'Girl From Nowhere' Wins Top Honor at Locarno Film Festival

Jean-Claude Brisseau - 2012 H

Locarno also turns heads by announcing a new short film festival starting in March that will focus on cinema and literature.

LOCARNO, Switzerland – Jean-Claude Brisseau’s low-budget and self-financed self-discovery drama La fille de nulle part (The Girl From Nowhere) officially turned a profit Saturday with the cash award that came along with Locarno’s prestigious Golden Leopard honor, while festival president Marco Solari surprised onlookers by announcing a new “mini” version of the 65-year-old festival to take place next March.

Bob Byington’s comedy Somebody Up There Likes Me won the special jury prize, and Cate Shortland’s war drama Lore won the honor voted on by the public as the best film to screen in the Piazza Grande.

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Wo hai you hua yao shuo (When Night Falls) from Chinese director Liang Ying, the true story of a man who killed six Shanghai policemen after being beaten for riding an unlicensed bike, was the only film to win two major awards: one for Liang as best director and one for Best Actress for An Nai, who played the killer’s mother.

Walter Saabel won the award as Best Actor for his role in Der glanz des tages, while Camille Redouble (Camille Rewinds), a story about a middle-aged woman who mysteriously falls back in time to her high-school days, from Noemie Lvovsky, won the Piazza Grande Award for films that screened in Locarno’s main square. Lvovsky, who is a member of the main jury that awarded the prize to Brisseau’s La fille de nulle part, directed and starred in her film.

But it was La fille de nulle part that emerged as one of the most intriguing storylines of the Locarno festival. The film was made on a budget of just €62,000 ($77,000) from Brisseau’s savings, and in order to save costs it used just one camera transported in an adapted baby carriage, and the film was set in Brisseau’s Paris apartment. Its win Saturday means that despite having signed no distribution deals so far the film is already profitable after winning the 90,000 Swiss francs ($90,900) that goes along with the main prize.

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The film, which includes an unlikely supernatural element, tells the story of an ageing widower whose life is renewed as he helps a young homeless girl back to health. The 68-year-old Brisseau was the film’s director, producer, and screenwriter, and he played the role of the widower.

Jury president, Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul described the film as "bold and entertaining."

The film had created a buzz since it premiered August 8, and on Friday, before the vote of the jury, artistic director Olivier Pere mentioned La fille de nulle part as his “biggest surprise” in terms of how it was received among the films in Locarno this year in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. And on Saturday, Brisseau expressed disbelief that his film had done so well in Locarno.

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“I only made this film because Virginie Legeay [the actress who played the homeless girl] insisted so much,” Brisseau said Saturday. “I still can’t believe it. I am profoundly touched by the way the film has been received here.”

Solari’s announcement included only the broadest strokes of plans for a special three-day version of the Locarno festival, to get underway March 24, 2013. Solari said that Pere, the artistic director, would be given “carte blanche” to create the festival, which would not include the festival’s 8,000-seat Piazza Grande venue. Pere’s only instructions, Solari said, were to “explore the connection between cinema and literature, between imagination and art.”

It was not immediately clear whether the March event was a one-off initiative, or if it would become an annual event. The 66th edition of the festival would still take place next August, as scheduled.

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Somebody Up There Likes Me, the jury prize winner, is a quirky comedy about a man who glides through life and marriage mostly unaware, while Shortland’s Lore is a war drama about five small German children who embark on an adventure in the closing days of World War II. Saabel’s Best Actor award came in just his second feature film. 

Among the festival’s other awards, the main jury made a special mention of the character Candy, played by Cindy Scrash, in A ultima vez que vi Macau (The Last Time I Saw Macau) from João Rui Guerra da Mata and João Pedro Rodrigues. The jury applauded her “powerful presence through absence, which resonated.”

U.S. director Joel Potrykus, whose comedy Ape screened in the Filmmakers of the Present sidebar, won two of the festival’s top secondary prizes: for Potrykus as Best Emerging Director, and as a special mention from the jury awarding the prize for Best First Feature. The film tells the story of a disgruntled pyromaniac comedian.

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The winner of the prize for Best First Feature was Ji yi wang zhe wo (Memories Look at Me), a drama from Chinese director Song Fang, who charmed the massive Piazza Grande crowd by memorizing a couple of short phrases in Italian. The film, which also screened in the Filmmakers of the Present sidebar, is a family drama that stars Song’s own family in the main roles.

The festival officially concluded with the out-of-competition screening of Marcus Imhoof’s documentary More Than Honey, which screened to a nearly full Piazza Grande in the wake of the hour-long award ceremony. It was the second consecutive night that a Swiss film appeared in the Piazza Grande, following kitchy comedic horror film Das Missen Massaker (The Swiss Miss Massacre) from Michael Steiner, the first part of a double bill on Friday.

Though the festival officially concluded Saturday, locals and those with late departures will have one more Piazza Grande screening Sunday night, with Dolphin Tale, a family drama directed by veteran U.S. actor Charles Martin Smith. It is the final screening before Europe’s largest silver screen is taken down and stored until next year.