Italian critic Giona A. Nazzaro, artistic director of the Locarno Film Festival, has assembled what he defines as a “broad, diversified and inclusive program” for the 75th edition of the Swiss event, which will open with “Atomic Blonde” helmer David Leitch’s Brad Pitt-starrer “Bullet Train” screening on its 8,000-seat outdoor Piazza Grande.
The frothy U.S. action film is precisely the type of smart entertainment Nazzaro is becoming known for programming in this temple of European indie cinema, alongside smaller budget titles with more gravitas.
As always, the Locarno selection is a mix of potential discoveries from newcomers and works by known directors, including masters like Russia’s Alexander Sokurov, who is expected to make the trek to unveil his new work “Fairytale,” in competition. Nazzaro spoke to Variety the day after announcing his 2022 lineup about his selection criteria and why he decided not to boycott Sokurov despite the fact that the fest stands in solidarity with Ukraine.
Talk to me about the opener. Is Brad Pitt coming?
Let’s get the Brad Pitt issue off the table. He will not be attending. We are working other angles [in terms of talent coming with the film] that will be revealed later on. We had the opportunity to see “Bullet Train” shortly before our press conference and it’s going to be a real treat for the Piazza. This is a fantastic actioner, full of humor and great and intelligent energy. It proves that it’s possible to make blockbusters that are both hugely entertaining and extremely intelligent.
Another catchy standout on the Piazza is “Paradise Highway” with Juliette Binoche playing a truck driver. Is she coming?
Yes, she is confirmed. We will be welcoming her back to Locarno.
Tell me a bit more about “Highway.”
It deals with the huge topic of child trafficking. But it’s not a dark film, it’s hugely uplifting. It’s about the bond that a woman manages to establish with a child who has been abducted, and how they manage to create another bond with a policeman, played by Morgan Freeman, who is investigating the case.
Talk to me about some of the other open-air Piazza Grande titles and the basic philosophy behind this distinctive Locarno section.
The philosophy is to provide a wide range of films that are all hugely entertaining, while not eschewing larger issues.
So, to give you an idea, we also have U.S. director Olivia Newman’s “Where the Crawdads Sing” which is basically about how a woman can self-determine her fate; we have the French film “Angry Annie,” which harks back to the times when abortion was not legal in France, so it’s particularly timely now; we have “You Will Not Have My Hate,” which deals with the aftermath of the Bataclan trauma, but in a finely felt way that is not political or ideological. We also have the Italian environmental thriller “Delta” and the Swiss comedy “Last Dance” with François Berléand.
What I tried to do is have as many films as possible directed by women on the Piazza [6 out of 17 entries in the section are directed by women], and to have films that were totally entertaining for the largest possible audience. But at the same time we were absolutely trying not to dumb it down – if you will. We believe that entertainment can be both serious and fun. I don’t see an opposing scenario where entertainment is only cheap, and seriousness is only extremely highbrow. And I hope this will not land me in hot water!
The competition is a mix of newcomers and known directors. Are there any thematic threads that run through it?
There are some threads, but we discovered [them] after having made the selection. One is that we have at least three works that deal directly with writers or are adapted from books. One is the Swiss doc by Kaspar Kasics, “Erica Jong: Breaking The Wall”; then we have the closer on the Piazza Grande, “Alles Über Martin Suter,” directed by André Schäfer and dedicated to Martin Suter who is the greatest living Swiss author; and there is also “Il Pataffio,” which is adapted from Italian author Luigi Malerba’s work, a book that also served as the basis for Mario Monicelli’s two “Armata Brancaleone” comedies. Another thread that we noticed is that in the films directed by female directors [7 out of 17 directors in competition are women] there is this huge and very strong accent on self-determination of the body, desire and what seduction has become today.
Like Cannes and Karlovy Vary you’ve decided not to boycott a Russian film, Sokurov’s new film “Fairytale,” though the Ukrainian film community will not be pleased. What are the basic considerations behind this decision?
First of all, we stand with Ukraine. There is no doubt about that, especially at a time when the war is dragging on and some people somehow think it would be better if Putin won this war, so that our lifestyle will not be threatened. I think we need to keep up the pressure, especially now. And obviously we stand with Ukrainian filmmakers. But we are not showing Russian films. We are showing a film by Alexander Sokurov who has a well-known position towards the policy of his country [he has outspokenly criticized the Russian invasion of Ukraine]. Sokurov recently [in June] made headlines when he was not allowed to leave Russia to reach Milan [for a conference], though he is expected in Locarno. Another consideration is that this is a completely independent film. It’s totally self-financed. There is no official Russian government money in the film, otherwise we would have not touched it.