Minimalist fare a big hit at film festival

Arty minimalism was the big winner at the 60th Locarno Film Festival, which closed Saturday in the Swiss-Italian lakeside town.

Main jury, which was headed by actress Irene Jacob and included German helmer Romuald Karmakar, Brazilian d.p. Walter Carvalho and Chinese director Jia Zhangke, awarded the Golden Leopard to Masahiro Kobayashi’s “The Rebirth,” an almost dialogue-free study of quotidian alienation that had auds streaming out during its public screening.

Special jury prize went to “Memories,” three digital video shorts by Euro auteurs commissioned by South Korea’s Jeonju Digital Project.

Director nod went to France’s Philippe Ramos for “Captain Achab,” an arty, low-budget reinterpretation of Herman Melville’s novel “Moby Dick.” Pic also won the Fipresci (international critics association) award.

Gallic vet Michel Piccoli — in town, along with Spain’s Carmen Maura, to receive a career award — was co-winner of the actor prize for his portrait of a lonely, dying old man in French production “Sous les toits de Paris.” Piccoli’s fellow winner was Italian thesp Michele Venitucci for fight drama “Fuori dalle corde.”

Artistic director Frederic Maire, in his second go-round in the job, drew a healthy lineup of names to decorate the fest’s 60th anni, including Anthony Hopkins and Christian Slater (in for Hopkins’ “Slipstream,” competing); Robert Rodriguez and actress Rose McGowan (“Planet Terror”); Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien, who drew a Leopard of Honor; Frank Oz (whose “Death at a Funeral” won the Audience Award); and a large number of veteran and current Locarno winners and favorites.

Open-air nighttime screenings in the Piazza Grande, drawing up to 8,500 spectators for popular titles like “The Bourne Ultimatum,” gave the fest a badly needed sense of popular celebration, with “Hairspray” proving one of the biggest draws.

However, the largely successful Piazza screenings, which also included tributes to recently deceased helmers Michelangelo Antonioni and Edward Yang, failed to disguise the programming poverty of the festival’s main Intl. Competition and, even more, of its secondary, “experimental” Filmmakers of the Present competition.

The Asian selections failed to reflect the diversity and imagination of the region’s filmmaking, while regions such as Scandinavia, Russia and Central Europe were thinly repped.

Overall, the programming accelerated Locarno’s slow transformation into an elitist, self-reflexive, egghead event of declining international significance and of even less interest to buyers. Maire himself described the fest as “a little like a cinematic summer school.”

In terms of discoveries, it was the weakest year in some time, with only French helmer Samuel Benchetrit’s witty B&W black comedy “I Always Dreamed of Being a Gangster” truly qualifying.

Partly due to rainy weather in the final days, admissions dipped slightly to 186,000 from 192,000 last year.

60th Locarno Film Festivalwinners:

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION
Golden Leopard:
“The Rebirth” (dir. Masahiro Kobayashi, Japan).
Special Jury Prize:
“Memories” (Pedro Costa, Harun Farocki, Eugene Green, South Korea).
Director:
Philippe Ramos (“Captain Achab,” France-Sweden).
Actress:
Marian Alvares (“The Best of Me,” Spain).
Actor (shared):
Michel Piccoli (“Sous les toits de Paris,” France), Michele Venitucci (“Fuori dalle corde,” Switzerland-Italy).
Special Mention:
d.p. Cho Sang-yoon (“Boys of Tomorrow,” South Korea).

FILMMAKERS OF THE PRESENT COMPETITION
Golden Leopard:
“Milky Way” (Benedek Flieghauf, Hungary-Germany).
Special Jury Prize:
“Imatra” (Corso Salani, Italy).
Special Mention:
“Tussenstand” (Mijke De Jong, Netherlands).

OTHER AWARDS
First Feature:
“Tagliare le parte in grigio” (Vittorio Rifranti, Italy).
Leopards of Tomorrow (shorts):
“Valuri” (Golden Leopard), “Bende sira” (Silver Leopard).
Audience Award:
“Death at a Funeral” (Frank Oz, U.S.-U.K.).
Youth Jury Prizes:
Anthony Hopkins (“Slipstream,” U.S. – first prize), Peter Payer (“Free to Leave,” Austria-Luxembourg – second prize), Amor Hakkar (“La maison jaune,” France-Algeria – third prize).
Network for Asia Cinema (Netpac) Award (shared):
“Little Moth” (Tao Peng, China), “Those Three” (Naghi Nemati, Iran).
Fipresci Award:
“Captain Achab.”
Oecumenical Jury Award:
“La maison jaune.”
Intl. Cine-Club Federation Award:
“La maison jaune.”
CICAE Award:
“Ladrones” (Jaime Marques, Spain).
Critics’ Week Award:
“Allein in vier Waenden” (Alexandra Westmeier, Germany).
Daniel Schmid Prize:
The Rebirth.”

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