July 8-August 1

Montreal's "FanTasia" festival is a surefire cure for cinematic ennui. Showcasing some of the most original and unusual new films, "FanTasia" typically draws more than 70,000 visitors during the festival's three-week run. With reason.


Proposition: Three weeks of outrageous, thought-provoking celluloid from Japan, Spain, South Korea, Italy, Hong Kong, Germany, Thailand, Denmark, France, Russia, India, New Zealand, Chile, Brazil, Australia, Holland, Scotland, Belgium, Sweden, Great Britain, the U.S., Quebec and Canada. In one place. Six bucks a ticket. Go, go, go.

Predominantly a fantasy/action/horror festival, "FanTasia" is still home to a lot of offbeat, eclectic films whose individuality secures them a spot of their own.

Only one major nit-pick: they're not doing too well on finding cool movies featuring competent women. Nary a one on the list, with the (dubious) exception of swordfu flick, "Azumi". And that's pushing it. Maybe next year.

Some finds unearthed at past festivals: Hideo Nakata's "Ringu," Kang Jegyu's "Shiri" and Satoshi Kon's "Perfect Blue" all made international debuts at FanTasia. Among Canadian premieres, "The Blair Witch Project," "Wendigo" and Park Chan-Wook's "Joint Security Area."

New this year: "Komistok Fantasia" (July 16-18) for fans of comix/manga, featuring film shorts and feature-length movies (ex: "Immortel (Ad Vitam)") adapted from comic books, and a showcase of work from publisher DC Comics, Dark Horse, Slave Labor Graphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Éditions de la Pastèque, l'Oie de Cravan, l'Association and Oni.

Right. Back to the main fest.

More than 100 feature length movies and some 60 short films (most notably action, comedy, documentaries, drama, martial arts, science fiction, fantasy and cult movies) screen this year.

Highlights: Features

"A Journey Into Bliss"
Inside a gigantic floating "snailboat," grizzled Captain Gustav is on the verge of retirement. [Then] his ship stumbles across an island that for all intents and purposes, does not exist. The region is under surreal monarchist rule, lorded over by crazy king Kniffi.

Talking frogs, insightful snowmen...Ladies and gentlemen, meet Wenzel Storch. He has come to us from another planet with a mission to illustrate how delirious filmmaking can be when with NO RULES and a ton of imagination. - Mitch Davis

A small detective agency struggles to get by in 1969 Hong Kong. The situation takes an unexpected turn when Fugu polishes a magic lamp and out pops Bobo, a sorceress who's just graduated from a Hogwart-style magic school and thus is less than fully prepared to weave her spells correctly (there's this awkward delay, leading to some serious problems).

Bobo is the trigger for a series of anarchic situations that will quickly dump our heroes into a great big chaotic mess…hysterically funny but genuinely touching. - Julien Fonfrêde (trans: Rupert Bottenberg)

"Into the Mirror"
The Dreampia shopping center is about to reopen. The head of mall security is hard-drinking former cop Yeong-min. Employees of the mall are committing suicide on the premises -- or so it seems. What look superficially like open-and-shut cases are, upon deeper consideration, ambiguous and troubling. For starters, the victims are all right-handed, yet the wounds suggest they were inflicted with the left.

"Into the Mirror" is a solid addition to the growing bank of atmospheric, psychological horror films from Asia.

Well-executed special effects cleverly confound the viewer, shuffling reality and reflection like a deck of cards and creating a sense of constant, eerie disorientation. Take a look in the mirror -- are you sure it's yourself staring back? - Rupert Bottenberg

Minor criminals Yoo Jae-pil and Choi Mu-suk break out of prison for entirely different reasons: Jae-pil to stop his former fiancée Kyung-soon from marrying, and Mu-suk to justify the six years it took him to dig the escape tunnel with a spoon.

Once out of prison, the hapless duo discover that they were both in line for a full pardon in two days time. Now they just have to find a way to break back in. - Donato Totaro

A filmmaker in the throes of a serious creative block wanders erratically through the city. He discovers an enigmatic and eccentric girl sitting on a train track, clutching a red umbrella (her shield from the outside world) and ceaselessly repeating that the next day will be her birthday.

This is the ritual that she repeats day after day, anticipating the moment that she’ll disappear. Fascinated, the filmmaker begins following her, and so begins an aimless urban pilgrimage where everything leans to the…unexpected. - Julien Fonfrêde (translated by Rupert Bottenberg)

Let it be said right away that Paco Plaza's "Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt" is one of the best werewolf movies ever made; a tense, edgy, chillingly macabre tale, graced by passionate and credible performances from a fine cast of actors. The film packs a real punch, and the impact is heightened by the knowledge that it's based on true events.

Elena Serra and Alberto Marini’s script is adapted from award-winning novelist Alfredo Conde's book, "Romasanta: Unreliable Memoirs of a Werewolf," an apocryphal, first-person account of the criminal exploits of Manuel Blanco Romasanta, who carried out a string of savage murders in the forests of the Galician hinterland in the mid-19th century. He was finally caught and put on trial in 1853.

Incredibly, his claim that he couldn’t be held responsible for the killings since he suffered from lycanthropy was sustained by highly-influential scientists of the day.

Romasanta was condemned to life imprisonment. He died in prison under circumstances which remain unclear to this day. - Mike Hodges, "Fangoria"

"The Uninvited"
Weeks away from marriage and exhausted after a long day at work, Jung-Won falls asleep on the subway. He awakes disoriented, just in time to catch his stop.

Upon exiting, he sees two little girls seated alone on the train, themselves deep in sleep. The next day, Jung-Won again loses himself in the minutiae of marriage planning until he learns that two girls were found poisoned on the subway.

When he gets home, he has a vision of the dead girls seated lifelessly in his kitchen. This will not be the last time he encounters them...

In a psychiatrist's office, he meets a narcoleptic named Yun, whom he learns is also having visions of the dead children. As their conversations become deeper and more introspective, they find that they share a tragic bond with one another.

It wouldn't be fair to reveal another beat, but suffice it to say, this doesn't go anywhere you'd expect it to, and [the punchline] will leave you chilled to your very soul. By first-time feature director Lee Soo-Yeon. - Mitch Davis

Highlights: Short films
(Pre/reviews: Mitch Davis)

"Little Things"
Hilarious, slightly mean animation from the UK details how the miserable and mundane in daily life repeat in an unstoppable routine - even under the harshest of circumstances.

"Living Dead Girl"
The dead rise, the living begin to be eaten and a couple barricade themselves into an old home. Sound familiar? Think again...

"Never Ever After"
Mariano Baino returns...with this strange short fairy tale about bodily alterations in a self-conscious society. Deep saturated lighting, dada-ist art direction, and ghoulish wit are the order of the day.

"Table 13"”
Arthur has planned what he believes is the perfect robbery. He has assembled his dream team of criminals for breakfast. Unfortunately for Arthur, the prospective victim of this brilliant robbery was also invited for breakfast at table 13.

Highlights: "Komistock"

"Arzak Rhapsody"
Jean "Moebius" Giraud is one of the most celebrated artists of the modern French
comic-book world. His art is a psychedelic kaleidoscope of the weird and the wonderful, rendered with signature precision. His stories are a descent into deep dream logic, unique fables pulsating with fear, laughter, lust and profound, mystical imagination.
Moebius himself wrote, drew and directed all 14 brief episodes seen in "Arzak". Moebius will be on hand at the screening of "Arzak Rhapsody". - Rupert Bottenberg

[Visual shown: "Immortel (Ad Vitam)"]

Find it: Hall Theatre and J.A. De Sève Theatre
Concordia University
1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
Montreal, Quebec H3G 1M8, Canada
Get there: Metro: Guy-Concordia
Get info/tix: (514) 790-1245, (800) 361-4595

Find more film festival pre-coverage in the July 2004 issue of "Arte Six".