Families in spiritual crisis was such a dominant theme among the 26 films in competition at the Montreal World Film Festival that one suspected the selections committee was composed of zealous social workers. An Italian film, Casomai, directed by Alessandro D'Alatri, was especially appealing to the festival's ecumenical jury--three Protestants and three Catholics. It didn't hurt that Casomai features a wedding homily in which a priest brings judgment against forces that undermine family life--naming names, no less. Marriage, the priest insists, should be a community experience, not just a private union. The film's title, Casomai, can be translated as "almost never" or "an escape clause," suggesting the less than binding nature of modern marriage.

The festival's main prize went to another Italian film, The Best Day of My Life, directed by Cristrina Comencini. It features a widowed grandmother with three adult children. One of them is worried that her teenage son may be gay; another is married but having an affair; and the third child is afraid to tell his mother that he is gay. The gay uncle's counsel to the nephew who is uncertain about his sexuality is masterfully presented. Another grandchild provides the source for the title; she receives a video camera as a gift for her first communion, an event that brings the family together in church even as it exposes its divisions.

A different kind of family appears in the ecumenical jury's main prize-winner, The Last Train, from Uruguay and directed by Diego Arsuage. In this picture three men and a boy rescue a 19th-century train locomotive. The train had been sold to an American film company, and the three men, members of the Friends of the Rail Association, want it back. They blast through a garage door to start the engine on its escape route.