The 65th Festival del film Locarno opened on Wednesday and runs through next Saturday, and while coverage in English has been relatively scarce, enough has begun to come together to form an impression of this year’s edition. Even before the festival began, indieWIRE‘s Eric Kohn spoke with Locarno artistic director Olivier Pére (now in his third year, after having run the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes) about the number of films from the U.S. in the lineups. “It’s intentional,” Pére told him. “American cinema isn’t very well-known or appreciated in Europe by other festivals. For instance, in Cannes, you always have the most important American filmmakers, along with some studio films, but it’s not very often that you discover a new and interesting American filmmaker. I think Locarno can be that place.”
In his first “Locarno 2012 Diary” entry, the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Eugene Hernandez noted: “Among the U.S. films in the international competition are Jem Cohen’s Museum Hours and Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel’s Leviathan, as well as recent Stateside fest hits including Craig Zobel’s Compliance, Bradley Rust Gray’s Jack and Diane and Bob Byington’s Somebody Up There Likes Me.”
Even so, the festival opened with a film from the U.K., Nick Love’s The Sweeney, based on a British television police drama from the 70’s. Focusing on “a rough-and-tumble police team (Ray Winstone and Ben Drew),” as Michael Nordine puts it for indieWIRE, The Sweeney is “actively bad for the first hour—but the marked improvement it undergoes in its second half is something of a feat all on its own.” Eric Kohn: “Winstone manages to invade the trite proceedings with plenty of feisty energy to spare, but even this badass can’t defeat a screenplay’s worth of clichés.”
So a “C” for The Sweeney, but a “B+” for this one: “Remove the prologue from Australian director Cate Shortland’s German-language drama Lore, which follows the teen daughter (newbie Saskia Rosendahl) of an S.S. officer on the lam in the immediate aftermath of World War II, and it would have much in common with any number of mopey Holocaust survivor dramas. But it’s that extraordinary framing device that sets this movie apart from any precedent.”
Shane Danielsen, who saw Lore at the Sydney Film Festival in June, wrote for SBS: “As a maker of images, Shortland is freakishly gifted. Like Scotland’s Lynne Ramsay, another visually prodigious filmmaker who seemed to arrive, fully-formed, from her very first shorts, she seems impatient with, perhaps even bored by, the demands of conventional narrative. Her plots are instead accumulative: a succession of individual images and sensations—moments—which coalesce gradually into meaning.” Lore sees its North American premiere in Toronto.
Back to Eric Kohn: “Greek director Athina Rachel Tsangari’s terrific coming of age drama Attenberg was largely about a young woman coming to terms with her body…. Tsangari’s 35-minute avant garde follow-up The Capsule, one piece of an installation work commissioned by the DesteFashionCollection, advances similar ideas in lively, shocking abstractions. It is truly a capsule of the filmmaker’s vision boiled down to radical expressivity. Commissioned by art collector Dakis Jaonnaou, The Capsule is less pure cinema than a mixed media deliberation on identity.”
On Friday, Eugene Hernandez introduced us to the eight young film critics participating in this year’s Locarno Critics Academy. So far, we’ve seen entries at the FSLC site from Gunnar Thorsteinsson, who’s particularly enjoyed Angel Face (1952), part of the festival’s Otto Preminger retrospective, and Beatrice Behn, who suggests that Lore might be seen as a sort of sequel to Michael Haneke‘s The White Ribbon.
Further clicking: The AFP runs a story on Ilmar Raag’s An Estonian in Paris with Jeanne Moreau; Screen‘s posted its Locarno preview in full; and on the day Locarno opened, we posted Anna Tatarska‘s interview with Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who’s heading up the International Competition Jury. See also dispatches from Jean-Michel Frodon (in French), and in German, Lukas Foerster, Frédéric Jaeger and Michael Sennhauser.
Update: Jury member Roger Avary‘s blogging at the festival’s site.
Updates, 8/6: Stephen Dalton in the Hollywood Reporter on The End of Time: “A freewheeling investigation into the nature of time becomes merely the jumping-off point for this high-minded documentary from the experimental filmmaker, visual artist and cinematographer Peter Mettler. Any sense of narrative momentum or intellectual focus quickly unravels as the film evolves into an almost wordless symphony of disconnected images, sounds and music. But the nature-heavy montages are mostly beautiful and bizarre enough to excuse the film’s pretentious excesses.”
At Cineuropa, Aurore Engelen has kind words for François Pirot’s feature debut, Mobile Home, a “comedy about the fashionable ill of procrastination.”
Updates, 8/7: Adam Cook has caught a few new films by Apichatpong, and for the FSLC, he writes that “Sakda, a 6-minute short film that debuted here at the Locarno Film Festival, is very much a companion piece to Mekong Hotel…. In fact, I would argue that all of his films are, to some extent, a part of each other, one sprawling universe of cinema.” For Filmmaker, Adam adds notes from an interview with Apichatpong conducted by fellow jury member Hans Ulrich Obrist: “Perhaps the most memorable part of the conversation had to do with his unrealized film Utopia, a sci-fi elegy that was to star various genre stars, including old Star Trek actors, in which the Starship Enterprise is discovered dying in the snow. Apichatpong revealed that he met with Ray Bradbury about the film and that he had 30 minutes to speak with him at his home. Apichatpong fondly spoke of how the conversation veered away from his project and towards cats, a particular area of interest for Bradbury. Once it registered in Bradbury’s mind that a kid from Thailand had cared so deeply about his stories, he began to cry. Apichatpong movingly referred to this as ‘a key moment.'”
Portugal “has its great masters, its ‘poètes maudits,'” blogs Olivier Père, “but also its young and incredibly gifted vanguard, represented by Miguel Gomes (who, with Tabu has just made the finest film of 2012, alongside Holy Motors by Leos Carax), João Nicolau and certain others. From the same generation—or almost—filmmaker João Pedro Rodrigues stands out as something of a maverick.” A film-by-film appreciation follows.
“Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio is a largely satisfying enigma in terms of both its story and its structure,” writes indieWIRE‘s Eric Kohn. “While the closest point of comparison for Strickland’s eerie audiovisual thriller is Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, its later scenes shift to Hitchcockian mode. In a fascinatingly contained performance that ranks among his best, Toby Jones plays peculiar sound engineer Gilderoy, a shy man tasked with working on the troubled production of an Italian giallo. While initially a face of innocence, Gilderoy suffers a gradual descent into madness that calls into question the reality of each passing moment no matter how hard one tries to work it out. At times frustratingly muddled, Berberian Sound Studio is nevertheless thoroughly enlightening for its complex formalism.”
Michael Nordine, who offers an appreciation of Jones and his work at iW, writes for the FSLC: “Aside from Jones, the other principal character is sound. Whether it be in the form of film stock whirring through a projector, fingers punching down on a typewriter, or an actress letting out a bloodcurdling scream in a recording booth, the film is by turns bassy and high-pitched but rarely anything less than loud. Berberian Sound Studio is as much a love letter to analogue as it is a deconstruction/parody of giallo, with foley artists smashing watermelons to approximate the sound of a body hitting the ground after falling from a window taking up nearly as much screentime as conventional plot development. A mood piece with an abundance of style—what with its flashing lights and frequent close-ups, this is as much a visual experience as it is an aural one—whose primary non-Italian reference points are Peeping Tom and Blow Out, the film is evocative for each of its 89 minutes. And yet, for how involving it is in the moment, it’s also a movie whose total immediacy at times feels like a tradeoff for a lack of resonance—it’s an expertly crafted exercise in style, yes, but not always much beyond that.”
Also for the FSLC, Celluloid Liberation Front reviews Craig Zobel’s Compliance, which “radically questions the inherently positive attributes obedience is usually associated with, showing how its unquestioned implementation can easily degenerate into sheer horror.”
Zera Blay: “La Pirogue is a stunning survival tale directed by Moussa Touré about a group of Senegalese immigrants who embark upon a daunting journey across the Atlantic Ocean in a fishing boat, with hopes of reaching Spain and prosperity. Led by a capable but reluctant family-man and captain (played by Souleymane Seye Ndiaye), the travellers are forced to struggle not only with the elements but with their own darker human impulses.”
For iW, Claudia Piwecki reviews Korinna Sehringer’s Shouting Secrets and Stéphane Brizé’s Quelques Heures de Printemps, both “about mothers forced into involuntary family reunions, but similar tragedy in both stories leads to vastly different outcomes.”
Meantime, Jean-Michel Frodon has posted a second dispatch.
Updates, 8/9: In his latest blog post, Olivier Père sings the praises of Hervé-Pierre Gustave.
“To date, Jem Cohen has made intimate non-fiction diary films rooted in an attentiveness to atmosphere and riddled with small observations rendered in profound terms,” writes iW‘s Eric Kohn. “While his new feature Museum Hours is technically his first narrative effort, with a pair of amateur performances and the backbone of a fictional story, its constant introspection and remarkable sense of place provide a fluid connection to the earlier work. With a keen eye for the capacity of fine art to address a complex range of attitudes and experiences, Museum Hours effectively applies Cohen’s existing strengths to a familiar scenario and rejuvenates it by delivering a powerfully contemplative look at the transformative ability of all art.” In the Hollywood Reporter, Stephen Dalton admires the film’s “charm, intelligence and dry humor.”
Dalton on Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor‘s Leviathan: “Shot on board a fishing vessel off the New England coast, this experimental documentary has so far proven to be the most stylistically bold and visually striking world premiere at this year’s Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. A wordless montage of footage filmed on small digital cameras from every dark corner of the boat, Leviathan is an immersive examination of a highly mechanized industrial process, the men who work at it and the thousands of poor fish who cross their path. A symphony of murky, grainy, jittery images and clanking, whirring, droning sounds, this is an abstract audio-visual experience as much as it is an observational film.” Eric Kohn: “The movie could take place on another planet; instead, it peers at this one from a jarring and entirely fresh point of view.”
Adam Cook for Filmmaker: “The best film in the main competition to have played so far is Ying Liang’s When Night Falls, a devastating and beautifully realized articulation of human suffering at the hands of a governmental body unconcerned with individual rights…. Playing in the ‘Concorso Cineasti del presente’ section, Paul Bo Rappmund’s Tectonics and Fang Song’s Memories Look at Me constitute two more major works at the festival.”
For Celluloid Liberation Front, Far From Afghanistan “is not a mere exposure of war crimes committed against an innocent nation, at least not straightforwardly so. Its main intent is to deconstruct the dominant narrative, sabotaging its rhetoric to liberate the repressed visions of war and its consequences.”
Lukas Foerster ranks all the films he’s caught at this year’s edition.
Back at Filmmaker, Adam Cook has five questions for Apichatpong.
Updates, 8/10: Marc Menichini has also scored an interview with Apichatpong; his is for iW, where Eric Kohn interviews Toby Jones—and writes of Kazik Radwanski’s debut feature: “The closest recent point of comparison for Tower is Ronald Bronstein’s Frownland, which also followed a perpetually antsy and confused character with relentless detail. But in that case, the movie eventually opened up to chart a path of character development that Tower lacks.”
The “ultimate subject matter” of Rodney Ascher’s documentary Room 237 isn’t Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, argues Ari Gunnar Thorsteinsson in Criticwire, “but rather obsession. Although the five interviewees have different views of what The Shining is really all about, they share one commonality: they all believe that Kubrick hid the film’s true meaning deep within its text, and they will stop at nothing to validate their argument.”
Jean-Michel Frodon has high praise (in French) for Leviathan.
Updates, 8/11: Celluloid Liberation Front at Criticwire: “Visionary desecrator of social and cinematic conventions, insolvent genius of European cinema whose relative obscurity attests to his ominous and uncomfortable visions, Marco Ferreri’s irreverent instinct and dark humor exposed the violent sanctimony of established values and order. Often accused of artistic slovenliness, Ferreri’s cinema combines philosophical density with popular vulgarity, while possessing a palpable and unchaste immediacy. He has been accused throughout his career of obscenity, misogyny, and gastric pornography (among other things). Both Bergmans, Ingrid and Ingmar, walked out of the Cannes’ screening of his infamous film La Grande Bouffe. In honor of a prize awarded to Ornella Muti, the 2012 Locarno Film Festival screened three films by Ferreri starring the suave Italian actress: La Derniére Femme, Tales of Ordinary Madness, and Il Futuro é Donna.” Reviews fallow; and over at the FSLC, CLF presents his takes on Bradley Rust Gray’s Jack and Diane, Leslye Headland’s Bachelorette, and Sean Baker’s “subtly perceptive” Starlet.
“A provocative cinematic poem in the tradition of the late Chris Marker, The Last Time I Saw Macao valiantly attempts to dissect an entire metropolitan history,” writes iW‘s Eric Kohn. “Perhaps because it aims so big, not every fragment connects, but Portuguese co-directors Joao Pedro Rodrigues and Joao Rui Guerra da Mata unload an intriguing collection of attitudes, themes and memories based around a largely effective combination of nostalgia and colonialist regret.”
And the Golden Leopard goes to… Here‘s the full list of this year’s awards.
Updates, 8/17: At Criticwire, Adam Cook posts an appreciation of Johnnie To and Soi Cheang, “whose new film Motorway, produced by To, screened in competition… To’s own films were also featured at Locarno in honor of his receiving the ‘Pardo alla carriera’ award for lifetime achievement. Thus, the 65th Locarno Film Festival acted as a sort of reminder—as if we needed one—of Milkyway Image’s enormous role in the last fifteen years of world cinema.”
Then, for Filmmaker: “The best film from the main competition, at the very least, Leviathan offers the sort of sensory adventure that cinema can but rarely does offer. Using cheap GoPro digital cameras, the filmmakers show us images and perspectives we’ve never seen before. Apparently, Apichatpong Weerasethakul did not like the film for having been unable to sense the presence of the directors within the film, which is valid, but for me an interesting part of this often alien encounter.”
Writing for the FSLC, Michael Nordine agrees: “If, as a general rule, it’s best not to get overly excited about a movie sight unseen, consider this an exception: the kind of film that creates an environment so visually and aurally complete as to be nearly indescribable.” Both he and Adam Cook also write a bit about Jem Cohen’s Museum Hours.
Also for the FSLC, Marc Menichini surveys the Preminger retrospective and posts another entry on three directors, beginning with the Golden Leopard winner: “Why pick the dean of the competition when this section is all about the new, upcoming, avant-garde talents of today’s cinema? American director and juror Roger Avary replied: ‘Jean-Claude Brisseau is the youngest member of a new New Wave.’ And his President, the Thai film maker Apichatpong Weerasethakul added: ‘He was the youngest director at heart of all the competition. His film shocked us in its innocence and its deep melancholy towards the memory of cinema one has. Not only Jean-Claude Brisseau is an experienced film maker, he has also remained a child since he didn’t restrain himself.’ I would also argue that this Golden Leopard shines a bright light on the exciting and thought provoking works of two other ‘childish’ French filmmakers. Alongside Brisseau, Daniel Odoul, poet and filmmaker, and HPG, aka Hervé-Pierre Gustave best known for his porn acting and directing, create a improbable, ephemeral and heterogeneous ensemble of maverick, daring and experimental authors that cherish themes and motives and most importantly the fantasy and poetry of cinema.”
Back in Criticwire, Zeba Blay: “For the past decade, the Locarno Film Festival has presented a special series known as Open Doors; a sidebar designed to serve as a platform for independent films and filmmakers from ‘developing’ regions of the world like Cuba, Thailand, and most recently, India. For 2012, the focus shifted to films of Sub-Saharan Africa, specifically ones from francophone countries like Chad, Niger, Senegal, and Burkina Faso. This year’s Open Doors had two goals: providing a spotlight for the films of Africa’s past, and helping to invest in its growing future. As such, Locarno screened seminal films ranging all the way from pioneers of the African cinema landscape such as Wend Kuuni and Po di Sangui to more recent features like La Pirogue, Viva Riva!, Bamako, and Il va pleuvoir sur Conkary. Many of the most recent films share a common theme: the conflict of being African in a ‘post-colonial’ world still dominated by the West.”
And Claudia Piwecki finds Inori, a collaboration between Pedro González-Rubio and Naomi Kawase that won the Filmmakers of the Present award to be “an outstanding, peaceful, and poetic film about a community in Japan’s highlands populated entirely by the elderly.”
For the Hollywood Reporter, Stephen Dalton reviews Brazilian director Daniel Aragão’s debut feature Good Luck, Sweetheart: “Shot in ravishing high-contrast monochrome and drenched in music, Aragão’s atmospheric puzzler makes up for its fragmentary narrative with sublimely lovely sounds and images.”