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Hong Sang-soo’s ‘Right Now, Wrong Then’ Takes Top Honors At Locarno

Polish veteran Andrzej Zulawski wins Best Director for his comeback feature 'Cosmos' as the Swiss fest draws to a close.

“Right Now, Wrong Then,” a bittersweet romantic comedy by Hong Sang-soo, has taken the coveted Golden Leopard prize at the 68th edition of the Locarno Film Festival. Awarded the prize by an International Competition jury that included German thesp Udo Kier and U.S. helmer Jerry Schatzberg, the prolific South Korean auteur beat out a heavyweight field that included new works from Chantal Akerman, Andrzej Zulawski and Athina Rachel Tsangari.

Hong’s leading man Jung Jae-young also took Best Actor honors for the film, a structurally playful meditation on social graces and missed chances, in which the same romantic scenario plays out twice with markedly different results. Variety‘s review describes it favorably as “a film of minute observations rather than grand revelations, less concerned with butterfly-effect consequentiality than with the variable human foibles that can turn a bad day into a good one.” The win gives the low-key pic a healthy profile boost as it heads into further fest appointments in Toronto and New York.

It’s not the first Locarno win for Hong, who scooped the Best Director award at the Swiss sprocket opera only two years ago for “Our Sunhi.” This year, that prize went to Polish veteran Zulawski for “Cosmos,” his first feature film in 15 years. Adapted from the surreal novel by Witold Grombowicz, the pic was described by Variety critic Peter Debruge as one of “many droll, enigmatic details,” citing its “expert control” of aesthetic and tone.

The Special Jury Prize, effectively the runner-up gong to the Golden Leopard, was presented to Israeli visual artist turned filmmaker Avishai Sivan for his third feature “Tikkun.” The religious drama, about an Orthodox academic undergoing a spiritual crisis, unspooled at last month’s Jerusalem Film Festival. It received an additional citation from the jury for Shai Goldman’s black-and-white lensing.

Rounding out the jury awards in the main competish was Japanese director Hamaguchi Ryusuke’s “Happy Hour”: It took a joint Best Actress award for ensemble players Tanaka Sachie, Kikuchi Hazuki, Mihara Maiko and Kawamura Rira, with a special mention for its script. The film, centered on a quartet of female friends cast adrift when one of them divorces, runs over five hours in length: Following last year’s Golden Leopard win for Lav Diaz’s even longer “From What Is Before,” the Locarno competition must rank among the fest circuit’s most accommodating toward super-sized works.

From the more populist-inclined Piazza Grande program — the selections of which are screened nightly in Locarno’s 8,000-seat open-air showcase venue — the audience-voted UBS Public Prize went to German post-Holocaust thriller “The People vs. Fritz Bauer.” Following the eponymous state attorney’s attempt to bring Auschwitz war criminals to trial. Variety critics reached a different conclusion, the pic was dismissed in Variety as a “teleplay-style treatment of a still-touchy subject.”

This publication’s critics reached a different conclusion in the same section, presenting the Variety Piazza Grande Award to French helmer Catherine Corsini for “Summertime,” a 1970s-set lesbian love story starring Cecile de France and Izia Higelin. The pic, praised by Debruge as a “beautifully realized tearjerker,” hits French screens on Aug. 19.

In the fest’s Cinema of the Present sidebar — reserved for frosh and soph filmmakers — a jury presided over by filmmaker Julio Bressane handed the top prize to Bangalore-based novelist-turned-helmer Raam Reddy for his debut feature “Thithi,” a drama studying three generations of sons as they process the death of the family patriarch. Reddy also received the Swatch Award for Best First Feature, determined by a separate jury of film critics and scholars. Also commended by both juries was 25-year-old Chinese filmmaker Bi Gan, for his poetic, dream-like debut “Kaili Blues.”

The Special Jury Prize in Cinema of the Present was handed to Spanish director Marco Herce for his debut feature “Dead Slow Ahead,” while the First Feature jury also singled out Sina Ataelan Dena’s “Paradise” and Elena Khoreva’s “Kiev/Moscow. Part 1” for its winners list.

The awards will formally presented at a ceremony tonight, to be followed by the world premiere of the fest’s closing film, Brazilian musical drama “The Violin Teacher.”

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