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Flick Chick


Published August 25, 2004 at 4:00 p.m.

There's something je ne sais quoi about late summer in Montreal, where the 28th annual World Film Festival begins this week. Perhaps it's a combination of European ambiance and Quebec's ethnic diversity, but the sultry evenings seem ripe for adventure. The nightly free outdoor screenings on St. Catherine Street, entitled "Cinema Under the Stars," add to the city's vitality.

Here are a few highlights among the almost two dozen movies screening en plein air during the 12-day fest:

August 28, 8:30 p.m. -- The History of Adele H. is François Truffaut's saga of a woman obsessed with a soldier who does not return her love. It stars Isabelle Adjani, who is a guest of honor at Montreal. (French only)

August 30, 8:30 p.m. -- Bagdad Cafe has nothing to do with Iraq and even misspells the name of its capital city. The film is a haunting study of lonely people either living or stranded in the Mojave Desert.

September 1, 10:40 p.m. -- Paths of Glory, Stanley Kubrick's classic about the madness of armed conflict, takes place during World War I.

September 4, 8:30 p.m. -- Death in Venice, directed by Luchino Visconti, is faithful to Thomas Mann's novella about an aging composer transfixed by the physical perfection of a boy he spots at a seaside resort; 11 p.m. -- Hair, Milos Forman's antiwar musical focuses on American hippies who would rather sing than fight in Vietnam.

Tender Is the Night, adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1934 novel, was the title of two Hollywood productions: A quickly forgotten 1955 TV movie and, seven years later, a big-screen version with Jennifer Jones, Jason Robards and Joan Fontaine that didn't fare much better.

Twentieth Century Fox is now planning a remake of this story about an American psychiatrist whose marriage to a patient falls apart because of her vacuous, wealthy, ex-pat social circle in Europe during the 1920s. The studio has optioned the book in a deal with the writer's estate, which is run by Fitzgerald's granddaughter Eleanor "Bobbie" Lanahan. She is an author, painter and animator living in Burlington.

"I hope they'll shoot mostly in France," Lanahan says. "That's where the story takes place. And there should be beautiful period costumes. I don't think there's even a director or any actors signed yet, so this is all conjecture on my part."

A certain Oscar-winning Australian actress --Nicole is the name of the female protagonist -- comes to mind as a possibility.

Fitzgerald's work never goes out of fashion. HBO did The Great Gatsby in 2001 and The Beautiful and Damned is now on the London stage. "I think it's bombing, though," Lanahan notes.

Contemporary indie efforts are often forced exercises in navel-gazing. Garden State, now at the Roxy in Burlington, has its share of contrivance and self-indulgence. But writer-director-star Zach Braff, a regular on the NBC sit-com "Scrubs," offers a feature debut about family dysfunction with enough fresh humor to keep the angst from becoming totally agonizing.

He portrays Andrew, a 26-year-old struggling actor on the West Coast whose mother's funeral precipitates his first visit home to suburban New Jersey in nine years. She was an unhappy woman and a paraplegic -- not exactly a barrel of laughs. In this black comedy, Braff walks a fine line between emotional wallops and absurdist flourishes.

At Mom's graveside, an aunt sings a truly awful rendition of Lionel Richie's "Three Times a Lady." Andrew's relationship with his psychiatrist father (Ian Holm) is distant for reasons that are slowly revealed. For one thing, he's had the kid on anti-depressants since boyhood.

Andrew hooks up with high-school slacker buddies like Mark, played by the wonderful Peter Skarsgaard as a dour doper involved in a plethora of illegal enterprises. They smoke pot and do Ecstasy, but neither substance makes them any cheerier.

When Andrew meets Samantha (a way-too-cutesy Natalie Portman), however, his life begins to brighten. Never mind that she's hyper, a habitual liar and from a household that is also not quite sane. Somehow, the two lost souls connect.

Thankfully, Garden State, which won a top prize at Sundance in January, doesn't present any panaceas. People still have to figure out who they are in the context of crazy relatives and strange times.