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‘Silent’ golden at Locarno

'Fuse,' 'Thirteen' take silver, popular 'Spring' left out

See winnersLOCARNO, Switzerland — In what is fast becoming an annual tradition, the official jury of the 56th Locarno Intl. Film Festival largely ignored public and critical opinion with a list of politically correct prizes that left festgoers in the Swiss-Italian lakeside town scratching their heads .

Top prize, the Golden Leopard, with a check for 90,000 Swiss francs divided between director and producer, went to “Silent Waters,” a first feature by Karachi-born, New York-trained helmer Sabiha Sumar about the destructiveness of Islamic fundamentalism in 1979 Pakistan.

Silver Leopards went to Bosnian black comedy “Fuse,” by Pjer Zalica, and Sundance hit “Thirteen,” by U.S. director Catherine Hardwicke. Gritty Romanian femme drama “Maria” copped the Special Jury Prize. All four titles were first features.

Acting prizes were also spread among the same quartet, with “Maria” nabbing two (Serban Ionescu, Diana Dumbrava), and one each going to “Thirteen” (Holly Hunter) and “Silent Waters” (Kirron Kher).

Though the thesp awards and Silver Leopards were generally regarded as deserved, “Silent Waters” impressed few attendees, beyond veteran Indian actress Kher’s performance.

But the undisputed hit of the competition, South Korean helmer Kim Ki-duk’s “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring,” which got a standing ovation at its public preem and even applause at its press screening, was shut out by the seven-member jury, headed by Franck Nouchi of French daily Le Monde. Kim’s pic, which will play in Toronto and San Sebastian, went home with just a clutch of prizes from minor juries.

Observers noted that though Locarno upgraded two years ago from a specialized competitive fest to a FIAPF Category I competitive fest, it’s still acting like the former, focusing on first and second-time features.

Other well-remarked films ignored by the jury included Richard Jobson’s stylized, Edinburgh-set gang drama, “16 Years of Alcohol,” Barbara Albert’s ambitious Austrian criss-crosser, “Free Radicals,” epic Indian family drama “Chokher Bali,” by Bengali helmer Rituparno Ghosh, and French horse yarn, “Mister V.,” by Emilie Deleuze.

Saturday’s awards presentation capped a fest (Sept. 6-16) that was the third and most controversial under the stewardship of veteran Italian critic Irene Bignardi. She’s won praise from many for making selections less artsy and more accessible, and her competition lineup was reckoned to be above-average, if one with only a single 24-carat entry (“Spring…”).

However, her selections for the outdoor, non-competitive Piazza Grande screenings, heavy with tributes and with no big U.S. crowdpleasers, drew even more flak than last year.

Bignardi has always insisted on preems for this section, but only U.K. comedy “Calendar Girls,” which played to a record audience of 9,500, and slick German soccer pic “The Miracle of Bern,” really lit up the Piazza.

Latter, attended by 6,200 spectators, won the Audience Award. Sole U.S. movie, the camp laffer “Die Mommie Die!,” drew boos.

Though Locarno was, as always, heavily attended by directors, there was a shortage of A-lists names and glitz . Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai (“Chokher Bali”), Brit director Ken Loach (in for an honorary award, presented to him Aug. 15 by Italian helmer Ettore Scola), U.S. critic Roger Ebert (in for a TV confab) and Italian composer Ennio Morricone were among the few major names.

With this event, Bignardi ends her initial three-year contract as fest director. Amid the usual heavy carping from the Swiss press — also a long tradition with Locarno — and gripes from local tradesters, rumors circulated that fest prexy Marco Solari was considering bringing in Swiss producer Arthur Cohn to sit alongside Bignardi next year and help bring some showmanship to the event.

And the winners are . . .

INTL. COMPETITION

Golden Leopard: “Silent Waters” (dir. Sabiha Sumar, Pakistan-France-Germany)

Special Jury Prize: “Maria” (Calin Netzer, Romania-Germany-France)

Silver Leopards: “Fuse” (Pjer Zalica, Bosnia-Herzegovina/Austria), “Thirteen” (Catherine Hardwicke, U.S.)

Best Actor: Serban Ionescu (“Maria”).

Best Actress (shared): Holly Hunter (“Thirteen”), Diana Dumbrava (“Maria”), Kirron Kher (“Silent Waters”).

Special Mentions for Direction: “The Hairdresser” (Masahiro Kobayashi, Japan), “Tiny Snowflakes” (Alireza Amini, Iran).

VIDEO COMPETITION

Golden Leopard (shared): “Cantata de las cosas solas” (Willi Behnisch, Argentina), “Ixieme: Journal of a Prisoner” (Pierre-Yves Borgeaux, Stephane Blok, Switzerland).

Special Mention: “War at a Distance” (Harun Farocki, Germany)

OTHER MAIN AWARDS

Junior Jury: “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring” (Kim Ki-duk, South Korea).

Fipresci (intl. critics’ assn.) Jury: “Sexual Dependency” (Rodrigo Bellott, Bolivia/U.S.).

Ecumenical Jury: “Silent Waters.”

Intl. Federation of Cinema Clubs Jury: “Spring, Summer,…”

CICAE/Arte Jury: “Spring, Summer,…”

Netpac (Asian cinema) Jury: “Spring, Summer,…”

Critics’ Week Jury: “The Weather Underground” (Sam Green, Bill Siegel, U.S.)

Audience Award: “The Miracle of Bern” (Soenke Wortmann, Germany)