10 Must See Movies at the 2022 Locarno Film Festival

10 Must See Movies at the 2022 Locarno Film Festival

Highlights from the 75th edition of Locarno include a deepfake fairy tale from Aleksandr Sokurov and a post-war comedy starring Udo Kier as Hitler in disguise. 

10-Must-See-Movies-at-the-2022-Locarno-Film-Festival
10-Must-See-Movies-at-the-2022-Locarno-Film-Festival

Easy to overlook in the looming shadow of the Venice, Telluride, Toronto, and New York Film Festivals (and all of the awards season hoopla they portend), Switzerland’s historic Locarno Film Festival has remained so distinct and essential precisely because of its refusal to concede to industry pressures or chase attention over artistry.

While the magical Piazza Grande has been home to its fair share of glitzy outdoor screenings over the years — the next few days will see the 8,000-seat town square transform into an impromptu “Bullet Train” station, for example — Locarno has always prided itself on providing a more curious and less hostile platform for elite auteurs whose work may not conform to the commercial demands of the international marketplace; recent winners of the festival’s prestigious Golden Leopard award include Pedro Costa (“Vitalina Varela”), Lav Diaz (“From What Is Before”), and the great Chinese documentarian Wang Bing (“Mrs. Fang”).-10 Must See Movies at the 2022

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At the same time, Locarno has also become a reliably well-curated showcase for rich and idiosyncratic work from emerging filmmakers whose ethos may not adhere to the sometimes rigid sensibilities of other major festivals. Tyler Taormina’s “Ham on Rye” — a rivetingly bizarre slice of Americana that premiered in 2019 — comes to mind as a quintessential Locarno standout that might have been seen through a very different lens at the likes of Sundance or SXSW.-10 Must See Movies at the 2022

Now celebrating its 75th year on the northern shore of Lago Maggiore, the festival has continued to play to its strengths under the leadership of artistic director Giona A. Nazzaro (who assumed the reins during the early days of the pandemic), and the 2022 edition looks to double down on what makes Locarno such a vital late summer institution. Highlights of the festival’s 2022 slate — some of which we’ve seen, and some of which we’ve merely heard promising whispers about — range from gritty thrillers like Anna Gutto’s “Paradise Highway” (you had me at “Juliette Binoche plays an American truck driver”), searing French dramas like the Bataclan-themed “You Will Not Have My Hate,” epic documentaries like Sylvain George’s four-hour “Obscure Night,” a deepfake fairytale from Russian giant Aleksandr Sokurov, and even a genial comedy in which Udo Kier may or may not be playing a version of Adolf Hitler who faked his death and resumed his work as a painter after the war.-10 Must-See Movies at the 2022

Here are 10 must-see movies at the 2022 Locarno Film Festival, which runs from Wednesday, August 3, to Saturday, August 13.

Still image from "Before I Change My Mind" directed by Trevor Anderson

“Before I Change My Mind” (dir. Trevor Anderson)

The long-awaited debut feature from Edmonton-born filmmaker Trevor Anderson (whose script, co-written by Fish Griwkowsky, was selected to the inaugural GLAAD List at Sundance 2019), “Before I Change My Mind” might begin with a gender nonconforming transfer student arriving at their new school in small-town Alberta circa 1987, but the movie doesn’t share the other kids’ aggressive fascination over whether Robin (non-binary actor Vaughan Murrae) is “a boy or a girl.” On the contrary, this tender and knowing coming-of-age story is poised to leverage that uncertainty into a less dehumanizing set of questions such as “how will Robin navigate this new environment?,” “why are they drawn to the biggest bully at school?,” and “which aspects of themselves will they surrender in order to fit in?” Shot on a shoestring budget, but still convincingly draped in a soft and transportive ‘80s aesthetic, “Before I Change My Mind” seems determined to confront the challenges and triumphs of self-becoming with the unwavering honesty of someone who remembers them both. —DE

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Photo : “Gigi la Legge”

“Gigi la Legge” (dir. Alessandro Comodin)

This oddball comedy about a lovable but dorky cop in a rural Italian backwater is what “Fargo” would be like with sweetness instead of darkness. To perpetuate the comparison, if, rather than disposing of bodies in woodcutters, a protagonist wanted to keep the local trees healthy. Gigi is a rural traffic officer, who we are introduced to via a slow burn altercation on the matter of said trees. His adversary is swathed in darkness and the nature of their disagreement only gradually comes to light. Although he is digging in his heels, what director Alessandro Comodin, is conveying to us is this: Gigi has time for people, irrespective of their outlook on his trees. 10 Must See Movies at the 2022

Stakes are raised when a girl throws herself under a train. This is part of a local pattern, and so Gigi begins to investigate this wave of local suicides. Even as the stakes become more grave, Comodin continues to trade on assured narrative beats and an affection for his small town, big hearted character. What makes “Gigi La Legge” special is rhythm and consistency. It presents itself as a documentary however Comodin’s mastery of tone spins a cohesive sensibility that makes his tale feel like an affectionate, semi-absurdist fable. —SMK

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Photo : “Human Flowers of Flesh”

“Human Flowers of Flesh” (dir. Helena Wittmann)

Long, hypnotic takes of the Mediterranean Sea set the tone for this spiritual (if not literal) sequel to Claire Denis’s masterpiece “Beau Travail”. Starting out in the French port town of Marseille — the location where “Beau Travail”’s Sergeant Galoup relived memories of his downfall — Wittmann introduces us to Ida (Angeliki Papouli of “Dogtooth”), an itinerant Greek traveler beguiled by the mythology of the French Foreign Legion. Through her resolute yet detached gaze, we feel the cosmopolitan loneliness of those who gather in ports to drink.-10 Must See Movies at the 2022

Ida embeds with a crew of five men who sail from Marseille to the Algerian town of Sidi Bel Abbès, where the French Foreign Legion had its headquarters until Algerian independence in 1962. Wittmann has a healthy respect for the sea; the strange organisms it conceals, and the human ones that chart their course across its rippling surface. Crew members read aloud from old Legionnaire logs as time and place merge on this small vessel away from dry land. Sergeant Galoup (Denis Lavant himself) shows up in a mirage-like climax showing, once and for all, the elusive nature of chasing the past. “Human Flowers of Flesh” lulls the viewer out of their conscious mind and into a dream state. —SMK

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Photo : “Lola”

“Lola” (dir. Andrew Legge)

Andrew Legge’s debut feature starts the way every film should: With two sisters in 1941 England inventing a machine that can intercept broadcast frequencies from the future (check out a tantalizing glimpse of the contraption above), naming the device LOLA, and using it to become the world’s first punks several decades before The Clash start to catch fire. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before Thomasina (“The Witcher” guest star Emma Appleton) and Martha (“The Last Kingdom” regular Stefanie Martini) come to appreciate that LOLA might have more important applications — something to do with winning World War II, perhaps — but such tremendous power inevitably comes with a heavy price. Not only could the sisters’ new toy have disastrous consequences for the future of humanity, it might also do irreparable damage to their relationship. Stylish as hell, shot in luminous black-and-white, and boasting a pair of lead performances from young actresses who are both on the brink of breaking through, “Lola” appears to be an elegantly playful slice of indie sci-fi at its finest. —DE

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Photo : “Medusa Deluxe”

“Medusa Deluxe” (dir. Thomas Hardiman)

Little is known about Thomas Hardiman’s “Medusa Deluxe” on the eve of its first screening, but every new morsel we learn about this unusual murder-mystery (which is set at a competitive hairdressing competition!) proves more tantalizing than the last. Inspired by the countless hours that Hardiman spent waiting for his mom at the local salon as a child, and by the haircuts that he gave to his art school friends when he was ostensibly studying to become a filmmaker, the film’s premise alone was enough to pique our interest; how often do you hear a logline that sounds like it could belong to new movies by Peter Strickland and Christopher Guest?-10 Must See Movies at the 2022

But the plot only thickens from there, as Hardiman has promised to ditch certain genre conventions (don’t hold your breath for a detective character) in favor of an anarchic, “Nashville”-inspired ensemble vibe that allows “Medusa Deluxe” to offer a macro-portrait of an entire community fraying apart and then healing its loose ends. Shot by the great Robbie Ryan and set to be distributed by A24 and MUBI (in the U.S. and Europe, respectively), this Locarno premiere is likely to blaze a wide trail on the festival circuit on its way toward becoming the next big thing. —DE

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Photo : “My Neighbor Adolf”

“My Neighbor Adolf” (dir. Leon Prudovsky)

There are any number of directions someone might take a story about a Holocaust survivor (David Hayman) who moves to Colombia after World War II and starts to suspect that his anti-social neighbor is actually a certain megalomaniacal anti-Semite in disguise (a bushy-bearded Udo Kier), but most of them probably trend toward darkness. Leon Prudovsky’s “My Neighbor Adolf” might get there eventually, but this off-kilter comedy — billed as something of a cross between “Rear Window” and “Grumpy Old Men” — opts for a lighter shade of paranoia, as its Mr. Polsky struggles to convince people that the left-handed painter next door is history’s greatest monster.-10 Must See Movies at the 2022

The darkness only settles in when Polsky finds himself warming to “Mr. Herzog,” casting doubt on his conviction that his friend is the same man who exterminated his family. Needless to say, this is delicate stuff (strangely enough, comedies about the Holocaust don’t always seem to hit the mark), but Prudovsky’s premise is steeped in the lingering presentness of the Shoah, and Kier’s performance promises to find a careful balance between the ridiculous and the unspeakable. That Cohen Media Group has already acquired the film for U.S. distribution suggests that, at the very least, “My Neighbor Adolf” isn’t as glib as some might fear. —DE

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Photo : “Obscure Night”

“Obscure Night” (dir. Sylvain George)

Boasting the longest runtime of any film at this year’s festival — as well as the most unusual title, and some of the strongest pre-screening buzz — Sylvain George’s 265-minute “Obscure Night – Wild Leaves (The Burning Ones, the Obstinate)” finds the documentarian behind 2017’s “Paris Is a Moveable Feast” refocusing his radical poeticism on the confluence of migrants that have amassed in Melilla, a Spanish enclave in Morocco that serves as one of the only land borders between Europe and the African continent. A buffer zone that lays bare the effects of European migration policies, Melilla is a natural destination for someone whose camera has always been trained on people displaced by the global neoliberal order, and whose free-associative filmmaking has strived to separate those people from what professor Debarati Sanyal has described as “the victimology of trauma” and “the asymmetries of humanitarianism.”-10 Must See Movies at the 2022

Shot by the director himself in his customarily harsh black-and-white — an attempt to capture the bitter contrast of “those who burn” without succumbing to the banality of beautiful images — “Obscure Night” appears to be the culmination of George’s work to date, and a singularly lucid portrait of the living conditions along the invisible seams of the world as we’ve made it. —DE

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Photo : “Piaffe”

“Piaffe” (dir. Ann Oren)

There must be a German word for “the joyful realization that you are watching a uniquely sexy film”, and if there isn’t perhaps “Piaffe” can fill the void. Visual artist Ann Oren’s feature debut, shot on 16mm, is about a meek foley artist in Berlin who grows a horse’s tail and undergoes a sexual transformation. Eva (Simone Bucio – a livewire sylph in the vein of Isabelle Adjani and Alba Rohrwacher) has to finish the sound for a commercial for a dubious mood-stabilizing drug after her sister, Zara, is hospitalized. The gorgeous reverberations of sounds like Eva mimicking a horse trotting through sawdust by rhythmically bopping halved coconut shells in a sandbox, harks back to Peter Strickland’s “Berberian Sound Studio”. Seeking respite from her tyrannical new boss, Eva is drawn into the world of bio-erotica, encountering a doctor of botany who is tremendously turned on by her luxuriant new tail. –10 Must See Movies at the 2022

You can trace the influence of Bette Gordon, Catherine Breillat, and Lucille Hadzhihalillovic in the heightened atmosphere of strange sensuality, only “Piaffe” is more playful and euphoric. Oren relishes the building up of a scene, using sound and image to suggest the most exciting and mysterious of sensations. There is a celebratory trans subplot with a shout-out to the sexual characteristics of ferns. This is a sexy, queer and questioning gem. —SMK

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Photo : “Skazka”

“Skazka” (dir. Aleksandr Sokurov)

Every Russian film released into the world since Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine on February 24 will be parsed for its makers’ ideological stance. Aleksandr Sokurov — one of the last living giants of Soviet cinema, responsible for both the elaborate one-take wonder “Russian Ark” and the lean heartbreaker, “Mother and Son” — returns with a film that takes the high-concept of “Russian Ark” and applies it to the concept of image-making, critiquing the whole damn hill of beans that gave Putin power, albeit with a revisionist logic applied, as the film was made before the Ukrainian invasion.-10 Must See Movies at the 2022

Using deepfake black-and-white footage, he represents Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Churchill meeting in a limbo land to discuss history, war and the trajectory of the 20th century in a scenario that would hold curiosity value were it not so disturbing. ‘“Skazka” means “fairy tale’” and this is one through the looking-glass that challenges our guileless acceptance of what we see before our eyes, while using some of the most notorious figures of the last century to undercut the comforting lie that we have fully transcended the past. Macabre humor is found in, say, Churchill’s familiar bulldog face peering around a column at Jesus, yet humor is matched by horror at every turn. —SMK10 Must See Movies at the 2022

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Photo : “You Will Not Have My Hate”

“You Will Not Have My Hate” (dir. Kilian Riedhof)

Antoine Leiris’s wife and the mother of his young son, Hélène Muyal-Leiris, was among the 130 killed in the terrorist attacks at the Bataclan in Paris on November 13, 2015. A few short days after this devastating loss, Leiris wrote a Facebook post that was shared 20,000 times, reprinted on the front page of Le Monde and broadcast on countless international news stations. “You will not have my hate” became the title of his 2016 memoir and now it lends itself to a film adaptation by German director, Kilian Riedhof, starring Pierre Deladonchomps, as the suddenly single dad whose grace became a rallying light in the dark.-10 Must See Movies at the 2022

Leiris’s original Facebook post is still shockingly moving to hear aloud, and its intense dignity informs the tone that Riedhof adopts for this snapshot of specifically traumatic loss. The curtain lifts on the morning of 13 November, and we are shown the small treasures of a loving domestic bubble, and the desire that still runs through Antoine and Hélène’s marriage. The film belongs to Deladonchamps whose dazed performance eschews melodrama at every turn. He never makes a play for a big emotional crescendo, and instead shows us a man trying to turn the sound down on everything save the will to show up for his little boy. —SMK

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