As I sat for breakfast this morning with Meredith Taylor, a fellow writer, she said something that struck me, because it's so true.
"Before I started coming to Locarno, I would look at their yellow and black logo and think, it must be a chic and exclusive festival for true film lovers." I paraphrase a bit but you get the message. In fact, coming personally to the Locarno Festival for the first time last year, I too felt that they constantly and continuously impressed me with the quality of the films they select, but also the incredible devotion the festival has to the cinematic art. It's true, it is chic -- I mean just look at Meg Ryan in her white dress against that backdrop on this website's Homepage -- it is exclusive, yet totally democratic and wonderfully interactive. The only thing that is requested for you to join this club too is a love, a true passion and devotion to cinema. Wow. What's there not to love in a festival like this?!
I've also enjoyed catching some films late at night in my room on MyFestival, Locarno's online movie-watching platform which can be activated by anyone, press or industry, possessing a badge for this year's edition. And I've loved catching the public talks and seeing the daily updates from the festival's artistic directer himself, Carlo Chatrian, on the Locarno website. No film festival does it quite as well online and understands the power of social media as Locarno does.
'CoinCoin and the Extra-Humans' by Bruno Dumont
I'm not an expert on Bruno Dumont's cinema but I am definitely a connoisseur of what I like in films. And although 'CoinCoin and the Extra-Humans' is considered television, the second mini-series ARTE commissioned from the filmmaker was so addictive, I watched all three and a half hours of it in one shot. And now I can't wait for the third installment. Inshallah.
Dumont channels old silent stars who acted with their faces rather than their voices, culminating in the part of Captain Van Der Weyden played by Bernard Pruvost (above right) with Clouseau-ian brillance. He also features a cast of character who are hardly movie-star material and sets his series, like most of his films, in the North of France -- farm land that feels like the American middle-of-nowhere.
And yet in 'CoinCoin', Dumont tackles our immigration crisis, racism, our fear of "the Other" and comes out with a bang, leaving his viewers wondering if the Apocalypse is actually one big party where people of all credos and background finally come together as one... If you believe the religions of the world, that certainly seems correct -- accepting one another for exactly who we are is humanity's antidote to the venom of all the doctrines of faith.
As an aside, catching up with Dumont was a treat. Read the full interview here.
'Yara' by Abbas Fahdel
First love is always difficult to capture on the big screen. There are countless "movies of the week" that have tackled the subject and, in my humble opinion, failed. That's because just as a woman's film is better directed by a woman -- a person who knows what we talk about behind closed doors -- so a teenage into adulthood story would probably be better told by those experiencing it. Alas, there aren't a lot of 15 to 18-something filmmakers around so Iraqi-born French-based filmmaker Abbas Fahdel tried his hand at is.
I've loved reading full grown male critics gush over the film and its sunshine quality. It gives me hope in the world and humanity. I personally enjoyed the simple story, the silence and lingering shots of the scenery -- the film was shot by Fahdel in a northern valley in Lebanon. Since I happen to be FB friends with the filmmaker, I've seen shots of cats he and his family have rescued and enjoyed seeing kitties in the film. All in all it felt very much like the film Fahdel intended -- well-meaning, good hearted and kind.
If you like action filled films, 'Yara' is not your fare but if you crave a film that will make you slow down, listen to the sounds of the wind and believe in the power of first love, then give Fahdel's film a try.
'M' by Yolande Zauberman
Probably the most haunting, raw and unsettling film I watched in Locarno is 'M', featuring the real life story of Menahem Lang, a sometime actor I actually remember watching in an Amos Gitai film. His harrowing personal tale of childhood and teenage-hood uninterrupted sexual abuse at the hands of Rabbis and religious men -- in Bnei Brak, an area of ultra Orthodox Jews, just east of Tel Aviv -- is told with bravery and completely uncensored. 'M' made the little hairs on my arm stand up on end and since I watched it, I have stopped looking at the Hasidic community quite in the same way again.
I mean, usually there is a certain kind of 'A Stranger Among Us' romanticism that goes along with seeing those furry large hats, the iconic black coats and curls that unfurl down the sides of the men's cheeks. Gone are those fable-like feelings for me, replaced now by contempt and a sense that the idea of "it's been done to me so I'll continue the legacy by doing it to someone else," certainly justifies way too much evil in this world.
'M' is a hard film to watch and yet a personal favorite from this year's Locarno Festival. My deepest congratulations go to Menahem himself, who opens up about and deals with his demons in such a perfectly sane, albeit entertaining way, and yet his tale is so unbearable to hear.
I'm only sorry that he never made it to Locarno to present the film.