The global pandemic seeped into this year’s programme in some unusual and surprising ways.
Under the lead of new festival director Giona A Nazzaro, this year’s Locarno Film Festival seems to have had a generally mixed reception from those on the ground in Switzerland. Some long-time attendees have been particularly critical of the 74th edition’s heavier incorporation of genre filmmaking in the programme, in the context of a festival generally lauded for premiering some of the hardest-to-classify films around. That said, Locarno has hardly turned into Fantastic Fest, and many of those genre films were far from formulaic filler. Here are five feature highlights from this year’s edition.
The debut feature of writer/director Rob Jabbaz, a Canadian expat working in Taiwan, The Sadness has provoked festivals that ordinarily don’t bother with content warnings to explicitly change tack. For many reasons – including upsetting scenes of sexual violence and murdered children – it’s absolutely warranted. In contrast to how Covid-19 has so far been unable to get a foothold on the country, The Sadness presents something of an alternate Taiwan. After a year of lightly “combating” a pandemic with relatively benign symptoms and no reported deaths, one day the virus suddenly mutates.
Now, those infected enter a rabid state that’s akin to a hybrid of 28 Days Later’s Rage Virus and the Deadites of The Evil Dead. Beings inflict unspeakable violence upon any uninfected they encounter, while retaining memories and speech and often sporting a shit-eating grin like Sam Raimi’s creations. The Sadness also recalls the Evil Dead series in its inventive direction and the sheer quantity of largely practical gore; though this is a mostly serious affair with a lot of anger on its mind.
This mysterious virus heightens repressed urges in the human brain. As such, while swiping at conspiracy theories and politicising public health, the film also takes aim at what might be labelled ‘incel ideology’, with one male character, whose rejected advances lead to a misogynist rant just prior to infection, turning into an avatar for toxic masculinity, pursuing the female lead across town with only violation on his mind. Suffice to say, this is a memorably bleak horror.
Our Eternal Summer
Following a group of teenage friends over the course of a carefree summer, tragedy strikes early on in Émilie Aussel’s debut feature when one character disappears in the water during a late-night swim. Rather than exploring what happened, however, this unhasty 72-minute drama explores how grief doesn’t follow a formula. Trauma cuts the group deep, but the state of the lost girl’s best friend, in particular, is one of inertia rather than a steady flow of tears.
Interspersed with that character’s particular journey are various straight-to-camera addresses from supporting players, in which they vocalise the lingering effects of a loss that haunts them. Cumulatively, the film is an astute exploration of the contrasting emotions at play within every person touched by the loss of a single human life.