The century-old CinÃ©ma ImpÃ©rial, with its golden balcony and chandeliers, is one of Montreal’s best-hidden architectural treasures – and its last big screen of such majesty. Much to the delight of local cinephiles, the ImpÃ©rial is home to the Cinemania French film festival, currently in its 16th edition. As its 30 films are shown on the same screen, returning viewers often reunite in the building’s cozy cafÃ© to discuss the projections.
This gives Cinemania “a unique cineclub aspect,” according to JosÃ©e Gauthier, one of the event’s major producers.
Gauthier, who joined the festival two years ago after working in television, is a Concordia communications alumna working on her master’s degree at UQAM studying relationships between film directors and their producers.
Gauthier’s studies have given her an acute understanding of media communication and related industries, which in turn gives her reason to strongly believe in Cinemania, a project she works on 10 months per year.
“The challenge we face is not so much the city’s bilingualism. The English subtitles solve that easily,” she said, noting that an “enormous” portion of the festival’s public consists of non-French speakers enthused by the universal themes displayed in the films. “The challenge rather lies in the current state of French cinema itself: it is not distributed in our theatres anymore,” said Gauthier. “American films and their large distributors monopolize the screens.”
Consequently, foreign films’ smaller distributors are left with very few theatres – and this reduction eventually affects the public’s interest. “Cinemania’s purpose is to ensure French movies will be seen despite the fact that most of them will never be shown in local theatres,” Gauthier said. “It gives a unique opportunity to see them on the big screen.”
The festival’s goal is clear: to make French cinema shine.
Year after year, festival-goers are impressed and intrigued by the wide variety offered by Cinemania’s program, which is the result of an intense selection process. “There are three guiding lines,” explained Gauthier. “First, we incorporate films that have made waves in international festivals – Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto. Second, we focus on debuts. We want to give space to new talent, new directors. Third, we include French box-office mega-hits, popular and unifying movies.” Gauthier emphasized the absence of snobbery in either category. This allows all-star romp Potiche starring Catherine Deneuve and GÃ©rard Depardieu to coexist with first-time director LÃ©a Fehner’s poignant drama Qu’un seul tienne et les autres suivront (Silent Voices) to create a program of rare open-mindedness.
Each chosen film also makes its Quebecois (and, in many cases, Canadian or North American) premiere at the festival.
If the two films chosen to preview the festival are any indication, French cinema will indeed shine this year. Copacabana and Pieds nus sur les limaces (Lily Sometimes) are both moving displays of humanity of remarkably accessible depth.
The former, chosen as the festival’s opening picture, focuses on a frivolous mother (a hilarious, scene-stealing Isabelle Huppert) and her attempts to win back her square daughter’s approval. The final product is a wise and comedic social critique. The latter is a tale of outstanding grace featuring stunning visuals and memorable performances by Ludivine Sagnier and Diane Kruger as sisters redefining their lives after their mother’s sudden passing. Interestingly, if both films are family-driven dramedies, their tone and aesthetics are so contrasting that their comparison is null. Therein lies the strength of the selection – the ability to constantly reach audiences while avoiding redundancy.
And knowing cinephiles trust Cinemania. “They are delighted. They come with their schedules and their lists and purchase tickets as if it were a scientific exercise,” Gauthier gushed. As a devotee of French and European cinema –she fell in love with it thanks to Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cents Coups and Kieslowski’s Les Trois Couleurs trilogy — this enthusiasm gives her a tremendous sense of accomplishment. She confidently promised that this year’s Cinemania will be “an incredible edition of the festival.”
Cinemania runs from Nov. 4-14, at CinÃ©ma ImpÃ©rial, 1430 de Bleury St. For film information and schedule, visit www.cinemaniafilmfestival.com