THIS YEAR’S Festival del Film Locarno offered some of the most exciting films and programming I’ve seen at a major festival in recent memory. The August (and august) showcase in Italian Switzerland has long been a haven for experiments, debuts, and underappreciated gems, but in the past such fare has typically remained semihidden in secondary sidebars outside of the main competitions. In this edition, discoveries ranged across the full program; there was bigger billing for more challenging work and films of greatly different style and scale were given equal consideration. While commemorative celebrations of American stars and blockbusters occupied the biggest press conferences and the Piazza Grande, this year’s retrospective programming also included tributes to Soviet director Marlen Khutsiev—whose Infinitas (1992) and It Was the Month of May (1970) were major revelations to many in the audience—and to the acting career of Bulle Ogier, which placed seminal films from Jacques Rivette, Manoel de Oliveira, Barbet Schroder, and Alain Tanner under one billing.
Among the dozens of promising premieres of first and second films, shorts, and midlength essays, standouts included Filipino director Carlo Francisco Manatad’s Junilyn Has, a moody portrait of the routine domestic life and quiet escape planning of a nightclub dancer; Camilo Restrepo’s La Impresíon de una Guerra (Impression of a War), a multilayered essay on the ghosts of Colombian civil war; and Noite Sem Distância, Galician experimental filmmaker Lois Patiño’s brilliantly shot and colored study of history and topography on the Portugal/Galicia border.
Winner of the Best Director prize in the Concorso Internazionale (Locarno’s top competition) was Andrzej Zulawski’s long-awaited Cosmos. A wild adaptation of the Wiltold Gombrowicz novel of the same name, Cosmos is an appropriately chaotic, bright, eerie, and crazed work. Zulawski translates Gombrowicz’s repetitions and neologisms into strange angles and awkward framing, vocal tics, and breathless pacing. In the novel, dialogue often sounds like it’s being spoken backward or doubled over. The dizziness and the quick changes lead the narrative into an unsteady forward momentum as it topples into the unknown. The film’s animation of the text can be sensorially overwhelming as scenes are rendered into relentless tableaux of action and noise. But this too-muchness feels at home in Zulawski’s hands, and he channels it into a captivating, annoying masterpiece.
Occupying the other end of the tonal spectrum in the Concorso Internazionale was Chantal Akerman’s No Home Movie, a slow and introspective portrait of her mother’s final years. The documentary unfolds in a series of shots of stifling interior spaces—at times resembling a kind of rough, contemporary videogram of Jeanne Dielman—and sotto voce conversations, most mundane, some harrowing. At the (initially) packed press screening, this combination frustrated a large number of attendees, and they departed swiftly and consistently, leaving an increasingly improved viewing environment. One journalist, apparently thinking this was Cannes, returned only to boo at the end. It made me glad that I don’t go to Cannes.
Sergio Oksman’s portrait of a tentatively reunited father and son, O’Futebol, is an alternate take on parent-child relations. Set during Oksman’s return to São Paulo to see his father after twenty years apart, the film explores the routine spaces inhabited by his father in this lost time and the remnants of a familial relationship after spoken and unspoken grievances. Their meeting is structured around the 2014 World Cup; they watch matches, that acceptable masculine form of spending time together. Observational and staged scenes blend together in an opaque narrative that finally breaks abruptly, even as the highs and lows of the games continue to punctuate the background. Akerman and Oksman each appear to have approached their work with openness and uncertainty—shooting and then seeing—but Oksman develops this into a methodically unique essay on the city, game, history, and family.
The core of Julio Hernández Cordón’s latest feature, Te Prometo Anarquía (I Promise You Anarchy) is a volatile relationship between two young men. With a no-future hopelessness that at points recalls 1990s works like Kids, the film follows a pair of skateboarding, blood-selling, directionless friends and lovers in current day Mexico City. But rather than being a story of youth out of joint, their teenage sense of immortality and rebelliousness resembles the actual mechanics of their day-to-day surroundings. The streets of Mexico are now in large part run by teenagers who can harness this always-in-the-present mentality into temporary gain. From this, the sense of general despair that permeates the film also transforms into a kind of knowledge.
The 68th edition of the Festival del film Locarno ran August 5–15.