The greatest thing about the Locarno Festival is how accessible their venues are and how organic an experience watching great cinema becomes here. As author and filmmaker Emmanuel Carrère pointed out earlier, he is in Locarno on Jury duty, while at other festival you basically know what you can expect, here it's wonderful because the discoveries you make are completely unexpected.
Personally, I find it perfect to get up in the morning and catch the press screening of competition films at 9 a.m. at the Kursaal cinema and return there after lunch for more great things. Also sprinkled around town and culminating in the Piazza Grande screening each night, there are many wonderful films to be discovered. I mean, like Meg Ryan said during our public chat this past Saturday, the "Piazza Grande has 8,000 seats!" Now wrap your head around that.
Ray & Liz
The photography of Richard Billingham has long been a part of our collective awareness, since first seeing those -- as Elizabeth Fullerton calls them in the film's press kit -- "blisteringly honest photos of his alcoholic dad and his mountainous, tattooed mom -- Ray and Liz." His art was the toast of the town in the mid to late 90s, he was nominated for the prestigious Turner prize in 2001 and his work is now in the collections of respected institutions like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Met's in NY, the V & A and Tate Galleries in London.
Yet in his feature debut Billingham goes one step further and turns the grim tale of his upbringing in a Black Country council flat into a narrative film that takes the audience on a journey. At first sad and heartbreaking and then, somehow, even cathartic and wonderfully human.
I left 'Ray & Liz' feeling like I'd witnessed something powerfully cinematic, a film that kept me on the edge of my seat, thinking anything could go terribly wrong at any time. But the poignancy of this work of art on the big screen lies in the little moments that make life bearable, even while we witness unbearable times.
Oh and the filmmaker's use of my favorite early 80s song 'Pass the Dutchie' was simply phenomenal. That's when the film changed for me and out of the grim story I discovered the fairy tale aspect that redeemed the situation for me.
'Ray & Liz' is part of the "Concorso Internazionale" and is also nominated for the First Feature prize.
From realism transformed to some real life wonder women. '#Female Pleasure' directed by Barbara Miller, and premiering in the Critics' Week sidebar at Locarno is a film about five badass women who happen to be activists in their own communities, around the world. From a victim of the practice herself working to stop FGM in the Western world, to a website entrepreneur pushing a public conversation about women's orgasms in India, from a nun's retelling of her harrowing experience at the hands of priests in Rome, to the author of a favorite book of mine 'Unorthodox' who talks about escaping from the clutches of the Hasidic community, and finally to a Japanese woman who was arrested for making art inspired by her vagina -- #Female Pleasure doesn't beat around the bush -- pardon the pun.
The film points the finger at the "religion of patriarchy" which is practiced all over the world, as one of the activists pointed out to me in an interview after the screening. What the film did to me is it made me re-examine every relationship I've even been through and how men treated me, or attempted to treat me throughout my adult life. And the final tally doesn't make any of the men I've dated, of different races, religions, credos and nationalities, look very good.
But beyond re-evaluating my own sexuality, and how pleasure fit into that equation, '#Female Pleasure' opens the door to a future when women will be allowed to keep all their sexual organs intact without suffering the rape of mutilation, all nationalities will be able to talk openly about women's pleasure and a woman will be safe simply being the feminine beautiful being she really is.
I would love to claim this title by Leonardo Guerra Seràgnoli as "Italian cinema" -- thus adding to one already great year for our country cinematically -- but there is a feel in the way the film is shot, as well as the subject and theme of Seràgnoli's work that makes it borderless, and un-claimable.
The idea of three Roman girls vacationing on a yacht with a skipper and their mobile phones isn't the most captivating of plots and yet there is an undercurrent of social media awareness as well as human dynamics between these young women that kept me entranced throughout the film's short 80-some minutes. With an ending that cannot be foretold and a series of warnings interspersed throughout about our addiction to a new social necessity -- IG and all its spinoffs -- whose power we still haven't completely understood, 'Likemeback' really hit me. And the non-judgmental way in which its filmmaker approaches his subject and his protagonists was truly refreshing.
No signs of condescension or I-know-better-because-I'm-older-and-wiser in sight for this one and even during a chat we had a bit earlier, Seràgnoli confirmed that he's fascinated by the way the younger generation connects, despite them having grown up with a mobile phones in hand. Or perhaps because of it.
'Likemeback' screens in the Concorso cineasti del presente section.