Checking in on Locarno

Maura Delpero’s Maternal (2019)

Back in 1988, French director Catherine Breillat attended her first film festival when she brought 36 fillette to Locarno—where it was “horribly received,” as she recalls in a conversation with Ben Croll in Variety. Nearly thirty years later, when the film screened again in Locarno as part of a 2017 retrospective, “the public really enjoyed it, and that made me very happy.” Breillat, “no stranger to controversy,” as Croll puts it, talks about her opposition to quotas aimed at achieving gender parity in the industry, her run-in with Asia Argento, and her own beginnings as a filmmaker. “Ingmar Bergman’s Sawdust and Tinsel made me decide to become a director,” Breillat tells Croll. “I was twelve years old, living in the countryside, and all of a sudden I recognized my entire existence in the figure of Harriet Andersson. The film depicted this rapport between desire, shame and masochism that dawned my directorial interests.”

There’s no predicting which film Breillat, who’s presiding over the jury in Locarno this year, and her fellow jury members—producer Ilse Hughan, critic Emiliano Morreale, and actor Nahuel Pérez Biscayart—will honor with the Golden Leopard when Locarno’s seventy-second edition wraps on Saturday, but a few critical favorites have emerged since the festival opened a week ago.

In My Room, which premiered in the Un Certain Regard program at Cannes last year, was Ulrich Köhler’s first feature in seven years, but he’s already back with A Voluntary Year. The film centers on a teenager torn between her father’s hopes to see her escape their provincial home and the love she feels for a young man in town. “Co-written and co-directed by Henner Winckler and shot in a small town in rural Germany, A Voluntary Year has the slender production scale and low stakes of a feature for television or a film quickly made between larger things,” writes Notebook editor Daniel Kasman, “yet its modest definition allows the filmmakers to attack their story with a tenacious precision, giving what is essentially a father-daughter two-hander the efficient energy and detailed insight of a genre film.”

At the Film Stage, Rory O’Connor suggests that the gist of A Voluntary Year is “the idea that people are, by nature, liable to break the further they bend to society’s expectations and the sanest option might be to jump ship and chill. This has been the great theme of Köhler’s work as it has been of many of his contemporaries: we saw it in [Valeska] Grisebach’s Western in 2017 and [Angela] Schanelec’s I Was at Home, But . . . earlier this year, and of course, most ecstatically in his partner Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, in which Sandra Hüller’s corporate climber gradually gave in to her father’s propensity for YOLO.” At Cineuropa, Kaleem Aftab is a shade less enthusiastic, while Screen’s Allan Hunter sees in the film “a wryly observed deconstruction of toxic masculinity.”

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