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Locarno Film Festival 3rd to the13th of August 2011, report by J.M.García Ferrer

3. Massimiliano De Serio (co-director) and Olympia Melinte (actress) with the IFFS jury has awarded the prize Don Quijote to their "Sette opere di misericordia" (Photo by Sabine könner)
Locarno: A Festival between the old magic and a new cinema

We hear a roar, like a thunder. Then, a leopard crosses the screen from left to right, while we can feel the weight of its footsteps. When he has left, another roar.

This sketch has preceded all the projections of the 64 Locarno Film Festival, which took place from the 3rd to the13th of August 2011. But before that, a persuasive music accompanied frames from different films while the names of some great directors appeared and disappeared. The chosen images, strongly attractive, are in black and white with some hints of yellow, the colours of the festival, the same, incidentally, of the Catalan Federation of Films Societies. Maybe it’s due to the heady music, maybe to the frames in black and white, but the fact is that a certain melancholy for a great cinema that has disappeared is spread around the cinema theatre. But perhaps this is not the case, and this should not be the feeling ...

The movies in competition, and a handful of films from other sections, show that cinema has profoundly changed. Many movies have begun with a prologue in which the camera remained fixed, leaving some time to feel the atmosphere and the noises of the place that is being filmed. These are movies that leave the viewer more time to listen, to understand by himself what is happening, without the intervention of camera movements and an effective editing. This is the new paradigm, at least in this festival. And the audience is already well installed in this new paradigm, while ten years ago the public would not have bear any similar immobility in a scene.

Despite this change, we must still talk about the magic of a festival that is an essential part, for eleven days, of the life of the city. Shop windows are decorated with motives of the famous Pardo, the miniature golden leopard that is given as the prize of the festival.
Improvised pressrooms, open bars and lounges, shops and information offices of the festival are placed in several points of the city. Films are projected either in conventional theatres or in reconverted exhibition and sport spaces. Drawn curtains equip all those screens, reminding the viewers the old cinemas. The magic of the curtains is not needed, however, in the overcrowded Piazza Grande, the main square of Locarno, which every night is transformed in a huge open air cinema for thousands of people, always eager to live a memorable show. But it’s not all: The organization of the Festival, which has been perfect, also provides a free bus after the screenings in the Piazza Grande to the nearest villages, and there is a Pardo city bus that links every twenty minutes the two main spaces of the festival.

The films of the Festival

It is said that there is always a leitmotif in every festival; a subject that appears in most fiction films, related to a social reality from which it is hard to escape. Very few projections were needed to see that, in Locarno, this leitmotif was around the immigrants; perhaps the sector of the population that is suffering more in this huge crisis we are living. Either as the main topic or as an anecdote, immigration has been present in most of the noticeable movies of the festival, which were numerous.

Another underlying issue has been the cinematographic language, which is now quickly changing, as I wrote before. It seems that what would now be “classic” cinematographic language has changed, to introduce a different kind of movies in which contemplation plays a very important role. Luckily, however, the intention is not to bore the audience with eternal and isolated scenes that follow one to another. I want to believe that, after years of change, directors have been able to internalise this new way of filming, which has surprised us in Locarno with some great movies.

It is certainly curious that continuity –but with new contributions- has been represented by a young French filmmaker, precisely one of the heirs of the great heirs of the nouvelle vague (Pialat, Eustache...), who greatly contributed to change the cinematographic language. We hope that the magnificent "Un amour de jeunesse" (Mia Hansen-Love) is showed everywhere the way it deserves.

Other exception to the use of this new language is "Bon vent Claude Goretta", a documentary worth seeing about the Swiss filmmaker, made by the young and restless Lionel Baier, in a “modern style” of the 60’s…

Lets speak now about other great films, in my opinion, seen at the international competition. The IFFS jury, consisting of Alice Bourrely, Holger Twele and myself, has unanimously awarded with the Don Quijote Prize the first film of brothers Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio, "Sette opere di misericordia", for the surprising maturity of its mise en scene. We hope that it will be distributed to cinemas or at least to film societies of the Federation. The film deserves it. “Seven acts of mercy” explains the plan of Luminita to obtain the papers that will legalise her situation and that she believes will help her forget the hard life she is living in a depressed area on the outskirts of Turin.

Despite this argument, it is not a film of “good intentions”, a movie that forgets all about narrative or good cinema’s language just to show how hard the life conditions of immigrants are. Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio offer us an achieved film, based on few dialogues but a lot of action, enigmatic at the beginning. The leitmotif of the movie’s mise en scene is the light, present from the first scene (very low) to the last one, when it fills the whole screen. The light is also present in a light’s ball that the boy gives to the main character, Luminita, a name that not by chance means little light.

But this is not all. Its two main actors magnificently interpret the movie: Olympia Melinte, who plays the Romanian immigrant, and Roberto Herlitzka, in the role of the Italian old man. There are also great findings of mise en scene, that shows the existence of a detailed and well-planned storyboard: An example are the scenes in which Luminita and the other girl appear together, always visually separated by a barrier or another.

Also in the international competition I would highlight the film “The loneliest planet” (Julia Lokvet). It is a movie worthy of impact and distribution for film societies all over the world. The film is simple in terms of means of production, but very elaborate in terms of its conception, intentions and results. In it, Gael García Bernal's character and his partner (Hani Furstenberg) hire a local guide and hike to the huge valleys of the Caucasus Mountains. Jokes, very funny dialogues, games ... mark the first part of the film, shot with camera on the shoulders, while another type of filmmaking is just after the "incident" that acts as the hinge of the story. The IFFS jury saw that this movie opened new perspectives, and made clear that, even in the loneliest part of the world we live in society, and we must adapt ourselves to it. The film breaks new paths, especially for how it shows, in a very subtle way and without using touristy postcards, the magnificence of nature, its integration in story, and its influence on the characters. Despite this, unfortunately, the movie did not receive any award.

In the same international competition, for various reasons, others movies were very remarkable: The also American film "Another Earth" (Mike Cahill), which uses a form of science fiction to raise the apparent difficulty, but absolute necessity to know yourself. "Vol spécial" (Fernand Melgar) explores the situation of undocumented migrants in Switzerland awaiting deportation, even if after many years of residence, they are registered, pay taxes and leave family in the country. The film reveals the absurd inconsistency of an entire society. "Onder Ons" (Marco van Geffen) also reflects aspects of immigration, this time set in a neat, modern and civilized Dutch neighbourhood, although at the end you discover that things are not as they seemed. Without extreme drama, without extreme complaints, the movie bases all its strength in a very efficient structure, which presents the various points of view of its main characters.

We could keep talking of films in competition for one reason or another. For example, "Abrir puertas y ventanas" stands out for the impeccable performance of its three female actresses. The international jury, chaired by producer Paolo Branco, awarded this movie with the Leopard for best film, not without controversy. The IFFS jury also gave a special mention. It was for "Crulic - Drumul spre dincolo", made by a filmmaker (Anca Damian) not specialized in the peculiar animation used in the film. She chooses a festive and original animation to reach a much wider audience, which would usually be reticent about watching the story she explains (the real case of an immigrant led to death by a legal mistake) presented in a traditional way.

Films from other sections

Watching a movie at night in Piazza Grande is, without any doubt, the experience that nobody can miss. This year, the audience of the Piazza chose "Monsieur Lazhar" (Philippe Falardeau) as the best film. This movie follows the emotional and educational experience of an Algerian refugee in Quebec, who is hired to replace a schoolteacher that committed suicide in a classroom. The jury of the IFFS applauds this decision. "Monsieur Lazhar" is a very appropriate film to be shown in film clubs around the world.
The Cineasti del presente section, which discovers filmmakers worth following in the future, awarded, perhaps exaggeratedly, "L'estate di Giacomo" (Alessandro Comodin), a film almost familiar, about the summer holidays of a young man next to a river. He is deaf-mute and, with his original expressions, made the whole audience laugh. The special prize of this jury went to "El estudiante" (Santiago Mitre), which chronicles the progression of a young man in the world of university politics. Because of its dynamic tone and its convincing way of showing the main character’s love’s flirtations, which will lead him into the world of politics, the film deserves the award.

The presence of Catalan (and Spanish) films was limited to, in parallel sections, the works of Albert Serra and José Luís Guerin. Albert Serra presented "The Names of Christ" (193 min) and "El Senyor ha fet en mi maravelles", a macro-letter that is the whole "correspondence" sent to Lisandro Alonso by Serra, following the proposal of the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona. José Luís Guerin presented "Memories of a morning", which is actually a Korean production. After passionately seeing the movie in Locarno and considering the unfortunate controversy appeared in Barcelona’s newspapers, together with the news that the movie will ever be seen in Spain, I must point out here at least two things: First, Guerin’s film can never be accused of going against the memory of a person –all the contrary! –. Second, anyone who has seen the film and has left the theatre with the sound of the last scene stuck in his mind (a finger tapping a bass) knows consciously that “Memorias de una mañana” is an extraordinary, very emotional film about the pulse of life, and never the opposite.

Conclusion / final reflection

Good cinema still exists. And we can add something: it is usually quite hopeless about world’s situation. You must work hard to find it wherever it is done. Just as the Festival of Locarno does extremely well…

J. M. Garcia Ferrer