Carlo Chatrian

A personal blog of Festival del film Locarno's Artistic Director


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Locarno66 Palmarès

Albert Serra / © Alessio Pizzicannella

Albert Serra / © Alessio Pizzicannella

Locarno66 concluded with a prize list that testifies to the event’s spirit of research. The diversity highlighted in this edition was reflected in the jury verdicts that saluted one of the most original of  emerging filmmakers (Serra), the return of some grand masters (Pinto, Yersin), a film that ignited the enthusiasm of critics and audiences alike, (Short Term 12), a director who seems increasingly and completely in his element as he explores relationships (and emotional transactions) between men and women, from one film to the next, (Hong Sangsoo) and also one of the most political films in the program (El Mudo) – even if the press hardly noticed it. We saw the first award for a Spanish film ever at Locarno, as well as a return, after several years, of films from Portugal and South Korea. Historia de la meva mort certainly divided opinions, but it is an undeniably purely cinematic film, inconceivable outside of its medium. Difficult to describe in words without being reductive, the film continues the unique trajectory being forged by Albert Serra, a visionary and uncompromising director, ever precise and independent in the choices he makes. Casanova, a loose cannon in the decadent and somnolent milieu of the court, to Dracula, a count and shepherd, who brings to light the connections between night, paganism and nature that Stoker’s novel only suggested, allows for several readings. But it is in visual terms that the film develops its ideas. The film is composed of pictures in which the camera captures every nuance of light. Thread through with moments of rare potency, and displaying a masterly sense of composition, Historia de la meva mort is a unique film that I am sure certain will resurge in viewers’ memories like an underground current. E agora ? – Lembra-me is one of those wonderful gifts that the selection process sometimes offers you. The film arrived unexpectedly and its combination of heartache and humor immediately captivated us. Joaquim Pinto is one of the great sound-artists in film history and his film is built around an endlessly inventive soundtrack. A film about cinema and the life that informs it, able to make connections between Saint Augustine and Aids, the fires that devastated Portugal and memories of working with Ruiz and Jean-Claude Biette, E agora? – Lembra-me was one of the major discoveries of this edition.

Ur i Sunhi is a film in the form of a puzzle. At its centre, a young female student, wanting to go abroad and caught up in managing three relationships with three men. In a simple but highly effective manner, Hong focuses the narrative on the men,  leaving Sunhi’s character hovering in a space constructed by the opinions of others. So Sunhi becomes ever more desired and protected. The basis of the film is one of the principles of cinema: the attempt to capture the essence of filmed images. An attempt forever doomed to failure, since images are not real.

Brie Larson (who won the Best Actress Award) left one of the brightest impressions on this festival edition. In her  message to her director on the Piazza Grande on Saturday evening, in which she thanked him for having enabled her to confront that zone of darkness that she had tried to conceal on film, she evidenced a rare sincerity. The ten-minute ovation she received when the film ended its official screening signaled the start of a love affair between her and the festival that I hope will continue over the coming years.

I met Fernando Bacilio one evening at a party. He was alone, leaning against a wall. I recognized him from that unchanging expression of his, whereas he did not know who I was. As I chatted to him in my stumbling Spanish he told me that he had come to the party on foot, and that this was his first time in Europe. He was like the character of the judge whose powers of speech have been destroyed in El Mudo: they have the same instantly felt moral rectitude, apparent in those clear eyes of his.

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Locarno66 Palmarès

Albert Serra / © Alessio Pizzicannella

Albert Serra / © Alessio Pizzicannella

Locarno66 si è chiuso con un palmarès che bene evidenzia lo spirito di ricerca di questa manifestazione.  La diversità messa in avanti in quest’edizione si è rispecchiata in un responso che ha segnalato un regista emergente tra i più originali (Serra), il ritorno di alcuni grandi maestri (Pinto, Yersin), un film che ha riscaldato platea e critica (Short Term 12), un cineasta sempre più a suo agio in un racconto che di film in film indaga le singolarità dei rapporti (e dei sentimenti) tra uomini e donne (Hong Sangsoo) e anche uno tra i film più politici del programma (El Mudo) – anche se la stampa non se ne è praticamente accorta. E’ stata la prima volta di un film spagnolo a Locarno, ma anche il ritorno dopo diversi anni di un film sudcoreano e portoghese.

Historia de la meva mort non è certo un film consensuale, ma un’opera puramente cinematografica, non pensabile al di fuori di questo medium. Difficile da descrivere o da raccontare, senza banalizzarne la portata, il film porta avanti il percorso unico di Albert Serra, regista visionario e intransigente, preciso e libero nelle sue scelte. Il passaggio da Casanova, scheggia incontrollata in una corte decadente e sonnolente, a Dracula, un conte-pastore che riporta alla luce quel legame tra notte, paganesimo e natura che il romanzo di Stoker conteneva solo in nuce, dà adito a varie letture. E’ però a livello visivo che il film sviluppa il suo pensiero. Il film si compone per quadri perlustrati da una macchina da presa attenta a cogliere le sfumature di luce. Venato da momenti di rara potenza e attraversato da una maestosa aria compositiva, Historia de la meva mort è un film unico che sono sicuro riemergerà come un fiume carsico nelle memorie dei suoi spettatori.

E agora ? – Lembra-me è uno di quei regali che il lavoro di selezione a volte offre. Il film ci è arrivato in modo inatteso e subito con il suo mix di dolore e humour ci ha coinvolto. Joaquim Pinto è uno dei grandi fonici della storia del cinema è il suo film si costruisce a partire da una banda sonora capace di accumulare le invenzioni. Film sul cinema e sulla vita che gli sta attorno, capace di collegare Sant’Agostino e l’AIDS, gli incendi che devastano il Portogallo e i ricordi delle collaborazioni con Ruiz o Jean-Claude Biette, E agora? – Lembra-me si è imposto come una delle grandi scoperte di quest’edizione.

Ur i Sunhi è un film in forma di enigma. Al centro vede una giovane studentessa, desiderosa di partire per l’estero e impegnata a gestire tre relazioni con altrettanti uomini. In modo semplice ma efficace Hong focalizza la narrazione sugli uomini lasciando che la figura di Sunhi resti a fluttuare in uno spazio nutrito dalle opinioni altrui. Così Sunhi resta sempre più concupita e sempre più protetta. In fondo al film c’è uno dei principi del cinema: il tentativo di catturare l’essenza delle immagini filmate. Tentativo sempre iterato e sempre destinato al fallimento. Perché le immagini non sono le cose.

Brie Larson (cui è andato il premio come migliore attrice) è stata una delle traiettorie più luminose di quest’edizione. Fin dal suo messaggio al regista in Piazza grande sabato sera, dove lo ringraziava per averle permesso di affrontare direttamente quelle zone d’ombra che al cienma aveva cercato di nascondere, ha dato prova di una sincerità fuori dal comune. L’ovazione (10 minuti di applausi) attribuitale alla fine della proiezione ufficiale ha segnato l’inizio di una love story tra lei il festival che spero avrà modo di proseguire negli anni futuri.

Ho incontrato Fernando Bacilio una sera a una festa. Era solo, appoggiato a una parete. Con la sua espressione immutabile l’ho subito riconosciuto (lui però non sapeva chi ero io). Nel mio spagnolo stentato ho scambiato due chiacchiere: mi ha detto che era venuto a piedi (alla festa) e che era la prima volta in Europa. Il personaggio del giudice a cui viene tolta la parola in El Mudo gli assomiglia: hanno la stessa dirittura morale che si coglie al volo e si traduce in uno sguardo limpido.


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Fermo immagine – Day 11

Sergio Castellitto

Sergio Castellitto

I’m going to try to extract from my internal film of the festival those snapshots that have most impressed themselves on my memory, knowing that others will emerge gradually over the weeks to come.

The first scene sees a shot of a great man, walking slowly. But when he starts speaking in front of a piazza full of people, all doubts vanish: he is the “lord of the cinema” who will begin my first festival. He says: “I’m old”. I think of all the teachers who have brought me this far. And I thank them silently. All the people in the piazza sit silently too, each word amazing and entrancing them. Applause bursts out at the end in a deluge. Shortly thereafter, as if in retaliation, a deluge starts to fall. This time, no metaphor, but actual rain. A vast crowd of courageous souls resists, staying there to enjoy the film under the downpour.

“I’m not saying it out of flattery, or because I’m here, but Locarno remains the only festival that can do honour to the art of the cinema.” So says Otar Iosseliani.

Some women have enough charm to make any gesture elegant. Others have the gift of simplicity. And then there are those – as precious as they are rare – who possess both qualities. Like Jacqueline Bisset. At dinner, she tells me of the film she’s shooting with Abel Ferrara, another Locarno visitor this year. “He’s a director who knows how to look, and he risks so much! He changes perspective for every scene and for each one he allows himself only one take.”

At the Forum, Sergio Castellitto describes how as a young actor he found himself on set with living legend Marcello Mastroianni. The shot was framed as a close up on the great actor. Sergio was supposed to pass a watch close to his face, but in front of Mastroianni his hand was shaking and the watch kept clinking. Suddenly, the noise stopped. Another hand had stayed his trembling, remaining out of shot and without interrupting the take. Castellitto turned, looked, and understood…

We select the films in the dark of our rooms. We watch them, imagining how they will be received. Until that moment we cradle them as though they were newborns to be sent to sleep. Then comes the moment of the encounter with the audience, and when it happens that the film is greeted by an ovation, you have the indescribable joy of a father watching his son walk. I have been lucky because during this edition, a number of films have been very well received, while several have really taken flight. I’m thinking of the 10 minutes of applause for Short Term 12 (four sold-out screenings) or the standing ovations for Los Insolitos Peces Gatos, Roxanne and A Special Need.

If a thousand people come to listen to a masterclass like the one held by Werner Herzog here at Locarno, then you understand that the strength of a festival lies also in the encounters it facilitates. When the great German director then steps up to the stage of the Piazza and, upsetting a programme meticulously arranged that day, decides, for the first time, to share the prize with his cameramen, Zeitlinger and Klausmann, “his eyes”, it tells you that Locarno is truly a fantastic place of participation and sharing.


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Fermo immagine – Day 10

Fitzcarraldo – Werner Herzog

Fitzcarraldo – Werner Herzog

“Parce qu’il est un art, le cinéma nous permet, dans l’intimité de la salle noire, de pleurer de ce que nous aimons et disparait de notre vie… Mais aussi parce qu’il est un art, il arrive qu’il devoile d’une manière fulgurante ce qui en l’humain veille, et pourrait grandir.” The words of Carole Desbarats (Le plaisir des larmes) allow me to mention something so evident that it goes unobserved, like Poe’s famous letter. Cinema is an art capable of revealing to people what they really are.

So fragile, and yet so powerful that time can be defeated. In this year’s programme, some films have sought to reveal what is hidden inside people, which sometimes debases them and sometimes elevates them. I’m thinking of the silent yell that pulsates in Short Term 12, the legacy of violence recounted by Tomogui, the inextricable tangle of pain and humour and unexpected epiphanies brought into focus by E agora or the timeless ecstasy described by Historia de la meva mort.

Time and space. Along these axes, cinema constructs its stories. It does this by seeking to spread open regular geometry and offer new angles. Like in the extraordinary sequence of the stargate, the portal that allows the almost instantaneous linking of two points in space. That mixture of vertigo and vortex that dilates the pupils – in 2001: A Space Odyssey it is a vision whose genesis and architecture that great artist of the image, Douglas Trumbull, has recently described to us here in Locarno. Now rewatching Stanley Kubrick’s film becomes a renewal of the gaze, an updating of its projection. Essentially, the Festival is a sphere that serves to do also this: something similar to a “stargate” where the past has never past if it is seen as living flesh through the always-present narrative of its leading witnesses.

Piazza Grande, Fitzcarraldo, 16 | 8 | 2013 – 21:30

Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo must be the best slide for letting all the images of a whole day in Locarno slip by. The imposingness of the enterprise is matched by the imposingness of the screen. A challenge that seems to gather together all the forces of the cinema. A spectacle worthy of the Piazza Grande!


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Fermo immagine – Day 09

Mudar de vida – Paulo Rocha

Mudar de vida – Paulo Rocha

“From the moment when people are no longer sure that they have a soul or that the body will regain life, it is perhaps necessary to give much more attention to the dead body, which is ultimately the only trace of our existence in the world and in language.” Cinema enters into Michel Foucault’s reflection as its natural consequence. The mortal remains captured forever (or almost) by the lens remain as perhaps the only trace of our existence. And today this trace appears more intangible than ever, or perhaps only more mysterious because digital formats do not allow it to be identified, even when held up against the light. The interrogation of death in Forty Years from Yesterday or the investigation into the origin of the universe in The Unity of All Things are part of that horizon that the French philosopher defined as the space of heterotopias.

The written page and the curve of the body. The text and its interpretation. Or its distortion. In Bressane the system of interpretations, references, symbols is as complex as this singular shot appears pure. An outline against a black background draws a bold trajectory with the light that cuts across from the side. Josie Antello, who has acted for Bressane in Cleopatra and Filme de Amor, incarnates his anti-naturalistic, experimental, materialist cinema. A cinema that breaks with convention, that plays at provoking the viewer, that takes possession of a language in which words and images can keep parallel paths or fling themselves at each other.

In the long Russian winter, the nights are clear and interminable. There is a sense of eternity emanating from this frame, as though even the smoke was crystalized in the surrounding cold. The invitation is to look beyond the post-industrial landscape, with pale blue notes that recall some science fiction. This is what Benny Jaberg has done, as he films an unusual trio of Russians who, in the warmth of a home, wonder about the visionary power inherent in vodka.


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Fermo immagine – Day 08

The Green Serpent - Of Vodka, Men and Distilled Dreams – Benny Jaberg

The Green Serpent – Of Vodka, Men and Distilled Dreams – Benny Jaberg

“From the moment when people are no longer sure that they have a soul or that the body will regain life, it is perhaps necessary to give much more attention to the dead body, which is ultimately the only trace of our existence in the world and in language.” Cinema enters into Michel Foucault’s reflection as its natural consequence. The mortal remains captured forever (or almost) by the lens remain as perhaps the only trace of our existence. And today this trace appears more intangible than ever, or perhaps only more mysterious because digital formats do not allow it to be identified, even when held up against the light. The interrogation of death in Forty Years from Yesterday or the investigation into the origin of the universe in The Unity of All Things are part of that horizon that the French philosopher defined as the space of heterotopias.

The written page and the curve of the body. The text and its interpretation. Or its distortion. In Bressane the system of interpretations, references, symbols is as complex as this singular shot appears pure. An outline against a black background draws a bold trajectory with the light that cuts across from the side. Josie Antello, who has acted for Bressane in Cleopatra and Filme de Amor, incarnates his anti-naturalistic, experimental, materialist cinema. A cinema that breaks with convention, that plays at provoking the viewer, that takes possession of a language in which words and images can keep parallel paths or fling themselves at each other.

Educação Sentimental – Julio Bressane

Educação Sentimental – Julio Bressane


In the long Russian winter, the nights are clear and interminable. There is a sense of eternity emanating from this frame, as though even the smoke was crystalized in the surrounding cold. The invitation is to look beyond the post-industrial landscape, with pale blue notes that recall some science fiction. This is what Benny Jaberg has done, as he films an unusual trio of Russians who, in the warmth of a home, wonder about the visionary power inherent in vodka.


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Fermo immagine – Day 7

<em>Mary, Queen of Scots</em> – Thomas Imbach

Mary, Queen of Scots – Thomas Imbach

“Information is not memory. It is not for memory that it accumulates; it labours only for its own profit. And this profit is that everything is immediately forgotten for the affirmation of the sole abstract truth of the present.” I’m quoting these words of Jacques Rancière as an introduction to one of the most unclassifiable films of this program, El futuro. The future in question is imagined on an evening in 1982, when euphoria swept through Spain following dramatic political change. Now, 30 years on, what remains of that festive evening in an ordinary flat?

Born in 1938, Artavazd Pelechian has made a body of work that is often cited but rarely seen. Defined as documentaries out of convenience, his short films are visual poems that exalt the filmed subjects through a unique use of montages. His films have a purity, with no dialogue, no actors, no script, films in which the rhythm constructs the narrative. Whether linked to his native Armenia (Menk) or adventures in space (Mer dare), Pelechian’s films transcend and heighten realistic facts.

Her gaze lost beyond the horizon, her hair tangled by the wind, the young Queen Mary has withdrawn into an indecipherable expression in the same way that she has wrapped her body in a ruby-red cloak. The surrounding sea, like a prison, enhances the sense of encirclement. The tragic rise and fall of Mary, recounted by an outstanding storyteller like Stefan Zweig and retold with a “modernist” mise-en-scène by Thomas Imbach, is caught in a moment of transition, which is at the same time strongly symbolic.