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Golden Leopard goes to Catalan director Serra

2013 Festival winner is Historia de la meva mort

Albert Serra has been awarded the main prize in the international competition of the 66th Locarno Film Festival for his film Historia de le Meva Mort, bringing to a close the first festival with Carlo Chatrian at the helm.

The continuity of the festival was praised by the critics, although they found the line-up lacked big highlights. The Swiss films on show were very well received, praised for thier quality and diversity.

Albert Serra is the enfant terrible of Catalan film and the success of Historia de le Meva Mort (Story of My Death) in Locarno has also split criticism.

Film critic Aureliano Tonet of the French newspaper Le Monde said it was a “cracking film” while Le Temps critic Antoine Duplan found it “unbelievably arrogant”.

“I was impressed by the splendid settings and the idea of an eternal battle between good and evil, reflected in the meeting between Casanova – as a friend of Voltaire and representative of the Enlightenment – and Dracula as a symbol of secret powers in the 19th century,” Tonet said.

The 148-minute film made quite a different impression on Swiss critic Duplan: “Graphically it is very beautiful, the settings are well filmed, but it embodies a sterile intellectualism and relies on amateur actors.”

Albert Serra was born in Spain in 1975. He is known as a radical filmmaker. Speaking to’s Spanish department, he said: “Criticism and the public do not interest me. Sometimes people like a film but for the wrong reasons because they haven’t understood the essence of the film, what the director wanted to convey. Success is very relative.”

His opinion of the Locarno festival: “What moves me about this award is the fact that in Locarno from the beginning cinema and film is being discussed. That is what is most important to me.”

Chatrian’s debut

The 66th Locarno Film Festival was the first festival under the leadership of the new artistic director Carlo Chatrian. The assessment of his work is unanimous, according to a mini survey. The 42-year-old Italian, the successor to Olivier Père, aimed for continuity, but in the international competition critics felt the big impact film was missing. Some decisions caused surprise and incomprehension. But the Swiss film presence was highly rated in this festival.


“Carlo Chatrian succeeded in giving the festival solid continuity, with a mix of many styles and genres of film. But this year’s festival programme was not as highly-spiced as those of previous years,”  Michael Sennhauser, Swiss television and radio journalist and film expert. Antonio Mariotti of Corriere del Ticino – local newspaper of the Locarno region – was “half-pleased with the competition, even if there were four of five flops”.

According to Sennhauser there are films every year whose selection for the competition raise questions. “With Olivier Père the desire to provoke dominated. In this year’s competition there were some films that came across as cinematic echoes with an obsolete style that does nothing for the competition. I am thinking particularly of the documentary Pays Barbare by Italian directors Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci-Lucchi. Gare du Nord, on the other hand, by French director Claire Simon I found great.”

Could do better

Duplan who writes for Le Temps newspaper felt this year’s festival programme did not break the mould. “I did not see any film that really excited or surprised me. Most of the films were of average quality, I did not see any true and unforgettable masterpieces.”

Was it then a disappointing festival? “Disappointing would be too harsh,” Duplan said. “There were still some interesting works, like the Portuguese documentary E agora? Lembra-me [What Now? Remind Me, awarded second place with the jury’s Special Prize] which told the story of an aids patient. Or the two Japanese films Tomogui [Shinji Aoyama] and especially Real [Kiyoshi Kurosawa].”

“At the end of the day the festival director can only present what contemporary filmmaking has to offer. And maybe we expect too much of a small festival that has to compete with the likes of Venice, Cannes or Berlin.”

Praise for Swiss film

The festival programme 2013 clearly split the critics – not in their overall result but in the judgment of individual films. This is also apparent in the many negative reactions to the choice of Albert Serra for the Golden Leopard.

A very good example is also the German film Feuchtgebiete, described by Duplan as “base, mysoginistic and repugnant“, while Sennhauser thought it was “definitely worth defending“.

Just as far apart are the opinions about the Italian-Swiss coproduction Sangue (Blood) by Pippo Delbono with the former Red Brigade member Giovanni Senzani.

Critics agreed however about the positive impact of the Swiss films in Locarno. The quality was praised and not on national pride grounds. “We never had the impression that the Swiss films in the competition or showing in the Piazza Grande had been selected just because they were Swiss. That is a good sign,” Sennhauser said.

Return of Yves Yersin

There were two Swiss in the running for the Golden Leopard – the documentary Tableau Noir by Yves Yersin and the French coproduction Mary, Queen of Scots by Thomas Imbach.

Tableau Noir was filmed in a rural primary school in the canton of Neuchâtel in 2005. It is an almost perfect, entertaining and fresh work, marking the return of the father of Swiss film Yves Yersin.

Yersin’s 1979 film Les Petites Fugues is known as a Swiss classic. At the showing of Tableau Noir the emotion in the audience was palpable. The director, the teacher and pupils received a long standing ovation. Tableau Noir received only a non-monetary special mention from the jury for “its careful and tender observation of an alternative school class and the filmmaker’s deep commitment” – a somewhat small reward for the Yersin’s comeback.

Thomas Imbach’s Mary Queen of Scots was slightly less convincing. “It takes courage to film a costume drama on a low budget. The director tried to compensate somewhat with the camera direction but overall the film lacks charisma,” Duplan commented.

On the Piazza Grande the Swiss documentary L’Expérience Blocher by Jean-Stéphane Bron celebrated its great moment. The intimate portrait of the leading figure of Swiss right-wing politics may have disappointed political journalists because it didn’t reveal anything new but the film definitely confirmed Bron as the greatest talent of the Swiss film scene.

“Bron, the only person in the world who filmed a Western in parliament (Mais in Bundeshuus) has now triumphed with a ghost story, a really intelligently made film. Simply perfect,” Duplan said.

Bron was not just a director in Locarno but also an actor in another “Swiss jewel“ – the film Les Grandes Ondes (à l’Ouest) by his friend and colleague Lional Baier. The film is a sharp comedy, that because of its link to the European crisis also has a serious undercurrent to it.

The Piazza Grande managed yet again this year to capture a broad public, although inevitably some film devotees preferred to turn their noses up at some of the films on the big screen.

International Competition: 20 films, 18 of them world premieres, were in the running for the Golden Leopard.
Three of them were Swiss: Mary, Queen of Scots by Thomas Imbach, Tableau noir by Yves Yersin (documentary) and Sangue by the Italian director Pippo Delbono (co-production with Swiss Italian television).
Piazza Grande: 16 films, including two Swiss co-productions: Jean-Stéphane Bron brought his documentary L’expérience Blocher to Locarno, while Lionel Baier presented Les grandes ondes (à l’Ouest).
The Leopard of Honour this year went to the German director Werner Herzog, while the Retrospective was dedicated to the work of George Cukor (1899-1983).
Those invited to appear on the red carpet included: Christopher Lee, Victoria Abril, Anna Karina, Sergio Castellitto, Otar Iosseliani, Jacqueline Bisset and Faye Dunaway.

(Translated by Clare O’Dea)

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR