Carlo Chatrian

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

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Riding Motorbikes in Name of Motherhood

“Geronimo” by Tony Gatlif

Her name evokes motherhood. Or its reverse. What’s more, the idea of the double is captured by a surname that suggests the other (anderen in German). Like the location where a good part of the action takes place (a valley in the heart of Europe), Maria Enders’s name also reveals the state of being at the junction between two cultures, the Mediterranean and the Teutonic. She finds herself at a halfway point, caught between the memories of a past, personal and generational, and a future with uncertain boundaries, represented by a world where reality is attested to by the approval of the online world rather than actual evidence. Probably no actress could better portray the duality of Maria Enders than Juliette Binoche. Not because she is the best, but because she is the most willing to tread unknown territory. Clouds of Sils Maria is a film that seeks to describe the void that obsesses every actor, when they are not yet acting, a film about what comes before and after the film.
The conversation with Juliette Binoche in the Forum space will deal with the meaning of acting, the actor’s constant quest which is translated into characters able to entrench themselves in the audience’s minds, the relationship between the evolution of a process and the evolution of an art that seeks to reflect the world. A unique occasion to meet an actress who is one of the most celebrated, but also one of the most aware of her role.

Like a horseback cavalcade, though with a motorbike instead of horses: Tony Gatlif’s rereading of Romeo and Juliet opens with movement. The tragedy’s words are replaced by running, dancing, leaping. The protagonists of Geronimo are acrobats as much as actors, the children of a culture that has grown amidst graffiti and concrete. Gatlif positions his Geronimo, a courageous young women with a vision as clear as the summer sky, between the two factions like an elderly tribal chief.


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Tribute to Robin Williams

“Sosialismi” by Peter von Bagh

“Sosialismi” by Peter von Bagh

Every single movie lover lost a little big piece of his own cinema history with Robin Williams departure. In order to celebrate the actor’s art and unforgettable skills Festival del film Locarno decided to add One Hour Photo screening to tonight program. Directed by Mark Romanek and played as well by this edition’s juror Connie Nielsen, the movie enhanced the 2002 festival edition. We are sure this is the best way to honour the memory of an actor who wrote indelible pages in contemporary cinema history.

After that there is La Vénus à la fourrure, last divertissement from a great maestro of film like Roman Polanski, played by Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner.

I think as well it is important to remember another of the Festival’s guests, Garrett Brown, the brilliant inventor of the Steadicam® and operator for unforgettable films like The Shining and Rocky. After this evening’s tribute, he will also hold an exclusive masterclass, which will include the screening of new snippets of footage from when the machine was being tested.

After hosting the advance screenings of the films in competition, the Kursaal will be now be welcoming the films of Jean-Marie Straub, who has chosen to show his new feature, Kommunisten, at Locarno as a work in progress. This will be an extraordinary “backwards” journey through his cinema and the evolution of the image over the last 40 years. Kommunisten will be followed by Socialism, the latest by critic and filmmaker Peter von Bagh, who uses his vast knowledge of film history and the great legacy of cinema to reread the development of an idea, what we could call one of the magnificent obsessions of the last century.

The Festival del film Locarno is also an important launching platform for new films and a place for encounters, exchange and growth: in Piazza Grande there will be Pause screening, the first work by Swiss director Mathieu Urfer.

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Victor and Aleskandr, Two Splendid Islands

“The Iron Ministry” by J.P. Sniadecki

“The Iron Ministry” by J.P. Sniadecki

Sculpting in time. I’m stealing this expression from Andrei Tarkovsky in order try to link two of the most original, coherent and withdrawn creators of our time, Victor Erice and Aleksandr Sokurov. I’m very proud that they are both at Locarno, gratifying with their thoughts a film festival that seeks to be a feast for both eyes and mind. Both Victor Erice and Aleksandr Sokurov seem to me to be splendid islands in today’s cinema. Encouraging what is a necessary and magnificent isolation, festivals seek to be archipelagos for all those atolls that forcefully break the horizon. In this, Erice – like Sokurov – is unique: his films do not look to other models, and he follows his own path in a stubborn, solitary way.

So too does Paul Vecchiali, the senior participant in this year’s competition, who with Nuits blanches sur la jeté has made a nocturnal film, a theatrical film, a film that expands its universe from sequence to sequence. Another solitary experimenter, Edgar Pera, will be presenting his latest journey at Locarno: Lisbon Revisited dives into a Lisbon imagined via the power of 3D and the lyrics of Portugal’s greatest poet, Fernando Pessoa.

A fascination with trains is as old as film itself. Their constant swaying has provided the rhythm for more than one film, from Abel Gance’s experiments to the futuristic journey dreamed up by Bong Jon-ho in his recent The Snowpiercer. The idea of making a train a home, if not the image of a community, is suggested in The Iron Ministry by JP Sniadecki, who film by film is sketching out an unusual cartography of the Chinese people. Filming lengthy journeys, with light surreal detachment Sniadecki grasps the ability of the Chinese to adapt themselves to every situation, turning even a narrow corridor into a location for improvised commerce. 

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On Syria and Strange Clashes

“Ma’a al-Fidda” by Ossama Mohammed,  Wiam Simav Bedirxan

“Ma’a al-Fidda” by Ossama Mohammed, Wiam Simav Bedirxan

After receiving unanimous approval at Cannes, Eau argentée arrives in Locarno accompanied by Ossama Mohammed, chair of the Cineasti del presente jury. I’ll say it now, to clear all ambiguity from the field: Ma’a al-Fidda (Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait)is a magnificent film, tough and moving, which adopts the agile form of a dialogue, at a distance, between the director and Wiam Simav Bedirxan, a young Kurdish filmmaker from Homs. Making use of a very well-structured soundtrack, the film shows images of the massacre in Syria; the subtitle speaks of a thousand and one video cameras. Before being an act of love towards a country and its people, Ma’a al-Fidda is a cinematic film, carefully choosing its field and point of view and at the same time giving shape to something which approaches the unrepresentable.

Today the Festival is also showing another film about Syria. Le Temps perdu, Pierre Schoeller’s latest work, gives a voice to Syrian refugees in a camp. In this case, the images take a step back, not turning the pain into a show but letting it emerge, spat out with rage by the refugees’ stories.

The rules of a festival’s schedule can sometimes lead to strange clashes. Other times, however, they give rise to enlightened connections. That’s how I see that particular line of the programme that links two great films in two small cinemas: La Maman et la putain, Jean Eustache’s masterpiece which closes the tribute to Jean-Pierre Léaud, and Jean-Luc Godard’s latest film, Adieu au langage. Two films so dense in ideas and emotions that they seem immune to the rules of programming. Two films that should be seen and then gradually assimilated afterwards. But given that by now we know that one plus one never equals two, why not take a risk on an exceptional double bill?

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In a Plural World, United They Stand

“Los Hongos” by Oscar Ruiz Navia

“Los Hongos” by Oscar Ruiz Navia

Nansun Shi is one of those people for whom cinema, before being about money, technique or language, is a matter of encounters and personal relationships. Similarly, at Locarno we think that cinema is a language, but also and perhaps above all the result of sharing experiences. Film is a collective art: it needs a group of people in order to be made. Or, rather, it needs people to form a group.

The films screened today – which also sees the extraordinary participation of Luca Bigazzi, talking about his experience with Paolo Sorrentino at the Filmmakers Academy – discuss the plural dimension of this art. They do so even when they position a misogynist on bad terms with the world at their centre, like the writer imagined by Alex Ross Perry. Or when, by giving shape to a woman’s passionate universe, they end up providing an analysis of a whole country (A Blast).

Los Hongos and Navajazo are also open to the plurality of the world. Oscar Ruiz Navia explores the theme of wandering, using it as a structure that gives the protagonist a way to meet a diverse humanity. Ricardo Silva instead opens his film to the plurality of a centre-less community, where performances and real-life footage become one and the same and where the director does not impose his style but adapts it to that of the people he comes across.

À la vie welcomes the challenge of making a comedy – but not a comic film – starting from the experience of the Holocaust. A story of great delicacy, it alternates moments of humour and grief. At the centre are three women, different and yet the same, three individuals who are both strong and fragile, watching as the present changes. But the most touching thing is the idea of taking a group of concentration camp survivors, joined by a young man declared unfit for military service, and making them a model of community. Not a family. Something more.

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Portraits of different stories

Les Plages d’Agnès by Agnès Varda

Les Plages d’Agnès by Agnès Varda

“Dans Les Plages d’Agnès je raconte le parcours d’une artiste indépendante dans la deuxième moitié du XXème siècle. C’est un film très personnel mais qui parle presque plus des autres que de moi. Quelqu’un m’a rappelé le titre d’un roman de Gertrude Stein: Autobiographie de tout le monde. J’aimerais bien avoir fait cela.”

Agnès Varda’s artistic philosophy is as delicate as it is resistant. It looks at the small things and renders them large and unforgettable. Perhaps it is the influence of photography that gives her gaze a different sensibility, taking the everyday as its starting point but then launching it into another dimension. Her characters are wanderers, restless, but capable of unexpected smiles.

Today’s films also seek to move away from the topical in order to have a wider scope. That’s the case with the surreal comedy of Martín Rejtman, Dos disparos, which translates an adolescent’s angst into an invisible bullet, as though that out-of-tune note that sometimes throbs in each one of us had a physical equivalent. LIEW Seng Tat’s project also includes the unnatural in the ordinary; starting with a Herzogian image, a house in the forest moved by the force of a whole village, Lelaki Harapan Dunia ends up combining the theme of immigration with a story of ghosts and madness. Definitely veering towards the alienation side is Buzzard by Joel Potrykus, who returns to Locarno with his over-the-top comedy and a character who has an irreverent take on the employment crisis.

Madness, the free expression of oneself in a world that is utopically reflected in this wildness, is the most important lesson coming from Rogério Sganzerla’s films. The screening of the restored version of Copacabana Mon Amour, accompanied by Helena Ignez’s new short, Poder dos Afetos, is not only another step towards the recovery of this experience, but an event to be welcomed as though it was a world première.

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Italy – Land of Masterpieces, Volcanos and Poets

“Un jeune poète” by Damien Manivel

“Un jeune poète” by Damien Manivel

I’m leafing through the pages of the book about Titanus that supports the retrospective. Before becoming immersed in the words, I’m caught by the expressive force of the accompanying images. Anna Magnani and Alberto Sordi, Silvana Mangano and Aldo Fabrizi, Totò and Renato Rascel… whether studied poses or snapshots stolen on set, they form a gallery of films able to sublimate an entire society and its characteristics. Titanus-branded productions – starting from the unforgettable Gattopardo – have the power to go beyond the real into a world that today is no longer possible.

Instead, reality pervades contemporary Italian cinema: in Perfidia, which turns the father-son relationship in a provincial city like Sassari not so much into a model of the absence of relationships, but a prism through which we can read a country that has stopped communicating and is contenting itself with survival.

Perhaps even more significant in this respect is the diachronic perspective adopted by Gianfranco Pannone in Sul Vulcano, a story with multiple “texts” about a place very close to the director’s heart. Archive footage and images of reality contribute to creating a mosaic where the past coexists with the present, where the individual detaches from collectivity in order to represent it at another level.

The young protagonist of Damien Manivel’s film, shot in Sète, wants to become a poet. In a meticulous, almost programmatic way, he seeks inspiration, at times relying on his intuition but more often on alcohol, and ending up every evening in front of the grave of the poet whose spirit has inspired him. Un jeune poète is a film about the ineffability of poetry, that thing which – as Pasolini had Totò say – escapes if you name it. Like clouds. So there is not much poetry in the young poet’s notebook, but Manivel’s film ends up being “poetic” precisely in the absence of lyrical inspiration. Poetic because it is able to create a reality, instead of reproducing it in its banality.