Critical Consensus is a biweekly column in which critics discuss new releases or events in the film world. In this special edition, Indiewire critic Eric Kohn moderates a discussion with the eight participants in the 2012 Locarno Critics Academy, a workshop for college-age film critics that took place over the past two weeks during the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. The participants in the following discussion are Michael Nordine (USA), Ari Gunnar Thorsteinsson (Iceland/Sweden), Adam Cook (Canada), Giovanni Vimercati aka Celluloid Liberation Front (Italy), Beatrice Behn (Germany), Claudia Piwecki (Italy), Marc Menichini (Italy) and Zeba Blay. Links to the work they published during the festival can be found throughout the conversation; an organized list of their writing can be found here.
Let's begin by discussing the Golden Leopard winner, Jean Claude Brisseau's "The Girl From Nowhere." Some of you were surprised by this decision.
The poster for the 2012 Locarno Film Festival.
MICHAEL NORDINE: It had a cheap look to it. It seems like it must have been a consensus choice [by the jury]. I just can't see people feeling really strongly about that film.
ARI GUNNAR THORSTEINSSON: The only thing I find interesting about it is that it fits so well into the theme I feel has been developed throughout the festival of horror coming out of romantic relationships. "The Girl From Nowhere," along with "Jack and Diane," is probably the most literal interpretation of that theme. But I still think it's a pretty poorly made film. It looks like it was edited in Windows Moviemaker.
COOK: Well, that's true, especially after Brisseau's other movies, which are more aesthetically refined. But it's fitting with the film's overall stripped-down, very personal and intimate approach.
NORDINE: "The Shine of Day" was very stripped down, but it still looks nice. "The Girl From Nowhere" looks like it was shot on a camcorder at times. That doesn't add anything.
COOK: I wouldn't say that detracts from it.
NORDINE: It did for me.
So which film would you have awarded the Golden Leopard instead?
NORDINE: I would have given it to "Leviathan." No question.
THORSTEINSSON: I liked "Leviathan," it's something worth seeing. I was a bit ambivalent going out of it, but the images have stuck with me more than I anticipated they would. My favorite thing in competition is "Compliance," but I figured that wouldn't win because it has already been discussed and hyped up before Locarno.
COOK: I would've given it to "Leviathan" as well.
CELLULOID LIBERATION FRONT: I have a problem with "Leviathan." I did like it. The imagery is very impressive and strong, but it does not register the human factor of the actions it captures. It's totally an aesthetic work that does not convey any human aspects of the activity it's showing, which is fishing.
NORDINE: But that's because they're only part of this big thing. The movie is so industrial that they're just cogs in this big machine. There's one scene where you're watching this fisherman watch a movie play on DVD for several minutes until he falls asleep. Every time you see these men, you think, "This must be hell on their bodies."
COOK: You almost feel the physical pain.
CLF: I don't agree. What I didn't feel was the physical pain, the fatigue, the loneliness of being in the middle of the sea. Because it's one of the few jobs of our post-industrial world where most work is immaterial, it would have been constructive to show the sweat, the fatigue.
BEATRICE BEHN: I looked at it more as an industrial film as an aesthetic choice. I thought it was an interesting film in terms of film history, because it's the second stage of having the camera unchained. There was a point when cameras could be moved around for the first time. They could have the first tracking shots. For me, this is a new, huge step. I saw framing and images I'd never seen before. It blew me away. I found myself with the POV of a fish. It's a dead fish surrounded by other dead fish! I felt miserable. That was mind-blowing.
CLAUDIA PIWECKI: If you had included more humanity in it, you would have had to use more words. But that's not really part of it.
COOK: It doesn't have to be dialogue-based. I think it's trying to abstract the experience and make it strange to us.
CLF: And what's the purpose of abstracting it? I see what you mean, but I didn't get it.
COOK: It's something new. What that means, I can't tell you. It's a sensory experience more in line with Stan Brakhage.
BEHN: It just shows incredible possibilities that no one has even tried before. I want to see more documentaries like this.
NORDINE: And what makes that even more impressive is that so much of the time they're literally just throwing cameras around and letting them go in and out of the water. It's kind of rudimentary, but the results are incredible.
THORSTEINSSON: It does have my favorite shot of the festival, when the camera comes out of the water and captures the seagulls flying upside down. That is incredible to watch. I'm not passionately against it, as I am with "Somebody Up There Likes Me." I don't understand why anyone likes that.
BEHN: I liked that film.
PIWECKI: I liked it, too. It was one of my favorites.
COOK: So did I. So you're outnumbered!
Bob Byington's "Somebody Up There Likes Me"
NORDINE: I liked the opening sequence, but from there it seemed like another cutesy, ironic American independent more into its own aesthetic and characters than in trying to say anything.
THORSTEINSSON: It doesn't have any emotional connection to anything. I also think it's casually misogynistic toward the female characters. Jess Wexler has a totally useless nude scene. It just infuriated me. It has ironic distance from its own ironic existence. I've said this more than once.
Next page: How does the festival environment affect the type of reactions a film receives?