'Monsters,' 'To Be' screened at Locarno

One of fest's most unusual Piazza Grande lineups to date

LOCARNO, Switzerland -- In one of its most unusual two-film Piazza Grande lineups to date, the Locarno Film Festival on Thursday screened Gareth Edwards' science fiction drama "Monsters," followed by the 1942 production of "To Be or Not to Be," an unlikely comedy from Ernst Lubitsch set during the German invasion of Poland.
"Monsters" is set in the near future when part of Mexico is quarantined off because of the arrival of alien life there. It is the first full-length feature from Edwards, following a brief but acclaimed career in television that included a nomination for an Emmy Award four years ago.
"It's a love story for guys, a monster story for women, and a road movie for aliens," Edwards told the crowd, which half filled the massive Piazza Grande despite drizzly weather conditions.
The screening of a newly restored print of "To Be or Not to Be" is part of a much wider tribute to Lubitsch that is emerging as one of the most talked about parts of the 63rd edition of the Swiss festival, which concludes Saturday. The film is about a Polish troupe of actors staging a anti-Nazi satire alongside a production of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" just as the Nazi's invade their country.
All told, the festival screened 15 films from Lubitsch's storied career, which started immediately after World War I in Bavaria, lasting until he died in Hollywood in 1947 -- a career that started with silent films and ended with full-color productions. He was nominated for the Best Director Oscar three times: twice in 1930, and again in 1943. He was given a honorary Oscar in 1947, just months before he died on the set of "That Lady in Ermine," which starred Betty Grable and was completed and released posthumously.
Locarno artistic director Olivier Pere praised Lubitsch before the screening, calling him a "pioneer" and referring to "To Be or Not to Be" as the "best film" screening this year in Locarno.
Pere introduced the crowed to Nicola Lubitsch, the director's daughter, who said she was moved by the festival's tribute to her father. She said she still enjoys watching her father's films, and said they proved that "comedy is the greatest weapon, much stronger than violence."
Earlier on Thursday, the festival hosted a round table to discuss Lubitsch's pioneering career.
Also in the Piazza Grande, the festival honored Israeli producer Menahem Golan, who is still active at 81. Golan, who has produced more than 200 films in a career spanning nearly 50 years, was given the Raimondo Rezzonico career honor at this year's festival.
Other Thursday events including the winding down of the Open Doors sidebar, which this year focused on Central Asian films, and the festival's most intense lineup of out-of-competition films, with six.