I stand outside in the line to the Fantasia box office, set up this year near the lobby on the ground floor of the Hall building. One of the Concordia volunteers comes out to announce that a few unblocked tickets are available for the Red State screening, and I’m tempted to add it to the list if it didn’t conflict with an added screening of Petty Romance at the Cinémathèque Québécoise. It takes a while before I’m able to get in front of the box office to pick up my tickets. The operation is smoother this year than in previous ones, more organized and orderly, so it doesn’t take much time for me to get my ten initial tickets, in anticipation of my second batch of ten: Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (Hong Kong), The Unjust (Korea), Love (USA), Don’t Go Breaking my Heart (Hong Kong), True Legend (Hong Kong), 13 Assassins (Japan), Battlefield Heroes (Korea), Invasion of Alien Bikini (Korea), Cold Fish (Japan) and Haunters (Korea).
Tickets in pocket, I head out to the Cinémathèque, located in the Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter) on downtown Montreal’s opposite side, cutting it close to the movie’s start time. For a cinephile, the Cinémathèque is like church, solemn and daunting, where you mean to go, you always think about going, but you never get around to. The inside intensifies this image, with its high ceilings, stylish look, glass doors and shining metal beams; a modernist temple of cinema.
After buying a ticket at the box office, I head to the Claude-Jutra auditorium, waiting behind the five people already in line, atypical for Fantasia where the lines usually stretch forever. The Cinémathèque looks to be involving itself more with Fantasia this year, holding screenings of some of this year’s films until the end of the festival. Although a praiseworthy labour, as a film mecca in the city, maybe the festival goers would be better served with a parallel programming at the Cinémathèque of historically significant, auteur, or past Fantasia films to deepen the context of this year’s lineup. Yet, I’m glad this strategy gives me the opportunity to see Petty Romance.
Years after its renovation, the auditorium still looks new which, to me, hints at a lack of traffic through the institution. There are barely any other festival goers here. A couple of young women, sitting in the row in front of me, struggle to guide the last member of their trio to the Cinémathèque, this being their first outing to this part of the city, a telling statement on the segmentation of French speakers and English speakers in Montreal. An Asian family sits behind me in marked silence while, in contrast, two French-speaking film buff discuss the worth of old Italian films before the movie starts.
With its odd, sexually charged, potentially raunchy premise, Petty Romance, a Korean romcom, begins well enough, with strong comedic elements. In the movie, a struggling comic artist recruits a virgin sex columnist to write his new adult series for an international competition but the two opposites soon attract. The most interesting part of the movie is its odd first half: Kang-hee Choi is delightfully funny as Da-rim, the innocent virgin who’s learned all she knows about sex from books, and she brings to the screen most of the comedic energy; the contrast between Da-rim and the square intellectual Jeong-bae, mature and poise, is comedic gold; and the offbeat, kinky premise does lead to several laugh-out-loud moments. The movie soon devolves into simplistic clichés of the romcom genre, from the introduction of uninspired obstacles for the protagonists (work, other love interests, misunderstandings) to a very public declaration of love in its final moments, sustained by the onlookers’ applause. By then, it loses all the edginess that its premise brought forth.
Although I’m disappointed at Petty Romance, especially after the only regular showing at the festival was one of the first to sell out, I have no regrets, looking forward to the promising prospects to come before the end.