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Locarno: Estonia’s ‘Portugal’ Wins Top First Look Prize

Lithuania's 'El Padre Medico,’ Estonia’s ‘The Little Comrade’ also take plaudits

LOCARNO, Switzerland —  Making good on its buzz coming into Locarno, “Portugal,” the debut film feature of renowned Estonian playwright Lauri Lagle, took the top First Look prize on Sunday at Locarno’s Festival, as Locarno’s three day pix-in-post showcase, focusing this year on Baltic Cinema, came to an end.

“Portugal’s” prize, Euros 65,000 ($76,560) in post-production services sponsored by Cinelab Bucharest, marks further recognition for Estonia’s Allfilm. Launched in 1995, Allfilm was the first Estonian production house to snag foreign-language Academy Award and Globo no0minations, both for Zaza Urushadze’s “Tangerines.” The Allfilm-produced “The Fencer” proved also made the Golden Globe foreign-language shortlist.

“Portugal” won for its “originality and look at contemporary life in Estonia,” said a press release. But the malaise it deals with – the evolution of married partners, plus modern woman’s questioning her taken-for- granted family lot – is hardly limited to Estonia.

Playing in competition at Locarno, “Freedom” tackles indeed some of the same issues, but without the comedic beats which lighten “Portugal’s” narrative. In it, Karina, a loving wife, begins to suspect her husband, Martin, of an affair; he hits a mid-life crisis and joins a gym. Karina begins to spruce up the family’s trailer and one day simply ups and leaves on her own without a word of explanation. She doesn’t know what she want; but she does want a new beginning.

“The story touches on different phases of love and dissects the paradox of how to love a person for who they were and for who they’re becoming,” the film’s synopsis reads.

“Portugal” will be ready for delivery in February 2018. In further awards, Vytautas Puidokas’ “El Padre Medico” took two prizes –the Baltic View online platform and the Kaiju- Cinema Diffusion awards coming with international promotion aid and contribution towards key art, respectively.

Produced by Paulius Juočeris’ Ironcat, based out of Vilnius, in Lithuania, in co-production with Brazil’s Lente Viva Filmes and Lithuania’s Dansu Films, “Padre Medico” traces the life of Alexander Ferdinand Bendoraitis (1919- 1998), a man who cut a near saintly figure when he appeared in the Amazon in the 1960s, founding a hospital, acclaimed as a missionary and philanthropist. Yet “from investigation into his real life, it is beginning to appear that Bendoraitis spent all of his life under a false identity, creating countless fake narratives around himself,” Juoceris told Variety.

The documentary promises reveals “a shocking reality reaching far more than just the Padre himself,” he added.

Le Film Français Award, consisting in advertising placements, went to Moonika Siimets’ first feature, “The Little Comrade,” produced by Estonia’s Amrion. It depicts six-year-old Leelo whose mother, a school principal, is deported to a labor camp. The little girl tries to follow her mother’s last instruction to be a good kid. Just what that means in Stalinist Estonia is another matter. “The Little Comrade” won for its “great storytelling, international appeal, the great performance and historical reconstruction.”

The First Look Jury was made up of Cannes Critics’ Week artistic director Charles Tesson, Venice Days’ deputy director Sylvain Auzou and Jenn Murphy, the AFI Fest’s senior programmer.

2017 LOCARNO FESTIVAL FIRST LOOK WINNERS:

“Portugal,” (Lauri Lagle, Estonia),

“The Little Comrade,” (Moonika Siimets, Estonia)

“El Padre Medico,” (Vytautas Puidokas, Lithuania, Brazil)

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