Locarno’s Films After Tomorrow

Lav Diaz’s When the Waves Are Gone (2020)

Locarno has risen to the moment like no other film festival this year. Responding to the specific challenges posed by their respective spots on the globe and on the calendar, some festivals, like Cannes and Telluride, have been forced to cancel outright, while others, such as Venice and Toronto, are planning for a mix of indoor, outdoor, and virtual screenings. Locarno, too, will be presenting films in local theaters and online, but the centerpiece of this year’s edition is The Films After Tomorrow, a program that aims to help salvage twenty productions shut down by the pandemic.

Ten international directors will present their aborted projects to three jurors and fellow filmmakers: Kelly Reichardt, whose First Cow opens the festival tonight, Nadav Lapid (Synonyms), and Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese (This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection) will determine the winners of three cash prizes. Two further awards have been set up for the competition among ten Swiss filmmakers. Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Kandahar), Alina Marazzi (All About You), and Matías Piñeiro (Hermia & Helena) are on that jury. The winners will be announced on August 14, and this year’s Locarno will wrap the following day. However far the prize money goes, the idea behind the program is brilliant in that, for ten days at least, it will shine an international spotlight on all twenty projects.

Yesterday, Variety’s John Hopewell brought us the latest news on two of the international projects. Helena Wittmann, whose Drift was a critical favorite in 2017, will begin shooting Human Flowers of Flesh in Marseille on August 12. Angeliki Papoulia (Dogtooth) will play Ida, a woman aimlessly exploring the world on a sailboat with a five-member, all-male crew. She becomes fascinated by the French Foreign Legion, “by the legionnaires’ disciplined bodies and secrecy,” and tracing the path of the Legion’s history, she meets a former legionnaire in Algeria. He’s played by Denis Lavant, a stroke of casting inspired by Claire Denis’s Beau travail (1999). Wittmann says that Human Flowers of Flesh is “the story of a European utopia of a heterogeneous society [built] around a woman as a respected and respectful authority.”

It’s been six years since Jauja premiered in the Un Certain Regard program in Cannes and won the FIPRESCI Prize. Argentine director Lisandro Alonso is now reteaming with stars Viggo Mortensen and Viilbjørk Malling Agger for Eureka, a feature divided into four parts. In the first, set on the U.S.-Mexico border in 1870, Mortensen’s Murphy, “armed to the teeth,” goes after the outlaw who has kidnapped his daughter (Agger). Other sections take us to a Native American reservation in present-day South Dakota and to Brazil, where Ubirajara, “a member of a far happier indigenous settlement in the Amazon who goes off to dig for gold, contracting, literally, gold fever.” According to Hopewell, Alonso aims to capture “the tragedy of modernity, a sense of disconnect with nature, and an ancestral past in a world alienated by its pursuit of wealth.” Other members of the cast include Chiara Mastroianni (On a Magical Night), Rafi Pitts (Soy Nero), and Jose Maria Yaspik (Mr. Pig).

Lucrecia Martel has been working with María Alché, who played Amalia in The Holy Girl (2004), for a full decade now on Chocobar, Martel’s first nonfiction feature. On October 12, 2009, photographer and activist Javier Chocobar was murdered while fighting for the rights of his indigenous people to keep their ancestral land in Argentina. The killing was caught on video, and that footage rapidly spread all across social media. “Not only are we able to see the injustice being done to these people, but also investigate the image,” Martel told Film Comment’s Devika Girish in 2018. “What does the image of the native represent? What is its value? How is it used?” These questions will inform Martel and Alché’s investigation into the centuries-long history of colonization in their country.

Other documentaries in the program include Wang Bing’s I Come From Ikotun, a collective portrait of Nigerian migrants in Guangzhou, and Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s The Fabric of the Human Body, which, according to Locarno programmer Antoine Thirion, “focuses on five hospitals in northern Paris neighborhoods, using the latest medical imaging technology to paint a triple portrait of the human body, the medical profession, and the French capital.” Miko Revereza, an artist and filmmaker who spent much of his life in the U.S. as an undocumented migrant, recently returned to the Philippines to begin work on Nowhere Near, which he calls “an investigation into my family curse—a curse that followed us for generations, rooted in the soil of my grandmother’s province. My ancestors once ruled this land—a land still bearing the remnants of colonial violence—first from Spain, then America, then our own onto each other.”

Lav Diaz, who won the Golden Leopard in Locarno in 2014 for From What Is Before, has had to stop shooting When the Waves Are Gone twice—first when a volcano erupted, and then again after the outbreak. A noirish tale of revenge inspired by Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo, When the Waves Are Gone sees a prisoner set free during a monsoon. Behind bars for thirty years, he’s been planning to kill everyone close to his former best friend and partner in crime.

After completing his Arabian Nights trilogy in 2015, Miguel Gomes picked up a copy of Brazilian journalist Euclides da Cunha’s 500-page, 1902 account of the government’s 1897 military attack on the rebellious village of Canudos. Fifty pages into Rebellion in the Backlands, Gomes knew that he just had to film an adaptation, he told Devika Girish in 2018. Selvajaria (in English, “Savagery”) will depict a conflict that “resonates in many ways with our own time,” Gomes told Girish. “The book tries to provide an overview of the state of civilization at that moment in Brazilian history. Unfortunately, things are the same even now—not only for Brazilians but for all of mankind.”

As the title Cidade; Campo suggests, Juliana Rojas, who codirected Good Manners (2017), winner of a special jury prize in Locarno, with Marco Dutra, will tell two tales. In the first, a middle-aged woman heads to São Paulo in search of her sister, and in the second, a thirty-two-year-old woman and her girlfriend leave the city for a new life on the farm left behind by her estranged father. Rounding out the international lineup is Axelle Ropert, who has worked closely with Serge Bozon on the screenplays for all of his features, and her own The Wolfberg Family premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight program in Cannes in 2009. She actually began shooting Petite Solange, the story of an overly sentimental teen (Jade Springer), at the end of February. We know what happened next.

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