The Locarno Film Festival A City Wears Leopard Print

Piazza Grande

Locarno is set to carry on defending its position on the festival scene against Cannes, Venice and Toronto with the varied programme presented by the new festival director, Carlo Chatrian, on his debut. In 2013, films by German directors were represented there in various different series. Werner Herzog – one of the most famous movie makers in the world – was awarded the Leopard of Honour.

In 2013 the Locarno Festival continued to show a keenly experimental mix all of its own, the like of which is not normally seen in cinemas. Here, extreme narrative styles and formal severity encounter an intrigued audience with an open mind to cinematic concepts.

Barometer for documentary films

From a German perspective, Marc Bauder’s Master of the Universe has to have been one of the winners of the festival. The category in which it was shown, and in which it received the Best Film award, the Semaine de la Critique, is an independent section of the festival organised by the Swiss Association of Film Journalists, which has proved to be a good barometer for documentary cinema highlights of the future. In 2012, David Sieveking was able to take home the prize for Vergiss mein nicht (Forget-me-not).

Marc Bauder’s documentary film is scaled back to the essentials and spends 90 minutes dealing with its protagonist, a former banker, who talks about circumstances and key figures within the world of investments and shares. He does this in a personal style rich in anecdotes and details, critical of the financial markets and yet from a position of deep understanding, as he himself used to be one of these “Masters of the Universe” – a play on words involving the arrogant investment banker in The Bonfire of the Vanities (Brian De Palma, 1990). The film illuminates the system of maximising profit by speculating at a visual level as well, peeping through fully-glazed windows into the brokers’ and bankers’ offices. The interview was filmed with the insider in a disused multi-storey bank building, a backdrop to the crisis.

Open-air cinema in the city centre

For many years the focal point of the Locarno Film Festival has been the Piazza Grande in the historical city centre in the Swiss canton of Tessin. Once dusk has fallen it becomes an open-air cinema with up to 8000 seats and a stage for presentation of awards. For this reason the Piazza programme is also more audience-oriented than other series. There were comedies, lyrical independent cinema, new films from Switzerland and international productions, some of which involve German collaboration. Movie director Sandra Nettelbeck presented Mr. Morgan‘s Last Love starring Michael Caine, and she is able to rely on the presence of her leading actor absolutely in this romantic/nostalgic Paris film about an elderly man and a young woman. Vijay and I is the title of Sam Garbarski’s comedy with a disguise factor. In this film, Moritz Bleibtreu proves many things – including the fact that he is able to look strikingly like an Indian gentleman, and that German actors are sought after even abroad.

There was also a German film among the contenders in the shape of Feuchtgebiete (Wetlands), which attracted some attention. Not only did the crew and cast travel to the festival, they were also joined by Charlotte Roche, the author of the bestseller novel on which the film is based. Making a film of a bestseller like this is always a subject for the media too, particularly for Wetlands, a book whose trademark was to be a frequent topic of conversation.

David Wnendt, who had already demonstrated his talent as a director with Kriegerin (Combat Girls) was not afraid of taking risks here either. He produced Wetlands (the international title), as a coming-of-age story with a mixture of breaking taboos, a comic-type appearance and a leading actress who blithely pushes the boundaries of shame. Enough to put a young audience under its spell. But apart from the yuck factor, with secretions from the special effects tube and a few possibly real bodily fluids to ensure that the film is subject to a 16 certificate in Germany, Wetlands also tells the story of deep-seated traumas.

First prize surprise

The leading actress from Tessin, Carla Juri, won lots of sympathy points for the almost innocent portrayal of exhibitionist Helen. Through her the freedom of the starring character becomes a statement of individuality and being different as well. But the best actress prize went to Brie Larson after all, who plays a supervising staff member of a foster care facility in the US independent drama Short Term 12, a far more exciting film. She has to deal with her own pain and at the same time save the children from themselves. The film went down extremely well with both audience and jury, and also received a special mention.

Festival del film Locarno / Sailas VanettiBut the first prize in the International Film Festival in Locarno, the Golden Leopard, went to a work that probably nobody expected to win apart from the jury: Historia de la meva mort by Catalan director Albert Serra. As a film-maker he stands for provocative art cinema. The film is based around two characters from film and literature at once: Casanova and Dracula. Lovers of the genre were also able to enjoy another festival entry, Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu – Phantom der Nacht (Phantom of the Night) from 1978. Thanks to Herzog’s Leopard of Honour there was an opportunity to see some of his best-known films such as Fitzcarraldo on the big screen again.