By Eric Kohn | Indiewire August 1, 2012 at 9:41AM
The Locarno Film Festival begins its 65th edition tonight with the world premiere of Nick Love's Ray Winstone crime vehicle "The Sweeney" at the famous outdoor Piazza Grande, which typically seats some 8,800 people. But while the Piazza has evolved into Locarno's most emblematic ingredient, there's a lot more to the program, which includes two main competitions dominated by world premieres, a complete Otto Preminger retrospective and another for "Holy Motors" director Leos Carax.
While a number of U.S. films that had premieres on their home turf earlier this year will make their European debuts this week (as Indiewire outlined on Monday), Locarno also hosts an early look at some potential festival breakouts, many of which may surface at the Toronto International Film Festival or elsewhere this fall.
Indiewire will feature reviews and other coverage of the Locarno fest over the next week and a half, as well as coverage by the participants of the festival's Locarno Critics Academy, but for now here is an appetizing early handful of movies from the current program worth keeping on your radar.
Greek director Athina Rachel Tsangari's playfully surreal coming-of-age feature "Attenberg" was a sleeper hit of the festival circuit last year. She also recently produced "Alps," the follow-up to the Oscar-nominated "Dogtooth" from director Yorgos Lanthimos, who has a supporting role in "Attenberg." Firmly established as a significant voice in her country's close-knit film community, Tsangari returns to the festival scene with her third directing credit, "The Capsule," which is officially described as "a series of lessons on discipline, desire, discovery and disappearance." More specifically, like "Attenberg," it involves a group of young women in a desolate location -- in this case, "a mansion perched on a Cycladic rock." The Gothic mystery was commissioned in conjunction with an installation piece by art collector Dakis Joannou, and it showcases avant garde costumes designed for the DesteFashionCollection 2012. In theory, at least, the project is a transmedia head trip.
It might sound odd to describe experimental documentary filmmaking duo Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel as a "non-fiction powerhouse." However, seeing as they offered up exemplary work that pushed the boundaries of the form with their previous efforts, the term seems apt. "Sweetgrass," Castain-Taylor's 2009 Montana-based portrait of shepherds venturing through the Beartooth Mountains with hundreds of sheep in tow, was a mesmerizing look at the relationship between humanity and nature. Paravel's "Foreign Parts" brought an unlikely poetic component to her look at a community of immigrants whose lives intersect at Queens junkyards and auto-shops. Now the pair has teamed up for this gorgeous-looking paean to the world of fishing -- which, as an official description points out, was shot in the same waters where the action of "Moby Dick" takes place. Captured with a dozen cameras by both the filmmakers and their subjects, the movie promises a breathtakingly lyrical take on the ritualistic hunting process at its center. Watch the trailer below:
Fresh from its well-received premiere at the Sydney Film Festival, director Cate Shortland's follow-up to 2004's "Somersault" is an adaptation of Rachel Seiffert's 2003 novel "The Dark Room," which follows a group of German characters whose stories intersect as they struggle to comprehend their uncomfortably close connection to the Holocaust. More specifically, it revolves around the conflicted daughter (newbie Saskia Rosendahl) of a Nazi official fleeing wartime destruction with her relatives. Set for a North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next month followed by a release by Music Box Films, the lavish period piece features German dialogue, but it also reflects Australia's thriving film scene -- it boasts cinematography by Adam Arkapaw, who recently photographed the acclaimed Australian dramas "The Hunter" and "Animal Kingdom." Early reports suggest an intense, solemn experience made real by gripping performances and the fundamental moral conflict that drives them. Watch the trailer below:
For years, documentarian Jem Cohen has carved out a niche with his distinctively meditative non-fiction essay films, which include the recent feature "Chain" and "Lost Book Found," two remarkable instances of Cohen's ability to blend personalities with their surrounding environments to hypnotic effect. "Museum Hours," his first feature in eight years, explores the city of Vienna through the experiences of a perspicacious visitor to the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Canadian singer Mary Margaret O'Hara). Although technically Cohen's first foray into narrative filmmaking, the slim synopsis, which outlines an abstract look at the various ingredients that compose any given space, relates to ideas at the root of Cohen's entire output.
While a lot of movies at Locarno may stand out because of the previous track records of the people involved with them, the festival is also known for its discoveries, and many of the first-time directors in the Filmmakers of the Present section are positioned to make potentially memorable debuts this year. One of the two U.S. productions in the section, "Ape" contains ingredients that suggest a twisted version of Louis C.K.'s FX show "Louie" mixed with the libido-fueled pyromania of last year's indie hit "Bellflower." Written, produced, directed and edited by Joel Potrykus, "Ape" revolves around an increasingly disgruntled, down-on-his-luck stand-up comedian whose life spirals out of control when one of his jokes has serious ramifications in the real world. Watch the trailer below: