This year’s Locarno Festival has come to a close, and the jury has given its highest honor, the Golden Leopard, to Singaporean director Yeo Siew Hua, the biggest international film-festival win for the island country since Anthony Chan picked up the Camera d’Or at Cannes in 2013 for Ilo Ilo. Yeo’s noir-tinged second feature, A Land Imagined, tracks a police officer’s search for a construction worker who’s gone missing from a land reclamation site.
The jury, presided over by Jia Zhangke and including Sean Baker, Emmanuel Carrère, Tizza Covi, and Isabella Ragonese, was clearly more taken with A Land Imagined than the few critics who’ve written about it so far. Variety’s Jay Weissberg finds that it “privileges style over coherence, indulging in pointless time shifts and giving short shrift to too many characters. Any discussion of the quasi-slave-like situation for most of the country’s external laborers is important, and Yeo adds some good lines about how the city-state is literally built from foreign soil, yet Land will feel overly familiar to those looking for more than well-intentioned musings on the horrendous treatment of guest workers.” And at the Film Stage, Rory O’Connor notes that while Land is “remarkable for its style and ambition . . . it’s also a tale buckling at the knees under all that symbolism and with at least one too many loose ends left dangling.”
This year’s Special Jury Prize goes to M, a documentary in which director Yolande Zauberman accompanies Menahem Lang on a journey back to his hometown in Israel, Bnei Brak, known as the world capital of ultra-Orthodox Haredi Judaism. Lang was repeatedly raped as boy, and the film hinges on his conversations with other victims, a few of whom have shockingly become rapists themselves. At the Film Stage, Leonardo Goi finds Lang to be “a force of nature, and if M keeps one on the edge of the seat for several of its chats-filled 105 minutes, credit goes largely to its protagonist’s jaw-dropping stage presence.”
The jury’s honored Turner Prize–nominated artist and photographer Richard Billingham’s first feature, Ray & Liz, now headed to the New York Film Festival, with a special mention. Drawing from the director’s memories of growing up in Birmingham, Ray & Liz is a “singular spin on the British kitchen-sink drama, preserving both the director’s childhood and his creative evolution in gorgeous, grainy amber,” writes Variety’s Guy Lodge. And introducing her interview with Billingham for Film Comment, Becca Voelcker calls the film “a nuanced memoir that eschews melodrama in favor of the kind of photographic detail that you can feel with your fingertips.”
Dominga Sotomayor has won the award for best direction, and her Too Late to Die Young is also lined up for the NYFF’s Main Slate. Set in an isolated village in Argentina in the summer of 1990, just months after the end of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship, Too Late focuses on three teenagers coming to terms with adulthood. Notebook editor Daniel Kasman finds that the “direction of the youths is fantastic, as are the orchestrations of large groups—hanging out, parties, meals, swimming, other activities—which always feel dynamic, yet unfussy and just right.”
Andra Guti has won the best actress award for her portrayal of a rebellious teenager—is there any other kind?—in Alice T., the latest film from renowned Romanian director Radu Muntean (The Paper Will Be Blue, One Floor Below). Adopted when she was a baby, Alice wields emotional blackmail, a never-ending string of lies, and just plain adolescent rowdiness to make her mother’s life miserable. Writing for Sight & Sound, James Lattimer argues that Muntean’s style is “a precisely calibrated blend of naturalism and construction,” but while Alice T. “demonstrates the merits of this approach, the film also reveals what a balancing act it actually is: once a few details are out of place, the entire structure totters.” And John Hopewell interviews Muntean for Variety.
The best actor award has been presented to Ki Joobong for his performance in Hong Sangsoo’s twenty-second feature, Hotel by the River, in which Ki plays a respected poet who believes he’s about to die. A young broken-hearted woman played by Hong’s muse Kim Minhee has checked into another room. Hotel is “a forlorn kind of hangout movie,” finds Guy Lodge, and it “proceeds at a pleasing shuffle, spiked with bittersweet humor and even a gentle, surprising hint of sentimentality.” We’ll have another look at Hotel when it screens as part of the NYFF’s Main Slate.
After seventy-one editions now, the Locarno Festival has spread out over twelve sections, which makes room for a lot of awards to be given out by the official and independent juries. You can scan a list of all of this year’s winners here. Among the notable standouts is Tarik Aktas, who has been named best emerging director in the Filmmakers of the Present competition, a program of first and second features. His Dead Horse Nebula is a string of quiet scenes in Turkey “that are once evocative but hardly definitive,” as Daniel Kasman observes. He adds that it’s “immediately apparent that the director has a particular sensibility, a suppleness of style and tone with which to tell incidents that feel tinged with allegory and moral depth.”
Also in the Notebook, Pedro Emilio Segura Bernal talks with Andrea Bussmann, whose Fausto, a meditation on the legend of that fateful deal with the Devil shot on the Oaxacan coast of Mexico, has scored a special mention. Fausto will screen in the Wavelengths program at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. And the best first feature award goes to Eva Trobisch for All Good, winner of the FIPRESCI Prize and two Young German Cinema Awards at the Munich Film Festival earlier this summer. Aenne Schwarz plays a woman dealing with the aftermath of rape, and Daniel Kasman suggests that she offers “that rare performance in the cinema that feels inexhaustible.”
Beyond the Awards
The talk of this year’s Locarno Festival seems to have been Argentine director Mariano Llinás’s 808-minute La flor, a collection of six stories that, as Ross McDonnell puts it in his three-part review for the Notebook, “flourishes with an abandon, following no rules other than its own.” We’ll take a closer look at La flor when it screens at the NYFF, but for now, let’s note that Film Comment editor Nicolas Rapold, Locarno in Los Angeles festival cofounder Jordan Cronk, and freelance film critic and programmer Becca Voelcker discuss this sprawling epic on the latest Film Comment Podcast (55’38”). They also talk about Hotel by the River, Ray & Liz, Too Late to Die Young, and The Grand Bizarre, the new sixty-minute film from Jodie Mack. “Moment to moment,” writes Christopher Small, introducing his interview with Mack for the Notebook, “her movies contain more bombastic pleasure than just about anybody currently working in American cinema.”
Bruno Dumont, Ethan Hawke, Meg Ryan, title designer Kyle Cooper, and Amazon Studios’ Ted Hope came to town to receive salutes from the festival, but only one of them brought along a world premiere. For Kaleem Aftab at Cineuropa, Dumont’s Coincoin and the Extra-Humans, a comedic series depicting an alien invasion in the countryside of northern France, “is even better than the series that preceded it, Li’l Quinquin.” At the Film Stage, Leonard Goi talks with Dumont not only about Coincoin but also about Jeanne, the sequel to his 2017 musical Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc. Dumont has already begun shooting the second and last chapter of his diptych based on Charles Péguy’s 1910 play Le mystère de la charité de Jeanne d’Arc.
The seventy-first edition of the Locarno Festival was the sixth and last to be overseen by artistic director Carlo Chatrian, widely credited with raising the festival’s profile among cinephiles. In January, he’ll move to Berlin “not just to talk with,” he says, “but above all, to listen to” Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick before taking over the job alongside designated managing director Mariette Rissenbeek. Chatrian’s first Berlinale as artistic director will be the seventieth, slated for February 2020.
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