'Ben,' 'Secret' walk away with Grand Prix

MONTREAL — “Ben X,” far and away the pic with the most buzz at the Montreal World Film Festival, scored big on awards night Monday, with Belgian helmer Nic Balthazar’s debut feature nabbing two major awards at the Place des Arts ceremony in downtown Montreal. But the Flemish-language pic had to share the Grand Prix of the Americas, the fest’s top prize, with French director Claude Miller’s “A Secret.” Miller’s film closed the festival Monday.

In addition to winning the Grand Prix, “Ben X” unsurprisingly took home the public-vote award for most popular film at the fest. The Belgian/Dutch film had drawn an emotional response from Montreal auds, with teary moviegoers coming up to the helmer to thank him for making the film.

Pic tells the story of a mildly autistic kid who is constantly bullied and finds his only refuge playing computer games. Balthazar had originally written the story as a novel, which became a bestseller in Belgium, and he then turned it into a hit play in his homeland. “Ben X” also won the prize given by the ecumenical jury.

“A Secret” looks at the life of a Jewish family in Europe during and just after WWII. Kudos mark the second time Miller has done well at the Montreal festival. His 2001 pic “Betty Fisher and Other Stories” drew the actress nod for the film’s three stars, Sandrine Kiberlain, Nicole Garcia and Mathilde Seigner.

In a highly unusual move, “A Secret” is set to open in both France and Canada on Oct. 3. (Gallic pics usually open in French Canada months after their launch at home.)

The Special Grand Prix of the jury, the fest’s second prize, went to helmer Ayelet Menahemi’s Israeli pic “Noodle,” the story of an El Al flight attendant, her sister and a Chinese boy they have to care for.

The British-born Swiss director Jacob Berger took director honors for his latest film, “1 Day,” a Swiss-French co-production that looks at one day in the life of a family. Spanish helmer Ray Loriga’s “Teresa” drew the nod for artistic contribution.

Andrea Sawaktzki took actress for her performance in German pic “The Other Boy,” from helmer Volker Einrauch, while Filipe Duarte and Tomas Almeida shared the actor prize for their roles in the Portuguese/Brazilian pic “The Other Side.”

Screenplay nod went to Latif Lahlou for the Moroccan pic “Samira’s Garden,” which she also directed. The innovation award went to Issa Serge Coelo’s “Tartina City.”

A number of public-vote nods were presented in addition to the one for most popular film that went to “Ben X.” Montreal director Emile Gaudreault’s “Surviving My Mother,” a comic-drama about mother-daughter relationships, was voted most popular Canadian feature. It comes from the team — Gaudreault, writer Steve Galluccio and producer Denise Robert — behind the 2003 Canuck hit “Mambo Italiano,” and “Surviving” is expected to be one of the hotter Canuck releases of the fall.

Mexican pic “Used Parts,” from helmer Aaron Fernandez, drew the public vote for Latin American film, German pic “A Father’s Music,” by director Igor Heitzmann, took the aud nod for documentary, and David Uloth’s “Gilles’ Lili” received the public’s favor for Canadian short.

The Fipresci prize went to both “Samira’s Garden” and the French pic “Good Night Malik” from helmer Bruno Danan.

The fest, which opened Aug. 23, had a few more high-profile guests than usual, including Jon Voight, Sophie Marceau and Abel Ferrara, and the event appears to have bounced back after a couple of tumultuous years during which it was battling the local film funders.

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