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Pedro Costa’s ‘Vitalina Varela’ Triumphs at Locarno Film Festival

The 72nd Locarno Film Festival drew to a close Saturday with Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa’s dark and detached film “Vitalina Varela” coming away with several awards together with superlatives from segments of the hardcore cinephile crowd, including jury president Catherine Breillat.

In announcing the Golden Leopard prize for the film, as well as best actress to its eponymous star, Breillat was emphatic in saying that Costa’s achievement goes beyond mere awards, insisting on its place in the cinema pantheon.

Costa was the most prominent name in the International Competition selection this year, which marked Lili Hinstin’s first edition as festival director. Other awards in the main section went to Park Jung-bum’s “Height of the Wave” (Special Jury Prize) and Damien Manivel as best director for “Isadora’s Children,” with the top actor going to Regis Myrupu in Maya Da-Rin’s “The Fever.” All the prizes reflected the jury’s marked preference for a well-established trend in contemporary art-house cinema favoring form over content, aestheticized atmosphere over traditional storytelling.

In the Cineasti del presente section, reserved for upcoming directors, the Golden Leopard went to Senegal’s Mamadou Dia, a Tisch School graduate, for his debut feature about family differences and Islamic radicalization, “Nafi’s Father” (the film also won the Swatch First Feature Award). The best emerging director prize was given to Algerian filmmaker Hassan Ferhani for his documentary “143 Sahara Street,” while the special jury prize was awarded to “Ivana the Terrible,” a Romanian-Serbian coproduction directed by Ivana Mladenović.

This year’s Piazza Grande selection, usually reserved for films with greater appeal to general audiences, was notable for a clear programming direction that saw darker themes than in the past mixed with broader comedies and the occasional fantasy feature. Variety’s Piazza Grande award, given to the film that best combines artistic vision with popular appeal, went to “Instinct,” a tense, strongly-played Dutch production by Halina Reijn.

Hinstin’s programming for her first year as festival director continued the inclination of her predecessor Carlo Chatrian in privileging films that sit squarely in the more challenging reaches of world cinema, though the traditional identities of the different sections seemed less categorizable than in the recent past. The draw of Hollywood however is something difficult to shake, and John Waters’ cinema chat was greatly appreciated by both journalists and public.

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