It’s obvious from the moment one drives across from the Italian side through the Swiss border-crossing that this is another country — a whole new world. While Italy struggles with a drought of never-before seen proportions that threatens our health and livelihood, Switzerland is immediately lush and pleasant, its mountainous landscape green, plump rivers cutting through valleys and trees, trees and lumber everywhere. In fact, one third of the country is still made up of wooded areas even if these days timber is no longer a main source of income for the Swiss.
Another thing I noticed right away is how much the land is appreciated in this country. Sunflowers and corn fields go as far as the eye can see, roads pass through them without too much intrusion on the landscape, white spotted donkeys adorning the sides while feeding on the abundant grass. It’s idyllic, truly, and my words cannot do it justice.
Locarno itself, located on the Lago Maggiore, is reached by crossing a tunnel through a mountain that felt like it was a dozen kilometers long. It’s moments like those, in the darkness and echo of an eerie place deep into the core of a solid rock formation that I feel smallest on this earth. But also in awe of the grandness of my fellow humans, who could envision such a project before its inception and managed to dig a passageway where it must have seemed impossible. Perhaps the perfect example that even a journey of a thousand miles begins with one, single step.
My first steps at the Locarno Film Festival were in the company of my favorite person, the man responsible for my being here. Together we had a chat, I met festival co-director Nadia Dresti, the very definition of exceptional woman, and had a quick lunch before collecting my precious credentials which will provide me with access to everything cinema for the next nine days. The marketing of Locarno is the stuff film festival dreams are made of, with the iconic leopard “Pardo” print spread as a badge of honor across the city. If you’re going to have a logo, I mean why not make it something as fashionable as leopard print, which convinces someone like me, usually allergic to badges and badge holders, to wear mine with fashionista pride while attending. The Locarno gift shop is certainly a shopping mecca at the moment, constantly buzzing with activity.
Opening night of the 70th edition of the festival kicked off with great Swiss timing, right at 9.30 p.m. in the Piazza Grande, which becomes the festival’s epicenter for its 11-day run. Dotted with yellow and black chairs throughout, the ancient square provided the perfect atmosphere for the screening of Noémie Lvovsky’s ‘Demain et tous les autres jours’ (’Tomorrow and Thereafter’), which held the audience spellbound for two hours of cinematic magic.
Introducing the evening, Locarno Film Festival President Marco Solari recounted quickly the story of Dr. Faustus by Marlowe, and later reinterpreted by Goethe of course. In particular, while describing how the organization of Locarno is never fully satisfied and strives to do better, bigger and brighter each year, he brought up the passage at the end of story where the heavens intervene to redeem Faust because, to quote Solari, “those who strive will be saved.” It’s a beautiful idea for this world of ours, which needs all of us to strive to save it, so we can be saved.
This year, Locarno introduced a beautiful initiative which is open to everyone, everywhere, even those not attending the festival — the #MovieOfMyLife contest. Locarno’s Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian reminded the audience that the contest is still going on and the best 70-second effort describing a movie that changed our life will be awarded a prize on closing night. My personal favorite so far is the one by producer and publicist Richard Lormand, and you can watch it here. In this edition, Locarno boasts 130 new films in various categories, not counting the retrospectives screening during the event.
Olivier Assayas, whose films I’m basically obsessed with at the moment and they now color the way I look at everyday life, heads the main Competition jury at Locarno 70. He gushed about the festival saying it’s “the most passionate in the world.” Favorite Egyptian helmer Yousry Nasrallah heads the Cineasti del Presente jury, for first and second time filmmakers. When asked what he looks for in a first film he answered, “I expect the same emotion I experienced when I made my first film,” then added the word “magic.”
And while hardly a first or second-time filmmaker, magic is what Noémie Lvovsky does with her film about a mother and daughter whose roles are somewhat inverted. Chatrian called it “a poem, a fable” and ‘Tomorrow and Thereafter’ is truly that, but also so much more. For any child who has become her parents’ parent at some point, as we all do in life when we begin to nourish our nourishers, grow up for our grown ups, Lvovsky’s film is a gentle, yet at times jarring reminder that balances can easy become undone. And yet that chemistry, the love that exists without doubts or questions asked between a mother (Noémie Lvovsky herself) and a daughter (Luce Rodriquez) cannot be destroyed, even by the most dangerous power, the hold of mental illness on an eccentric mind. From the very first frame, the way the filmmaker blends the initial credits into the background of the daughter’s schoolyard, I was hooked on the story and its themes.
And it helped too that Lvovsky’s style of filmmaking reminds me of the poetry in Lars von Trier’s work, once you do away with the unnecessary nudity, and the reflection of the film on the windows around the Piazza Grande made it all seem like being in the midst of Assayas’ work, as if eery ghosts were watching us from behind the curtains while we viewed the movie.
This was the perfect night.