Locarno a festival on cusp of greatness

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 August, 2012, 11:35am

For 11 days every year the Swiss city of Locarno dons a yellow and black leopard costume and transforms into a roaring metropolis of cinema. For the 65th year of the Locarno Film Festival, another layer has been added - one that symbolises ambition. Under Olivier Père's direction, it is aiming for the top.

And Locarno has all it takes: the Piazza Grande is a breathtaking open-air venue which can host up to 8,000 viewers; guests such as Alain Delon, Charlotte Rampling, Gael Garcia Bernal, as well as directors Leos Carax, Naomi Kawase and Johnnie To Kei-fung - all of whom received awards this year. But above all, there's an exciting programme.

With his wide-ranging programme, which combines the daring and the new with historical cinema, cutting-edge films with blockbusters, upcoming directors with established masters, and discussions with the stars, Père has found the recipe for success.

A new section was added this year: Histoirés de cinema, presenting restored masterpieces and documentaries on cinema from around the world. Many of the works in the competition blurred the boundary between documentary and fiction.

Frenchman Jean-Claude Brisseau's home-made, poetic and fantastic movie
The Girl From Nowhere, which mixed fictional and autobiographical elements, was this year's Golden Leopard winner.

Jury president Apichatpong Weerasethakul saluted the work as "an exemplary gesture of cinematic freedom, beauty and courage". Shot with almost no budget in Brisseau's own apartment, with the director also playing one of the two main characters, the film is a delicate depiction of the friendship between an elderly professor and a troubled young girl.

The Last Time I Saw Macau, by Portuguese directors João Rui Guerra da Mata and João Pedro Rodrigues, is a film noir driven by subtle humour, and the memories and thoughts of two unseen narrators.

When Night Falls, by mainland director Ying Liang, is a poignant and insightful reconstruction of a true-life story about the desperate efforts of a mother, Wang Jingmei, to free her son, Yang Jia, who faced the death penalty for stabbing six policemen to death in Shanghai. The film was awarded the prize for best director and An Nai's touching performance as the mother made her the best actress.

The Shine of Day, by Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, is a semi-fictional tale of two outstanding performers who couldn't be more different. Circus artist Walter Saabel won the best actor award.

But Young American indie cinema was the most imaginative and audacious dimension of Locarno 2012, including
Somebody Up There Likes Me, a subversive comedy by Bob Byington and winner of the Jury Preis.

A screening of Otto Preminger's masterpiece
Bonjour Tristesse (1958) was the finale of this year's extended retrospective dedicated to his work.