There are no Scottish-made feature films in this year's Mayfest cinema programme. an unhappy state ofaffairs that reflects the current condition of the country's film culture. While Scottish television production goes from strength to strength. film-makers continue to struggle to find the more substantial finance required to put a project up on the silver screen. However. there could well be lessons to be drawn from the Mayfest season showcasing the cinema of Quebec. Like Scotland a minority culture overshadowed by the cultural domination of its politically more powerful neighbour; like Scotland a nation of some five million people; but unlike Scotland a rich source of low-budget film-making of international appeal.
()ver a three-week period. (ilasgow Film Theatre will screen seven Quebecois films selected by Ian l.ockerbie. Professor of French at Stirling University and (‘hairman ofthe Scottish Film Production Fund. who will also lead three afternoon conferences at the Tron Theatre (May 6. 13 and 20. 2.30pm) focusing on the work of writer Michel Tremblay and the similarities between Scots and ()uebecois filmic and literary culture. The idea behind the whole event is to provide the Scottish cinema with a model of
The Revolving Doors (8 May)
astonishing cinematic productivity. but one rooted in a combination of vigorous public sector funding and the ability to create on a minimal budget.
The Quebecois film-maker currently has a number ofoptions when applying for funding. with the provincial film financing body S()(}l(‘ (around £3.7 million). the National Film Board ofC‘anada (some £20 million). and 'l‘elefrance-('anada (again around £20 million). all endowed with superb resources. Yet. it remains an irony of some sort that while the National Film Board of(‘anada. an organisation of some widespread international prestige. was founded by the Scottish documentarist John (Erierson in 193‘). back home on the other side of the Atlantic the Scottish Film Production Fund has to survive on ati annual grant that this year totals a mere “35.000.
Not that the (‘anadians adopt the cavalier (‘imino attitude to budgeting however. for the Quebecois prefer to spread their money around
on the three-films-for-the-price-of-one principle. Jean-Pierre Lefebvre. for example. brought in Les Fleurs Sauvuges (May 18. 6pm). a gentle domestic study over three decades. for a paltry £200,000. while most British so-called low budget films cost something around the £1 million mark.
Primarily however. the films in the Mayfest season explore the fascination with survival that's indicative of this embattled cultural enclave. To draw parallels with this isolated group in North America speaking their own unique brand of French you would have to imagine. say. the existence of a centuries-old Scots community in Moscow. Not surprisingly then. films like Alian Forcier‘s A u (‘lttt'r dela Lune (May 4. 6pm). a tale of never-say-die social outcasts. Le Portes
'l’ournantes (May 8. (ipm ). Francis Mankiewicz's film about 2120s woman jazz pianist. and Marie Comes To Town (May 15. 6pm; replacing Tinamer). an impressive debut by 23 year-old Marquise Lepage about an adolescent girl astray in the big city. all centre on the plight ofthe underdog individual in the most difficult of circumstances. Probably the best-known film to be shown isJean-(‘laude Lanzon‘s Uri 200141 Nut! (May 22—27. (mm). a stylish. award-winning low-life thriller that halfway through turns into a father and son relationship drama. evidence again (as in the earlier Les Fleurs' Suui'ages) ofthe Quebecois fascination with the continuation of identity through the generations.
Language. of course is the prime expression of that identity. Last year the Montreal Film Festival brought together all the films financed in the previous year in Quebec. forty of them documentary or fiction features. but just as the organisers had hoped. the total was eventually finalised at a hundred and one entries. The reason why this was such a magic figure? lt‘s Law ]0l in the Quebecois statute books that enshrines French as the official language of the province. (Trevor Johnston)
Over the years actor Max Von Sydow has appeared in an extraordinary variety of films. from numerous Bergman epics and other Iiuropean works. right the way through to the more personal films of Woody Allen (Hannah and Her Sisters) and mainstream commercial American pictures like I)r(’(lnl.\'(‘(1[)¢’ and The Exorcist. This year sees the release of two [)anish films with which he has been involved: Pelle the ('oriqueror and Karin/cu. The latter is something of a departure. since it represents his directorial debut in the cinema; the former. being shown at this year's Mayfcst. adds one more superlative
performance to an already
impressive career. The film won the Palme d'()r at the 1988 (‘annes Film Festival. and was awarded the 1989 Oscar for Best Foreign Film.
In the flesh. Sydow is charming. yet somehow distant: it'san interview. we're both professionals and he exhibitsthe impeccable manners of a
gentleman who's never going to allow a journalist to get too close. That said. he's surprisingly
' enthusiastic about both
films. If the gaunt visage conceals anything. it isthc private man who remains hidden. while his art is fully exposed.
The novel on which I’e/le the (’onqueror is based -- the first of a series of four books by the late 19th century Danish writer. Martin Andersen Nexo tellsthestoryof the ageing Lasse and his optimistic son. Pelle. l.assc is a weak character. whose actions never match his impressive words. As Pelle grows up. he is fooled less and less by l.asse‘s facade. The story is set amidst the
harshness of life for the nineteenth century agricultural labourer. In later volumes Pelle travels to the city ofold Copenhagen to become a successful labour leader; the novel wasan important one for the working class of its day .
Sydow speaks very highly of these books and apparently many others feel similarly. including the parents ofthe boy who plays the title role. “They read the novel when the mother was expectingthe child. fell in love with the character and said. “If it is going to be a boy . his name will be Pelle." So his name was Pelle llvenegaard. He was a very bright kid; intelligent and mature - and very
courageous to accept this part. as he didn't have any acting ambitions. I'm sure. But he manages to be very good. very patient and very nice. even though he was away from his normal surroundings for about half a year working with grown-ups and doing a lot of takes »- and he did a good job.‘ Sydow describes his own role as a dream part for an actor. demanding a huge range of emotions: ‘There is also this wonderful relationship between the father which is my part— aiid the little boy .‘ I’t’l/t’ Iht’ ( ionqueror is shown on 7 May a! (iIV'I‘.
MAYFEST FILM PREVIEW
Film has traditionally been a relatively modest component ot Mayfest how ever. the ( ilasgow l-ilin Theatre has gradually widened its involv cnicnt with the event and can take some satisfaction from the scope and quality ofthis year's offerings.
It would be dilficult to improv e upon .lluteium as an appropriate and
accomplished curtain raiser on May Day. Directed by John Say'les and first seen at the (antics Film Festival of 1987. the film has waited an inordinate length of time to secure a British distributor Willing to support its wide release. ()ne can only assume that it is the politics ofthe film that have seen It dubbed non-commercial.
Set in West Virginia in 1920. .lltlleivmt concentrates on the escalating confrontation between workers and bosses in a small town that
is virtually'in the pockctol
the niineow ners. 'l'licy employ men under virtual feudal conditions and maintain a calculating balance of ethnic and immigrant labourers to distract the locals with petty. internecinc conflicts. When a union organiser manages to unite these disparate torces intoasinglc. striking workforce the bosses respond with the hardshipofeconomic deprivation and the brutality of professional strike breakers. A course is set for what became known as the .‘vlatewaii Massacre.
A true story . typical of
the labour history at the time. .lluteivmi has the feel of a classic Western and won an Academy Award nomination for llaskell Wexler‘s memorable photography. A two year neglect has not lessened its impact and a general release is now imminent with dates in lidinburgh during May and Glasgow in June. The remainder of the programme is dccidely cosmopolitan. The Quebec cinema season and a screening ofthe recent Best Foreign Film Oscar winner I’e/le the ( 'ortqueror (May 7) are considered in separate articles. but also of note is the roundly praised (‘hinese feature Red Sorghum (May 2- (i). Keanu Reeves in an offbeat tale of adolescent angst Prince of Pennsylvania (May S- l 3). the glasiiost released 1960s Soviet feature (‘onimiysur ( May 14) and the Belgian ('ruzy' Lot‘t’ (May 15-20) a vivid adaptation of some ('harles Bukow ski stories that signifies the arrivalof a fresh new talent in the form of director Dominique l)erudderc who will discuss the film in detail next issue.
The List 21 April — 4 May 1989 29