While American audiences are stuck with the last tidbits of summer movie season, audiences at the Locarno International Film Festival have a very different set of options. The Swiss gathering, which begins its 68th edition this week, offers one of the broadest showcases of international cinema on the planet. Its massive outdoor venue, the Piazza Grande, hosts a range of crowdpleasers (including, this year, the European premiere of “Jason Bourne”) while other sections feature the latest efforts from veteran directors and rising stars of the festival circuit. While much the press, industry and general audience in Locarno hails from Europe, many of the program’s highlights travel later in the year to bigger festivals in Toronto and New York.
Here’s a look at some of the more promising selections, bearing in mind that other discoveries await in the days to come.
The festival’s opening night selection is an adaptation of British author M.R. Carey’s popular science fiction novel about several children trapped at a military base after they prove immune to a virus that threatens humanity’s future. Carey’s premise is part eerie dystopia, part zombie thriller, as the children survivors develop a nasty habit of consuming human flesh. But here’s the catch: They’re still sentient beings with feelings. These include the individualistic Melanie (Sennia Nanua) who must take control of the group when the base is overrun by an even greater threat. With a cast rounded out by Gemma Arterton and Glenn Close, this elegant-looking survival drama from director Colm McCarthy (who next helms the pilot for “Krypton”) doesn’t hit U.S. theaters until 2017, but as a female-driven sci-fi thriller, will likely generate plenty of anticipation following its Locarno debut.
The second feature from Bulgarian directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov (“The Lesson”) has the simple premise of a parable: A railroad worker discovers money on the tracks, hands it over to the police and receives a watch as his reward. When it stops working — a handy metaphor, at least in theory, for the dysfunction of the government’s relationship to its lower class — he launches a quest to find his old one. Early buzz suggests that this is the kind of tender, neorealist character study that festival audiences tend to support while good word-of-mouth-could catapult it to broader attention.
“Hermia & Helena”
American-based Argentinean director Matias Piñero has quietly made a name for himself as one of the most innovative filmmakers in contemporary Latin American cinema, with a series of playful modern riffs on Shakespeare that update the text to contemporary characters. While his last effort, “The Princess of France,” wrestled with Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour Lost,” with “Hermia & Helena” the filmmaker turns to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” This time, he follows a young theater director to New York, where she aims to translate the play into English. It’s a new setting for Piñero’s oeuvre, but the plot — the young director gradually loses herself in her relationship problems, and wanders off-task — sounds like another wonderfully inventive attempt by Piñero to fuse the old with the new.
Four years since his acclaimed tale of tough kick-boxers and fugitives “Bunohan,” Malaysian director Dain Iskander Said returns with “Interchange,” a compelling noir-soaked drama about the work of a forensics photographer and a detective on the trail of a serial killer. The story reportedly finds the photographer falling for an enigmatic woman with a dark background of her own, which leads him down a murky trail of supernatural phenomena. Said’s atmospheric approach suggests an immersive tale rich with ambiguity and passionate characters in search of meanings that constantly elude them. It’s the kind of enticing mystery in which solutions are beside the point.
Portuguese filmmaker João Pedro Rodrigues has been a festival favorite ever since his 2000 feature “O Fantasma,” but his quixotic looks at sexual identity and national politics only deepened from there, with works ranging from the richly flamboyant “To Die Like a Man” to the diary film “The Last Time I Saw Macao.” Now he’s seemingly returning to traditional narrative territory with “The Ornithologist,” the story of a young researcher on the hunt for an endangered species of storks who gets lost in the wilderness. His ensuing adventures reportedly find him encountering some Chinese pilgrims and other colorful characters as he ventures toward some kind of revelation. Rodrigues, whose films are rich with inventive storytelling techniques, doesn’t seem like he has lost any of his edge with this one.
IndieWire will be covering the festival throughout the week in addition to hosting essays by the participants in the latest edition of the Critics Academy.