Given that, after its shuttered 2020 edition, the 74th Locarno Film Festival’s ident features a prowling, growling, resurgent leopard and the distinctly tumescent tagline “Cinema is Back” it’s somewhat ironic that the festival’s top prize should go to a film about erectile dysfunction.
In other ways, however, Indonesian director Edwin’s fabulously if nonsensically titled “Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash” is perhaps the ideal Golden Leopard winner, in what is a strange year for the world, and a strange year for the Swiss festival, which is finding its footing under the new artistic direction of Giona A. Nazzaro.
As an admixture of several distinctly populist genres that still, as Variety critic Jay Weissberg noted, uses impotence as a metaphor “to make a broader critique of a toxic culture that puts so much emphasis on virility,” the film is among the best exemplars of Nazzaro’s avowed ambition to shift the Locarno selection toward more genre-inflected fare. Yet as a work of social relevance from an internationally established filmmaker, awarding it is also a nod to the auteur-driven arthouse tradition for which Locarno has until now been better known.
That dual impulse is also reflected in another of the decisions handed down from the international competition jury, headed by director Eliza Hittman, with veteran hellion Abel Ferrara scooping best director for “Zeros and Ones.” Here though, despite the presence of star Ethan Hawke and the outline which might make one envisage a straightforward, near-future sci-fi flick, the mainstream-friendly genre elements are a kind of false flag operation, potentially luring the unsuspecting, thrill-seeking viewer into a deliberately obscure, challenging thesis on pandemic-era paranoia and pessimism, which, according to Weissberg, is probably most successful in “reproduc[ing] the general state of unease and insecurity that’s plagued most of us during lockdown.”
With the Special Jury Prize going to “A New Old Play,” an epic, three-hour-long history of 20th century Chinese theater and society, from Chinese artist and filmmaker Qiu Jiongjiong, we might seem to be back to obscure, forbidding business as usual for Locarno awardees. But that’s unfair to a film that’s far less stodgy than its description, in also being a surprisingly playful afterlife dramedy, featuring exquisitely composed, self-consciously theatrical tableaux as its striking, whimsical aesthetic.
The acting awards, too, are pretty unimpeachable: Best actress Anastasiya Krasovskaya absolutely electrifies Russian film “Gerda” in a difficult and physically demanding role, while it’s hard not to enjoy the mischief of awarding best actor jointly to Mohamed Mellali and Valero Escolar, the two real-life plumbers who bring such irrepressible charm to the inventive “The Odd-Job Men.” It is perhaps a small disappointment that Chema García Ibarra’s critically beloved and hotly tipped “Espíritu Sagrado” has to make do with a Special Mention, but still good to see it recognized, alongside another Special Mention for home-team favorite “Soul of Beast,” from Swiss director Lorenz Merz.
Away from the main competition, in the “Cinema of the Present” section dedicated to emerging filmmakers, the main award goes to Francesco Montagner’s quietly absorbing “Brotherhood,” a Czech documentary following brothers fending for themselves when their father is incarcerated for extremist activities that picked up quite a bit of buzz on the ground. Hleb Papou’s taking the emerging director award for “Il Legionario” is perhaps a slightly safer choice, but here again, it may be that the expertly crafted thriller elements in this story of a riot police officer faced with evicting his own family from the building they’re occupying appealed under the new genre-friendly regime.
The section’s Special Jury Prize goes to Émilie Aussel’s “L’Été L’éternité,” in which a heady, lazy last summer of childhood is painfully interrupted by tragedy. And for the first time this year, this sidebar also fields two acting awards, which go to well-established German actress Saskia Rosendahl for Sabrina Sarabi’s “No One’s With the Calves,” and first-time actor Gia Agumava, for Elene Naveriani’s “Wet Sand.” Speaking of first-timers, and again of films that skew genre, the Swatch First Feature Award goes to Charlotte Colbert’s impressive #MeToo horror “She Will,” and a Special Mention goes to another female director, Araceli Lemos, for her excellent feature debut about faith, mysticism and displacement, “Holy Emy.”
With only two awards yet to be revealed at tonight’s closing ceremony – the audience prize and the Variety Piazza Grande Award – due credit should go to the various juries for avoiding the pitfalls of a selection that was perhaps a little less consistent and convincing overall than this remarkably solid winners list might suggest.
The full list of Locarno award winners so far:
“Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash,” (“Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas,” Edwin, Indonesia, Singapore, Germany)
Special Jury Prize
“A New Old Play,” (“Jiao Ma Tang Hui,” Qui Jiongjiong, Hong Kong, France)
Abel Ferrara, (“Zeros and Ones,” Germany, U.K., U.S.)
Anastasiya Krasovskaya, (“Gerda,” Natalya Kudryashova, Russia)
Mohamed Mellali, Valero Escolar, (“The Odd-Job Men,” (“Sis Dies Corrents”), Neus Ballús, Spain)
“Soul Of A Beast,” (Lorenz Merz, Switzerland); “Espíritu Sagrado,” (Chema García Ibarra, Spain, France, Turkey)
Cinema of the Present
“Brotherhood,” (Francesco Montagner, Czech Republic, Italy)
Best Emerging Director
Hleb Papou, (“Il Legionario,” Italy, France)
Ciné Plus Special Jury Prize
“L’Été L’éternité,” (Émilie Aussel, France)
Saskia Rosendahl, (“No One’s With the Calves,” Sabrina Sarabi, Germany)
Gia Agumava, (“Wet Sand,” Elene Naveriani, Switzerland, Georgia)
Swatch First Feature Award
“She Will,” (Charlotte Colbert, U.K.)
“Holy Emy,” (“Agia Emi,” Araceli Lemos, Greece, France, U.S.)
Leopards of Tomorrow Short Film Competition
Swiss Life Pardino d’Oro
“Creature,” (“Criatura,” María Silvia Esteve, Argentina, Switzerland)
SRG SSR Pardino d’oro, Best International Short
“Neon Phantom,” (“Fantasma Neon,” Leonardo Martinelli, Brazil)
SRG SSR Silver Pardino, International Competition
“The Demons of Dorothy,” (“Les Démons De Dorothy,” Alexis Langlois, France)
Leopards of Tomorrow, Bonalumi Engineering Best Direction Prize
Eliane Esther Bots, (“In Flow Of Words,” Netherlands)
Medien Patent Verwaltung AG Award
“Home,” (“Imuhira,” Myriam Uwiragiye Birara, Ruanda)
“First Time (The Time For All But Sunset – Violet),” (Nicolaas Schmidt, Germany)
Locarno Film Festival Short Film Candidate for the European Film Awards
“In Flow Of Words”
Swiss Life Golden Pardino, Best Swiss Short Film
“Strangers,” (“Chute,” Nora Longatti, Switzerland
Swiss Life Silver Pardino
“After A Room,” (Naomi Pacifique, U.K., Netherlands, Switzerland
Swiss Newcomer Award
Flavio Luca Marano, Jumana Issa, (“It Must” (“Es Muss”) Switzerland)
Variety Piazza Grande Award
“Rose,” (Aurélie Saada, France)
UBS Audience Award
Hinterland, (Stefan Ruzowitzky, Austria-Luxembourg-Belgium-
Europa Cinemas Label
“The Odd-Job Men”