LOCARNO — Talk about opening with a bang.
Held in the open air Piazza Grande, the inaugural ceremony of the 66th Locarno Festival unspooled on Wednesday night, with Christopher Lee accepting a Moet et Chandon Excellence Award in fluent Italian, as thunder rumbled ominously down the valley at the Swiss Alp lakeside resort.
Soon the spectacular play of lightning could have been mistaken for paparazzi’s flashlights. Half an hour into Baltasar Kormakur’s U.S. chart topper “2 Guns,” torrential rain began to lash spectators. It is a testimony to the Denzel Washington-Mark Walhberg two-hander that some of the Locarno Piazza Grande audience preferred to sit the film out in plastic anoraks, although drenched to the skin, rather than move to a nearby roofed theater that the festival makes available for such eventualities. Call it a test screening.
The Locarno international premiere of “2 Guns” probably set a record for the number of people walking out of a Washington film; which didn’t mean it played badly.
Indeed, spectators were still laughing even when standing up huddled under the Pizza Grande’s arches at Washington’s character’s attempts to fend off Wahlberg’s character’s buddy-buddy approaches.
Financed by Emmett/Furla Films and Mark Damon’s Foresight, produced by Marc Platt who has a distribution deal with Universal, and sold to Sony for much of foreign, “2 Guns” sits somewhere on the borderlands between a big indie movie and a studio film.
The fact that it opened Locarno forms part of new festival director Carlo Chatrian’s detente with Hollywood. Already spangled by name auteurs, and with a strong Asian presence this year, if Locarno were to grab more U.S. pics, it would have a chance to steal some of the Venice festival’s thunder.
That may, indeed, be its ambition. At its opening ceremony, festival president Marco Solari said its mantra was “freedom” and also, notably, “growth.”
So far it has been two modest indie pics, however, that appear to be the critics’ favorites among very early international competition films: Joaquim Pinto’s HIV-themed “What Now? Remind Me,” and Daniel and Diego Vega’s “El Mudo,” Kafka-meets-Kaurismaki in a magistrate’s office in Lima.
“When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism,” from Romania’s Corneliu Porumboiu, about a film director rehearsing a nude scene with his leading lady and lover, predictably split critics, fans rising to its witty observance of emotional power play within a movie-making context, naysayers simply being left cold.