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‘A Land Imagined,’ ‘BlacKkKlansman,’ Women Directors Win at Locarno Fest

The 71st edition of the Locarno Film Festival drew to a close over the weekend, with Singaporean writer-director Yeo Siew Hua’s contemporary noir “A Land Imagined” taking the Golden Lion award in the international competition.

Yeo’s first narrative feature since his experimental 2009 debut “In the House of Straw,” the politically infused mystery – about a Singapore police detective on the trail of a missing Chinese construction worker – was not a widely expected winner of the top prize in a diverse competition that included well-received features by Hong Sang-soo, Radu Muntean and Kent Jones. Variety critic Jay Weissberg was less impressed than Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke’s jury, writing that the film “privileges style over coherence.”

At an award ceremony that saw victories for several female filmmakers, France’s Yolande Zauberman took the Special Jury Prize, essentially the runner-up gong, for “M,” a Yiddish-language exploration of Bnei Brak, the Israeli city regarded as the hub of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Another female helmer, Chile’s Dominga Sotomayor, was named Best Director for her third feature, “Too Late to Die Young,” a post-Pinochet coming-of-age story inspired by her own youth and praised by Weissberg as “a satisfying sensorial work,” bound for a “thriving festival life.”

Performance prizes went to Korean actor Ki Joobong, the taciturn lead of Hong’s bittersweet family reunion dramedy “Hotel by the River,” and young newcomer Andra Guti, who plays the volatile title character in “Alice T.,” Muntean’s abrasive study of a teenage pathological liar.

British photographer Richard Billingham’s autobiographical debut feature, “Ray & Liz,” a striking cinematic extension of his celebrated family portraiture, received a special mention from the jury, which also included filmmakers Sean Baker and Tizza Covi, writer Emmanuel Carrere and actress Isabella Ragonese. To the surprise of many pundits, Argentinian director Mariano Llinas’ mammoth 14-hour undertaking “La Flor,” an episodic, genre-switching experiment that was among the festival’s most critically beloved selections, went unrewarded.

In the festival’s more popular-minded Piazza Grande section, Spike Lee’s raucous race-relations comedy “BlacKkKlansman,” already a Grand Prix winner at Cannes in May, received the audience-voted Prix du Public to a roar of approval from the crowd gathered for the open-air ceremony. The Variety Piazza Grande Award, determined by Variety critics attending the festival, went to a home-turf title, Swiss writer-director Bettina Oberli’s ecologically themed romance “With the Wind.” The Variety team praised it for its complex female characters and artful production values.

Women also triumphed in two other adjudicated sidebars, with Damascus-born documentarian Sara Fattahi topping the less mainstream Cinema of the Present section for her film “Chaos,” a triptych studying three Syrian women unmoored in different ways by the conflict in their homeland. German newcomer Eva Trobisch was a roundly applauded winner of the Best First Feature prize for “All Good,” a powerful, clear-eyed study of a rape victim attempting to continue her life without visible disruption.

It’s a crop of winners in line with Locarno’s reputation as a festival committed to challenging perspectives in world cinema, in its final year under the leadership of artistic director Carlo Chatrian, who will take the reins of the Berlinale. European festival regulars will be intrigued to see how much of that independent spirit carries over to Berlin’s larger, glossier platform.

The full list of feature film award winners at Locarno:

International Competition

Golden Leopard: “A Land Imagined,” Yeo Siew Hua

Special Jury Prize: “M,” Yolande Zauberman

Best Director: Dominga Sotomayor, “Too Late to Die Young”

Best Actess: Andra Guți, “Alice T.”

Best Actor: Ki Joobong, “Hotel by the River”

Special Mention: “Ray & Liz,” Richard Billingham

Cinema of the Present Competition

Best Film: “Chaos,” Sara Fattahi

Best Emerging Director: “Dead Horse Nebula,” Tarık Aktaş

Special Jury Prize: “Closing Time,” Nicole Vögele

Special Mention: “Fausto,” Andrea Bussmann”; Rose, character in “L’Epoque,” Matthieu Bareyre

First Feature Competition

Best First Feature: “All Good,” Eva Trobisch

Swatch Art Peace Hotel Award: “Acid Forest,” Rugile Barzdziukaite

Special Mention: “Erased, Ascent of the Invisible,” Ghassan Halwani

Signs of Life Competition

Best Film: “The Fragile House,” Lin Zi

Mantarraya Award: “Le discours d’acceptation glorioeux de Nicolas Chauvin,” Benjamin Crotty

Piazza Grande

Prix du Public: “BlacKkKlansman,” Spike Lee

Variety Piazza Grande Award: “With the Wind,” Bettina Oberli

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