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Locarno Favorite Lav Diaz’s ‘From What Is Before’ Wins Top Prize

Filipino director Lav Diaz, who headed the international competition jury at last year’s Locarno Film Festival, returned to take the top prize at the Swiss sprocket opera’s 67th edition with his film “From What Is Before.” Clocking in at a daunting 338 minutes, the 1972-set, black-and-white period piece depicts the atmosphere and activity in an embattled barrio shortly before Filipino prexy Ferdinand Marcos put the troubled country under martial law.

This year’s jury, headed by Italian helmer Gianfranco Rosi, also included actresses Alice Braga and Connie Nielsen — considered wild cards as cineastes tried to predict which of the film’s in the fest’s typically austere lineup might take the Pardo d’oro. “You try telling Connie Nielsen that she has to sit through a five-hour movie,” one festival worker was overheard saying earlier in the week.

The Special Jury Prize went to a far more accessible American pic, Alex Ross Perry’s “Listen Up Philip,” starring Jason Schwartzman as a self-absorbed young novelist who risks becoming even more insufferable through the coaching of a mentor played by Jonathan Pryce. Written in the same squirm-inducing spirit as Lena Dunham’s “Girls,” the discomfiting dramedy will play the New York Film Fest before its U.S. release on Oct. 17 from Tribeca Film.

Directing honors went to Portuguese helmer Pedro Costa, who revisits his evocative Fountainhas haunts in the well-received “Horse Money,” while performance prizes were awarded to actress Ariane Labed, playing the forlorn sailor in French “Fidelio,” and actor Artem Bystrov, who carries Russian drama “The Fool” as a plumber who stands up to a corrupt system. The jury also gave a special mention to Brazilian helmer Gabriel Mascaro’s “August Winds.”

Though the event is internationally known and respected for its intellectually rigorous and frequently arduous art-film lineup, Locarno has something of a split identity. The festival also boasts Europe’s largest cinema screen for its Piazza Grande premieres, where extremely populist pics are unveiled for a mass public numbering as many as 8,000 on any given night (dwindling to as few as 100 on evenings dampened by this year’s frequent rainstorms).

For the Piazza Grande program, the audience serves as the jury, awarding the UBS Public Prize to feel-good Swiss comedy “Schweizer Helden,” in which a woman works with a group of asylum seekers to put on a holiday stage show. Meanwhile, the Variety Piazza Grande Award went to “Marie Heurtin,” a French twist on “The Miracle Worker,” revealing a young nun’s devoted efforts to break through to a young deaf and blind girl.

In addition to its eminent international competition, Locarno hosts several other juries, including a team of three critics and programmers who award the fest’s Opera Primi (best first film) prize. That honor went to South Korean director Soon-mi Yoo for her “Songs From the North,” with a special mention given to Sawada Masa’s “I, Kamikaze.”

Overseen by Syrian helmer Ossama Mohammed (“Silvered Water”), the jury for the Cinema of the Present sidebar — which spotlights first and second features — gave its Pardo d’oro trophy to Mexican helmer Ricardo Silva for his controversial and explicit ”Navajazo,” which blurs the lines between anthropology and exploitation, documentary and scripted scenes in depicting life among the drug addicts and hookers living on the margins in Tijuana.

Also in the same section, Oscar Ruiz Navia’s ”Los Hongos” won the Special Jury Prize, while Simone Rapisarda Casanova earned emerging director honors with “The Creation of Meaning.” The Cinema of the Present jury also awarded a special mention to “A Young Poet,” the debut feature from French helmer Damien Manivel.

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