My third day at the Locarno Film Festival started with the mind-blowing, wonderful directorial debut by actor John Carroll Lynch, which made me feel ‘Lucky’ all day long. It’s that good and if Harry Dean Stanton doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for playing the title character, I’ll go on a hunger strike — albeit one where I exclusively drink milk and diner coffee just like Lucky. If you haven’t kept up with the Diaries, you can read my thoughts on the film here.
The day went from great to better when I got to interview filmmaker Nadir Moknèche and his lead actor Tewfik Jallab about their film ‘Lola Pater’ on the patio of the Hotel Belvedere — a stylish place overlooking the Old Town that required a brisk walk up a steep hill in the midday heat and humidity to access. After the initial huffing and puffing, I realized that everything which goes up must come down, and the walk back into town after the inspiring conversations with two men who simply make the world better by being in it was soul soothing. I loved being an invisible witness to Locarno daily life, the man who watered his garden unaware of my presence to the left, the band rehearsing at a club a bit further down the hill on the right. There is a wonderful human aspect to the festival and that walk back into town made me reconcile with the world, for a few precious moments.
It also didn’t hurt that when I opened my Instagram I found that Jallab had finally posted the selfie from the Piazza Grande which he snapped before the screening of ‘Lola Pater’ in front of nearly 7,000 people. I really love the shot probably because it captures the very soul of Locarno.
The film which shall remain nameless
Once back in town, I watched a press screening of a film that I’ve been anticipating with bated breath since it was announced but which, unfortunately, as a finished product didn’t do it for me. I’m often asked why in my writing I seem to like everything I watch and the truth is, once and for all, I don’t. I just choose not to write about titles that leave me feeling “eh” because I imagine being in the shoes of the filmmakers, having just released their “child” into the world. No need for me to come along and crush that intimate part of them, their labor of love.
But one day I will be asked, maybe by the filmmaker who is a friend, or by colleagues, what I thought of this film and here is my anonymous “review”.
There is a line of thought among some film critics that goes something like “all films are political”, you know, that there are no films which do not offer the filmmaker’s political viewpoint. Personally, I believe that when a film tries to impose a political agenda, it has failed from the onset. Particularly if that political viewpoint is one that should be treated with a 360-degree exploration of the issues at hand and the filmmaker tries to manipulate the public to absolutely accept their view as the only truth. What is that famous saying “there are always three sides to any story: one side, the other’s and the truth”? Nothing is simple when it comes to issues of homelands, traditions and the right to call a place one’s own. Making them one-sided doesn’t do anyone any good.
During the press conference for the film, I watched a few journalist attempt to ask the cast and filmmaker about the duality which they had felt related to the struggles of the country where the protagonists come from. They, the media, had found some of it within the characters’ struggle with one another. Two men, dealing with their strained relationship, in the midst of their generational-slash-different-viewpoint-slash-character conflict as a symbol of a country stuck in the turmoil of constant, internal war. At that point, their answers could have brought me around to the genius of the film, it’s subtlety perhaps, if only the entire crew hadn’t argued passionately against the idea. “I don’t believe in symbols” stated the director, “I don’t see it in that way in any sense”, said the lead actor, all the while the atmosphere becoming tense. And the bit of poetry present in the film, which lacked for me a pleasing to the eyes aspect, seemed to vanish before my very eyes...
One movie I can talk about is Aaron Katz’s ‘Gemini’ because here was another film that started my day right! As a lover of all things Los Angeles and faced with a story about women and the power of friendship through thick and thin, devoid of any cattiness, I adored the film — it was lush and perfect. I mean, what is there not to like about seeing iconic LA landscapes, great Hollywood interiors and watching Lola Kirke with Zoë Kravitz, highlighted by an eerie John Cho, interact while they take us through a thriller where things are never what they appear to be!
At the center of the story are movie star Heather (Kravitz) and her assistant Jill (Kirke), who seem to have the perfect working/friendship relationship. Yet we know that Hollywood Blvd. is stained with the tears of those kinds of relationships gone wrong, I mean Kim K’s PA Stephanie Shepherd would be my point of reference here and that’s a disaster waiting to happen. But Jill and Heather like each other, and at first ‘Gemini’ is a slick, well shot and beautifully acted buddy movie. Until a gun is pulled out of a bathroom drawer and suddenly, I felt myself jumping at ever change in the light, through every dark alley shot and at every knock. Which could only mean one thing... A murder was coming.
The noir genre is a natural companion to the LA genre in ‘Gemini’ and the filmmaker’s point of reference, he admitted during his press conference, lies in films like Curtis Hanson’s ‘Bad Influence’ and Paul Schrader’s ‘American Gigolo’. I’ll admit I saw a lot of ‘The Canyons’ another film by Schrader I love, in ‘Gemini’. Perhaps because of Katz’s use of fashion, interiors and music to create an atmosphere we, the audience, find ourselves gladly enveloped by, almost a part of, even if the situation at hand isn’t, how shall I put it — ideal.