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Bulgarian Feature ‘Godless’ Takes Home Locarno’s Golden Leopard

For the first time since 1970, a Balkan feature is taking home the Golden Leopard. Gritty Bulgarian-Danish-French co-production “Godless,” by debuting features helmer Ralitza Petrova, will be sailing into Sarajevo’s main competition this week proudly displaying Locarno’s Golden Leopard, awarded Saturday evening at the conclusion of the 69th Locarno Film Festival. The jury, presided over by Arturo Ripstein, gave its Special Jury prize to Romania’s “Scarred Hearts,” a ’30s-set, formally rigorous drama by Radu Jude, whose previous film “Aferim!” took home the Silver Bear at last year’s Berlinale.

For best director, the jury gave its nod to cult helmer João Pedro Rodrigues, whose “The Ornithologist” is a handsomely made, highly personal and delightfully inventive riff on the legends of St. Anthony of Padua. The acting prizes were divided between Irena Ivanova, for her role in “Godless” as a corrupt medical aide awakening to her humanity, and veteran performer Andrzej Seweryn, star of Jan P. Matuszyński’s impressively crafted “The Last Family.” Rounding out the main jury’s prizes, a special mention was given to “Mister Universo,” by Italian-Austrian duo Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel.

As always, Locarno’s Piazza Grande hosted a selection of more populist films, this year with nearly rain-free evening screenings. The audience prize, sponsored by Union Banque Suisse, was given to Ken Loach’s Cannes-preemed “I, Daniel Blake” – no doubt an especially satisfying win for the English helmer, who was quoted in the festival’s daily paper saying how impressed he was by the size of the screen and the warmth of the Piazza audience. Variety’s own Piazza Grande prize, awarded to the film that “stands out for both its artistic qualities and its potential for theatrical release” went to French-Swiss co-production “Moka,” directed by Frédéric Mermoud.

Dario Argento was jury president for the Cinema of the Present, Locarno’s competition strand focusing on rising talent; its top prize, amounting to approximately $41,000, went to “The Human Surge,” by Argentine filmmaker Eduardo Williams. The Special Jury Prize went to Yuri Ancarani’s “The Challenge,” while best emerging director was awarded to sophomore features helmer Mariko Tetsuya for “Destruction Babies.” Watchmaker Swatch sponsors the First Feature Award, given this year to Argentinian helmer Nele Wohlatz’s debut, “The Future Perfect.”

This year saw a continued high-power presence of top names in the industry, with cinema chats featuring legendary director Roger Corman, producer David Linde and composer Howard Shore, not to mention career prizes for such icons as Harvey Keitel and Stefania Sandrelli. Locarno closed its seventh decade Saturday evening with a screening of Bollywood epic “Mohenjo Daro,” starring Hrithik Roshan and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, best known for “Lagaan.”

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