‘Mirror’ grabs top Leopard at Locarno

LOCARNO, Switzerland — Third world and exotic fare dominated the awards at the 50th Locarno Intl. Film Festival (Aug. 6-16), where pulses were raised more by the sweltering temperatures in this Swiss-Italian lakeside resort than by the wattage of the 21 competition entries or top-caliber names among attendees.

Fest topper Marco Muller corralled a hunky lineup of non-competing titles for nighttime screenings in the giant Piazza Grande ozoner, including opener “Men in Black,” “Face/Off,” “The Sweet Hereafter,” “Career Girls” and “The Ice Storm.” However, few North American-based filmers traveled with their pics: Barry Sonnenfeld and John Woo sent video thank-yous, and other Yanks, like Locarno faves Allison Anders, Kathryn Bigelow and Monte Hellman, were in town to introduce their choices in the fest’s golden-anni retro of key/misunderstood American movies.

In a refrain voiced by other fest heads, Muller told Daily Variety it had been a difficult year hunting down quality fare, but that he’d selected the best available.

The jury, led by veteran Italian director Marco Bellocchio and including Chinese helmer Zhang Yimou, gave the Golden Leopard top gong to Iranian movie “The Mirror,” by Jafar Panahi, a little-girl-lost tale featuring the kid star from his previous “The White Balloon.” Prize carried a check for $20,000, divided equally between director and producer.

A Silver Leopard went to “The Crazy Stranger” (Gadjo dilo), a Romanian-set gypsy yarn by French helmer Tony Gatlif that was also prized by other juries and drew an unprecedented four-minute standing ovation at its public preem. Also grabbing a Silver Leopard was “Fools,” a mostly French-funded first feature by South African director Ramadan Suleman, a dramedy about black township characters.

On the acting side, Bronze Leopards were doled out to Italian thesp Valerio Mastandrea, the free-floating anti-hero of Davide Ferrario’s “We All Fall Down,” and to Rona Hartner, the feisty gypsy girl in “Crazy Stranger.” Hartner, a popular front runner for the award, serenaded the 7,000-strong audience in the Piazza Grande with a gypsy song before rain cut short the awards ceremony and closing pic, “Conspiracy Theory,” was shunted off to alternative, hardtop venues.

Other titles that drew interest in the competition included the Chinese medieval Western “The Journey to the Western Xia Empire” by former scripter Lu Wei; the Algerian-set Romeo and Juliet yarn “Ark of the Desert” by Mohamed Chouikh; and Fruit Chan’s gritty young-triad pic, “Made in Hong Kong.” Of the others, German helmer Tom Tykwer’s long-awaited second movie, “Wintersleepers,” was deemed disappointing, and New York photog Cindy Sherman’s horror spoof, “Office Killer,” a notable bomb.

Easy winner of the audience-voted Public Award was Peter Cattaneo’s Brit male-strippers comedy “The Full Monty.”Main awards:

Golden Leopard: “The Mirror,” Iran.

Silver Leopards: “The Crazy Stranger” (Gadjo dilo), France; “Fools,” France-South Africa-Mozambique-Zimbabwe.

Bronze Leopards (acting): Rona Hartner (“The Crazy Stranger”), Valerio Mastandrea (“We All Fall Down”).

Special Jury Prizes: “The Bible and Gun Club,” U.S.; “Made in Hong Kong,” Hong Kong.

Public Award: “The Full Monty,” U.K.-U.S.

Young Jury Awards: “The Crazy Stranger” (top prize); “Clandestins,” Switzerland-France, and “We All Fall Down,” Italy (second prizes).

Fipresci (international critics) Award: “We All Fall Down.”

Ecumenical Jury Award: “The Crazy Stranger.”

Intl. Cine-Clubs Federation (FICC) Award: “Clandestins.”

European Arthouse Confederation (CICAE) Award: “Made in Hong Kong.”

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