Posts Tagged ‘Locarno Film Festival’

Matter out of Place (2022) Locarno Film Festival

Dir: Nikolaus Geyrhalter | Doc, Austria, 100′

Moop: Matter out of place refers to any object not associated with the immediate environment

A mechanical digger buries its steel fist deep into a grassy field in the outskirts of some Austrian city. Earthy clay soil soon gives way to sodden slate-coloured mud. But wait – there a tyres here, planks of wood and glass bottles, even a newspaper – still legible – a can of tomatoes and ‘Nestle’ labels everywhere. This is a landfill site revealing its fascinating  contemporary history of sordid ‘treasures’ hidden deep along the water table. The man in charge of the dig has spent a whole career investigating such hidden refuse buried out of sight, but now not out of mind.

Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter has spent a lifetime documenting the world, and winning awards for his unique and enquiring vision. From The Border Fence, to Homo sapiens and Earth he takes a route less travelled to unveil the unusual and oblique that often stares us right in the face. And here he exposes the squalid world of refuse in a way that is both horrifying and compelling.

In Koman, Northern Albania, ‘volunteers for a clean space’ project have put themselves forward to collect rubbish from a limpid lakeside littered with ‘moop’ from nearby towns and villages. Loading the bags into a makeshift van, the debris soon fills the entire vehicle that trundles off to its more ecological destination. A job well done. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Meanwhile in Nepal, streams and rivulets are festooned with plastic detritus that give a ghostly appearance to the surrounding countryside. Here, lorries packed sky-high with waste struggle through muddy uphill tracks and are often given a push by forklift trucks as they transport their lofty cargoes bound for a landfill site high on the mountainside. Women there sort through the bags, often taking random items to redistribute back in their villages. There is whole industry at work involving rubbish re-sale, but that’s for another film.

Even at the summit of a snowy Swiss mountain, rubbish soon builds up from bars and restaurants there to serve skiers’ requirements. And images of these glistening widescreen snowscapes contrast with those of a palm-fringed creamy white beach in the Maldives where staff toil endlessly to sweep away any sign of moop. This is then carted off to more landfill sites where the cardboard is set alight giving off noxious fumes that only add to the pollution.

Ecological progress has been made in some countries where domestic refuse is sorted by mammoth machines and manpower, sorting plastic from glass, paper from tin and relocating the remains for further processing in the recycling battle. Geyrhalter’s fellow countryman Michael Glawogger showed how industrial waste is dealt with or – let’s say relocated – to the developing world in his shocking expose 2014 Workingman’s Death 

Moop has invaded not only our countryside but also the sea.  In Greece, expert divers scour the shallows and depths of the ocean to forage for moop which is then bagged and floated up to the surface where white polythene sacks will remove it by boat to the mainland.

 

 

And what about that enormous sofa or double bed that mysteriously found its way onto the pavement in the middle of the night. These are sent to specialised recycling centres to be gobbled up and coughed out by the powerful rotating jaws of industrial disposal units, and gradually pulverised with water into aggregate-style dust.

Artfully framed and (delightfully) without dialogue or explanation Geyrhalter lets his startling pictures tell a grim story whose final eerie images explode into hope at the Burning Man festival in Nevada.

This film about rubbish it is certainly not rubbish, but a fascinating, disturbing and important testament to how our planet is slowly being destroyed by ourselves. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Night Siren (2022) Locarno Festival 2022

Dir: Tereza Nvotova; Cast: Natalia Germani, Eva Mores, Juliana Brutovska, Marek Geisbgerg, Jana Ol’hova, Peter Ondrejicka, Iva Bittova, Zusana Konecna; Czech Republic/Slovakia 2022, 108 min.

FAMU graduate, director/co-writer Tereza Nvotova (Filthy) comes to Locarno Film Festival with a passionate and enigmatic horror film unfolding in seven chapters, supported by an impressive cast and the oppressive camerawork by Federico Cesca.

When 30 year-old Sarlota (Germani) returns to her home village in the mountains, she unleashes an orgy of violence rooted in her turbulent repressed past. Sarlota is partly to blame for what happened in her childhood: unsettling opening scenes see her running away from an abusive mother, followed by her sister Tamara who dies in a tragic accident – leaving Sarlota with a life-long trauma of guilt.

But now she must deal with the present, and sort out the house inherited from her mother. Reconnecting with those left behind she meets up with Otilia (Bittova) and her daughter  Helena (Brutovska), who seem pleased to welcome her back. But there is an air of savage mistrust and talk of witchcraft in this remote mountain location where rivalries still burn bright, particularly amongst the local women.

Sarlota hopes that an eccentric herbalist called Mira (Mores) will help her deal with a recent miscarriage. The two women become very close but Helena, who had Mira to herself until Sarlota turned up, is jealous of the intruder. Local rumour also has it that Mira was cast under a witches’ spell and lured into the woods with some other local children, and it soon emerges Mira is not really whom she appears to be. And when Zofa’s sons, Elo and Marto, go missing the finger is pointed at Sarlota, who is suspected of being a witch. The male villagers, led by the sadistic Tomasz (Geisberg) decide to hunt her down, but she still has one person on her side.

Nightsiren is certainly a beguiling fantasy drama with its lustrous visual allure rather let down by a structural over-complexity: The many subplots, flashbacks and mutating emotional pairings lend confusion to the already enigmatic storyline. Misty, nighttime ballet sequences featuring fairies frolicking in a languidly coruscating netherworld make for some melodramatic romanticism; but Nightsiren‘s startling imagery is hampered by a preponderance of confusing sub-plots and flashbacks, and the mutating emotional pairings only go to increase the complexity of a film which is already an enigma in itself. All that said, Nvotova has created something unique: a feature with the breath of an epic that soars relentlessly in an all-out journey to the stars and beyond. AS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Loving Highsmith (2022) Locarno Film Festival

Dir/Wri: Eva Vitija | Doc, 73′

“I shall travel the world and still feel lonely: I am the forever-seeking”. Patricia Highsmith

The American novelist Patricia Highsmith (1921-95) is seen through the prism of her sexuality and personal life in this engaging documentary written and directed by Swiss filmmaker Eva Vitija, based on the author’s diaries and journals, and voiced by Gwendoline Christie giving an illusion of remarkable intimacy with Highsmith herself.

Patricia Highsmith is well known for her stealthily-plotted psychological novels and their various film adaptations such as Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, and The Talented Mr Ripley raising her profile to international status. But she also blazed a smouldering trail as a pioneering writer of gay literature, most notably in The Price of Salt, that found its way onto the big screen in Tod Haynes’ glossy, award-winning drama Carol. Ironically the films garnered more financial successful than her literature.

Vitija’s film reveals a sad childhood in Forth Worth Texas and New York where Highsmith was rejected by her emotionally distant mother Mary and grew up as a darkly attractive woman much admired for her stylish looks in the discrete lesbian bars of 1950s New York, yet held back by her mother’s hurtful comments about her appearance: “Why don’t you dress like a woman?”, and oppressive attempts to interest her in potential husbands.

Despite her homosexuality Highsmith was far from liberal in her outlook, veering towards racism and even antisemitism, although three of her lovers were infact Jewish. In common with many writers, Highsmith kept herself to herself, preferring the company of cats – even snails – to people, although she had several enduring relationships, most notably with Marijane Meaker, a friend, lover and biographer who is one of the film’s most enlightening ‘talking heads’. The two shared a house with their five cats in Pennsylvania at a time when women living together were assumed to be simply pooling their resources rather than satisfying their romantic needs. Highsmith’s complex dual identity is further fleshed out as Vitija explores the author’s other former lovers including Tabea Blumenschein, Marion Aboudaram and Monique Buffet.

Highsmith’s main protagonists were men, and she once claimed: “Women want to read about men and men want to read about men”. Meeker comments: “even though her mother had a career and was strong and independent, Highsmith maintained women in general still see themselves in terms of their relationships with men. Vitija puts forward the idea that the misanthropist character Tom Ripley, the protagonist of five of her books, was actually based on the author herself.

Relatives from her Texan family, on her mother’s side, talk at length about the need for women to be ultra feminine in an era dominated by masculine men. And this male prerogative is backed up by footage of rodeos and ranches that featured heavily in Highsmith’s early life, forcing the author on to an endless quest for identity. Even at the height of her international career she was eclipsed by her radio announcer cousin, back home in Forth Worth.

Highsmith also resided for a time in England where she bought a house to be near a woman only described as Caroline. But the affair ended in bitter rejection re-enforcing the self-internalised feelings of negativity projected onto her by her mother, and Highsmith later took refuge in France where gardening became an absorbing pastime providing solace for her disillusionment with love. The author would end her days in Switzerland where an architect was commissioned to design her a low level modernist house in Locarno where this biopic screened at the 75th Locarno Film Festival.

Enriched with plentiful photographs, cine-film footage of Highsmith herself, and clips from Carol, Mr Ripley and Strangers on a Train, the film provides intimate access to the inner life of a highly complex writer who always considered interviews a “profound indignity”. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Human Flowers of Flesh | Locarno Film Festival 2022

Dir/Wri: Helena Wittmann | Drama 106 mins.

Germany’s Helena Wittman made a name for herself five years ago with the experimental maritime debut Drift, and here takes another dip in the water with an enigmatic sea-faring piece that haunts the imagination – up to a point – with its woozy rhythm and limpid seascapes.

It follows a group of aimless yachties – a female captain Ida (Angeliki Papoulia) and her male sailors – who drift around the Mediterranean coast around Marseilles ending up in Sidi Bel Abbes (Algeria) when Ida becomes entranced with the vestiges of the French Foreign Legion and decides to the investigate further.

During this languorous cinematic voyage there are fleeting interludes that hint at romance for Ida and her crew but nothing of any substance in a scenario where style rather than substance is the order of the day. What starts as intriguing soon becomes torpid as we mull through the various enigmatic hints at our disposal that eventually leave us wondering – who exactly are these people, who is funding them, and what is end point of their dilettante journey into the unknown?

Women have long been portrayed in sea-going dramas – most recently in Wolfgang Fischer’s Styx where a lone woman sailor becomes involved with a group of migrants, and Lucie Borleteau’s Fidelio: Alice’s Journey a much more eventful odyssey where a female engineer entrances a male crew on board a commercial vessel, and, of course, Claire Denis’ all time classic Beau travail involving the French Foreign Legion on land (and also – curiously – starring Denis Lavant who appears here as ‘Galoup’). In comparison, while initially enjoyable, this is a flimsier arthouse film that could almost work as an art installation in somewhere like London’s Royal Academy. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 |

 

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I have Electric Dreams | Tengo suenos electricos (2022) Locarno Film Festival

Dir: Valentina Maurel | Cast: Vivian Rodriguez, Daniela Marin Navarro, Jose Pablo Segrada Johanning, Reinaldo Amien

A 16-year-old girl blazes a trail towards female empowerment in this sultry cinematic snapshot of contempo Costa Rica from writer director Valentina Maurel.

Impressionistic and with a lubricious eye for detail Tengo Suenos Electricos oozes sensuality in exploring every angle of Eva’s world as she struggles to make sense of her parent’s ugly separation. Held together by a stunning debut from Daniela Marin Navarra as Eva this raw but enchanting drama is one of the standouts of this year’s Golden Leopard competition lineup at Locarno Film Festival.  

Eva really gets on with her father and wants to move in with him, but all the warning signs are there in a squalid opening scene where he struts violently away from the family car leaving her mother and younger sister quaking in the abandoned vehicle.

Overwhelmed by confuson, anger and bewilderment intermingled with all the mysterious changes of puberty Eva struggles to cope before finally taking control of the jealous mistrust she feels for her mother and a love/hate relationship with her broke and mentally unstable father who is experiencing a crisis of his own and has moved into a shabby apartment with his friend Dove who will give her a first taste of lust and disappointment. Eva’s baptism of fire smoulders into an often confrontational but more confident future. At least her mother has left her in no doubt about what to expect from men, she also learns that women like to talk about the ‘sisterhood’ but are in fact just competitors vying for the same sordid male gene pool.

Daniela Marin Navarra navigates the role of Eva with instinct, developing her character from sullen vulnerability to surprising maturity until she finally calls time on her father’s behaviour in a film that drenches and scalds you with its tropical charm inculcated by Nicolas Wong Diaz captivating camerawork and Bertand Conard’s inspired editing. Valentina Maurel won the Cannes Cinefondation Award for her short Paul Est La in 2017, and with Suenos Electricos now has all the makings of a very accomplished filmmaker. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Little Ones (2022) Locarno Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Julie Lerat-Gersant; Cast: Pili Groyne, Romane Bohringer, Victoire du Bois, Lucie Charles-Alfred, Suzanne Roy-Lerat, Bilel Chegrani; France 2022, 90 min.

A passionate portrait of teenage pregnancy and parental neglect from first time French filmmaker Julie Learn-Gersant who charts the rollercoaster of anxiety, mixed emotions and shifting alliances for 16-year-old Camille.

Motherhood is a challenging time for everyone. Especially when the baby is unplanned and not necessarily what Camille wants at the age of sixteen. A botched attempt at an abortion sees her heading to Casualty at Cherbourg hospital, along with her mother Clo (du Bois). Pili Groyne is stunning in the main role, a bundle of nerves and neuroses – and for good reason – later the judge will sit down with Clo and tell her, in no uncertain terms, that she has put her daughter’s life at risk.

Camille is adamant about not wanting to keep the baby: “I won’t let it ruin my life”. So in she goes to a special home for pregnant teenagers where Nadine (Bohringer) will be her counsellor. Camille is warned by the girls: “Nadine is on your back, and Salim is her dog”. Four months into the pregnancy Camille still indulges her passion for rollerblading, but Nadine gives her a word of warning. Medhi (Chegrani) her boyfriend is an apprentice seaman, and no more able to cope than Camille. He has managed to put together the money for an abortion in Holland but Camille is resigned to going through with the pregnancy and will give the baby up for adoption.

Later over dinner in a restaurant, Clo passes herself off to her lover Fred as Camille’s sister. In a sad case of history repeating itself, Camille will later find out that her that her mother gave her up for adoption but came back later to claim her – after she had spent six months with foster parents. In the home, Camille makes friends with Alison (Alfred), whose daughter Diana (Roy-Lerat) has asthma – not helped by her mother’s smoking.

Subsequently, Diana is put into care, despite Alison’s protests. A catalogue of disasters follows but Camille still insists her child will be offered to “any bitch who wants her”. Her new friend Laura tells her that she is just like a kangaroo, abandoning her offspring when the going gets tough.  With her term nearly over, Camille is asked to write a letter to her by way of background for the future carers.

DoP Virginie Saint-Martin captures the volatile ambience with a lively, handheld camera in intimate close-ups, and sensitive long shots with the rollerblading Camille. The seaside location adds turbulence but also tranquility to a film that reflect in the emotional ups and downs of its hard-edged contemporary characters who seem to care about nothing but themselves. AS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | CINEASTES DEL PRESENTE

Last Dance (2022) Locarno Film Festival

Dir/Wri: Delphine Lehericey | Cast: Francois Berleand, Kacey Mottet Klein, Deborah Lukumuena, Dominique Reymond, Astrid Whettnall, Sabine Timoteo, Jean-Benoit Uguez | Comedy, 90′

A delightfully bittersweet Swiss Belgian comedy drama starring Francois Berleand as a po-faced widower coping with the loss of his wife and the unwanted intrusion of his well-meaning loved ones.

Last Dance mulls over familiar territory when it comes to bereavement: and for 75-year-old Germain the grief is sudden and heart felt. But he hardly has time to recover with the constant intrusive ‘phone calls to check on his well-being (and relieve the callers’ anxiety); not to mention the stream of unsolicited pies and casseroles (which he duly feeds to the cat.) Family visits never seem to stop – or end – and he wonders why his kids are unable to stick to their weekly visiting rota that he could really do without (Carole is Tuesday, Matthieu, Friday – or was it the other way round).

Lise (Reymond), his much loved wife of 50 years, was heavily into volunteering and experimental dance in a troupe led by the domineering choreographer ‘La Ribot’ (Lukumuena) and Samar (Mottet Klein) and in a bid to show willing, Germain feels obliged to take Lise’s place enacting a series of avant-garde movements that feel entirely awkward, causing him to break his bedside lamp rehearsing in the privacy of his bedroom. But he puts his foot down to the idea of taking on a mentorship for a young student until his daughter insists it will be good for his ‘mental health’. So student and mentor eventually come to a ‘win win’ situation that suits both of them – but will anyone benefit from their arrangement?.

Delphine Lehericey directs her witty insightful script with great confidence and dexterity and the performances all round are really spot on. There are some laughs to be had too in this deadpan tongue-in-cheek story about a man who resolutely refuses to mourn, in the conventional sense, after a lifetime of happiness with his lost love. MT

LAST DANCE | PIAZZA GRANDE | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Fledglings (2022) Locarno Film Festival 2022

 

Dir.: Lidia Duda; Documentary with Zosia, Oskar, Kinga; Poland 2022, 82 min.

A specialist boarding school in Poland explores how blind and visually impaired the children gain strength and confidence from supporting each other in Lidia Duda’s surprisingly stylish first feature that serves as a warm tribute to both staff and patients.

Zosia, Oskar and Kinga are barely out of nappies when they find themselves separated from their parents and in the care of Ewa, a strict but gentle nurse who is only satisfied when they do their best to interact in the new surroundings. Oskar is learning to play the piano but Zosia is still finding her feet away from the family home. On a speaker-phone she listens to her mother wishing her ‘sweet deams’. Sensitive to noise, Zosia finds the other kids challenging, particularly Oskar who shouts a lot.

Surrounded by toys and learning aids – the swings turn out to be difficult to master – the children also use a sort of typewriter with buttons for every letter, to learn to write. Zosia is more concerned with her mother who: “has to work, she could not come to visit, she has to earn money”. Zosia pleads with Oskar not to clap “you can clap after school, but otherwise you’ll get us expelled. You have to learn not to sleep in class”. Suddenly, Zosia is alone with no friends to play with: “I need a hug”. she cries. But despite Oskar pushing her Zosia admits that she does like him.

In this religious institution the children are taught that “God loves us all”. Oskar seems to respond, telling Zosia he loves her, but she is not so sure of him and really just wants to see her parents, desperate for them to visit: “I am in a bad mood today. I miss Kinga and Dad”. At a meeting for the whole school, Zosia is chosen to recite a poem by a well-known author. The results are impressive. But the day after her uncle and aunt finally managed to visit, Zosia complains: “Yesterday I had a bad day, a really tough day.”

Zosia finally learns to play the piano, and she and Oskar enjoy a role-play with teddy bears, the kids pretend to be doctors curing them. One bear is told he has to stay in bed for three years (!). After recovering from a emergency visit to hospital, Kinga’s birthday provides a welcome break for the kids with Oskar accompanying the celebrations on the piano, Zosia touching his shoulder gently as he turns to stroke her face.

These children are forced to grow up early – and relying on verbal communication has made them advanced for their age where speech is concerned in a world that will remain a mystery to them forever, in many ways. As a result their role-plays become very complex and mature. With sensitive black-and-white images from DoPs Wojciech Staron and Zuzanna Zachara, Fledgings is endearing but never sentimental in showing that the struggle for a non-visual identity is tough but enormously satisfying. An impressive first feature and a special achievement in every way. AS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE LOCARNO 2022 

Our Lady of the Chinese Shop (2022) Locarno Film Festival

 

 

Dir.: Ery Claver; Cast: Claudia Pacuta, David Caracol, Willi Ribeiro, Liu Xiubing, Clemente Chimuco; Angola 2022, 98 min.

In the second Angolan feature screening at this year’s LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL writer/director Ery Claver envelopes magic realism into a labyrinthine tale involving a trio of turbulent lives in the chaotic capital of Luanda. .

In this metaphor of modern times, one middle-aged woman is having a particularly hard time. In the former glory of her rambling home where he husband Bessa (Caracol) is languishing in bed with a raging fever, Domingas (Pacuta) is trying to fix a hole in the roof while mourning the recent loss of her daughter Mariana, who stills visits her in dreams.  A spiritual healer has brought Domingas some hope by suggesting a shower in the bathroom might in some way help. A prologue sheds some light on the couple who are well respected members of the ruling party. Their regular meetings take place in a half-finished stadium with stands are full of shirts and trousers, rather than actual people.

Bessa is introduced by Chimuco (Chimuco) to other local luminaries, and it soon becomes clear that something is not right: their party leader is nervous, and Bessa interrupts his speech in a move he will later regret. Meanwhile, Chinese mall owner Zhang Wei (Xiubing) has imported a job lot of statues of the Virgin Mary (which glow in the dark) in the hope of making a killing amongst those who believe in her lucky powers. A third narrative strand involves Zoyo (Ribeiro), a young dreamer desperate to track down a close friend who was also in love with Mariana. Zoyo disregards his friend Zhang Wei’s advice, and steals some petrol to make a Molotov Cocktail. But where will he throw the finished article?

DoP Eduardo Kropotkine deserves the lion share of the praise with his muted domestic scenes, lively outdoor images and spectacular shots in the stadium which convey the three different levels of this divided society. Even in Angola Politicians seem to live in another world, with their staff fighting for the left-overs on the buffet in this depressing but only to familiar story brought to the screen with great style and artfulness. AS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | CONCORSO CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE

Douglas Sirk | Retrospective | Locarno 2022

 

Douglas Sirk’s entire and prodigious output is the focus of this year’s 75th RETROSPECTIVE at Locarno Film Festival, thirty five years after his death. Along with documentaries and television features centred on his features, previously unpublished documents from the archive of the Cinematheque Suisse will offer audiences a fresh look at a filmmaker much admired by the French New Wave along with Bernardo Bertolucci, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Todd Haynes.

Douglas Sirk (1897-1987) started life as Detlef Sierck in Berlin (UFA), spending his early years in his parents’ native Denmark and Hamburg before emigrating via France to Los Angeles just before the Second World War, spending his final years in Ticino, Switzerland where he died in Lugano.

Shockproof @Columbia Pictures | All Rights Reserved

 

Fêted for his florid anti-realist Hollywood melodramas of the 1950s such as Magnificent Obsession (1954), All that Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1955), A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958) and Imitation of Life (1959). His early features, a feature debut April, April! (1935), Pillars of Society (1935) and the Venice Golden Lion nominated Zu neuen Ufern (1936) were birds of a different feather and throwbacks to his time in Germany and early experience in theatre during the Weimar Republic before fleeing to Hollywood in 1937 where his first film was a Nazi themed thriller Hitler’s Madman in 1943 followed by a film noir Summer Storm starring George Sanders in 1944. A year after that came the first of his melodramas All I Desire (1953) in his initial collaboration with Barbara Stanwyck. Rock Hudson was a Sirk regular along with George Sanders. Sirk also experimented with the western genre with some success in Taza, Son of Cochise in 1954.

 

Hitler’s Madman @copyright Locarno Film Festival

 

After returning to Europe Sirk settled in Switzerland, working again for the theatre in Germany and teaching at the Munich-based Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen (HFFM), where he supervised the completion of three short films.

 

 

A Scandal in Paris (1946) 

Scandal is based on the autobiography of Francois Eugene Vidocq, erstwhile criminal who became the Police Chief of Paris. Adapted by Ellis St. Joseph, Vidocq tries his best to camouflage his real past: His father was a wealthy man, and probably the first victim of his criminal son.

In 1775, we meet Vidocq (Sanders) and his sidekick Emile (Tamiroff) on the verge of fleeing prison with the help of a file hidden in a cake. Vidocq is soon made a lieutenant in the French army, a perfect foil for stealing jewellery from wealthy women who fall under his spell. Next on the list is the chanteuse Loretta de Richet (Landis), who is married to the Chief of Police  (Lockhart). After successfully completing his assignment, Vidocq sets his eyes on the de Pierremont family jewels owned by the Marquise de Pierremont (Kruger) and her daughter Therese (Hasso). But having trousered the gems, Vidocq changes tack, the master thief not only ‘solves’ the case, but also ‘recovers’ the jewels, becoming Richet’s successor, a move that will give him access to the vault of the Paris Bank. Events culminate in a deadly struggle at a merry-go-round in the woodlands, the exact same place where Therese revealed she knew everything about Vidocq’s shady past.

DoP Eugen Schuftan (1983-1977), a legend would go on to shoot Eyes Without a Face (1960) and early Hitchcock features, goes uncredited, with Guy Rose getting the only camerawork mention. Schuftan gives the feature a decisively European look reminiscent of Max Ophuls’ pre-war fare. Hans Eisler’s score echoes this arrestingly stylish look and Hungarian born producer Emeric Pressburger makes up the team whose roots were cultured in the old continent before the rise of fascism.

George Sanders is brilliant as the ambivalent anti-hero, the same goes for Carole Landis who, in one of her scenes as a chanteuse, very much impersonates Marlene Dietrich in Der Blaue Engel. But, alas both actors had a string of unhappy relationships and would go on to commit suicide: Landis in 1948 at the age of twenty-nine and Sanders in 1972, plagued by dementia and depression. Signe Hasso on the other hand never lived up to her billing as Greta Garbo’s successor, living a long and happy life, mainly starring in TV commercials.

Fellow émigré director Edgar Ulmer mentioned Scandal‘s sublime quality unique to Sirk’s oeuvre, that lends an ethereal touch to this romantic drama with is exquisite costumes by Norma (Koch). @Andre Simonoveisz


Lured
(1947)

One of Sirk’s lesser-known films is this sleek potboiler made when he was working as an upmarket director for hire, George Sanders was still dapper and debonair (cheerfully admitting to being “an unmitigated cad”) and Lucille Ball a brittle wisecracking dame used as bait to catch a mass murderer known as  the ‘Poet-Killer’ due to his habit of leaving quotes by Eugene Baudelaire.

Sirk recalled the film fondly, acknowledging the contributions of designer Nicolai Remisoff and cameraman William Daniels in creating a typical Hollywood London entirely on the soundstage.

The supporting cast recalls the days when Hollywood was awash with talent, hence the fleeting presence in supporting roles of top ghouls Boris Karloff and dear old George Zucco; all concerned to be enjoying themselves, especially the latter, visibly relishing the fact that he’s playing a comic copper in a bowler hat rather than the usual mad doctor. @RichardChatten

 

@Universal Pictures/Park Circus | All Rights Reserved

 

Magnificent Obsession (1954)

Douglas Sirk’s 1959 remake of Imitation of Life was a masterpiece that transformed the thirties original. Five years earlier Magnificent Obsession set the ball rolling – complete with biblical references and pianos and heavenly choirs on the soundtrack – it parodies the original rather than transcends it.

The warm and sympathetic Jane Wyman (described by other members of the cast as a “girl”) is always a pleasure to watch, however, and both she and it glows in Technicolor; with Russell Metty’s photography showing early evidence of the high contrast gloss he would perfect in his later teamings with Sirk. @RichardChatten

 

All that Heaven Allows (1955) @Universal Pictures/Park Circus | All Rights Reserved

 

All That Heaven Allows (1955)

Following their success in Magnificent Obsession Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson were re-teamed in this glossy Technicolor romance set in rural New England.

To be commended for acknowledging that middle-aged women still harboured passions, Miss Wyman plays a widow who shocks friends and family by announcing her intention to marry a young hunk in a lumberjack shirt.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder encountered similar disapproval when he fell in love with a North African Arab and used Sirk’s film as the basis of  Fear Eats the Soul. @RichardChatten

There’s Always Tomorrow (1956) @Universal Pictures

 

There’s Always Tomorrow (1955/6)

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred McMurray are reunited over a decade after Double Indemnity in this soulful drama that had already been made in 1934 by Edward Sloman. Sirk’s version is based on the novel by Ursula Parrot, who had ten of her books adapted for the Hollywood screen and There’s Always Tomorrow, as subversive as anything shot in the dream factory of the 1950s, is sadly often neglected.

Metty’s grainy black-and-white photography, his expressionistic use of angles, are one highlight of this feature, but let’s not forget Ursula Parrot, the came up with the story. Apart from being extremely successful, she was also quite a tearaway. In 1943, at the age of 43, she went off with a soldier who was about to be locked up for narcotic offences, right under the nose of the Military Police. Later released on bail, when cross-examined, she claimed to have  “acted on impulse, and anyhow, the soldier in question was a damn good guitar player”. Somehow, it makes sense that Sirk, another outsider in Hollywood, should be the one to bring her work onto the screen. @Andre Simonoveisz

DOUGLAS SIRK RETROSPECTIVE | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022

A Perfect Day for Caribou (2022) Locarno Film Festival 2022

 

 

Dir.: Jeff Rutherford; Cast: Charlie Plummer, Jeb Berrier, Oellis Levine, Connor Brenes; USA 2022, 95 min.

A father and son come together to mull over their failing relationship in this meditative rather inconclusive first feature from US filmmaker Jeff Rutherford’s. Partly Nebraska, partly Beckett, A Perfect Day is also eye candy: the gleaming black-and-white images of DoP Alfonso Herrera Salcedo, masterfully transferred on a 4:3 format ratio, are a joy to behold.

Herman (Berrier), a man in his early sixties, has come to the end of the road, and has decided to end things, but not before leaving a message for his estranged son Nate (Plummer), at which point the phone rings and Nate asks to see him. The two, both unemployed, meet with Nate’s seven- year old son Ralph (Levine) in one of those large US cemeteries that stretch out endlessly. It has emerged, from the now abandoned message, that Herman’s father died in a drowning accident and Herman’s brother jumped to his death from a bridge. Herman’s partner Tracey has recently left him, and Nate is disenchanted with his wife Sandy, having recently discovered that Ralph is not his biological son. In short, both men feel let down by the women in their life.

Meanwhile, Ralph – “who is not right in the head” – according to his father, wanders off into the surrounding countryside, and, suddenly aware of his disappearance the two men panic and an organised search gets underway during which time Herman narrowly avoids being shot by a woman with a gun. Nate starts a confessional monologue revealing how he would like to see both Sandy and Ralph dead. Not that he wants Ralph to suffer, but he feels more animosity towards Sandy for the way she diminishes him with her derisory comments: “She always laughs about my plans, even when I say I want to be a “weatherman”. Quick insert of Nate trying his hand at forecasting on the TV.

Plummer and Berrier are outstanding as the odd couple – they are clearly meant for each other, even though Nate makes a big deal of telling his father “I am different from you”. Nate is emotionally intelligent and fully aware of his marital shortcomings: “Sandy and me are bad versions of ourselves”. With the wild landscape playing the part of the third main character, A Perfect Day for Caribou is a sombre reminder of how male self-pity can often lead to violence against women and children. The dry humour barely conceals the serious implications. A  commendable debut. AS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | Concorso Cineasti del Presente

Piaffe (2022) Locarno Film Festival 2022

 

 

Dir: Ann Oren | Cast: Simone Bucio, Sebastian Rudolph | Germany, drama 86′

A game of willpower and discipline sees a young women transform herself – with alarming results – in this stylish arthouse drama from German director and visual artist Ann Oren, competing for the Golden Leopard at this year’s Locarno Film festival 2022.

Sharing script duties with Thais Guisasola, Oren brings her skill as a visual artist to bear in  this unique piece of filmmaking driven forward by its distinctive soundscape and pristine cinematic allure captured by Carlos Vasquez’ camerawork.

The shy main character Eva (Bucio) is forced to take on her sister Zara’s job as a Foley artist when she suffers some sort of nervous collapse. Replicating the accurate sound of horse hooves trotting on the spot in the famous “Piaffe” manoeuvre – along with those recreating  training and dressage positions – is no mean feat, and physically quite exhausting for Eva as she struggles to make the soundtrack for a commercial featuring a horse. But then something weird happens: Eva actually starts growing a horse tail – complete with coarse, dark hair – that luckily matches her own shade of chestnut. And somehow her newfound excrescence gives her considerable agency, allowing her to turn her love life around.

Oren has certainly created a curio: her inspired plot line and acute attention to detail is laudable, certainly qualifying her for a pole position as one of this year’s most original and intriguing arthouse features in the main competition. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | GOLDEN LEOPARD

Stella in Love (2022) Locarno Film Festival 2022

 

 

 

Dir: Sylvie Verheyde | Cast: Flavie Delangle, Marina Fois, Benjamin Biolay | France, Romantic drama 110′

A dizzy iconic soundtrack captures the glories of first love and life in the six form in this frisky and freewheeling feature from France’s Sylvie Verheyde. Stella in Love is a cinematic breath of fresh air, and just the kind of film to get the Golden Leopard Competition rocking at Locarno Film Festival’s annual lakeside jamboree.

Not happy at being back at school for her final year after her blissful beach holiday with the girls, seventeen-year-old Stella (a laconic Flavie Delangle – who also narrates) is still reeling from the euphoria of sun, sea and sex. Lost in the reverie of nights with her Italian boyfriend – a first – the return to normality has come as a shock to the system, not to mention the autumn chill in Paris where irreverence is the name of the game. Her mother and father have split, the teacher is boring her with his views on Marxism, or was is Marxist Leninism? Who cares when you can drift off and dream of your lover and swimming in the Med.

In a haze of cigarette smoke and red lipstick Stella – often rocking a chic black cashmere beret – navigates problems at home, a furious feud with her mother (a feisty Marina Fois) a neon-bathed bittersweet birthday party with the gang, life on the breadline, and the shock revelation that her father (Benjamin Biolay at his most louche) has a new baby son. Then she meets Andre.

Stylishly sashaying from night clubs to the stark light of reality, the stress of final exams and working part-time in a bar, there are quieter moments too: secrets shared and thoughts revealed with her best friend Gladys. Christmas spent mooching with her sour-faced mum and the Easter holidays on horseback on a wild, windswept coast. Verheyde has come a long way since her directorial debut A Brother in 1997, and she certainly captures the mood with Stella in Love, reuniting her with the heroine of her third feature Stella (2008). Now at the top of her game Verheyde certainly knows how to make a romantic drama – and this is one of her best. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | GOLDEN LEOPARD COMPETITION.

 

 

 

Semret (2022) Locarno Film Festival 2022

 

 

Dir/Wri: Caterina Mona | Cast: Lulu Mebrahtu, Tedros Teclebrhan, Hermela Tekleab, Fanuel Mengstab | Swiss, Drama 85′

Heritage and traditional values threaten to disrupt the life of a single mother newly arrived in Zurich in this straightforward but solid debut feature from Swiss writer director Caterina Mona.

Semret feels like any other trans-cultural drama with its focus on how past trauma affects first generation immigrants trying to make a better life for their families in Europe. Writing and directing, Mona explores how these values can hold back the next generation, impinging on their freedom of choice.

Semret lives a modest and socially repressed life in Zurich where she clings to her more progressive teenage daughter Joe (Tekleab). Training to be a midwife at a teaching hospital in the Swiss German capital certainly has its challenges: And Semret struggles with the new language and a different culture, not to mention the emotional baggage she has brought with her from Etritrea. The arrival of hospital porter and fellow Eritrean Yemane (Teclebrhan) is certainly welcome at first. But this new relationship also forces Semret to face her own demons, or risk becoming a social recluse. And like many mothers all over the world, she has very mixed feelings about Joe’s friendship with Yemane’s teenage son Tesheme (Mengstab).

Although there are no surprises on the cinematic front, Mona tackles this no-frills feature with confidence, unpacking the various aspects of the immigration experience with insight and maturity. Supported by an impressive cast – many of them newcomers – Semret is a promising start from the Swiss filmmaker. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | PIAZZA GRANDE 2022 | LEOPARDS OF TOMORROW

Where is this Street? (2022) Locarno Film Festival

 

 

Dir.: Joao Pedro Rodriguez, Joao Rui Guerra Da Mata; Cast: Isabel Ruth; Portugal/France 2022; 88 min.

Portuguese filmmakers Joao Pedro Rodriguez and Joao Guerra Da Mata – best known for their memorable titles The Last Time I saw Macao and The Ornithologist – one again join forces to research locations for Paulo Rocha’s The Green Years which heralded Portugal’s Cinema Novo in the early 1960s.

After a promising start the directors lose their audience – to a certain degree – by assuming that everyone has an in-depth knowledge of the Rocha film and the intricacies of Lisbon’s geography and history, both prerequisites for really appreciating their latest offering.

Isabel Ruth, who played the female lead of Illda in Rocha’s 1963 drama, returns to the locations with the same passionate energy, singing and dancing throughout. The director’s grandfather designed the modernist home where Da Mata and Rodriguez reflect on Rocha shooting scenes with Julio and Illda holding hands for the first time in the rolling landscape of a nearby park which provides the setting for this languorous if reductive love letter to Lisbon.

DoPs Rui Pocas and Lisa Persson capture the essence of the place with lingering long shots. Time has moved on but the derelict buildings, now fallen into disrepair, are redolent of the glory days. Shot between 2019 and 2021 and spilling into the pandemic; public radio announcements warn of the dangers requiring the wearing of masks.

Breath-taking images of an iron bridge and a tower are certainly impressive – and we wait, in vain, for connections to the Rocha film. Instead, we get shots of deserted offices and flats. To drive the message home a placard No 215 bills the Green Years, but then no action follows for No 171 of the current documentary. At the end, Ruth dashes on to the street, singing and dancing, four cars encircling her like as if closing in on their prey. Overall, for any outsider, Where is this Street feels  rather disappointing. A tempting taste of the past that could have offered so much more. AS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | OUT OF COMPETITION 2022

Love Dog (2022) Locarno Film Festival

Dir: Bianca Lucas | US Drama 84′

A slim but evocative portrait of post traumatic disorder from first time feature director Bianca Lucas, one of a group of filmmakers who were the first generation of Bela Tarr’s film.factory in Sarajevo. Essentially a one-hander Love Dog sees a Texas oil rig work retreat to his Mississippi origins suffering from emotional and physical pain after the death of his girlfriend.

Once again the animal kingdom comes to the rescue. Although the main character, played by John Dicks – who also co-writes – at first rejects the one-legged dog who will keep him company (along with copious fags and alcohol) during his house-sitting, by the end the two will become inseparable, a testament to the healing power of our canine companions.

A freewheeling, impressionistic narrative sees the man’s mood range from catatonia to utter desperation as he rages against a system that has left him high and dry without motivation or meaning in his life, as he perpetually seeks answers to questions and searches his soul for inspiring ideas that will kick start his future. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE 2022

 

Tommy Guns (2022) Locarno Film Festival

 

 

Dir.: Carlos Conceicao; Cast: Joao Arrais, Anabela Moreira; Gustavo Sumpta, Leonor Silvera, Ule Balde, Meiriulo Mendes; Portugal/Angola/France; 120 min.

Angolan writer/director Carlos Conceicao delves into the bitter Colonial history of his country in this magic realist feature set in 1974, during the final year of Portuguese rule in Angola. With enchanting camerawork from DoP Vasco Viana, Conceicao lulls us into an alluring rhythm of seductive serenity despite the gruelling nature of the subject matter.

The struggle for freedom has been a painful and long-fought battle, particularly for the innocent bystanders caught up in civil war. Conceicao establishes the violent ambience in the opening scenes set in a small village where an Angolan tribal girl Tchissola (Balde) is given an amulet depicting the Virgin Mary by a Portuguese nun (Silveira). In return Tchissola sets out to bring repay her kindness in a journey curtailed by a Portuguese soldier who prays before making love to her, only to shoot her in a seemingly motiveless attack. Meanwhile, the nun is set upon by rebels, shooting into the air with their titular guns.

The action then shifts to a walled encampment where seven disgruntled soldiers are barracked along with their presiding sadistic colonel (Sumpta) who has fostered a hostile atmosphere amongst the men by ordering one of the group, Ze (Arrais) to shoot Prata (Mendes), the cook and food provider of the camp, suspecting him of being a traitor. Ze gains promotion and is granted a wish. Asking to visit his mother again but we later find out that he does not even known her name and is possibly the victim of abduction, his request an attempt to escape.

The young soldiers are bored and frustrated with being cooped up in the confines of the camp so they swim out into the lake where they find a picture of a young blonde woman, which they hang up in one of the dilapidated buildings. Wising up the mood of frustration the Colonel brings Apolonia (Moreira) a sex worker into the camp, but when Ze is too rough with her the woman tries to escape with tragic consequences for all concerned in the surrealist finale.

The irony of the conflict sequences often collides with the grim reality, but Conceicao handles these contradictions with consummate ease managing to keen the audience on tenterhooks throughout the film’s generous running time. Boosted by brilliant performances from its ensemble cast Tommy Guns is a unique and impressive film reflecting a horrifying episode from Angola’s turbulent past. AS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Saturn Bowling (2022) Locarno Film Festival

 

 

Dir: Patricia Mazuy | Cast: Arieh Worthalter, Achille Reggiani | French/Belgian thriller 114′

Not since Gaspar Noe’s 2002 thriller Irreversible has a rape scene been so violent as pictured in this police thriller from Patricia Mazuy. The French director is no stranger to Locarno Film Festival. In 1993 she won a Bronze Leopard for an episode in the TV series Tous les Garcons et les Filles de Leurs Age.

Saturn Bowling sees her return to the lakeside competition with a moody and viciously violent police thriller that channels the savagery of the wild into a shocking story of misogyny, murder and mutilation in the suburbs of Paris.

Arieh Worthalter is mesmerising as Guillaume the police detective in the midst of the mayhem. It leaves him no time to run the bowling ring and men’s dining club – with its extensive library of horrifying hunting themed videos – he has just inherited from his late father. Romance is also on the cards with an animal behaviourist (Lucas) who is helping with the investigation. But leaving the management of his club to his troubled half brother Armand (Reggiani) is a decision he will live to regret. No sooner has his back turned than things start to go wrong. Meanwhile, women are being menaced and murdered left right and centre, and Guillaume is getting nowhere with the investigation.

Of course, from early brutal scenes we all know who is responsible, but will they be stopped in their tracks?. Mazuy keeps the tension bubbling away with her regular co-writer Yves Thomas. Simon Beaufils does the rest, seting the tone with his neon-infused visuals, keeping things dark and mysterious, accompanied by an evocative occasional score from composer trio Wyatt E, Sebastian Landauer and Stephane Rondia. A captivating modern day thriller from another female French director at the top of her game who is not afraid to tell it like it really is. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022

 

Love-Lights (2022) Locarno Film Festival

 

 

Dir.: Acacio de Almeida, Marie Carré; Cast: Oscar Cruz, Sabel Ruth, Luis Miguel; Portugal 2022, 67 min.

Portuguese directors  Acacio de Almeida and Marie Carré expand their short but poignant essay on light and film into a full length feature, a poetic love letter to Portuguese cinema and romance with spectacular sequences of space.

A VoiceOver by camera man Oscar (Cruz) explains: “The main link is between all forms of light, but particularly the film camera”. Light illuminates the central character in every film. “The face of an actor is also a luminous point, full of emotions and feelings”. Bruno Ganz, Ornella Muti, Joaquim de Almeida and Marie Trintignant have all been illuminated for eternity. But, there are dangers too: Silver nitrate can ignite and obliterate everything in voracious flames.

Cinema is also a kind of jail, images are captured and locked down for eternity. It bears testament to the class struggle down the ages with archive footage of demonstrations in Oporto, during the 1974 Portuguese revolution. In a filmic obituary of Maria Cabal (1941-2017), the Anna Karina of Portuguese cinema, we see her in a dressing room, looking into a mirror, alongside excerpts of her films – a young ingénue and an old woman.

Oscar asks: what could light be if it does not reflect us? He also muses on the stars leaving messages of their death. Maria Cabal, in one of her most famous roles as Illda, reflected “The objects in film are imprisoned images. Films and settings belong to each for ever, places undergo transformations, the time of a film is a moment frozen in eternity, it will never exist again but remain in the memory for those who shared the experience”. Cabal appears again, as Illda, with Oscar observing: “We are composed of light, are an intrinsic piece of light.

The ending is rather grim: a piece of celluloid is held against a candle, Oscar talks about how “Man has invented light, which can destroy the whole planet in seconds. Light gives light, but also kills life.” All this in stark contrast to a long rural love scene where the man licks the breasts of his lover with milk just milked from a lamb.

Imaginative and always full of surprises, Love-Lights is a delight that never outstays its 60 odd minute welcome as a concise compendium of Portuguese cinema, with excerpts from films by Botellho, Villaverde, Gil, Monteiro and Paula Rocha among others. A worthwhile experience. AS

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Delta (2022) Locarno Film Festival 2022

 

Dir: Michele Vanucci | Cast: Alessandro Borghi, Luigi Lo Cascio, Marius Bizau, Emilia Scarpati Fanetti | Drama Italy, 105′

Italy’s Po Delta is the setting for this atmospheric river bound Western based on a vendetta between local fishermen and poachers. Delta is a powerful feature arousing strong emotions based on racial prejudice and the desperation of those trying to escape the past or survive the privations of a future in poverty.

This impressive second feature for Italian director Michele Vanucci follows Osso (Lo Cascio) a well-meaning volunteer working to save the river from overfishing at the hands of the Florians, a family on the run from Eastern Europe who are now plundering the river’s rich fish stocks flouting local bylaws introduced in the 1980s to protect fishing rights.

The Florians have joined forces with baleful petty criminal Elia (Borghi), now back in town after living abroad. Osso and Elio go back a long way and share a bitter history. Elio had a relationship with Osso’s ex-wife Anna (Scarpati Fanetti) and is still in love with her. But however hostile Elio and his gang become in maintaining their position, Osso is not going to back down on an issue close to his heart.

Creating a palpable sense of place in this region of murky mists and rich heritage, Vanucci weaves into the narrative original archive footage and photos of traditional fisherman going about their business to illustrate the intensity of feeling the river and its wildlife hold for local inhabitants.

Overwhelmed by blind violence, the two rivals will face each other in the fog of the Delta as their internecine struggle intensifies in this compelling and original feature echoing the gritty style of Giuseppe De Santis and driven forward by passionate performances from Italian star duo Alessandro Borghi and Luigi Lo Cascio. MT

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2022

The Adventures of Gigi the Law (2022) Locarno Film Festival 2022

 

 

 

Dir: Alessandro Comodin | Cast: Pier Luigi Mecchia, Ezio Massarutto, Annaluisi Ferrari | Drama 104′

A silly argument gets out of control in the open scenes of this absurd dark docu-comedy from Venetian filmmaker Alessandro Comedian. What it all boils down to is the petty small-mindedness of everyday life in the rural village of Malafesta (Veneto) where the police spend the days justifying their existence, pursuing every line of inquiry no matter how trivial: a car parked the wrong way up a side street, a dog with an usual bark is about as exciting as it gets.

Nothing escapes the attention of inspector Pier Luigi (Gigi), a baffoonish local police officer in a sleepy backwater where nothing ever happens. All kitted out with his gun, handcuffs and truncheon the balding Gigi is desperate to see some action. Every incident – no matter how minor – gets a full investigation at the hands of this middle-aged meddler as he patrols the empty streets and byways, sneaking a cheeky cigarette, or occasionally flirting with young switchboard operator Paola (in his distinctive local accent) or shooting the breeze with some  colleague or passerby on the subject of sex, or some romantic hit on the radio.

But his plans to seduce Paola over a homemade risotto are suddenly derailed when a girl throws herself under a train – possibly due to sheer boredom. And this is not the first time. Facing this unexplainable suicide wave, Gigi starts investigating a strange world, between reality and fantasy, where a garden turns into a jungle and where a sleazy policeman’s prime focus is on investigating affairs of the heart.

After The Summer of Giacomo, winner of the Golden Leopard at the Locarno FilmFestival, Alessandro Comodin returns with a picaresque comic documentary inspiredly by the rhythmic dialectic poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini. MT

GOLDEN LEOPARD COMPETITION | LOCARNO 2022

 

 

Fairytale | Skaska (2022) Locarno Film Festival 2022

 

 

Dir.: Alexandr Sokurov; Cast: Igor Gromov, Vakhtang Kuchava, Lothar Deeg, Tim Ettelt, Fabio Mastrangelo, Alexander Sagabashi, Muchael Gibson, Pascal Slivansky; Russia/Belgium 2022, 78 min.

“You strangled Satan, passion bearer, with the godly strings of your suffering” M22 K, 4-4

Russian writer/director Alexandr Sokurov has been a thorn in the side of the Stalinist authorities throughout his film career that started in the early 1970s and is still raging on with this latest opus, a compelling curio competing in the main competition at this year’s 75th celebration of Locarno International Film festival. Fairy Tale was originally due to be shown at Cannes in May 2022 after ducking the boycott on Russian directors, but Sokurov later changed his mind. Apparently the organisers “could not handle a feature uncommon in the world”, which is “far more complicated than some festivals need”. Sokurov also is quoted as saying: “the organisers in Cannes are afraid to show such things”. Others claim the master was miffed that A Bird Searches for a Cage (directed by his protégé Malika Musaeva) had not made it into this year’s competition on the French Riviera.

Fairy Tale opens with a New Testament quote: “You strangled Satan, passion bearer, with the godly strings of your suffering”. What follows is as enigmatic as it is opaque. Against a black & white backcloth, specially designed by Sokurov, animated figures of Churchill (Sagabashi, Gibson), Hitler (Deeg, Ettelt), Mussolini (Mastrangelo) and Stalin (Kuchava) meander along in a landscape – which could be hell or heaven – the Supreme Force (Gromov) directing proceedings to a certain degree, whilst Napoleon Bonaparte (Slivansky) makes a guest appearance.

Some of these world leaders seem preoccupied with the scent of their peers; Hitler, sniffing Stalin, asks “Are you a Caucasian Jew?” Hitler goes on grumbling, “even here, in paradise, they pummel Germans”. Napoleon makes an appearance, and Hitler tries to deceive the assemble, claiming he had conquered Moscow and lived in the Kremlin. Churchill is convinced “Mussolini is sort of an oddball”. Later we will see the Duce’s body, along with that of his lover Clara Petacci, in rather gruesome circumstances. Hitler is angry with himself: “Why did I not burn down Paris?”. He also reflects on his possible marriage to Wagner’s niece. Churchill meanwhile talks of resistance, we see the image of a Lamborghini. Stalin advises Hitler, “you should join the Bolsheviks, we will knock some sense in you.” Hitler then grows sentimental “I love you all”. Churchill remarks “You can Google me”. Churchill is also happy “that he talked to God alone”.

In a colour sequence we witness the masses passing the Moscow grandstands at the fabled First of May parade, set to the tones of Strauss. Churchill again meets God and tells him “I will try. They should all be coming soon”. Mussolini wails: “Where is my Clara?”. Hitler quails in his boots when Jesus reappears. Churchill tells Hitler to forget about Wagner’s niece, “Eva is still better”. Hitler promised everyone that the best is still to come, claiming he didn’t make a bad start (!). Stalin sees lilacs everywhere, but Churchill rebukes him “Communists are blind and deaf.” Churchill has another pop at Stalin: “You did not go to your mother’s funeral”. Stalin meekly responds: “I was away”.

Following Moloch, Taurus and The Sun, biopics of Lenin, Hitler and Hirohito and his 2015 feature Francofonia , Sokurov applies the same individual treatment for the leaders of WWII. They are reduced to ordinary citizens, complaining and trying to be correct their misjudgments in hindsight. But there is nothing heroic about any of them, on the contrary, they are petty and vengeful. Reduced to an everyman status, they have lost all the grandeur of their historical status. Now they are ready to be put out to grass.

The production design is awesome, eclipsing even Sokurov’s Faust, black & white somehow adding to the film’s phantasmagorical allure, the elusive characters fusing with the fog, like ghosts reduced to deceptive legends, their heroic personas diminished by the mists of time. Fairy Tale takes no prisoners: there is no middle-ground, and Sokoruv is a brilliant provocateur – his inventiveness never fails to beguiled and bewilder. AS

COMPETING FOR THE GOLDEN LEOPARD AT 75th LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022. 

 

 

Lynx (2021)

Dir/Wri/DoP: Laurent Geslin | Swiss/French Doc, 82′

In the heart of the Jura mountains, a raucous call resounds through the forest. The perfectly camouflaged Eurasian lynx creeps through the trees in search of a mate. After its release into the wild, cinematographer Laurent Geslin has spent the past few years tracking the daily life of this elusive and endangered beast as it forms a new family in the remote Alpine region that stretches between France and Switzerland.

In this full length feature documentary, a follow-up to Geslin’s pursuit of the London-based urban fox, the award-winning cinematographer enchants us with poetic almost Disney-like wonder in his self-narrated study that softens the act of killing without ever sentimentalising the subject matter, making it feel entirely in keeping with the delicate ecological scheme of things as the lynx goes about its seasonal struggle in often hostile terrain.

This is Northern Europe so the Alpine fauna is familiar to most of us but somehow magical and enchanting in Geslin’s limpid lens: owls, stoats, woodpeckers, eagles and mountain goats are so daintily captured in their natural daytime habitat or in the moonlight of starry time-lapsed nights that there are none of those awful ‘lookaway’ moments when the lynx – or any other animal – takes out it prey, as it inevitably does to survive. The feline’s only natural predator seems to come in human form: poachers are still active despite being illegal, and cars are getting faster. Absolutely mesmerising. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 17 JANUARY 2022 | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Monte Verita (2021) Locarno Film Festival

Dir.: Stefan Jäger; Cast: Maresi Riegner, Max Hubacher, Julia Jentsch, Hannah Herzsprung, Philipp Hauß, Tina Distefano, Aline Distefano, Michael Finger; Germany/Switzerland/Italy 2021, 116 min.

A detailed and rather worthy biography of Austrian avantgarde photographer Hanna Leitner who left her husband and children in 1906 to join the artist colony in Monte Verità, Switzerland before pioneering a counter-cultural movement in Brazil with Henri Oedenkoven (Finger).

Swiss director Stefan Jäger directs Kornelija Narak’s two-handed narrative centring on Hanna’s time at the artist’s colony with flashbacks to her unhappy time in Viennese society at the end of the 19th century.

Marriage to a brutish and rather mediocre photographer Anton was thwarted by his competitiveness and poor bedroom skills, so leaving him for the free-spirited artist colony near Ascona offered release and a creative outlet for the highly-strung and straight-laced Hanna who found much of the behaviour there morally questionable, members often cavorting around in the nude.

Here she meets psychoanalyst and sexual predator Otto Gross, a mentor of Freud, who preys on his female patients (rather like Carl Jung whom he influenced) and falls into a sexual relationship with him while developing her photographic talents.

Life in the Monte Verita is by no means without incident: an exhibition of Leitner’s work is destroyed by fire, and her husband arrives in Ascona with their daughters Helene (T. Distefano) and Marie (A. Distefano) threatening to have her admitted to an asylum when she refuses to go home.

Isadora Duncan, Herman Hesse and the anarchist writer Erich Mühsam (who believed women should be confined to the kitchen) also make an appearance amid the frolicking band of artists who are clearly forerunners of the hippy culture of the 1960s.

Performances lack verve, the actors more suited to theatre than film. DoP Daniela Knapp’s images add flair but are rather on the idealistic side aptly reflecting Narak’s script which is all earnest and learned, but lacks dramatic heft. The whole undertaking is not so much inspired by rebellion, but by academic endeavour. AS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Medea (2021) Locarno Film Festival

Dir.: Alexander Zelkovich; Cast: Tinatin Dalakisvili, Evgeniy Tsyganov, Evgwnii Kharitonov, Yotam Kushnir, Gay Kelly; Russia 2021, 139 min.

Georgian supermodel Tinatin Dalakisvili – who is constantly taking her clothes off – is the star of this Russian take on Medea a big screen bonkbuster brought down by a clumsy script: Zelkovich uses a confessional to drive the spare narrative forward, laced with some unintentionally awkward home-spun philosophies

Life for the chemistry graduate revolves around her family, kids Misha and Yulia, and their Jewish father Alexei (Tsyganov), a business man who spends most of the time with his lover Nadya and their child.

Keen to escape the strictures of this dual existence, Alexei decides to settle in Israel, and wants to take his lover and the two children with him. But his plans are put on hold by Nadya’s security service agent brother Valera (Kushnir), who has some dirt on Alexei, and wants a big pay-off before he lets his sister and Alexei go.

Valera makes a big mistake when he reveals his plan, and it will cost him his life. Meanwhile in Israel, Alexei soon tires of the mother of his children, falling for his blonde neighbour. But his lust for women doesn’t stop there. An affair with a graffiti artist (Kelly) is next, then a soldier (Kushnir) in the Israeli secret service, who wants to die for the country, will follow. The end is brilliantly executed (like many of the scenes), but the running time is far too generous for what little Zelkovich has to say.

This Medea is a wild opportunist: she endangers her children in a concrete silo, saves their lives when the police give chase to a terrorist, and sets fire to a model on a roof terrace  Overwhelming images drown out the threadbare narrative leaving us with eye candy. In trying to be mainstream, Zelkovich has squandered some good ideas. AS

 

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

A Walk with Angels (2020) Locarno Film Festival

Dir.: Tomasz Wysokinski; Documentary with Jeremaiah Marobyane, Thandi Mbatha, Louisa Mbatha, Ma Mbatha; Poland 2021, 84 min.

Polish director Tomasz Wysokinski spent four years in the shanti Town of Kliptown, Soweto for this labour of love that follows ex-child soldier and civil war commander Jeremaiah Marobyaneon on his search for missing children. “Every sixty minutes a child is lost in South Africa” is the cruel premise of the raw and resonant documentary.

The focus is his search for Angie, kidnapped six months previously from her mother Thandi Mbatha and her family. Jeremaiah sets out on gruelling mission during which he’ll come across, always coming across children exposed to violence on an everyday basis. Soweto is a hotbed of superstition and Satanists are actively kidnapping kids for ritual execution. The members of the local show clear signs of mental disorder: “by day I am a boy, but at night a girl ‘they’ want to use”.

The perpetrators practising exorcism, “taking the genital parts from the babies, like penis and testicles from boys and breasts from girls”. The cult members are convinced that “demon power will give them power to kill”. Meanwhile, Jeremaiah has arrived in the small town of Witbank where he is told that Angie is no longer alive is told, and that the witch doctors have got hold of her. Unperturbed, he pushes on further to Johannesburg, a city “which looks good in the glittering lights from a distance”, but when he arrives we see colonies of children sleeping in the streets. In the borough of Hillbrow, Jeremaiah puts up the poster of Angie, who has a distinct birthmark near her eye. The children, sleeping in boxes on the pavement, go through the rubbish in the day time, often finding the corpses of babies. One shot is particularly disturbing. “The witch doctors crush the babies, mix their blood with herbal medicine and throw them into pots while they are still alive.

Finally, Jeremaiah finds a young woman who has interviewed Angie’s father Mbengeni, who apparently confessed to having abducted his daughter. Undeterred, and walking with the titular angels, Jeremaiah makes his way to meet Mbengeni.

This no-frills documentary is highly disturbing and makes for a grim watch. It shows a South Africa still suffering from abject poverty and dangerous superstition. Jeremiah is well aware that “Apartheid has destroyed South Africa’s people”, causing bitter conflict between the various factions, but the total absence of state intervention points to some serious underlying reason for this discord.

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Zahori (2021) Locarno Film Festival

Dir: Mari Alessandrini | Chile, France, Swiss | Drama, 105′

In the rugged windswept remoteness of the Patagonian Pampas a lonely girl vows to avenge the macho menfolk by becoming a gaucho in this deeply sorrowful Western, a feature debut for Mari Alessandrini.

Life is tough for 13 year old Mora (a gentle Lara Tortosa) in the remote community where she lives with her unsupportive Swiss Italian parents, who are ecologists, and younger brother. There don’t seem to be many girls her age so she helps her father grow vegetables and makes friends with some of the animals on long walks across the desiccated landscape full of beetles and armadillos (that she plans to roast) and the occasional condor swirling overhead. Here she meets a Mapuche who gives her a brace of river trout as a gift, her disgruntled vegetarian parents refusing to touch them.

But deep-seated resentment and hostility dogs this outwardly peaceful existence, and it soon emerges that everyone harbours a savage mistrust of their neighbour, a product of the harsh terrain: Mora’s parents seem miserable; brigands plague the locals at night stealing livestock and a beautiful white horse belonging  to Mora’s Mapuche pal – the half-blind Nazareno (Curapil) who offers a vain reward for the recapture of his lifelong ‘friend’. But the horse seems to represent a freedom that the Mora can only dream of. Meanwhile two ludicrous American missionaries fetch up to proselytise and annoy everyone, but are given short shrift by the locals.

Chloe Zhao’s Oscar-winning feature The Rider, clearly inspired  Alessandrini although this is a more mournful, enigmatic feature that captures the remoteness of the wild locations, and the essence of the Mapuche, an endangered native of Patagonia and Southern Argentina.

Handling her material with confidence, Alessandrini knowns how to create tension with a lightness of touch in this alienated place at the edge of the world. With a simple score of guitar folk music and some old Italian hits from the Sixties this is a thoughtful and visually evocative portrait of a troubled community struggling to survive against the odds amid hardship and spiritual discontent. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

A New Old Play | Jiao Ma Tang Hui (2021) Locarno Film Festival

Dir.: Qiu Jionqjiong; Cast: Yi Sicheng, Qiu Zhmin, Song Xuchun, Zhang Zivi; Hong Kong/France 2021, 179 min.

A New Old Play is the debut feature for Chinese writer/director Qui Jionqjiong, best known for his documentaries. A poetic journey through Chinese history in the turbulent years between 1920 to the mid Sixties, this in depth biopic mirrors the tumultuous career of legendary Hong Kong actor and clown Qui Fu (Yi Sicheng). 

Shot in exquisite, washed out colours, resembling paintings of the era by DoP Feng Yuchao ‘Robbin’, A New Old Play echoes – aesthetically and contents wise – Theo Angelopoulos’ 1975 feature The Travelling Players. It’s a complex, self-indulgent but gratifying piece of filmmaking that requires a grasp of modern Chinese history (and the language) to be fully appreciated: Reading subtitles for three hours while taking on board the film’s aesthetic delicacy and rich detail is quite a challenge.

Qui Fu (Yi Sicheng) is called to perform for the King of Hell (a poetic way of describing death), who has sent two guards to accompany him on his journey where Qui recalls his life. It’s 1920, during the last knockings of the Sichuan Dynasty, and army generals will seize political office in a bid to survive.

One of these generals is saved by barber Pocky (Qui Zhmin), who is freed up to found the Sichuan Opera School. The Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek are fighting the Communist forces under Mao Tso-Tung and Qui Fu, an orphaned victim of war and political unrest, is taken on by Pocky as a sort of court jester cum stooge.

After the Communist victory Qui joins a theatre group, the “Army of Culture” serving – as Mao dictates – workers, peasants and soldiers. The ‘Peoples’ Sichuan Theatre’ also agitates to keep citizens out of the Opium dens. But after Mao declares “The great Leap” forward with a rapid programme of industrialisation, the economy collapses, and people are literally left dying in the streets.

By this time Qui has already been married and his second wife (Zhang Zivi) is his own boss in the Propaganda Administration. After losing a baby daughter the couple adopt another child who they discover abandoned on the steps outside their home. Later the birth mother will reclaim the child, giving the pair a pumpkin as a reward. Joy comes with the birth of a son, Ah Hei (Xuchun), who will grows up to join Beijing’s Red Guards after Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” puts students in charge.

But Qui’s career then takes a downturn when is captured and imprisoned in a cowshed by the authorities who consider him an enemy of the people. Seizing the opportunity to her own advantage, his wife goes on stage to condemn her husband, but refuses to endorse the accusations against him, even though she is warned by the government: “Do not let marital relations obscure class contradictions.”

Pocky too, has fallen on hard times, hailed “a reactionary Warlord.” And while Ah Hei tries to make his way back to the capital on a flying broomstick, his father is released and will, when fully rehabilitated, play villains on the stage. Meanwhile Qui’s eventful career sees him once again on his way to Hell where he is brainwashed with a poisoned tea in a tragic denouement. A comprehensive look at the not so glamorous world of the Chinese theatre in the mid 20th century but not for the feint-hearted.

SPECIAL JURY PRIZE OF THE CITIES OF ASCONA AND LOSONE | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

 

Soul of a Beast (2021) Locarno Film Festival

Writ/Dir: Lorenz Merz | Switzerland, Fantasy Drama 110

Impressionistic, overlong but strangely captivating Soul of a Beast is an inventive piece of visual storytelling. playing out as a stream of consciousness collage of feelings and sensations and set in and around an upbeat and summery Swiss setting that becomes increasingly apocalyptic.

With its retro Hollywood soundtrack, fashion-conscious freewheeling style and dreamy tonal wooziness this artfully involving close-up experience works well for a while in following the days of its loved-up characters: Corey (Ella Rumpf) and her lovers Joel (Tonatiuh Radzi) and Gabriel (Pablo Caprez) who is looking after his cute kid son and brother from the ditzy drunkard Zoe (Luna Wedler) who seems to have drowned in a sea of booze and fags. Her own mother (Lolita Chammah) is keeping an eye on proceedings from a distance. The slow-burning narrative succumbs to aimless longueurs in the second act as the feature dwindles into an imaginatively edited art installation finally building to a tense and violent denouement.

The focus here is the escape from the zoo of two Colombian pumas and a giraffe who are roaming the city wreaking havoc and sustaining and causing injury. As usual the authorities mishandle the crisis, and nature strikes back casting a spell over the central characters as they become vaguely feral and violently inhibited in response to the climate of hostility brought about by the ecological tragedy. Escape to the countryside with Jamie seems the only way out of the mayhem for the vulnerable Gabriel who becomes increasingly confused and is savagely beaten up by the previously blissed out Joel, jealous of his relationship with Corey.

Soul of a Beast is a striking creative compositional fantasy with a perplexing Japanese occasional narration that ultimately outstays its welcome. While brilliantly cinematic and daringly executed this kind of choppy editing is extremely tiring to watch for longer than an hour and a half. Please kill your darlings – less is always more. MT

Pardo for Best Actor
Mohamed Mellali and Valero Escolar for SIS DIES CORRENTS (The Odd-Job Men) by Neus Ballús, Spain

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Hinterland (2021) Locarno Film Festival 2021

Dir: Stefan Ruzowitzky | Austria, Noir Thriller 

Germany and Austria have been brought to their knees after gruelling defeat in the Great War and limp home broken to a decadent Vienna amidst poverty, despair – and a serial killer on the loose – in this stylish noir thriller from Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky.

In the opening scenes a ship glides by laden with dead and mutilated soldiers, the living barely alive against a photographed atmospheric if rather stagey back-cloth of utter devastation setting the scene for a desperate homecoming, only to discover their surviving comrades are being preyed upon by a grisly murderer as the story unfolds.

Wonky German expressionistic framing and a sombre mood creates a jagged-edged rather quaint feeling echoing M by Fritz Lang or even Grimms’ Fairy tales, suffused with Klimt’s Secessionist jewel-like paintings transporting us rather evocatively back to early 1920s Vienna where a mood of mistrust prevails. The background photograph technique works wonders in conjuring up the contrast between doom and the squalid splendour of the Austrian capital. But our war hero Peter Perg (Murathan Muslu) is still haunted by the nightmarish terror of the trenches looming up in dream sequences on the vast wall behind his bed.

Against a climate of anarchy and political unrest brewing in the Vienna’s tea rooms Peter teams up with the Poirot-like Detective Renner (Marc Limpach) and pathologist Theresa Korner (Liv Liese Fries) to try and fathom a motive for the horrific murders  – one particularly gruesome corpse has been decapitated and flayed with a cat o nine tails, another pierced with 19 stakes. But the team’s interest focuses on in the iniquitous murder of Perg’s war-wounded comrades Captain Krainer who appears to have been garrotted by the roaming psychopath, and as their investigations widen Peter becomes a victim himself in this evocatively seedy but highly enjoyable murder mystery. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

Rose (2021) Locarno Film Festival 2021

Dir/Wri: Aurelie Saada | Cast: Francoise Fabian, Aure Atika, Gregory Montel, Damien Chapelle, Pascal Elbe, Mehdi Nebbou | France Romantic Drama, 102′

Aurelie Saada brings her musical training as a composer to this brilliantly executed and vivacious film about love, family life and second chances.

A crowd-pleasing winner which will particularly resonate with Jewish audiences who will appreciate its finer details, Rose is a riff on Sebastian Lielo’s Berlinale winner Gloria, Francoise Fabian is absolutely magnificent as the grieving widow Rose. Elegant and graceful in her seventy-eighth year the opening scenes see her celebrating a joyous family occasion with her debonair husband (Bernard Murat in cameo) whose subsequent death sends her spiralling into overwhelming grief and confining her to the safety of her comfortable Parisian apartment.

Family and friends offer support but bring their own issues to the party, and this familiar outpouring of collective misery is not always welcome to the person most closely affected, Rose retreating into a world of her own, understanding yet unable to offer guidance or even deal with her three middle-aged children who are all experiencing emotional trauma unconnected to their father’s death. Her daughter Sarah (Aure Atika) is in the final throes of a separation for her straying husband (Mehdi Nebbou); Pierre (Gregory Montel), a doctor with his own marital issues, and Leon (Damien Chapelle) is a prickly man-child in trouble with the law.

In her feature debut Saada brings a maturity and wisdom to this hopeful story with its convincing characterisations and perfectly pitched mise en scene. Francoise Fabian understand her role and strikes just the right balance between vulnerability and self-possession as a woman who has dedicated her life to husband and children but now realises she needs an outside stimulus, and she finds one – quite unexpectedly – in the shape of a local restaurateur (Pascal Elbe) who restores her raison d’être and offers a sympathetic ear at a time when Rose needs it most.

A powerfully emotive score of well known classics and Saada’s own compositions give this soigne romantic drama a potent kick along with Martin De Chabaneix’ lush and sophisticated cinematography. Gracefully paced, smart and highly enjoyable Rose is an upbeat flight of fantasy and a tonic for those looking for a silver lining when family is actually the last thing we need. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | PIAZZA GRANDE

 

Heavens Above | Nebesa (2021) Locarno Film Festival 2021

Dir: Srdjan Dragojevic | Serbia/Croatia/Germany, Fantasy Drama 122′

Miracles colour the lives of Serbians in a post-communist society readapting to Christianity in writer-director Srdjan Dragojevic’s exuberant ‘Wild Eastern’ fantasy melodrama.

Inspired by three short stories from French novelist Marcel Ayme (1902-67), the director brings this visually resplendent, thematically provocative comedy to Locarno’s main competition lineup.

Communism and Christianity are still fighting it out in the post war God-fearing impoverished rural enclave in Serbia where people are bloody but indomitably unbowed, in the first segment of the trilogy. Gun-toting Strojan (Goran Navojec) and his wife Nada (Ksenija Marinkovic) are the combative main characters bolstered by their ebullient village neighbourhood where Strojan is cheating with his next-door neighbour,   stray dogs riffle through the rubbish and false teeth are still kept overnight in glasses like something out of the Sixties. Meanwhile inside the immaculately clean 1940s style town hall with its pristine marble tiling, civil rectitude still reigns supreme  But whatever he does Strojan can’t get rid of his halo or the vestiges of the past. Meanwhile, in the second narrative strand Gojko is an arch villain seething in prison, awaiting the death penalty when mysterious events may somehow offer him a surprising reprieve. The third story transports us to 2026 where an art gallery curator shows a painting portraying a poignant image of a stray dog which somehow reunites the locals in a collective sense of the healing power of animals.  

Heavens Above is a lively and imaginative snapshot of the Balkans in the post communist transition period between 1993 and the near future. Classically styled and vibrantly theatrical, it’s also a gut -punching reflection on the pros and cons of organised religion and political coercion with its ethical and moral strictures, and how they impinge on real life in all its decadent glory reminding us of where we should be heading in this brave new post Covid era. The characters are all convincingly bonkers, but you can’t help but like them. Susan Joksimovic does wonders with his special effects seamlessly dovetailing the surreal into the mundane. Dragojevic certainly has a talent to amuse giving us plenty of bang for our bucks in this incendiary feature. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Around Rocha’s Table (2021) Locarno Film Festival

Dir.: Samuel Barbosa; Documentary with Paulo Rocha, Manoel de Oliveira, Isabel Ruth, Marcia Briea; Portugal 2021, 94 min.

Samuel Barbarossa makes his feature debut here as director with this enlightening biopic raising the profile of Portuguese “Cine Nova” director Paulo Rocha (1935-2012) who blazed a trail with his brand of neo-realism in the Sixties and was later known for his rigorously classical films, although sadly neither found much of an audience outside his native Portugal (unlike the more illustrious Manoel de Oliveira – who also gets a look in here with a short interview).

Rocha grew up in Oporto where his close bond with his mother appears to have affected his emotional relationships with other women. After studying Law at the behest of his father, he soon turned to filmmaking enrolling at the famous famous IDHEC (Institute des Hautes Etudes Cinematographique) in Paris, where like many directors before and since he claims to have learnt more from “watching the films of Jean Renoir and Kenzo Mizoguchi than from his academic studies”.

Rocha idealised other male artists such as Manoel de Oliveira, setting him a monument in film with “Cinema de Notre Temps: “Oliveira – L”Architecte” (1993). Another obsession was his fascination with Japan, where he lived for a while. Again, his love of the country is crystalised in a male “Super Ego”: Wenceslau Moraes (1854-1929) to whom Rocha dedicated his 1982 feature A IIha dos Amores. It took him fourteen years to finish the feature set in Japan, not filming anything for over ten years. Rocha abandoned neo-realism and melodrama for a formal, classicist aesthetic. O Desejado(1988), adapted from “Tale of Genji” by the classical author Shikibu, is set in contemporary Portugal, but very much faithful to the original text.

Like Godard (Barbosa has named the production company for his documentary Bando à Parte) Rocha taking his inspiration from newspaper articles. Isabel Ruth and Marcia Briea, who starred in many of Rocha’s features, reports that Rocha went first on location hunting, before he thought about the narrative. “The story grows whilst I visit the locations.”

DoP Jorge Quintela deftly interweaves ‘Talking Heads’ enlivened by informative clips from Rocha’s oeuvre, Barbosa offering a balanced view of the director’s contribution and whetting our appetite to discover more about Rocha’s role in Portuguese Cinema, which has been overly dominated by Manoel De Oliveira. AS 

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL

The River (2021) Locarno Film Festival 2021

Dir: Ghassan Salhab | Fantasy Drama, 101’

This distinctive existential feature from veteran arthouse filmmaker Ghassan Salhab has a stillness and a slow-burn sense of beauty that relies on sound and atmosphere to convey an enigmatic storyline that holds our attention for a while but is ultimately unsatisfying in the long run.

Essentially a two-hander, beguilingly captured in a series of elegantly framed cinematic long takes the film unfolds in the bosky autumnal settings in the Lebanese mountains where two characters appear trapped in an offscreen war zone that echoes around them as they share an enigmatic almost monosyllabic rapport punctuated by the threat of impending danger. Sudden raucous sound bites puncture the peaceful emptiness of the landscape and the river that runs through it – helicopters buzz overhead, along with occasional bomb blasts.

Clearly Hassan (Ali Suliman) and his girlfriend (Yumna Marwan) feel unsettled as they explore the rocky terrain and a palpable sense of tension gradually builds driven forward by the film’s glowering electronic soundscape, danger seems to emanate from deep underground, where some kind of atavistic force connected to the earth’s core signifies that nature is rebelling against man’s onslaught on its domain.

Yumna Marwan is a hypnotic presence and her feral magnetism captives Hassan. But rather than being put off by their impending danger, it actually fires up their ardour for each other in a physically satisfying encounter that dissipates the tension, for a while at least, as the two explore how their relationship seemed to exist long before they even met. But this encouraging idea is never really develops and the film drifts self-indulgently towards an aimless final half hour. Could The River be a metaphor for the garden of Eden corrupted by man’s onslaught on nature? Salhab leaves his story open to interpretation, but while the film all looks beguiling it doesn’t really reach a conclusion.

In his Cannes Jury Prize winning film Memoria, Apichatpong Weerasethakul takes his time to create an almost parallel universe using sound and atmosphere to convey a potent earthly force reacting to man’s hostile intervention on the earth. But his film language is far richer conveying a deep yet serenely meditative resonance with its far-reaching themes about man’s connection with nature and the spiritual world.

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | In competition | 14.00 on 5 Aug

The Odd-Job Men | Sis dies corrents (2021) Locarno Film Festival 2021

Dir: Neus Ballus | Cast: Mohamed Mellali, Oriol Cervera, Valero Escolar, Pep Sarra | Catalan, Comedy Drama, 82’

Exposing deep seated xenophobia with wry humour this comedy drama set in and around the leafy environs of Barcelona takes a fresh and light=hearted look at the world of handymen in Spain’s Cataluna.

Pep and his colleague Valero (Escolar) are put out when a new member joins their team in the shape of Moroccan electrician Mohamed (Mellali). In barely disguised irritation Valero grudgingly complains to his boss but she insists so the three get down to work amid much moaning, Valero determined not to like Moh from day one, as the story follows them through an average week. Not that Moh fares any better with his Moroccan flat mates who are equally racist, mocking the Catalan languages and resenting Moh’s keenness make a better life for himself

Being a handyman to the general public often brings with it an ancillary duty of care which is part of the job and Moh – who has an intelligent grasp of things and is doing well in his Catalan classes – is particularly understanding in this regard accepting that older people are often lonely and need to express themselves – the 100 year old health fanatic is a point in question with his savage mistrust of today’s dietary additives.

Then there’s the naughty little girls who lock the workers out of the  house where they trying to upgrade the lightening system, or the Catalan speaking photographer who needs her air–conditioner fixing, Valero using the opportunity to gauchely chat up her models while giving poor Mohamed impromptu dating tips in the process. Moh actually lucks out with the prospect of a lucrative opportunity to pose in adverts with his soulful looks and bristling pecs looking rather like Blazing Saddles’ Cleavon Little). Needless to say the portly Valero is not impressed – realising – clearly he needs to lose weight.

With its naturalistic performances this sharply observational comedy mines a rich vein of humour in consumer bleats and rants about the good old days, shoddy modern workmanship and the downsides of retirement, Pep and Valero by no means always seeing eye to eye but getting with it all the same until they fall out big time.

As the week progresses Dramatic heft comes during  a job for a psychiatrist who manages to get Valero into a full scale argument when asking about the ‘quality’ of his working relationship’ with Moh. Neus provides and entertaining and often ludicrous snapshot of multiculturalism in full swing in modern day Spain. MT

Pardo for Best Actor
Mohamed Mellali and Valero Escolar for SIS DIES CORRENTS (The Odd-Job Men) by Neus Ballús, Spain

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

 

 

 

The Sadness (2021) Locarno Film Festival

Dir.: Rob Jabbaz; Cast: Berant Zhu, Regina Lei, Tzu-Chiang Wang, Apple Chen; Taiwan, Horror, 99 min.

In his blood-strewn, scare-mongering first feature Rob Jabbaz imagines a hyper-violent-pandemic re-surging through an exhausted Taiwan as a couple try in vain to find other.

In Taipei, Kat (Lei) and Jim (Zhu) have fallen out over holiday plans to escape the first wave of viral mayhem. They desperately need time out when the Alvin virus is finally under control after a year when the effects on humans were relatively benign. But it’s election year, and the president has relaxed all precautions. The result is total chaos and the male population inexplicably lose their self control in a rampage of murder and rape.

In the tube on her way to work, Kat is accosted by a smart but infected business man (Wang) who morphs into a maniac, poking passenger Molly in the eye, Kat conveying her briskly to the NTU hospital, where the Casualty is predictably closed. Hot on their heels the business man manages to get hold of Molly while a doctor explains to Kat about a weird imbalance of the limbic system responsible for the outbreak of violence. Jim has also been assaulted by a neighbour and wonders whether he will survive the encounter without being infected.

Certainly one for horror fans, The Sadness delivers handsomely on the gore front with graphic images that leave nothing to the imagination. But cleverly Jabbaz always has a rationale at hand, suggesting that this brutality amongst the male population has just been dormant, waiting for the opportunity to erupt. A startling finale brings matters to a satisfying conclusion. Unbridled violence, then, but not of the mindless gratuitous kind. AS

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Brotherhood (2021) Locarno Film Festival

Dir: Francesco Montagner | Italy drama 97’

Brotherhood is a male-centric cinema verite portrait that sees religious and paternal dominance colliding with the present in a close-knit Bosnian rural community. Screening in the Filmmakers of the Present competition at thus year’s Locarno Film Festival, this is an impressive feature debut for documentarian Francesco Montagner .

Montagner and his DoP create a real sense of remoteness in the lush bucolic landscapes of deepest Bosnia where the family raise sheep, discuss Islam and still bitterly remember the Serbian conflict. Were it not for their mobile phones it would be difficult to believe that shepherd brothers Jabir, Usama, Useir lived in the modern day. Their traditional farmstead seems cut off from civilisation and their strict Muslim father keeps a draconian control over their lives with a regime of daily prayers. But when he is convicted of a religious crime that will take him away from the family for several years, the three brothers must take over and the family dynamic shifts dramatically with unexpected consequences.

Life carries on as normal for a while as the boys tend to their livestock, the youngest becoming increasingly difficult to handle. The world of Islam is never far away on the internet, and during the long winter evenings by the fire they discuss their faith and download live footage encouraging them to rise up against ‘the infidel’, Islam encroaching on their collective consciousness. Naturally school work and studying runs contrary to everyday life as shepherds, particularly when seeing off wolves seems more important than passing exams. But without their strict father figure to keep them under the cosh, their existence is increasingly threatened. Beautifully captured by Prokop Soucek’s sensitive camera, this is a revealing look at traditional rural life in an Islamic household, even if the ending is rather simplistic. MT

PARDO D’ORO – Cineasti del Presente LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

 

Petite Solange (2021) Locarno Film Festival

Dir: Axelle Robert | France, Drama

Petite Solange is a heart-breaking coming-of-age story that desperately wants to be liked. It’s the feature debut of writer and director Axelle Robert Set in Nantes, the feature is slow to develop, and any dramatic developments are far and few between – in spite of a heart breaking story.

Guitar shop owner Antoine (Katerine) and his wife Aurelia (Drucker), an actress, have set their sights set on new horizons after a marriage of twenty years: Antoine has fallen for his attractive assistant Gina (Astor), and Aurelia is seeing another man carefully watched over by her thirteen-year old daughter Solange (Springer), and her brooding twenty-year old brother Romain (Montana-Haroche), who gets all the parental attention.

The divorce means the kids will lose the home they grew up in, and little Solange is not even part of the decision as to where she will live. A loner by nature, does not get much help from her girlfriend Lili (Léon), or distant love-interest Arthur (Ferreira), who is more interested in getting a bargain instrument from Antoine, than in his daughter. Solange is so upset about losing her home she actually tries to commit suicide but her life is saved by cool, intellectually overbearing psychiatrist in the hospital, and she eventually goes home.

Jade Springer gives a memorable performance as Solange in whose unforgettable face and soulful eyes the cruelties of the adult world are reflected. Whilst Axelle Robert quotes Verlaine, she fails to capture the spirit of her compatriots rather maudlin poetry. Instead she ends up with a film that lacks analytical depths or emotional empathy. AS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

The Legionnaire | Il Legionario (2021) Locarno Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Hleb Papou; Cast: Germano Gentile, Maurizio Bousso, Marco Falaguasta, Sabina Guzzanti; Italy/France 2021, 82 min.

Il Legionario is a first feature for Belorussian born director/co-writer Hleb Papou who fleshes out a simplistic narrative from his award-winning Cannes short film of the same name centring on brothers Daniel and Patrick, of African parentage. Daniel is a policeman with Rome’s Riot Police, Patrick the gang-leader of a group of squatters in a building due for ‘clearance’ by Daniel’s unit.

The director’s sympathy clearly lies with Patrick (Bousso) and his cause, Daniel (Gentile) appears to be on the wrong side of the conflict. Daniel’s wife Tricia is pregnant; the fact that she is white makes Daniel’s position even more complex. The squad leader of his unit is a man called ‘Aquila’ (Falaguasta), who meets with right-wing extremists and expects Daniel to obey his orders when it comes to repossessing the block of flat from the 150 occupiers, who have been offered accommodation in Milano, which they refused. Patrick and Daniel’s mother tries in vain to reconcile the brothers, but in the end, she sides with Patrick, not wanting to leaver her own flat in the block. The fight is bloody, and Patrick threatens to throw himself from the roof. For Daniel, with ‘Aquila’ watching, there will be no more comprises.

Impressive flight scenes between the police and protestors make this a gritty action drama: Gentile’s Daniel is convincing as a man who hesitates, until it is too late. Patrick is a head banger, but still tells his son, that Daniel is one of them, acting as a spy. Passionate and visually spectacular, Papou weaves a violent tapestry, where everyone is caught up in a battle nobody can win. AS

Best Emerging Director Award of the City and Region of Locarno | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Locarno International Film Festival 2021 – selection complete

New artistic director Giona A Nazzaro unveils his first mix of films for the 74th Locarno Film Festival which runs from 4 until 14 August in its luxurious Swiss lakeside location. Locarno is known for its edgy profile and this year will be no different: Films by established auteurs: Abel Ferrara,  and Bertrand Mandico will screen alongside an inventive array of undiscovered newcomers in a selection that embraces traditional stories and more experimental avantgarde fare. 17 films from 12 countries having their world premiere in the international competition which promises, as ever, to be eclectic and daring.

Late additions to the party are world premieres: SHE WILL a Scottish-set psychological drama from Franco-British director Charlotte Colbert that centres on a mastectomy and stars Alice Krige, Rupert Everett and Malcolm McDowell, and 100 MINUTES the latest from veteran Russian director Gleb Paniflov who won the Golden Leopard in 1969 and the Golden Bear in 1987. The film’s focus is Alexandr Solzhenitzyn’s literary hero Ivan Denisov Shukhov, in a book that would win him the Nobel Prize for Literature.

 

The international competition jury comprises US filmmakers Eliza Hittmann and Kevin Jerome Everson, Italian actress Isabella Ferrari, director Philippe Lacote from Ivory Coast, and Portuguese actress Leonor Silveira.

Abel Ferrara’s espionage thriller Zeros And Ones stars Ethan Hawke as an American soldier caught up in an explosion at the Vatican. Srdjan Dragojević’s dark comedy Heavens Above explores the impact of miracles on the lives of three Serbians. Cop Secret is a sexually charged crime caper from Icelandic director Hannes Tor Halldórsson (who also plays in goal for his national football team and saved Lionel Messi’s penalty at the World Cup in 2018). Award-winning Indonesian director Edwin joins the main competition line-up with a comedy satire that sets nature against our macho world: Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash.

The festival’s Filmmakers of the Present strand welcomes a variety of international filmmakers with premieres from Philippines, Chile, Mexico, Tunisia as well as Western Europe.

The star of the show is the massive outdoor venue that is Piazza Grande – seating up to 7500 – the fun will start with Ferdinando Cito Filomarino’s Beckett, Oscar winner Stefan Ruzowitzky’s Hinterland, and US director John Swab’s crime  Ida Red, starring Melissa Leo, Frank Grillo and Josh Hartnett.

Concorso internazionale 2021

After Blue (Fr)
Dir Bertrand Mandico

Al Naher (Leb/Fr/Ger/Qat)
Dir Ghassan Salhab

Espiritu Sagrado (Sp/Fr/Tur)
Dir Chema Garcia ibarra

Gerda (Rus)
Dir Natalya Kudryashova

I Giganti (It)
Dir Bonifacio Angius

A New Old Play (HK/Fr)
Dir QIU Jiongjiong

Juju Stories (Nig/Fr)
Dirs C.J. “Fiery” Obasi, Abba T. Makama, Michael Omonua

La Place d’une Autre (Fr)
Dir Aurelia Georges

Cop Secret (Ice)
Dir Hannes Tor Halldórsson

Luzifer (Aust)
Dir Peter Brunner

Medea (Rus)
Dir Alexander Zeldovich

Heavens Above (Serb/Ger/North Mac/Slo/Cro/Mont/Bos)
Dir Srdjan Dragojević

Petite Solange (Fr)
Dir Axelle Ropert

Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (Indonesia/Sing/Ger)
Dir Edwin

The Odd-Job Men (Sp)
Dir Neus Ballus

Soul Of A Beast (Switz)
Dir Lorenz Merz

Zeros And Ones (It/Ger/USA)
Dir Abel Ferrara

Concorso Cineasti del presente 2021

Actual People (USA)
Dir Kit Zauhar

Holy Emy (Gr/Fr/USA)
Dir Araceli Lemos

Public Toilet Africa (Ghana)
Dir Kofi Ofosu-Yeboah

Brotherhood (Czech/It)
Dir Francesco Montagner

Virgin Blue (China)
Dir NIU Xiaoyu

Il Legionario (It/Fr)
Dir Hleb Papou

Whether The Weather Is Fine
Dir Carlo Francisco Manatad

L’Ete L’Eternite (Fr)
Dir Emilie Aussel

Mis Hermanos Suenan Despiertos (Chile)
Dir Claudia Huaiquimilla

Mostro (Mex)
Dir Jose Pablo Escamilla

Niemand ist bei den Kälbern (Ger)
Dir Sabrina Sarabi

Shankar’s Fairies (Ind)
Dir Irfana Majumdar

Streams (Tun/Lux/Fr)
Dir Mehdi Hmili

Wet Sand (Switz/Geo)
Dir Elene Naveriani

Zahori (Switz/Arg/Chile/Fr)
Dir Mari Alessandrini

Piazza Grande 2021

Beckett (It)
Dir Ferdinando Cito Filomarino

Free Guy (USA)
Dir Shawn Levy

Heat (USA)
Dir Michael Mann

Hinterland (Aust/Lux)
Dir Stefan Ruzowitzky

Ida Red (USA)
Dir John Swab

Monte Verita (Switz/Aust/Ger)
Dir Stefan Jager

National Lampoon’s Animal House (USA)
Dir John Landis

Respect (Canada/USA)
Dir Liesl Tommy

Rose (Fr)
Dir Aurelie Saada

Sing-Keu-Hol (Sinkhole) (South Korea)
Dir KIM Ji-hoon

The Alleys (Jor/Egy/Saudi Arabia/Qat)
Dir Bassel Ghandour

The Terminator (USA/UK)
Dir James Cameron

Vortex (Fr/Bel/Mon)
Dir Gaspar Noe

The Walking Liberty (It)
Dir Alessandro Rak

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | 4 -14 AUGUST 2021

 

 

 

Adoration (2019) Locarno 2019

Dir: Fabrice du Welz | Wri: Roman Protat, Vincent Tavier |

Begian auteur Fabrice du Welz delivers a painterly if predictable paean to first love in his latest psychological thriller that thrilled audiences at Locarno’s 72nd lakeside festival, and is now on Bfiplayer.

Adoration completes his Ardennes trio that started with The Ordeal and followed on with Alleluia. Once again the director uses a ‘folie à deux’ as the premise for a filmic fantasy that rapidly departs from reality. Based on a delusional notion of love, this warped obsession takes over the life of an innocent pubescent boy living with his therapist mother in a remote residential psychiatric hospital. Played by French actor Thomas Gioria (the award-winning star of Xavier Legrand’s Custody (2017), who at still only 14 is proving to be somewhat of a prodigy), Paul is a gentle but rather suggestible boy who relies on the local wildlife for company until he sets eyes on a pre-teen patient in the shape of Fantine Harduin’s delicately-featured but damaged Gloria.

Swept up by her feisty vulnerability, Paul is entranced and determined to get to know her. And despite warnings from the medical staff at his mother’s workplace, he sees Gloria’s desperate bid to escape from the confines of the institution as an exciting game. Once on the run with his new mate, he becomes intoxicated by her manipulative personality and feral beauty, and is determined to serve her needs and wishes even when Gloria leads him into increasingly perilous territory, both emotionally and physically.

Filming in intimate close-up, Manuel Dacosse draws us into this dizzying, dreamlike midsummer fantasy set in the bucolic backdrop of the Ardennes countryside. Our senses are aroused by sounds of bees and the heady scent of lime trees as Paul is bewitched by Gloria’s disingenuous charm and ruthlessness. Confused by his adolescent feelings, he is more than eager to follow these misguided instincts. Meanwhile, we desperately know that this amour fou will damage him forever when it all ends in tears, as it surely will.

Adoration is a fantasy. And a fantasy that slowly morphs into a convincing nightmare skimming over its many plot-holes, as the pair continue their journey into darkness, helped by a series of concerned and well-meaning adults, the authorities seemingly evading them at every turn. In her delusional madness, Gloria sees everybody as a threat, even when they offer food and shelter: the kindly widow played poignantly by Benoit Poelvoorde, and the loved-up couple on a boat (Peter Van den Begin, Charlotte Vandermeersch) whose sexual chemistry helps to ignite Paul’s burgeoning feelings of pubescent lust. And although Paul is able to appreciate their kindness, he is blinded by the power of his overwhelming feelings for Gloria who merely uses him to serve her needs –  and it’s an remarkable performance from Harduin who manages to conjure up facial expressions of pure evil for one so young. Gioria’s Paul is a fresh canvas, a pure vessel that holds only kindness and goodwill as it hurtles towards a wild, uncertain fate. MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 2019

 

Cat in the Wall (2019) Locarno

Dir: Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova | Drama | 

Award-winning Bulgarian duo Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova are no strangers to controversy. Their popular award-winning documentary Uncle Tony, Three Fools and the Secret Service was widely condemned by the authorities for exposing the corrupt totalitarian regime in their homeland.

Undeterred, they have pushed on with another potential firecracker in the shape of Cat in the Wall, this time based on real events in a Peckham council estate as experienced by a professional Bulgarian single mother trying to make it in London. This English-language sink-estate drama playfully deals with inflammatory themes such a Brexit, gentrification and the pitfalls of home-owning through the endearing tale of a wayward cat who also reserves his right to roam into pastures new.

Atanasova plays the main character Irina, an architect who has bought and renovated a council flat in a Peckham Estate where she lives with her young son Jojo (Orlin Asenov) and her brother Vlado (Angel Genov), a well-qualified historian who has turned his hand to installing Satellite dishes. Hoping to leave the corrupt post-communist set-up in Bulgaria to start a new life in Britain she soon discovers the grim reality of ‘playing the game’ in Britain.

Naturalistic performances from a cast of non-pros and experienced thesps and a refreshing script are the strengths of this light-hearted bit of social realism, piqued by dark humour. Utterly refusing to cow-tow to the usual Loachian style of Tory-bashing, this film still exposes some uncomfortable truths in a storyline that builds quite a head of steam and some set-tos that make it tense but also thoroughly grounded in reality. Unsurprisingly it never got a release in Britain.

Irina, Vlado and Jojo inject a much-needed breath of fresh air into a hackneyed scenario, where they uncover the usual set-backs to living in social housing – the urine-drenched lift is a classic example. But soon they find themselves face to face with a ginger tabby cat, and after adopting it for Jojo they are soon accused of animal theft by a neighbouring family.

As an educated immigrant who is well-placed to comment on Bulgaria and Brexit-Britain, Irina comes across as sympathetic and thoroughly likeable, eking out an existence that sees her pitching for architectural schemes while supplementing her meagre salary with bar work. Meanwhile she notices how most of her neighbours are living on generous state benefits that make finding paid work nonsensical.

“I didn’t come here to be a leech,” says the politically-savvy Irina who may well prove unpopular with diehard socialists in the audience. The recent words of Trump also echo: ‘if she doesn’t like it she can go back home”. And then there is her little son Jojo who is trying to make the best of his rather isolated existence as an immigrant child with no local friends, but who thinks he has found one in Goldie.

The directors maintain their distance, serving up all this ‘near the bone controversy’ with such a lightness of touch that it is difficult to take offence in a social satire that mostly feels even-handed. The character of Irina’s neighbour Camilla is a case in point. Played by veteran actress Camilla Godard she brings a gentleness to her part as a drug-smoking depressive who, it later emerges, bought the cat as a present for her special needs granddaughter, another example of the more hapless denizens of the estate. And while we feel for Camilla she also conveys an ambivalence that somehow cuts both ways. We can sympathise but also condemn her. Cat in the Wall is a clever and highly enjoyable drama that really shines a light on some shadowy issues in the home we now call post-Brexit ‘broken Britain’. At least we have our ‘Sovereignty’ despite losing our freedom of movement. Full marks to Irina and those pioneers like her, she will be sorely missed. MT

NOW FREE TO WATCH ON ARTEKINO | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL premiere

Overseas (2019) Locarno 2019

Dir: Yoon Sung-a | Doc, 90′

It you are bored with the daily grind of working from home in these tedious Covid times then spare a thought for Filipino domestic workers in the Far and Middle East. In this startling expose of modern slavery that brings us up to speed on the acceptable ways of serving lunch to a Singaporean lady, or cleaning a lavatory in a Dubai household, there are some shocking revelations, tears and sadness for these young women who are often 0ver-worked and badly treated by their employers. But their training instructors urge them: “Never cry in front of your boss, it’s a sign of weakness and Filipinos are not weak”.

Overseas is the sophomore documentary of South Korea’s Yoon Sung-a, and makes for compelling viewing although it often lingers too long on each repetitive scene. There has been a long tradition of employing Filipino workers and these women are often treated as members of the family throughout Europe. But Yoon concentrates on those destined for the Middle and Far East where the working conditions are considerably more harsh, and employment laws less kind. Clearly the financial incentives to work abroad are worthwhile and makes sense, despite the hardships. Working mothers in the Far East are fully accustomed to leaving their kids with members of their own family while they pursue the financial incentives available overseas in order to provide a home of their own when they finally return retire.

Some of the workers are lucky, but many are made to work long hours in poor conditions: one girl talks of sleeping on the kitchen floor and being woken at 5am to start her day; another was constantly given orders even while eating her meals. There is also talk of sexual abuse in a household in the Middle East.

Overseas resonates with Davide Maldi’s recent feature The Apprentice that examines the service industry in Italy and the ongoing attitudes of those employed in the sector, while Lila Aviles has explored the life of a hotel worker in Mexico City in her darkly amusing, award-winning film The Chambermaid (2018). Throughout the Europe domestic workers are more in demand than ever with middle class families paying to having help at home – both parents are often out working and their adult (working) offspring are still in residence. In the Far and Middle East the class system is more rigidly in place but times are changing and these domestic workers are justifiably become more dissatisfied with their lot. These girls are caught in the crosswinds of change.

Yoon adopts a quietly observational approach to demonstrate how the collective experience of these women is broadly negative – yet is at pains to show that they are individuals rather than just a collective mass known for their placid and obedient nature. MT

NOW ON VOD PLATFORMS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | COMPETITION | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

Bird Island (2019) ***

Dirs: Maya Kosa, Sergio Costa | Doc, 60′

The healing power of nature offers therapy for a young man recovering from cancer in this quietly fascinating second feature by Maya Kosa and Sergio Costa.

Antonin (played by an actor) has retreated to Bird Island’s Ornithological Rehabilitation Centre in Genthod in Geneva where he gradually recuperates by helping injured birds to get back on their own feet before being released into the wild. The docudrama shows how rats bred to feed the birds of prey ironically become predators themselves when several escape into the aviary injuring their feathered friends who are then put down.

A series of slow static camera shots taken from a distance and in intimate close-up combine with a subtle palette of earthy greens and blues and an ambient soundscape make this restful and calming film despite its leisurely pacing. This is also the affect it has on Antonin himself who drifts into a comatose state while watching Paul go about his business which involves killing a rat. At one point Antonin actually falls asleep on one of the work counters, in another he literally falls like a felled tree when walking across a field.

Some scenes may upset those uncomfortable with dissection and animal euthanasia (we watch a bird slowly succumbing to chemical death) and this lends a unsettling touch to this increasingly surreal documentary that drifts into the realms of soulful philosophy in considering our own fragility as humans beings in the context of these delicate yet highly evolved and intelligent creatures. MT

NOW ON VOD | Premier FID MARSEILLE 2020

 

 

Wonders in the Suburbs | Merveilles a Montfermeil (2019) **

Wri/Dir: Jeanne Balibar | Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Beart, Ramzy Bedia, Bulle Ogier | Comedy | France, 109′

Seasoned actress turned Jean Balibar first satirised France in Par Example, Electre, starring and directing alongside Pierre Leon. Six years later her stylish but structureless solo attempt at anarchic comedy is far from wonderful but certainly colourful. Shot on location in the Parisian suburbs of Seine St. Denis and Montfermeil, it features over seventy locals and a star-studded cast, but sinks under the weight of conflicting ideas.

Kamel Mrabti (Bedia) and his wife Joëlle (Balibar) are a divorcing couple at the centre of the unfolding political farce. As active members of a new task force they are working to revitalise the locale with some exciting ideas, and although their marriage is over and new lovers have already entered the fray, the two must support their latest mayor Emmanuelle Joly (a fine Beart) in implementing a set of initiatives that include the new Montfermeil International School of Languages with the teaching 62 local languages; the ‘slowing of urban rhythms’; the introduction of a ‘Nap programme’; and social support for sexual satisfaction.

Marijuana is not only legalised under this new regime, it’s actually provided by the council, along with fresh vegetables. Naturally this is all very New Age and exciting. But behind the scenes chaos rules: the Mayor is losing it slowly, undermined but a more senior government official, and Kamel is suspected of being in league with Paris – the big enemy of devolution. Meanwhile, Joly’s secretary is learning Mandinka to keep up with her Malian lover, and the Army is lurking in the woods nearby, ready to strike.

DoP Andre Chemotoff’s visuals vamp up the histrionic mayhem in a production that looks slick and very professional. And although Amalric, Beart and Balibar shine in the leading roles they can’t rescue Balibar’s rather flawed script: breaking eggs on a sculpture of President Macon is, like the whole affair, not particularly original or impressive. MT

NOW ON MUBI | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 7-17 AUGUST 2019   

 

Horse Money (2014) |Best Director | Locarno 2014 | Bluray Release

Dir/Wri: Pedro Costa | Cast: Ventura, Vitalina Varela, Tito Furtado
Portugal Drama 104mins

Drenched in profoundly mannered grief, Pedro Costa’s tortuously paced HORSE MONEY (CAVALO DINHEIRO) is a magnificent monument and/or an egregious folly, demonstrating the Portuguese director’s expertise in arresting compositions as well as the decidedly acquired taste of his opaque minimalism. Starring Costa’s regular protagonist Ventura, a charismatically stalwart, mononymic Cape Verdian, the film won Best Director at LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL’s 67th edition and is now playing in the Journey Through History strand at this year’s celebration (viewable online via MUBI).

Though German Expressionism might be an unlikely source of inspiration for Costa, there’s more than a touch of Robert Weine’s THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919) about his latest feature, which before anything else seems to entrap its listless characters in harsh quadrants of chiaroscuro lighting, with ominously shadowy depths encroaching from the extreme edges of frame. Cinematographer Leonardo Simões employs wide-angled lenses and canting horizons to distort the film’s claustrophobic interiors into a nightmarish grid of dilapidating geometry. It’s as if the very axes of the earth shifted a long time ago—and people are only now adjusting.

Also like CALIGARI, HORSE MONEY is set for large portions of its narrative in a medical centre, unfolding as a succession of dreamily purgatorial fragments that suggest a kind of hallucinatory hotchpotch of somnambulant trauma. Ventura is one of only a few patients left at this half-abandoned outpost, being treated for a nervous disease after being badly beaten by soldiers sent in to displace him and others from the Cape Verde settlement of Fontainhas decades previously (forgoing traditional drama, Costa presumably assumes his audience is familiar with the real-life history so obliquely referenced here). Claiming he’s 19 years and 3 months old, Ventura may or may not be a reliable narrator: one consequence of state violence is, apparently, the aggressive onset of senility—which of course benefits a state eager to bury its colonial guilt.

Our visibly shaken hero is visited by ghosts from rosier pasts. This circle of displaced pals posthumously places its trust in Ventura to unshackle memories and preserve the truth. Chief among such friends is Vitalina, a benumbed widow who speaks only in a monotonously stately whisper—as if wary of disturbing sleeping dogs from their slumber. In a concluding sequence, Ventura is confronted by long-suppressed horrors in an elevator—a space he shares with a street performer-like ‘human statue’ dressed as a soldier from the Revolutionary Army. Large parts of this scene arrive intact from ‘Sweet Exorcism’, Costa’s largely insufferable contribution to the typically uneven portmanteau project CENTRO HISTORICO (2012). At least on this occasion we’re given a little more context.

Like the elevator itself, the film as a whole seems reluctant to move forward: though Ventura is eventually discharged from the facility, his mental wounds don’t appear to be healed. In fact, stasis is one of the film’s visual strengths: it opens stunningly, with a series of Jacob Riis photographs. Hereafter, Costa repeatedly shows himself as a potential master of still photography, having his performers pose motionless within absorbingly framed scenarios. Moments such as that in which Ventura walks along a road in his red underpants only to be stopped at a crossroads by armed soldiers and a tank, for example, have such a potency and urgency about them that one can’t help but wonder if the director’s thematic aims would be better served by a stills exhibition.

Until then, we’ll endure these glacial temporalities the Lisboan dares to impose upon us. In passing, we’ll merely note that challenging, politicised cinema doesn’t need to be a challenge to sit through. But at least this pertains to somebody’s idea of a worthwhile artistic experience—which, for any artist wanting to do things her or his own way, is sometimes enough. MICHAEL PATTISON

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | A JOURNEY Reviewed at LOCARNO

 

 

Metropolitan (1990) **** Locarno Film Festival 2020

Dir: Whit Stilman | US Drama 98′

Whit Stilman’s first stab at social satire feels very dated to the modern gaze, yet thirty years ago it much have been ground-breaking with its acerbic insightfulness and lowkey wit the American director making some valid points about class; the workplace and feminism in a preppie Manhattan of the at turn of the 1990s that are still hold true today and Metropolitan set the tone for his brilliant career as a comedy satirist that still continues today with his finely-tooled scriptwriting.

Cinematically uninviting this modern day take on F Scott Fitzgerald takes place in upmarket apartments belonging to a coterie of upper class Manhattanites (the “urban haute bourgeoisie” party circuit).. And it was a masterly debut -convincingly characterised, well-paced and gracefully performed by a cast of new-comers who manage a mannered style with aplomb. He has honed his talent for wit and repartee in the films he has made subsequently: Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco, Damsels in Distress and (particularly) Love & Friendship so let’s hope his upcoming outing Dancing Mood continues the trend.

Metropolitan revolves around timid debutante Audrey (Carolyn Farina) and her love interest falls Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) – who isn’t quite up to her social standing – although she falls for him and their romance provides the dramatic heft of what is essentially a polite chamber piece and won Stilman the Silver Leopard at LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 1990. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | A JOURNEY IN HISTORY

Krabi 2562 (2019) *** Bfi Player

Dir: Ben Rivers, Anocha Suwichakornpong | Experimental, Drama | UK 97 minutes

Krabi is not just an exotic beach location in Thailand where you can ‘get a massage”, as a one banal Western couple found out. In this offbeat cinema vérité experiment Ben Rivers joins fellow director Anocha Suwichakornpong to explore the landscape and stories within the wider community of this well-known beauty spot rich in Mangrove forests, limestone cliffs and offshore islands. 

The meditative often mysterious drama works chronologically, ethnologically and socially, the atmospheric use of sound – whether ambient or man-made – captures and distils the often eerie enigmatic essence of the place in a specific moment in time where the pre-historic, the recent past and the contemporary world collide. Tonally, Rivers conjures up that same resonant serenity and offbeat humour often associated with the Far East in a story that feels very much like that of Hong Sang-soo’s humorous In Another Country (2012). 

A Thai filmmaker arrives in the area to research locations. She is escorted by a guide offering insight into local folklore and a chance to discover the area’s more undiscovered corners: remote caves where they come across a wild-haired shaman in a loin-cloth, stoking his glowing campfire. Bizarrely, a film shoot is also taking place nearby jolting us back into reality as the scantily clad actor clocks the shaman, Rivers contrasts this with her trip to the highly commercialised shopping area where every type of cuisine is on offer. Deep in the lush rainforest we meet an octogenarian who has lived his entire life in a wooden house. The farmstead is also home to a humpback pig and cockerels. The news that Krabi has a Biennale of its own plays out against the background of gently flowing water as a group of rowers glides by gigantic cliffs. Another black and white scene features enormous shells and skeletons in a depths of a coastal cave giving the piece at atavistic twist.

It soon turns out that the location scouting filmmaker is researching the town’s cinema that has been shut since 1981; a banner announcing the latest releases “Comming soon!” – is a dusty testament to a cinematic past where screenings ran for 24 hours a day, and were packed full. But her presence seems to be a concern only to the local police, as bats and flocks of birds flit past the ghostlike temples of spiritualism and commerce, and dusk falls in this dreamy backwater. Langourously the strands come together to exert an unsettling pull over us as we muse over this fascinating but rather enigmatic trail of events. Intriguing nonetheless. MT

BFI PLAYER from 20 JULY 2020 | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 |  7 -17 AUGUST 2019

The Girl with the Bracelet (2019) **** Curzon World

Dir/Wri:Cast: Stéphane Demoustier | Cast: Melissa Guers, Roschdy Zem, Anaïs Demoustier, Chiara Mastroianni, Annie Mercier, Pascal-Pierre Garbarini

Wilful nonchalance comes across as evil in this sophisticated social thriller from Stephane Demoustier based on the script of Acusada by G. Tobal and U. Porra Guardiola and set in the Britanny town of Nantes. 

Thee chilling story of modern teenagehood plays out in the stylish family home of Lise Bataille (Guers) – accused of murdering her best friend Flora Dufour – and in courtroom scenes where an intense battle plays out during the murder trial. This is probing stuff and you really have to concentrate hard on the subtitles if you don’t speak fluent French.

16 year old Lisa lives with her parents (Chiara Mastroianni and Roschdy Zem) and has been forced to wear an electronic ankle monitor after the fateful night she spent at Flora’s house. Flora was found savagely stabbed to death around midday the following morning. Lise is the main suspect and the only genetic print on Flora’s body has been traced back her. It also emerges through Lise’s frank confession, that the two purportedly slept together naked in Flora’s single bed, Lise giving her friend oral sex before they fell asleep intoxicated from an evening of drinking during which Lisa had also sucked off a boy called Nathan, an incident filmed on a mobile ‘phone, and produced in court.

This is a psychological thriller that focuses on how the witness comes across, rather than the forensic evidence of the murder. The reaction of Lise’s family, friends and those in the courtroom comes under the spotlight but her parent’s seemingly fraught relationship fails to be fleshed out, leaving us in doubt about their exact feelings for one another, or indeed if they are still together and there is no backstory to inform the aftermath of these crucial details. Meanwhile, Lise appears poker-faced and indifferent throughout, sometimes even given a unsettling stare. It’s a mesmerising performance from newcomer Guers. Both her parents express their surprise at the change in her behaviour, both stating that prior to the tragedy she was an open, pleasant and easygoing daughter. Now they start to questions her motives, as well as her innocence.

The Girl With a Bracelet puts the audience in the role of judge and jury as the rest of the courtroom tends to fade into the background. Anais Demoustier (the director’s sister) is powerful as the prosecuting barrister, and Annie Mercier is also convincing as the experienced defence counsel. But Lise’s supreme confidence and aplomb generates considerable tension for all concerned as we start to question if she’s playing us all along as a killer with no remorse, or really is a complete innocent. When this whodunnit from the court room drama genre, the crucial difference here is attitude rather than evidence. And here we are left pondering how we would anticipate a close family member to react when accused of murder, and whether we’d judge them for their behaviour in court, or give them the justice they deserved. The final scenes reveals all. MT

NOW ON CURZON WORLD | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2020

 

 

Locarno Film Festival 2020 | Films After Tomorrow

Artistic Director Lilli Hinstin and the Locarno Festival selection film committee today released a shortlist of twenty full length features that will receive support for their teams who were forced to stop working due to Covid. The lucky winners will receive finance going forward.

The eclectic line-up mixes leading artists on the festival circuit, as well as emerging talents, and includes award-winning directors such as Lucrecia Martel/Zama, Lav Dias/The Woman Who Left, Miguel Gomes/Arabian Nights and Lisandro Alonso/Jauja . And their films will be judged on 15 August by a panel of filmmakers to be announced in early July 2020. As usual the edgy, pioneering spirit which has always been the hallmarks of Locarno is alive and kicking in all of these projects.

Chocobar by Lucrecia Martel – Argentina/USA/The Netherlands

Cidade;Campo by Juliana Rojas – Brazil –

De Humani Corporis Fabrica (The Fabric of the Human Body) Verena Paravel/Lucien Castaing-Taylor – France/USA

Eureka by Lisandro Alonso – France/Germany/Portugal/Mexico/Argentina – Produced by: Luxbox: Fiorella Moretti and Hédi Zardi, Komplizen, Rosa Filmes, Mr. Woo, 4L

Human Flowers of Flesh by Helena Wittmann – Germany/France

I Come From Ikotun by WANG Bing – France/China

Kapag Wala Nang Mga Alon (When The Waves Are Gone) by Lav Diaz

Nowhere Near by Miko Revereza – Philippines/Mexico/USA

Petite Solange (Little Solange) by Axelle Ropert – France

Selvajaria (Savagery) by Miguel Gomes – Portugal/France/Brazil/China/Greece

These are the 10 projects from Switzerland:

Azor by Andreas Fontana – Switzerland/Argentina/France

Ein Stück Himmel (A Piece of Sky) by Michael Koch

Far West by Pierre-François Sauter

A Flower in the Mouth by Eric Baudelaire

L’Afrique des femmes by Mohammed Soudani

Les Histoires d’amour de Liv S. by Anna Luif – Switzerland

LUX by Raphaël Dubach and Mateo Ybarra – Switzerland

Olga by Elie Grappe – Switzerland/France

Unrueh (Unrest) by Cyril Schäublin – Switzerland

Zahorí by Marí Alessandrini

FILMS AFTER TOMORROW | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2020

John Waters | Birthday Tribute

John Waters was born in 1946 into a well-to-do Catholic family in Baltimore where he was educated privately. But his life’s work was to be far from ‘ordinary’.  Nowadays he enjoys cult status in a flourishing 50 year film career that attracts more and more attention, although his last film was made over ten years ago. A Dirty Shame (2004) was not altogether a critical success and was almost a failure at the box-office. Clearly his unusual, offbeat persona attracts his growing fanbase – cineastes who enjoy his ability to shock, appall and repulse. He famously once said “you have to do work that doesn’t just appeal to your mother”. So even his mother must be special. 

From an early early age Waters was obsessed with violence and gore and formed deep attachments to a group of friends who would play the characters in his filmic fantasies. The most enduring of these was Glenn Milstead, later known as Divine, who also became his muse, appearing most famously in Multiple Maniacs, and gaining the nickname Prince of Puke. He started directing before he was 20 years old, making Hag in a Black Leather Jacket (1964) and Roman Candles (1966), two short films that also marked the beginning of his partnership with Milstead, who first starred in Mondo Trasho (1969). His breakthrough came in 1972 with Pink Flamingos, a trash manifesto that defined his style, followed by Female Trouble (1974) and Desperate Living (1977). He achieved mainstream success in 1988 with Hairspray, his last collaboration with Divine, who died shortly after filming. He subsequently directed Johnny Depp in Cry-Baby (1990) and made Serial Mom (1994), a blend of his original provocative vision and the genre of political satire. After various stints as an actor, he returned behind the camera with Pecker (1998) and Cecil B. Demented (2000), the latter staring Melanie Griffith and Maggie Gyllenhaal. A Dirty Shame was yet another confirmation of his interest in defying traditional values.

So he provokes and disgusts and doesn’t seem to give a damn, and that’s probably while he is also so popular, particularly as his oeuvre is so difficult to access on DVD, Blu-ray or VOD, and this is clearly one of its biggest draws, human nature being what it is..

In recognition of his edgy, subversiveness and creative eclecticism LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 72nd edition is this year awarding his a PARDO D’ONORE, a retrospective that promises to be ‘irreverent, awkward, desecrating, and irresistible’. The American director, screenwriter and actor will be the star of the screenings of A Dirty Shame and Female Trouble, and the audience will be able to literally smell his films: Polyester will be shown in Odorama – one of the first “olfactory cinema” experiences – exactly as it was in 1981, with scratch cards handed out to viewers before the screening. The audience will have the opportunity to discuss these elements during the customary chat with the filmmaker at Spazio Forum, which is scheduled for the last day of the Festival, August 17. 

John Waters selected King Vidor’s Show People (1928) to open Locarno72 last year, with music by Philippe Béran’s Orchestra della Svizzera italiana. Says Waters: “Any movie that pokes fun at Hollywood, that mocks Gloria Swanson’s first films, that features Marion Davies (the most famous “official mistress” in history), that is directed by King Vidor (I’m especially fond of Beyond the Forest and Stella Dallas), that has cameos by Louella Parsons, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, cannot be altogether bad. In fact, it sounds perfect to me.”

John Waters | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 7-17 AUGUST 2019

Vitalina Varega (2019) Golden Leopard Winner Locarno

Dir: Pedro Costa | Cast: Vitalina Varela, Ventura, Manuel Tavares Almeida, Marina Alves Domingues, Francisco Brito, Imidio Monteiro | Portugal 124′

Portuguese director won Best Director in Locarno five years ago with Horse Money. He makes his return with Vitalina Varela a dour and enigmatic portrait of grief that has a certain resonance with his previous Golden Lion winner.

Not helped by a fractured narrative the drama drifts around but certainly looks impressive in Leonardo Simoes’ striking Tourneur-esque chiaroscuro cinematography that enriches the mostly nocturnal setting in a Lisbon backwater. The morose foreground activity of its intense and self-assured heroine (played by Vitalina Varela herself) plays out against a reassuring lowkey background hum of voices and music. It soon emerges that Varela originally fetched up in the capital from the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde Islands after her husband had left her many years previously to return to Lisbon, dying shortly after her arrival in Portugal. But the mystery surrounding her current existence is shrouded in more enigma – she very much embodies the Fado tradition – finding it hard to adapt to her reduced circumstances in Lisbon,, and she clearly regrets leaving. But eventually Varela finds meagre solace in another lost character, a lapsed Christian played by Ventura. Varela holds her own as a series of desultory characters occasionally enter the fray in this spectacular Demi-monde. MT

NOW ON RELEASE | WINNER OF THE GOLDEN LEOPARD and Best Actress Award for  Vitalina Varela| LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL

 

 

 

 

 

By the Grace of God (2019)

Dir/Wri: Francois Ozon | Cast: Melvil Poupaud, Denis Menochet, Swann Arlaud, Eric Caravaca, François Marthouret, Aurelie Petit, Amelie Daure, Bernard Verley | Drama, France 137′

François Ozon is known for his satirical wit and his relaxed views on sexuality. His Grand Jury Silver Bear winner By the Grace of God takes on the theme of abuse in the Catholic church and its affects on three men. But no matter how hard-hitting their experiences may be there is always a flinty glint of Ozon’s brand of dry humour peeping though to light the dark clouds of its heroes’ despair.

Grâce à Dieu is based on the real case of Father Bernard Preynat who in 2016 was charged with sexually assaulting around 70 boys in Lyon, François Ozon portrays the victims as mature men but reveals the lifelong wounds they have sustained. At the same time, the film criticises the church’s silence on paedophilia and asks about its complicity. As of January 2019, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin is standing trial for ‘non-denunciation of sexual aggression’.

Ozon casts three actors at the top of their game to play the trio: Melvil Poupaud is Alexandre a wealthy Lyonnais banker who has found success with his wife Marie (Petit) and five kids. He appears to be the one least damaged by the Preyan but when it emerges the priest is still working with kids, Alexandre decides to risk jeopardising his own settled existence and blow the whistle. His parents never gave credence to his feeling back in the day, and are still making light of them, but he goes ahead with a difficult confession to the Catholic authorities. It then turns out that happily married François is the next victim, and Dénis Menochet is less cautious about his confessions, bringing his explosive emotional potential to the part. Perhaps the worst affected is Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud) who claims his whole life has been traumatised by what happened, making it difficult for him to deal parent’s divorce and destroying his ability to connect emotionally with women, and this is played out in some incendiary scenes with his partner (Daure). Gradually others join the cause and we learn how each is struggling with their private demons while creating the self-help organisation ‘La Parole Libérée’ (The Liberated Word) is just the first step.

Some of the confessions are explicit and we’re never quite sure how far Ozon tipping the balance between salaciousness and pure honesty. This is also noticeable with reference to Lyon’s gourmet traditions and fine wine and there are frequent allusions to food which is considered as important as upsetting matter in hand when the men meet up, often leading to amusing non-sequiturs: (“anymore quiche anyone”?).

The magnificent Basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière dominates the impressive opening scene as the Cardinal Barbarin hoists a golden cross over the city, almost as a blessing for what is to come in this meaty, affecting and enjoyable saga that richly chronicles a true story whose implications and repercussions are still unfolding in the present. MT

LOCARNO PIAZZA GRANDE 2019

Cat in the Wall (2019) **** Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir: Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova | Drama | 

Award-winning Bulgarian duo Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova are no strangers to controversy. Their popular award-winning documentary Uncle Tony, Three Fools and the Secret Service was widely condemned by the authorities for exposing the corrupt totalitarian regime in their homeland.

Undeterred, they have pushed on with another potential firecracker in the shape of Cat in the Wall, based on real events in a Peckham council estate as experienced by a professional Bulgarian single mother trying to make it in London. This English-language sink-estate drama playfully deals with inflammatory themes such a Brexit, gentrification and the pitfalls of home-owning through the endearing tale of a wayward cat who also reserves his right to roam into pastures new.

Irina Atanasova plays the main character Irina, an architect who has bought and renovated a council flat in a Peckham Estate where she lives with her young son Jojo (Orlin Asenov) and her brother Vlado (Angel Genov) a well-qualified historian who has turned his hand to installing Satellite dishes. Hoping to leave  the corrupt post communist set-up in Bulgaria to start a new life in Britain she soon discovers the grim reality of Britain.

Naturalistic performances from a cast of non-pros and experienced thespians and a refreshing script are the strengths of this light-hearted bit of social realism, piqued by dark humour. Utterly refusing to cow-tow to the usual Loachian style of Tory-bashing this film still exposes some uncomfortable truths in a storyline that builds quite a head of steam and some set-tos that make it tense but also thoroughly grounded in reality.

Irina, Vlado and Jojo inject a much-needed breath of fresh air into a hackneyed scenario, where they uncover the usual set-backs to living social housing – the urine-drenched lift is a classic example. But soon they find themselves face to face with a ginger tabby cat, but altering adopting for Jojo they are soon accused of animal theft by a neighbouring family.

As an educated immigrant who is well placed to comment on the Bulgaria and Brexit-Britain, Irina comes across as a sympathetic and thoroughly likeable, eking out an existence that sees her pitching for architectural schemes while supplementing her meagre salary with bar work. Meanwhile she notices how most of her neighbours are living on generous state benefits that make finding paid work nonsensical.

“I didn’t come here to be a leech,” says the politically-savvy Irina who may well prove unpopular with diehard socialists in the audience. The recent words of Trump also echo: ‘if she doesn’t like it she can go back home”. And then there is her little son Jojo who is trying to make the best of his rather isolated existence as an immigrant child with no local friends, who thinks he has found one in Goldie.

The directors maintain their distance, serving up all this near the bone controversy with such a lightness of touch that it is difficult to take offence in a social satire that mostly feels even-handed. The character of Irina’s neighbour Camilla is a case in point. Played by veteran actress Camilla Godard she brings a gentleness to her part as a drug-smoking depressive who, it later emerges, bought the cat as a present for her special needs granddaughter, another example of the more hapless denizens of the estate. And while we feel for Camilla she also conveys an ambivalence that somehow cuts both ways. We can sympathise but also condemn her. Cat in the Wall is a clever and highly enjoyable drama that really shines a light on some shadowy issues in the home we call ‘broken Britain’ . MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

Adoration (2019) **** Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir: Fabrice du Welz | Wri: Roman Protat, Vincent Tavier |

Begian auteur Fabrice du Welz delivers a painterly if predictable paean to first love in his latest psychological thriller that screens out of competition at Locarno’s 72nd lakeside festival.

Adoration completes his Ardennes trio that started with The Ordeal and followed on with Alleluia. Once again the director uses a ‘folie à deux’ as the premise for a filmic fantasy that rapidly departs from reality  based on a delusional notion of love as a warped obsession taking over the life of an innocent pubescent boy, who lives with his therapist mother in a remote residential psychiatric hospital. Played by French actor Thomas Gioria, the award-winning star of Xavier Legrand’s Custody (2017), who at still only 14 is proving to be somewhat of a prodigy, Paul is a gentle but rather suggestible boy who relies on the local wildlife for company until he sets eyes on a pre-teen patient in the shape of Fantine Harduin’s delicately-featured but damaged Gloria.

Swept up by her feisty vulnerability, Paul is entranced and determined to get to know her. And despite warnings from the medical staff and his possessive mother, he sees Gloria’s desperate bid to escape from the confines of the institution as an exciting game. Once on the run with his new mate, he becomes intoxicated by her manipulative personality and feral beauty, and is determined to serve her needs and wishes even when Gloria leads him into increasingly perilous territory, both emotionally and physically.

Filming in intimate close-up, Manuel Dacosse draws us into this dizzying, dreamlike midsummer fantasy set in the bucolic backdrop of the Ardennes countryside. Our senses feel aroused by sounds of bees, and and the heady scent of lime trees as Paul is bewitched by Gloria’s disingenuous charm and ruthlessness. Confused by his adolescent feelings, he is more than eager to follow these misguided instincts. Meanwhile, we desperately know that this amour fou will damage him forever when it all ends in tears, as it surely will.

Adoration is a fantasy. And a fantasy that slowly morphs into a nightmare skimming over its many plot-holes, as the pair continue their journey into darkness, helped by a series of concerned and well-meaning adults, the authorities seemingly evading them at every turn. In her delusional madness, Gloria sees everybody as a threat, even when they offer food and shelter: the kindly widow played poignantly by Benoit Poelvoorde, and the loved-up couple on a boat (Peter Van den Begin, Charlotte Vandermeersch) whose sexual chemistry helps to ignite Paul’s burgeoning feelings of pubescent lust. And although Paul is able to appreciate their kindness, he is blinded by the power of his misplaced feelings for Gloria who merely uses him to serve her needs –  and it’s an remarkable performance from Harduin who manages to conjure up facial expressions of pure evil for one so young. Gioria’s Paul is an fresh canvas, a pure vessel that holds only kindness and goodwill as it hurtles towards a wild, uncertain fate. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

 

The Science of Fictions (2019) Locarno Film Festival 2019

Indonesia, Malaysia, France  ·  2019  ·  DCP  ·  Colour and Black and White  ·  106′  ·  o.v. Indonesian

Yosep Anggi Noen (Solitude) marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, with a curious re-imagined fable that translocates the landmark event to Indonesia.

But this strange tale has a broader context in the scheme of things, reflecting on social injustice and corruption not just in his homeland but everywhere else where truth is clouded in ‘fake news’ and people disappearing from the face of the earth during sinister political regimes.

Noen’s  adventurous premise plays out through the story of a man called Siman who  inadvertently witnesses a foreign film crew shooting a fake moon landing in a sandy farming backwater. The authorities quickly step in and Simon’s tongue is removed to prevent him spilling the beans. What’s worse, his neighbours pour scorn on his desperate attempt to broadcast his experience – by walking in slow-motion wearing a handmade space suit – and consign him to the loony-bin, turning him into a modern day village idiot.

But the poor man’s brush with reality haunts him. And although fake news is very a much a buzz word at the moment, it is by no means a new phenomenon – the massaging of fact has been going on for decades, not only but especially in Indonesia where the bloody coup of 1965 was completely buried from the media. Conversely, there are still conspiracy theories floating around claiming that the Moon landings were actually faked by NASA with the help of Stanley Kubrick (his 2001, a Space Odyssey proved he had the lenses and technological knowhow to bring it all off), amongst other collaborators, and even more outlandishly, that the Holocaust never actually happened.

In a similar vein but more ambitious and dramatically successful is Agnieszka Holland’s recent Berlinale thriller Mr Jones that chronicles a British investigative journalist’s efforts to expose 1930s Holodomor. It does seem to prove the saying that “Let he who shouts the loudest by heard first”. And although Yosep Anggi Noen’s film doesn’t quite match up to Ms Holland’s spectacular mise on scene  it offers nevertheless a worthwhile contribution to the ‘fake news’  canon, despite its flawed finale. But you only have to go to social platforms such as twitter and facebook to realise that misinformation is more dangerous than ignorance. Just because only one person experienced reality, is doesn’t make any less real, even if that person is a simple farmer in the middle of Indonesia. MT

SPECIAL MENTION AWARD | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

 

The Nest (2019) *** Locarno Film Festival

Dir. Roberto De Feo. Italy. 2019. 107 mins

Roberto De Feo’s moody, Gothic chiller sees a mother’s obsession go to extremes with a sting in the tail not quite nasty enough to keep horror fans piqued. 

In lakeside Torino De Feo establishes the brooding scenario that has all the tropes of classic horror fare. A dank and creaky old lakeside mansion is the grim home of these morose characters that come straight out of Lovecraft or Le Fanu. In a pre-title sequence we witness the death of the father in a tragic accident that leaves his son a paraplegic, and this is where 11-year-old sickly Samuel (Alexander Korovkin) now spends his days confined to a wheelchair, his draconian mother Elena (Francesca Cavallin) ruling with a rod of iron judging by the echoing sound design. A saturnine Dr Sebastian provides medical assistance, although there’s no sign of improvement in the boy’s condition. Samuel is miserable but resigned to his fate of running the family estate, until the arrival of a flirty new maid brightens this dour existence. Denise (Ginevra Francesconi) gives him the power to stand up to his mother -not literally, or course – but things start to look up, although Elena is clearly hiding more that a few skeletons in the closet. Occasionally raising a titter from the audience with its increasingly ludicrous narrative, this genre piece will doubtless find a cosy nest in the festival circuit.  MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

Endless Night | Longa Noite (2019) Locarno Film Festival 2019

Wri/Dir: Eloy Enciso | Celsa Araujo, Misha Bies Golas, Nuria Lestegas, Suso Meilan, Manuel Pumares | Gallego | 93′ Historical Drama

Eloy Enciso embarks on an ambitious historical narrative for his third feature, a drama that journeys through three decades of Franco’s dictatorship, but in a meditative and poetic way. With Mauro Herce, the awarded cinematographer behind Mimosas (2016), Dead and Slow Ahead (2015) and Fire will Come (2019), Longo Noite has the sumptuous gravitas needed to showcase the tales of those who went through this unsettling era after the war, and also those who were prisoners in concentration camps in Galicia during the 1940s and look back on their lives and choices with inquietude, having all endured and been repressed in an authoritarian system, but who were later where able to relate their experiences. The choice of Gallego also adds a twist of authenticity – Franco was born in Galicia and gave his name to the town El Ferrol del Caudillio – the suffix having now been dropped, for obvious reasons.

Enciso has chosen a cast of non-pros in order to evoke a human insecurity of being out of their comfort this certainly comes across in their troubled faces. The woman forced on the streets to beg, the man who has made his fortune abroad and coming home to Galicia after Civil war and finding it taken over by a Fascist set-up. These are people clinging to the past and finding  comfort in nature and the certainty of the countryside; of night predictably following day; the stars following the sun. All this is is overlaid by their thoughts and meditations on a Fascist-governed Spain.

Although clearly set in a moment in time this universal endeavour also feels highly contemporary echoing the instability of the present, and resonating with political and social flux now occurring all over the world, as it swings from Communism to Fascism, Nationalism and Patriotism. Even the grounding force of nature is now under threat. A thematically rich and transcendent film that ripples out with vast implications. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | COMPETITION | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

 

Killer of Sheep (2019) **** Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir: Charles Burnett | US Drama, 80′

Charles Burnett was the daddy of African American cinema, an elder statesman who trailblazed the way forward and influenced many upcoming filmmakers shining a light on Black America and the Deep South where he was born in Mississippi in 1944.

Seven years in the making Killer of Sheep is a gentle, lyrical portrait of a working-class black family living the poverty stricken Watts area of Los Angeles, which was shot for his Masters at UCLA but somehow found its way out winning the FIPRESCI prize at Berlinale in 1981.

Now this elegantly composed film has been restored in gleaming black and white. Burnett wrote the script and acted as his own producer and DoP originally shooting on 16-mms camera himself, and splicing vignettes of family life with equally poignant ones in a sheep abattoir, where the father works in the grim task of killing sheep. And although Stan (Henry G Sanders) is happy with his loving wife (Kaycee Moore), this film is a tender reflection on how a father’s discontent with his job can slowly depress the whole family. Burnett’s daughter is enchanting in the role of their little girl. The moody score is a sublime refection of the times. In one scene she is pictured playing with her toys while innocently singing the words to Philip Bailey’s love song ‘Reasons’ (it was later covered by Earth Wind & Fire). And Burnett’s sympathy for children and animals is reflected in the poetic and peaceful pictures which are also visually striking.

There is no dramatic tension as such, rather, a playing out of various episodes in family life where friends and family also come and go in a laidback breezy way in despite the claustrophobic homes and desolate scenery. Although there is clearly unhappiness there is also a certain philosophical status quo and a pleasing nonchalance to this tale of everyday life that feels natural thanks to a cast of non-pro actors. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | BLACK LIGHT RETRO | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

Oroslan (2019) Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Matjaz Ivanisin; Cast: Bela Ropoa, Margit Gyecsek, Erzebet Ropos, Micka Ropos, Ferenc Rogan, Ilonka Braunstein; Slovenia/Czech Republic 2019, 72 min.

Writer/director Matjaz Ivanisin follows his critically acclaimed documentary Playing Men with a haunting portrait of loss in a small town Slovenia. Adapted from Zdravko Dusa’s short story ‘And That is Exactly How it Was’ Ivanism slowly pieces together the events leading up to the recent demise of a villager in a mystery that plays out like game of Poker, his life story seeping out despite the blank faces and evasiveness of his fellow townsmen.  

Ivanisin sets the scene in the slow-burning opening sequences gradually building up a picture of this tight-lipped community: in a community kitchen, meals are prepared in huge thermos flasks which are carefully put into a delivery van. A driver then drops these off at the various different houses. And slowly they are taken in – all apart from one household. Not long after a local woman knocks at the door of the house in question and her suspicions are aroused when she gets no answer. Dropping round at the pub to see what gives, she raised the alarm and several men trudge round to the house to make further enquiries.

This is a remote and close-knit village where news travels fast, and soon we see a body being removed from the house. It later emerges that Oroslan had a son and he starts to share his grief with the others revealing more information about his father’s private life with a woman called Irwanka, who could have become his stepmother. “But I made sure that they could not marry, and my father never forgave me”. More and more seeps out: his father’s alcoholism and epileptic fits.  A neighbouring woman tells the story about Oroslan passing out one day after a fit, and waking up to imagine himself in Heaven, because the woman was wearing white. Anecdotes and more snippets of information gradually seep out about his work and love life. Poignantly, an Alsatian waits outside the old man’s house waiting ruefully for his return.

Oroslan is brief but affecting despite its compact running time, certainly living up to the title of the short story: in just seventy-two minutes, a whole life is captured. Gregor Bozic’s grainy 16mm camera sketches out the intimate character of the narrative. Bold and sensitive, this is a little gem. AS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

The World Ends | O fim do Mundo (2019) **** Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir: Basil da Cunha | Crime drama | Portugal 107′

Basil da Cunha is back with a woozily haunting realist revenge drama of Lisbon low-lifes in the badass backwaters of Reboleira. What starts as a roaming review of this close-knit community made up of a cast of locals and non-actors, gradually gets under the skin of its despicable central character Spira. Recently released from a remand home with a string of crimes ‘as long as your arm’, he has gone back to the house he shares with his father’s girlfriend. The area is being bulldozed, and the locals are slowly losing their ramshackle homes in the hope of being re-housed by money from the EU. But they still desperately hold on to their old possessions (even lavatories and toasters). And once darkness falls they continue to rant and rage with each other while partying and drinking the night away.

Although da Cunha has upper his game since 2013, once again, we are back in After the Night territory, musing over the rights and wrongs of this Creole slum – the women desperately trying to keep the families together while the men have the upper hand and often resort to petty crime to make a living. And da Cunha lays the blame on government cut-backs – and they are clearly not pulling their weight as far as public services are concerned – but that does not mean people should break the law according to Spira’s flirty step-mother who is keen to keep him on the straight and narrow with her ‘crime doesn’t pay’ diatribe – but she’s gradually losing the battle. Spira sees himself as head of the household despite being only 18 and incapable of even fetching her two young children from school. To make matters worse he has no time to make an honest living, he’s too busy hanging with his friends Chandi and drug-dealing Giovani.

Gradually a sketchy plot emerges from the party-fuelled storyline: Spira’s arch rival and gang-leader Kikas is far from pleased to see him back in the ‘hood, particularly since Spira has torched his car, for no apparent reason other than boredom. So Kikas wacks him over the head with some piping demanding he pay for his misdemeanour, but Spira has other ideas. Meanwhile, he’s falling in love with another lost soul in the shape of teenage mother Lara (Lara Cristina Cardoso).

Da Cunha and his Dop Rui Xavier create alluring images amid the pitiful slums of this squalid part of Portugal’s capital city where the glittering nightscapes seem magical in contrast with the poverty. A sombre organ score often elevates this drama despite its sordid subject-matter. Even the affair between Spira and Lara resonates with a palpable chemistry. Their love is a thing of beauty, like a diamond in the dust. But despite this often mesmerising makeover, you just can’t like these people. MT

LOCARNO FIOLM FESTIVAL | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

 

 

Super Fly (1972) Amazon

DirGordon Parks Jr | Writer: Philip Fenty | CastRon O’Neal, Carl Lee, Sheila Frazier, Julius W Harris, Charles McGregor, Nate Adams, Polly Niles

An absolute peach of a film that takes you right back to ’70s New York where Gordon Parks Jr followed in the footsteps of his father Gordon (Shaft) to make one of the best of the early 1970s blaxploitation films.

His debut, a gritty cinema verite crime thriller sees the morally questionable coke-dealing snake-Jason Priest (O’Neal), who carries his supplies in a crucifix, and swings round New York in his swaggering saloon car, rocking a full length fur coat and leather trousers.

Rough editing and uneven performances from an infusion of real actors and newcomers gives this film an authenticity that really stands out as a cult classic. If you get a chance to see it on the big screen, grab it because it captures days when NY really felt edgy and dangerous. The look and lingo of the era is what makes this feel real in all its glory, along with a louche score sung and performed by Curtis Mayfield. There is one sinuous scene where Jason;s lovemaking with his girlfriend (Sheila Frazier) skilfully morphs into a street brawl between two dudish dealers.

The characters even call each other “nigger” as a term of brotherly recognition. Although the film was picketed by blacks on the grounds of its ‘glorification of drug-pushers’. Parks Jnr made only four films before being killed in a plane crash on his way to a shoot. A phenomenal film and a hundred times better than the 2018 remake – this is the real deal. And the only time you use the word “cool”.MT

ON Amazon | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | BLACK LIGHT RETROSPECTIVE

Technoboss (2019) Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir: Joao Nicolau | Miguel Lobo Antunes | Portugal/France | Drama 112mins

Joao Nicolau’s musical bittersweet tragedy could be described as the sentimental swan song of a technophobe – quite literally. It witnesses the slow death of a salesman, but this Willy Loman is defiantly not going to give up without a struggle. Luis Rovisco (Lobo Antunes) is an endearing old buffer who is nearing retirement after dedicating his life to one company. His marriage is over so a paperback book keeps him company on lonely nights on the road, when he’s not bursting into impromptu bouts of song at every opportunity.

Naturally, he suffers the usual aches and pains of late middle age. And rather like Victor Meldrew he finds technology challenging to say the least: bank codes and car-parking barriers often get the better of him. But he’s no fool when it comes to dealing with old-fashioned paperwork and his verbal dexterity and negotiating skills serve him well and could run rings around many a digital native when it comes to servicing his clients.

Newcomer Miguel Lobo Antunes throws himself into the role with gusto and is totally unselfconscious in this inventive musical hybrid – which takes a bit of getting used to, and may not appeal to everyone with its slightly 1970s look. Although the film is overlong, Nicolau’s characterisation keeps us engaged because Luis feels like a real person – he may even be someone you know. His natural joie de vivre and charisma is infectious as the story wears on, Luis embodying the ideal salesman with his positive manner. And when he meets up again with a previous flame in the shape of a rather reluctant Lucinda (Luisa Cruz), who works in one of his regular haunts romance may even be on the cards again: If he can close any sale, let’s hope it’s this one. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | COMPETITION | 7 -17 AUGUST 2019

 

Franz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask (1995) **** Locarno Film Festival | Black Light

Dir: Isaac Julien | Writers: Isaac Julien, Mark Nash | Doc, UK 70′

Franz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask is one of the most important films about Martinique and racial identity, along with Euzhan Palcy’s Rue Cases Nègres (1985). And here in Locarno 72 to present a re-master of the poetic film essay is its British film-maker Isaac Julien.

Julien co-wrote this vibrant, collage-style biopic that explores the life and work of psychoanalytic theorist Franz Fanon (1925-1961), who emerges a controversial and restless figure as remembered by those who knew him. Born in Martinique, he was educated in Paris then worked in Algeria, where he felt he could make most impact with his psychoanalysis during the 1950s. His life’s work was to support the anti-colonial struggle and those suffering from its repercussions, but he sadly died of leukaemia in his thirties before publication of his most famous book, The Wretched of the Earth, which became an indispensable study tool during 1960s.

This documentary-drama hybrid is really brought to life by British actor Colin Salmon who is rather too suave, tall and good-looking to be like the man himself, although we get the gist of Fanon’s charisma in these colourful vignettes where he appears in various dapper outfits, stoking a pose and glaring suitably. And there are the usual talking heads, mostly intellectuals, and his brother

There’s a bit of poetic licence when we see Fanon (Salmon) removing the chains from a mental patient in one of Algeria’s psychiatric hospitals where sallow-skinned, emaciated men peer out of their grim existence. No doubt this serves as a metaphor for him unburdening their souls. And this is what Fanon was all about. The bitter conflict takes up the lion’s share of the shortish feature and Julien offers up fascinating black and white archive footage of street battles during the War of Independence. The rest of the film wades through rather dense intellectual debate as to the various definitions of racism as seen by gay men, women and arch feminists – and this comes across as rather complex, and depends from which angle you approach it as to whether it makes any sense. Fanon himself married a white woman but another woman, identifying as a feminist, claims that Fanon regarded black women who were attracted to white men as, by definition, ‘victims of the slave mentality’.

Fanon had some fascinating and quite revealing ideas about the veil which he expounds by illustrating how, in Algeria, veiled women often carried guns and grenades to their male counterparts during the war, without attracting suspicion. And these women where regarded as “beyond reproach”. That certainly resonates now decades later with the war on terrorism.

Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask does reveal some important issues although some of his ideas and perhaps his untimely death precluded his exploring further and resolving some of the more complex and controversial matters he highlights, such as colonialism being made up of “visual experiences, ‘the gaze that appropriates and depersonalises”. But this is also the case with the gender debate that is still raging and is part of our experience as humans. As a gay filmmaker Julien comments on the white man’s desire for the black man’s body. But this is also true of the white (heterosexual) woman for the dark male. This is not racism but merely sexual preference. Don’t opposites attract? An engrossing and fascinating film. MT
BLACK LIGHT RETROSPECTIVE | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

7500 (2019) *** Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir: Patrick Vollrath | Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Carlo Kitzlinger | Drama 92, Germany/Austria

The last time we experienced a cockpit journey of this intensity was when Tom Hardy drove down the motorway in Steven Knight’s Locke back in 2013. This time Joseph Gordon Levitt is in the hot-seat as the co-pilot of a plane taken over by terrorists. 7500 is the feature debut of German director Patrick Vollrath whose Everything Will Be Ok was nominated for an Oscar in 2016. And although this claustrophobic 90 minute highjack rollercoaster takes off with great gusto it gradually loses momentum, eventually cruising into the doldrums, unlike the heart-thumping Locke. To make matters worse the terrorists are presented as a force for evil rather than real flesh and blood human beings, their personalities ironed out and never really explored. That said 7500 looks very polished and slick and will certainly be a popular choice for those seeking late night thrills as it comes down to land on Amazon TV – its final destination sometime in early 2020 – If it ever gets there. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | COMPETITION | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

The Apprentice | l’Apprendistato (2019) Locarno Film Festival

Dir: Davide Maldi | Doc Italy 84’

At dusk, fourteen-year-old Luca carries food into his family’s cowshed for the last time. His life in the mountains is about to come to an end: he is enrolling in catering school to learn the trade as quickly as possible.

Doing things properly will never go out of fashion, and this is particularly true when it comes to the art of serving in hotels and eating establishments. But is this kind of work still feasible in the 21st century where machines are gradually taking over. As a “a democratic republic founded on work”. Italy has always prided itself on a reputation for stratospheric standards of service. \working in the hospitality industry is a highly respectable career and serving is an art to be proud of. Hotel School has always been one of the popular options after schooldays are over.

Davide Maldi’s third feature, a docu-drama, follows a group of young apprentices at hotel school and Luca Tufano  is one of them. The young men – there are only two girls on the course – learn basic skills such as how to serve and prepare food at the table, to balance a tray, and take an order/booking over the telephone, but there is much more to learn apart from these obvious ones. The school is renowned for its strict teaching methods: students learn that the customer is king and the source of their income. The lessons on cooking, dining room etiquette, law and religion, repeated day after day, make them endlessly confront their weaknesses, insecurities and abilities. At the end of the year Luca, immaculate in his black uniform with shiny shoes, will walk into the great hall and face the first test of his new career as a waiter and future maître d’hôtel – even though his lack of people skills makes him a non-starter for this type of career. Maldi shows Maldi’s handles his subject matter with mastery and breathing dark humour into this absorbing story of the making of servants and masters. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

Echo (2019) Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir/Wri: Rúnar Rúnarsson | Drama, Iceland, 80′

Rúnarsson gained international recognition with his multi-award-winning drama Sparrows  which took the FIPRESCI prize at Gotenburg 2016. His latest feature, Echo (Berg­mál), competing here at Locarno, sees Iceland getting ready for Christmas in an unconventional and seriously un-Christmassy series of vignettes.

Some of them are distinctly grim, others just downright bizarre, as a peculiar atmosphere settles over the country and the hours of light rapidly diminish, shrouding the country in darkness. An abandoned farm is burning, an open coffin stands in the church, chicken carcasses parade through a slaughterhouse, and a drug addict stocks up at his local medical centre.

Echo juxtaposes the joyful, banal and downright weird – in other words, just a normal country preparing for the festivities through 56 unrelated scenes. From the festive: a children’s rousing Nativity play; a firework shop doing a roaring trade; to the down to earth: a bloke has some highlights done while moaning about his love life. Humour also comes into the equation: a farming couple argue bitterly while their sheep rut energetically in front them;  a political argument threatens to derail a family party. Some scenes are quietly moving: a girl dissolves in tears after finishing with her boyfriend; a woman gives birth joyfully, and a choir sings Silent Night round a towering Christmas tree resplendent with lights; Meanwhile a whimpering dog doesn’t know what to make of the fireworks, and scuttles under the settee.

Ultimately what makes Echo so enjoyable is its sheer element of surprise and contrariness: we just don’t know what’s coming next – yet each scene is beautifully shot and composed whatever the subject matter. Iceland emerges a nation like any other: with hope, fears and vulnerabilities all exposed at the often fraught Christmas season.

Producer Lilja Ósk Snorradóttir added: “Echo is artistic, bold but at the same time extremely beautiful and intertwines so many things like humour, grief and beauty. I allow myself to say that no film like this has ever been made and surely not a Christmas film.” It’s certainly true and thoroughly entertaining.

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

Prazer, Camarades!| A Pleasure Comrades! (2019) Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Jose Filipe Costa; Cast: Cecilia Rodrigues, Eduarda Rosa, Joao Azevedo, Jose Avelino, Amanda Booth; Portugal 2019, 104 min.

Director Jose Filipe Costa (Red Line) adapts Antonio Rodriguez’ play entitled ’25th April in a rural Village’ and transforms into a provocative feature, exploring how the rural population reacted to the Portuguese revolution of 1974. Often funny, but very much in a Brechtian mood, it confronts the real world with the wishful perspective of revolutionaries from home and abroad. Once again, town and country collide, as we’ve experienced in Brexit.

The protagonists from 1975 have aged considerably: we meet them travelling in a camper van (which breaks down) and by train. Mick, who came from London when he was eighteen, was one the many foreigners entering the country to live a proper revolutionary life: “I did’nt think revolution was possible in Europe, I thought, it could happen only in South America”. Others come from Berlin and France, they all are meeting in Cova da Piedale, where their Luar Cell are building a hospital for gynaecology and paediatric services.

As the outsiders gain a grasp of Portuguese, it soon becomes clear that the village males have no intention of doing any housework.  The women, who also have to milk the lambs, work in the fields and look after the children. A meeting of the group is called, where the men will have to defend their laziness. Instead they spend their time in ‘creative pursuits’, writing pornographic poems – and teasing their wives about them lacking a sense of humour. The foreign women quote Reich, the inventor of Orgastic Potency, which will ‘help to bring about World Revolution’.

On the ground, men are told to do the washing up and when they refuse, one of the women gets out the dice, and three men end up with the lowest score. Embarrassed they head for the sink.  But while the village women toil away every Saturday doing the washing by hand – the men spend their work-free weekend in the café. The Portuguese men start to blame the European women for the gentle uprising amongst their other halves. who complain “even the young boys behave like domineering tyrants.” The lack of sex-education and a repressive sex life seriously undermines the females’ quality of life. And in a play put on by the group, the men are  seen defending the dictator Caetano, who had been brought down in 1974.

Finally in November 1975, a radio broadcast announces the Portuguese state’s expulsion of all foreign revolutionaries, “because of their destabilising interference in this country’s politics”. The village men let some of their foreign counterparts stay (even though Mick has to cut his hair short). But the women will go. There is a short scene near the end when in one of the last public meetings, the mayor declares “servants do not exist any more after the revolution”.

Costa and DoP Hugo Azevedo have used close-up intimacy and theatrical effects to show the lack of real change. Patriarchal power has not diminished, and the status quo remains unchanged: it seems that the women are prepared to except things just the way they always were. And this was very much the case with Gramsci in rural areas of Southern Italy, progressive forces have had very little impact in rural Portugal. Costa’s lesson needs to be heeded – in any society – before it can claim to be liberated from feudal structures. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

Another Reality (2019) *** Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Noël Dernesch, Oliver Waldhauer; Documentary; Germany/Switzerland 2019, 96 min.

Hot on the heels of Istanbul United, a portrait of hard-core football fans in the Turkish capital, comes Another Reality: Noël Dernesch and Oliver Waldhauer have spent three years with petty criminals operating in Berlin’s underworld.

Although some are trying to break free from the cycle of compulsive violence, they could have played it differently from the get-go: as one of them confesses: I wanted to join the army, but I have no German passport. Or “I wanted to be a cop, applied for the Police Academy and was accepted. Just before the entrance examination, I committed my first offence. I phoned them, and they said ‘not so bad’. Then came GBH and armed robbery”. They all belong to one extended family, with members living in Lebanon, Palestine, the USA and Sweden. “At my brother’s wedding, there were 900 guests.” Family is the focus of their lives, even their criminal activities are tailored to the protection of their relatives – up to a point. “You don’t shoot somebody in front of their family, you don’t do that”. Striding about the wide open spaces of the now defunct Airport Tempelhof, another admits it all comes down to money, like in the real world. “You have to make ends meet. Look at the Rappers, everybody who thinks that their rapping is telling the truth, has no idea. But what really appeals to them is playing American gangsters”.

This is not a well-intentioned documentary to be shown in sociology classes. For a start the directors have got too close to their subject matter – which might be not be that surprising as they’ve all bonded over the three years of filming. The most important thing to emerge is the connection between Rap and criminality: at least two of the five started a musical career after being released from prison. And although Another Reality loses it distance, it is still a very watchable documentary, showing a parallel universe, and we are all living next to it. 

DoP Friede Clausz make good use of a handheld camera so as not to miss out on any tricks: the more bombastic the manner, the more childish the facial expressions. Women simply do not feature in this sub-society; the men suffer the usual madonna/whore complex, so women are either icons or prostitutes. Family and honour dominate, and a rather strange utopia: “It would be cooler to heal somebody from HIV, being a medic, you know, something like that. That would be much cooler.” AS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 AUGUST 2019  

Maternal | Hogar (2019) Locarno Film Festival 2019 | Special Mention

Dir: Maura Delpero | With Lidya Liberman, Agustina Malale, Isabella Cilia, Alan Rivas, Livia Fernan, Marta Lubos, Renata Palminiello | Italy, Argentina | 91′

There are so many worthwhile features coming out of South America at the moment, particularly by women filmmakers, and Maternal is just one of them making its debut here at Locarno. With a cast of newcomers and a predominantely female crew, Delpero delicately explores the importance of secure start in life, and shows how this need not necessarily come from the birth mother.

Elegantly framed and quietly moving, Maura Delpero’s female centric story revolves around a group of frustrated teenage mums Lu and Fati who live in the calm confines of a religious shelter in Buenos Aires where novice Sister Paola has recently arrived from Rome to take her final vows.

Delpero quickly establishes the contrast between the lives of the nuns and their unruly counterparts who live upstairs. While the ‘morally loose’ girls have clearly fallen on hard times, and are unable to support their kids on their own, the nuns avoid judging them but are by now means easygoing, spending their time quietly in prayer, providing a stable environment where the kids can be looked after and given a Christian start in life. Pregnant Fati tries to keep herself to herself in the room she shares with the promiscuous tattooed Lu who has clearly gone off the rails and shows little interest in her adorable little daughter Nina. The other girls are vulgar, rowdy and competitive and although they are allowed to let off steam at ‘party nights’, they often come to blows which each other, to the exasperation of the nuns.

A bond soon develops between Nina and Paola who steps into to fill the maternal vacuum left by Lu’s absence – she is more interested in sexual exploits outside the Convent and leaves one night. Nina is very much in need of love and attention and a unsettling atmosphere gradually develops as she grows more attached to Sister Paola – now ordained – who has a moral obligation to stay neutral, particularly as Lu resents the growing closeness between the nun and her daughter when she returns.

As the story reaches its stunning denouement Delpero relies less and less on dialogue eliciting convincing naturalistic performances from her largely inexperienced cast. And the final scenes play out with extraordinary serenity given the brooding tension, as once again Sister Paola is put to the test. MT

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7 -17 AUGUST 2019  | SPECIAL MENTION AWARD

Adolescentes | Adolescence (2019)

Dir.: Sebastien Lifshitz; Documentary; France 2019, 135 min.

Five years in the making Sebastien Lifshitz’ longterm observation of two unrelated teenagers from the small town of Brive-la-Gaillarde (Corrèze) is an illuminating study of human development, and through their personal stories, a snapshot of life in France between 2013 and 2018.

Emma and Anaïs come from very different backgrounds: middle-class Emma lives with working parents who are always stressed-out by the demands of their jobs, particularly her mother who hothouses her at school, pushing for top marks in a conflict that runs through the whole film. Plump Anaïs has an obese mother who tries, unsuccessfully, to make her daughter diet. With two younger siblings to look after Anaïs rarely sees her father due to his shift work. Schoolwork dominates their lives: Both teens spend most of their time worrying about exam results. The French education system has many cut-off points, like the old 11plus in the UK, forcing the kids to pass endless tests to qualify for the next stage. Emma has her eye on being in dance or theatre; Anaïs hopes to become a Kindergarten teacher.

In the summer holidays, Emma is packed off to her family’s holiday home to skate-board and enjoy the time off. But for Anaïs there is no time for play – domestic work taking the place of her studies – she has to help her mother whose health gradually deteriorates due to cancer. In January 2015, France is rocked by the killing of Charlie Hebdo journalists. Anaïs reacts in a mature way to the killings, defending ordinary Muslims, and citing the Muslim supermarket clerk who saved Jews by hiding them from the Islamist attackers. She is adamant that organised religion is to be blamed for many wars.

Meanwhile, both teenagers do well at school, passing their exams. Although she was worried about failing, Anaïs gets better marks than Emma. Both chose vocational careers, and Anaïs is interested in teaching infants, there is a warning not to get too close to the kids. She will later change course and chose geriatric care: ”having grown up a lot”. Affairs of the heart are similarly traumatic for both girls with both suffering in their first attempts at dating.

The Balaclan concert massacre in November 2015  brings shock waves through their school life once again. Emma is slacking a bit– and her mother is not pleased – Anaïs’ grandmother dies, and she is caught in the crossfire with her brother Tiimeo. Meanwhile Emma and her mother continue their slanging matches, although her acting is going well. She gravitates towards becoming a Director of Photography, or film director – driving her to despair. The reaction to Macron’s election victory in 2017 is very different in both households: Emma’s father talks about Mitterand’s victory in 1981, and the great political involvement of his generation;  Emma is less enthusiastic “As long as it is not Le Pen, it’s OK”. But there is despair in Anaïs’ household: father and daughter slumping onto the sofa claiming “It’s all for the Rich”.

With the final examinations round the corner, Anaïs mother makes a last attempt to prevent her daughter from leaving – but in vain. The results again show Anaïs getting better results than Emma, finishing with Merit. Emma only has one offer – from a university in Paris – to study film, her mother showing her disappointment in the strongest possible way. The girls meet up for a goodbye chat near the lake. Both complaining that the “Fourteen-year-olds of today seem to have slept with half the South/West coast”. They both even contemplate moving back to Brive to bring up their kids.

This personal history lesson is luminously photographed by Antoine Parouty and Paul Guilhaume, with director Lifshitz always looking over the shoulder of the main protagonists, picking up every detail and nuance in a naturalistic tour de force. Despite its lengthy running time of over nearly three hours, Adolescence is an engrossing and valuable endeavour, documenting adolescence from a female perspective, informing and entertaining in equal parts. AS

GRAND JURY PRIZE WINNER | MY FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL PREMIERE | SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE AUGUST 2019     

 

 

 

Instinct (2019) Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir: Halina Reijn | Cast: Carice van Houten, Marwan Kenzari, Betty Schuurman, Marie-Mae van Zuilen, Pieter Embrechts, Ariane Schluter, Maria Kraakman, Tamar van den Dop, Robert de Hoog, Juda Goslinga | Holland, Psychodrama 103′

In this vicious prison drama a hospital psychiatrist and a violent rapist score points off each other – but who is chasing whom? Not an original idea but a brilliant riff on sexual in a film holds you in its uncomfortable grasp and positively radiates their palpable chemistry right through to the fizzing finale. But crucially there is nothing titillating about what happens between them and many will find what happens between them difficult to watch.

In her debut the Dutch theatre actor turned director takes on a tricky theme – and it doesn’t always work out. Although we are led to believe that Nicoline has fallen for Idris (Kenzari), clearly the feelings are mutual, and the criminal has had a lifetime to hone his abusive skills, but animal attraction shoots from the hip, rather than the intellect.

It all kicks off when Nicoline (van Houten), a rather blasé prison therapist at the top of her game, arrives at the squeaky clean seaside internment centre to deal with the transitional parole of a convicted sex offender. Although she’s keen to get on with the assignment, you get the impression there is a void in her personal life: during the induction interview her gaze drifts off in the direction of a travel poster. Clearly she’s looking for something beyond her work – but what?

Sexual sparks fly when she meets her patient Idris. Maintaining a professional approach is clearly going to be difficult in the face of this potent attraction. It doesn’t help that her only bedfellow is her mother (Schurmann), who insists on sleeping with her when she stays over in the luxury flat Nicoline occupies alone. She’s a bit too touchy feely for comfort.

Idris (Kenzari) is a mercurial character, his cheeky grin belying a nasty temper. And Nicoline tunes into this and disagrees with the other staff about the merit of his impending release back into the community. In the stark and clinical rooms where the patient and doctor meet, Reijn relies on body language and atmosphere rather than dialogue to drive the intriguing narrative forward. But what little dialogue there is – crafted by writer Esther Gerritsen – works well. And Idris’ lines expertly written lines also convey the psychological buttons he is used to pushing to get the right reactions from Nicoline. Clearly he wants her, but he wants to punish her too, and his machievellian style is learned behaviour from childhood. We find out nothing of his past, or the exact nature of his crimes, Reijn focusing on the here and now in this intimately-drawn games of wits and wiles.

Kenzari has an easier role than van Houten and he plays it convincingly. For her, it’s more of a complex role, and one that requires a great deal of subtlety, yet the subtext of her emotional arc is easy to understand. She needs to internalise her feelings, yet keep them brewing under the surface, and van Houten does this with instinct. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | VARIETY PIAZZA GRANDE AWARD

 

The Fever | A Fevre (2019) Bfi player

Dir: Maya Da-Rin | Cast: Regis Myrupu, Rosa Peixoto, Johnatan Sodré, Kaisaro Jussara Brito, Edmildo Vaz Pimentel, Anunciata Teles Soares, Lourinelson Wladimir |Brazil/ France/Germany 98′ Tukano/Portuguese

Maya Da-Rin’s stunning feature debut is a beguiling exploration of cultural identity seen through the eyes of a modest indigenous Brazilian Indian torn between Manaus, the port city where he works as a security guard, and the call of the wild in the Amazon village of his birth.

We first meet 45 year old Justino – newcomer Regis Myrupu – going through the daily grind: a bus takes him in the early morning to start his first day in the new job where he is almost dwarfed by the enormous containers he will guard in the dockyard. Back home at night he joins his family in a welcoming ramshackle dwelling where they eat dinner together. Although he is now a widow, his adult daughter still lives at home and is preparing to study medicine in Brasilia.

This alluring family drama positively pulsates with the heady rhythms and ambient sounds in the vast state of Amazonas; the whirring of cicadas and exotic birdsong  – you can almost feel the sweltering heat and tropical downpours that occasionally bring relief. Da-Rin absorbs us into a gentle hypnotic way of life. A member of the indigenous Desana people, who are Christians, Justino is tough, resilient and well-versed in the ways of the forest but he must now adapt to city life, which is out of sync with nature and his upbringing. He he doesn’t complain and refuses to accept benefits offering by the company as part of his “indigenous condition”.

The sounds of the city are also different and less seductive, the clanking and jarring of metal and shrill ringing of alarms. DoP Barbara Alvarez – from the 2004 classic Whisky – again enchants us with elegant framing and a vibrant colour palette reflecting the geometric shapes of the shipyard and lush forest scenery both on the widescreen in more intimate close-up as the increasingly unsettling narrative plays out with its cultural references to Desana folklore, comparing and contrasting life in the country and town.

The tone grows more urgent when Justino develops an unexplained sweating fever but he is reluctant to investigate further, preferring to soldier on stoically. Eventually the doctor runs tests, but Justino has no faith in 21st century medicine, and the results are inconclusive anyway. Eventually Justino is drawn back to the place where he grew up, to seek the answer from the depth of the forest in this captivating, atmospheric but rather too enigmatic feature. MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER / LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | COMPETITION

 

 

 

Magari | If Only (2019) Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir: Ginevra Eklann with Alba Rohrwacher, Riccardo Scamarcio, Brett Gelman | Italy, France  ·  2019  ·  100′                                

Kids are the victims of Ginevra Eklann’s sentimental saga of divorce and disarray. Opening this year’s LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL, this breezy upbeat drama sees three siblings  desperately hoping their parents will get back together again – ‘if only’.

The family’s tensions finally come to a head during Christmas when their disorganised dad Carlo (Scamarcio) whisks them off for holidays that will end in sadness and sexual awakening. But before they go Alma (Oro De Commarque), Jean (Giustiniani) and Sebastiano (Roussel) arrive in Rome with their Russian Orthodox mother Charlotte and her new boyfriend. Carlo is one of those dads who is great fun but not one for detail. He is more interested in his latest script and in his co-writer Benedetta (Alba Rohrwacher) than taking care of his children. And while they’re on holiday – at the seaside rather than the usual family trip to the mountains – his only preoccupation is work.

The story is seen from the kids’ point of view. How they cope with being part of a broken marriage. And they soon catch on to the holiday romance under their noses. Seba is keenly aware of the sexual vibe going on between Carlo and Benedetta, but he’s also burdened with being the eldest, while the other two feel homesick for their mother but find their father fun and exciting – it’s a well known dynamic.

Carlo and Benedetta seem well-matched. She is flirty and fun, but a bad influence on the kids with her pot-smoking and stealing from the local market. Seba clearly fancies her but also disapproves – a heady mix that will see them having a bit of a sub-fling on a cheeky Sunday trip to church – while Carlo is busy writing. It’s a shame Eklann relies on the cliched dramatic trick of having Carlo’s dog disappear in a gimmick that we know will end in tragedy. Why do so many indie filmmakers do this?

Scamarcio and Rohrwacher are effortlessly the stars of this well-crafted family affair which is both light-hearted, sentimental and firmly tethered to reality. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

All Good (Alles is gut) ***

Dir: Eva Trobisch | Cast: Aenne Schwarz, Andreas Dohler, Tilo Nest, Lina Wendel | Germany |

Eva Trobisch’s All Good, is about the dark night of the soul in the aftermath to unimaginable tragedy. Something happens, we think we can deal with it, and it goes away – at least for a while – only to return with a vengeance, as grief, anger and finally depression overwhelm and repress the human spirit.

After an ordinary night out at a school reunion Janne (Aenne Schwarz) is raped by a seemingly innocuous old school friend. Martin (Hans Löw) is now a professional, corporate type who duly accompanies her back home after the party. Both are a little tipsy but the evening did not hint at romance or even mild flirtatiousness. So it’s odd that Martin, almost as an afterthought – decided to makes a move.  After a sustained attempt at seducing her, Janne finally acquiesces to Martin’s advances – the scene is well played and captures all the nuanced undertones of an unwanted encounter. In the full light of day, Janne reflects with distaste and then mild anger at Martin’s presumptuousness. But feels awkward about discussing it with her boyfriend Piet (Andreas Döhler) who’s absorbed in his own dramas.

In her feature debut, which won Best Newcomer at Locarno 2018, Trobisch uses these subtle shifts in human response to create a thoughtful and absorbing drama that kicks over the ashes of suppressed anguish with worthwhile insight and impressive command. All Good is just that, Janne fronts up well to her trauma but what lies beneath is quite a different scenario. And Janne’s  increasing and unacknowledged exasperation turns slowly to simmering rage.

At work, Janne’s new boss (Tilo Nest) is also preoccupied with his own issues, and so she goes about her work with resignation and determination not to let the episode overwhelm her as a young, intelligent and independent woman in the 21st century. But life but goes on and Janne will not give up. A surprisingly mature debut with some strong performances, especially from Aenne Schwartz in the lead. MT

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | IN COMPETITION 2018

 

 

The Guest (2018) ***

Dir.: Duccio Chiarini; Cast: Daniele Parisi, Sylvia d’Amico, Mivia Marigliano, Sergio Peirattini, Daniele Natali, Thony, Anna Bellato; Italy 2018, 93 min.

Duccio Chiarini’s portrait of Italian middle-class malaise is familiar all over Western Europe. Thirtysomethings show a depressing lack of commitment – particularly the men. What starts as a romcom rapidly dives into melancholy meditation on modern life.

We meet wannabe write and occasional substitute teacher Guido (Parisi), naked between the legs of his girl friend Chiara (d’Amico). Clearly copulation has taken place, and Guido is looking for the burst condom. After finding it, Guido votes they should go for a baby, rather than the ‘morning after’ pill – knowing full well that Chiara is opposed to the idea: ”I have to have done something with my life before having a child”. And it’s true, neither of them has a good job, despite Chiara’s two MAs, her stint as a tour guide, and Guido’s book on Calvino, which is still waiting for publication. Nothing seems to work in their relationship either: the car is broken down, but there’s no money to repair it. And Guido’s mother (Marigliano) is still buying his underwear, as Chiara points out, although he’s pushing forty. Chiara is considering a decent offer in Canada but is unsure how to broach the topic.  And this is the beginning of the end of their relationship, because Guido suspects that Chiara is seeing another man.

The focus then changes to Guido, who becomes the hero: sofa-surfing with his parents and various friends, and stalking Chiara in the meantime. His mates aren’t faring any better. Dario (Natali) has fallen in love with another woman and is about to leave girl friend Roberta (Thony), a cardiologist. “We met via Tinder”, is Dario’s lame excuse, telling Guido to have a look at Chiara’s emails. Pietro and the pregnant Lucia (Bellato), are more negative than happy about their baby, and Lucia is competing with Guido for a literary grant. This is modern life, according to Guido’s mother: “You throw away, we mend”.

Guido and his generation see relationships and careers as transient. Self-obsessed, the men in particular, fail to grow up or even learn from their mistakes. Chiarini is an insightful observer, and DoP Baris Ozbicer’s camera finds always new angles for the emotional distress of the protagonists. Overall, the feature is more entertaining than philosophical, the director too well-meaning to produce anything with sharp edges. AS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

 

Locarno 71 | Film Festival Preview

Artistic director Carlo Chatrian has unveiled his final line-up with an exciting eclectic selection of titles spanning mainstream and arthouse fare due to run at the picturesque Lake Maggiore setting from the 1st until 11th August 2018.

Piazza Grande will screen celebrated Filipino filmmaker Lino Brocka’s Maynila Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag alongside Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansmanactor, David Fincher’s Se7en and Blaze the latest film from actor turned auteur Ethan Hawke who is also to be honoured with an Excellence Award at this year’s jamboree.

There are two documentary premieres of note, screening out of competition, the first, Walking on Water (Andrey Paounov) explores the work of Bulgarian artist Christo whose Mastaba is currently gracing The Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park, the second is Etre et Avoir director Nicolas Philibert’s De Chaque Instant that looks at the life of nurses as they prepare for a lifetime of service. 

Amongst the feature debuts to world premiere is Aneesh Chaganty’s  Searching, and an animated film Ruben Grant – Collector from Slovenian artist, filmmaker and Berlinale winner Milorad Krstic, 

Hardly catching his breath since his last film Hong Sangsoo joins the International Competition line-up with Gangyun Hotel (Hotel By The River), Abbas Fahdel’s latest Yara, Radu Muntean’s follow up to One Floor Below – Alice T, Dominga Sotomayor’s Tarde Para Morir Joven, Sibel, from Turkish director duo Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti, and Britain’s Richard Billingham with his debut Ray And Liz.

Playing in the Filmmakers of the Present strand there is Siyabonga from South African directorJoshua Magor, a poetic feature showcasing the lavish landscapes of a nation riddled with poverty and crime.

This year’s Honorary Leopard is to go to Bruno Dumont who will present the world premiere of his mini-series Coincoin Et Les Z’inhumains screened on the Piazza after the award ceremony.

Retrospectives are always something to look forward to and Locarno 71 dedicates its classic spot to screwball comedy director Leo McCarey, with Carey Grant starrer The Awful Truth (1937) headlining the selection.

The Piazza Grande provides the biggest outdoor screening area in Europe and will be the setting for Vianney Lebasque’s festival opener Les Beaux Esprits and closing film I Feel Good from Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kerverne. MT

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Atomic Blond (2017)

Dir: David Leitch | Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones | Action Thriller | 115′ | US

Charlize Theron tries to save MI6 while the Berlin Wall tumbles in David Leitch’s visually arresting contribution to the espionage genre that often takes itself too seriously trumping internecine intrigue with vitriolic violence. There’s one impressive scene but you’ll have to wait until the final moments to enjoy it so the first hour or so will feel in retrospect like treading water – albeit squally Neon-lit and stormy water.

As the heroine of the piece Lorraine Broughton, the blond (and occasionally brunette) –  bruised and battered – bombshell possesses the requisite steely resolve to convince audiences of her integrity but is often forced to curb her characteristic verve – while displaying her unrivalled sex appeal in scenes where she’s not crossing keys or juggling fake passports in this action-packed affair from the director of stunt cult classic Fight Club (1999). ATOMIC BLOND is based on Antony Johnson’s comics and Theron stars alongside a sterling British cast of James McAvoy, as her sidekick; Toby Jones as her handler; and a rather underwritten Eddie Marsan as a Russian defector.

We first meet Theron’s MI6 agent freshly bruised in a bath of ice. She is in Berlin for a progress report with her local bosses (Jones and John Goodman) updating them on her work to flush out a confidential list of British spies operating on the Continent. From thence the plot withers in a thriller that can only be described as Besson (pre-Valerian) meets Bond. At the end of the day, ATOMIC BLOND is really just a vehicle for Charlize Theron in a rather sketchy narrative that relies on action and her saucy kit to drive its rather sketchy ‘plot’ forward, seducing you with stylistic technique so you won’t notice the rather slim storyline which is just a prelude so sit back and enjoy the ride to the fabulous finale. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 2-12 AUGUST 2017 | ON RELEAE NATIONWIDE 11 Aug

 

 

Locarno International Film Festival celebrates 75th Edition

The Swiss lakeside city plays host to one of the highlights of the Summer calendar, and this year Locarno International Film Festival celebrates its 75th Anniversary.

 

Famous for its outdoor screenings in Piazza Grande – the largest town square in Switzerland, seating up to 7,500 spectators – the 75th Edition of the LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL honours actor/director Matt Dillon, political filmmaker Costa-Gavras and auteuses Kelly Reichardt and Laurie Anderson with a selection of their features.

Meanwhile in this year’s highly anticipated Retrospective the luxurious red leather fauteuils of the Grand Rex are ready tomwelcome guests for the complete works of renowned director Douglas Sirk (1897-1987) who started his film career as Detlef Sierck in 1936 and went on to make over 75 films including Hollywood titles All that Heaven Allows (1955) and Written on the Wind (1956).

The festival, taking place from 3-13 August, aims to attract cutting edge contemporary talent along with more established fare. Amongst the titles in competition for the Golden Leopard this year includes Alexandr Sokurov’s Fairytale, Helena Wittmann’s Human Flowers of Flesh, Patricia Mazuy’s Bowling Saturne, Abbas Fahdel’s Tales of the Purple House and Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Matter out of Place. A host of other celebrations will also take place in the mountainside location of Ticino.

 

 

Piazza Grande

DELTA by Michele Vanucci Italy – 2022

BULLET TRAIN by David Leitch USA – 2022

COMPARTIMENT TUEURS by Costa-Gavras France – 1965

International Competition

ARIYIPPU (Declaration) by Mahesh Narayanan India – 2022

BALIQLARA XÜTBƏ (Sermon to the Fish) by Hilal Baydarov Azerbaijan/Mexico/Switzerland/United Kingdom – 2022

BOWLING SATURNE by Patricia Mazuy France/Belgium – 2022

DE NOCHE LOS GATOS SON PARDOS by Valentin Merz Switzerland – 2022

GIGI LA LEGGE by Alessandro Comodin Italy/France/Belgium – 2022

HIKAYAT ELBEIT ELORJOWANI (Tales of the Purple House) by Abbas Fahdel Lebanon/Iraq/France – 2022

HUMAN FLOWERS OF FLESH by Helena Wittmann Germany/France – 2022

IL PATAFFIO by Francesco Lagi 23 Italy/Belgium – 2022

MATTER OUT OF PLACE by Nikolaus Geyrhalter – 2022

TOMMY GUNS by Carlos Conceicao – 2022

PIAFFE by Ann Oren – 2022

RULE 34 by Julia Murat – 2022

SERVIAM – ICH WILL DIENEN by Ruth Mader – 2022

FAIRYTALE by Alexandr Sokurov – 2022

STELLA EST AMOUREUSE by Syvie Verheyde- 2022

STONE TURTLE by Ming Jin Woo – 2022

TENGO SUENOS ELECTRICOS by Valentin Maurel – 2022

 

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 3-13 AUGUST 2022

 

 

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