Four Takes on Diversity

in 68th Film Festival Locarno

by René Marx

For almost 70 years, Locarno has been the place where diversity in cinema is emphasized and celebrated. This was particularly true in 2015: let me describe four films which reflect this. Locarno’s top prize, the Pardo d’Oro, was awarded to Hong Sang-soo for Right Now, Wrong Then, a delicate and subtle variation on romance in which a male director visiting the city of Suwong meets a very young female painter. As usual, Hong proposes two different versions of what might have happened to this potential couple. The film is refined, charming and often Rohmerian, and lead actor Jung Jae-hung deserved his Premio d’Interpretazione.   

The four talented actresses of the Japanese film Happy Hour were awarded by the official jury for their beautiful performances. The film was directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, who received an award for best script. At five hours and seventeen minutes, Happy Hour could have been awaited with dread. But, as any viewer knows, short films can be terribly boring and long movies can run as sweet dreams do. The latter is definitely the case with this chronicle of four women’s daily lives in Kobe. These close friends are introduced to the audience using a light and witty tone; we prepare ourselves for a quiet journey with this fantastic foursome, all in their thirties. Each one is clearly identified as married or single, employed or not. The characters’ involvement in a “communication workshop” marks the real beginning of the story. With steady, long sequences, we will discover the women’s most intimate feelings and doubts. This intensity of observation in approaching the true meaning of daily existence has a Bergmanesque quality; there is not a single useless moment in the path to lucidity. When you consider that these four actresses were amateurs at the time of filming, your admiration for their work becomes even stronger.

Both Pietro Marcello’s Lost and Beautiful (Bella e perduta), which was awarded by an independent jury of young students, and Vimukthi Jayasundara’s French-Sri Lankan film Dark in the White Light showed the same kind of powerful sensibility. Lost and Beautiful’s cast is only partly professional. Its hero is a young abandoned buffalo who risks death until he is given a savior. The savior is Pucinella himself – the ancient Pucinella, from the dark depths of the Vesuvius, who links the dead with the living. The characters’ journey through Campania is illuminated by the presence of a real-life figure, Tommaso Cestrone, known as the angel of Carditello. Cestrone, who died during filming, has a history of resisting the modern world’s indifference to beautiful decay – he once saved an elegant old mansion which was threatened by the Camorra. With extreme sensitivity and a poetic consciousness, Marcello invites the audience to think about issues as simple and universal as memory, death, animals, nature, and art.            

Dark in the White Light also shows a preoccupation with nature, life and death as well as violence, money and power. It follows a young monk who has given up his ambitions to be a doctor and a terrifying surgeon who earns money by trafficking in human organs. The extreme violence of several sequences is intelligently balanced by a deep moral meditation on abnegation and the contemplation of Mother Earth. This film, kept alive for six years through production complications, was completed only a few days before the beginning of the festival. Anyone should be impressed by the coherence and strength of this story about our cruel yet hopeful times.      
Edited by Lesley Chow