18 Movies in a 11 Days Competition: Small is Beautiful - and Often Emotional

in 57th Locarno International Film Festival

by Peter Holdener

The 57th issue of the Film Festival Locarno in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland ended on the 14th of August with surprises. On one side the winning movie “Private”, a first feature by the Italian director Saverio Costanzo, and various other prizes, but also a loss of 3,1 % of the audience compared to the last year was not to foreseen. This does not reflect the quality of the competition nor of the quantity of 502 films or videos, but the ‘biggest of the small film festivals’, as Locarno calls himself, has to look into the future seriously to keep or even extend its status as one of the oldest major European film events.

The Festival internazionale del Film Locarno is placed in the region of Sopraceneri at the Lago Maggiore and has a long tradition. After the major festivals of Berlin, Cannes and Venice, Locarno is the one directly behind. Of course, it’s 183’595 (2003: 1189’600) spectators are a large figure. The heart of the festival, the open-air screening at the Piazza Grande with it’s 7000 seats, suffered this year because of a lot of rainy evenings. But together with the 1,124 journalists and the 502 (2003: 532) shorts and feature films and videos the Locarno Film Festival throws a cultural spotlight on an otherwise culturally completely deserted area. Festival President Marco Solari underlines that “the whole team has worked meticulously to produce maximum content and organisational efficiency with minimum expenditure”. And former film journalist Irene Bignardi, the Artistic Director of the festival in her fourth year described this year’s edition as: “A festival that is free: both free of the dictates of trends, necessities, external impositions, and free to respond to the demands of our audience and those of an interesting programme, one that is lively, exciting and original.”

Focus on the International Competition

The main subject of the Locarno Film Festival is the ‘Concorso’. After the extended programmation of the former directors David Streiff and Marco Muller – now director of the Mostra in Venice, this year’s event was reduced to 18 movies from 17 countries. Of course, it is trendy to have an animation movie in the competition (“McDull, Prince de la Bun” from Toe Yuen, China) and we are waiting for the first animated winner of the actor’s prize in the near future. There were not many possibilities to laugh this year.

The main subjects of the film-makers were individual stories or family affairs like in “Ordo” by Laurence Ferreira Barbosa (France/Canada/Portugal), “André Valente” by Catarino Ruivo (Portugal), “En Garde” by Ayse Polat (Germany), “Folie Privée” by Joachim Lafosse (Belgium), “Poster Boy” by Zak Tucker (USA) or “Promised Land” by Michael Beltrami (Switzerland/Italy). Nearly all the prizes went to oeuvres with a political background. This was in the past often the result of the International jury being overwhelmed by political reasons and they wanted to make a statement out of this inspiration. “Black Friday” by Anurag Kashyap (India), “Yasmin” by Kenny Glenaan (England/Germany), “Dastan Natamam” (Story Undone) by Hassan Yektapanah (Iran/Ireland/Singapore), “Okhotnik” by Serik Aprymov (Kazakhstan/Japan/France/ Switzerland/Netherlands) and “Private” by Seaverio Costanzo (Italy), this year’s winner of the Pardo d’Oro, which made a topical political situation as emotional as possible. Compared to the competitions of the past 20 years it was rather average. Not many of these movies will make a deep impression in the future mainly because they reflection political situations of the moment. These events will be changed and then these films will not be as explosive as they seemed to be. And then it is often frustrating to see the lack of the art form behind them.

Three outstanding examples

Three films that were shown during the competition this year are completely different. They are all excellent, made a fresh and individual style, and they all can be presented in a couple of years without losing their power and energy. On one side is “Tony Takitani” by Jun Ichikawa (Japan), the winner of this year’s FIPRESCI-prize in Locarno. Then there is “Antares”, by Götz Spielmann (Austria). The 43-year- old filmmaker studied at the Wiener Filmakademie. Already his first short films attracted much attention. Then he concentrated on feature films for cinema and television. “Die Fremde” was shown at various festivals and nominated as Austria’s entry for the Golden Globes and the Oscars. “Antares” is a brilliantly woven story about three different women. There are three love stories behind it which are told in three circles. These circles touch each other, but move apart as well. The static camera starts to move when the main character Eva (Petra Morzé) meets her lover. The director works with a different type of light, mostly cool and frozen, and almost without music. “The way I look at my characters may be disturbing, upsetting, but it is not pessimistic. I am an optimist who squares up to reality” Götz Spielmann explained. And in fact he shows that love possesses, beyond everything, a destroying potential.

South Africa for the first time

Although director Ian Gabriel has worked from the 1970’s as producer, “Forgiveness” is his first feature. And his background in theatre is obvious if you see how he guides the actors to excellent performances. Ian Gabriel was one of the leading directors of pop videos as well as nternationally one of the best known directors of commercials. So it is not surprising to see that he has never before made a fiction feature. “Forgiveness” was shot on High-Definition and tells a simple tale in a very strict and stringent way. “My method is dependent on an escalation of tensions within the subject matter. In this film, we promote the use of simple character and story development and avoid where we can the use of artifice to heighten dramatic effect” Ian Gabriel explained. It was the first ever South African film shown in the Locarno competition. One of the highlights is the brilliant colouring. Is it snow or is it sand? Is it black-and-white or is it colour? These questions you will ask at the beginning before you discover that it is a very light pastel tone the camera is working with. Of course it is foreseen that the film ends in a ‘High Noon’ manner at the graveyard in a poor fisher village named Paternoster. But it is a touching Kammerspiel, brilliantly filmed, with strong characters. The dialogue – like in the theatre – was excellent performed. The rhythm of the whole movie is very slow. The white ex-police officer is searching for forgiveness and travels to the family of a boy he tortured to death in prison ten years before. He explains himself, exposures himself. The ex-cop has one final dream, to find forgiveness and punishment that might be his own death. But forgiveness is not for sale and he has to explain himself and his methods to a family that lost their own child. It is very hard for everybody. You can feel the pain and the aggressivity against the enemy. Ian Gabriel describes the difficulties of forgiveness in an outstanding work. As director he has the gift of taking the actors to their absolute limit. It is painful, it is even brutal, but it goes very deep. It scratches not only the skin. It hurts. “Forgiveness” was one of the outstanding moments at the Film Festival Locarno this year. And hopefully it will not be Ian Gabriel’s last feature film.