The summer movie season may start winding down by early August, but for cinephiles, that’s when the real fun begins. While the fall season festivals — epitomized by the trio of awards season influencers Telluride, Toronto and New York — are a massive platform for major prestige titles at the end of the year, the Locarno Film Festival has the jump on all of them, and provides the most diverse range of cinema you’ll see anywhere in the world.
The 70th edition, announced this week, provides the latest example. No festival embodies the “something for everyone” philosophy better than Locarno, which complements its cinephile-oriented sections with another one exclusively designed for wider audiences. That would be the Piazza Grande, where 16 features screen outdoors for an audience of 8,000 people. But rather than simply showcasing the same summer blockbusters that have dominated the box office, the Piazza features international efforts well suited to pleasing massive crowds, whether or not they find them in theatrical release.
This includes “Atomic Blonde,” the Cold War action vehicle in which Charlize Theron kicks ass with more intensity than any given “Wonder Woman” scene, in addition to “Good Time,” the Safdie brothers’ gripping, Cannes-competing thriller featuring Robert Pattinson as a Queens robber desperate to get his mentally disabled brother out of jail over the course of a single, hectic night. The Piazza is also a good venue for crowd-pleasing comedies, and this year, it will feature Sundance sensation “The Big Sick,” which continues to make waves in the U.S. as the specialty hit of the year.
All that, and the Piazza also makes room for Bollywood (Anup Singh’s “The Song of Scorpions”) and a celebration of one film from its retrospective, Jacques Tourneur’s haunting “I Walked With a Zombie.” Genre fans will also get their fix with “What Happened To Monday?,” a dystopian thriller from Tommy Wirkola, best known for the zombie-Nazis romp “Dead Snow.”
The Piazza section alone provides a welcome form of summer counterprogramming, but other aspects of the lineup survey many of the highlights from the American festival circuit, including a number of New York stories. Eliza Hittman’s gritty, erotic Coney Island drama “Beach Rats” will screen along with Jim McKay’s charming Brooklyn immigrant story “En El Septimo Die,” a surprise hit out of June’s BAMcinemaFEST. They’ll be joined by “Person to Person,” Dustin Guy Defa’s playful ensemble dramedy set over the course of a single day, with a cast that includes Michael Cera and . L.A. gets the spotlight in “Gemini,” Aaron Katz’s dreamlike noir, which was the sensation of the SXSW Film Festival earlier this year. Another SXSW breakout, John Carrol Lynch’s directorial debut “Lucky,” will play in international competition.
Collectively, these movies provide innumerable alternatives to mainstream Hollywood cinema, but they’re only a fraction of the movie experiences in the Locarno lineup. The festival opens with the world premiere of Noemie Lvovsky’s “Tomorrow and Every Other Day,” starring Mathieu Amalric, and will present a number of world premieres from globally-respected filmmakers and newcomers alike.
While many of these films are unlikely to generate the same degree of interest as the splashier entries that premiered in Cannes competition earlier this year, they’re better positioned to be heralded as hidden gems, many of which will continue to crop up in fall festivals such as Toronto and New York alongside some of the glitzier awards-season hopefuls.
Some of the notable names this year include France’s Serge Bozon, whose “Madame Hyde” stars Isabelle Huppert. Following up on his slapstick effort “Tip Top,” former critic Bozon’s latest work is a feminist twist on “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,” with Huppert playing a mild-mannered teacher who becomes a very different person after she’s struck by lightning. If that’s not enough to make you buy a ticket to Switzerland right now, the international competition will also feature a newly completed movie by the late Raúl Ruiz, “La Telenova Errante.” Co-directed by Valeria Sarmiento, the film was one of the prolific Chilean filmmaker’s unfinished projects at the time of his death in 2011.
Other filmmakers of note in the lineup include avant-garde wonder Ben Russell (“Good Luck”) and China’s Wang Bing (“Mrs. Fang”), both of whom will premiere new works in international competition, a testament to just how wide a net the programmers cast. They’ll be accompanied by Locarno regular Denis Côté, the Canadian director whose narrative works include the surreal “Vic + Flo Saw a Bear.” Côté, whose films are usually melancholic character studies with otherworldly twists, will premiere “Your Smooth Skin,” which focuses on a brotherhood of body builders.
The most audacious films in Locarno tend to wind up in the Signs of Life section, which features experimental projects. One name in particular stands out this year: Romania’s Rude Jude. In contrast to many recent Romanian filmmakers who tend to operate in a singular, naturalistic mode, Jude has fired off in a number of unexpected directions in recent years. His bracing black comedy “Everybody in Our Family” looked nothing like the raunchy period drama “Aferim!” or his mesmerizing 2016 WWII-era sanatorium tale “Scarred Hearts,” a Locarno premiere. In Signs of Life, Jude will premiere “The Dead Nation,” which is composed of ‘30s and ‘40s glass-plate photographs of Romanian life while the filmmaker explores the rise of anti-Semitism that’s eerily absent from the images.
Most bigger festivals include a handful of special prizes, and Locarno’s no exception, although even here the diversity of the programming creeps in. French director Jean-Marie Straub will receive a lifetime achievement award, while the Excellence Award Moët & Chandon award will go to actor Mathieu Kassovitz (best known as Nino in “Amelie”). Adrien Brody will receive the Leopard Club Award, while the independent producer award will go to Michael Merkt (“Toni Erdmann,” “Elle”).
As usual, the festival’s Summer Academy will host several educational workshops, including the Filmmakers Academy, the Industry Academy, and the Critics Academy, in which aspiring critics from around the world will contribute coverage of the lineup to several publications, including IndieWire.
The 2017 Locarno Film Festival runs August 2 – 12.
View the full lineup for the 2017 Locarno Film Festival on the next page.