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Pieces of concrete lie beneath the Turcot Interchange. Cities Held Hostage, a new documentary at Montreal’s Cinéma du Parc, offers a brief and blistering account of what’s wrong with the Turcot Interchange project, a vast urban highway redevelopment that will go on convulsing Montreal traffic for at least another year.

Lots of people in Montreal will tell you that the city is in a total mess. Many of the same people will also say that Montreal is better than Toronto in nearly every way.

Ask about the texture of daily life, cultural activity and overall joie de vivre, and Montreal is a great place. It starts to become a mess when you move up to larger, less personal topics, such as public infrastructure and corruption.

One side of this bipolar mentality gets a vigorous if unfocused workout in Cities Held Hostage, a new documentary at Montreal’s Cinéma du Parc and watchable online on the CBC website. Martin Frigon’s film views Montreal’s urban development over the past 50 years mainly as a formalized racket in which faceless powers dump dehumanizing structures on the rest of us.

Some of it rehashes the familiar tale of gracious old buildings being levelled in the 1960s and 70s to make way for office towers and expressways. This is usually put down to overzealous modernism, but Mr. Frigon, drawing on 40-year-old research by journalist Henry Aubin, wants us to believe it happened because European interests were driving development. In fact, there were and are plenty of Canadian-funded operations ready to put up boring glass towers. As other cities have discovered, it remains hard to enshrine beautiful form in building codes.

The film blasts suburban sprawl and condos equally, though one of these things may be a partial solution to the other. There’s also a brief, blistering account of what’s wrong with the Turcot Interchange project, a vast urban highway redevelopment that will go on convulsing Montreal traffic for at least another year.

There’s something in the Turcot Complex, to give the thing its official name, for everyone to hate. It replaces and expands a spaghetti junction that was a bad idea when it was created 50 years ago. It’s being directed by the Ministère des Transports du Québec (MTQ), an insular ministry that retired urban studies professor David Hanna calls “a state within a state.” The complex will cost $3.67-billion, making it the most expensive road project in Quebec history.

There was no way not to do something about the old Turcot Interchange, which was falling apart. Some say the expanded version is a capitulation to car-centric transport, but the daily traffic of more than 300,000 vehicles was several times more than the 1967 interchange was designed to handle.

The new plan pays much more heed to areas around the highway network, with lower overpasses and better landscaping. Some of MTQ’s before and after images really underscore the street-level brutality of the original complex. Rail tracks and part of Highway 20 will be shifted “to reopen the former Turcot Yard,” the ministry says, referring to a sprawling area southwest of the interchange that fell out of use as a rail yard in 1960.

For what will it be “reopened?” Private development, of course. MTQ makes no secret of the fact that one of goals of the Turcot Complex is to spur development. That was the initial purpose of most roads in North America, even those that don’t carry thousands of cars a day. It’s equally true that an important driver for the formation of municipal governments on this continent was the desire among moneyed interests to make rules for the exploitation of the land base.

Every wave of urban-planning activism has tried to import a broader sense of public interest into the process, sometimes with great success. But Cities Held Hostage poses no positive alternatives to what may be messing up Montreal.

In this respect, it joins a growing genre of dystopian Montreal films. Another recent documentary example is John Walker’s Quebec My Country Mon Pays, in which Mr. Walker muses at length on how much better the city used to be for unilingual anglophones.

Feature films in this line are better and more fun. Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié n’ont fait que se creuser un tombeau (Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves), by Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie, is a compelling portrait of four petty revolutionaries opposed to pretty much everything in their Montreal surroundings. Robin Aubert’s Les affamés (The Ravenous) brings the zombie apocalypse to Quebec, where the city has been abandoned for the more diffuse terrors of the countryside. Lateef Martin is still working on Z’Isle, a zombie-apocalypse series of graphic narratives set in Montreal, soon to be a video game - and maybe eventually, a feature film.

That’s Montreal. A real hell-hole from certain points of view, but such a great place to live.