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Locarno Festival of Auteur Cinema


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 far flung territories such as the Middle-East 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 – 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 actually 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 vby Jack Arnold and starring Wells 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 clsssic drama, with an immense performance by Welles, in the kind of picture that will make your day when too much narcolepsic auteurism has sapped your cinematic energy.


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