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LOCARNO 2005 -- FULL WELLES RETROSPECTIVE

LOCARNO 2005 -- THE FULL REPORT
58th LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL FEATURES
MOST COMPLETE ORSON WELLES RETRO EVER --
by Alex Deleon  --  (for <www.filmfestivals.com>)
The 58th installment of the Locarno film festival at the Tippety-top of glorious Lago Maggiore in the Italian Speaking part of Switzerland (Ticino) got underway on Wednesday, August 3rd and will go on until August 13. Some 300 films of all kinds will be projected at numerous venues all over town, but the main event is the slate of 18 features in competition for the spotted leopard awards, the jungle cat in question being the symbol of this fabulous Alpine resort city for nearly a hundred years, or long before Visconti's famous film "Il gato pardo" = The Leopard.  The calling card of this festival, however, is the open air screening of films (usually big spectaculars) every night in the Piazza Grande or main city square on what is said to be the largest screen in Europe -- with room enough to seat up to 7,000 spectators. In spite of the size of the screen the projection is nevertheless remarkably clear -- (think super-duper American Drive-in without cars) -- and the sound is perfectly clear all over the plaza.
Unlike most big competition festivals, Locarno has never gone in for mainstream blockbusters, although one or two occasionally turn up. Instead, as festival topper IRENE BINIARDI puts it, "we are interested in the artistic side of cinema and in the discovery of new directors and talent from lesser known countries and film cultures."   Big international names who will be specially honored during the fest include legendary Italian cameraman Vittorio Storaro (many films with Coppola including "Apocalypse Now"), and American thespians Susan Sarandon and John Malkovith, both scheduled to arrive next week.
One of the great highlights this year is a thorough -- and I DO mean thorough -- retrospective on Orson Welles covering not only all the films he directed (some in original uncut versions rarely seen), but also all the films in which he appeared as an actor, and even more significantly, all kinds of documentaries, fictionalizations with other actors playing Welles, etc., (one wonders what Orson would have thought of their portrayals...) made over the years in various countries about Welles, as well as many short diary-type films Orson himself made in between larger projects. One of the most interesting entries is a reconstruction of the famous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast of 1938, entitled "The Night that Panicked America", a rarely seen made-for-television film directed by Joseph Sargent in 1975. No masterpiece but, nevertheless, a fascinating contribution to the burgeoning field of Orson Welles Studies with Vic Morrow in the main role of a family man trying to save his embattled family from the "invading Martians", and TV actor Paul Shenar in the shadowy supporting role of Welles at age 23 directing a radio show that was so realistic it panicked a nation on Halloween night, 1938.
All of this material comes from the Film Museum of Munich whose director and Wellesian archeologist is Stefan Droessler. Many of these films were made for European TV and therefore have German or other subtitles, but a goodly number are being shown here in the original English versions without sub-titles under the assumption that most true Welles buffs at a festival such as this will know enough English to get by without the crutch of written translations.  This is an incredible collection of Wellesiana and Orsonography comprising what amounts to a sub-festival within the festival encompassing no less than 74 (seventy four) titles! One extremely handsome movie house, the "Rex" just off the Piazza, has been commandeered for this imposing festival sidebar appropriately named "THE MAGNIFICENT WELLES".  Starting with seminar type workshops in the morning, screenings and discussions of Wellesiana go on here all day long until the chimes of midnight. Further details in my next report.
Alex, Locarno, Switzerland
August 6, 2005 --  (60th anniversary of Hiroshima)
LOCARNO -- AUTHORS AND PERSONALITIES
by Alex Deleon
Locarno is above all a festival of "Auteur" Cinema, a term for which there is no neat  equivalent in English other than to say "authors"  (i.e., directors) of personal films not dictated to by the demands of  the market place, or of producers,  nor made to please anybody but the author of the film himself -- a bit long winded, but the French always seem to have a word for it, especially when it comes to cinema.  This being said the name of the game in Locarno, especially in the competition section, is to seek out independent directors often making their first or second film -- the auteurs of tomorrow -- characteristically from such far flung territories such as the Middle-East, North Africa and Asia. Consequently the films shown in competition at Locarno are for the most part not liikely to be heard from again or seen very much outside of their own territories and other film festivals. For
this very reason Locarno is a kind of marketplace of discovery for those who
are curious about way off- mainstream cinema.
The 18 films in competition this year include twelve world premieres and quite a few multi-national co-productions. Of the competition films I have seen so far one of the most promising is "We are all Fine" (Ma Hame Khoubim), a feature debut from Iran by Bizhan Mirbaqeri, which examines the effect of emigration on the family of the member who has departed.  For 91 minutes one lives within the intimacy of a working class family in Teheran during which every character comes to life  in such a way as to draw the viewer completely in to their family circle and to the mystery of a missing person who contacts them only indirectly through a third party.  Of course, families losing members through emmigration is an ongoing social program in today's theocratically ruled Iran so that there is a subtle political twist to this story, but on the surface this is purely a family drama with certain Kaflaesque overtones.  In any case, a very engaging personal drama annoucing the arrival of yet another strong director to swell the Iranian Nouvelle Vague emanating from that country during the past decade or so.
Other competition films thus far have been quite disappointing. "A Perfect Day", directed in tandem by Khalil Joreige and Joana Hadjithomas (both fluent speakers of French), is an Arabic language film set in contemporary Beirut and also deals with a missing person, in this case a man who was kidnapped and never heard from again -- one of some 17,000 such cases during the Lebanese civil war of the eighties.  Basically this is a two person show, the son of the mising man and his mother, and the big question facing them is whether or not to have the missing father/husband declared legally dead so as to be able to resume life anew, or to continue 'waiting for Godot'... As part of his denial syndrome the son develops a case of narcolepsy, which is a tendency to fall asleep unpredictably at any moment, even at the wheel of his car in the middle of a traffic jam.  While interesting for the view afforded of contemporary Beirut once known as"The Paris of the Middle-East", the film itself is so narcoleptic that it is likely to put viewers to sleep within the first half hour.
"Three Degrees Cooler", still another story of a missing person, is the debut feature of highly respected German Cameraman Florian Hoffmeister.  At the beginning a young man disappears into the surf of a northern Spanish beach city (probably San Sebastian to judge by a Basque insciption which is barely visible)  but he will acxtually turn up later, if one has the patience to await his return.  While not quite as soporific as the preceding Lebanese entry, the troubled young couples in the film are simply uninteresting and their problems do not really amount to so much as a Bogartian hill of beans.  Nice photography but Mr. Hoffmeister is too self involved as a director to make a film capable of holding the attention of an audience. I had to ankle this one after half an hour out of sheer ennui and lack of interest in the shenanigans of the protagonists.
Fortunately, after this brace of sleepwalkers I dropped in to the ongoing Orson welles retrospective where a real gripping drama was on the screen, "MAN IN THE SHADOWS", 1958, directed by Jack Arnold and starring Welles in his "Touch of Evil" period as a terribly -- yea murderously -- corrupt fat man.  This is a modern western in black and white co-starring  another iconic actor of the time, Jeff Chandler, as the incorruptible sherrif of a teeny desert town basically under the thumb, economically, of tyrannical grosso rancher Welles.  When a Mexican bracero is brutally murdered on the ranch with the collusion of Welles, Sherrif Chandler sets ot to investigate and nothing will stop him until he gets to the bottom of it all.  Striking classic drama,  with an immense performance by Welles, in the kind of pictire that will make your day when too much narcolepsic auteurism has sapped your cinematic energy.
PERSONALITIES IN LOCARNO 
The big event of the week was the one day visit yesterday (August  8) of Hollywood actress and Oscar bearer Susan Sarandon.  Susan gave a so-called "marter class" which is a recently coined festival term to glorify a guest appearance in which a famous film personality talks more or less at random for an hour or two to a gathering of professional admirers. The Italians have a special soft spot for Ms. Sarandon as she was once married to an Italian singer asnd has two children by him. The actrice who is known for her political outspokenness and anti-Iraq war position said, among other things that she has been villfied in the press as a "lover of Bin Laden" and pointed out how ridiculous this is. "I am not responsible for my government's foreign policies", she said.   This evening in the Pizza Sarandon will receive an "excellence award" for her career's work and afford the public a direct glimpse of Hollywood glamour.
On Thursday American actor John Malkevitch is also scheduled to give a Master Class type audience at the Forum -- open, incidentally, gratis to the general public.  He has selected as the film to represent him Spike Jonze's "Becoming John Malkevitch", 1999, which will be shown on the giant screen here.  German director Wim Wenders was also so honored in the presence of German Prime minister  Gerhardt Schroeder, evidence that almost anyone will accept an invitation to visit Locarno because it's such a damn nice place for a quick summer vacation. Wenders's latest film "Don't Come Knocking", a neo-western set in Montana and scripted by Sam Shepard will be shown on the giant screen in the Grand Plaza.  Sheperd also acts in the fillm as a washed-up western film star. Co-star is Jesica Lange and featured as Sheperd's mother is Eva Marie Saint, rarely seen these days. Tomorrow, French actress Valeria Bruni Tedeschi will be present to accompany her film "Un Couple Parfait" by Japanese director Nobuhiro Suwa.
LOCARNO, REPORT IV
Friday, August 12, 2005  -- Day ten of eleven days
Video Competition.
The Iranian entry "President Mir Qanbar" by Mohammed Shirvari is a most unusual documentary about a 74 year old man from a village in the Turkish speaking Azerbaijan region who mounts his own private campaign to run for president of Iran.  He travels from village to village on a bicycle addressing whoever will listen with a portable megaphone and is accompanied by a deformed cripple riding a donkey cart.  Being a poor villager himself he contends to be sensitive to the problems of the poor peasants and promises to improve their lot if, with the help of God, he is elected. Considered a completely honest and sincere candidate he actually manages to garner a few votes here and there, more in each runoff, until in the last one he has over 1000 votes against the 36,000 of the winning candidate. Nevertheless, Mr. Qanbar persists and is convinced that he will eventually become president (with the help of God).  Mr. Qanbar, a sprightly congenial gentleman in a green woolen cap, accompanied director Shirvan and his crew to Locarno to help present the film. In the Q and A session following the screening, asked about his impressions of Switzerland, Mr. Qanbar said he was impressed with the orderliness of things but was rather shocked by the scanty summer apparel of the women.  While this film looks on the surface like the study of a Quixotic quest for political office it provides a most intimate view of village life in Iran with lots of donkeys and sheep in evidence, and implicitly speaks volumes about the popular political atmosphere in today's Iran.
In the section "Semaine de la Critique" (critic's week) a very interesting Swiss entry is entitled simply "BLAU". Co-directed by Norbert Wiedner and Stefan Kalin, this is a musical documentary about two alternative musicians, Riccardo Regidor, a composer with jazz roots, and Thomas Hosli, a really off-beat singer and performer in a slightly Elton Johnish way with a definite Swiss twis and perhaps a taste of Jacques Brel. The dialogue in the Swiss German dialect of Luzern had the local audience in stitches, but even for those who do not understand this arcane variation on German, the film is quite entertaining and offers an insight into a little known central European music scene.
The major competition film screened for the press in the morning was has the long title "S(c)eptique -- Vendredi ou un autre jour" (Sceptic Friday-- or some other day) and is yet another Robinson Crusoe tale, this time from Belgium. Not very different from the Tom Hanks vehicle "Castaway" of 2000, although this version naturally has a francophone twist.  The lonely shipwreck survivor is Philipe Nahon, a famous actor of the Comedie Francaise in Paris, the castaway savage who eventually becomes his Man Friday (or any other day?) quickly learns to speak French, and the pirates who accidentally discover the uncharted Island are French speaking pirates. In the end Nahon, after 21 years of nearly timeless life in the raw, elects not to go back to civilization when he has the chance, but decides to remain on the Island where he is king in eternal anonymity.  Directed by Yvan La Moine "Another Friday" is beautifully photographed and has some interesting philosophical touches, but one cannot help asking, "Do we really need yet another Robinson Crusoe flick?".
On the giant screen tonight we were treated -- although subjected would be a better word for it  --  to an absolutely unwatchable  premeire entitled "Rag Tale". This film by Irish first timer Mary McGuckian, is ostensibly a satire of media moguls like Rupert Murdoch but the Dutch-angled fast moving camera, constantly swinging side to side and plunging in and out for no reason at all, is utterly stupefying.  This film is the polar opposite stylewise of Nobuhiro Suwa's "A Perfect Couple" in which there is almost no camera movement at all.  The effect of this frenzied camerawork, especially on the super large screen, is so off-putting as to drive an ordinary viewer schizoid after ten minutes.
Piazza Grande viewers strode out in droves so that by the halfway mark the piazza was half empty, containing only diehard big screen fans staying on to see the second part of the twin bill, Terry Gilliam's 1981 "Time Bandits". Gilliam is one of the "Fantastic Four" here to receive special career distinctions, along with Wim Wenders, Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami and cameraman Vittorio Storaro who is also the president of the international feature jury.
The Orson Welles highlight of the day was his very rarely shown "Falstaff -- Chimes at Midnight", 1965, which Welles always claimed as his personal favorite.  Loosely adapted from several Shakespeare plays in which the boisterous character of John Falstaff appears, Welles himself at the age of fifty plays the ribald central figure and is ably supported by a mainly English cast, notably John Gielgud as the king. French nouvelle Vague actresses Marina Vlady and Jeanne Moreau have cameos.  Moreau, it is said, worked for almost nothing just to be directed by the great Welles. The film was shot in Spain and was an international coproduction with such complicated distribution rights that they remain unsettled to this day making the film well nigh unseeable under normal conditions. I found it almost unwatchable because Welles is so hammy in it, and it looks like it was just slapped together from whim to whim -- very self indulgent and just plain boring from where I sat. It was an effort to sit it out, which I did as a kind of "critique oblige" type thing.  Nevertheless one must offer Kudos to the Munich film archive for getting the unadulterated "Chimes" to Locarno.  One of Orson Welles daughters, Chris Welles, is also here to take in the retrospective and said that she is learning things about her own father she never knew before.
Alex, Locarno, August 12. 2005
Saturday, August 13.
NASHVILLE CLOSES FEST AS AWARDS ARE ANNOUNCED
Alex Deleon,  for <www,filmfestivals.com>
GOLDEN LEOPARD: Grand prize for best film in international competition.
"Nine Lives" by Rodrigo Garcia, USA Special Jury Prize; "Un Couple Parfait"
(A perfect couple), France, directed by Nobuhiro Suwa, starring Valeria Bruni/Tedeschi.
Silver Leopard, Second prize; "FRATRICIDE", a  very strong film about Kurdish and Turkish
relations and conflicts in Germany. Director, Yilmaz Aslan.
Silver Leopard for Best first or Second film: "3 GRAD KAELTER" (Three degrees cooler), dir.
Florian Hoffmeister Silver Leopard for best Actrice: The ensemble of the actresses of the film "Nine Lives", by Rodrigo Garcia, USA. Leopard for Best Actor; Patrick Drolet, for "La Neuvaine", Director, Bernardo Edmond, Canada. Special Mention to the Quay Brothers, for the visionary atmosphere in the film "The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes" -- (My own selection for "Catchiest film title of the fest", although I didn't get around to seeing it) -- Special mention, Cevat Gechtan, actor, for his outstanding performance in "Fratricide" by Yilmaz Aslan.  Video Competition: Golden Leopard shared between, "Les etats nordiques", by Denis Coté, Canada, and "Masahista" by Brilliarte Mendoza, Phillipines.
There were numerous other minor prizes and "special mentions" in categories such as "Leopards of Tomorrow", "New Swiss Talent"  and numerous others too varied and-or too mystical to enter into.
The closing film of the festival on the giant screen in Piazza grande was Robert Altman's magnum opus "NASHVILLE", selected by Irene Biniardi as her own personal Locarno swan song, retiring  after five  years as artisitic director of the festival. ExplainIng the choice Irene, who is a recognized Italian expert on the American cinema, says that "Nashville" made in 1975 is one of the most significant American films of the last quarter of the century, summing up conditions and attitudes which prevailed in the United Staters at the time and which still prevail today." Personally,  I didn't care for "Nashville" when it first came out -- in fact I hated it as being pretentious, unpleasant, and phoney.  In the Piazza Grande with both German and French sub-titles it was even more pretentious and phoney, so I opted to close my festival out with an old reliable -- CITIZEN KANE -- which closed out the Welles retrospective as well.  It was unquestionably the right choice.
Alex, Locarno, Saturday, August 13, 2005
--------------------------------------------------------
LOOKING BACK AND OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF LOCARNO:   (Written months later in Florence, Italy)
A comprehensive Orson Welles Retro, as director, actor, and object of studies by other directors, was the center-piece of the fest. The 1957 contemporary western drama, "Man in the Shadow", starring Jeff Chandler as an incorruptible sheriff up against a most evil rancher played by Orson Welles, was one of the best films of the fest -- the kind of film where you leave the theater saying "they just don't make 'em like that anymore". On the giant screen in the Piazza Grande a horrible retrospective of Terry Gillian bullshit unfolded nightly sending many viewers scurrying to the pizza stands.  In my book, Gilliam is to be avoided like the Plague -- However, the gripping Indian film on opening night in the piazza was a definite winner -- basically a biopic of one of the first heroes who resisted the British occupation of India in the mid 1800s.  Grand scale battle scenes and very good acting. Hope I have the name of that one written down somewhere. Food-wise, just about the only culinary bargain at the height of the summer season in this Alpine lakeside tourist trap is the great pizza at a very popular pizzeria just off the main square.  After the nauseating pizza of Budapest, I found this place to be a rare treat and subsisted mainly on Pizza throughout the festival -- Pizza and Orson Welles.

As for accommodations and lodging ... After getting quite a run-around of one night stands, here at the height of the tourist season (one night I actually had to sleep on the beach) I finally scored a reasonably priced villa hotel at the top of the funicular cable car.  Great views -- good food -- very comfortable bed, one drawback...  The last cable car goes up the hill at 8 PM -- therefore I had to forego many late shows I would have liked to attend. At the closing party I met actress Alexandra Stewart who barely remembered that I had once done an interview with her (circa 1975) in California when she was the live-in consort of Louis Malle. Tant pis.  She hasn't aged very well but still has that distinctive profile with the perfectly straight Roman nose. The weather was wonderful most of the time and the Italian grace of Locarna very captivating.  I'll go back one of these days -- it was fun! 
In retrospect I would say that the trip to Locarno was worth while, but this is not really a major-major festival, although they try to pass it off as one, and maybe it was lots more glamorous in the past.  A very nice place it is, to be sure -- but the lodging situation is a drag and the festival pickings are not very exciting. It's the kind of festival you go to for the vacation aspect of the beautiful Swiss lakeside setting rather than for the festival itself. Also, the fact that this is the Italian speaking part of Switzerland is very special. I had more fun practicing my Italian and walking around town than I had at the screenings.  The flight in via Milano, and getting picked up there for an hour mini-van trip right up into the mountains was also -- a trip. I might go back there one of these days, and stay at the mountain-top villa, but if I do it will be just for the vacational delights. As film festivals go, one Locarno Film Festival is basically enough.

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(www.filmfestivals.com)

THE FESTIVALS BLOG by Alex Deleon. Watch for festival coverage from the circuit.

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