For those unable or unwilling, like yours (un)truly, to sift through the boundless vapidity of what is vaguely termed “American Independent Cinema,” Locarno serves as a somewhat reliable filter, letting through the tight Swiss borders the hottest offerings from across the Atlantic. Like the country that produces it, American cinema possesses an indefatigable vitality and a fearless belief of the future with no room or even time for self-congratulatory nostalgia. Firmly rooted in the present, the American films Locarno showcased over the last few years re/present probably the most damning evidence of what remains relevant or even necessary about contemporary cinema.
Donald Cried, Kris Avedisian's debut feature presented in the Cineasti del Presente section, is nothing short of brilliant in that it literally illuminates the murkiest aspects of a corrupted yet most intense friendship. It is around this noblest bond, increasingly subjected to the fluctuations of the stock market of human relations, that the director builds a tragicomedy of metrical perfection. One where visceral laughter and bitter tears spread out of each other. One urbanely dressed Peter Latang (Jesse Wakeman) arrives in Rhode Island from the Wall Street bubble where he works to bury his recently deceased grandmother, loses his wallet on his way from the airport and meets his old friend Donald Treebeck (an immense Kris Avedisian who wrote as well as directed the film). Stuck in his teenage outfit and attitude, Donald's immature insistence tries the patience of Peter, who can't wait to get back to Manhattan. Visibly excited by Peter's impromptu return, Donald can't resist dragging his reluctant friend through an awkward stroll down memory lane. A stroll that will reverse our initial impressions about the two friends to reveal in Donald an almost too sensitive and kind being, especially when measured against Peter's accomplished pettiness. In the space of a mere two days and 85 minutes of heartbreaking hilarity, the film probes the depths of friendship with the painful frankness of a psychoanalytic sitting, inflicting the audience cramps of laughter followed by stabs of existential agony. If audiences cringes it's because the film, very much like Donald, takes on very uncomfortable truths with incautious candor and the dramatic proficiency of a consummate master of comedy.
After having spent a great part of his career hiding underground, furtively smuggling sexually transmissible films, Júlio Bressane's contraband cinema has resurfaced over the last few years thanks to the dedication and love of a small but committed community. After a retrospective at the Turin Film Festival cleared him through the customs of the festival circuit, the Brazilian director found in Locarno, where he has premiered his last three films, what are perhaps the largest and most appreciative audiences his cinema belatedly found. When presenting here at the festival his latest film, Beduino, Bressane credited it to the whole crew, pointing out that theirs was a small act “against the hypertrophy of documentation,” adding that “reality is not only what is in the media but all the rest too: dreams, sentiments, music, art” and so imaginatively forth.
His film mirage, as the title suggests, takes place in the desert of the real which Bressane transfigures through visual ruses and syntactic expedients that stupefy even the most jaded of festival-goers. Oblivious to the intellectual pandering of festival sects, the director speaks a multi-subjective language that resists any attempt at linguistic ossification. That is because his cinema erupts from the bowels of the world in its totality, it comes unfiltered and has consistently refused to be normalized into the prefabricated canons of cinema. The level of imaginary intensity is such that words are simply inadequate to describe this film and its protean trajectories, which stretch well beyond the cowardly borders of the screen. It's a physio-illogical act of aesthetic perdition, where narrative concatenation is replaced by sexual entanglement, meaning by ecstasy and self-importance by selfless figments of the imagination. Beduino is a film to be devoured with all the senses, one that loses itself in the labyrinthine (a)maze(ment) of pleasure, surrendering to the spectator in all its (im)possible meanings.
By no means perfect if not inadequate at times, Anka and Wilhelm Sasnal's The Sun, the Sun Blinded Me is nonetheless a courageous and urgent film. One that finally looks at the rising tide of xenophobia and the so-called “refugee crisis” with uncommon lucidity, calling itself into question, letting no one off the hook. Though it hasn't (yet) degenerated into the calamitous horror that had swept Europe less than a century ago, the current wave of what is timidly called “right-wing populism” (but should probably be called out by its real name, fascism) keeps on growing unchallenged. Poland, where this small but crucial film hails from, has followed Hungary down the path of what essentially amounts to a crypto-fascist “democratorship” (it's well worth remembering these days that both Hitler and Mussolini were democratically elected). In what could be basically anywhere in Poland, so alienated and isolated are all the characters, Rafal Mularz leads an aseptic existence where any form of human interaction is carefully avoided. Anything that exceeds his immediate surroundings is out of focus, both cinematographically and metaphorically, as even a sexual encounter with his girlfriend is framed as an act of glacial detachment. A stranger in his own world, Rafal can't seem to be moved even by his mother's death—until the accidental encounter with an African migrant upsets his methodical routine. People looking for a redeeming dose of altruistic feelings will be sourly disappointed by this honest film that confronts us with our own racism, not (only) that of Poland's nouveau riche, but also that of the aging communist generation. The directors try to render in cinematic terms the wary indifference that has colonized our daily lives, the militarization of interpersonal exchanges that has filled us with mistrust and paranoia. In other words and with new images, Anka and Wilhelm Sasnal stage the globalized mindscape where totalitarian winds are gaining traction once again while we are all too busy managing our own, meaningless lives.