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Locarno Film Festival (#110 of 20)

Locarno Film Festival 2018 Ray & Liz, M, & Menocchio

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Locarno Film Festival 2018: Ray & Liz, M, & Menocchio

Locarno Film Festival

Locarno Film Festival 2018: Ray & Liz, M, & Menocchio

During my brief stint at Locarno, I managed to catch 10 of the 15 films selected for this year’s international competition. My favorite was Ray & Liz, British artist Richard Billingham’s remarkably assured autobiographical debut feature. Billingham rose to prominence as a photographer with his 1996 monograph Ray’s a Laugh, inspired by his impoverished upbringing on the outskirts of Birmingham and lauded for its unflinching portraits of his alcoholic father and sedentary, heavily tattooed mother. With this film, he reaches further into the dark recesses of his childhood to deliver a richly evocative portrait of working-class life in the British Midlands.

Locarno Film Festival 2018 Genesis, Glaubenberg, & Too Late to Die Young

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Locarno Film Festival 2018: Genesis, Glaubenberg, & Too Late to Die Young

Locarno Film Festival

Locarno Film Festival 2018: Genesis, Glaubenberg, & Too Late to Die Young

Growing pains and burgeoning sexual identity take center stage in several titles duking it out for the Pardo d’Oro, or Golden Leopard, at this year’s Locarno Film Festival. Of these, Genesis, a multi-stranded meditation on the joy and misery of adolescence by Canadian writer-director Philippe Lesage, seems most likely to find an audience beyond the festival circuit. The film focuses largely on the relationship woes of a pair of privileged step-siblings living in suburban French Canada: Guillaume (Théodore Pellerin), a preppy, quick-witted class clown at an all-boys boarding school, secretly harboring feelings for his best friend, Nicolas (Jules Roy Sicotte), and Charlotte (Noée Abita), who feels she’s outgrown her noncommittal boyfriend, Maxime (Pier-Luc Funk), and sets off looking for love in all the wrong places.

Locarno Film Festival 2017 Mrs. Fang, Mrs. Hyde, 3/4, & The Wandering Soap Opera

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Locarno Film Festival 2017: Mrs. Fang, Mrs. Hyde, 3/4, & The Wandering Soap Opera

Locarno Film Festival

Locarno Film Festival 2017: Mrs. Fang, Mrs. Hyde, 3/4, & The Wandering Soap Opera

Albert Serra’s recent The Death of Louis XIV feels like a fictional cousin to Mrs. Fang, winner of the Golden Leopard at this year’s Locarno Film Festival, as Wang Bing’s latest similarly maps out the process by which the glow of a human life is dimmed. Mrs. Fang, a sixtysomething former farmer from rural southeast China, has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for several years. Wang visits her modest family home on two separate occasions: in 2015, when she’s already unable to speak or leave her bed and her family discusses her funeral, and a year later, in the days before her death. Throughout these visits, Wang employs his by-now familiar mode of calm, unadorned observation, moving smoothly between the conversations conducted around Mrs. Fang’s bed, forays outside the cramped home to follow discussions on the street and villagers on fishing trips, and tight close-ups of Mrs. Fang’s face on the pillow—the latter of which suffused with an intimacy so intense that it makes the surroundings disappear and time stand still for a while, despite their only making up a comparatively small part of the film.

Locarno Film Festival 2017 Cocote, Prototype, A Skin So Soft, & Milla

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Locarno Film Festival 2017: Cocote, Prototype, A Skin So Soft, & Milla

Cinémadefacto

Locarno Film Festival 2017: Cocote, Prototype, A Skin So Soft, & Milla

The first days of the Locarno Film Festival were dominated by a heat so intense that it took great effort to focus on the challenging cinema for which the Swiss festival is renowned and not just on staying hydrated and fleeing to the next air-conditioned space. But as the warmth receded and proper concentration returned, several titles that screened on the opening weekend emerged from the fug as some of the most intriguing films of the year.

Unlike in Switzerland, the sweltering heat of the Dominican Republic inspires fervor, even hysteria—as in Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias’s Cocote, which opened the festival’s experimentally minded Signs of Life section, which this year became a competitive section for the first time and opened its doors to films of all lengths. Much like the filmmaker’s Santa Teresa and Other Stories, a very loose adaptation of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, Cocote proceeds by inserting enough flights of fancy into an established narrative that its through line often becomes thrillingly blurred. While this film’s plot doesn’t draw on any preexisting material, it does feel broadly archetypical, telling the story of how Alberto (Vicente Santos), a gardener working at a wealthy estate in Santo Domingo, returns to his home village following the death of his father at the hands of a local bigwig. Alberto’s smart attire and newfound respectability mark him as a prodigal son for his mother and sisters, who expect him both to take part in a nine-day burial ritual and avenge his father, neither of which are in keeping with his sense of urban rationality and poise.

Cocote Exclusive Trailer: Grappling with Religion in Dominican-Set Drama

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Cocote Exclusive Trailer: Grappling with Religion in Dominican-Set Drama

Luxbox

Cocote Exclusive Trailer: Grappling with Religion in Dominican-Set Drama

A co-production between the Dominican Republic, Argentina, and Germany, Cocote, Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias’s Cocote concerns an evangelical gardener, Alberto (played by Vicente Santos), who returns to his hometown in the Dominican Republic to attend his father’s funeral. In order to mourn his paterfamilias, who was killed by an influential man, Alberto must take part in religious celebrations that are contrary to his will and beliefs.

Locarno Film Festival 2016 By the Time It Gets Dark, Mister Universo, Pow Pow, Rat Film, & More

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Locarno Film Festival 2016: By the Time It Gets Dark, Mister Universo, Pow Pow, Rat Film, & More

Locarno Film Festival

Locarno Film Festival 2016: By the Time It Gets Dark, Mister Universo, Pow Pow, Rat Film, & More

At most festivals, such curious objects as João Pedro Rodrigues’s The Ornithologist or Eduardo Williams’s The Human Surge would likely remain the exception rather than the rule, but then Locarno isn’t most festivals. As the competition moved into its second half, two equally strange, equally challenging films continued the tradition of the festival’s opening days. The starting point for Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong’s second feature, By the Time It Gets Dark, is the 1976 massacre carried out by police on protestors at a Bangkok university. One of the film’s opening scenes restages this shattering event while adding an extra representational layer: Not only are the prostrate students shown moaning and shuddering before their tormenters, but also flashed on the screen are grainy black-and-white photographs that freeze their anguished gestures in time.

Locarno Film Festival 2016 Hermia & Helena, The Ornithologist, The Human Surge, and Scarred Hearts

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Locarno Film Festival 2016: Hermia & Helena, The Ornithologist, The Human Surge, and Scarred Hearts

Trapecio Cine

Locarno Film Festival 2016: Hermia & Helena, The Ornithologist, The Human Surge, and Scarred Hearts

Perhaps the ultimate measure of a film festival’s success is how its program looks not just before and during the event, but also after its culmination, once the swirl of hype, expectation, and kneejerk reactions has subsided and the films must speak for themselves. Though it’s too early to talk of the true test of time, a look back at Locarno’s lineups over the last few years reveals a collection of films that have pushed cinema in new directions, brought established directors their due and put emerging ones on the map, and provided hope that experimentation can be rewarded. With Cannes having turned its back on the challenging or potentially confounding in favor of more immediate, market-friendly fare, Locarno has swiftly taken up the slack, offering an increasingly unique platform where the likes of Chantal Akerman, Pedro Costa, and Hong Sang-soo can still happily thrive. While its lineups aren’t without more predictable festival fare and its risk-taking automatically means that some gambles work better than others, the sheer height of Locarno’s peaks does more than enough to distract from its valleys.

Locarno Film Festival 2015 Recollection, Machine Gun or Typewriter?, Night Without Distance, & More

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Locarno Film Festival 2015: Recollection, Machine Gun or Typewriter?, Night Without Distance, & More

Kamal Aljafari

Locarno Film Festival 2015: Recollection, Machine Gun or Typewriter?, Night Without Distance, & More

It is what it is. Though such remarks can be damningly diplomatic, they come in handy at the Locarno Film Festival—where, away from the main competition at least, one often encounters a brand of auteuristic cinema so unpretentiously personal that even the slightest criticism appears overly harsh. Such is the case with Recollection, the latest film by Kamal Aljafari, which received its world premiere in the festival’s “Signs of Life” sidebar. This 70-minute German production sees the director returning to his familiar themes of occupation, displacement, and belonging with a dialogue-free, found-footage portrait of Jaffa, the ancient port city that neighbors Tel Aviv in Israel. Sourcing archive material from films shot in and around the historic locale, Aljafari shows an eerily abandoned city whose stony, enduring architecture is rendered into a cruddy mix of pixilated beige and shadow.

Locarno Film Festival 2015 James White, No Home Movie, & Keeper

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Locarno Film Festival 2015: James White, No Home Movie, & Keeper

The Film Arcade

Locarno Film Festival 2015: James White, No Home Movie, & Keeper

How wonderful it is to watch a film that pays attention to life’s finer textures. The setting is PalaVideo, a vertiginous cinema at the back of Locarno’s train station, and the time is midday. The air conditioning is desperately insufficient and folks wave fans in front of their faces, a gesture that turns the fixed safety lights that adorn the walls on either side of the auditorium into gentle flashes in one’s periphery. The perspiration, the darkness, the unsynchronized hand movements: If it isn’t quite an erotic context to watch this packed public screening of James White, it’s certainly what we’d call a bodily experience.

Locarno Film Festival 2015 Schneider vs. Bax, Dark in the White Light, & Junior Bonner

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Locarno Film Festival 2015: Schneider vs. Bax, Dark in the White Light, & Junior Bonner

Fortissimo Films

Locarno Film Festival 2015: Schneider vs. Bax, Dark in the White Light, & Junior Bonner

Warning: Proceed with caution. It’s fitting that such counsel conjures an image of black text on yellow, because it’s also something to keep in mind when returning to the Locarno Film Festival, whose ubiquitous mascot is, of course, the spotted leopard. If you’re not careful, this can indeed be an unpleasant place. The stifling heat, the airless venues, the local prices, those unseemly beige military uniforms worn by security staff, and the walks from one location to another, which always seem, in such unceasing humidity, just one block too far. All of these can be troublesome in and of themselves, but when concentrated together in a single locale at the windless foot of the Alps, things can get oppressive. Why bother?