Locarno Film Festival: Argentina's 'Back to Stay' Takes the Top Prize

Milagros Mumenthaler and Maria Canale - Locarno- 2011

"Abrir Puertas y Ventanas" was awarded the Golden Leopard honor.

LOCARNO, Switzerland – Abrir Puertas y Ventanas (Back to Stay), the story of two sisters struggling with the death of the grandmother who raised them, won two major prizes at the Locarno Film Festival including the storied Golden Leopard honor, while Din Dragoste cu Cele Mai Bune Intentii (Best Intention) was given another two awards and Japanese film Tokyo Koen was given Locarno’s first-ever special jury prize.

Abrir Puertas y Ventanas, an Argentinian-Swiss co-production directed by Milagros Mumenthaler, was the festivals big winner and was mentioned as a potential prize contender ever since it first screened on Monday. In addition to taking home the Golden Leopard award, the festival’s top prize, co-protagonist Maria Canale was given the festival’s award as the competition’s best actress.

Mumenthaler was clearly taken back when she came on stage at the Piazza Grande to receive the award, nervously rattling off a long list of people she wished to thank before pausing and saying, “What a great experience.”

REVIEW: Back to Stay

The Golden Leopard includes a cash award of 90,000 Swiss francs ($131,000), the festival’s richest prize.

The other film to win two major prizes at the lakeside Swiss festival was Din Dragoste cu Cele Mai Bune Intentii, a Romanian-Hungarian co-production directed by Adrian Sitaru. The film is about the struggles of an emotional misfit thrown further off balance when his mother is hospitalized.

The jury, led by Portuguese producer Paulo Branco, gave the Silver Leopard for Best Director to Sitaru, while honoring Bogdan Dumitrache, who played Alex, the film’s central character, was honored at the competition’s top actor.

It was the second prize in Locarno in four years for Sitaru, who won the Leopards of Tomorrow prize for his short Waves in 2007.

“I had a great experience here four years ago I said when I accepted my prize that I’d be back for a larger version of the award and here I am,” an excited Sitaru told the full Piazza Grande crowd.

Meanwhile, Branco, the jury president, said the jury was so impressed with Tokyo Koen that they elected to create a special jury prize for the first time ever in Locarno. The film tells the story about a young amateur photographer in Tokyo whose life changes when he accepts an unusual assignment.

Among the festival’s other prizes, French director Valerie Massadian’s drama Nana won the award for the best first work, and Jan Czarlewski’s L’Ambassadeur & Moi (The Ambassador & Me) won the Leopard of Tomorrow prize. Like Sitaru, who vowed to be back after winning the same prize four years ago, Czarlewski promised to be back with another project in the future.

Marco Solari, the festival long-time president, said he was emotional in declaring the 11-day festival closed, and he honored Marco Pini, the festival’s main projectionist who had worked with seven Locarno artistic directors and who worked in the projection booth for his last film in Locarno after the closing ceremonies Saturday with Et si on vivait tous ensemble (And If We All Lived Together), the closing film in the Piazza Grande.

Et si on vivait tous ensemble, directed by Stephane Robelin, features an all-star cast including Jane Fonda in her first French film in four decades, along with noteworthy French actors Geraldine Chaplin, the daughter of Charlie Chaplin, Guy Bedos, Daniel Bruhl, Claude Rich, and Pierre Richard. Fonda did not make the trip to Locarno but she did film a special greeting to the Piazza Grade crowd.

Officials said that the festival’s closing attendance figures would likely fail to match the record levels from 2009, where there were around 100 extra films on the schedule, but ticket sales were likely to be around 10% higher than last year despite the fact that the first five days of the festival were marked by rain.

The festival announced that nest year’s edition, the 65th, would take place August 1-11.