Montreal flexes muscles, kicks off with 'Bluff'

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The Montreal World Film Festival kicked off its 31st edition Thursday night with the world premiere of the Quebecois comedy "Bluff" — and a new lease on life.

WFF founder and president Serge Losique, having seen his festival endure a near-death experience two years ago when key government subsidies were pulled, was triumphant on opening night in the wake of the recent restoration of public funding for the event.

"Who says I'm back from the dead? I never went away," Losique said just before walking the red carpet outside the Theatre Maisonneuve with French actress Sophie Marceau at his side.

Marceau and Jon Voight, here with "September Dawn," will receive lifetime achievement awards in Montreal.

Before Marc-Andre Lavoie and Simon-Olivier Fecteau's "Bluff" was screened, the restored funding from various levels of government led to a lengthy roll call of politicos in the house. Losique also expressed pride in Montreal's 22-strong official competition this year.

Two U.S. titles, Mark Brokaw's "Spinning Into Butter," a New England college-set drama starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Miranda Richardson, and Christopher Cain's historical epic "Dawn," are among those competing for the Grand Prize of the Americas.

"('September Dawn') is more like a blockbuster and ('Butter') is an independent," Losique said. "We're showing real range and a strong year for American films."

"I think this has been a particularly strong year for cinema," he added. "I've seen some work that really impressed me, and we'll be showing it here."

Despite Losique's buoyancy, the Montreal event opened against a somber backdrop Wednesday as events in Afghanistan, where two French-Canadian soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb blast, dominated headlines here.

The bombing of the troop carrier by Taliban insurgents also severely wounded a Radio Canada cameraman and left the French-language public broadcaster's high-profile Ottawa bureau chief, also embedded with the Canadian troops, in shock.

On Monday night, the WFF will screen the world premiere of Claire Corriveau's "Army Wives," a portrait of a military wife and mother's hardships stuck between civilian life and the world of the armed forces.

The Montreal World Film Festival runs through Sept. 3.
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