the Russian entry is Vladimir Khotinenko’s “A Moslem,” the story of a young man who returns home to his Russian village after seven years as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

The two Canadian pics in competition are both French-lingo Quebec features: Robert Menard’s Bahamas-based drama “L’Enfant d’eau” and first-time helmer Jean-Marc Vallee’s thriller “Black List” (Liste Noire).

The 20-film competition also includes the France-Bulgaria co-production “Burlesque Tragedy,” Spanish pic “Sketches of Spain (and Portugal)” from director Jose Luis Garcia Sanchez, Swedish comedy “Like It Never Was Before,” and Japanese writer-director Kei Kumai’s “Deep River,” the story of a woman’s search for spiritual fulfillment.

The Hors Concours out-of-competition section is replete with high-profile features that first screened at Cannes, notably Theo Angelopoulos’ “Ulysses’ Gaze,” which nabbed the Special Jury Prize on the Croisette, Xavier Beauvois’ “Don’t Forget You’re Going to Die,” Gary Fleder’s “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead,” Zhang Yimou’s “Shanghai Triad” and French director Mathieu Kassovitz’s gritty slice of cinema verite about life on the streets, “Hate” (La Haine).

The 40-film Hors Concours slate also includes Edward Burns’ acclaimed debut, “The Brothers McMullen,” Victorian period piece “Angels and Insects” and Bryan Singer’s psychological thriller “The Usual Suspects,” which stars Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne and Chazz Palminteri. “One Night Stand,” U.S. thesp Talia Shire’s first pic as a director, also will unspool at the Montreal fest.

The festival will pay tribute to veteran Walt Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, and the homage will include the Disney production “Frank and Ollie,” a docu directed by Theodore Thomas, Frank Thomas’ son. Thomas and Johnston will be on hand to receive a lifetime achievement Grand Prix des Ameriques.

Young Toronto helmer Stephen Williams’ “Soul Survivor,” set in Toronto’s Jamaican community, is the opening-night film of the Panorama Canada sidebar, which will showcase 24 Canuck features this year. Other Canadian entries include offbeat, surrealistic Quebec pic “A Crinoline Madness,” shot by underground auteurs Jean and Serge Gagne, and Montreal-based docu helmer Lois Siegel’s look at the history of women at the ballpark, “Baseball Girls,” produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

The Montreal festival also sports the sections Cinema of Today: Reflections of our Time, Cinema of Tomorrow: New Trends, and the Latin American Cinema sidebar, which will showcase 15 new features this year, including Mexican director Roberto Sneider’s “Two Crimes” (Dos Crimenes).

The free, outdoor screenings will be beefed up this year, with 10 pics set to unspool between Aug. 25 and Sept. 3 on St. Catherine Street just outside the Place des Arts complex.

Chinese helmer Zhang Yimou will be in Montreal during the fest to receive an honorary Grand Prix des Ameriques, and other helmers and thesps set to attend include Liv Ullmann, Talia Shire and “Brothers McMullen” director Bums. There will be a satellite press conference hooking up the media with veteran Gallic director Jean-Luc Godard in Europe.

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