59th Locarno International Film Festival

Switzerland, August 1 - August 11 2007

The jury

Gabriele Barrera (Italy), Charles-Stéphane Roy (Canada), Gerhard Midding (Germany), Valentin Rabitsch (), Élise Domenach (France)

Awarded films

When festival director Frédéric Maire declared in a press conference that this year’s edition would be “a festival of discoveries”, it was neither a bold promise nor, as some attending journalists felt, a banal statement, but simply in keeping with Locarno’s tradition. Since its inauguration in 1946, it has become the starting point for the careers of many important filmmakers — like Hou Hsiao-hsien, who received this year’s Honorary Leopard — and has regularly detected new currents in world cinema a bit earlier than other festivals. Locarno even goes one step further: The “Open Doors” section is a co-production lab that supports film production in developing regions; this year’s focus was on the Middle East.

To celebrate its 60th anniversary (for those who are checking: yes, the festival is in its 62nd year, but two editions were cancelled in the 1950s), there were two small retrospectives: “Retour à Locarno”, for which 18 directors were invited to present their breakthrough films, and “Signore e signore”, a parade of the female stars of Italian postwar cinema, many of whom had contributed their glamour to past editions.

While the past didn’t weigh too heavily on the festival itself, its shadows loomed large over many of this year’s competition entries. Remarkably, many told their stories in flashback, giving them a sense of doom and fatality from the outset; it’s astonishing that so many young film makers would show not first experiences, but final ones. During the first half, the competition was lackluster. This impression was mainly due to the narrow perspective many filmmakers chose — frequently just one or two characters were fully drawn-out, and the careless neglect of the others rendered the conflicts banal. Accordingly, many films had severe problems ending their stories, and took refuge in gratuitous violence. The competition was already in its sixth day, when the first noteworthy films were shown: Captain Ahab (Capitaine Achab) by Philippe Ramos and Rebirth (Ai No Yokan) by Masahiro Kobayashi. Awarding the Golden Leopard to Kobayashi was a courageous decision on the part of the International Jury, and as astute as giving the Best Director prize to Ramos.

As many critics have remarked in recent years, Locarno has had trouble finding worthwhile competition entries, being uncomfortably squished between Karlovy Vary and Venice. But then, the success and importance of the festival have never been altogether dependent on the competition. Several sections like “Cinéastes du présent” and the “Semaine de la critique” (curated by members of our Swiss branch) can boast important competitions as well. And for the public, there is always the magic of the Piazza Grande — though attendance was lower than last year, due not only to volatile weather but also to an enormous increase in ticket prices.

In his second year as festival director, Maire has made good on his promise to reduce the number of films. Last year, he abolished the “Compétition Video”, “Human Rights Program” and “In Progress” sections and has now established a new one (which owes its title to Godard’s 1976 montage film “Ici et ailleurs”) as a panorama of contemporary artistic expression.(Gerhard Midding)

Locarno International Film Festival: www.pardolive.ch/