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.
Old man kicks can. Lucky is Harry Dean Stanton, its screenplay of a solitary, elderly man fiddle-fit but increasingly aware of his impending death—and ‘the void,’ as he calls it— is simply a vehicle to get one of the most charismatic and characterful actors front and center before a camera and film him doing all sorts of stuff. John Carroll Lynch's film in the international competition is full of small delights performed by the actor, ranging from kinesthetic morning yoga to a friendship-in-old-age with a local played by David Lynch, a relationship which elaborates on one of the main subjects of Twin Peaks: The Return, namely the long, slow passage of time and the weight and sadness of aging. But it is Stanton’s walk I love most in the film. It is vigorous yet halting, an old skeleton propelled by a vivid spirit and remarkable vitality. Imagine Jacques Tati’s M. Hulot, old. Walking his old route around town one day and mad as hell at this or that, Stanton’s ‘Lucky’ takes out his frustration on a stray metal can. It is at once the old-man-iest act, and the most youthful.
Isabelle Huppert’s spindly frame in Serge Bozon’s Madame Hyde (International Competition). The petite size of the French actress (“a living god,” a friend exclaimed after the screening) is not something many who direct her utilize, but Bozon, following his comic first work with Huppert, Tip Top, finds in her diminutive stature and nervous-thin profile the perfect embodiment of the uncertain, beleaguered and unconfident technical school teacher, Mrs. Géquil. Like her luminous paleness, offset by almost flaming red hair, Huppert’s body on film can be seen as fiercely lean or nearly brittle, a duality Madame Hyde subtly draws upon for its unusual and quite amusing pedagogic version of R.L. Stevenson’s archetype. Huppert is off-set or set against a mostly black and Arab classroom uninterested in the factual mysteries of science, a small, aging white woman uneasy at the lack of respect before her. To help them and help herself, she must be transformed.
Night shadows in Jacques Tourneur’s Way of a Gaucho (1952). One of the great aesthetic pleasures of the Technicolor era of Hollywood are the deep-set blacks of shadows and night time—if the filmmakers and cinematographers prefer this dedication to ensconced darkness. For my money, directors Henry King and Tourneur are the two who best bring out these qualities, and Gaucho, which originated as a picture for King, is full of tenebrous evenings that pulsate with eroticism, melancholy and loneliness. An Argentine western breathtakingly shot on location, it is one of Tourneur’s sublime masterpieces. Its stained glass cinematography, calibrated to the mild grassy yellows of the Pampas, makes the night suffuse with otherworldly silhouettes befitting the gaucho's austere choices of lawless freedom, civilization’s confinement and love’s dance between the two.