Locarno Film Festival Ecumenical Prize and Award

Locarno Ecumenical Awards (from www.signis.net)

At the Locarno Film Festival (Switzerland), the Ecumenical Jury gave its Prize – which includes 20.000.- CHFr given by the Catholic Church and the Reformed church in Switzerland to assist distribution of the film in Switzerland – to “LA NEUVAINE” (Canada) directed by Bernard Émond.   "La Neuvaine" “While many explicitly religious films fall short because of too earnest proselytising or alienating aspects of piety, “LA NEUVAINE” succeeds in presenting simple faith with respect, acknowledging how difficult it is to believe in God in a secular world and in the aftermath of tragedy. When a young man making a pilgrimage of prayer for his dying grandmother encounters a doctor paralyzed by anguish, the interaction leads not to miracles or conversion but to kindness and deep possibilities for hope. ”

The Ecumenical Jury awarded a Commendation to “FRATRICIDE” by Yilmaz Arslan (Germany).

“FRATRICIDE” provocatively confronts the burning European question of refugees. The setting is Germany, the people the Kurds. Yilmaz Arslan combines a complex plot about two brothers with scenes of visceral violence as well as a tender picture of caring friendship. His film is both an accusation against racism and neglect and a plea for common humanity and decency.”

The members of the Ecumenical Jury were Karsten Visarius (Germany, President), Peter Malone (Australia), Randy Naylor (United Kingdom), Rose Pacatte (USA), Adela Peeva (Bulgaria) and Ruben Rosello (Switzerland).


For a list of all the award winners from the festival visit


Rodrigo Garcia, director and writer of Nine Lives won the Golden Leopard for his film, and the ensemble of actresses from the film shared the Best Actress Award.

Patrick Drolet from La Neuvaine won Best Actor,

Nine Lives Locarno Film Festival 5

Nine Lives – winner of the Festival’s Golden Leopard Award

Directed and written by Rodrigo Garcia/ USA

A mother cleans the floors of the Los Angeles County jail hoping for an early release and the warden is sympathetic. At all costs she wants to visit with her daughter, but the prison guards are mean and uncaring.

A troubled young woman bearing a gun visits her younger sister with the intention of confronting their father for something he has done to her in the past.

A divorced wife goes to the funeral of the woman who became her husband’s second wife and must confront her love for him.

A mother and her handicapped husband do not speak to each other but communicate only through their daughter, while the mother has an affair with another man.

Four more vignettes are told about nine women (all together) whose lives touch each other’s, sometimes knowingly and sometimes not, until a woman makes a yearly visit to the cemetary with her young daughter – or so we think.

Nine Lives, scheduled for an October release in the USA, is a very good film that tells about life from a woman’s point of view in a credible way. The film held my attention throughout, and has a cast of A-list actors. I liked its multiculturalism and ability to create drama instantly in every vignette. The film reminded me in some ways of Crash by Paul Haggis, but only slightly.

Antarmahal – Views from an Inner Chamber

Directed by Rituparno Ghosh/ India

In 1878 Bengal, the Hindu feast of the goddess Durga approaches. A wealthy man decides to have a statue made in her honor with the face of Queen Victoria in order to garner favor with the British. Meanwhile, he endeavors to get his second wife, who is young, beautiful, and unhappy, pregnant while ignoring his first wife. A young sculptor is hired to make the statue. He is happily married but he and the second wife are attracted to one another. Tragedy ensues when the face of the goddess turns out to be that of the second wife instead of Britain’s queen.

This is no “Bollywood” film, unless it’s a new kind. Almost the entire film takes place in the bed chamber with accompanying activities devlivered as discreetly as possible wihout being completely explicit. The setting and costumes are lush and the tragedy real, though the cultural context is almost overpowering.

The Giant Buddahs (not in competition)

Directed by Christian Frei/Switzerland

A feature-length documentary that tells the story of the two giant 3,000 year old Buddhas in Bamiyan, central Afghanistan, that the Taliban destroyed in March, 2001. The film entwines the story of a Chinese Buddhist monk who made a pilgrimage to the statues in the seventh century and left a diary of his journey. Frei also gives voice to Al Jazeera, an archeologist, an Afghan woman living in Canada whose father visited there as a young man, and a representative of the Taliban itself about the destruction of the Buddhas.

The film is too long and drawn out, yet the material is so fascinating that I wanted to stay with it until the end. Frei has found some interesting old footage and photos of the Buddhas as well as film of the destruction itself. The cultural loss of the statues was and is felt by the entire world.

Locarno Films Part 4

A Perfect Day

Directed by Joana Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige/ France, Lebannon, Germany

It is present day Beirut. One morning, a young man and his mother go to a lawyer’s office to have his father declared legally dead so that they can move on with their lives. He has been missing for about fifteen years, since the civil war. The wife/mother wants her son to stay home with her and mourn the death of their loved one, but he wants to see his girlfriend who is avoiding him and he does not know why. He also has a problem – he keeps falling asleep and even goes to the doctor for tests. He has apnea, worsened by his smoking.

In the space of a day, the mother has to confront her inability to move on with her life and the son, who refuses to commit to his girlfriend, and keeps falling asleep, has to confront his own inability to get on with life.

A Perfect Day is a well-toned and evenly paced film that perhaps means more to the Lebanese people than to an international audience. I thought it interesting and the metaphor of the family’s experience with that of the nation, though obvious, was well-done.


Directed by Louise Archambault/ Canada

A single mother living with her teen daughter and boyfriend in Montreal, though good hearted, is addicted to gambling and gets into debt. Her boyfriend is at his wits end, and cancels her credit cards. So she decides to take her daughter and go live with a friend in California. They load up the car but only make it across the bridge to the suburbs to the home of an old school friend who is married with two children and is well-off. Though the mother and daughter stay there for a while, old habits die hard and they end up living in a borrowed trailer in a trailer park, friendships and a marriage in tatters.

Familia was a great favorite at the festival (if you go by the audience’s reaction and the buzz), but oddly enough, it did not win any awards. It is a film that explores friendships and relationships, especially between mothers and daughters. Though Familia is engrossing, its inner logic was fundamentally inconsistent. The film goes through great lengths to establish how much the single mom “wanted” and “wants” her teen daughter, but when the girl is drugged and raped at a party, and becomes pregnant, they easily take the abortion route. So any sense of transcendence through mother-child bonds is lost. 

La Guerra di Mario

Directed by Antonio Capuano/ Italy

Mario is an 8 year-old growing up with a foster-family in modern day Naples. The foster mother especially wants to give him every advantage but does not understand that children need limits and consistency. He has a vivid imagination, the fruit of trying to survive in the home of his birth mother before the state removed him. The foster mother’s well-intentioned but obcessive care for Mario drives her husband away, and ultimately leads the state to remove him from her care.

La Guerra di Mario (Mario’s War) is a very good movie and it was interesting to see the similarities between the foster care system in Italy and our own. But though this foster mother is in denial about Mario’s reality and needs, the state is blind to his needs as well. I felt like this story could have gone on because the psychological depths of both the mother and Mario needed more development and perhaps resolution – though maybe not. It is a sad tale, without much hope.

Vendredi Ou Un Autre Jour (Friday or Any Other Day)

Directed by Yvan Moine/ Belgium, France, Italy, Slovakia

In the mid-1700’s a ship is wrecked on a reef near an island in the Pacific. The only survivor is an aging actor, Philippe, from a Parisian theater company. He manages to live there on his memories and in his vivid imagination for many years – along with the ship’s dog. Philippe salvages everything he can from the ship, including the stage, constumes and all the trappings that go with his profession. He reconstructs the stage and acts out parts. A while later, some native people come to the island and one of them stays with Philippe – and Philippe names him Friday. After many years, a French ship arrives. Philippe, who has gone through an existential if not spiritual experience, declines to go back to civilization with them.

Yes, you’ve heard this story before. It’s based on a French version of the original Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe: Vendredi ou les limbes du pacifique by Michael Tournier.

There was nothing wrong with this film, if this is your style. It reminded me of a Manoel de Oliviera epic, beautifully filmed but drawn out, slow and very male in its point of view.