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Montreal: Film fest as launch pad

Fest Traveler: Montreal World Film Festival 2012

It’s the festival that just keeps on going against all odds.

The Montreal World Film Festival has great trouble attracting the Hollywood stars and pics and, in recent years, it hasn’t been much more successful snaring A-list auteur titles.

Wisely, fest prexy Serge Losique and his trusted veepee, Daniele Cauchard, have tried to turn that dilemma into a virtue by focusing on up-and-coming helmers and pics from off-the-beaten-track territories.

Chinese director Lin Lisheng’s “Million Dollar Crocodile” will open the 36th edition on Aug. 23 and kick off the World Greats section.

The event closes Sept. 3 with the screening of a higher-profile pic, Gallic filmmaker James Huth’s “Happiness Never Comes Alone,” starring Sophie Marceau and Gad Elmaleh.

In between, there’s a major focus on discoveries in the First Films World Competition, World Greats and Focus on World Cinema sidebars, which are light on marquee names.

Greta Scacchi will be on hand as president of the jury while Volker Schlondorff will drop in to give a master class, and China Film Business Week will focus on that country’s booming movie scene.

In all, the fest will screen 432 films from 82 countries, including 212 features, of which 110 will have their world or international premieres at Montreal.

The Montreal fest doesn’t draw the crowds it used to but it remains a popular event for cinephiles, with longtime supporters remaining devoted to the event. .

But the local industry has gradually moved away from the fest and there has been a major decline in representation from the Quebec film milieu.

Once again this year, tongues have been wagging about the lack of top-drawer, made-in-Quebec features at the province’s biggest film fest. The most prominent Quebecois film in the line-up is director Claude Gagnon’s “Karakara,” a Japan-set pic starring Gabriel Arcand and Youki Kudoh.

Part of Montreal’s issue is timing.

The massive Toronto Film Festival, one of the world’s top film confabs, opens three days after Montreal ends this year.

As usual, many of the hottest Quebec pics will unspool in Toronto, where filmmakers feel they have a better chance to launch internationally. Quebec films going to Toronto include Rafael Ouellet’s “Camion” and Anais Barbeau-Lavalette’s “Inch’Allah.”

The fest also frequently overlaps with the Venice Film Festival, which starts on Aug. 29, and it’s clear the Venice competition scoops up many of the top titles.

Montreal has dealt with these challenges by turning itself into a launch-pad for smaller, niche pics and as a place that can promote emerging filmmakers. And that’s a good thing for the kind of film that would get lost in the shuffle at the larger, more star-studded affairs.

HIGHLIGHTS

Happiness Never Comes Alone
Director: James Huth
Stars: Sophie Marceau, Gad Elmaleh
The meeting of two very different personalities: Elmaleh plays a musician with few responsibilities; Marceau is a professional with two ex-husbands and three children.

Two Jacks
Director: Bernard Rose
Stars: Billy Zane, Sienna Miller
Loosely adapted from Leo Tolstoy’s short story “Two Hussars,” pic looks at two generations of a Hollywood film-biz family.

Karakara
Director: Claude Gagnon
Stars: Gabriel Arcand, Youki Kudoh
A retired professor plans a trip to the Okinawa islands with a woman on the run from her violent husband.

Dearest
Director: Yasuo Furuhata
Stars: Ken Takakura, Yuko Tanaka
A wife leaves a posthumous request that her ashes be spread in the sea off the coast of her hometown and also lets her husband know there’s a letter waiting for him at the post office there.

Orange Honey
Director: Imanol Uribe
Stars: Iban Garate, Bianca Suarez
A love story set in Andalusia, Spain, in the 1950s.

Closed Season
Director: Franziska Schlotterer
Stars: Brigitte Hobmeier, Hans-Jochen Wagner
In 1942, a man fleeing the Nazis takes refuge with a farmer in the Black Forest.

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