My Locarno Film Festival

What comes next is a personal account of the 67th edition of the Locarno Film Festival, that was held on August 6-16th, 2014. I was there for a long weekend, watching roughly 4 movies a day, for 3 days.


What is a film festival? Do real people having nothing to do with cinema go there?

Second question first: yes, a lot!

First question: That’s a gathering of: actors, journalists, fans, interested people, all encompassing the main product: movies. As a spectator, you have a lot of different screens, mostly inside cinemas or big halls. In Locarno there were 4-5 movies being screened at the same time, the first starting at 9:00 am and the last ending around 1:00 am. A real hero could watch 7-8 movies a day. All movies are organized in different categories, the most important one being the International Contest. Movies from this latter category are candidate to win the Pardo d’oro, which is the main award.

On top of this, there are public meetings with filmmakers and actors, private and non-private parties, and all the standard money-making business that converge where people converge, from kebabs to paint-your-name-on-a-rice-grain shops.

Why did you go there?

To watch movies, and let them inspire you. One will mostly find the festival kind of movies, which are often outside the commercial logic and therefore hardly screened on cinemas or tv. This is especially true for Locarno, which is very well-known1 but does not have the financial power of, say, Cannes, which can attract blockbusters and world-famous stars. It does not mean that you will like all movies, but that all movies have something interesting. More popular movies are also screened, especially during evenings in the beautiful setting of Piazza Grande (the main square).

To discuss with people interested in movies: mostly, with people I already knew, but there are many venues to share your ideas with unknowns. For instance, the Swiss-Italian TV held a contest for twitter-reviews of movies, using the hashtag #mypardo. I find very stimulating (though sometime frustrating) to condense in 140 characters at the same time your opinion about a movie and its plot. You can make it plain, but then there’s no point at all of tweeting it. You can make it very intellectual-haiku style, but then you’ll be the only one understanding it. For instance, I tweeted the following about the movie Durak

Durak: nell’unità di tempo e luogo, tragedia notturna polifonica per violino stonato con il resto dell’orchestra

(Durak: in the unity of time and place, a nocturn polyphonic tragedy for a violin out-of-tune with the rest of the orchestra).

With hindsight, I understand it’s hard to get an idea of the movie from the tweet. The following is a more well-thought tweet I did about Perfidia:

 Una volta si doveva tornare dal Vietnam per essere disadattati, oggi basta essere adulti. #perfidia tragico Taxi Driver all’italiana.

(There was a time when it was necessary to be back from Vietnam in order to be a weirdo. Now it’s enough to be grown up.#perfidia tragic italian-style Taxi Driver).

Also, reading other people’s tweets was extremely interesting.

How does it feel being there?

Well, it’s a good opportunity to understand if myths about movies match reality: is everybody in town was crazy about the festival? (mostly). Do tons of people run from one screening to the other? (yes, at least tons according to swiss standards). Can you sit at a bar and have an aperitif with people that are in the movie business? (more or less, especially those from minor productions). Are real stars are so beautiful and remote as one may imagine? (well, I did not see any of them, and I am not even sure what real star means).

So, what did you watch? 

Many things, ranging from good to extremely good. No movie left me breathless, but some scenes did. Let me just mention a few movies that I liked. I try to spoil as little as possible.

Mon père, la révolution, et moi (My father, the revolution, and myself). What if your father is a Turkish refugee in Switzerland, and so much of a clumsy dreamer that he will go from being your hero to being your desperation? Powerful autobiographical story of a young Swiss-Turkish filmmaker. Sweet, optimistic, and told with smile, even in the most dramatic moments. Like the father, that in his fifties still has press clippings stuck next to his bed.

Ventos de Agosto (August winds). A typical aesthetic movie. In an Amazonian cost so beautiful and peaceful to be boring, a boy and a girl become lovers because they do not have much else to do. A mystery will bring them apart. Amazing photography and characters of exotic beauty. Also, there is an extreme attention to details and to how the story is told: what to screen, what to suggest without really showing, what to leave untold. But the plot is too simple and too short, and the movie feels somehow incomplete.

La Sapienza (The wisdom). The most peculiar movie I watched. A materialist, deeply rational architect goes on a trip to Italy following the traces of the great Renaissance master Borromini. He will meet a young man willing to become an architect, that in his innocence will teach him the importance of curves and light in buildings as in life. It is at the same time a movie about architecture, and a deeply philosophical one, embracing the neoplatonic philosophy of Renaissance. The structure of the movie itself also owes a lot to architecture, with many symmetries running through it. It is shot in a very unconventional way: the actors move rigidly, talking to each other with their bodies stiff and not really interacting.

Durak (Idiot). In an ultra-corrupted Russia, a guy tries to save 800 people trapped in a crumbling building, while everybody else just tries to save himself. Everybody is calling each other Idiot, but who is the real one? Those who cannot find their place in the society, or those that do nothing to improve it? A night-long Odyssey told from different points of view, in the style of the great Russian novelists. Interesting movie, not exactly a festival one: it is more of a “mass awakening” kind of movie.

Perfidia (Perfidy). Angelo is a 35-years old son with no job, no girl, and no interests, leaving in an eternal present of boredom. Family troubles will shake him out of his dullness, and make him realize how harsh and unfair society is towards him. His reaction will be even harsher and more unfair. Overall the film is good, and the photography in a couple of dramatic scenes is extremely good. A Taxi driver from the suburbs, without the commercial need for an happy ending (this is not Hollywood!). The dating scene, especially, reminded me a lot of the masterpiece by Scorsese.

TotemsA short movie of stunning beauty participating to the national contest – a minor category. A girl tries to come over his past and his admiration for a grandfather that used to be a novelist and now is just an old jerk. Myths that falls, while a neighbour artist erects totems.

Will you go there again?



1. It is accredited from FIAPF – the International Federation of Film Producers Association – as a Competitive film festival, the same category of Cannes, Venice, and Berlin, among others.


Japan for beginners

edited on Feb 10th, 2012.

[This is the first of a series of three posts on Japan. A second one about Kyoto and Takayama can be found here. A third one on Tokyo is here.]

As I will be travelling around Japan for 11 days starting from tomorrow (I’ll try to post from Japan in this blog, stay tuned), in the last month and half I felt like I needed to know more about this country. Being born in Italy in the early ’80s, I grew up knowing everything about US (sub)culture, while my understanding of Japan was limited to this and this. Hence I browsed through the net looking for something to look at and read. Here come the highlights of my search.

I read a collection of essays by Yukio Mishima, a deeply nationalist and conservative novelist. He committed a ritual suicide in 1970 after his coup attempt failed – his purpose was to fight against modernization of Japan and what he claimed to be its humiliating situation after World War II. Reading them was a good way to get to know Japan classical values, and the most prominent effects american cultural influence had on them. I can suggest especially Spiritual lectures for a young samurai (I translated the title from the Italian, hence the official English one may be different).

I wanted to read something by Haruki Murakami, who is rocking modern Japanese literature. By mistake, I borrowed from the library In the miso sup, a pulp, post-modern novel by Ryu Murakami about the encounter of a young Japanese with an american serial killer who also turns out to be a psychic (this is a spoiler, but you’re not going to read it, are you ?). The background is the Tokyo sex industry, where people bring together their loneliness and alienation. Mishima’s hate for modern lifestyle and its consequences on Japanese society echos everywhere in this novel. I’m not too much into this kind of books, but it was an easy read so I devoured it and, all in all, it was ok.

I flickered through other books, most notably The road to Sata, the account of a 3,500 km long tour of rural Japan the late Englishman Alan Booth did (by feet) some 35 years ago. It describes a Japan that I won’t visit and may not exist anymore; still, it provides a nice glimpse at the lifestyle of Japaneses, as well as at their attitude towards foreigners. Witty descriptions and observations are often coupled with surreal dialogues, like the following between the author and the host of a ryokan – a traditional Japanese inn:

– Are there any free rooms ?
– Well, yes, there are, but we haven’t got any beds. We sleep on mattresses on the floor.
– Yes, I know. I’ve lived in Japan for seven years.
– And you won’t be able to eat the food.
– Why, what’s the matter with it ?
– It’s fish.
– I like fish.
– But it’s raw fish.
– Look, I’ve lived in Japan for seven years. My wife is Japanese. I like raw fish.
– But I don’t think we have any knives and forks.
– Look…
– And you can’t use chopsticks.
– Of course I can. I’ve lived in Japan for…
– But it’s a tatami-mat room and there aren’t any armchairs.
– Look…
– And there is no shower in the bathroom, it’s a o-furo.
– I use chopsticks at home. I sit on tatami. I eat raw fish. I use an o-furo. I’ve lived in Japan for seven years. That’s nearly a quarter of my life. My wife…
– Yes, but we can’t speak English.
– I don’t suppose that will bother us. We’ve been speaking Japanese for the last five minutes.

It seems that Japanese modern movies are either action-packed, manga style films, or quite sophisticated ones. From the second category I watched Maborosi, the story of a young bride dealing with a sudden loss. It has some poetry: the photography and the direction are extremely accurate, especially in the exterior shots. Also, the characters are charming and intense. But sometimes it gets too slow. A funny documentary about Japan and Tokyo are those shot by OLN [edit: I found out this documentary is part of the Globe trekker series, produced by Pilot Productions and broadcasted, among others, by OLN], that follows the discovery of Japanese culture by a British journalist.

Also, it seems the gathering a decent amount of practical information before landing into Japan is very important, as few people speak English there, especially out of big cities. The tourist guides Eyewitness travel and Lonely Planet (and the website listed therein) are very good sources of travelling tips, also providing a brief introduction to Japanese culture and habits.

[Edit: Another book I liked is Tokyo Underworld by Robert Whiting. It is an account of the development of Western mafia in Japan: it arrived right after World War II and had a key role in boosting economic and industrial growth in the subsequent years. The leading character is Nick Zappetti, a former Italian-American marine, which came to Tokyo at the end of the war and went on to be a beer and checks smuggler, a wrestler, a jewel robber, a chef, the owner of the biggest chain of Pizzerias in Tokyo, a pig breeder, and much more – always with a close connection with Japanese and foreigners “that really count”. Entertaining and informative (the book, not Zappetti).]