Locarno Film Festival 2010 report
The 63rd Locarno Film Festival offered a carnal showdown between France’s most famous gay porn star and long-dead entertainer Maurice Chevalier. David Jenkins witnessed the bout
You couldn't move for flesh and smut at this year's Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where a host of new films arrived with warnings about content that might ‘shock the sensitivity of some viewers'. With ‘LA Zombie', a 63-minute sex odyssey by New Queer lynchpin Bruce Labruce, you could see why the programmers were being cautious. The film stars stocky French gay porn sensation François Sagat, who within the first three minutes revivifies a young man killed in a car accident by humping his open chest wound and then glazing him in oily black ejaculate. Rather than a torrent of extreme bad taste, the film turns out to be a tender study of otherness in the big city and a cunning reversal of genre conventions.
Sagat also appears in ‘Homme au Bain', the explicit, moderately successful new film by Christophe Honoré (‘Dans Paris', ‘Chansons d'Amour'). We separately follow two men in the days after their break-up, discovering how their heartbreak gives way to fresh outlooks and doleful acceptance. The suggested parallels between the two stories are a little contrived, and the material feels thin, but the film is saved by its laid-back style and minor-key performances. An ass-shaving love scene proved too much for some.
Rape is at the heart of ‘Au Fond des Bois', the new one-note film by prolific Frenchman Benoit Jacquot, whose ‘Villa Amalia' was in our cinemas recently. Set in rural France in the late nineteenth century, the film presents the curious case of the priggish daughter of a doctor (Isild Le Besco) who is ‘magnetised' by a scrawny street urchin, led into the woods and ravished by him. In the end, the film asks us to decide if there was any mystical foul play involved or whether she followed him willingly, a conundrum which eventually comes across as haughty and misogynistic.
The really sexy stuff was in the retrospective of the films of Ernst Lubitsch, the German-born master of the bawdy musical comedy. Maurice Chevalier's use of sexual innuendo in films like ‘The Smiling Lieutenant' (1931) and ‘The Merry Widow' (1934) was far more erotic and edgy than anything the new films had to offer.
It wasn't all sex. The best new film I saw was by German
director Pia Marais, whose ‘At Ellen's Age' is a cryptic, almost Haneke-like
study of alienation and indecision which sees Jeanne Balibar as a
crisis-stricken air stewardess who goes in search of her true vocation. It's a
difficult movie, one that treads a thin line between the playfully enigmatic
and the incomprehensible, but its intelligence, precision and intent to provoke
Another film to watch out for is ‘Aardvark', the Argentinian-produced, Cleveland-set debut by Kitao Sakurai. It's an assured and moodily atmospheric drama about a blind ex-alcoholic who takes up ju-jitsu, then goes on a bloody revenge mission when his instructor comes to harm. As a parable about feelings of the heart being able to overcome impairment of the senses, the film comes across as being born out of ideas and conjecture rather than a set-in-stone narrative. Yet when a more defined story does rear its head in the film's latter stages – and when a bizarre, balding bayou detective springs up – things start to get a mite daft. Still, a fine first effort.
Of course, no film festival would be complete without an out-and-out catastrophe, and this year that dubious honour went to Hungarian director Benedek Fliegauf's chunky-knitwear nightmare, ‘Womb'. The film was one of the higher-profile competition titles as it starred a self-consciously whey-faced Eva Green opposite current Dr Who, Matt Smith, whose character ascends from happy-clappy earth child to frenzied nutcase (a scene in which he abuses a salt shaker got some unintentional laughs) over the space of about two scenes. Despite a number of attractively shot vistas – mainly of the metal-hued beaches of northern Germany – Fliegauf struggles to convey ideas through performance beyond having people blurt things out, and for its pretentious and humourless tale of Oedipal woes in which woman gives birth to a clone of her childhood sweetheart (not a great idea, if you couldn't have guessed it) to have even bordered on the credible, this desperately needed to feel more human rather than just an exercise in point-making.
Finally, mumblecore turned a corner with the absolutely charming ‘Cold Weather' by Aaron Katz (‘Quiet City'), who takes what looks like another tale of lazy slackers and twists it into a dryly comic homage to Sherlock Holmes and Raffles. Chances are it will be in the London Film Festival in October, so look for it there.
Author: David Jenkins
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