Locarno in Los Angeles 2018

Locarno in Los Angeles, the series curated by Acropolis Cinema founder Jordan Cronk and co-artistic director Robert Koehler that brings a batch of the best films screened last summer at the increasingly vital Swiss festival, opens today and runs through Sunday.

Writing for the Notebook, Joshua Encinias argues that the four-day festival is even more essential in this, its second year. Since last year’s inaugural edition, “Cinefamily permanently shut down following a sexual harassment scandal, and the New Beverly Cinema appears to be in a perpetual state of refurbishment. With even less experimental and foreign film options than L.A. had a year ago, Locarno in L.A. and partner Acropolis Cinema’s mission is primed to fill the gap and take cinephiles in an entirely new direction. This year features an extra day of screenings, multiple sponsored late night receptions and filmmakers in person. In their second year, Locarno in L.A. is making an intervention in terms of accessibility of this kind of art cinema which so rarely screens in the city.”

The Opening Night film is Ilian Metev’s 3/4 (image above), which won the Golden Leopard in the Filmmakers of the Present program at Locarno. It’s just screened at this year’s New Directors/New Films in New York, and I’ve gathered reviews, including Manohla Dargis’s for the New York Times: “With unforced realism and a graceful visual style—punctuated by a series of fluid, intimate walks—the Bulgarian director Ilian Metev beautifully captures the ebb and flow of one family’s everyday life.” See, too, the entry at Critics Round Up.

Tomorrow, the day begins with Narimane Mari’s Le fort des fous, which, after its premiere in Locarno, rolled on to Toronto and the Projections program of the New York Film Festival. Critics Round Up has an entry, and now, Daniel Schindel writes for the Film Stage: “Algeria, Kythira island, and the Greek mainland. Three parts, three facets of globalization. Past, present, and possible futures. French-Algerian director Narimane Mari connects historical colonialism to contemporary economic upheaval. Its three acts also experiment with three major modes of documentary filmmaking—recreation, observation, and interview. Le fort des fous (‘Madmen’s Fort’) is a strange and epic rumination on how the sins of empires past aggregate as time rolls on.”

Sweating the Small Stuff is Japanese director Ryutaro Ninomiya’s second but most personal feature, having been inspired by the true events of his mother passing away when he was six years old,” writes Paige Lim at ScreenAnarchy. The film “presents to the audience the uneventful day-in-the-life routine of an ordinary working-class man, exactly as it unfolds. Ryutaro goes through the motions without any purpose, maintaining a stony façade that masks any form of feeling or expression. He also hardly speaks. Yet beyond this surface of placidity runs a deep undercurrent of simmering emotion, which reveals in both quietly uncomfortable and affecting ways over the course of the film.”

Nelson Carlo De Los Santos Arias’s Cocote won the Signs of Life Award in Locarno and screened for a second time just yesterday at New Directors/New Films. It’s “a dazzling collage of styles and approaches in which every scene—practically every shot—feels different from the one that came before,” writes Keith Watson at Slant. And introducing his interview with De los Santos Arias for the Notebook, Alejandro Veciana argues that “what makes Cocote so unique is not just its portrayal of the often-forgotten communities of Dominican Republic, but its radical use of cinematic language.” More at Critics Round Up.

Ben Russell will be on hand for a Q&A following tomorrow evening’s screening of Good Luck. I started gathering reviews when it screened at the NYFF’s Projections program and the updates to that entry have started coming in again in the past few days. As Ignatiy Vishnevetsky writes at the A.V. Club, it’s essentially a film in two parts, in two parts, “the first shot deep in the bowels of an industrial copper mine in Serbia, the second at an illegal gold panning operation in Suriname.” And “among the many self-reflexive subtexts here is an analogy between extracting precious metals and filming trippy ethnographic non-fiction. A cryptic glyph that appears at the beginning, middle, and end appears to sum up the whole project: a halved circle, representing not only two subjects on opposite sides of the world (figuratively, if not quite geographically), but Russell’s underlying vision of a humanity separated by its shared experiences.”

“Both halves feature breathtaking camera work,” writes Ben Kenigsberg in the New York Times. “Early in the Serbian segment, workers crammed into an elevator descend into the depths of the mine; the shot mirrors a famous sequence in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. There’s so little light that what’s visible sometimes appears in a porthole-like dot onscreen. In Suriname, Mr. Russell films the morning mist with a Monet-like abstraction and executes remarkable Steadicam shots through the mud. He might be accused of making poverty poetry—except that both sites’ unlikely beauty, too, may be a connecting thread.” More at Critics Round Up.

Saturday begins with Ouroboros, the feature debut of visual artist Basma Alsharif, whom Justine Smith interviewed late last year for Senses of Cinema. Smith notes that it opens “with an extended drone shot from the ocean through Gaza that plays in reverse motion. From the point of view of a drone, into a home and back again, we are set on a cyclical journey where the history of America, France, Italy and Palestine intertwine. . . . Fictionalized in the sense that there is a script with characters, the film operates as an essay on the nature of identity and history in a fractured civilization, creating, in a sense a new audiovisual language. The film’s title refers to the snake consuming its own tail, a perpetual cycle that seems to move forward but is really cannibalizing itself, a reference to the forward momentum of change that only doubles back to make the same mistakes again and again. This is a film about Palestine but also about the bonds of trauma and violence that connect seemingly disparate histories.”

Ouroboros is an essay on displacement, the psychological mindscape of physical removal from one’s home,” writes Daniel Schindel at the Film Stage. “The return to Gaza in the final segment feels not like a homecoming but a manifestation of eternal recurrence—of course we’d be back here. Soon we’ll leave again, but we’ll always come back. The positive view of the cycle is that it speaks to the endurance of the Palestinians. The film is not so crass as to use this as an easy excuse for hope, though. It is instead something more circumspect, and more troubling, and more memorable. It speaks a cinematic language unlike any other.”

Update, 4/7: For Lydia Ogwang in the Brooklyn Rail, “Alsharif’s modes of direction deftly precipitate the necessity of her insistence, and then collapse these concerns altogether as it becomes clear that her work speaks far beyond borders and barriers: from the vantage point of one particular socio-political locus, she excavates wider, apparently enduring truths of human relations and leaves us somewhere else altogether, making sense of the nebulous matter in between. It’s this cycling-through from mystification to elucidation and back which will characterize the experience of engaging with Alsharif’s newest work.”

Critics Round Up has an entry on Xu Bing’s Dragonfly Eyes, which screened in the NYFF’s Projections program. “The film opens with a title card,” writes Joshua Encinias in the Notebook, “that reads ‘This is a film without actors or camera crews. All the visual material has been taken from public surveillance videos.’ Conceptual artist Xu sorted through and edited 10,000 hours of disparate Chinese surveillance footage and, with the help of screenwriters Zhai Yongming and Zhang Hanyi, created a story. . . . In Xu Bing’s fable, the real world cannot sustain real people.”

Wang Bing’s Mrs. Fang won Locarno’s top prize, the Golden Leopard and then went on to screen in Toronto, so that collection of reviews is a fairly large one. As Lorenzo Esposito notes for the Locarno in Los Angeles, it “concerns the transition from life to death and the vision is the magic circle with which Wang Bing encloses a family waiting to say goodbye to their elderly Alzheimer’s-stricken mother, Mrs. Fang. Increasingly, in Wang Bing’s works (the latest seem to form a single discourse, from Ta’ang to Ku Qian) there is a magic circle where attachment to life and disorientation for the fractures that compose it signify both a poetic sign of ancient archaism and centuries-old myths before they are lost.” Further reading: Wang Bing, Filming a Land in Flux, a collection of essays put together for this year’s Courtisane Festival.

Update, 4/7: For Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times,Mrs. Fang is “a simple, cumulatively shattering record of life as we rarely see it captured in narrative or documentary cinema.”

Blake Williams will present PROTOTYPE and take part in a Q&A. The 3D work opened this year’s the First Look festival at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, and you’ll find a collection of reviews at Critics Round Up. Dispatching back to Filmmaker from Toronto, Vadim Rizov wrote that “beginning with stereoscopic photos taken following the 1900 hurricane that hit Galveston, Prototype launches into a sustained section in which a vast sea of waves stretch out towards a very far-off point . . . . It’s pretty continuously stunning, minus whatever push/pull I felt as a viewer, and the outstandingly layered soundtrack performs a slow upwards and downwards rumble to provide a sort of emotional/narrative spine.”

Raúl Ruiz’s The Wandering Soap Opera was shot over a period of seven days in 1990 and then restored and completed last year by his widow and editor, Valeria Sarmiento. I’ve gathered reviews, and so has James Kang at Critics Round Up. Here’s James Lattimer at the House Next Door: “The film's central premise is that the best approximation for Chilean reality following the end of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship is that of a soap opera or telenovela; after all, what other narrative form is flexible enough to accommodate all the pent-up collective spasms of seventeen years of repression? Yet even so, Ruíz manages to push even the wild shifts in tone and narrative contrivances permitted by the soap opera almost to breaking point, creating a fragmented, sinuous, endlessly inventive work whose incessant flights of fancy feel radical now, to say nothing of when it was shot nearly thirty years ago.”

A program of shorts kicks off the festival’s final day: Luis López Carrasco’s Aliens, Dane Komljen’s Fantasy Sentences, Helena Girón and Samuel M. Delgado’s Plus Ultra, Kazik Radwanski’s Scaffold—and Jodie Mack will be there for Wasteland No.1: Ardent, Verdant.

“When Kim Dae-hwan’s delicately observed The First Lap (Best Emerging Director/Filmmakers of the Present) opens, we learn that Ji-young (Sae-byeok Kim) and Su-hyeon (Hyun-chul Cho) might be expecting a child after six years together,” writes Joshua Encinias in the Notebook. Daniel Schindel at the Film Stage: “But the specter of parenthood does not disrupt their dynamic the way it might in a more conventional drama. . . . The frisson between everything being as is and the possibility charged beneath runs through many of the scenes, particularly when the leads confront their parents. . . . The film is set against the backdrop of unrest over South Korea’s massively corrupt (now-former) President Park, with several scenes taking place in the midst of political protests.”

Adirley Queirós’s Once There Was Brasília scored a Special Mention when it premiered in Locarno’s Signs of Life program. Writing for frieze,Ela Bittencourt notes that “the filmmaker’s native Ceilândia—a real-life outer-borough where the workers who originally built Brasília have been pushed out—serves as a backdrop for an Afro-futurist dystopia. Queirós resurrects the scenario from his previous film, White Out, Black In (2015), of an intergalactic visitor to the Earth. WA4 (Wellington Abreu) has been entrusted with a mission to go back in time and assassinate the nation’s progressive president. Queirós’s reality is that of Brazil’s poor black in a vigilant, oppressive state, which the filmmaker highlights with the presence of wires and grates, and in one evocative scene, by portraying downcast, identically uniformed prisoners shuttled on the metro by police.” More at Critics Round Up.

Shevaun Mizrahi will take part in a Q&A following a screening of her Distant Constellation, which won a Special Mention when it screened in Locarno’s Filmmakers of the Present program. “The documentary follows (if you can say an unmoving camera follows anything) one member of an Istanbul retirement home at a time, as each recounts memories and life anecdotes,” writes Joshua Encinias in the Notebook. “Their feeble bodies are set side-by-side with a massive and sturdy infrastructure being built next door.” Daniel Schindel at the Film Stage: “Mizrahi keeps the camera on a strict leash, but the focus on the characters transports the viewer regardless, a testament to storytelling’s empathetic capabilities.”

Update, 4/9:Distant Constellation takes considerable time to linger and listen, letting its subjects set the tone and pace, while surprisingly remaining visually and structurally inventive,” writes Matthew Roe at Ioncinema.

Pedro Cabeleira’s Damned Summer also scored a Special Mention the same program. It’s “in that very American summer-before-school genre, though in this case the summer before looking for employment—and for the Euro-clubbing set.” Daniel Kasman in the Notebook: “Most of its two hours take place watching a Lisbon youth (Pedro Marujo), a bearded goon but successful ladies man, get high and go to one dance party or another, fueled by an inexhaustible supply of weed and ready access to harder drugs. . . . I’m not sure there is much impulse beyond extended lifestyle immersion, but the steady accumulation of lost time, great tunes, and aimless play grows to capture the sense of all the world falling away but for this sensual, senseless, endless moment.”

For more on the program, have a listen to Cronk and Koehler talking to John Horn on KPCC (25’43”).

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