This year at the Locarno Festival
I am looking for specific images, moments, techniques, qualities or scenes from films across the 70th edition's selection that grabbed me and have lingered past and beyond the next movie seen, whose characters, story and images have already begun to overwrite those that came just before.
The astrologic and the catastrophic in Gürcan Keltek’s Meteors (Filmmakers of the Present). Like Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia for the Light, this poetic documentary finds deeply painful but also awesome connection between cosmic phenomenon and a nation’s internal bloodshed: the occurrence in 2015 of a meteor shower over Turkey at a time of martial law and violent repression of the Kurds. In beautifully grainy video, the luminous streaks across the night sky rhyme with and contrast against the gunfire and smoke of the government action. Cell phones record the bullet scars on the buildings, virtual evidence of material tragedy, and later people search town outskirts to find pieces of space rock, proof of something beyond their harsh reality. Does the sky fall in sympathy for those repressed?
Cowboys run wild in Wichita, Kansas. Jacques Tourneur's CinemaScope western from 1955 is an unusually sober, clean-lined film for this director who most-excels at pervasive, intangible ambiance. Yet this is one scene, of cowboys finally arriving in a boom town—advertised by ‘anything goes in Wichita’ and ‘wine, women, Wichita’—after too long on the trail has a spectral terror in crucial contradistinction to the uncompromising order proposed and later enforced by Joel McCrea’s Wyatt Earp. We are warned again and again of the plainsmen's imminent violent reverie, and after a ribald but conventional day, the night turns chaotic and nearly abstract: a fusillade of random gunfight, bullets and gun reports piercing the night. It is a darkness that Earp hates, yet is inexorably drawn to in order to transform it and conform it to his rational order.
The endless party of night, stretching on forever without time, only the tempo of the music varying. Young Portuguese director Pedro Cabeleira’s single-minded debut, Damned Summer (Filmmakers of the Present), is in that very American summer-before-school genre, though in this case the summer before looking for employment—and for the Euro-clubbing set. Most of its two hours take place watching a Lisbon youth (Pedro Marujo), a bearded goon but successful ladies' man, get high and go to one dance party or another, fueled by an inexhaustible supply of weed and ready access to harder drugs. Drama and situation and characters fall away in the oomph-oomph-oomph-tss-tss-tss and strobing lights of parties that lose all sense of time and purpose, where exhaustion and ecstasy are inextricable. The arbitrary super-wide images are ill-advised and I'm not sure there is much impulse beyond extended lifestyle immersion, but the steady accumulation of lost time, great tunes, and aimless play grows to capture the sense of all the world falling away but for this sensual, senseless, endless moment.