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Montreal fest dawns an age of ‘Innocence’

Gong Li, Cox leave Canada as winners

MONTREAL — Seasoned Australian helmer Paul Cox and hot Chinese thesp Gong Li were big winners at the 24th edition of the Montreal World Film Festival, which wrapped Monday.

At the awards ceremony held Monday night, Cox’s latest pic, “Innocence,” nabbed the top prize, the Grand Prix of the Americas, winning along with Gallic thesp turned helmer Agnes Jaoui’s directorial debut, “Le gout des autres” (The Taste of Others). “Innocence” also took home the Air Canada People’s Choice Award as most popular film at the festival.

“Innocence” stars 70-something thesps Julia Blake and Charles Tingwell in a tale of a couple who rekindle a youthful love affair some 50 years later. Pic, handled internationally by Cinema Vault of Toronto, is generating strong critical reaction on the global fest circuit.

“I always make films that no one wants to see, so this is quite a surprise,” Cox said.

“Le gout des autres” is an urbane French comedy about an uncultured businessman whose life is turned upside-down when he falls for an actress. Pic reps the directing debut for Jaoui, who has starred in a number of well-known French films, including “Un air de famille” and “On connait la chanson.”

Gong Li was also a two-time winner in Montreal, capturing the best actress prize for her role in Sun Zhou’s Chinese drama “Breaking the Silence” and a special Grand Prix of the Americas for lifetime achievement. The star of “Farewell My Concubine” and “Chinese Box” was on hand in Montreal to accept both awards. Gong Li won the best actress prize along with French thesp Isabelle Huppert, who took the honors for her role in Claude Chabrol’s pic “Nightcap” (Merci Pour le Chocolat).

The Special Grand Prix of the Jury went to Iranian helmer Bahman Farmanara’s meditation on film and censorship, “Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine.”

“I accept this as a sign of support for freedom of expression,” said Farmanara, who had not directed a pic for 20 years before shooting “Smell of Camphor.”

‘Maelstrom’ storms fest

The other double winner was Montreal helmer Denis Villeneuve, whose sophomore feature, “Maelstrom,” took the award for best artistic contribution (specifically for the photography of Andre Turpin) and won the public-vote Telefilm Canada Award as best Canadian feature. Narrated by a fish, “Maelstrom,” which opens the Perspective Canada program later this week at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, is the story of a woman’s emotional crisis following a dramatic car accident.

The best actor award went to Mark Ruffalo for his role in writer turned helmer Kenneth Lonergan’s Shooting Gallery pic “You Can Count on Me,” one of only two U.S. pics in the Montreal competition. The other U.S. pic, French-American co-production “The Day the Ponies Come Back” from seasoned helmer Jerry Schatzberg, came away empty-handed.

Chilean filmmaker Silvio Caiozzi won the best director prize for his melodrama “Coronation”; the best screenplay trophy went to Pupi Avati and Antonio Avati for the Italian pic “Midsummer Night Dance,” directed by Avati.

The Prix de Montreal for best first fiction feature went to Iran’s Mariam Shariar for “Daughters of the Sun,” with a special mention to French pic “Stand-By” from helmer Roch Stephanik. The three runners-up for the Air Canada People’s Choice Award (won by “Innocence”) were “Maelstrom,” “Le gout des autres” and Olivier Assayas’ “Les destinees sentimentales.” The Fipresci jury bestowed its prize upon Raoul Ruiz’s metaphysical tale “Combat d’Amour en songe,” and the Ecumenical Jury presented its award to Nabil Ayouch’s “Ali Zaoua,” with a special mention going to “You Can Count on Me.”

The mood of the festival lifted on the final day with the arrival of Gong Li for a special tribute and a hastily organized concert by filmmaker and sometime musician Emir Kusturica, who performed two street shows for free with the Non-Smoking Orchestra.

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