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Valentin Merz’s “De Noche los Gatos Son Pardos” scooped the biggest prize, the Cinegrell First Look Award, at this year’s Locarno Festival First Look pix-in-post competition, one of its industry centerpieces.

Now in its tenth edition, First Look’s focus this year was Switzerland with a jury and industry audience given the chance to preview six upcoming Swiss feature films at various stages of rough or final cut.

Merz’s second feature, after the time and character-hopping “A Vulgar Adventure,” “De Noche” turns on a crew and cast shooting a bawdy costume drama in wooded hills – the setting, time period and whether actors are performing for the camera or in behind-the-scene action sometimes remains vague. Suddenly Valentin disappears. Robin, its DP and Valentin’s lover, travels to the shores of Mexico’s Pacific Ocean, fulfilling a promise he once made to Valentin.

“The boundaries between the film-within-the-film and the narration from a bird’s eye view are intentionally blurred,” Merz said. “Along with its playful approach to fiction and narration, the film erases the classical boundary between those behind and in front of the camera,” he added.

Shot in Limoges, France and southern Mexico, “Los Gatos…” screened 74 minutes in Locarno of an estimated total 120-minute running time. In will be ready for delivery Jan. 2022, Merz said.

The Cinegrell First Look Award consists in SFr 50,000 ($54,500) of post-production services from Cinegrell, a Zurich-based services and restoration company. Produced by Marie Lanne-Chesnot and Merz at Andrea Film, “De Noche” won for “its complexity, its playfulness and its innovative and challenging storytelling,” said a jury consisting of Sebastian Höglinger (Diagonale), Orestis Andreadakis (Thessaloniki International Film Festival) and Jean-Pierre Rehm (FIDMarseille).

The Le Film Français Award – an offer of advertising services – went to “Semret.” The feature debut of editor turned writer-director Caterina Mona, a drama about an Eritrean single mother who works at a Zurich maternity ward, hoping to rise from bed nurse to house-wife. Wrongfully accused at her hospital of malpractice, with her 14-year-old daughter pressing to know about her origins, Semret has to stand up for her rights, and face off with deep trauma from her past.

Character-driven and carried by Lula Mebrahtu’s performance as Semret, the film is the latest production from indefatigable Michela Pini (“Love Me Tender”) at Cinédokké, a driving force on the film scene in Locarno’s local region of Ticino. It is co-produced by Cineworx Produktion Basel and RSI Radiotelevisione Svizzera..

An estranged father-son relationship drama set in the Swiss mountains, “Réduit,” the feature debut of Leon Schwitter, nabbed the Kaiju Cinema Diffusion Prize, which comes in the form of the design of an international poster. “Reduit” is produced by Caroline Hepting, Rea Televantos, Leon Schwitter (EXIT Filmkollektiv) and is co-produced by Sabotage Filmkollektiv.

More to come