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Locarno 2012: Gael Garcia Bernal Becomes Youngest Actor to Receive Career Prize

Gael Garcia Bernal Portrait - P 2012
Getty Images

"I think I still have a lot of room to grow," the actor, just 33, says in accepting the award for a career spanning more than 20 years, presented to him ahead of a screening of his new film, "No."

LOCARNO, Switzerland -- Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal, just 33, became one of the youngest actors to win an award for career excellence in the 65-year history of the Locarno Film Festival on Wednesday, ahead of the Piazza Grande screening of Pablo Larrain’s No, in which Garcia Bernal played a gifted advertising executive who helped to oust Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Also on tap Wednesday was the world premiere screening La Fille de nulle part (The Girl From Nowhere), written, directed and produced by Jean-Claude Brisseau, who also played the film's male lead. The film, which screened in competition, was made with an extremely low budget from Brisseau’s own savings.

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Locarno artistic director Olivier Pere introduced Garcia Bernal as a “Latino divo,” while Garcia Bernal marveled at the crowd that nearly filled the 8,800-seat Piazza Grande, saying it was truly “grand” -- using the Spanish word that means both “big” and “great.”

Garcia Bernal said that despite a career lasting more than 20 years and acting roles in more than 40 films, shorts and television programs that he still feels like he is “green” as an actor.

“I think I still have a lot of room to grow,” the diminutive Garcia Bernal said. “Perhaps not in terms of height, but in terms of experience.”

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Garcia Bernal was presented with Locarno’s Excellence Award, the same award given to 66-year-old U.K. actress Charlotte Rampling earlier in the festival. Locarno also gave a Golden Leopard career award to reclusive French director Leos Carax, 52, while other career honors went to producer Arnon Milchan, 68, and, soon, to 57-year-old Hong Kong director Johnnie To.

Perhaps as a nod to his comparatively young age, Garcia Bernal displayed a youthful exuberance when the black-and-gold prize, shaking the award over his head and using it to play air guitar.

Earlier, La Fille de nulle part turned heads in a full Fevi cinema, second only to Piazza Grande among Locarno’s largest venues. The film, an unusual love story between a grieving widower who lost his wife a generation before (played by Brisseau) and a homeless woman, was made for just €62,000 (around $77,000). Brisseau said the production used only one camera, which was transported at times by an adapted baby carriage.

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The festival, which got underway Aug. 1, will conclude Saturday with an awards ceremony and the Piazza Grande screening of Swiss director Markus Imhoof’s documentary More Than Honey.