Love and death dominate Locarno nods

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Masahiro Kobayashi's "Ai No Yokan" (The Rebirth), a story of love between the mother of a murderer and the father of the victim, claimed the top prize at this year's Locarno International Film Festival, which concluded Saturday.

Frank Oz's black comedy "Death at a Funeral" won the public prize, voted on by moviegoers in Locarno's famous Piazza Grande each night.

The best actor award was jointly awarded to Frenchman Michel Piccoli, for his work in the love story "Sous Les Toits de Paris" (Beneath the Rooftops of Paris), and Italian Michele Venitucci, the star of "Fuori dalle Corde" (Outside the Ropes), in which he plays a down-and-out boxer. Marian Alvares of Spain won the best actress prize for "Lo Mejor de Mi" (The Best of Me), a tragic love story.

The best director nod went to Philippe Ramos for his "Moby Dick" interpretation "Captain Achab."

The Golden Leopard winner from Japan's Kobayashi was one of the most talked about films of the festival, but it was not without its detractors, who were turned off by the film's deliberately repetitive construction. A cerebral and weighty film, "Ai No Yokan" would have been typical at many previous editions of the Locarno event, now in its 60th year.

But it stood in contrast to the festival's strong Hollywood bent this year, when the 7,000-seat Piazza Grande screened Robert Rodriguez' campy and violent "Planet Terror," Paul Greengrass' thriller "The Bourne Ultimatum," Adrienne Shelly's romantic comedy "Waitress," the musical comedy "Hairspray" from Adam Shankman, and "1408," a horror and suspense film from Mikael Hafstrom.

The contrasting styles paid dividends, with a total of 186,000 spectators, down only slightly from 192,600 last year, even though two evenings in the Piazza Grande were rained out and three others took place under threatening skies. The total number of films screening at the Aug. 1-11 event was reduced for the second consecutive year, from 373 in 2006 to 338.

"The general public as well as film lovers tasted the pleasure of discovery within the highly diverse program," second-year artistic director Frederic Maire said after the festival closed. "Locarno proved to be a celebration of art house films as well as those for a larger public."

Among other awards at the festival, a special jury prize for the film that "best conveyed the spirit of communication between cultures" went to "Memories," a drama from Pedro Costa, Harun Farockis and Eugene Green. "Tejut" (Milky Way), from Benedek Fliegauf, won the Filmmakers of the Present sidebar, and Vittorio Rifranti's "Tagliare le Parte in Grigio" (Cut the Grey Part) won the prize for the best first feature film.

Organizers said that next year's festival will take place Aug. 6-16.
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