“Rule 34,” a challenging and sexually explicit film from Brazilian director Julia Murat, has emerged as the surprise winner of the Golden Leopard award at this year’s Locarno Film Festival — an edition where typically audacious and formally ambitious work dominated the program. Marking a strong ceremony for female filmmakers, the main competition jury at the Swiss festival also handed an impressive three awards — best director and a brace of acting prizes — to gritty coming-of-age drama “I Have Electric Dreams,” an auspicious debut feature from Costa Rican writer-director Valentina Maurel.
A character study of a young female law student pursuing a parallel calling in amateur online pornography — while defending female abuse victims in her day job — “Rule 34’s” title stems from the popular online meme that “if it exists, there’s a porn version of it.” Murat’s film wasn’t among the buzzier entries in this year’s competition, but its combination of complex sexual politics and frank, audience-implicating games of spectatorship evidently won over a jury that was never likely to take the safe route. Presided over by fearless European arthouse producer Michel Merkt (“Elle,” “Toni Erdmann”), it also included two filmmakers whose breakout features likewise tested the possibilities of sexuality and violence on screen: Alain Guiraudie (“Stranger by the Lake”) and Prano Bailey-Bond (“Censor”). Emmy-winning producer William Horberg (“The Queen’s Gambit”) and rising Italian filmmaker Laura Samani (“Small Bond”) rounded out the panel.
The jury’s other clear favorite was comparatively low-key: “I Have Electric Dreams” enters the anxious headspace of a 16-year-old girl caught between her parents in the wake of their divorce: Increasingly estranged from her mother, she sets out to live with her spiraling, mentally unstable father, with troubling consequences. It’s distinguished from other comparable plotted coming-of-agers by its intimate, unsentimental domestic observation and a pair of courageous performances, from young newcomer Daniela Marín Navarro and her onscreen dad Reinaldo Amien Gutiérrez, that won best actress and actor respectively. The Locarno prizes will come as a welcome windfall for both these demanding, small-scale projects from relatively unknown filmmakers, significantly boosting their global distribution prospects.
Thanks to the unusual trifecta of prizes for Maurel’s film — a close runner, one presumes, for the top prize — only one other title in the 17-film competition lineup floated the jury’s collective boat: Alessandro Comedin’s “Gigi La Legge,” a whimsical docufiction in which a rural Italian traffic officer is caught up in an inexplicable chain of local misfortunes, took the Special Jury Prize. That meant no prizes for the highest profile film in the lineup, Russian auteur Alexander Sokurov’s surreal deepfaked historical meditation “Fairytale,” while critical favorites like Helen Wittmann’s Claire Denis homage “Human Flowers of Flesh” and Abbas Fahdel’s three-hour Lebanon Revolution doc “Tales From the Purple House” also left the fest empty handed.
In the festival’s secondary Cineasti del Presenti competition, limited to first and second features, another female filmmaker came up trumps: Slovak director Tereza Nvotová took the top prize for “Nightsiren,” a reflection on rural misogyny that braids realism with indigenous mythology. Croatian writer-director-actor Juraj Lerotić was just behind, taking the section’s emerging director award for his autobiographical debut “Safe Place,” about a family riven by a suicide attempt — but then came out on top in the festival’s separately juried First Feature Competition.
At the festival’s closing ceremony later that day, two awards were presented in the festival’s populist Piazza Grande section. Variety‘s own Piazza Grande Award, annually determined by Variety critics in attendance at the festival, went to French filmmaker Blandine Lenoir’s “Angry Annie,” an abortion-rights drama that, notwithstanding its 1970s setting, plays topically in light of the recent Roe v. Wade reversal: Variety‘s review describes it as “bright and predominantly hopeful in tone, and powered by a typically lovable performance from recent César winner Laure Calamy as a meek wife and mother emboldened by an underground women’s movement.” The audience-voted UBS Prix du Public, meanwhile, went to Swiss entry “Last Dance,” a feelgood life-after-bereavement crowdpleaser.
Full list of winners below.
Golden Leopard for Best Film: “Rule 34,” Julia Murat
Special Jury Prize: “Gigi La Legge,” Alessandro Comedin
Best Director: “I Have Electric Dreams,” Valentina Maurel
Best Actress: “I Have Electric Dreams,” Daniela Marín Navarro
Best Actor: “I Have Electric Dreams,” Reinaldo Amien Gutiérrez
CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE COMPETITION
Best Film: “Nightsiren,” Tereza Nvotová
Best Emerging Director: “Safe Place,” Juraj Lerotić
Special Jury Prize: “How is Katia?,” Christina Tynkevich
Best Actress: “How is Katia?,” Anastasia Karpenko
Best Actor: “Safe Place,” Goran Marković
Special Mention: “Sister, What Grows Where Land is Sick?,” Franciska Eliassen
FIRST FEATURE COMPETITION
Swatch First Feature Award: “Safe Place,” Juraj Lerotić
Special Mentions: “Love Dog,” Bianca Lucas; “De Noche Los Gatos Son Pardos,” Valentin Merz
PIAZZA GRANDE AWARDS
Variety Piazza Grande Award: “Angry Annie,” Blandine Lenoir
UBS Prix du Public: “Last Dance,” Delphine Lehericey
PARDI DI DOMANI SHORT FILM COMPETITION
Best Auteur Short Film: “Big Bang,” Carlos Segundo
Best International Short Film: “Sovereign,” Wara
Runner-up: “Neighbor Abdi,” Douwe Dijkstra
Best Director: “Hardly Working,” Total Refusal
Medien Patent Verwaltung AG Award: “Mulika,” Maisha Maene
Special Mention: “Mother Prays All Day Long,” Hoda Taheri
Locarno Short Film Candidate for European Film Awards: “Neighbor Abdi,” Douwe Dijkstra
Best Swiss Short Film: “Euridice, Euridice,” Lora Mure-Ravaud
Runner-up: “Der Molchkongress,” Matthias Sahli, Immanuel Isser
Best Swiss Newcomer: “Heartbeat,” Michèle Flury
PARDO VERDE WWF AWARDS
Pardo Verde WWF Award: “Matter Out of Place,” Nikolaus Geyrhalter
Special Mentions: “Sermon to the Fish,” Hilal Baydarov; “It is Night in America,” Ana Vaz
INDEPENDENT JURY AWARDS
Ecumenical Jury Award: “Tales of the Purple House,” Abbas Fahdel
FIPRESCI Award: “Stone Turtle,” Ming Jin Woo
European Cinemas Label Award: “Tommy Guns,” Carlos Conceição
JUNIOR JURY AWARDS
Junior Jury Award: “Piaffe,” Ann Oren
Runner-up: “Tommy Guns,” Carlos Conceição
Second runner-up: “Serviam – Ich Will Dienen,” Ruth Mader
Environment Award: “Sermon to the Fish,” Hilal Baydarov
Cineasti del Presente Award: “Sister, What Grows Where Land is Sick?,” Franciska Eliassen
Special Mention: “Petites,” Julie Lerat-Gersant
Best International Short Film: “Hardly Working,” Total Refusal
Best Swiss Short Film: “Fairplay,” Zoel Aeschbacher
Special Mention: “Les Dieux du Supermarché,” Alberto Gonzalez Morales
Open Doors Short Award: “Techos Rotos,” Yanillys Pérez
CRITICS’ WEEK AWARDS
Grand Prix: “The Hamlet Syndrome,” Elwira Niewiera, Piotr Rosołowsk
Premio Zonta Club Locarno: “Ruthless Times – Songs of Care,” Susanna Helke
Marco Zucchi Award: “Fledglings,” Lidia Duda