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Great blight north

Montreal fest auds shun H'w'd pix for Euro fare

MONTREAL – One thing is crystal clear after the first five days of the 24th annual Montreal World Film Festival: ‘Round these parts, Euro and Canuck cinema is in and Hollywood is barely on the radar.

The hottest titles at the fest, which kicked off Friday, are pics from France and Canada, and the only semi-hot pic from a U.S. helmer, Jerry Schatzberg’s “The Day the Ponies Come Back,” is a film financed almost entirely with French coin.

Opening night pic, “The Taste of Others” (Le gout des autres), went over exceedingly well with both critics and the public, a good sign for the imminent release in Quebec of this intellectual French film from thesp-turned-helmer Agnes Jaoui.

The other well-received pics in the official competition were prolific Chilean-born, Paris-based helmer Raoul Ruiz’s philosophical fable “Combat D’Amour en Songe” and Montreal filmmaker Michel Jette’s “Hochelaga,” set in the violent Montreal biker-gang milieu.

‘Ponies’ looks good

Word is also upbeat on “The Day the Ponies Come Back,” one of the few English-language titles here that might interest U.S. distribs.

The pic is the first in 10 years for New York helmer Schatzberg, whose career peaked in the early 1970s with titles such as “The Panic in Needle Park” and Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Scarecrow.”

Critical reaction was quite good for his latest film, which stars French thesp Guillaume Canet in the tale of a Frenchman hanging out in the Bronx.

It has been years since Montreal attracted much in the way of studio product, but the Hollywood presence has become even more low profile at this fest, which is increasingly positioning itself as a purely arthouse showcase.

There were no American stars on hand on opening night Friday and the star wattage of the first weekend was restricted to a quick visit Saturday night by actors Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman, who topline the English-language French-financed thriller “Under Suspicion” (a remake of the Gallic policier “Garde a Vue”).

Mamet appears

David Mamet, who is in town shooting the film “Heist” with Hackman and Danny DeVito, made a brief appearance at the fest, prior to the screening of his Fine Line pic “State and Main.”

The Mamet film, a movie biz satire starring Alec Baldwin and William H. Macy, had its world preem over the weekend in Montreal.

But Mamet, who introduced the film in perfect French, didn’t stick around to talk to journalists.

Actor Jamie Foxx (“Any Given Sunday”) and helmer Antoine Fuqua will be in town today to talk up the Castle Rock Entertainment/Warner Bros. release “Bait,” which is one of the only studio pics to have its world preem at the festival.

The first screening of the action comedy pic Tuesday morning played to an almost-empty cinema, underlining the surprisingly small interest in Hollywood fare at the fest.

“The only films that are not selling tickets are the studio films,” said festival spokesman Henry Welsh. “The worst attended films are the American studio films. It’s understandable. We have so many American films during the year, so people are looking to discover different types of films at the festival.”

No biz like slow biz

As usual, business is slow at the festival market and there are few major execs from the U.S. here for the event. David Reckziegel, co-president of Montreal film company Seville Pictures, said Montreal is first and foremost a popular, public-oriented festival, while Toronto has become much more of a sales mecca.

“This is a festival for cinephiles,” Reckziegel said. “The business is in Toronto and there’s no sense competing. I think it’s important to support films from around the world and this is a foreign-film festival. It’s not a good place for American films.”

Talent set to drop by Montreal in the coming days includes Chinese star Gong Li, who is the subject of a special tribute; James Gray, helmer of the Miramax thriller “The Yards”; Australian auteur Paul Cox, in town for the competition screening of his latest, “Innocence”; and Liv Ullmann, here to present the North American preem of “Faithless.”

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